This time of alternate living and learning environments has impacted most of us in ways we didn’t expect, with long-term effects remaining to be seen. For exceptional students including those who are gifted, twice-exceptional, with disabilities, and other students, this uncertain time may be especially difficult. Schedules have changed, learning materials may have changed, teaching delivery has changed, and family life has changed. We can look at this time with fear and anxiety, or we can try to see the positive things we can take from it.
For many parents of gifted students, at some point in the past, you may have had a thought or two about what it would really be like to enroll your students in a virtual school or to homeschool so that they could learn at their pace and have their needs met. Considering the ramifications of this is often a scary thought and one that many parents wish they could try, but do not because of a variety of reasons. Now that all learning is happening at home, many parents are involved in their child’s learning, even if it is simply to ensure that the student gets the work done that is assigned by teachers -- hard copy packets of papers and tasks, or online lessons and live video classes.
Parental involvement at home in the current situation is not much different from what is required when a student is enrolled in a virtual school. Students are assigned a teacher or teachers and work independently and with classmates to learn. Sometimes there is a live video class, and other times there are readings, labs, and other tasks that must be done away from the computer. Virtual schooling does not equate to seven hours of learning in front of the computer. There is much learning that occurs away from the computer screen, for those parents concerned about that issue. Some virtual schools provide services and classes for gifted learners, so ask the school about those services.
Another myth about virtual schools and homeschooling is that students miss out on socialization. That is untrue for most virtual and homeschool situations. While there may be very restrictive homeschool groups that desire to keep students isolated, in my experience they are very rare. Most virtual and homeschool learning occurs with time for group learning with others, often face-to-face via live video or in-person. Field trips, clubs, video classes and discussions are only a few ways that students who learn outside of the school building keep up with their friends. In addition, there are the typical after-school activities such as scouts, sports, and church activities. Also, for those gifted (and other) students who need down time, virtual and homeschooling provides that time for solitude and alone time to think deeply, ponder, and process what they are learning, time they typically do not get in school before all the after-school activities. With activities being curtailed at this current time, gifted students may find the time to more deeply explore their areas of interest, and/or may discover new topics.
Parents often do not think they are capable or qualified to teach their own students. Many parents lack confidence that they are able to teach their students everything that is covered in the regular classroom. Other parental concerns may be that they do not want to be in the dual role of parent and teacher. Many gifted students have had negative school experiences and parents do not want to be in the role of teacher during the transition from regular school to the virtual or homeschool environment. These are valid concerns. One way to address these concerns is to enroll your student in a virtual school rather than doing homeschooling. In a virtual school your student will have teachers and classmates, similar to regular school, so the parent can be in the role of guide on the side, rather than the teacher assigning work to the student. This has worked for many parents, and has given them confidence that they can help their students learn. It has secured the parent/child relationship by having the teacher as the one who assigns and grades schoolwork. For other parents, homeschooling provides the opportunity to teach their students and is a successful option for their family.
Take this time of alternate living and learning environments to explore schooling options that may have been in the back of your mind for a while, and try it out since there is little choice with the current school closures. You may find that you are much more qualified than you thought and that your students learn more and in different ways than you ever imagined.
To enroll in a virtual school many parents must use Wisconsin’s Open Enrollment. The deadline for open enrollment applications is 4:00 p.m. on April 30, 2020. The application and details are available on the DPI website:
List of Wisconsin Virtual Schools (scroll down to the list):
If you live in a district that has a virtual school, talk to the person in charge of the virtual school to inquire about the process for enrolling.
WI DPI Home-Based Private Education Program (Homeschooling). There is a form on the website below that must be completed annually by parents who homeschool their students.
I recently read an article by a mother who was writing about her experience as a visual-spatial learner in school. She shares her story and some of her experiences trying to learn the way schools teach. As one gifted visual-spatial youth once told me “For me this is a great picture…trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. Will it go in? Sure. But will it actually fit? Of course not. It’s not supposed to. As Dr. Seuss said: “why fit in when you were born to stand out?” The trouble is, many gifted visual-spatial students have a hard time fitting in because most people do not understand them, and school is not built for them, even though visual-spatial skills are key in STEM fields. Many times, these students are referred for special education, put on medication, or seen as needing behavioral intervention. Often, these interventions are predicated on grave misdiagnoses.
The author of the article, Ms. Currivan, gives a few suggestions for helping visual-spatial students learn. Two of these suggestions are engaging in homeschooling, and accessing schools built on meeting the needs of students who learn differently from the linear-auditory way most often found in schools. Many of the things that Ms. Currivan shares are very familiar to me, both as a parent of a gifted learner and as a teacher. While there have been conflicting views over the years about how children learn, and about learning styles, one thing is sure: if you know a student or adult who is a visual-spatial learner, you know that they learn differently. This kind of learning is often in conflict with the manner in which most schools teach students; learning is geared toward linear-auditory learners. I recommend the article to learn about students and adults who may seem different from others, and who may seem to learn differently than others.
A very important point to keep in mind for both parents and teachers is if you have a child or youth who learns differently from you, do not discount their way of learning; instead, value it. In your view, if they are having difficulties, investigate rather than diagnose or make assumptions or judgments based on your biases just because they function differently. We tend to misunderstand ways of learning that we cannot relate to or comprehend. If I see the world in a linear-auditory manner and a student sees the world in a visual-spatial manner, our two approaches could not be more different. We each see things the other does not, and yet both contribute to understanding the whole. That does not mean that one is right, and one is wrong and must be fixed. It simply means that different approaches to parenting and teaching are necessary. This is where teaching from a foundation of Universal Design for Learning is key.
Valuing differences in learning and living in the world makes our journey more diverse and robust. Learn from the students who you think are different, remembering that they may need time to trust you and learn how to express what is in their mind, because they rarely get to do so. By asking them how they learn, how they see things, how you can best help them learn, you will further develop your parenting and teaching skills and better meet your students’ needs.
How I Struggled in School As a Visual-Spatial Learner. There’s a Solution.
Teresa Currivan, July 26, 2017
Visual Learning and Teaching: An Essential Guide for Educators K-8
Susan Daniels (2018). Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.
Visual-Spatial Learners: Differentiation Strategies for Creating a Successful Classroom, 2nd Ed.
Alexandra Shires Golon (2017). Prufrock Press
Raising Topsy-Turvy Kids
Alexandra Shires Golon (2004). Denver, CO: DeLeon Publishing.
Available on Amazon.
Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner.
Linda K. Silverman (2002). Denver, CO: DeLeon Publishing. (out of print).
Available on Amazon.
Journal for the Education of the Gifted
CEC TAG Journal (The Association of the Gifted)
Special Issue: Rethinking Human Potential: A Tribute to Howard Gardner
March, 2020, Vol. 43, Issue 1.
Gifted Development Center, Visual Spatial Resource
Gifted Development Center, Visual Spatial Resource-Books and Resources
Center for Spatial Intelligence and Learning, Temple University
Universal Design for Learning
February is a time to look toward spring, hopeful that the heavy winter months are behind us, although March is still to come, and March always seems unpredictable. In Wisconsin, February also starts the public school open enrollment period. This year open enrollment runs from February 3 to April 30, 2020. This is a time when parents may explore schooling options for their children outside of their own geographic school district (except for districts involved in school voucher programs throughout the year).
In this blog I have written about open enrollment each February for the past few years, so you may wish to check the archived blogs for additional information. The best way to get accurate information about open enrollment is by going to the DPI website (listed below), and by talking to the school and school district that you may be considering. Consider that even virtual schools are included in open enrollment. Remember, also, that the school district to which you wish to enroll must accept your child; it is not automatic.
During this time many school districts hold open house sessions for families considering open enrollment. I encourage you to attend the open house sessions, take your student, meet teachers, and look around the school. If you think a particular school looks promising, ask about visiting during school hours to get the feel of the school when students are there, and have your child shadow a student for a day. Talk to other families in that district. Do your research. Selecting a school via open enrollment is similar to conducting a college search for a high school student. Gifted students may need something different from what their home school district can or will offer, and open enrollment is often a good option to meet their needs. However, it is a highly individualized decision.
The open enrollment website at DPI is given below. It includes the forms, deadlines, and other information necessary to learn about and apply for open enrollment. Also below is an example of a public virtual school’s open enrollment informational web page: Wisconsin Connections Academy, part of the Appleton Area School District. The web page will give some idea of how school districts may provide open enrollment information. In case you did not know, WI Connections Academy offers services for gifted students.
Making a decision about where your child will attend school is often a difficult one. It may take a long time to decide (making sure your child has a voice in the decision), and you may second guess yourself. This is normal. Know that many other parents have gone through the process of trying to find a school that is a good fit for their gifted student.
Open Enrollment Resources
WI Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Webpage for Public School Open Enrollment
WI Connections Academy, Appleton Area School District Open Enrollment Web Page
January 2020. Does it seem as though it is the year 2020? Time seems to be flying by with the years coming and going one by one. At the start of this year there is disagreement as to whether the year 2020 is the start of the new decade or the end of the current decade. There are explanations for each side, some with scientific or mathematical facts and others without it. That is a question for students who are gifted to debate.
Regardless of the outcome of the decade question, we are now in a new year, and 20 years into this century. What is important to students who are gifted, their parents, and teachers? One thing that is very important for every student, parent, and teacher is advocacy. We advocate for ourselves, our children, or for others many times throughout the year.
Do you ever try to convince your boss to give you that particular Friday off so you can meet your friends for a long weekend away? Has your child ever tried to talk you into letting him go to school late so he could sleep in a little after a late night at some event? Have you ever tried to convince the principal to allow a particular student to take your class because you knew she was up to the challenge even though she was a year or two below the grade that normally takes the course? These are all examples of advocating for someone or something.
Advocacy has specific skills and approaches that must be learned in order to be most effective. Sometimes we, as parents, think our children should come with an owner’s manual with instructions, and advocacy should be an included topic. To help with that, below is a list of links with information about advocacy for parents, and teachers. You are welcome to explore links in both categories, but I listed them in the two categories in case you have little time to explore the information.
I would like to point out a few resources listed below. Several of the resources highlight advocating for students with disabilities. While gifted students do not usually have a disability (unless they are twice-exceptional), they have exceptional learning needs. Parents and teachers who work in special education with students with disabilities have a long history of developing and using advocacy skills. These skills and approaches are easily transferable and applicable to giftedness if one substitutes giftedness in place of disability. This applies to the resources below from Wrightslaw, and Rick Lavoie. Both are experts in the field of disabilities, and their writing applies to giftedness as much as disabilities.
As we start the new year, I encourage you to be positive, collaborate with others, and use your advocacy skills to work together so students who are gifted have an appropriate education in order to impact their world in extraordinary ways.
For Parents and Teachers
Gifted Advocacy-List of Resources and Links
Hoagies Gifted (2019)
Advocating for Your Child-Getting Started
Wrightslaw, Pamela Wright (2016)
Tips for Parents: Advocacy-Working with Your Child’s School
The Davidson Institute (2015)
Advocate for Your Child
From Emotions to Advocacy: The Parents’ Journey
Wrightslaw, Pamela Wright (2018)
Best Practices in Self-Advocacy Skill Building
Center for Parent Information and Resources (2018)
Advocating for Your Gifted Child
Institute for Educational Advancement (2017)
How Can I Advocate for My Gifted Child?
Gifted Today, Duke Blog, 2016
Skills for Effective Parent Advocacy-Parents
The Pacer Center (2010)
Advocating for Gifted Programs in Your Local Schools
Teaching Strategies That Advocate Your Students
Teachers as Advocates: If Not You-Who?
Julia Link Roberts and Del Siegel
Gifted Child Today, January 2012
Educators Must Believe in and Advocate for Their Students
The Edvocate, TED Talk by Rita Pierson
Introduction: The Teacher as Everyday Advocate
Fighting the Good Fight: How to Advocate for Your Students Without Losing Your Job
Rick Lavoie (2008)
Dr. Wanda Routier, Former WATG Board Member
It seems as though our world, especially in education, is trying to remove labels, which for the most part is a positive move. Most schools today have some sort of inclusionary programming, in which students with varying degrees of exceptionalities are included in the regular classroom. This inclusion movement (which began decades ago, and was termed ‘mainstreaming’) is attempting to break down barriers and remove labels so that students see each other as classmates, rather than “smart” or “autistic” or “in a wheelchair.” The irony is that special education requires a label in order for a student to receive services; however, that label does not have to be the main descriptor of the student in school. The same should be true for gifted students.
For anyone who knows truly gifted students, you know that they have just as significant and unique learning needs as students with disabilities. Meeting the needs of gifted students may require adjustments to the classroom, the curriculum, instruction, assessment, or the schedule. Above all, meeting the needs of gifted students requires “Different Not More.” In other words, gifted students need different work, not more work; different classes, not more classes, etc.
There is an interesting article on the Kendall Hunt website that gives several ways to start to effectively challenge gifted students. Teachers do not have to change everything all at once; each small step implemented helps meet the needs of gifted students. The article stresses the importance of asking our students how to best serve them. We need to ask them how to improve our teaching, and what they need to learn best. We need to be willing to learn from our students. They are the best guides to meeting their needs.
It is no secret that our communities, schools, and classrooms are diverse. In school, teachers have students with very diverse learning needs in their classrooms. A teacher may have students who have average abilities, students who are just learning the English language, who have gifted abilities, those who have a disability and receive special education services, and students who are gifted and have a disability. Teachers have a huge task trying to teach these diverse students in the same classroom.
Students who are gifted and have a disability are also known as twice-exceptional or 2e students. According to the NAGC twice-exceptional students are both gifted and disabled, and “…may also be referred to as having dual exceptionalities or as being gifted with learning disabilities (GT/LD).” Twice-exceptional students may also have other disabilities such as ADHD, autism, or other disabilities (http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/glossary-terms).
Many school districts struggle to meet the needs of gifted students. Students with disabilities, when identified, have services through the school with education regulated by federal law (IDEA), and schools sometimes struggle to provide for these students. Twice-exceptional students are often missed entirely. Because many teachers are not trained to recognize gifted characteristics in students with disabilities, or disability characteristics in students who are gifted, they often do not recognize the needs of twice-exceptional students.
The Edutopia website has a post from September where the author talks about how challenging it is to recognize and provide services for twice-exceptional students. That is true. They cite the Montgomery County Public School district in Montgomery County, Maryland, a large northwest suburb of Washington, DC. Montgomery County Public Schools has offered a program for twice-exceptional students since the 1980s and is one of very few school districts in the nation that do. I used to live in Montgomery County, MD and its services for gifted and twice-exceptional students is worth investigating. They offer many different kinds of services for gifted and twice-exceptional students, and offer many resources on their district website.
According to the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), twice-exceptional students need:
“* challenging instruction in their areas of strength
* instruction to improve the areas of weakness
* individualized accommodations
* case management and social/emotional support”
The main MCPS website for twice-exceptional students and services is: https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/curriculum/enriched/gtld/
Scroll down and take a look at the resources available. Be sure to look at the MCPS Resources section, especially the Staff Guidebook, GT/SLD characteristics checklist, and the GT/LD Characteristics interactive presentation. The Staff Guidebook has a lot of information for teachers and parents with all types of documents and tips for teaching twice-exceptional students.
While the Montgomery County Public Schools programming for twice-exceptional student is unique and serves students well, it is not very realistic to compare it with school districts in Wisconsin, where some districts have little to no services for gifted students. The point of reviewing the websites and information given in this blogpost is the hope that you may find one or two (or more) ideas that are applicable in your school and/or for your student. It helps to learn from each other. The fact that Montgomery County Public Schools has this information on their public website indicates they are willing to share the resources. Take a look and find some things that will help the twice-exceptional students you know.
Twice-Exceptional Students, NAGC
NAGC Position Statement, October 2013
Ensuring Gifted Children with Disabilities Receive Appropriate Services: Call for Comprehensive Assessment
Meeting the Challenge of Twice-Exceptional Students, Edutopia, September 12, 2019
Montgomery County Public Schools, Twice-Exceptional Students and Services
Montgomery County Public Schools, Twice-Exceptional Students: A Staff Guidebook for Supporting the Achievement of Gifted Students with Disabilities
GT/SLD Characteristics Checklist for Staff, Montgomery County Public Schools
GT/LD Characteristics Interactive Presentation, Montgomery County Public Schools
The annual WATG conference was held in Wisconsin Dells earlier this month. Did you have a chance to attend or have a student attend the teen conference? This year I wanted to hear Ian Byrd, who was the keynote speaker on Thursday, October 3rd. I have followed his website, www.byrdseed.com, for quite some time and wanted to hear him in person. It is always good to hear advice and recommendations from people who have personal experience with the subject, so I figure that Ian Byrd, as a gifted individual, was worth listening to at a conference about gifted students. I was not disappointed.
For the Thursday keynote address Mr. Byrd talked about the label of “smart.” When working with teachers and undergraduate students studying to become teachers, I hear many who refer to students as “smart,” or they tell parents their child is “smart” simply because the child can answer a general question about homework or a reading passage or a math problem which is at grade-level or below grade-level. I continually ask why they label the student as “smart,” and if they have referred the student for advanced academic opportunities or the gifted program since they have decided that the student is “smart.” Most of the teachers and my students have never considered a response and do not know what to say. I encourage them to not label the student, but to respond to the student and parents by acknowledging the answer to the question they asked the student.
Mr. Byrd referred to gifted students who are labeled as “smart” and how that label is a burden and prevents gifted students from learning and seeking opportunities because they feel they are expected to already know everything. To gifted students, as Mr. Byrd pointed out, “Smart = Easy” and “Hard = Not Smart” and has gifted students asking themselves if they were ever “smart” to begin with. This scenario is also known as Imposter Syndrome. This type of label equally impacts gifted students as much as the label of the students in the previous paragraph.
To provide an example, Mr. Byrd used an analogy and asked us to consider a trainer. A trainer’s job is not to tell the client that they are strong and accomplished when doing easy tasks; it is to encourage the client to achieve the harder goal and keep working. According to Byrd, teachers can use the following as a guide in the role of a trainer to provide an educational environment that challenges students to learn more deeply:
1) Provide specific feedback (‘great job’ is not specific)
2) Know what students can already do (pre-assessment)
3) Pose questions that require thinking, not just remembering (consider asking divergent questions where there is no right answer or a known question; for example, what do you wonder?)
4) Students ask questions (remind them they are learning, and it is okay to not know everything)
Mr. Byrd made the following statement in his keynote address: “Easy 100%’s are an education emergency.” Oh, that more teachers and parents would recognize this and pursue an education that challenges gifted students.
To follow up on the work of Ian Byrd, here are some of his articles:
Long Term Success: Giving Bright Kids Feedback
Asking for Student Feedback
The Curious Case of Imposter Syndrome
Next month is the annual WATG Conference at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells on October 3-4. This is a time for parents, teens, and educators to come together to learn, share, and rejuvenate. The conference has something for everyone focused around the theme of “Revolutionizing the Basics: Making Education WORK for Gifted Students.”
If you have a teen in your life, consider bringing them to the Teen Conference on Friday, October 4 from 9-3. The title of this year’s Teen Conference is “What matters to You? Raise Social Awareness through Game Creation.” It looks to be an exciting day spent with other gifted teens, something that many gifted students rarely get to do, engage with Stacy Read, a web and software instructor at Waukesha County Technical College. See the link below for more information about the teen conference.
If you are a parent of a gifted student, the conference offers many workshop sessions relevant to parents, a parent room, and Thursday’s keynote by Ian Byrd, a noted gifted adult who is an author, speaker, and author of his website Byrdseed.com. I have followed Byrd’s website and writings for quite some time and have listed various links to his website in this blog in the past. I look forward to his keynote address, and the workshop sessions he will give during the conference. Friday is parent’s day with special discussions for parents.
For educators, there are many workshop sessions on Thursday and Friday, and the keynote session on Friday by Dr. Scott Peters, former WATG board member, who will speak about gifted education and RTI. Workshop sessions are presented by other educators of gifted students, parents, and gifted students in a student panel on Friday.
Check out the WATG website and links below for more information about the conference, teen conference, view the schedule, and register. Note there are early deadlines for registration discounts.
I hope to see you there!
WATG Conference (see the links under the WATG Annual Conference banner)
Byrdseed-Ian Byrd’s website
Ask the Doctor