Sunday, April 6, 2014

My First EdCamp Experience and Why It Matters



One of the most difficult conundrums for gifted advocates is preaching to the choir and reaching out to the general education community at the same time. This past weekend, I decided to step out of the choir loft and into the main auditorium … I attended my first EdCamp. To be clear, I was venturing well out of my comfort zone; I am not a teacher and that fact often does not bode well in a room full of teachers.

Any apprehension I felt on the drive into the city melted away as I took a seat to listen to the day’s Inspire Talk. Before the presentation, several people came up to me and thanked me for coming as I had mentioned on Twitter that I planned to attend the event. It occurred to me that it only takes a short walk to bridge the gap between teachers and advocates when we realize that our passion is ultimately to see all students succeed!




Over the past 24 hours, I’ve reflected on why this experience was so different for me when clearly the emphasis of an EdCamp is geared to primarily professional development for teachers. Then it struck me … the very nature of this relatively new type of unconference brought together the avant garde of the teaching profession; the forward thinkers who are not bound by rules of from whom they can and cannot learn.

All in attendance considered themselves life-long learners. There was the sense that learning can take place anywhere. There was also a general sense of frustration among these teachers that their profession had taken a hit in recent years with the continual demands of standardized testing which sapped the creativity and innovative spirit that had sent many of them into the classroom in the first place. This was particularly evident among those who taught in public schools. How sad.

Unlike past experiences in formal school district settings, I felt accepted and heard when I spoke about my role in social media to facilitate the conversation between parents and teachers in the gifted community. Gifted students were viewed as a part of the school population who had needs that deserve to be met. It was an uplifting experience to say the least.

EdCamps are probably not a destination for most parents. However, they are something parents should talk about with their child’s teacher as a viable option for educators who seek quality professional development. And did I mention the conference was free? The only expense was getting to the conference, and with the proliferation of EdCamps around the country this should not be a major issue in the future.

Why does my attendance at an educational conference matter? It is a sign of hope that there are teachers who are not bound by traditional expectations of how children learn or how anyone learns. We must seek out ways to work together.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Underachievement: An Alternate Course of Action

Photo Courtesy: Morguefile

In my last post, I promised resources for those who requested them. While pulling together the list of links below, I came across several forgotten gems on the topic; articles which have influenced my thinking but escaped my memory. I would be remiss if I did not thank two authors whose work has had a profound impact on how I approach this subject ~ Mr. Josh Shaine and Dr. James Delisle. Their articles are the most parent-friendly ones I have ever come across. I highly recommend you read their articles first.

The term ‘underachievement’ is about as prickly as the term ‘gifted’. There are lots of definitions and parameters, but little agreement on what the term actually means. I’ve always had an uneasy feeling about the connotations surrounding underachievement. As a parent, it made me sad to think of a child as an underachiever.

When did the child become an underachiever?

Where could a parent have gone wrong?

As it turns out, neither the child nor their parent actually did anything wrong. You wouldn’t know that to listen to teachers, psychologists or ‘experts’ in the field of gifted education who try to tell a different story. They are quick to point to the symptoms of underachievement, but are at a loss for words when it comes to causes. And there is a good reason for that …

You see … this is a classic case of blame the victim. Something has to be wrong with the child that they are simply not living up to their potential (or should I say to someone else’s expectations?).

In Delisle’s article, he acknowledges that there are students who do not perform as well as they could academically, but he insists we stop blaming the child. Rather, he explains we should start making a difference by changing ‘our’ vocabulary and attitude about underachievement.

I couldn’t agree more. Last summer, I sat in a session with one of the leading ‘experts’ on the topic of underachievement. It was all about how to fix the underachieving child. During the presentation, she had an activity for the audience. Not accepting the premise of the activity, I chose not to participate. This did not sit well with this expert. She actually came to my table to ask me personally to join in. When I said “no”, she became flustered and walked away. The irony of my actions obviously escaped her.

As parents, we often expect a lot from our children when they are identified as ‘gifted’ … perhaps we expect TOO much forgetting that they are still children? I know – this flies in the face of another group of experts - who say we must push, and push, and push. Well, many of these gifted children are a lot smarter than the experts and that includes the ones who label them as underachievers.

Photo Courtesy: Morguefile

Don’t the same experts advise parents to do all we can to encourage creativity? Then they tell us how to get our children to conform to an uninspired curriculum offered in many classrooms today. We are told to coerce our children into completing the 10 to 12 worksheets they are handed every day for homework ... or endure being labeled another ‘esteem-killing’ term … lazy.

Another course of action:

·         Forget the term ‘underachievement’
·         Explore why your child lacks interest
·         Change the environment, not your child
·         Encourage your child to find their passion
·         Be patient with your child



Links:



Patterns for Charlie (Companion piece to Underachievement from the Inside Out) by France Shaine (Josh's mother)

A Note on the Definition of Underachievement 

Underachieving Gifted in a Talent Development World 



Giftedness, Conflict, and Underachievement (book) by Joanne Rand Whitmore 





Sunday, January 19, 2014

Parenting an Underachiever? Can You Say Heartache?

Photo source: Morgue File

I didn't learn about what it means to be gifted until fairly late in the game. Looking back, it’s amazing that I survived at all. The condescending calls from teachers, the homework battles, parenting books filled with advice that NEVER worked, watching my child descend into despair … all the while feeling SO ALONE.

Hindsight may be 20 – 20, but in my case, it’s difficult to see that things could have been any different. With one possible exception … knowing what the heck was going on! Blogs were non-existent when I started my journey as a parent.

The advent of blogs for parents of gifted kids is a relatively new occurrence. How I wish this was not true. I must admit a bit of envy ~ yes ENVY for parents today. I read blogs every day and seek out blogs pertaining to gifted parenting. Some have excellent advice; some not.

The point is … if you are parenting an underachiever, you certainly are not ALONE. You know the old saying, “Misery loves company”? Well, it sure can feel like misery when your child is underachieving and NO ONE seems to know what to do or how to help. TOO MANY people seemingly love to point fingers and place blame; but how does that help you and your child?

The simple answer is that it doesn't help. So, what can help? Learning about and understanding that underachievement is a growing phenomenon and something that is best dealt with when recognized early. Although it’s never too late to address this issue, it easier to do while your child is young and not sinking into the abyss.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When your child is identified as gifted, DO NOT take it for granted. Advocate from day one. Advocate for an appropriate, individualized education program. Find out what is already available; then research programs to enhance those offerings. Appreciate the benefits of technology in the gifted classroom. Explore all your options.

Finally, you may have to accept that this is one situation beyond your control and things may not turn out as you had planned or even hoped for; life is like that sometimes. It’s not the end of the world. Children grow up and life goes on. Love does survive.

Is that the end of the story? Not at all! You can make a difference in your child’s life. It’s not easy parenting a rebellious kid who is failing in school or who may have already dropped out. As the parent of a gifted child who is not living up to their potential, you must NEVER give up! If you don’t think you can handle it on your own, seek help. With your support, your child will make it! 

If you would like resources to help on the journey, please comment below and I will send you both online and offline resources. 




Sunday, December 29, 2013

All Children Are Challenged in the Regular Classroom ???



Well, not really.    You may not hear those words exactly, but you might hear things like: “Our school’s philosophy is one of full inclusion where all children’s strengths are celebrated.” OR “Our teachers differentiate their instruction to provide an individualized education for all our students.” OR “We feel that accelerating your child beyond their current grade level would prove detrimental to their social well-being. Your child will benefit from interacting with all their peers.”

Here’s what you need to understand. Much of this language comes straight from Special Education. Gifted Education falls under the Special Education umbrella in many states and also in undergraduate college courses for pre-service teachers. (In federal policy, gifted education is not part of special education.)

The idea of ‘full inclusion’ is a philosophy. It is not the law. Differentiation is a wonderful idea; however, it rarely occurs in the regular classroom for gifted students. Acceleration is one research-based idea which has been well-documented as one of the best possible methods for meeting the academic needs of gifted children.

Full inclusion is based on the principle of ‘least-restrictive environment’ for physically/mentally disabled students. LRE was the result of court cases brought by parents (something to consider*). For most students, the regular classroom is the least-restrictive environment for their education. It is not, however, the case for students identified as intellectually gifted in most instances. It often becomes the ‘most-restrictive environment’.

Differentiation is one of those policies that looks great on paper, but the reality is that very few classroom teachers receive adequate professional development to do differentiation for gifted students and even fewer believe they need to provide it for these students. If differentiation of instruction was actually occurring, gifted students would not be the only group of students who consistently fail to show annual growth.

Consider the pressures facing most teachers today with a roster of 25 students in a class and 4 to 6 classes a day. Do.the.math. Who has the time to differentiate every lesson every day for a minimum of three different levels over the course of 180 days?



I’m not saying that it can’t be done; especially if you’re in a school district with adequate funding for technology and professional staff development. I’m saying it’s most likely not being done in a majority of schools.

Disagree? Ask your school’s principal to let you sit in on classes for a day at your child’s school. Better yet … ask the principal to accompany you. If you feel that your child’s ‘needs’ are being met, then you’re all set!

If not, then you need to advocate for your child’s right to an appropriate education. And you need to be a smart advocate. Educate yourself on local school policies. If necessary, find a professional advocate (check with your state’s gifted association here or here; or Wright’s Law online) to guide you.

Idoesn't have to be a fight. Most disagreements are the result of inadequate funding or misguided attitudes. If funding is the issue … this is where acceleration comes into play. It is perhaps the most cost-effective measure a school can use to provide an appropriate education for gifted students. Talk to your child first, regardless of how old they are, to understand their feelings about moving ahead in school. If this is something they are comfortable with, get a copy of A Nation Deceived. Give it to the principal. Give it to the superintendent. Heck, give a copy to every member of the school board if necessary. Read it first yourself and be ready to explain it to the ‘decision makers’. Educators love to tell you that they will only accept ‘research-based’ solutions. Well … here you go!



Misguided attitudes are an entirely separate issue. Anti-intellectualism on the part of ‘educators’ is a sad state of affairs particularly in the U.S. It is a fight you may not want to engage in; even if you think you’re up to it. Mindsets based in ignorance are rarely changed by reason.

The situation becomes more complicated depending on ‘distance from the mean’ for students who are exceptionally-abled. Elementary and secondary teachers may only encounter these students a few times in their entire career. It is oftentimes hard to comprehend that with which you have little experience.

A recent study (Swicord, Chancey, Davis, 2013) states:

            “Exceptionally capable students exhibit characteristics that challenge the
             efficacy of the traditional American educational system. Those that
             demonstrate advanced ability in one or more academic areas may be
             poorly served by age-based placement, and asynchronous development
             of abilities may pose difficulties for strictly acceleration-based services.”

In this instance, it was recommended that these students need access to a wide range of services which may be provided by distance-learning programs easily accessed via the Internet, some form of acceleration (whole-grade, subject-only), and specially designed curriculum.

A relatively new approach for gifted education, at least in the U.S., is one of blended accommodation ~ a continuum of services (to borrow language from special education). Students may attend a public school part of the day and then either homeschool, cyber-school or attend college classes as part of a dual-enrollment program the remainder of the day.

Not available where you live? Learn more about what is available in other parts of the country (world) ~ you know, Google-it ~ and share this information with your district’s administration. Most administrators either don’t have the time or don’t care enough to do it themselves.

Remember what I said earlier (?) … much of the movement toward modern Special Education was parent-driven*. It is the right of every child to have an education which produces growth from where they are at present to where their potential will take them! You are their best hope!






Monday, November 11, 2013

The Columbus Group Conference

Parenting gifted children is awesome! No.doubt.about.it. I said ‘awesome’ … not easy. There are days that will overwhelm you and days that will make you cry. When those days come, it is important to remember that there are resources available to you to help make it through the day … and knowing about the ‘Columbus Group’ is one of the best resources I can tell you about.

For decades, most people did not know ‘who’ comprised the Columbus Group. Experts in the field of gifted education were known to question its very existence. This group represented the ‘kinder, gentler side of gifted parenting’. The definition of giftedness (Columbus Group, 1991, in Morelock, 1992)  that was developed in the living room of one of its members decades ago is as follows,

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This  asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness  of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.”        
A recent book, Off the Charts, details the history of the Columbus Group and contributing authors are a who’s who of the finest individuals in gifted education and advocacy in the past 40 years. This year, it was honored as a 2013 Legacy Book Award winner from the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented*.



The term ‘asynchronous development’ as is relates to gifted children was coined by the Columbus Group. In fact, at the time it was initially discussed, a call to the local library was necessary to find the definition of ‘asynchronous’. How fortunate for thousands of gifted children and their parents that someone made that phone call!

Members of the Columbus Group believe in a child-centered approach to gifted children; one in which the whole child’s personal growth and development of ‘the self’ are most important. This is in contrast to those who promote achievement and recognition as the sole goal for which to strive. In a conversation with one of the members of the group, I was told that there was no disagreement with gifted children achieving goals; it just shouldn't be considered the prime focus of their education.

Recent emphasis on talent development did, however, prompt the release of Off the Charts. From Stephanie Tolan’s blog The Deep End

“So it was that members of the Columbus Group, that has continued
to meet throughout these two decades, decided it was an important
time to put out a book to remind the field of the critical “other side”
(the inside) of giftedness, which is part of the gifted individual’s
experience whether in or out of school, whether achieving in the
eyes of the world at any given moment or not!”

Over the years, Columbus Group members have made incredible contributions to the gifted community from authoring numerous books and papers, presenting at conferences, and establishing schools for the gifted to providing psychological services for gifted children.

In February, 2014, parents as well as educators, program administrators, guidance counselors, psychologists and mentors will have the opportunity to attend a major conference from the authors of Off the Charts, “Asynchronous Development: Understanding the Implications for Gifted Children at School, in the Home and Across the Lifespan”.



Presenters at the conference will include: Shelagh Gallagher, Linda Silverman, Stephanie S. Tolan, Michael Piechowski, Patricia Gatto-Walden, Ellen D. Fiedler, Kathi Kearney, Michele Kane, Barbara Mitchell Hutton and Christine Neville.

Topics to be presented include: “Educating Asynchronous gifted Children in the Age of the Common Core”, “Dealing with Asynchronous Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom”, “The Social/Emotional Implications of Asynchrony for Highly Gifted Children”, “The Special Life of the Family with Asynchronous Children” and “Homeschooling Highly Gifted Asynchronous Children”.

This conference will be an extraordinary experience for parents of gifted children. Having had the opportunity to sit and talk with many of the presenters one-on-one, my life has been enriched beyond measure. It will be held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on February 21st and 22nd. Reduced registration will be available through January 15, 2014. You can register online here.

If you would like to read more about the Columbus Group, check out these resources:

Off the Charts Asynchrony and the Gifted Child edited by Christine S. Neville, Michael M. Piechowski and Stephanie S. Tolan

Ungifted by Scott Barry Kaufman, Chapter 5, “Gifted Souls”

Giftedness: The View from Within” by Martha Morelock

* Disclaimer: I do contract work for TAGT, but have no involvement in the selection of Legacy Book Award winners. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Searching for Meaning ~ Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment and Hope



Searching for Meaning
           
           “Until my college experience, I thought my family’s life was quite good –
        that it was the way things were supposed to be – and I assumed that
          everyone should share those same values, behaviors and world views.
            My roommate, to whom I now owe much gratitude, patiently listened as
        I tried to persuade him of the validity and righteousness of my limited
       and traditional views … His gentle confrontations were a distressing
      jolt to me that generated an assortment of strong feelings. Though I
wanted to dismiss these new ideas, I found that I could not. 
I BEGAN TO THINK.” ~ from the Introduction

I started reading Searching for Meaning based on the reputation of the author, Dr. James T. Webb. After finishing the first few chapters, I felt it would help me to be a better parent. But … ultimately, I found myself; and a resolution to decades of confusion and self-doubt. By the end of the book, I realized that it had helped me become a better person with a happier and healthier outlook on life.  

To describe my feelings as a metaphor, it was like taking a trip down Memory Lane; except … suddenly road signs appeared that weren't there the first time. A new understanding swept over me and I knew why things had happened the way they did. But even more importantly … now I felt like I knew where I was headed!

It’s evident that the writing of this book was truly a cathartic experience for the author. His words engender a teacher – student relationship where the reader feels like a student being taught by a caring and understanding teacher who has ‘walked the walk’. Complex ideas are made simple. His insights seem the result of deeply personal experiences. 




Idealism

If you thought you knew what idealism meant before reading this book; chances are … you’ll broaden your understanding of it. Dr. Webb delves into ideals as illusions and how they can lead to disillusionment, where idealism originates, and the positives and negatives related to it. Not only does he explain ideals, but why we create and need them.

An important point to remember is that idealism is the result of seeking out purpose in one’s life and the lives of those around us. It is through questioning our very existence – deep introspection - struggling to find the answer almost daily that begins the process.

Bright Minds
           
            “Ironically, many, if not most, bright people – even those who are clearly
            gifted – are unaware of how different their mental abilities are from those
            of others and thus are also unaware of the implications that this difference
            has on their daily lives.” ~ p. 37

Searching for Meaning was certainly written for those with bright minds. Dr. Webb explains why they are more susceptible to existential depression and how Dabrowski’s over-excitabilities play a role as well.


Disillusionment

          “Unfortunately, the people who try the hardest to prove to themselves and
            others that their life has meaning are usually so busy seeking illusory
            achievements that they have little or no time to acquire or appreciate true
            meaning. But without life meaning as an anchor, people are particularly at
            risk for disintegration and existential depression.” ~ p. 168

Disillusionment and the resulting existential depression that often follows are not easy topics to read about. It is, however, a worthwhile endeavor that can change your life forever.


Hope

The good news is that there is hope. This book offers concrete suggestions on how to cope with our disillusionment and then takes us to a place where we can thrive.

I found the suggestion that we can write our own life script very intriguing. We don’t have to settle for the status quo. It is possible to gain a ‘new attitude’ and take a new path.

Searching for Meaning is the culmination of a career spent helping others to find meaning in their own existence. Dr. Webb has worked personally with many individuals who struggled with understanding their place in the grand scheme of things. This book can help you find your place in the world, too!  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Parents as Partners in Learning




One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is to be an engaged partner in their lives. This involvement needs to extend to their school work. For many parents, this is a given; but not all.

There are parents who once their child is identified as gifted think they don’t need to do anything more. When I first started to organize parents in my local school district, I was appalled when a father expressed those exact sentiments to me. Fortunately, 30 other parents did not share his feelings and we eventually became a very strong and influential parent group.

So how does a parent become a partner? Some of the most precious memories I have of my daughter when she was in elementary school are of the nights we spent reading together. Even though she was an excellent reader, far above grade-level; I still read to her. She chose the books and I did the reading. She could have easily read them herself, but it was far more enjoyable reading together.

Gifted children are extremely sensitive to how adults feel about them. They appreciate interaction with the adults in their lives. Parents and grandparents can make a real difference in developing a love for learning.
The opportunities are endless when you take the time to look for them. Explore options available at your child’s school first. Next, consider your child’s personal interests and then research possibilities with your child which will nurture these interests.

Like many children, my daughter loved dinosaurs. As a very young child, we made weekly visits to the library to find books on dinosaurs. As she grew older, we spent many weekends at a nearby natural history museum. Later, we incorporated side-trips on family vacations to include visits to known dinosaur sites. When a world-renown archaeologist came to our museum, we attended his lecture together. We eventually even met one of her most favorite archaeologists at a museum reception.



Did she grow up to be an archaeologist? No. Does it matter? Absolutely not. What did matter was that my daughter knew I cared about her and encouraged her to follow her interests.

Learning for gifted kids is so much more than scoring ‘advanced’ on standardized tests, winning awards or finishing at the top of the class. These things may well happen, but their memories will be sweeter if they include the special times bonding with you over a favorite book or walking over the foot prints of a long gone dinosaur in a now exposed river bed. Take time to become a partner in learning with your child.