3 “Messy” Tensions to Challenge Our Thinking on Learning and Productivity

by Ben Koch

There’s an unspoken truism most of us adults have internalized that goes something like this: “If only I were more organized with my time, more focused on my goals, and more disciplined with my tasks, I’d finally achieve X.” Around New Year’s each year, this guilt-infused mantra is the fuel for many a well-intentioned resolution involving elaborate new systems of organization and task management.  In Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, Tim Harford turns this assumption on its head.  In his book, Hartford probes people, organizations and events which demonstrate how embracing disorder, uncertainty, and messiness can be the catalyst for amazing achievements and unforeseen breakthroughs.

Although geared toward leaders, innovators, and thinkers in the world-at-large, I found the book full of insights for parents, teachers and edupreneurs as we guide and nurture our students. Here I choose 3 binary tensions highlighted by Harford and connect them directly to issues relevant to our interactions with learners.

Hyper-Focus vs. Distractibility

We often assume great successes are the result of sustained, laser-like focus on a problem.  As Harford points out, however, “distractible brains can also be seen as brains that have an innate tendency to make … useful random leaps” (p 17) which lead to creative or innovative breakthroughs. And there is research to back up a correlation between distractibility and higher creativity. Harford cites a Harvard study in which researchers measured the ability of students to filter out unwanted stimulus. The weak filter students scored higher on all kinds of creative measures (p 17).

What we infer from this study reaffirms my own observations regarding the “6 Gifted Profiles,” as delineated by George Betts and Maureen Niehart (1988).  “Type 2” profile students, The Creatives, are often perceived as uncouth, distracted, and associative thinkers with a lower threshold for sustained focus. Could it be they are simply selective consumers, choosing to follow the trail of deep, non-obvious connections being triggered by their learning environment? A Creative’s penchant to process the world holistically makes her more distractible, but indeed makes her predisposed to draw fantastic insights from apparently disparate information.  Teachers: have you ever felt you’ve been suckered into a tangent by a Creative student making an elaborate observation, only to find that somehow, it winds right back to the topic, which is now afforded a new level of depth and complexity?  

Bonding Social Capital vs. Bridging Social Capital

When a group or team needs to accomplish a major task, it makes sense for them to bunker down, remove all infringements of the outside world, and one-pointedly push through, right? Maybe not. Harford highlights the distinction between “bonding social capital” and “bridging social capital.” On a team wired for bonding social capital, you seek to “Minimize disruptions, distractions, obstacles; identify what you have to do; focus your energies on doing it as effectively as possible” (p 39). So what could be missing? As it turns out, the sparks of inspiration that can come from interactions across groups and teams–known as bridging social capital–may be what allow the team to make the leap from good to great. Harford cites examples in the world of collaborative mathematicians and in the video game industry, where “a great computer game is like a great mathematics paper. It requires bridging: the clever combination of disparate ideas” (p 41).

The benefits of sparking exchanges outside of a student’s usual, closed, tight-knit group is one reason why my company, NuMinds Enrichment, designs all our programs as mixed-age learning experiences. I still remember our first summer camp several years ago when I walked into a classroom to find a 1st grader and 8th grader co-presenting on a project. Think the benefits go only one way? Think again. We find the older students are just as likely to benefit from the sparks generated by the “disparate ideas,” genuine curiosity, and the beginner’s mind exhibited by younger students.

Careful Planning vs. Improvisation

When you need a project management certification to keep a grip on a child’s weekly schedule, you know we live in an an era of hyper-managed and overscheduled students. Parents feel compelled to leave nothing to chance, and this desire to control outcomes has crept into the classroom in the form of perfectionism and anxiety

What if, by not occasionally relinquishing control, we are missing out on surprising creative results and rich, unforeseen experiences? Harford cites numerous extraordinary examples of history-making moments that were the result of moments of improvisation, from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech to the ground-breaking “Kind of Blue” album by Miles Davis.

But examples need not be extraordinary to be revealing. That very first week of NuMinds summer camp, we had planned an elaborate, musical, technology-infused series of morning assemblies. It was part of our morning “shock and awe” plan to get campers excited for a day of passion-based learning (it’s summer, after all, and they often need a little help). We rolled into the venue the weekend before to get set up, and, major obstacles: no projector, malfunctioning microphone system, and no way to send music through the speakers. Plan B. Wait, there was no plan B! This situation forced us into an improvisational state of mind and, lo and behold, being forced to go low tech and intimate with our morning assemblies ended up defining the spirit of Camp Pursuit. Sure, we’ve got mics and flashy visuals now, but to this day, the “fireside chats,” puppet shows, and acoustic sing-alongs we developed that first week–because a messy situation forced our hand–are integral pieces of the Camp Pursuit experience.

Harford cites three clear benefits of an improvisational approach to managing a project (p 98):

  1. Speed
  2. Economy
  3. Flexibility

In other words, when compared to meticulous and calculated planning, embracing or even seeking a little messiness will not only drive improvisation but can take less time, cost less, and by its very nature will be more responsive to uncertainties.

But, let’s face it: millions of students in the U.S. and around the world, including refugees whose lives have been torn asunder by world conflicts, don’t have the luxury of worrying about over-planned and scripted lives. For them, improvisation isn’t an experiment, it’s survival. Perhaps there is much we can learn from their resilience about coping with a disordered world.

It’s hard to imagine a “messier” situation than poverty, but we can take heart that even in circumstances like this, curiosity, persistence and incredible improvisation can propel education. If we can appreciate and learn from this Indian school under a freeway, perhaps we can all find ways to improvise heartfelt teaching and learning, even when the promise and principle of our public education system seems under assault. Not to excuse that students or teachers or our very own public schools should ever be asked to perform miracles with lack of resources, funding, and support, but the innovative resilience we develop while continuing the fight for fairness, justice, and equity will only increase our effectiveness as we move closer to those ideals.

Harford highlights many more tensions we can utilize to explore our notions of learning and productivity, including groupthink vs. cognitive diversity, hard vs. soft spaces, the paradox of automation, “neats vs. scruffs,” and organized play vs. informal play. In an era of uncertainty and flux, if we can reconsider our ingrained assumptions and attachments to order, structure and predictability, we may find “messiness” a valuable impulse.

Sources

Harford, Tim. Messy: the power of disorder to transform our lives. New York: Riverhead , 2016. Print.

http://photoblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/09/15036358-a-free-school-under-a-bridge-in-india

https://u.osu.edu/pressuretobeperfect/truth-about-perfectionism/

https://thefissureblog.com/2015/08/01/gifted-101-the-6-gifted-profiles/

 

 

The 8 Great Gripes of Gifted Parents

by Ben Koch and Emily VR

In one of our courses for parents of gifted students, we spend a session on “the 8 great gripes of gifted kids” as presented by Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith in their landmark book, When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers.  These gripes, garnered straight from the unfiltered mouths of gifted kids themselves, are an excellent heuristic for parents to help children reframe many of the struggles they experience both in and out of school.

During class, however, we discovered that our parent group was also using these student gripes as a launching point, and was cruising along a heartfelt parallel track that could only be called, “The Great Gripes of Gifted Parents.”  It’s only fair, we thought – if gifted kids get the opportunity of a therapeutic clearing of the air, then parents of the gifted should, as well!

So, we asked our parents to formally gather their thoughts on their OWN gripes and submit them to us.  And because “8 great gripes” has such a nice alliterative ring to it, we condensed and consolidated the list to a total of 8. Just as the student list facilitates deeper, more meaningful discussion than a simple “list of complaints,” we hope that this list might serve as fodder for fruitful discussions and conversations around the unique challenges facing parents of the gifted today.

Tell us:  are your top “gripes” represented here?  Add your own in the comments!

1 – My Kid Isn’t Challenged in School

Unless your child attends a full-time gifted program or school, this is probably a familiar feeling!  Even in the best districts and best schools, parents of the gifted express frustration with “resistance from some teachers and schools… providing for the kids’ academic needs.”  They note that “teachers in elementary school (outside of the GT teacher) don’t give gifted kids enough time/work” at their level.  Sometimes the academic needs of gifted students can be tricky to pin down, and teachers of large, mixed-ability classes often have their hands full.  When gifted students are limited to “very easy” work, however, parents correctly observe that it becomes “difficult to instill any kind of study ethic” in students.

“Too much emphasis on ‘the test’ …leaves the brightest to flounder”

“My child doesn’t need extra work, he/she needs different work”

Initially, this might seem like a problem with a teacher, administrator, or school – but in reality, it’s a problem nationwide.  Some states have laws requiring GT programs and opportunities for academic acceleration, and some do not.  Myths and misconceptions persist about the abilities, characteristics, needs, and outcomes of students testing in the gifted range.  Schools struggle to juggle increasing state demands, large classes, and inadequate funding.

The best solutions address individual student needs, but meeting gifted needs generally requires a basic understanding of research and best practices.  If that is missing, parents can sometimes work with schools to raise awareness.  Consider joining or starting a parent support group, connect with advocacy organizations in your state/area, and check out some of the reading suggestions below.

2 – Teachers and Other Adults Just Don’t Understand My Kid

Betts and Neihart revolutionized our monochromatic view of giftedness with their research on the 6 gifted profiles in the 1980’s. Far from being a predictable, homogenous group, gifted students represent a diverse panoply of behaviors, personalities, and traits. While it may be an easier proposition for a teacher or other adult to “get” what Betts and Neihart classify as a Successful Type (extrinsically motivated, achievement-focused, pleaser), that Creative Type (divergent thinker, non-conformist) in their classroom, or at their child’s birthday party may come across as abrasive or eccentric. Several parents expressed frustration at being unable to control the perceptions of teachers and other adults have about their gifted child.

“Others may not ‘get’ my kids and get frustrated with them.”

“People view gifted education as elitist/exclusive instead of much needed differentiated instruction.”

“People think it’s super easy having a gifted child because they do so well in school.”

Being able to openly communicate and commiserate with other adults who DO understand your unique challenges is key. Strong parent-based gifted advocacy groups can be crucial. They generate opportunities for student interactions and parent networking throughout the year. Check with local gifted teachers, administrators, or parent organizations about gifted parent organizations in your area. Most are NOT exclusive to families who attend a specific school district and welcome homeschoolers and families from neighboring schools and districts.

3 – Help! It’s Hard Dealing with Gifted Intensity & Behavior at Home

Sensitive.  Extreme.  Overwhelming.  Intense.

Children with certain temperaments and personalities can exhibit these characteristics, but the words take on new meaning when it comes to gifted parenting.  Living with Intensity is a well-known book about emotional development in these children, and the title often describes the home life of many families.

“There is no winning an argument with a gifted child… they often make good points which negate your good points and then some.”

“…they are too much like you – overthinking, analytical, self-critical, perfectionistic, overly excitable, sensitive”

Gifted-identified children often exhibit one or more overexcitabilities, or intensities.  “Their minds and sometimes mouths don’t turn off even when your mind and ears are exhausted,” notes one parent.  “My child is just like me,” laments another.  They often struggle with global and existential worries, and can even suffer from existential depression.

Fortunately, there is hope:  a growing number of books and articles offer coping tips and techniques for helping children to manage and channel their intensity in positive directions (reading suggestions below).  Parent groups and classes can offer emotional support, validation, and advice on coping with specific situations.  Simply being aware of the prevalence of gifted intensity can make it more manageable; as one gifted parent noted, “knowledge is power.”

4 – Social Distortion: So Many Awkward Social Situations between My Kid and Other Kids, and Me and Other Parents!

The comments from parents in this gripe covered a wide range of issues related to social situations and communication. Although research has not shown gifted children to be any worse off in social adjustment than average children when in appropriate academic settings, the stereotype of the socially awkward “brainy” kid persists. More important than spouting research numbers, though, are the subjective experiences of students and parents. If gifted students do not have opportunities to interact with like-minded peers who share their passions, talents and abilities, the sense of “feeling different” or even lonely is likely to increase (Rimm, 2008). The solution? Give students the opportunity to interact with intellectual peers and give parents the opportunity to interact and empathize with parents in similar situations (see note on parent groups above).

“My child has no/few friends.”

“I’m embarrassed by my kids lack of normalcy in certain situations like the soccer team.”

Right here on The Fissure last March we published a post called Solutions to Sticky Social Situations which also begins to propose some practical approaches for students to approach different social scenarios successfully.

5 – Asynchronous Development: My Kid is 8 Going on 30!

Asynchronous development is a hallmark of giftedness. The National Association for Gifted Children describe it as “the mismatch between cognitive, emotional, and physical development of gifted individuals” and, in their official definition, highlight that “because asynchrony is so prominent in gifted children, some professionals believe asynchronous development rather than potential or ability, is the defining characteristic of giftedness” (See full NAGC definition).

“Hard to find appropriate reading material or appropriate any material- lack of resources.”

“I expect so much from them because I know their potential, but I forget they’re still just kids with their own developmental and social issues. And they’re not perfect. And they don’t have 42 years of perspective like I do, so it’s hard for them to see how things fit into the big picture.”

“Criteria for starting kindergarten early is more of a system of deterrents than a means of identifying kids who are ready.”

Our primary advice for parents is to nurture those areas of high ability, potential, or passion and remember to scaffold in areas that are not as accelerated. An example might be a 2nd grader excelling at 8th grade Math when given the opportunity to immerse with intellectual peers, but who needs a social buffer to remediate emotional outbursts when the going gets too tough. Remember it’s not always the case that social/emotional is lagging behind intellectual or academic abilities. In fact, research on overexcitabilities clearly shows us how a child can show advanced empathy and emotional processing without the vocabulary (verbal intelligence) to communicate it appropriately.

6 – What’s the Remedy? My Son/Daughter Has Caught Perfectionism!

The spread of Carol Dweck’s ideas on growth vs. fixed mindset over recent years has brought a renewed sense of the importance of focusing on the process of learning, rather than on products. When you see learning on a continuum, as an evolution of skills and knowledge moving toward more and more depth and complexity, there is no “done.” There is no final product to be judged as perfect or imperfect. That’s a growth mindset and shifting to THAT framework, in our opinion, is the best remedy for perfectionism over time.

“The kids get caught up in society’s obsession with quantitative measurement of learning (grades, percentages and GPAs) of their learning rather than qualitative measures.”

Delisle and Galbraith (2002) propose shifting students to “the pursuit of excellence” as an antidote to fixating on perfection. The mantra we’ve developed to remind teachers, parents, and ourselves to make this shift is: “Perfection is a product. Excellence is a PROCESS.”

7 – Struggles Squared: Does Twice-Exceptional Mean Twice the Challenge?

Though it may come as a surprise, children can be identified as gifted and can also have one or more disabilities.  Sometimes a child’s abilities can mask a disability, making it difficult to diagnose.

“My kid’s disability can’t get diagnosed by the school system because he’s so dang smart he appears average.”

Sometimes an undiagnosed disability can impact testing, and can delay identification of giftedness.  Gifted children with disabilities have two (or more) areas of difference and needs – which is why they’re called “twice-exceptional,” or 2e, for short.

In the best scenario for 2e students, both their gifted abilities and their disabilities are identified and supported.  Too much focus on a child’s areas of weakness can have a negative impact on self-esteem: for this reason, experts recommend focusing first on a child’s areas of strength (appropriate challenge), then supporting areas of weakness.  Unfortunately, these students can be tricky to diagnose and help!  Even once needs are identified, helping 2e students can feel overwhelming for both parents and educators.  Parent education, as well as support from other 2e parents, can help enormously.  To learn more, check out the articles available through the nonprofit SENG (Supporting the Needs of the Gifted), the 2e Newsletter, and some of the sources below.

8 – Time Keeps on Slipping… The School Day is So Inefficient for my Kid’s Needs

Gifted children often learn more rapidly than their age-peers – which can make the school day frustrating for both students and parents.

“The day is too long and inefficient — not enough learning/hour.”

“Too much sitting, and not enough play breaks… I think all of the kids – gifted or not – would benefit from a few short recesses.”

Educators:  make sure to communicate with parents about the ways your school accommodates rapid learners!  Sometimes parents may be unaware of curriculum modifications providing depth and higher-level thinking opportunities for gifted learners.  Some gifted students may benefit from a form of acceleration, and some can benefit from the pursuit of passion projects during extra school time.

Parents:  while you are engaged in positive advocacy for your child at school, in the meantime, to help maintain or recover motivation, you can provide enrichment opportunities outside of school.  Enrichment can take the form of after-school or weekend classes and events, online courses (formal or informal), school clubs, summer camps, mentorships in areas of interest, museums and travel, or just visits to the library… the possibilities are almost endless.  Current research supports increased physical activity during the school day, so the tide may be turning in favor of more recess and opportunities for movement.

Unfortunately, as you can see, there aren’t many quick fixes to gifted parenting challenges.  Fortunately, however, there are many other parents (and educators!) who care deeply about these children.  If you have difficulty connecting locally, it is easier than ever to find resources online – as you’ve done by reading this post!  If you have found it helpful, we invite you to follow our blog, to find us on Facebook, and to join a growing community of parents and educators who want to make a difference in education.

Remember – you are not alone.  Raising a gifted or twice-exceptional child may be one of the greatest challenges you’ve experienced, but it will also be one of the most rewarding.  Remember to celebrate and to enjoy the journey.

***

Further Reading

Nature, Needs, and Parenting the Gifted

Delisle, J. and Galbraith, J. (2002).  When gifted kids don’t have all the answers: how to meet their social and emotional needs.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing.

Daniels, S. and Piechowski, M. M., Eds. (2009).  Living with intensity.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Rimm, S. (2008).  Parenting gifted children.  In Karnes, F. A. and Stephens, K. R., Eds., Achieving excellence: educating the gifted and talented.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Webb, J. T., Gore, J. L., Amend, E. R., and DeVries, A. R. (2007).  A parent’s guide to gifted children.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Webb, J. T. (2013).  Searching for meaning: idealism, bright minds, disillusionment and hope.  Tucson, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Whitney, C.S. and Hirsch, G. (2007).  A love for learning: motivation and the gifted child.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Advocacy and Additional Needs

Assouline, S. G., Colangelo, N., VanTassel-Baska, J., and Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2015).  A nation empowered: evidence trumps the excuses holding back America’s brightest students.  Iowa City: Belin-Blank Center, University of Iowa.

Castellano, J. A. and Frasier, A. D., Eds. (2011).  Special populations in gifted education: understanding our most able students from diverse backgrounds.  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Delisle, J. R. (2014).  Dumbing down America: the war on our nation’s brightest young minds (and what we can do to fight back).  Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R. (2005).  Misdiagnosis and dual diagnoses of gifted children and adults.  Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Web Resources

Hoagies Gifted Education Page – the website for everything gifted

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum – a wonderful resource for meeting all gifted needs

Like-Mindedness and the Denial Gene

by Justin Vawter

All men have a denial gene when it comes to aging and their ability to play sports.  It’s a complex chromosome that activates somewhere in a man’s late 20s and then takes full control of the prefrontal medial cortex by his late 30s.  You can observe this phenomenon every weekend, as men with knee braces, back supports, and talcum-powdered loins take to the field or court to “put the smack down” (a stagnated phrase left over from a time when the man’s physical prowess allowed him the mobility of said smack).

I have this gene.  That’s why, this summer, I signed up for mixed-aged martial arts at the Lone Eagle Fighting Arts dojo.  Here I am, with my entry-level white belt, surrounded by a group of kids who are all two feet shorter and at least two belt degrees higher than me.  Fortunately, there were other adults who looked just as awkward as me, and we all lumbered through the steps together.  

This is mixed age.  This is community.  This is what your gifted child needs–a group of like-minded individuals brought together based on interest and ability.

It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth lesson that I lost sight of the age gap.  Perhaps my denial gene kicked in, but there I am kicking a practice dummy, giving both my daughters high fives, and taking advice from a 12-year-old girl with a green hair band that matches her karate belt.  This is mixed age.  This is community.  This is what your gifted child needs—a group of like-minded individuals brought together based on interest and ability.

In 1993, Miraca Gross published her study where she looked at the social isolation of gifted children, concluding that when gifted children were accelerated to be with intellectual peers, the isolation disappears and the students are able to form warm and supportive relationships with older classmates.  As adults, we have all experienced this phenomenon.   For example, colleges do not make your age a prerequisite for attending class.  I know this first-hand because I’m in the same program as Noel Jett, the eighteen-year-old doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas (DeLeon, 2015).  Why then, to quote Sir Ken Robinson, is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are…their ‘date of manufacture?’” (2010).  

And Sir Ken wasn’t simply being tongue-and-check; the very same study from Gross (1993) has some chilling evidence: “In almost every case, the parents of [intellectually gifted] children retained in the regular classroom with age peers, report that their student’s drive to achieve, the delight in intellectual exploration, and the joyful seeking after new knowledge, which characterized their children in the early years, seriously diminished or disappeared completely” (pg 8).  

Whether it’s at the dojo or school, you need to find ways to get your intellectually gifted child with like-minded peers.  In the school context, this takes the form of subject acceleration (where the subject matter is streamlined) and grade acceleration (where Timmy completely skips 3rd grade).  

Perhaps the same denial gene that tells me to high kick with no regard for tomorrow’s aching muscle is also responsible for perpetuating an inadequate system in the face of research and reason.

Be warned, all ye’ brave parents, while acceleration is well-researched as an effective intervention for precocious youth, you generally won’t win any friends at your school. Other parents will misconstrue your advocacy as elitism; administrators will baulk at paperwork and adjustments to the master schedule; and the teacher, who is tasked with challenging every student, will take personal offense to being told that her class simply isn’t challenging your son or daughter.  Perhaps the same denial gene that tells me to high kick with no regard for tomorrow’s aching muscle is also responsible for perpetuating an inadequate system in the face of research and reason.  “What? He doesn’t need to advance grade levels.  He’ll be fine after he ‘levels out’.”    

After you’ve come to terms with these obstacles and have still mustered up the courage to move forward, start by learning the vocabulary and approach.  One resource is this publication out of NSW; it’s straightforward and helpful. http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/gats/assets/pdf/polimp.pdf  

Quick side note: I would love to know the experience and suggested resources of my readers who have attempted (successfully or not) to advocate for acceleration.  Your stories help me to build a trove of anecdotes when I work with schools.               

The take away is that there are ways to find like-minded peers inside and outside of the classroom.  I joined a mixed-aged martial arts class because of my over-active denial gene; however, I have become invested in the process.  When I’m there, I’m surrounded by other students who are training with equal gusto, regardless of their age.  Imagine some bizzaro world where every 40-year-old in the neighborhood is required by law to show up to karate at 7pm.  I’m not saying that I’d be the best, but I guarantee I would be one of the few who are eager to learn the sport.  This is your kid in class.  She’s looking around and wondering why the others don’t want to do more math problems or read for fun.  It’s up to you to seek out and advocate for ways where your child can be surrounded by like-minded peers and community.     

References

DeLeon, J. (2015, June 12).  Studying gifted young people.  The North Texan. Retreived from http://northtexan.unt.edu/node/5704

Gross, M.U.M (1993). Exceptionally gifted children. (Print) London: Routledge.  

Gross, M.U.M. (2000). Exceptionally and profoundly gifted students: An Underserved population.  Understanding our Gifted.  Winter 2000.

Robinson, K. (2010).  Changing education paradigms. Video. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms      

Justin is a teacher, gifted specialist, curriculum writer, and fledging practitioner of karate.  He is best known for his creation of mixed-age programs and professional development in the field of gifted education.  You can find learn more about him here.

We’re pleased to join this month’s Gifted Homeschoolers Blog Hop with this post! Click image below for a complete list of this month’s collection.

ghf_sept2016

Relational Aggression and Learning

by Emily VR

Words can do lasting damage.  As we know from tragedies involving social media, bullying isn’t limited to black eyes or stolen lunch money.  Thankfully, “sticks and stones” beliefs are finally disappearing as more adults recognize the harm caused by verbal aggression and social exclusion.

In schools, educators work to reduce bullying through awareness, prevention efforts, district policies, and interventions.  There is no universally accepted definition for bullying, but generally, it is said to include a real or perceived power imbalance, multiple incidents, and an intent to cause harm.   Some experts debate whether bullying should also include “relational aggression” and two of its forms, “peer rejection” and “ostracism” (Zins et al., 2007); depending on the facts, these behaviors may or may not meet bullying policy definitions.  Unfortunately, when anti-bullying programs focus on a narrow definition, adults may miss opportunities to both foster empathy and address harmful behavior – which can negatively affect the learning environment.

What exactly is relational aggression, and how does it impact education?

Relational aggression defined

Relational aggression, or RA, is also referred to as “social bullying,” “friendship bullying,” “covert aggression,” or “female bullying,” though it is not limited to one gender.  RA behaviors are intended to hurt another person, and they involve emotional rather than physical harm.  In her book Mean Girls Grown Up, Dr. Cheryl Dellasega defines RA as “the use of relationships to hurt another,” or “verbal violence in which words rather than fists inflict damage” (Dellasega, 2005).  Dellasega explores short and long-term harm from RA at all ages.  Behaviors can include:

  • manipulation using friendships or other relationships,
  • excluding an individual from a group,
  • spreading negative or false information about another person,
  • deliberately unkind treatment (either in private or in front of others),
  • criticizing and belittling another (Coloroso, 2008; Dellasega, 2005).

RA behaviors can involve efforts to gain or maintain social control (“queen bee” behavior), avoidance of admitting one’s mistakes, taking credit for others’ work, gossip, reputation damage, and/or negative treatment of an individual perceived as competition, threatening, or inferior (Coloroso, 2008; Dellasega, 2005; Oiker, 2011).   Aggressors often exert efforts to look good to perceived superiors and give preferential treatment to beneficial relationships.  Barbara Coloroso notes, “devious and manipulative, [the aggressor] can act as if she is a caring and compassionate person, but it is… a tool to get what she wants” (2008).  An aggressor may single out only one or a few individuals.  The intent and frequency of RA behaviors determine whether they qualify as bullying under an existing definition or policy.

RA can deeply hurt children, and it often involves someone the child had perceived as a trusted friend.  Attempts to confront the aggressor may be unsuccessful: as a ninth-grader explained to the author of Odd Girl Out, “‘she’ll turn it around,’ ‘she’ll make it about me,’ or ‘she’ll get everyone on her side’” (Simmons, 2002).  Bystanders or “middle bees” may enable or facilitate RA by passing along rumors (Dellasega), or, out of fear or a desire to “fit in,” may fail to speak out against RA behavior (Coloroso).

While it is thought that media exposure may play a causal role (Ostrov, 2013), children can engage in RA at surprisingly young ages: preschoolers have been observed attempting to exclude children from play (Reddy, 2014).  Aggressors may suffer from insecurity, or they may observe and learn RA behaviors from other children and adults, including parents.  As suggested by the title of one of Coloroso’s chapters, “it runs in the family,” parents may engage (sometimes unknowingly) in psychologically manipulative tactics with their children, may focus heavily on competition, or may model RA behavior toward other adults.  Several sources discuss adult RA in the workplace, volunteer organizations, and other groups, including groups connected with schools.  An article from the National Education Association notes that children who witness parents “practicing exclusion or manipulation of friends or family members will likely exhibit the same behavior in school” (Ross).

Impact on learning

RA in the school setting can cause the victim to dislike school (Zins et al, 2007), and it can also have an impact on academic performance and future educational options.  According to the National Bullying Prevention Center, bullying can result in school avoidance, higher rates of absenteeism, decrease in grades, inability to concentrate, loss of interest in academic achievement, and an increase in dropout rates (PACER, 2015).   While research continues on bullying and race, it is thought that bullied Black and Hispanic youth are more likely to suffer academic harm than their white peers (Stopbullying.gov).  In some cases, bullying of students with disabilities or other specific differences (race, religion, ethnicity) can trigger the protections of federal civil rights laws.  RA occurring outside school, such as in social groups and extracurricular activities, may also impact students in the classroom.

The impact of RA on education is not limited to bullying between children: several sources discuss negative incidents involving some teachers’ treatment of students (Kam; Price, 2015), bullying between parents, treatment of teachers by colleagues or supervisors, and bullying of educators by parents.

Students at risk

Who is most vulnerable to RA?  Any child may become a victim, but children with special needs have been targeted by peer bullies more frequently than other children (PACER, 2015).  Children identified with gifted needs are also at increased risk of psychological harm from bullying (Medaris, 2006), possibly due to academic and social/emotional differences in the gifted population (Price, 2015; Taibbi, 2012).   Students perceived as different in other ways may be at additional risk.  Differences can include religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity, and sexual orientation (SPLC; Stopbullying.gov).

What can educators and parents do?

Simply teaching students to “be kind” is often not enough:  for students engaging in RA, the ability to engage in kind behavior is often not the issue.  Aggressors can be very kind toward those who benefit them.  The deterrent for both aggressors and bystanders involves empathy:  students must learn to understand and relate to different perspectives, to feel the suffering of others, and to choose to prevent harm caused by aggressive behavior or inaction.

Part two of this post will explore a few promising (and less promising) strategies for fostering empathy at school and at home.  In the meantime, when considering bullying in schools, the first and most important steps in addressing RA may be (a) recognizing the threat RA poses to students’ well-being and learning, and (b) taking a fresh look at how we help our students and children to relate to the feelings and experiences of others.

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Because of the increased risks for gifted children, this post is included in the Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop on Gifted Social Issues.  Contrary to myth, gifted students are not necessarily high achievers, and their needs and characteristics can be misunderstood by peers, parents, educators, and other professionals.  For additional resources on gifted children, please visit Hoagies Gifted Education Page.

The Fissure Blog is proud to participate in blog hops from Hoagies!  For additional posts, please click on the below image (credit Pamela S. Ryan).

August Hoagies Image

Sources and Additional Reading

Books and articles

Ayer, R. (2014, Dec. 1).  UGA study finds it’s mean boys, not mean girls, who rule at school.  UGA Today: University of Georgia.  http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/uga-study-mean-boys-not-mean-girls-rule-at-school-1214/

Babbel, S. (2011, March 15).  Child’s bullying consequence: adult PTSD.  Psychology Today.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/somatic-psychology/201103/child-bullyings-consequence-adult-ptsd

Coloroso, B. (2008).  The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander:  From Preschool to High School – How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence.  New York: HarperCollins.

Dellasega, C. (2005).  Mean Girls Grown Up: Adult Women Who Are Still Queen Bees, Middle Bees, and Afraid-to-Bees.  Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons, Inc.

Kam, K. Teachers who bully.  WebMD, Health and Parentinghttp://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/teachers-who-bully

Medaris, K. (2006).  Study: Gifted children especially vulnerable to effects of bullying.  Purdue University News.  http://www.purdue.edu/uns/html4ever/2006/060406.Peterson.bullies.html

Oliker, D. M. (2011, Sept. 3).  Bullying in the female world: the hidden aggression behind the innocent smile.  Psychology Today: The Long Reach of Childhood.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-long-reach-childhood/201109/bullying-in-the-female-world

Ostrov, J. M. (2013, August).  The development of relational aggression: The role of media exposure.  Psychological Science Agenda: American Psychological Association.  http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2013/07-08/relational-aggression.aspx

Peterson, J. S. (2016).  Gifted children and Bullying.  In M. Neihart, S. I. Pfeiffer, and T. L. Cross (Eds.), The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?  (pp. 131 – 144) (2nd ed.).  Waco, TX:  Prufrock Press.  A service publication of the National Association for Gifted Children.

Price, P. (2015).  Gifted, Bullied, Resilient: A Brief Guide for Smart Families.  Olympia, WA: Gifted Homeschoolers Press.

Raison, C. (2009, March 21).  Can schoolyard bullying lead to PTSD?  CNN: Expert Q&A.  http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/expert.q.a/03/31/bullying.ptsd.raison/

Reddy, S. (2014, May 26).  Little children and already acting mean: children, especially girls, withhold friendship as a weapon; teaching empathy.  Wall Street Journal.   http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304811904579586331803245244

Ross, D. M.  Parents’ role in bullying and intervention.  National Educational Association.  http://www.nea.org/home/56805.htm

Taibbi, C. (2012, Aug. 26).  Bullying and the gifted: welcome back to school?  Psychology Today.    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/gifted-ed-guru/201208/bullying-and-the-gifted-welcome-back-school

Whitson, S. (2012, Nov. 9).  When friendship is used as a weapon: revealing the hidden nature of relational bullying.  Huffington Post.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/signe-whitson/girl-bullying-_b_2093158.html

Zins, J. E., Elias, Maurice, J., and Maher, C. A., Eds. (2007).  Bullying, Victimization, and Peer Harassment: A Handbook of Prevention and Intervention.  Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Web resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2016, June 8).  Safety and children with disabilities: bullying.   http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandsafety/bullying.html

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page.  Bullies and Bullying.  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/bullies.htm

NoBullying.com.  Let’s understand relational aggression.  http://nobullying.com/relational-aggression/

PACER, National Bullying Prevention Center:  Bullying and harassment of students with disabilities.  http://www.pacer.org/bullying/resources/students-with-disabilities/

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  Bullying Basics.  Teaching Tolerancehttp://www.tolerance.org/bullying-basics

Stopbullying.gov.  Bullying and youth with disabilities and special health needs.    http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/special-needs/

Stopbullying.gov.  Considerations for special groups.  http://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/groups/

The Ophelia Project (organization discontinued, website still available online) http://www.opheliaproject.org/about.html#mission

Blog posts

Gordon, S. (2016, June 17).  8 ways bullying affects gifted students: why gifted students are targeted.  Verywell.com: Bullying.  https://www.verywell.com/how-bullying-impacts-the-gifted-student-460594

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop:  Bullying across the gifted/2e lifespan.  http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/blog-hops/bullies-bullying-gifted2e-kids/

Gross, G. (2013, Oct. 3).  Girls who bully and the women they learn from.  Huffington Post: The Blog.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/girls-who-bully-and-the-women-they-learn-from_b_4034100.html

Trépanier, C. (2014).  The burdens of gifted children.  http://crushingtallpoppies.com/2014/03/06/the-burdens-of-gifted-children/

All Along the Watchtower: Jimi Hendrix and the Search for Diverse Gifted Learners

by Ben Koch

The recent death of Prince has prompted us here at The Fissure to think about giftedness in celebrities, particularly in the arts.  In this era of selfies and news scandals, we sometimes equate celebrity with a shallow narcissism, and we can forget that many highly successful artists and performers reach the pinnacle of their craft as a result of extraordinary ability and resilience.

As more stories and anecdotes come out about Prince as a young passion-driven musician, we can’t help but draw a keen comparison between Prince and another gifted artist: Jimi Hendrix. Like Prince, Hendrix was able to redraw the cultural lines of racial, ethnic, and gender expectations.  Both developed their gifts against the odds, in an often hostile world, and produced a legacy of beloved music in the process.

In this post, we present Jimi Hendrix as a case study of our need to identify and develop the talents of young, gifted students from diverse backgrounds.  Using Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities as a framework, and drawing on the research of Reva C. Friedman concerning giftedness in low-income families, educators can learn important lessons from his journey.


In the summer of 1966, a virtually unknown and self-taught musician named Jimi Hendrix walked into a New York club to audition for a show.  In a typical and all-too-common scenario, his guitar had been stolen the previous night, so when he got on stage another musician handed him a right-handed guitar.  For most musicians in Jimi’s situation this would have been the end of it, and he would have needed to forfeit his audition—Jimi was left-handed.  Yet, without a second’s hesitation, Jimi took the guitar that had been handed to him, flipped it over, and, to the astonishment of all present began jamming on it upside down as effortlessly and seamlessly as if he were playing his own lefty guitar.
This display of uncanny, virtuosic talent was typical of Jimi Hendrix’s meteoric rise to fame, and within a year of this event he was enjoying the success of nearly worldwide renown. In the end, however, the rags-to-riches story of Jimi Hendrix is the tragic tale of a gifted human being whose unique needs were never met.  Just like a meteor, his life came crashing to a fiery end, leaving us to wonder what spectacular displays his creative mind might have given us.  The life story of this gifted musician and performer holds many insights and lessons for educators and researchers interested in the identification and development of gifted children—in particular those under-identified students from a low SES background, like Jimi.  Through his lens we can examine gifted identification and mentoring, the importance of developing an internal locus of control, and the consequences when gifted individuals are unable to achieve the positive disintegration that Dabrowski described as essential to healthy growth and human development.

The life story of this gifted musician and performer holds many insights and lessons for educators and researchers interested in the identification and development of gifted children—in particular those under identified students that come from a low SES background, like Jimi.

Using traditional achievement-based methods of identification, it is doubtful that Jimi would have been identified as “gifted” in most programs. Growing up in Seattle in the 1950’s, he displayed the classic symptoms of underachievement:  there was a gross inconsistency between his perceived potential and his academic performance.  Adults in his life considered him bright, polite, and even insightful, yet in elementary school his grades were never better than mediocre.  He did show enough enthusiasm for a very high attendance record during elementary school, and he displayed talent and interest in art.  He had a notebook that he filled with drawings of “flying saucers and drag racers” (Cross, 2005, p. 46) and he liked drawing cars so much that at one point he mailed several car designs to Ford Motor Company.  As Jimi progressed through middle and high school, however, both his grades and attendance gradually declined, and at the ultimate low point, during his senior year, he flunked out of Garfield High School.

From a purely academic, achievement-based viewpoint, the case for Jimi’s giftedness seems dismal.  There are no records of any conducted IQ tests, yet several aspects of his childhood show early suggestions that he was indeed the very gifted diamond in the rough who would later stun the world with his creative talents.

The fact that Jimi made it to his senior year is, in fact, a great testament to his resiliency, and a trait recognized in gifted students from culturally diverse backgrounds (Werner as cited by Davis & Rimm, 2004).  Growing up in a severely broken home, his exposure to abuse, poverty, and alcoholism, the death of his mother, and his nearly daily battle with hunger would have led most in Jimi’s situation down a path of violence or escape.  It’s easy to believe there were many such invitations extended to Jimi—to sell drugs, to join gangs, to use drugs and alcohol—yet time and again, Jimi carried on as if enveloped by a protection from such threats.

This bombardment of struggles and challenges would provide the potential for positive disintegration under Dabrowski’s theory, yet amid it all, it wasn’t innocence or naivete so much as a hypersensitive sense of destiny which seems to have helped Jimi sidestep dangerous fates at an early age. This hypersensitivity is related to a very high imaginational overexcitability, and it is exhibited in many aspects of Jimi’s childhood, particularly as it relates to music.

If anyone—a teacher, a relative, a well-meaning adult—could have recognized and acknowledged the power of Jimi’s focused obsession on becoming a musician, that early energy could have been effectively channeled into helping him become a well-rounded and successful individual in addition to a musician.

Many stories of Jimi’s special sensitivity come through extended community members:  though Jimi and his brother were essentially left to fend for themselves, even to the point of stealing food to survive, they had many unofficial foster families throughout their Seattle neighborhood.  One story involves Jimi’s sudden interest in music at about age 11.  Having never so much as touched a real guitar, he procured a broom and transformed it into his imaginary instrument.  Nearly every day after school he would turn on the radio and strum along with his broom as if he were playing.  One man in the neighborhood observed that he would “play that broom so hard, he would lose all the straw” (Cross, 2004, p. 52).  Later, Jimi was able to upgrade his broom to a beaten-up acoustic guitar with one string.  To most, this would have been a useless instrument, but to the now-obsessed Jimi it became more of a science project: “He experimented with every fret, rattle, buzz and sound-making property the guitar had” (Cross, 2004, p. 52).  He was now displaying incredible aptitude and creativity as an engineer, if you will, or even a scientist in the sense that he was solving authentic problems. This singular obsession, driven by his intense imagination, totally overtook Jimi. When he saw the movie “Johnny Guitar,” in which one of the actors walks around with his guitar hung on his back, he began to carry his one-string guitar around like that, even at school. He would wander the neighborhood and whenever he heard music coming from a garage or home, he would wander in and ask if he could play along. This same one-pointed focus would drive him throughout his career. As an older musician, he would bring his guitar to clubs and shows and pester musicians to teach him tricks, or beg them to let him plug into their amplifiers during breaks. Though generally an extremely shy and understated person, when it came to anything related to advancing his music career, Jimi was a fearless risk-taker.

If anyone—a teacher, a relative, a well-meaning adult—could have recognized and acknowledged the power of Jimi’s focused obsession on becoming a musician, that early energy could have been effectively channeled into helping him become a well-rounded and successful individual in addition to a musician.  Yet as it was, no one, not even other musicians, would begin to recognize Jimi’s special gift until years later.  Though in nearly all other areas of his life he lacked confidence and self-esteem, for this one passion, his music, he seemed to possess the internal locus of control so typical of many gifted individuals. This allowed him to carry on despite the criticism and harsh reactions of those around him.  In all aspects of the concept, he was a “self-made” talent. It is not a surprise, however, that Jimi’s teachers were not armed with the knowledge to properly identify culturally diverse gifted students in the forties and fifties – it is a struggle educating teachers even today. If teachers weren’t even properly equipped to assist Jimi’s development, then how could we expect his parents or other relatives—just struggling to stay alive—to understand the subtleties and special developmental needs of gifted children?  Reva C. Friedman (1994) points out several traits of low-income families which show resiliency despite the stressors which challenge the success of gifted children:  they establish a “supportive climate for development” (Friedman, 1994, p. 326) and are “organized in ways that promote predictability of functioning and reliability” (Snow et al. as cited by Friedman, 1994, p. 326). Yet Jimi had even these two strikes against him! He lived most of his childhood in transitory homes with a father who thought his interest in music was a waste of time, and his family’s few resources were hardly “supportive.”  The most predictable aspect of Jimi’s family life that when somebody drank, somebody would get hit (Cross 2005).

How was it, then, that against so many odds, and with no encouragement whatsoever, Jimi persisted in the development of his special talent?  Evidence suggests that his imaginational OE and vision were strong enough to overcome even these odds.  One surrogate mother who described Jimi as “introverted, downcast…[and] extremely sensitive” tells of an evening when young Jimi uttered an “otherworldy” statement to her whole family. She recalls how he told them all that he was going to become rich and famous, and leave the country and never come back. (Cross, 2004, p. 47). For a poverty-stricken, nearly homeless boy to make such a statement in the early fifties must have seemed incredible, and his announcement was, in fact, met with laughter. It would, however, turn out to be an eerily prophetic statement.

In Dabrowski’s concept of positive disintegration, heredity, environment, and autonomy are the three driving factors that determine how one will overcome the suffering and struggles of life.  In many ways, Jimi did resist and overcome the trappings of his heredity and environment. During his maturation he became fixated on his desire to be a musician, and doing so, he discovered a need to develop personal goals and to acquire the tools to realize them. As was mentioned above, his internal locus of control in this area of his life seemed to indicate the “strong instinct to development that leads to the individual’s higher level of being.”

Yet unfortunately there were many events and circumstances of struggle in Jimi’s childhood that he never was able to positively disintegrate. The authoritarian shadow of his father, for example, seemed to haunt him even after he was a famous rock star. The unresolved theme of his mother’s early death due to alcohol was one that came up again and again both in his music and in personal conversations. The fact that his father had prevented him and his brother from attending their mother’s funeral seemed to only add to the unresolved nature of the experience.

The fact that no mentor appeared in Jimi’s life who understood the special developmental needs that his sensitivity and giftedness demanded is the great tragedy of his story. On stage, he was a genius in complete control and command, displaying a spontaneous virtuosity that was unparalleled. Yet in many ways “the same trait that made him such a talented musician—the ability to be lost in the moment of performance—also caused Jimi to act on his immediate desires of urges, with a recklessness at times” (Cross, 2005, p. 179).  Offstage, the internal locus of control he seemed to possess in relation to his talent seemed less influential, and he was often manipulated by those around him with ulterior motives. Eventually this lack of a compass in his off-stage life led him into the dangerous waters of drugs and groupies, and these would prove to be influences that would lead to his early death.

The great lesson in Jimi’s story for educators is the importance of expanding the net we cast in our search for the gifted, and searching very carefully through what we find. Using the multiple criteria approach outlined by Davis and Rimm (2004) would certainly be a big step forward by overcoming many of the limitations of using standardized tests as the sole identification method.  However, Jimi’s story takes us one realization further—there may be many whom our current system of gifted education simply isn’t ready to support. Until that time, educators need to be vigilant in watching for students who display a special talent, sensitivity, or single-minded passion.  These kids may not find a home in a gifted program, but they do need a special mentor.  They need a guiding hand that can lead them to develop a well-rounded confidence in life, and to develop an internal locus of control to help them navigate their passion to maximum success and fulfillment.

 

References

Cross, C. R. (2005).  Room full of mirrors: A biography of Jimi Hendrix. New York: Hyperion.

Davis, G. A. and Rimm, S. B. (2004).  Education of the gifted and talented (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Friedman, R. C. (1994). Upstream helping for low-income families of gifted students: Challenges and opportunities.  Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 5(4), 321-338.

How Distance Running Prepared me for Parenting a Twice-Exceptional Child

Parent perspectives by Nikki C.

There was a time in my life when I couldn’t imagine anything would compare to the experience of running my first marathon.

At the starting line, I was confident and full of energy.  I was so happy that I had made it through training and that the big day had finally arrived!  My excitement did not last, though.   As the miles racked up, my energy faded.  Anxiety set in, and this turned into full-on fear and self-doubt.   I was digging for strength I wasn’t even sure I had (there might have been some tears and praying at this point).  Eventually, fierce determination kicked in, and I found my confidence.   By the time I crossed that finish line, I had come full circle, back to happiness and excitement.

Challenging, rewarding, and intense…  and what an emotional roller coaster!  I didn’t think anything could compete with those highs and lows, especially in a single morning.   Then, I became a mom – a mom of a remarkable child, who, among other things, is twice-exceptional (gifted with other special needs).   My life with him can involve all of the above emotions on any given day.  I happen to love roller coasters, and I am not complaining in any way. I am grateful, though, that before I became a parent of a 2e child, I learned some important lessons through distance running.

Lesson #1:  There is no such thing as the “best shoe”

Many new runners walk into specialty running stores, announce that they will be starting distance training, and ask for best shoe available.  These new runners soon learn that there is no such thing as the best shoe… at least not the best shoe.  Due to differences such as body mechanics, foot structure, and cushion preferences, each runner needs to find his or her own best shoe.  It might not be the one they hoped for – the one so many of their friends have, the brand they know, the price they expected, and so on – but with some work, they can find their best shoe.  More importantly, they will come to love their shoe, even if it was not what they expected.

The same is true for many aspects of raising a twice-exceptional child.  When you combine giftedness with a disability – not forgetting asynchronous development and overexcitabilities – it often takes some work to find your child’s “best shoe.”  An example: finding the best educational path for your child.  Before my son started school, I believed that public school was a given for us.  I went to public school, and it seemed to work well for most kids.  With my son, I quickly learned that this shoe did not fit well – it was like a supinator trying to do speed work in a motion control shoe (yes, only running geeks will understand that!).  In other words, the metaphorical shoe was holding my child back and was close to causing serious problems.  We found homeschool to be our “best shoe.”

Homeschooling led to another discovery: there is no best curriculum. Talking about curriculum with other homeschool parents is as much fun as talking about running shoes with other runners, but again, you have to find what’s best for your child. For a 2e child, a boxed curriculum is probably not going to work.  Finding my child’s best fit could be compared to the searches of runners who, even after finding their best shoes, still need custom orthotics, tricky customized lacing, and very specific socks to make everything function optimally.  Oh, and expect to have to buy new “shoes” more often than the recommended time frame.

Even basic parenting choices require finding our “best shoe.”  Most parents we know have some common rules: sitting with the family during mealtime, not jumping on the furniture, sleeping in your own bed… heck, sleeping, period.  When kids don’t abide by these rules, timeouts and sticker-chart rewards are common solutions.  I’ll just say that I am almost at the point (almost) where I can laugh at what a disaster those were for us.  We needed different rules and different methods to handle problems.  It makes my head spin to think of all the outside-the-box methods I have had to use, but it has been worth the effort.  Finding our “best shoes” has taken us from 5K to ultramarathon confidence (on some days, and metaphorically speaking, of course J).

Lesson #2:  Join a running group, and find your running buddies

When you’re a distance runner, you’ll log many solo miles, yet I found that joining a running group was also essential.  My ideal group includes runners with varied abilities and experience levels.  Seasoned runners, with their vast knowledge and experience, help newcomers.  Faster runners help slower runners improve performance.  New runners remind you how far you have come.   My favorite part of a running group, though, is the camaraderie.  Runners love to talk about running. They love to share stories – the good, the bad, the ugly. You learn fairly quickly that non-runners don’t necessarily want to hear all you have to say about running… and you have a lot you want to say about running! Runners can laugh and cry together about things others just don’t get.

The same has been true with parenting a 2e child.   My “running buddies” include special needs groups, gifted groups, twice-exceptional groups, and homeschool groups, local and online.  The things I’ve learned from experienced parents have been invaluable, and their guidance lowers my anxiety level.  It can also be immensely rewarding to see that not only does your work impact your child’s progress, but that you, too, can help parents new to “running.”

Parent groups also allow you to speak freely about topics you can’t discuss with those who aren’t “runners.”  Discussing issues related to your child’s disability and its perplexing parenting dilemmas can be overwhelming for some who live outside of that world.  Discussing your child’s giftedness and its challenges can be even harder.

So, find groups that are full of optimistic people.  Find your running buddies.  They can enable you and your child to run the best race you both possibly can.

Lesson #3: Remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary

I’ll admit, I was a sucker for motivational running quotes when I first started.  For me, they provided inspiration comparable to listening to the theme from Rocky.  This one made the most difference for me:  “Running a marathon: how to single-handedly remove the word can’t from your vocabulary.”   In my first “training” run, I could barely make it ten minutes before I thought my lungs would never recover.  I didn’t say “can’t,” though.  I got over that hurdle, then got over the next one, over and over.  Soon after, I realized that I could apply this concept to many aspects of my life – and now, to parenting a 2e child.

When you are raising a twice-exceptional child, hearing the word “can’t” comes with the territory.  You might be trying to help your child through another public meltdown, or trying to persuade the school into testing your child for the gifted program even though he has a disability, or trying to assure your friend that you have not lost your mind when you pull your special needs child out of public school.  You might be trying to encourage your child to try something new despite their fear of mistakes.  You know your child better than anyone, you have more motivation than anyone, and you are making decisions based on the best interest of your child… so, guess what?   You can!  Removing the word “can’t” encourages perseverance, enhances endurance, and boosts confidence.  These things help when you need to take the road less traveled.

When your child needs you in their corner, it’s not an option to think “’I’m not strong enough” or “I can’t do this.”  After removing the word “can’t,” now you think, “how do I get strong enough?”  My son, along with giftedness, has an autism diagnosis and sensory processing disorder.  Some days are hard.  Some days being a mom to this child of mine wears me out.  At these times, I ask myself, “how do I get stronger?”  With your child as your inspiration and some help from your “running buddies,” you will find that strength.

Lesson #4:  You can’t effectively treat an injury until you know the source

There is one thing runners can be really bad at… handling injuries.  We ignore early warning signs, we slap a Band-Aid on a more serious issue, or we aren’t consistent with the recovery plan.  Since we want to get back on the road, we are often shortsighted.  Usually, running injuries that are ignored or masked do not get better on their own, and often they get much worse. After incurring several running injuries, I learned that many are preventable, and others can be remedied more easily if you figure out the source of the problem.  For example, if a runner starts experiencing a slight pain in the knee area, and if all she does is wear a knee sleeve, the problem will probably get worse and could require more drastic measures.  On the other hand, if at the first sign of knee pain, the runner learns about possible causes and gets to the root of the problem, the outcome can be much better.

Listening to my child’s signals and finding the root of challenges have been critical for us.  We have been blessed to have the assistance of several behavior therapists who reminded me that finding the root of a problem is always the best way to find a long-term solution.  Instead of feeling like I’m supposed to be a disciplinarian when my child does something that seems inappropriate, I become a detective.  For instance, through research, consultations, and evaluations, I learned that my son is a sensory seeker and he’s full of psychomotor overexcitabilities.  Occupational therapy and a better understanding of giftedness have worked miracles for us.  In a different setting, his behaviors could have been reprimanded, labeled as problematic and possibly misdiagnosed.

I want to be clear that I am not discouraging needed medication:  my concern is about viewing medication as a first step when the root of the problem has yet to be addressed.  A 2e child who is acting out in a classroom might be doing so because he’s not being appropriately challenged academically.  In this situation, investigating and working to find an academic fit appropriate for his ability could provide a constructive, long-term solution.  When a 2e child is acting out, it is also possible that he is trying to exert some control in an environment that feels out of control to him.  In my experience, sensory integration therapy could provide tools to cope with sensory overload that could benefit him for years to come.

Soon after we entered the autism world, I read this quote:  “If you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.”   When we entered the gifted-identified world, I heard the same quote in reference to gifted children.  What should the quote be for our 2e kiddos? “If you have met one person who is 2e, you have met one person who is 2e… and you will continually encounter new aspects of that person. You better enjoy doing research, and you better find all your stamina, because knowing this individual will give you a complex, intense, thrilling, and awe-inducing ride that will change you in ways you never imagined.”

Sometimes all the research and possible parenting tools can get downright overwhelming. Many times, in a difficult situation with my child (especially those that happen in a crowded public area), I find myself not knowing what to say because my head is swimming with all the things I’ve learned.  What’s the right thing to do at this moment?  I don’t know!  I feel like everyone is staring at me and waiting for me to do the right thing…and I can’t think! When fear and self-doubt rear their ugly heads when I am trying to be a good parent to my 2e child, the lessons I learned during that first marathon come back to me. I need to find my strength, and when all else fails, I do this…  keep my head up and keep moving forward.

From one runner to another:  remember to enjoy the journey… and remember to breathe.

 

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Reigniting Math: Connections Over Corrections and the Embrace of Wonderment

by Ben Koch

Easily, the most successful course I’ve developed over the last few years is one called Mathacadabra: The Magic of Math*. In it, students trace the mythological magic square from ancient China to Ben Franklin, use Fibonacci and the Golden Ratio to see if they’d have cut it as an Olympian supermodel in ancient Greece, test their common-sense view of reality with topology and the Moebius strip, and learn all order of mental math agilities, including an exploration of the “memory palace” method espoused by both Sherlock Holmes and U.S. memory champion Ron White. Bear with me…this post is not a bragfest on my curriculum writing skills. Rather, I’m hoping my passion and enthusiasm for this Math-based content is coming across clearly, because I need to contrast it with its stark opposite: my past self.

Were there a magic thread I could trace back through time, perhaps I could identify that moment, or at least a cascade of micro-moments, when I broke from Math and began to identify it–at least subconsciously–in the same life category as “Novocaine shots into my gums” and “soggy green beans.” As a young boy with the “gifted” label and some of the learning opportunities that entailed, I had consistent opportunities to embrace Math, to see beyond its facade of empty numerals and operations. But somewhere along the way, I’d failed to connect Math to my already voracious curiosity about things like the composition of the rings of Saturn, the concept of infinity, the physics of black holes, or even my obsession with LEGO construction and fascination with breaking new speed records on my Big Wheel.

“I’m not a math person.” As Mindset author Carol Dweck has highlighted, this phrasing and self-conceptualization can become a misguided badge of honor. But it isn’t only struggling students who create such a shield to protect themselves from the perceived slings and arrows of the most taken-for-granted of our core subjects. Over the years, I’ve seen that our brightest students are just as likely to see math as the dark cloud of their school day, to be endured like a perfectly timed and predictable bout of bad weather.

For me, that disconnect persisted well into adulthood, driving me as deep into the refuge of the humanities as possible, where I pleaded for sanctuary from the cold, heartless reach of Math at the feet of Keats, and Steinbeck and an entire lineage of poets and philosophers who seemed to share my seething resentment for the dark art of repetition and red-marked worksheets. Instead of seeing Math as a layer to my understanding of the world, I’d come to associate it with a tedious attention to a circular system of numerals and symbols with no real connection to things beyond its oppressive logic. I wish I could say that revolutions in Math education have identified, diagnosed and bridged this chasm, but I’m afraid this Math disconnect is prevalent and will continue for many otherwise highly curious and bright young students. The problem, in essence, is that rather than embracing the origin of curiosity in the arts and humanities, most Math curriculum takes the pretentious stand that it legitimately exists in isolation of the arts, as a final and authoritative anchor of STEM. If you don’t want to lose more students like me to the S.S.M.H.E.M (Secret Society of Math-Hating English Majors), here’s what we must do: broaden our conceptualization of “Math” to include, and in fact begin from, the intersection of the world and our sense of wonderment about it.

This approach to Math, which I call “Connections Over Corrections” for its ability to incite curiosity and deepen our appreciation of an interconnected universe of beings, objects, and ideas, has a couple simple premises:

Allow Math to arise organically in an environment of open, passion-based inquiry, not in isolation:
Drill and kill approaches to math create a false, insular understanding that mastering math for math’s sake is some kind of academic achievement. Math mastery is an achievement only when used as a tool for more holistic goals: solving an engineering problem, coordinating angles and lines in a wall-sized mural, calculating imperceptible light shifts in the hunt for exoplanets. Don’t worry, no one is denying there’s a basic foundation of math concepts and skills to be grasped and even mastered–heck, there’s even a place for flash cards! But when the next skill to be learned and mastered arises organically out of the problem at hand, CONNECTION is inevitable, and a long-term grasp of why that skill is important is encouraged.

Emphasize Math as yet another LANGUAGE with which to understand phenomena, not a “pure” reductionist explanation stipped of all mystery:
The Math of my childhood classroom, especially in secondary school, came across as the antithesis to my unnatural passion for poetry. If someone had shown me the interaction between Math and Poetry (“Hey, let’s try a Fibonacci sonnet!”), perhaps that would have provided an opening just wide enough to let Math back in.

While developing a growth mindset can play a huge role in encouraging and re-engaging “lost” or reluctant mathematicians, I argue there is a more powerful (and much more challenging) approach. Let’s leave space in our curriculum for organic connections to reinforce curiosity and drive problem solving, and allow wonderment – raw, childlike amazement with the universe – be the fuel that energizes, and ultimately reignites, our learning of math.


 

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*Mathacadabra: The Magic of Math course title and syllabus are the intellectual property of NuMinds Enrichment.

“Poke the Box”: Inviting Students to Wonder and Initiate

by Ben Koch

In his 2011 book, Poke the Box: What was the Last Time You Did Something for the First Time?, prolific marketing and business expert Seth Godin implores us to reclaim the curiosity that drives INITIATION. Simply put, initiation is the will, the habit, the discipline, and the audacity of starting things. New things. Risky, untested things with a pretty good chance of failure. His metaphor of “poking the box” invokes that unique mix of boldness and insatiable wonder that drives the doers of the new economy. When you poke the box, you are curious enough to want to manipulate, analyze, and maybe even reverse engineer it, despite the high risk of failure. How’s that thing work?! This, says Godin, is the true path to innovation.

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Click to view book on Amazon.

While the book invigorated and inspired the entrepreneur in me, it was the educator and parent in me who began to mentally overlay Godin’s vision onto the world of schools and classrooms. I asked: are there not just opportunities, but in fact invitations to “poke the box” in the learning environments we create for students?

I asked: are there not just opportunities, but in fact invitations to “poke the box” in the learning environments we create for students?

Poking the box is so crucial, asserts Godin, because “without the ability to instigate and experiment, you are stuck, adrift, waiting to be shoved” (p.4). Hmmm. I think back to the hundreds of classrooms I’ve seen, and I realize I’d never thought of the classroom environment in quite that metaphorical light–how is a classroom that values compliance and linear, pre-ordained objectives like a BULLY that shoves students into submission?

Godin frames this desire to initiate in terms of types of capital. There can be financial, network, intellectual, physical, and prestige capital, for instance. All crucial to some degree for success. The most important capital, though, the one difference-maker, says Godin, is Instigation Capital: The desire to move forward. The ability and the guts to say yes. “The ability and the guts.” I like that his definition includes guts, because guts imply courage, and courage implies risk. Are our learning environments creating students willing to take risks? Because that’s the key stepping stone, the primal ingredient for developing students into adults who later possess instigation capital.

If set expectations and the fear of failure are the gravity that keep us in an orbit of the familiar, than I like to think of curiosity as the one force strong enough to break us free from that orbit. The rocket fuel to leave the atmosphere of Planet Status Quo. Indeed, in his mini chapter Where Did Curious Go? Godin laments the fade of true, insatiable curiosity, that hungry, hellbent drive to just KNOW: “Not the search for the right answer, as much as an insatiable desire to understand how something works and how it might work better.” (p. 24). He’s careful, though, to distinguish between the merely creative person, and the person with initiative: “The difference is that the creative person is satisfied once he sees how it’s done. The initiator won’t rest until he does it” (p. 24).

In the context of the business world, Godin highlights the contrast between that which is  “allowed and not-allowed.” Invariably, employees can rattle off a running list of what’s not allowed at work. But who knows what IS allowed? Why not focus on that, on the realm of the possible? Godin feels we “might be afraid of how much freedom we actually have, and how much we’re expected to do with that freedom.” (p. 37) I immediately applied this filter on the classroom. Pick a random student and ask her to list off all the rules of what not to do to avoid getting in trouble. Now ask the same student what IS allowed. She’s likely to give you a most befuddled look. Classrooms are about constriction and control, not about expansion and possibility.

If set expectations and the fear of failure are the gravity that keep us in an orbit of the familiar, than I like to think of curiosity as the one force strong enough to break us free from that orbit. The rocket fuel to leave the atmosphere of Planet Status Quo.

Three years ago, after over a decade in the public school classroom, I walked away to launch my own education company with a friend and business partner. I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it at the time, but looking back now, I see the classroom as a box, slowly but surely becoming a hermetically sealed cube, not to be tampered with. The quest for correct answers driven by high-stakes testing has created a system which values conformity and douses curiosity like a dangerous torch. By upper elementary, most students have complacently accepted the “A, B, C or D world” and stopped wondering about the off-the-page option, let alone how to initiate it.

So, through our company, we started poking all kinds of boxes, seeing what OTHER ways we could enrich the students who needed it most. What types of programs and curriculum and learning environments, when “unshackled” from the constraints of mainstream schooling objectives, really work? Turns out, having the freedom, the curiosity, and the guts, to see education with new eyes, as a system to POKE, has been extremely fruitful.

Well, here are 4 well-wrought and tested pieces of experience-wisdom from these last 3 years of creating “alternative” learning spaces. Am I sharing these to get your kid into one of our programs? While that would be swell, my real motive for sharing is because I sincerely believe these lessons can be applied in virtually any learning environment. Whether you’re a radical unschooler or still teaching in a traditional classroom, there are degrees to which the following can spark up your learning environment to increase initiation capital for your students:

1 Create Mixed-age Learning Interactions

Research on asynchronous development tells us the arbitrary “date of birth” metaphorically stamped on your gifted child’s behind might just be the least important thing to consider (watch a thought-provoking animation of this from Sir. Ken Robinson’s Changing Paradigms talk), and yet our entire industrialized school system hardly wavers from that one organizing principle. We thought, “well, they say intellectual peers are key for gifted kids, so let’s open up the environment to let those connections happen organically.” Nearly all our programs, from our flagship summer camp to our after school enrichment courses, are mixed age, open to grades 1-8. Parents are encouraged to let students gravitate to a course based on their passion. Because where there’s passion, there’s curiosity, and where there’s curiosity, there’s…you guessed it, the drive to initiate!

2 Take Leaps of Failure

Some of the greatest moments of discovery over the last 3 years have taken place when I, as the teacher, stood at the brink of an unknown step right alongside a student. “Will this work? I don’t know! What’s gonna happen? No idea. But is it right? Who cares?!” True, sometimes these mystery steps ended up as face plants onto academic concrete. But many times these moments of unknowing revealed wildly unforeseen solutions and pathways that, had I been the “expert,” we never would have facilitated. Our notion of teacher as “sage on the stage” was so exploded, in fact, that we had to invent a new term to describe our role with students: inspirator. Part educator, part inspirer. An inspirator drives ahead with the same curiosity of his student, and willingly takes leaps of failure.

3 Remove the Burden of Grades

We create academically rigorous, interdisciplinary courses designed to push kids through their zone of proximal development. This ain’t fluff, folks. And we’ve never offered a single numerical/letter grade. Yet students carry through to the very end, digging deep, creating elaborate final projects, and beaming with excitement for the “next step.” How do we do it? Why do students even care? Turns out there’s life after the carrot and stick! Remember when you were 6 and you spent 5 solid hours building a LEGO universe, because your whole being was invested in it? When students meet authentic, passion-driven curriculum that aligns with their own curiosity, there’s a chemical reaction of which the by-product is intrinsic motivation. It’s a thing! And no it can’t be bottled!

4 Embrace Creative Play

Many of our programs are based on the concept of creative play–that students “open up their minds to what’s possible, take chances, solve problems, collaborate and become better creative thinkers and doers” (see the Imagination Foundation).

One event, for example, is inspired by the remarkable story of Caine, the (then) 9 year old boy who transformed his dad’s parts shop into a “maker” arcade of cardboard, tape, and trinkets. I’m still overcome with emotion every time I see it. We host an annual event (like many others around the world with the encouragement of the Imagination Foundation) called the Cardboard Challenge, in which students show up and are presented with one simple challenge: “Here’s a bunch of random stuff, mostly cardboard. By the end of the day, we need a functioning arcade game. Go!” In the beginning, we worried about perception. Would parents see value in this? On the surface it appears loose and unstructured–few see the hours and hours of prep that had gone into creating this open learning environment. Then, at that first event, we saw magic happen. Real, intense, mind-bending alchemy of extraordinary imagination, creativity and problem solving. By not placing boundaries with expectations, young INITIATORS searched for their own boundaries. My first thought, to be honest, was lamentation over the years of wasted opportunities in my classrooms when I’d had too little faith in the organic power of creative play.

You don’t have to be a zany “edupreneneur” like us to approach your gifted students’ learning in this way. Wherever you are–a homeschooling mom, a Middle School principal, a 3rd grade public school teacher–poke that box! Initiate a new learning situation. See what happens.

References

Godin, S. (2011). Poke the box: When was the last time you did something for the first time? Irvington, N.Y.?: Portfolio/Penguin.

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Ode to a Rush-Free Childhood

by Pia K. Ruda

As parents, we are constantly playing catch up in several fields at once, trying to keep up with the others. Almost two months before the new school year started, I was already too late to sign up for library duty at my son’s school.  More efficient and organized parents had taken the shifts, on the first day of sign ups.  To get the optimal time slots for piano lessons, tennis, or art classes, you have to be on it.  I am an outcast in this game.  In fact, I am growing to celebrate it.

I’ve seen many kids pushed into too many activities by perky parents, but especially by parents of endlessly curious, high ability children (code for gifted).  These parents sigh that their offspring is “just so interested in everything.”  They say that their kids insist on being a part of all those activities.  Gifted children do often have natural abilities in several areas:  sports, acting, music, or art, to name a few. Luckily, many fields can be explored in unstructured ways that do not require long-term commitments.  A pursuit does not always have to give your child a certificate of achievement or a medal at the end.  

Luckily, many fields can be explored in unstructured ways that do not require long-term commitments.  A pursuit does not always have to give your child a certificate of achievement or a medal at the end.

Choosing the rush-free path can be especially hard with the multi-talented gifted child. What if he could be the next big thing in something that we rule out?  What if he misses out, if he doesn’t reach his potential?  Well, then, I guess we will never find out – and I choose to take comfort in that.  I believe that true passions are not so easily silenced, and that they will thrive even in less optimal conditions.  I believe that they will grow, much like resistant wildflowers between the rocks, without all that top-of-the-line fertilizer and weeding.  Boredom makes healthy wrinkles and cracks in our kids’ perfect lives.  Through those cracks, creativity and new ideas flourish.

I believe that they will grow, much like resistant wildflowers between the rocks, without all that top-of-the-line fertilizer and weeding.  Boredom makes healthy wrinkles and cracks in our kids’ perfect lives.  Through those cracks, creativity and new ideas flourish.

Having moved to the U.S. a little over a decade ago, it has been interesting to observe parental roles and expectations in this country.  Here, filling a child’s life with as many structured activities as possible seems to be one of the key measuring sticks of successful parenting.  Families aim for perfectly planned and balanced schedules with a great variety of activities.  These tightly packed days start in toddlerhood.  I remember watching my boys’ classmates getting hastily transported to activities after Pre-K, shoving down a snack in the car.   They ran to karate, ballet, violin, baseball, art, or gymnastics – a different activity each day.   “You want them exposed,” parents would say.  “You want to give them all these choices.  You don’t want them to miss out.”

But what if they miss out on their own childhood?

A gifted child, especially one with the perfectionism monster lurking on his shoulder, can get anxious with the pressures and demands. Some gifted kids base their self-worth on their achievements, on what they measurably do.  Especially for these children, it can be beneficial to consciously shift the focus towards celebrating learning itself.  They need awareness of their own discoveries, their new connections and thoughts, and the feelings found within themselves, through the exploration of a new field. In order to give room for character development, I firmly believe in allowing our children breathing room.  They need space to discover who they are, and what is truly important to them.  They need unstructured time, to discover their inner world, without too much push-and-pull and direction.  

Social-emotional growth and well-being need both time and space.

Cultural reflection is where I spend a lot of my own time.  From my perspective, I see this game – scheduling and programming our children and youth – in the revealing Arctic light.  In my native country, little Finland, things are different.  We have no school sports teams, no cheerleaders, and no prom queens or kings.  In Finland, college admissions are solely based on academic success in high school, as well as subject specific entry exams.  As a result, the kids are not required to have inhumane numbers of recorded achievements from a variety of extracurricular activities.  In Finland, kids spend their afternoons playing, with a hobby of their choice, or sometimes just getting bored.

We Finns are a nation of complete slacker parents compared to the U.S. – yet Finland has gained positive publicity over the past years, shining at the top of international comparisons of learning results. Critical thinking is valued high.  You can’t analyze if you are over-scheduled – with too little time, you just take information in, without digesting it.  I see the rush-free childhood as a right, much like recess and school lunches.  These are children’s rights, not privileges.  For me, this is closely linked to “instinct parenting,” which gives the parents the right to follow their own safe instincts when parenting their own children, instead of religiously following the manual of the moment.

We Finns are a nation of complete slacker parents compared to the U.S. – yet Finland has gained positive publicity over the past years, shining at the top of international comparisons of learning results. Critical thinking is valued high.  You can’t analyze if you are over-scheduled – with too little time, you just take information in, without digesting it.

So, I’ve decided it is just fine not keeping up with it all, and I think we’re still going to be just fine in the end.  I have never heard an adult complain bitterly that he had too much time to play as a kid, or that he spent too many hours reading books and riding his bike.  I have, however, heard bitter adults share memories of parents making them play a certain sport, or practice an instrument for which they themselves felt no passion.  

Yes, my boys are missing out on so many activities in which they could potentially shine.  But I would rather have them not miss out on their own childhood.  I want to give them space to find themselves, and not force-feed the ingredients of the ideal overachiever. That is where my priority lies. With the long American school days, and excessive amounts of homework, it is hard — but I try to give my sons the leading parts in their childhoods. Now is the time, for there won’t be any dress rehearsals.

Gifted 101: The 6 Gifted Profiles

Help for both parents and teachers — free parent resources also below!

by Emily VR

The situation:  It’s the first month of school. You’re a teacher, and your class includes a few gifted-identified children. You’ve worked hard to plan and differentiate your lessons.  All of your students seem engaged, except… one of your gifted students. He’s not doing his work, and you don’t know why. Another of your gifted students won’t attempt challenges – it’s like she’s hiding her ability. One more gifted student shows incredible insight during discussions, but he seems to struggle with reading and writing. (You’re surprised that he qualified for gifted program services.) At least one of your gifted students is wonderful – she gets straight As, and it seems like she doesn’t need anything from you!

Can all of these children be gifted? How do you cope with their mysterious differences?

Thankfully, in 1988, two leaders in gifted education provided some answers for both teachers and parents.  In their “Profiles of the Gifted and Talented,” George Betts and Maureen Neihart identify six profiles of student behaviors, helping adults to better understand student feelings and needs.  A child may fit more than one profile at once, and can change profiles over time, depending on internal and external factors. No profile is limited by gender or family background, though some characteristics can occur more frequently in certain populations.

Let’s examine the profiles and help some students!

Type One: Successful

This student does well in school! She rarely gets in trouble. She may be a perfectionist, and she is “eager for approval from teachers, parents and other adults.” She is sometimes perceived as not needing anything special. If she is not challenged, however, she may learn to put forth minimal effort – and may not learn the skills and attitudes needed for future creativity and autonomy.

Recommendations for Successful-type students include opportunities for challenge, risk-taking, mentorships, and independent learning, as well as time with intellectual peers.

Type Two: Challenging / Creative

This student is creative, stands up for his convictions, and may question rules. If he isn’t challenged and engaged, he can exhibit inconsistent work habits, boredom, and impatience. Teachers may feel frustrated with him, and he can have low self-esteem. If his abilities are not understood and supported, he “may be ‘at risk’ for dropping out of school, ‘drug addiction or delinquent behavior if appropriate interventions are not made by junior high.'”

Creative students need tolerant adults, support for creativity and strengths, placement with appropriate teachers, in-depth studies, and opportunities to build self-esteem. In 2010, Betts and Neihart renamed the “Challenging” profile to “Creative,” reflecting these students’ potential.

Note: Though the curriculum is designed to challenge the majority of students, typical differentiation may not reach levels needed by some gifted students, holding them back in subjects or entire grades.

Type Three: Underground

An “Underground” student may start as Successful, but she later conceals or denies her abilities. Looking for social acceptance, she may drop out of her gifted program, resist challenges, struggle with insecurity, and allow her grades to decline. She may be a middle-school aged girl, may belong to a population facing added obstacles, or could be any student facing pressure not to achieve in school.

Recommendations for this type require balancing. Underground students “should not be permitted to abandon all projects or advanced classes,” but may benefit from permission to take a break from G/T classes. These students need to be “accepted as they are.” Adults can provide alternate ways to meet academic needs, the freedom to make choices, and help with college/career planning.

Type Four: At-Risk

An “At Risk” student may feel angry, resentful, depressed, and/or explosive. He may have a poor self-concept, act out, and have poor attendance, yet he may have interests and strengths outside of school. He may feel “angry with adults and with [himself] because the system has not met [his] needs for many years.” School may feel irrelevant and hostile to him, and he may feel rejected.

Recommendations include individual counseling, family counseling, out-of-classroom learning experiences, mentorships, and a “close working relationship with an adult they can trust.”

Prevention of the “At Risk” profile is one goal of meeting the needs of other profiles, especially the Creative profile.

Type Five: Twice-Exceptional

The Twice-Exceptional (“2e”) student is gifted, but she also has other special needs. She may have a learning disability, autism, a processing disorder, ADHD, or another area of disability. She can feel powerless and frustrated, and may have inconsistent, average, or below-average school work. She often feels confused or upset about her struggles, and others may see only her disabilities, not her strengths.

To avoid low self-esteem and achieve their potential, these students need emphasis on and challenge in their areas of strength.  They also need advocacy from parents and teachers, risk-taking opportunities, and support for their disabilities.

To meet gifted needs, they may further benefit from G/T support groups, opportunities for exploration and investigation, and alternate learning experiences.

Type Six: Autonomous

An Autonomous learner exhibits some Successful characteristics, but instead of performing only the work required, he creates opportunities for himself. Self-directed, independent, and generally confident, this student is able to take appropriate academic risks. He may assume leadership roles, but can also suffer from isolation.

Autonomous learner recommendations include opportunities related to the child’s passions, development of a long-term plan of study, friends of all ages, mentorships, and when possible, removal of time and space restrictions for their studies.

Applying the Profiles

As you can see, it can take detective work to support gifted students!  The Six Profiles can help immediately with:

  • Identifying effective interventions, some of which may be new (an underperforming student might actually need harder work!);
  • Increasing empathy for students’ feelings;
  • Bridging communication gaps in student/teacher and parent/teacher relationships;
  • Avoiding harmful comparisons: if parents and educators view giftedness through a single lens, and if they expect all students to behave in a certain way, they may fail to recognize the abilities and needs of students at risk for negative outcomes.

Other factors can alter student behavior, as well: gifted children can struggle with asynchronous development, overexcitabilities, higher levels of giftedness, and obstacles faced by special populations.

Despite all these differences, gifted students do have needs in common: they need opportunities to pursue interests, challenging work, positive relationships, and understanding from adults.

When we can decode their behavior, we gain respect for students’ feelings and perspectives.  As parents and educators, we can also improve the chances that gifted students will stay in school, continue to love learning, and achieve their potential – our goals for all children.


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Have you found the Six Profiles helpful in your teaching or parenting? Do you have success with other strategies?  We would love to hear from you!

Source of Profiles and quoted text:

Betts, G. and Neihart, M. Profiles of the Gifted and Talented. Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Reprinted from Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 1988. Web. July 2015. http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx

Printer-friendly version: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_print_id_10114.aspx

The updated 2010 matrix of Profiles and recommendations is available online.

Further information:

NuMinds Enrichment offers Professional Development exploring the Six Profiles in more depth, in addition to information about other gifted needs and teaching strategies. For details on NuMinds professional development for teachers, visit http://numien.com/professional-development/

For a free NuMinds vodcast for parents on using the 6 profiles as a tool to better communicate with teachers, see below:

We are proud this post is part of the Gifted 101 blog hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!

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