Friday, September 21, 2012

Standardization ~ The Implications for Gifted Children

Every time I hear the word ‘standardization’, I {{shiver}}. And I shiver a lot these days! When I consider the implications for gifted children, I visualize a roll of duct tape about to be applied to the ‘box’.

I fail to see how the road we’re headed on leads to anything but a dead end. Standardization has been twisted and turned into a grand scheme of seeming equity, but in truth – it is the stifling of innovation and creativity. It sounds like a nice idea, but it is not.

Children today are taught to excel on standardized tests. Teachers are being rewarded for how well their students do on those tests. Can you see where this is headed? Equating high test scores with educational success is short-sighted. What happens when teachers vie for the best test-takers based on a child’s previous scores?

When people embrace a ‘standardized is good’ mindset, they are often thinking ‘all children are gifted’. For these folks, the very existence of gifted classes and programs becomes a threat. The only way to eliminate the threat is to eliminate the perception that some are gifted and some are not. This ultimately leads to the demise of gifted programs.

Gifted kids get the message loud and clear every single day. If everyone is gifted, then no one has a right to acceleration, differentiation or to learn with their peers. Their needs are unimportant, an illusion or worse ~ nonexistent. They dare not say anything. Denial becomes ingrained in their very being. This can lead to very serious mental health complications.

Here’s a few ‘what ifs’ for you. What if all tall people were expected to play basketball … and win? What if all children with red hair were expected to go into theater and play the lead role in Annie? Oh … and what if ALL children were expected to score proficient on standardized tests without ANY accommodations? Most people would agree that these scenarios are absurd; and they would be correct.

It is much more appropriate to say that all children are different with unique needs. No one teacher in our current educational system should be expected to produce individualized lessons plans for each student each week. They could, however, provide differentiated lessons to groups of students who were clustered in regular classrooms or educational peer-based classes.

The problem is not a national one. It occurs around the world; some places more than others. As parents, we need to explore all options for educating our children. A one-size-fit-all approach does not benefit anyone. Support open dialog with your child’s teacher and school administrators. Educate yourself of the possibilities available in your area. Do not settle for ‘standardized’ solutions. If few exist, create your own!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nurturing the Global Nature of Giftedness

This week, the global gifted community will have the opportunity to virtually join with participants of the 13th International Conference of the European Council for High Ability (ECHA) in Münster, Germany.

On Thursday, September 13th, a highly anticipated Symposium on Social Media and Gifted Education will add a new online component to the conference via Twitter. Five presentations will be followed by a Twitter chat from Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT).

Real-world presentations will begin at 8:15AM ET (U.S.) and continue through 9:33AM ET (U.S.). A discussion by #gtchat will follow at the conclusion of the speakers’ remarks using the hashtag #ECHA12. Both participants at the conference, conference speakers and global online participants will be able to interact virtually via Twitter.

Here are the links to the presentations:
Peter Csermely’s presentation – Social Media Networks and the Talented Youth  
Albert Ziegler’s presentation – Cyber Mint Communities 

It will be valuable to review the presentations prior to the start of the Symposium as online participants will be depending on those in Münster to keep them up to date on what is happening at the convention. Using the Twitter application to attend an actual conference is nothing short of cutting-edge use of 21st century technology. This Symposium represents a giant leap for all involved in adopting this technology. Special thanks to Mr. Tim Dracup for his tireless efforts to bring this about! Thanks also to the team at TAGT for their unwavering support to bring innovation and cooperation to the entire gifted community.

More information on the conference can be found here. Detailed information on the Symposium can be found here. Additional information about ECHA can be found here. To find out what time the Symposium will take place in your time zone, check here.

As a firm believer in the commonality of the gifted experience regardless of where you reside, it would seem that positive outcomes will result as more and more stakeholders in the community come together to learn from each other, collaborate, and support gifted children and their education. Social media provides us with a means to communicate and to work together. Join us on Twitter this Thursday for ground-breaking virtual participation in a major gifted conference as we celebrate Giftedness Across the Lifespan at the 13th International Conference of ECHA! 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What to Expected When You’re Expecting? The Unexpected

When I was expecting my first child, I must have read the book ~ What to Expect When You’re Expecting ~ at least five times. I was all set! I had all the answers laid out for me on the pages of this one easy-to-read book. Piece of cake. No problem. Years of perfect parenting and my child would be out the door on her way to a perfect existence due in large part to me.

Wrong! Fast forward 18 years. What was I thinking? I must have been delusional! Kids aren’t born with a manual for a reason. Add in the high-ability factor, the over-excitabilities, the teen years and it’s more like the perfect storm. My mother swore by Dr. Spock and at first I thought T. Berry Brazelton was great. Yes … even a year into parenting, I still thought I could find all the answers in a parenting book.

The fact of the matter is that the only thing to expect with a gifted child is the unexpected. Their development will be asynchronous ~ unequal. They can be explaining a complex mathematical problem at one minute and having a tantrum the next because of a minor incident. At night, they may complain about a predetermined bedtime because they are involved in a deep conversation with a professor half-way around the world. Yes, they need to learn responsibility; but you will need to learn to be flexible.

The news isn’t all bad. There is rarely a dull moment and conversation with a gifted child can be both fascinating and engaging. When your child is younger, explore many different areas of interest and observe which topics they respond to. In later years as they refine their likes and dislikes, provide as many opportunities as you can for enrichment in these areas. Challenge their intellect. When necessary, find mentors for your child both in real life and online.

There is an ongoing debate in the gifted community about when you ‘know’ a child is gifted. Does it really matter? You know your child. If you see early signs that they may be ‘bright’, don’t wait around for the experts to tell you what to do. It doesn’t hurt to spend as much time as possible nurturing them and recognizing ‘teachable’ moments.

This is something all parents can do. It doesn’t require a great expenditure of money. Your presence in their lives is the most important thing you can give them. Read to them. Answer their questions. Find answers if you don’t know them. Tell them stories. Engage them in ‘make believe’ activities. Teach them about their heritage. Help them to understand that something worth having is something for which they must be willing to work hard.

Most importantly … relax. Life isn’t perfect. There will be unexpected events over which you’ll have no control. You’ll never have all the answers. Provide a good foundation for your child … it’s all that can be expected. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Supporting Your Child’s Gifted Teacher

Parents often concentrate all their time advocating for their child. Isn’t that what parents should do? Sure, but I’m about to expand your job responsibilities. Listen carefully ~ parents of gifted children should also support their child’s gifted teacher.

Now I know what you’re going to say ~ What if the teacher does not support my child? First, it IS a two-way street; but things will go better for all involved if you take the first step. And if you have tried without good results … stop reading this post (not the blog, of course!) now. Second, for the purpose of this post, I am speaking specifically about your child’s ‘gifted’ teacher; not the regular education classroom teacher (though it wouldn’t hurt to support them as well).

Your next question may well be ~ Why? Believe it or not, gifted teachers often feel alone and isolated from the rest of the faculty. Far too often, general education teachers believe the same myths about gifted children and their education that the general population believes. To be fair, a vast majority of teachers are NEVER exposed to gifted education in undergraduate school or during professional development classes.

I hope your next question is ~ How? Why thank you for asking. Here are a few suggestions that will go a long, long way to developing a long-term beneficial relationship between you, your child and their teacher.

When the teacher goes ‘above and beyond’ such as arranging a field trip or doing a special project, make sure you tell the principal, superintendent and/or school board. When appropriate, offer to be a guest speaker about your work, mentor a student or offer to assist in coaching an academic school team. Offer words of encouragement when you become aware that the teacher isn’t getting the support they need from their school. Speak up in support of gifted education in your regular teacher-parent conferences and at school board meetings.

One of the best things you can do is to start a parent support group. Invite teachers, gifted teachers and administrators to attend monthly meetings. This has the added benefit of helping keep the lines of communication open. Often, school district personnel are more willing to share information at an informal meeting. It also allows them to get a sense of how parents feel about the gifted program.

No one likes to be taken for granted. Good gifted teachers work tirelessly to challenge your child and provide them with an education that leads them to reaching their full potential. This isn’t to say that there will be times when you are disappointed in a teacher, but when you are fortunate to find a great teacher ~ support them and watch your child soar! 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Accentuate the Positive

In the past few days, I have been hearing a lot about being positive. To be honest … I oftentimes struggle with this in regard to education and in particular the education of highly-abled or gifted kids. It’s easy to see all the negative aspects ~ such as how society views our children ~ when examples seem to be staring us in the face almost daily.

That being said … it is extremely important as the parent of a gifted child to do our best to be positive for their sake; especially when they are young. They are attuned to our every word and gesture … and like it or not … we are their first role model. Due to their asynchronous development, we too often forget that their emotional response to other’s feelings can make it difficult for them to respond to negativity in an appropriate manner.

As parents and adults who work with gifted children, we need to enable our kids to ~ as the hit song from the 1940’s reminds us and covered by Paul McCartney below ~ ♪♫♪ “accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” ♪♫♪. They will have plenty of time for negativity when they grow up.

A blog post from Krissy Venosdale, ‘When Obstacles Become Opportunities’, hit all the right notes for me. It made me think that we must do the same as parents … turn obstacles into opportunities. I’m not saying that this is a simple task because it isn’t.

When your child comes home from school and tells you they were bored or from the local playground and tells you they were bullied, meet their concerns with a measured response. Don’t over-react or use profanity. Talk to them about how other people’s actions make them feel and ways they could respond. Use it as a learning experience by asking them to consider how their own words and actions make other children feel. You’ll be surprised at how well they perceive the situation. In doing so, you are respecting both their intellect and maturity level.

I don’t make any promises that this will change your life or that of your child’s life. I don’t think you can use positive thinking to affect human nature. What I am saying is that having a positive outlook on life is an important part of growing up and the basis for improving social interaction. When things don’t go their way, they should move on and explore alternatives. Accentuate the positive!