Giftedness 101 with Linda Kreger Silverman

This past week I had the opportunity to travel to the mid-high campus of Westmount Charter School in Calgary where Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman was presenting. The author of Gifted 101, which I consider to be one of the best books ever written in terms of giving a comprehensive overview of all things gifted, she has had a powerful influence on the assessment of giftedness. So much so that the new version of the WISC will reflect the more than 50 years of research she has conducted with gifted children.

There were several topics that she touched on over the three days of her session: parenting, assessment, visual spatial learning, the gifted in secondary school and the personality traits of the gifted. I am going to highlight some of the points from each session. What I find interesting as I review my notes is how sometimes the expertise she offers seems so straightforward, simple and I hesitate to say it: obvious. But you shouldn’t underestimate the complexity of what she is sharing despite its simple elegance.

If our Child is so Smart, Why Aren’t our Lives Easier?  In this session she shared an interesting chart that compared the time we spend parenting our children vs the time they will spend caring for us. We all chuckled as we reflected on the karmic significance of this but the point was not lost. Her broader and more controversial point was this: no matter what schools you put them in, it is their home life that determines what they will do with their lives. I have had many conversations with parents around the degree to which school experiences have influenced their children, and when your child feels like they don’t belong and aren’t appreciated, you would move to the other side of the planet to make them feel accepted and understood. But Linda cautions that you must remember your own significance as a parent to recognize their individuality, accept them for who they are, to listen, be honest and support their passions. The list goes on but the meaning is clear…these highly sensitive, emotional, curious, intense, perfectionistic children need home to be a safe and nurturing place.

Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner  “Are you a piler or a filer?” Linda asks her audience. You only need to look at my desk to know which one I am, although I can be a filer when desperate measures are required. Gifted visual-spatial learners can be a conundrum to those responsible for their learning as they don’t respond well to learning that is quite often auditory and sequential. Beyond being organizationally impaired and unconscious about time, they may have difficulty with easy tasks but show amazing ability with difficult and complex ones. They do not learn from repetition and drill and showing their work after they have arrived at a correct solution may be impossible. They think in pictures instead of words and are whole-part learners making step-by-step learning difficult for them. What can we do? For strategies for visual-spatial learners, visit www.VisualSpatial.org.

The Gifted in Secondary School The discussion around this topic was quite fascinating as Westmount provides a congregated setting for secondary students. Some of the questions that their teachers had were very similar to the ones that I have had asked of me, in particular the question of whether students remain gifted for their entire life. “Can we change the code if they are no longer demonstrating their giftedness?” The need for specialists who are able to engage students far beyond their grade level becomes evident in secondary school as the double whammy of not providing adequate challenge to a mind that is beginning to question the nature of the institution can create the illusion of lazy. A “lazy child” can be symptomatic of a learning environment that lacks opportunities for abstract reasoning and is focused on achievement of specific outcomes. As I write this statement it is important for secondary educators (I have been one myself) to understand that it is not an indictment of the teachers themselves but rather trying to draw attention to just how different the needs of these students can be with the added complexity of what is often an unwillingness to demonstrate ability within the normal expectations. In her handout there was some information about how to conduct student discussion groups with gifted learners that might be worthwhile exploring in our district.

The Assessment of the Gifted As attested to in previous posts, the area of assessment is one of the most perplexing for me and my angst was somewhat alleviated when Dr. Silverman made the statement “I know when a child is gifted, I cannot tell you when they are not.” Understanding the nature of “g” with brains that are often wired differently from the norm is not simple or straightforward.  If we are looking for the essence of giftedness, she tells us that we will find it in the abstract reasoning so timed tests, discontinue criteria/test ceilings, coding and other tests can throw us off. The other thing that makes a difference is rapport building…gifted students often need to feel there is a relationship before they will perform. But there are ways to address many of these items and I have brought back some great information to share with our district psychologists as we continue to grow in understanding our gifted learners.

I am so grateful to Westmount Charter School not only for hosting this event, but also for extending the invitation to me to attend. Dr. Linda Kreger Silverman will be at the international Dabrowski Congress in Canmore this summer and she is definitely worth seeing! She also offered to come to Grande Prairie to work with our program here so I will definitely explore this possibility!

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