Why Do We All Need to Know More About Executive Functions?

Executive functions consist of those mental processes that allow us to participate fully in a variety of roles and relationships through planning, focusing and remembering while controlling our impulses and working systematically to achieve goals. There is an expectation that students arrive at school with a number of these skills already developed, enabling them to participate in a group learning environment. While children generally begin developing these skills at a very young age in their homes with their families, the development of these functions continues through adolescence.

The relationship between giftedness and executive functioning is an interesting one. Some studies have shown that math abilities correlate significantly with executive functioning with some variances. (Rebecca Bull and Gaia Scerif, 2010.) Other studies find a correlation between executive functioning and achievement. (St. Clair-Thompson and Gathercole, 2010.) In gifted education we know that cognitive abilities do not guarantee academic achievement and underachieving gifted students-could this be related to struggles with executive functions in some cases? In his work, Re-examining the Role of Gifted Education and Talent Development for the 21st Century, Joseph Renzulli speaks to the necessity of talent and cognitive development going hand in hand with what he calls the “character strengths” of executive functions. These are developed through addressing novel situations that require children to draw on and develop these skills for success. But what does this look like in practice?

A week ago I was working with three gifted 8 year olds on one of the Destination Imagination challenges. Designed to foster curiosity, courage and creativity, I use this program not only as a means to challenge my students to solve novel and complex problems, but to create scenarios where I can help them cultivate their virtues (gifts of character) as they learn project management skills and collaboration. They were trying to solve an instant challenge that involved building a tower within specific parameters when things fell apart. Two of the students took over the task while the third withdrew with tears streaming down his face. I quietly acknowledged that I saw his tears and sat with him while we waited for the other two students to complete the task.

After measuring the height of their structure we began debriefing the teamwork part of the challenge at which point they acknowledged that it had not gone well and that there had been some conflict. I spoke to them about conflict arising when there is a difference in  the individual interests in carrying out a task and asked each of them what had been important to them as they were working on the challenge.

“To do it right,” the boy with tears responded.

“That would be the virtue of excellence,” I said, writing the word on the board.

“To work on it together,” responded the girl who had taken the structure away from the boy.

“That sounds like the cooperation virtue is important to you,” I said, writing it on the board beside excellence.

The third student responded that they were frustrated because the boy had not explained to them what he was doing before starting to build the solution.

“You needed understanding,” I said, writing that virtue on the board. “Now look at the things causing your conflict. They are all virtues. Are they important virtues to nurture on your team?” All three nodded. “So how can we get these virtues working together?” I asked.

After some discussion they agreed that communication was important and also came to understand that communicating with words was sometimes difficult for the boy. After we agreed that this was something we would work on together they were ready to move on. We had an incredibly productive morning and this new understanding continued the next time we met.

What really touched me about this incident was the ability of these children to see the virtues in each others actions despite the fact that they had really struggled. It empowered them to understand themselves and each other better as they moved forward to complete more tasks successfully.

“Children aren’t born with these skills[executive functions]—they are born with the potential to develop them.” -Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University

This statement reflects the premise guiding the Virtues Project as well-that children are born in potential and as with anything that is “in potential”-seeds, executive functions, virtues, habits… require certain conditions to grow and develop. Those of us privileged to work with and parent children need to understand our role in creating those conditions and not give up when we don’t see in some children what may seem innate in others as it is an opportunity to play our part in their development.

“Providing the support that children need to build these skills at home, in early care and education programs, and in other settings they experience regularly is one of society’s most important responsibilities.” -Centre on the Developing Child, Harvard University

For more insight on this topic check out the overview video at the Centre on the Developing Child-Harvard University  which does a brilliant job of explaining executive functioning and self regulation. The website itself highlights the relationship between working memory, mental flexibility and self-control and stresses the importance of children having opportunities to apply these skills in coordination with others. You can also learn more about executive functions at Hoagies Blog Hop by clicking here or on the icon below:

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A Message from The Little Prince

This year I read the same book more than 10 times. I read it a chapter at a time with students ranging in ages from 8-14 and after each chapter we would take some time to reflect on what we had just read. Now the book, The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery lives in me like few other books ever have, not just because of the extraordinary story it contains, but also because of the incredible observations and insights that my students shared with me as we explored the provocative world of The Little Prince. I will admit as we drew near the end of the book I had some concerns about how they would interpret and respond to his return to his home on his star  , but I needn’t have worried. Antoine De Saint-Exupery was masterful in those closing chapters of his book about a boy who was often confused by our world but discovered and shared the secret to what is really important before taking his leave from it.

It is hard to describe what makes the book so brilliant. The complicated relationship between the little Prince and his rose. The all too familiar caricatures floating about on their own planets that he meets on his way to earth. The lesson the fox delivers about the beauty and heartache of being tamed. The people on trains going nowhere very quickly or the salesclerks and their frightening “water” pills. But I believe what touched me the most about this book was the relationship between adults and children and the lessons and truths we share with one another consciously and unconsciously on a daily basis. If there is an argument to be made for mindfulness and deep reflection in a time of great uncertainty, this is it.

In a year of many departures, this book is also a source of comfort. I first found it here in an exchange between he Little Prince, with hair the colour of wheat, and the fox.

“So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–

Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”

It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”

Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.

Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

Then it has done you no good at all!”

It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.”

The Little Prince reminds us that every hello is accompanied by a goodbye, and when they happen too soon, especially in tragic circumstances, it is devastating. But to never have been tamed is equally or even more devastating so we take the risk over and over until our world is filled with reminders of both love and loss, each made more beautiful and painful by the presence of the other.

Earlier this year I was asked to write a song of healing when two young men made their departure too soon and I called upon Antoine De St. Exupery and The Little Prince for help. I didn’t know that before the end of the year I would need to listen to it again…more than once. So I thought I would post it here, in case anyone else is looking to the heavens for its newest star. May you find it with your heart.

Nurturing Activism in Gifted Students

Having an awareness of how high gifted students can set the bar for themselves has made me proceed carefully into conversations around activism. One highly gifted child that I have the pleasure to know made the off-hand comment to me once that anything less than a Nobel Peace prize would seem an insignificant contribution. So while locally, nationally and internationally, child activists are doing amazing work and have been well recognized for their efforts, it is important to balance our conversations about these  tremendous role models with an understanding of the many layers to activism.

In our smallish community we are fortunate to have some amazing role models. One such individual is Tenille Nadkrynechny who at 15 began using her musical talents to ensure the homeless youth of our community have a safe shelter to go to. Her talents have been a source of inspiration to many of our local students. We are also very proud of Canadians Craig and Mark Kielberger whose activism began at the age of 12 championing the rights of child labourers. In the 21 years since their incredible work with the “Free the Children” organization has evolved into the internationally recognized Me to We movement. This movement has come to our community in the form of Mighty Peace Day. And we cannot forget Malala, who was catapulted onto the world stage after being shot for championing the right to go to school. She went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

So how does one begin talking about activism with students who have tremendous compassion and wish to make a difference in the world? Depending on the child and where they are setting their bar, it may start with a conversation about our fascination with eminence. In some of her talks, Linda Silverman reflects on eminence being a wrongheaded guide for giftedness when she explains how at one time eminence/giftedness was measured by the number of books one had written about them. Based on that interpretation the most gifted individual on the planet at one point would have been the race horse Sea Biscuit. While Sea Biscuit may have been a very gifted horse with a very gifted trainer, we can’t all be Sea Biscuit for a few obvious reasons. We also can’t all be Malala for just as obvious reasons.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t be activists. In fact, the next conversation might be about how activism is a daily activity-the product of a thoughtfully lived life. Every time we are faced with a situation that calls us to action: standing up for or to a friend, seeing someone in need, deciding what we will or will not purchase or consume, voting, choosing a topic for an assignment…we are activists. For my anxious and perfectionistic students who might find this concept paralyzing, I would turn to the The Virtues Project and contrast the excellence and moderation definitions with one another. In fact, it is the cultivation of these and other virtues as we proceed with pursuing our passion that will allow us, should an opportunity arrive, to be an activist for a cause larger than ourselves, and proceed with the confidence, compassion, integrity and humility required of those who might be called upon to lead.

Please take time to check out Hoagies Blog hop for more thoughts on this topic by clicking on the link below.

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Emotional Intelligence and the Over-Excitable Gifted Learner

There are many times in my work with gifted students that the question of emotional intelligence emerges as well as the deliberation over whether a strong EQ is favourable over a high IQ and the influence one might have on the other. Teachers and parents will often comment on the intensity of emotions that they observe and wonder about their child or student’s emotional intelligence. This sometimes leads to a conversation around the over-excitabilities (of which one is emotional over-excitability) which are considered  gifted traits. So how do the over-excitabilities relate emotional intelligence, especially when it appears as thought the child is struggling with regulating their emotions?

Let’s start by defining emotional intelligence. In their seminal 1990 paper entitled Emotional Intelligence, Salovey and Mayer concluded that “emotionally intelligent people accurately perceive their emotions and use integrated and sophisticated approaches to regulate them as they proceed to important goals”.  They warned that people who do not learn to regulate their emotions “may become slaves to them” while stating a common ailment “may involve people who cannot recognize emotion in themselves and are therefore unable to plan lives that fulfill them emotionally.”(p.17)

Borrowing from this work, Daniel Goleman, brought the term emotional intelligence into popular culture and put into motion what the Harvard Business Review in the late 90’s called “a ground breaking, paradigm-shattering idea” and as such it has become embedded not only in our educational conversations  but business as well. One cannot help but see the imperative of engaging further in research that could potentially offer so much to so many and thus the field has since evolved to include new models and dimensions along with tools designed to measure EQ.  In addition to this, several programs to teach emotional regulation have emerged, including spark*,  The Zones of Regulation and SCERTS.

But what counts as a lack of emotional intelligence and is this an accurate descriptor for our over-excitable gifted students? If we look at it from the perspective of  an emotional dysregulation diagnosis, early psychological trauma, brain injury, bi-polar disorder and autism are just some of the some of the factors that could contribute to a variety of exaggerated and sometimes aggressive outbursts. How might this differ from our over-excitable gifted students?

To start with, many parents of my students have reported that their children are able to regulate their emotions very well…until they get to a place where it is safe to express them, when they get home. Understanding and having a “safe place to land” can make an enormous difference with these children and when they have decompressed, trying to find the source. Then there are those who struggle with the fact that others do not share the same emotional sensitivities or intensities as they do and are confused when those same others do not see or react to perceived injustices or slights. Sometimes these situations result in tears or rage, but often can be resolved when the situation inciting the reaction is acknowledged and addressed. I have found many children to be relieved when they realize that they might have a different emotional experience than others. There are also my challenging or twice-exceptional students whose emotional outbursts can be alleviated by appropriate curriculum, recognition of gifts along with supportive and understanding adults in their lives.

So do these examples show a lack of emotional intelligence or inability to regulate? We need our emotions to draw awareness to an unmet need and these examples show what some of those unmet needs might be. In fact, I often wonder if we were in a rush to regulate whether we might create additional stress if root issues are not recognized and/or addressed for what they are.

But then there are those, whose anxiety, perfectionism and complexity of emotions can be debilitating and interfere with their success. To support these individuals it is important to acknowledge the intensity of their emotions and how they might experience emotions differently. From there it is important to begin cultivating strategies to address how some these emotions are being manifested. Resources I have used and shared with parents and teachers include Sharon Lind’s article at SENG.org on Over-Excitabilities and the Gifted, as well as the book “Letting Go of Perfect” by Jill Adelson PhD, and Hope Wilson PhD.

But a good question might be whether or not we could all benefit from strategies designed to assist those who struggle with varying degrees of emotional regulation? Those who experience emotional outbursts aside, there may be a great number of individuals struggling internally who could benefit from strategies that are taught. Growing awareness and understanding around our emotions sounds like a good thing as long as we remember that emotions are complex and provide us with valuable information with which to negotiate our world. The teaching regulation strategies would need to acknowledge this. At present our school district is beginning to work with the Zones of Regulation in many of our classrooms and I look forward to seeing how it helps students and influences the culture of the classroom.

For more perspectives on Emotional Intelligence, follow this month’s blog hop at Hoagie’s Gifted or click on the icon below.

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Acceleration Considerations

This isn’t my first run at the difficult topic of acceleration. In February 2015, I addressed how acceleration was a  (Not So) Simple Fix, and more recently in a post about Math and the Gifted Learner, I reflected on acceleration as one of the options available to students who were gifted in math. Having been involved in many accelerations and conversations about acceleration over the past few years, it is rare that I have a straightforward, rubber stamped, “this child is perfect” for acceleration meeting. Here are some of my observations from full grade accelerations.

  1. Sometimes the testing does not look like we would expect. I have had situations where the cognitive testing has not matched up with the off-level or achievement testing.  While the IAS (Iowa Acceleration Scale) allows for some flexibility on this, it is important that the team discussion take a careful look at demonstrated levels of achievement and what might be contributing to a lower cognitive score, particularly if there are gaps in subtests so appropriate supports can be put in place if necessary.
  2. The interpretations of the testing results may vary. As the gifted specialist, I get to work with different psychologists as we review applications for acceleration. I have worked with psychologists who have recommended acceleration to parents based on testing results that fall below the IAS recommendations. I have had psychologists recommend against acceleration when the testing supported what was outlined by the IAS but they felt that the cognitive flexibility results were lower than they would like to see. While testing is only one part of the process, it is important to weigh everything out carefully during sometimes difficult conversations.
  3. The other interests of the student. Students who are actively involved in competitive sports may find that they are disadvantaged at certain points in their development. One student recently pointed out that the only drawback to acceleration has been the fact that being one of the smaller players on the team has felt like a disadvantage. While they are likely to grow out of it, it may have a longterm impact if this sport is part of a career goal.
  4. The receiving school and teacher. Never accelerate a child into a situation where the receiving school and teacher are not supportive.  Even when they are supportive, monitoring expectations is important. It may take time for a child to adjust academically and socially to the grade skip. Teachers sometimes have expectations of how a gifted child “should be” that differ from the child who is being accelerated behaves. Sometimes students are comfortable with other students knowing they’ve been accelerated while others want it kept very low key. Other students have experienced frustration that the fact they’ve been accelerated isn’t acknowledged as an accomplishment. As students get into the higher grades, a single grade acceleration usually goes unnoticed, students who have been accelerated more than a single grade will continue to need advocacy and support as they are in a sense a “visible minority” and will need to continue to manage perceptions.

These observations around acceleration get complicated when they become part of the news like the recent article in the Business Insider that is interested in defining a certain measure of success for a particular group of gifted students. The article draws on research that supports acceleration and creates a sense of urgency around  the necessity of challenging our youth while focusing our perceptions of “genius” on a particular set of variables. While it tracks the success of 5000 students at or above the 99th percentile, the actual number of individuals who constitute 1% of the total population of the US is well over 3 million people who, I imagine, are as diverse as any group of 3 million people. Those of us who work with an even larger group of students (the top 2.2%) get caught up in the urgency in unexpected ways while working to act in the best interest of the gifted.

For more insights on Acceleration, join the Gifted Blog Hop here or by clicking on the icon below.

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Finding Your Community

There have been many times in my life when I really struggled to find community, longing for a place where I could feel like I “fit in”. Growing up on a farm close to a small rural hamlet I  experienced community as a double edged sword: everybody knew you and your family making it easy to find things to talk about and participate in a variety of activities with people you knew and there was a certain comfort in that. But it was also really difficult at to find people who had some of the unique interests and perspectives that I had which, despite the familiarity, could still feel lonely. So as quickly as I could, I left home to find “my” community. And here is what I learned on that journey:

  1.  One community may not meet all of your needs. I have heard many people express a feeling of being “let down” by a certain group because they thought because they shared one commonality, that somehow all their needs for acceptance and understanding would be met there. We are complex and evolving beings and we may be drawn to different communities for a variety of reasons. You may need to reach out to different communities to find who you are looking for.
  2. Communities can evolve and change. Sometimes a change in leadership,  direction, demographics or even a change in you can change the “fit” of a community. Sometimes it is a change that feels good but just as often it might be a change that feels wrong. Sometimes you stay because you are a part of this change and sometimes you leave because you are not: both can be equally difficult.
  3. Sometimes it will be up to you to create community. One of the most daring things you can ever do is to say “I see there is a need…is anyone with me?” It can make  you feel vulnerable and it may start off as a community of one until it builds to a community of two or three or more.
  4. Community need not be restricted to a specific place. With the advent of social media, online communities offer unique opportunities for connection. For example, coming from the northerly community that I do, most of my access to the gifted community (outside of the time I spend with my gifted students) is online or at the various conferences like the NAGC that I am able to attend.
  5. Don’t underestimate your de facto communities. Whether it is the neighbourhood you live in, where you work or the places you spend your free time, you may be surprised who and what you find when  you linger where the people gather. Wendell Berry writes: Community, I am beginning to understand, is made through a skill I have never learned or valued: the ability to pass time with people you do not and will not know well, talking about nothing in particular, with no end in mind, just to build trust, just to be sure of each other, just to be neighborly. A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it is something you do. And you have to do it all the time. When there is a fire or a flood or some kind of crisis or even just a BBQ, this  community is the one that may well surprise you the most.

We know that community is important, but finding it or creating it can be a challenge. Perhaps that is why this quote  by  Stendhal resonates so much with me: “One can acquire everything in solitude except character.”  We need communities not only for belonging, but also to challenge us to discover who we are and who we want to be. According to Dabrowski, this can be the source of much anxiety, but is also a very positive thing!

This blog is part of a blog hop community that will share many other perspectives on community if you follow this link or click on the graphic below!

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Giftedness and the Impact of Trauma

If you’re a news hound, it’s been a summer of scary news stories from all parts of the globe. My iPhone has made it really easy to find these stories as they emerge…just one swipe to the right and there it is…a deadly accident, acts of terrorism, an environmental disaster and wait…”First shot, new target, led the assault…” No worries. Just a metaphor for a story on pipeline negotiations but it got my attention.

If I’m not careful I can start to have a view of the world that not only frightens me but raises my anxiety levels as I wonder about the future for my children and the children that I work with. Friends tell me that there is a simple solution. Stop swiping to the right. Turn off the news when it pops up on the radio. Scroll over the headlines on FaceBook. And then go into your garden, hang out with your friends, go fishing and you will see that the amazing world we live in is still there. You can stop the trauma.

But even if I can turn away from it, should I?  I live and work in a world that demands I be present for a variety of reasons. For example, we know that gifted students can be traumatized by world events. For some, their sensitivities and tendencies toward deep thought and active imaginations can lead to vicarious traumatization. We need to be sensitive to this and look for ways to support them. (SENGifted.org has some great resources including these Tips for Helping Gifted, Highly Sensitive Teens and Children Cope with Trauma. )

But even more troubling this past year has been the number of children who have come across my radar who are dealing with first hand trauma and exhibiting signs of giftedness. Here’s what makes it especially difficult. Often the trauma is not fully disclosed or acknowledged by the parent so there is no therapeutic intervention as well as behaviours that come with no “explanation.” Another confounding problem is that in the classroom, these flight or fight responses may be interpreted as a behaviour issue and be addressed in behaviour plans that do not incorporate support for trauma. And finally the testing of children who are in a state of hyper-arousal is unreliable and therefore they may not be identified and given access to gifted support which can add yet another level of frustration.

In this article by Dr. Bruce Perry, Violence and Childhood, he writes that it is important to help traumatized children understand their traumatic responses to triggers as they may not feel in control and as a result create an negative internal dialogue: stupid, sick, irrational, bad… He also notes that it is important to offer them hope, which includes an image of a better future and a better world as well as the first hand knowledge that not all adults are unpredictable, inattentive, abusive or violent. Interactions matter and responding with respect, humour and flexibility can start the process of feeling valued. But that isn’t always easy. There is truth to the saying that the children who are the most difficult to love are the ones who need it the most.

The world is full of trauma whether we experience it directly or vicariously. Turning away can be another act of violence…we need to be there for the traumatized who are in our lives as well as those who need us to be aware of what is happening elsewhere in the world so we can make political, social and economic choices responsibly. There is a virtue that can help us with this and it is called detachment. It allows us to experience our feelings without allowing them to control us as well as let go of the things we cannot change. At the same time it gives us the wisdom and grace to be in the world and choose how we will act as opposed to react. You can learn more about the virtues here.

For more blogs about gifted social issues follow this link or click on the icon below.

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The Science of Summer

In my heart, I am still a farm kid. As a result, science in the summer is as much about family traditions as it is about learning and knowing the important science behind feeding your family. Much of my early scientific learning didn’t feel like science at all, it was about daily life-like eating and getting your chores done. There was a lot of “science” that happened in the summer without conscious intention that has become part of my family’s summer learning (fun).

  1. Gardening: from preparing the ground, seeding to weeding and then finally eating, there is no end to the learning in even the smallest of gardens. My garden teaches me new things every year from knowing when to plant even though spring came very early, to which plants require more “food” if you want them to produce. My family has developed a very sophisticated palate with respect to fresh food!
  2. Berry Picking: while we love having food right in our garden, finding a berry patch out in the forest is the ultimate treasure hunt. We have foraged for wild strawberries, blueberries, saskatoons, cranberries and rosehips. For some reason, these treasures taste far better than anything we can find in our garden. Recognizing leaf patterns and ideal growing conditions has made this search a little easier over the years. It doesn’t hurt to know a few “old timers”!
  3. Food Preservation: even in the city, our yard produces an amazing amount of food: raspberries, apples, saskatoons, chokecherries, tomatoes, basil, rhubarb and numerous other crops. From jamming, canning, juicing to freezing, there is so much to learn about keeping food safe and fresh tasting as you process it for future use.
  4. Farm visits: if you’re lucky like we are, grandma still lives on the farm. If not, there are many farms that you can visit. One of our favorite things to do in the summer to find and visit farm friends…especially gardeners. Each summer we find out who is growing and selling food in our region and we make a point of visiting at key times to add to the treasure chest of food in our freezer and storage room. These excursions have become family traditions!
  5. Fishing: from figuring out where to go, what kind of fish to catch, to the best time of day to fish, to what kind of lure to use, to how to cast your rod and if you’re really lucky, filleting and cooking your fish, this activity is full of all kinds of science learning. It is also a sobering look at the impact of industrialization on our lake and river ecosystems when you discover how many fish you could/should eat. If you thought the fish game at the carnival was fun, catching a fish is so much better.
  6. Canoeing: everyone needs to schedule some time to just play! Whether you are in the back or the front of the canoe, on a lake or a river, trying to get the canoe going where you want it to is a great lesson in Newton’s third law of motion.

In some ways these explorations are as much about history as it is about science: food security is and continues to be the single most influential factor in how our civilization has and will continue to evolve over time. Having parents and grandparents who experienced the war and depression and lack of access to food, knowing how to “procure” food, was impressed upon me from an early age and it is something that I continue to share with my children despite the abundance of food that is available. It has become the perfect mix of learning, fun, tradition and preparing them for the future!

For more blogs about all things science, go to Hoagies Blog Hop or click on the icon below:

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Who Is Gifted: The Mysteries Surrounding Identification

How do I know it is springtime? I am in the middle of the gifted screening process where we look for the students who will benefit from being included in gifted programming as they enter into the fourth grade. As a team, we meet and review  the information that has been gathered and from that make our determinations. Our information package includes report cards, checklists and relevant work submitted by teachers. Parents have also completed checklists and included their observations. At the top of the pile are the off-level cognitive testing results. All that is left is to sift through the information gathered, then based on the needs identified and the resources available, make our recommendations. At first blush it feels overwhelming, and with good reason.

“It is inevitable that different values and priorities influence the ways we conceptualize giftedness and define the mission of gifted education.” David Yun Dai and Fei Chen in Three Paradigms of Gifted Education: In Search of Conceptual Clarity in Research and Practice, Gifted Child Quarterly, Summer 2013

It is no secret that within the gifted community there is a lack of agreement on what it means to be gifted. From a cognitive psychology perspective there are gifted individuals with FSIQ scores ranging from superior to profound alongside  prodigies who may only be gifted in a specific domain. The talent driven perspective contends that giftedness not necessarily identified by a test, but should include “other talents” that when paired with motivation and/or the ability to be “school smart” demonstrate excellence and achievement that may not indicative of a particular IQ score. There are our creatives, whose unique perspectives and uncanny ability to make connections take us by surprise, but who may not fit well in a typical classroom setting. But let us not forget our twice exceptional students who may have extraordinary strengths that may not be visible due to a learning disability, ADHD, ASD or physical impairment and whose strengths may be additionally masked by their ability to compensate for weaknesses or invoke behaviors to hide their weaknesses. And for the most part we don’t even consider how giftedness might be defined (or not) in different cultures. It is no surprise that many might find the process behind who is determined to be gifted in different jurisdictions mysterious.

Despite the lack of agreement within the gifted community, each year individuals around the world get a new way of understanding what makes them unique: in some cases a code for their cumulative file- gifted. The responsibility our assessment team is given is tremendous but before we begin, we always go back to the research and review our understanding of giftedness in light of the programming we are able to offer and the needs of the students who have been referred to us. Each year we “tweak” the program to adjust for emerging needs that may not be currently met or research we have gathered to support how we look at the information being provided. There are some referrals that don’t get decided on until we gather more information, some that are very straight forward and still others that involve a lot of rich discussion. While a part of me wishes that I had a Hogwart’s Sorting Hat, I learn so much from these conversations that by the time we are done, I am feeling confident about our decisions and looking forward to having meaningful conversations with parents and colleagues.

So does this mean there is no real mystery? Absolutely not. We do the best we can with the tools and information that we are given but truth be told, tests and portfolios only tell us so much. We know that every year some students get missed for many reasons: not identified at all or identified for referral but poor results on assessments and it is this knowledge that keeps us vigilant…is there something we missed? Something we should do differently? And so we do our best to remain open to feedback from teachers and parents once the process is complete. But the fact that our tools and methods are imprecise is as much a blessing as a problem. Children should be mysterious. They should be unpredictable. They should be full of possibilities and potentials that we cannot even begin to imagine because the secret to the universe is that within each of us is something that could never have been anticipated that will emerge when the time is right. Being able to measure or predict something like that would not only be a bad thing, but would rob us of possibilities that we cannot even begin to imagine.

For more blogs on the mysteries of giftedness, click on the box below:

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Profiling the Gifted in Popular Culture

One of my favorite tools in helping parents and teachers understand giftedness are the six profiles outlined by Betts and Neihart as they go a long way in describing how differently giftedness can manifest itself in individuals. While there are times that reading through the profiles and discussing our observations can result in an “aha” moment there are just as many where we will note how the child we are speaking of doesn’t fit neatly into any of the categories. Despite the moniker, “giftedness” does not show up in a neatly wrapped package that is easily identifiable or predictable, but having the profiles is a great starting point for conversations about behaviors, needs and supports both at home and at school.   Interestingly enough, characters and individuals from popular culture often become part of our conversations as well, but to what extent to they help or hinder in educating us about giftedness?

From Sheldon to Rachel, Matilda to Ender, we are enthralled with gifted characters. We are fascinated by the complexity of their thoughts, their unique and amazing abilities, their unusual reactions to situations, their character flaws and how they overcome difficulties. Do they serve us well as we seek to understand more and educate about giftedness? As with any caricature as characters often tend to be, storylines can highlight some qualities of the gifted experience but ultimately fail in capturing the unique qualities of many of the gifted students that I work with everyday. Thinking Sheldon (who is by far and away the gifted “character”  who is referenced most often when people are looking for examples of gifted behavior),  as representative of giftedness would leave one with a very limited understanding.

We are no less fascinated by gifted individuals whose lives in the spotlight have given us yet another glimpse into giftedness. From Elon Musk to Oprah Winfrey, Joni Mitchell to Michael Jackson we are not without our iconic examples of giftedness. That their giftedness is tied to astronomical levels achievement carries no small burden for many gifted students whose talents and abilities can sometimes become the focus of who they are. But having said that, there is a benefit to reading biographies of gifted individuals and gaining some insight into their journey. As a songwriter myself, Joni Mitchell’s biography In Her Own Words  by Malka Marom is a favorite. I have learned so much from her struggles, not only with how she saw herself as an artist in contrast to the expectations of the musical community, but also to what she was trying to achieve with her lyrics and music. All this on a landscape of considerable social change helped me to understand the inner world contributing to the music that I love.

But despite some of the drawbacks  to how gifted individuals are represented and/or celebrated in popular culture, I will admit to being very drawn in by how one of my favorite literary characters is being served up in a very modern rendition of a popular mystery series. Benedict Cumberbatch as the enigmatic Sherlock Holmes rates as my favorite series with the major drawback of not airing often enough. If you haven’t seen in yet, watch this short clip Sherlock and John’s First Meeting. A very different portrayal of the gifted detective, I really enjoy the pace with all the twists and turns in the plot. Cumberbatch is a no slouch either!

For more perspectives on giftedness is popular culture, follow the link below:

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