Thursday, November 25, 2010

Vision 2011: Digitally Connecting the Global Gifted Community

My head has been spinning with ideas since last week’s #gtchat on Twitter! So many exciting things are beginning to take shape in the online gifted community. 2011 stands to be a pivotal year for gifted advocacy and the advancement of gifted children’s issues.

People have been researching and talking about gifted education for a very long time. I think it’s time for a change. It is time to focus on the needs of gifted children and it is time to work together. For too long, the gifted community has been divided by national boundaries, competing organizations, and parents being shunned by educators. It isn’t working out so well … not for anybody and especially not for the children. I’m not saying that progress hasn’t been made at all. Let me say that again: I’m not saying that progress hasn’t been made at all; it just needs to be kicked up a notch!

I would like to propose the concept of ‘Advocates Without Borders’… all kinds of borders; both real and imagined. I realize that governments at various levels do not and oftentimes cannot work together in this manner. However, through the magic of the Internet, it is now possible for the gifted community to work together and THRIVE via social networking. And I mean … everybody! This includes the sharing of information and resources between researchers and individuals, national organizations working with each other, and teachers working with parents. Out with the old, in with the new! Fantastic? … Not gonna happen? … Too many egos to be bruised? Well, too bad! It has to happen.

Every year the world loses the contributions of brilliant minds because we haven’t found a way to work together. Where would humanity be today if every gifted child were identified; if the needs of every gifted child were met both academically and emotionally; if the dreams of every gifted child were realized? If somewhere in your own education you learned to think critically, the answer should be quite clear. Connecting and working together is the only real choice.

Now that I have your attention; here’s what we need to do! Utilize the Internet to create a ‘digital’ community that can connect those working in the gifted community. We need to connect at every level and through all avenues of social networking. Here’s a little secret: it is already happening! If you are reading this, chances are you’ve already begun the process of looking for answers and want to do more. But this blog in some ways is ‘preaching to the choir’. We all need to investigate ways to become more interconnected and to encourage those on the Internet sidelines to get online!

Here are a few suggestions. Of course, there is #gtchat on Twitter! Last week, Deborah Mersino (chat moderator extraordinaire) began to lay out her vision for 2011 that includes the formalization of #gtchat into a baseline organization that will coordinate the aggregation of the gifted community in a digital format (formal name with appropriate acronym to be determined – see the inherent joke – how many gifted people does it take to decide on a name? … lol). Members were all abuzz and many took her words to heart by starting the process of connection across the many platforms they were already using. It has been phenomenal to see people getting to know each other who might have previously shied away from various avenues of connection. On Twitter, I would suggest that the easiest route to connecting with like-minded people is to do a search for #gtchat and start to follow the members found there. Then, check out who these people follow and those who follow them. Facebook and Facebook Groups is an obvious next step. One of the best pages to start at would be ‘Ingeniosus’, Deborah Mersino’s professional page. Overwhelmed, yet? Next head to LinkedIn if you are a professional involved with gifted issues. Check out groups that mention gifted and talented; both within your own country and internationally.

At first, it may seem like a daunting task or even a waste of time. It is neither of those things. Consider it a necessary first step to becoming the very best advocate for your child. An informed parent is the best thing that can ever happen in the life of a gifted child! Your child is a part of our future. Providing them with the best possible opportunities you can find will potentially change the course of history. The Internet can bring thousands of people who care about ‘your’ child to your doorstep. It’s time to open the door and let us in!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Looking At the Big Picture … How Gifted Kids Learn

“Determine the thing that can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.”
... Abraham Lincoln

Ever had to remind your gifted child to pay attention to the details? Well, there’s a reason for that! Gifted learners tend to see the ‘big picture’ first and fill in the details later. They conceive of the whole before understanding the parts. As you will see, this can be a challenge for gifted teachers.

If you look at the great thinkers throughout the course of human history, you will see people who postulated theories and then set about proving them. In their time, they were often referred to as ‘dreamers’ and ‘visionaries’. The universally accepted scientific method is based on this process. Conceptualizing our destiny is the driving force that moves us forward as a species.

As a parent of a gifted child, you have the enviable task of guiding your child to appreciate their ability to see the big picture and then to understand the process of how it all came together.

This also points out the critical need to increase teacher training in gifted education and professional development for all teachers who work with gifted students in their classroom. Teaching a gifted child requires a radical departure from traditional teaching strategies. Educators as facilitators must be able to identify the ‘big picture’ concepts that they wish to teach and then develop a sufficiently challenging curriculum. This is sometimes referred to as whole-to-part sequencing where students are shown a complete model and then taught the various parts that make up the whole model. Lessons learned in this manner can be spread out across the curriculum to increase the student’s knowledge base in multiple areas that they are studying.

Motivating gifted students is a recurring theme in gifted education. By understanding how a child learns, a teacher can be a catalyst in the child’s life by providing appropriate learning experiences which in turn motivate the student. How many times has your child come home from school lamenting the fact that they are bored? Teachers are trained to introduce material step-by-step which works well for a majority of their students. For the gifted child, it is monotonous and a sure-fire way to turn them ‘off’ from learning at all. These children thrive when presented with complex issues and problems and teachers must be willing to provide ‘big pictures’ as a starting point.

In my work, I am often asked if gifted teachers need to be gifted themselves. My reply, “It wouldn’t hurt!” I realize that this isn’t always the case and many teachers would argue that it isn’t necessary if they receive the appropriate training. However, I would contend that at the very least parents must advocate for qualified teachers with certification in gifted education. It has been a long time coming, but many universities are now offering certification and master-level course work in gifted education.

Finding the right teachers and school settings can be difficult at first. However, in the grand scheme of life, it is well worth the effort. Your gifted child will blossom when you find the right mix!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Independent Study for the Gifted Learner

The fact that independent study is good for gifted learners is certainly not a new idea, but it may be for parents of newly identified gifted children. Gifted learners are individuals with differing abilities. What excites one student may bore another. Different learning styles require parents to take different approaches.

Most parents of gifted children take their responsibilities very seriously. At this time of the year, they are already looking into extracurricular activities such as academic competitions, classes at nearby universities, and summer camps. Meetings with gifted coordinators and teachers revolve around advocating for enrichment in the classroom or in gifted programs. However, sometimes gifted kids just want to ‘chill’ and ‘hang’ with their friends. They might like school and learning new things, but not all the pressure of doing ‘extra’ work.

Enter the ‘independent study’. In progressive school districts, it is often recommended as an instructional strategy for creating an individualized plan within the school setting. Perhaps more than any other strategy, learning how to develop and successfully execute an independent study prepares students for higher education and for life in general. It incorporates project design, critical and higher-level thinking, presentation skills, time-task commitment, and task assessment. This method of learning can be a great motivator for gifted students who cringe at group projects in regular classrooms where they ultimately do most of the work. Independent study allows your child to delve into topics which are of interest to them, use creative and innovative research techniques, and produce quality products such as research papers, portfolios, artwork, and/or projects for presentation.

Many top researchers in the field of gifted education have developed various independent study models including the Autonomous Learner Model by Dr. George Betts, the SDC (student developed courses) Model by Dr. Del Siegle, Schoolwide Enrichment Model by Drs. Renzulli and Reis, Creative Problem Solving by Dr. Donald Treffinger. Dr. Karen Rogers discussed this approach in a recent presentation entitled, “An Update on Research in Gifted Education: 10 Things.” In it, she stated that the effect of learning independently is in “increased motivation to learn, interest in subject area, improved academic resilience (cognitive risk-taking), and self-efficacy.”

Although independent studies usually do not occur during until high school, there is no reason why younger students cannot participate in scaled-down projects as well. Finding the right mentor is critical to a successful study. Most of the work is done by the student with the mentor serving as their guide. Providing a detailed proposal with reference to state or national standards can go a long way in convincing school administrators to accept an independent study for credit. Final assessment can be done by a panel comprised of faculty members from applicable subject areas.

It may seem overwhelming at times as the parent of a gifted child when you try to provide your child with opportunities that you hope will help them fulfill their potential. However, you will find that it is also very rewarding to see your gifted child grow and mature as they become an independent learner and a problem solver. Never stop challenging them and never stop believing in them!