Tag Archives: gifted advocacy

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.

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When Your Gifted Child is Struggling in School: Things to Consider

Each year I work with many gifted children and their parents. For many, school is a very positive experience but for others, things don’t go as well. There is only one response I have to the question “When should I ask for help?” Anytime you have concerns about your child’s learning and wellbeing.

“But I don’t want to be THAT parent!” You know your child best so if there has been a change in their behaviour, their attitude toward learning or their general happiness that is worrisome and that you are not able to explain, it is important to ask questions. Be prepared that the reason may not be as simple as “They’re bored and unchallenged.” And don’t necessarily accept, “All kids are like this at this age.” Children are complex and the source of their stress can be hard to find. Begin with strengthening the relationship with their teacher and letting them in on your worries.

“I am concerned, can you help me?” How you approach the situation is important. If you go into any meeting believing you have the “solution” to the problem, you are likely to meet with resistance. If you subscribe to the adage “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” then you know how important it is to empower everyone to be part of the solution. The teachers/school (and vice versa) must be empowered  to be equal partners in seeking out the source of your worry as both parties will need to engage in carrying out potential solutions. If they aren’t certain what they can do to help, ask them if there is someone else they can recommend or refer you to whether it be a principal and, if available, a gifted specialist. Most importantly, choose your time to ask the question carefully. None of us are good at applying perspective to a problem when we are in a state of stress.

Be prepared: no system is perfect. I think the biggest source of frustration for many gifted students, their parents and educators of the gifted is that sometimes the system has a lot of difficulty delivering what each of us believe would be the “suitable and successful” learning environment for the gifted. The first problem is the differences in definitions of what constitutes suitable and successful. The second problem is that 2.1% of a population is a relatively small group and there are many concerns and budgets that need to be balanced. Don’t let that stop you. In my experience, most teachers are committed to supporting the needs of the children in their class. But remember, even if you do manage to find a solution with one educator/school, often educators and administrators don’t always stay in the same place for long periods of time and so you might find yourself revisiting the needs of your child with new people each year.

If need be, look for options.  Sometimes you may find the support you are looking for isn’t available in the way you feel would best meet your child’s needs. There are opportunities and organizations outside of the school that do allow your child to work to their potential in areas of specialization. Many of the students I work with are involved in extra-curricular programming that caters to their excellence. Do not under-estimate the value of these in fostering confidence and a love of learning.  Sometimes switching schools and/or school districts can be an option so it might be worthwhile exploring how another school/district might approach supporting gifted students. I have had many students whose “change of scenery” has made a big difference. Some parents have chosen to home school and there is a wealth of information available online and within individual communities for parents who pursue this route. This is a HUGE commitment but what you can learn about yourself and your child if you choose this route is invaluable.

Embrace the journey. The process of asking for help, advocating for those in need, empowering those who are positioned to be part of the solution and forgiving those who aren’t always able to understand is a powerful learning experience. Modelling this process is one of the biggest gifts you can give your child. We must learn to live and ask questions in an imperfect world so that where and when possible, we can make a difference.

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Stop. Listen. Know when and how to advocate.

It is the second week of school and I am greeted at breakfast by a child with sad eyes. “Please don’t make me go to school Mom. My teacher is mean!” And with this she bursts into tears.

“Wow, this is the first I’ve heard about her being mean. What did she do that’s mean?” I ask.

“It’s hard to explain, she’s just mean. Please don’t make me go back!”

We move to the couch where where she can cuddle next to me. “Can you tell me what happened yesterday?”

“She said she was going to really push us hard this year and make us move out of our comfort zones! I don’t want to move out of my comfort zone!” There is another round of tears.

“And you’re already uncomfortable because you’ve had to change schools?” Her head nods inside my hug. “And you’re sad because you didn’t get the teacher that you already knew at school?” She nods again. “And you’re worried because none of your friends are in your class?” Another nod. My husband gives me a look clearly indicating that he doesn’t believe I’m improving the situation as the tears continue to flow. When the they slow down I try a few different approaches. “Have you thought about why your teacher might have said it?” I ask.

“Because she’s mean!”

I try a different approach, my teacher approach. “Did you know that learning is all about pushing yourself farther than you thought you could go and that’s not always comfortable but when you show yourself you can do it, it feels good?”

“Learning should be fun, not scary! And her face and voice was mean when she said it!”

“Can you show me how she said it? I want to hear her mean voice.” My daughter turns to me with a scowl on her face and  says “I’m going to push you hard this year and get you out of your comfort zone!”

“Whoa that is mean!” I say, “Let me try.” I put on my best scowl and with a bit of a growl in my voice I say, “I’m going to push you hard this year and get you out of your comfort zone!” She gives me a deprecating look, “That’s not it!” I try again, each time a little sillier doing my best Elmer Fudd and Daffy Duck imitations. Before long we’re both laughing. “Did you know, when I was studying to be a teacher I was told not to smile before Christmas?”

“That’s dumb! Why would they tell you that?”

“I think it was because they thought that some kids wouldn’t take you seriously if you smiled too much and then they would ignore the classroom rules. It’s hard to get things done if students aren’t following rules.” She gives me a thoughtful look before wandering off to get ready for school.

If you look up the word advocate, it is all about speaking; speaking in favour or in support of something. But perhaps this is where we miss the mark. I could have gone to the teacher and shared with her extensive research on the importance of building trusting relationships in the classroom or conversely I could have told my daughter that life is about learning to work with many different kinds of people and asked her to give the teacher a chance. Both would have been advocating but both would have been far less successful than simply listening and hearing with my heart. On many days, this will be enough…but not always.

I can’t tell you the number of times in my role as coordinator for the Gifted Program that I have been told that my intense, highly sensitive students need to learn coping skills if they are going to survive in this world. We ache for these children as we work hard on strategies to help them cope and while these strategies can be important, we must not forget the listening.

Let’s imagine you speak up about something that is really frustrating or hurtful (and there are many ways you speak out, not just with words) and no one hears you.  You may be tempted to raise your voice and before long you are screaming and have created a major incident. So you are told that when you feel like screaming there are many things that you can do to keep yourself from screaming and thus avert future incident. Still no one knows what prompted you to speak in the first place. Maybe you just needed someone to listen and help you understand the intensity of feelings that you experience. Maybe there are things that you just don’t understand and it’s frustrating because you’ve always been told you’re smart. Maybe some of the things that happen in this world just don’t make sense and are you the only one who sees it?!? Wouldn’t you want at the very least, someone who listens? If we are the ones who take the time to listen, we will know if we need to take further steps.

Which brings us to the students who have stopped screaming. The students who have learned strategies to cope while trying to deal with the frustrations and hurt on their own. The ones who may take a long time before they trust that you are actually interested in what they have to say and willing to listen. The ones who may need us to begin speaking on their behalf because when listening won’t be enough. Now we must learn the hard work of advocacy, the work of changing the environment (when necessary) that prompted  and perhaps ended the screaming in the first place.

Advocating. When we believe we are right, we tend to like the sound of our own voice and yet here is a time we must listen once again. Until we can understand the mindset of the individual or organization that we believe is failing to meet the needs of our children, it will be difficult to advocate for change. Dr. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, established a online community called The Society for Organizational learning where you can find protocols for balancing inquiry and advocacy. As I read through the conversation templates I realize that I still have much to learn about advocacy, especially in a time when it feels like so many of our conversations have become restricted by time and utilize abbreviated forms of communication.

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