Thursday, August 27, 2015

An Accelerated Journey

Michelle Vaisman on Graduation Day

Meet Michelle Vaisman; an extraordinary young woman who benefited from radical acceleration and parents who supported her along the way. Acceleration works and it’s time to celebrate the successes rather than rely on a few anecdotal tales of students who were ill-prepared for the journey by adults in the process. 

Michelle Vaisman

I have written about several young people with similar experiences here. One of the common threads that runs through all their shared experiences is the importance of parents and the environment they provided for their curious, passionate, smart kids.

The report, A Nation Empowered, released earlier this year by the Acceleration Institute at the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center is a 10 year follow-up to the seminal report, A Nation Deceived. In a recent Twitter chat, Dr. Ann Shoplik, director of the Acceleration Institute, explained why the new report was written, “Acceleration is the most-researched, yet under-utilized program option for gifted kids. Policy and practice haven’t kept up with the research on acceleration. Short and long-term research evidence is clear: Acceleration works! Colleges of Education don’t teach acceleration. We must inform administrators and teachers.”

The benefits of acceleration are well-documented. Students who are accelerated demonstrate exceptional achievements years later. Dr. Shoplik tell us, “Failing to accelerate an able student is likely to have negative effects on motivation, productivity; may even lead to dropping out. Achieving success in a class that is challenging bolsters confidence, raises expectations, and alters mindsets.”

“Acceleration is the most-researched, yet under-utilized program option for gifted kids. Policy and practice haven’t kept up with the research on acceleration." ~ Dr. Ann Shoplik

Michelle Vaisman first came to my attention when her mother, Karen, posted her story on Gifted Parenting Support’s Facebook Page. Her story is remarkable:

Michelle receiving her Masters from Yale May 2015

A recent headline on a British news website admonished parents not to brag about their gifted kids. How do you not brag about this young lady? Her accomplishments are incredible for someone so young.

Michelle’s mother was kind enough to share her story with me. Her personal perspective adds a dose of reality to the narrative. Here is some of the advice she shared:

  • Identified as a profoundly gifted child, she was highly motivated. Even as early as age 9, Michelle recognized her school’s rejection of pleas for acceleration as a challenge. Clearing these hurdles taught her important life lessons and eventually brought her a great deal of satisfaction.
  • Due to privacy laws, once Michelle was a fully matriculated college student, we learned colleges would not talk to parents regardless of the student’s age. Her mother credits this for Michelle gaining self-confidence, persistence and self-advocacy skills. However, personality plays a huge role in a child’s ability to stand up to adults within the system; confrontations can easily end poorly unless monitored closely.
  • The ability to defend exam grades, papers and lab grades without parental intervention plays an important role in college success. Failure to do so could result in a tremendous disadvantage to a younger student with long-term consequences.
  • Michelle learned that merit scholarships are rarely offered to a transfer student. After attending Mary Baldwin College, she was no longer eligible at subsequent universities for merit scholarships. Need-based scholarships were different. We found this out by surprise once our journey was underway. Budget wisely.
  • When transferring colleges, know the colleges’ policies regarding maximum number of transfer credits and acceptable coursework. Failure to know the rules can result in huge financial expenses, loss of time or even the inability to graduate. (The UC system in California has this ruling.) Even gifted students need parental guidance to navigate this part of college planning which can be difficult, time consuming and costly. College counselors are often only familiar with their own school and not the student’s full 4 year plan integrating multiple schools, community college and other coursework into their final transcript.
  • To increase her chance of acceptance (age discrimination being a factor), when submitting her summer REU and college transfer applications; she applied to 15 or more schools. On average, she was successfully admitted to over half the schools and programs to which she applied. She also succeeded in honing her writing skills in the process.
  • Test scores, grades, writing skills and recommendation letters from professors were intricate components to this process. Knowing standardized testing calendars meant getting applications in on time without missing critical deadlines.
  • Learning how to network and build relationships with adults along the way was an important lesson. Age discrimination was a real concern up until the age of 18.
  • Although 5 years younger, Michelle was quite social; making friends and developing relationships with college classmates. Social interaction impacted her continued success and happiness in college. So at the age of 20, she is waiting patiently to be able to enter a bar (age 21) where much of the socialization takes place in graduate school.
  • Meanwhile, she is the team leader of her coed intramural grad school softball team and attends outside activities like dancing, swimming and parties.
  • Maturity for an early entrance student is fast-tracked. As parents, we often had to hang on for the ride and we saw real measurable leaps in her development on a monthly basis as opposed to a yearly one. While rewarding, it was simultaneously unnerving.

Since starting graduate school, Michelle has been financially self-supporting as a math tutor. She earned two fellowships this year; one from the National Science Foundation and one from NASA. She chose NASA in order to research solar cells with a space technology application. She also volunteers and works with young STEM students at Yale’s ManyMentors program; particularly young women in science. After completing her PhD, Michelle wants to focus on making the world a better place by contributing to scientific research toward furthering developments in the alternative energy field.

A proud and devoted mother, Karen Vaisman tells her daughter’s story to inspire bright young minds at the beginning of their educational journey who are faced with a system that says "no you can't do it” to become independent, successful students who realize they indeed can! She points to the need for strong parental support, continued open communication, a keen understanding of your own child’s maturity and ability to handle adult interactions and challenges without parental intervention. Karen emphasizes the importance of both parents working together to ensure the success of their children.

Michelle and Her Parents

If you would like more information on Michelle’s journey, Karen can be contacted here. What has been your experience with acceleration? It’s time to share the good news that acceleration can and does work!

Photos courtesy of Karen Vaisman Photography
Parts of this post were excerpted from a post at the Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT Blog here.

Friday, August 14, 2015

5 Strategies for Building Effective Parent-Teacher Partnerships … From a Parent’s Perspective

Effective parent-teacher partnerships are essential to fostering a child’s social-emotional success in school. Forming a partnership with your child’s teacher is an opportunity to model behavior that exemplifies the benefits of a relationship based on mutual cooperation with an interest in achieving goals. Ultimately, your child learns to be their own advocate by observing your behavior.

Most information that you find on this subject is directed toward teachers. In this post, I will outline five strategies for building effective partnerships based on your child’s needs from the parents’ perspective. They include:

  • Communicate Directly
  • Don’t Play the Blame Game
  • Be Proactive
  • Meet Social Emotional Needs
  • Keep the Focus on Your Child

Communicate Directly

One of the most important factors in building an effective parent-teacher partnership is to communicate directly. Relaying information should not be delegated to your child unless it is absolutely necessary. Parents and teachers need to find which method works best for both parties and then use it consistently. Digital forms of communication provide a permanent and accurate record of information for later use.

It is never too early to begin the conversation. In the elementary years, it is a good idea to open the lines of communication at the end of a school year with the next year’s teacher. Start each new year with a fresh determination to make it the best one possible. Then, remember to keep the communication ongoing throughout the school year.

Don’t Play the Blame Game

Do not play the blame game or make discussions about your child’s education personal. It’s not about you and it’s not about the teacher. Parents of gifted children often have intense personalities which can impede parent-teacher relations. Finding common ground is a positive approach that will benefit everyone involved.

Be respectful toward your child’s teacher and other school personnel. Effective communication cannot be fostered when negative feelings are allowed to prevail. At times, this may require the parent to step back and keep emotions in check. Try to understand the teacher’s point of view and realize that they rarely have the final word on many aspects of what is expected from students. Remember, you can always address concerns with an administrator if issues arise that can’t be resolved with the teacher.

"Do not play the blame game or make discussions about your child’s education personal. It’s not about you and it’s not about the teacher."

Be Proactive

Talk to your child every single day and be aware of any situations which might be hindering their progress; either academically or emotionally. If your child suddenly becomes reticent in sharing with you about his or her school day, explore the reasons ‘why’ through further conversation. Keep in mind that gifted children are very adept at manipulation. They understand the importance their point of view brings to the table even at a very young age. Parents should not assume everything their child tells them is an accurate portrayal of an event. Once you have heard their side of the story, contact their teacher to discuss the matter.

Know your options – learn about regulations concerning gifted education in your local area. (See links below.) Educate yourself about gifted education by reading books on the topic, reading blogs, and attending gifted education conferences at the state and regional level. Take time to talk to other parents about your school’s culture relating to gifted education.

Know who makes the decision for your child’s placement and who is responsible for implementing their education plan; teacher, gifted coordinator, principal. In most states, no decision will ever be made without an LEA (local education administrator) present. Know who your school’s LEA is before agreeing to any plan of action.

Whenever possible, seek out teachers who are certified in gifted education or have a reputation for working well with gifted students. This practice may be discouraged by your child’s school administrators, but this should not deter you from doing what is best for your child.

Meet Social-Emotional Needs

Do not minimize the importance of taking into account the meeting of social-emotional needs of your child. Gifted children often must deal with situations that classmates will never encounter such as bullying based on their intellectual capacity, asynchronous development that places them at odds with their teachers and other school personnel, anxiety born out of frustration in dealing with perfectionism, and boredom which can result in underachievement due to lack of challenge.

Many gifted children may also be twice-exceptional; dealing with one or more learning challenges such as ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, or a myriad of other possibilities. These children require additional support by parents, teachers and support personnel.

"Parents often view their child’s education through the prism of the parent’s own childhood experiences in school. For better or worse, the educational experience of a child in today’s classroom is vastly different from what you experienced."

Keep the Focus on Your Child

Parents often view their child’s education through the prism of the parent’s own childhood experiences in school. For better or worse, the educational experience of a child in today’s classroom is vastly different from what you experienced. Full inclusion of all ability levels in one classroom, the quest for data based on standardized test results, the introduction of technology at break-neck speed and reliance on teachers to ‘figure it out’ on their own have all led to a malaise in expectations in today’s classroom.

Including your child in the decision-making process is essential and should coincide with their maturity level. All the advocacy and partnering in the world will achieve little if your child is not on board. Do not loose site of your goal to provide an appropriate education for your child. Professionals such as guidance counselors, principals, gifted coordinators, OT specialists and social workers should be consulted when necessary.

Finally …

Parent-teacher relationships do not need to be adversarial. Keep all conversations on a professional level. Get in the habit of sharing good news rather than waiting till problems arise. By adopting a team mindset, everyone becomes invested in your child’s success!

Remember that your child has unique educational needs that may not be able to be met in a regular classroom despite the best efforts of their teacher or school. A flexible approach may include creative scheduling, blended learning (using multiple approaches such as acceleration, online instruction/distance learning, outside mentoring, homeschooling), or project-based learning; the possibilities are endless. Look for evidence-based research to support any request you may make.

"Remember that your child has unique educational needs that may not be able to be met in a regular classroom despite the best efforts of their teacher or school."

Below I have included resources that will start you on the journey to build an effective partnership with your child’s teacher. Take time to look over them and share them with teachers with whom you’ll be partnering. Consider sharing this post with your child’s teacher as well.

What strategies have worked for you? Please share in the comments below.

Department of Educations by State 

Photo courtesy of Flickr CC By- NC 2.0