Tag Archives: gifted

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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Gifted by Any Other Name…

This week I came across a new page on Hoagies Gifted Education Page entitled the Blog Hop. People working and blogging in the field of gifted education are invited to participate in writing on a theme. May’s theme was “The ‘G’ Word” with one supporting question asking “Should we change it?” A great question, one that I’ve been asked many times in the past number of years. And while I’ve always championed keeping the word gifted for mostly pragmatic reasons (it’s a nice short word, easy to search) it has made me think of what another option might be. So, even though it’s not May anymore…

Vulnerable: Gifted students can be highly sensitive,  misunderstood, in need of support, often considered a low priority compared to other special needs and an easy target for our fears. A few months before I began my work as gifted coordinator in our district there was an article in our local newspaper that read something like this “Put away your gifts, normal kids are more fun!” In it the writer was frustrated by a friend who was sharing with her the struggles of meeting the needs of her gifted child and this was the response. “How could math problems and scientific inquiry be fun? Go outside and play soccer like a normal, well-rounded kid.”  In my letter to the editor responding to the her article I commented on how much fun I have had with gifted kids over the years…and when did things like math and science quit being fun?

Intense: Walk into a regular classroom and you will find a broad range of interests, strengths and personalities. Come into a classroom full of gifted students and you will find the same broad range of interests, strengths and personalities…with the intensity level turned up several notches.  Even apathy can reach whole new levels here. But what makes it really intense is the way everyone can be intense in a completely different way. You learn to love the intensity and sometimes forget there are other ways of being in the world!

Enigmatic: Complex thinking patterns, unique interests, asynchronus development, perfectionism, sensitivity and over-excitabilities can obscure our view of the gifted child. I’ve seen perfectionism interpreted as lack of maturity, asynchronus development as ODD, over-excitabilities as ADHD, unique interests as arrogance, sensitivity as over-reacting and complex thinking patterns as laziness. Gifted individuals can be a puzzle in of themselves even without the added complexity of trying to fit into a larger system that relies on quick references to maximize efficiency. You learn to love puzzles and sometimes even see them where they may not have existed before!

Lonely: 2.2% of the population is a relatively small group. This percentage gets smaller more gifted one is. If you’re not part of that group, there’s a good chance you won’t understand what it’s like to think and feel differently as a result of your cognitive processes.  And it’s not like aspiring to become a part of a particularly small group of people (president, rock star) so it can feel like more of a burden than a gift. Yet the word itself seems to generate other implied meanings which can elicit strong reactions: elite, privileged, entitled. Sometimes it gets difficult to find someone who understands the multi-facetness of it all. Even in my role, it can be difficult to find the colleagues I need to have the discussions I need to continue doing the work that I do. There is no one else in the district who does what I do and many districts in our province are without the kind of gifted programming that we do. Luckily, the people who work in the field of gifted education are passionate about their work and I have been able to call universities in other countries with questions and receive amazing support.

I could probably find a few more words but ultimately, all words have their limitations and any new label becomes just another word (or group of words) with the potential of being misunderstood, misconstrued and misused. So let’s embrace it and learn to be comfortable with it ourselves.

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The Uneasy Life at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy

I believe that one of the most important roles we have as teachers is to help students discover the place where they create meaning. A place where all the pieces fit together and the world makes sense, if only for a moment. My mother finds it in her garden, among the plants and the seasons, my daughter in the kitchen, creating fantastic new recipes, my husband, in the middle of a renovation, and myself in my basement studio writing songs. I have observed students finding the meaning to life’s most difficult questions in sport, dance, mathematics, art, science and service and been witness to the sense of belonging that comes from that inner knowing.

To assume that this would be a place of comfort would be a mistake. A couple of weeks one of my mathematically inclined students explained it well as he was relating the journey he had taken on completing a project he’d been working on. He said something to the effect of: “I never knew when I started each day whether I was going to be making progress on my theory or just become incredibly frustrated.” Undaunted, he continued on in his pursuit of his question and as he shared his hopes for his work, I discovered a remarkable similarity in my own quest to answer the questions that I have, even in the absence of a strong mathematical background. I think it was the math coordinator in our district who said that a deep understanding of one’s own discipline gives us a strong insight into other disciplines.

As Alberta Learning builds its principles for High School Redesign on the importance of mastery learning, I can’t help reflecting on the complex journey it is to the place we make meaning and how mastery is a part of that journey. No matter whether we are designing something in the woodshop or crafting an argument in an essay, the better understanding we have of the tools at our disposal, the more creative we are able to be, especially when we are able to reach across disciplines to find connections. The daunting task of the teacher?  Mastering the movement around Bloom’s taxonomy so students can see how knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis and evaluation will enhance their ability to be creative and optimally, make meaning.

And then, the really hard work begins. I think Mary Gauthier has an interesting perspective on the creative process in her letter to a young songwriter. Maybe you don’t think of yourself as an artist, but at the top (in some versions) of Bloom’s revised Taxonomy is “create” which on the road to mastery transforms us all into artists of one form or another. I’ve included part of Mary’s letter below. You can find the whole letter at CD Baby’s letter series blog.

You must learn how to reject acceptance and accept rejection. People’s opinions of you and your work are irrelevant. The search for love and applause has no place in the creative process. Here is what I know: thriving artists suffer from a feeling of inferiority, a feeling of reaching for something that keeps being just outside our grasp. We make contact with it, and then it turns to smoke. It cannot be held. So our work involves a constant striving. Those that don’t know this feeling are pretending to be close to art and live in secret fear of the aloneness of the deep creative process. Art requires audacity, and if you are not afraid, you are not taking risks. You will simply skim the surface and offer the world nothing new. 

I remember telling students, “when we get through the basics we can get to the fun, creative stuff.” Doesn’t sound like much fun at all does it? For my gifted students for whom many things come easy, this struggle with failure, false starts and dead ends, can be a very difficult place to go. In this place the role of teacher and assessment changes dramatically, which can be just as scary for us.

In an act of audacity, I will include a link to my song Before the Apocalypse where I tried to capture the notion of mindfulness (a whole other blog post) using the tools shared with me in the Coursera Songwriting Course taught by Pat Pattison from the Berklee School of Music. It was an amazing journey of rethinking some of the tools I was using in my songwriting to create more meaning. It transformed my approach to writing songs after composing more than 200! If you’re interested in writing songs, a new course starts tomorrow. I would love to hear what you come up with!