Whenever I meet someone who is involved in gifted education, I try to find out what brought them to this field full of rewards and frustrations. In that spirit, and to introduce myself, I want to share some of my journey that has led to my role today with WATG.
First of all, I’m not a professional educator - my training is in Industrial Engineering. My husband and I are the parents of three gifted sons, the youngest of whom is still in college, and my advocacy started when our firstborn was in kindergarten.
When my firstborn began school, I quietly listened to what the teachers told me: It was best not to test for giftedness. The classroom teacher didn’t like students leaving her class, for testing or pull-out. My child would be fine. He’s so polite.I was concerned that my son’s love of learning would be extinguished if he wasn’t appropriately challenged. Or that eventually he would find inappropriate ways of keeping his mind busy. Or that he would always be a convenient tutor for the other students, at the expense of his own need to learn.
Later that year, when the funding for gifted resource staff was being slashed, I found my voice and began advocating for my son’s different learning needs. I realized that if I didn’t speak up for him, and for others like him, no one else would. I started reading, learning as much as I could about the unique needs of gifted kids, and - at the risk of being labeled one of ‘those’ parents - I asked questions - many and as often as necessary. Before the staff reduction that year, I made sure that, at the very least, we assessed his areas of potential giftedness.
I’ve learned so much since that first year of school, with missteps and successes along the way. Most recently, I’ve had to learn all I could about the needs of the Twice Exceptional. I was surprised - but shouldn’t have been - to find a lack of understanding about this population of gifted students. Fortunately, and eventually, we are making progress, at least in my district. But it takes constant gentle pressure to make sure the message gets through and remains in the consciousness of our educational systems.
To help with that message, Sylvia Rimm has asked us to share this important article with you: Critical Issues in the Identification of Gifted Students with Co-Existing Disabilities: The Twice-Exceptional
. Toward the end of the article, I think the six recommendations for best practices may be a tool you can use today to begin a discussion about how your school or district addresses the needs of this population, and how we all can better serve these students.
I am humbled and honored to serve as your president. I look forward to this opportunity to help WATG continue its mission of educating about and advocating for the needs of gifted students.
New President, New Email Address
As we closed our 2013 Conference, WATG President Deb Douglas’ term ended, and Deb D has begun taking some well-deserved time off from her service on WATG’s Board of Directors. Deb D, I wish you well. And I hope you continue to answer my late night emails full of WATG questions!
Deb Douglas handed down the WATG president’s email account – watgpresident (at) gmail (dot) com on to me, and she can no longer be reached there. If you wish to contact Deb Douglas, she can now be reached at deborahodouglas (at) gmail (dot) com.
How did this happen? Its already August and we’re thinking back-to-school! Time for backpacks, pencil cases, notebooks and . . . Life Preservers!
Yes, Life Preservers. We know that our gifted kids are more encouraged to take ownership of their education when the adults in their lives act as Life Preservers rather than Sages. (Delisle and Schultz, in Handbook of Gifted Education
In brief, Life Preservers
- hang around in plain sight, always available if needed
- are respectful of students’ self-worth and willingness to take risks
- keep the conversation going, encouraging more questions
- allow for all the shades of gray a student might see
Sages, on the other hand,
- show up when a problem arises
- pooh-pooh a student’s wishes based on their own past experiences
- give prescriptive advice: “Here’s what you should do . . .”
- reduce the picture to black and white
Each of us can choose to be Life Preservers. We don’t have to have all the answers, we just need to encourage the questions. The better we understand the characteristics of gifted children – their unique educational and social emotional needs – the better equipped we are to be their Life Preservers.
One great way to learn more? Join us at the WATG Conference in October for inspiring keynotes and informative sessions that will help you preserve the inner life of a gifted child.
Life Preservers. Don’t let kids go back to school without them.
Here’s to a wonderfully productive and challenging year for ALL students!
On June 1st WATG will host the Wisconsin NUMATS Celebration, honoring our students who scored in the top 5% in the Midwest Academic Talent Search (MATS) run by Northwestern University. As the only volunteer organization in Wisconsin dedicated to advocacy for gifted children, we are very proud to be hosting this celebration.
Each year students accept the MATS challenge and take out-of-level achievement tests intended for students many years older than they are. Our event honors 4-6 graders who take the 8th grade level EXPLORE test and 6-8 graders who take the ACT and SAT intended for high school juniors and seniors.
For those of you who know the numbers, here’s how our top scorers did this year:
Composite: 1450 (out of a possible 1600)
Math: 800 (out of a possible 800)
Reading 720 (out of a possible 800)
Composite: 35 (out of a possible 36)
Math: 36 (out of a possible 36)
Reading: 36 (out of a possible 36)
of all four
sub-tests: 100 (out of a possible 100)
Yes, that’s right! We have kids earning perfect and near-perfect scores!
Not all of Wisconsin’s highly gifted kids participate, however: some don’t hear about it; some can’t afford it; some don’t understand the benefits. Yet research tells us that out-of-level testing is even better than MAPS at showing us what our brightest kids need to succeed.
My point is reporting these numbers is not to elevate test scores, but to remind us all that we have students with this extraordinary ability sitting in our classrooms right now who need more appropriately challenging educational experiences. Differentiated grade-level curriculum is probably not enough for those who already have scores high enough to get them into the most selective colleges. All students, including gifted students, need to struggle and possibly fail, struggle again and finally succeed.
As their advocates, what can we do to make sure that happens?
Thanks to all of you, a lot of wonderful things are happening for gifted kids in Wisconsin. Yes, staff reductions and budget cuts have had an effect, but parents and educators around the state are providing enriching and challenging experiences for gifted students and the adults who support them.
WATG encourages everyone to share the details of their successful initiatives. Some may be open for anyone to attend; others may be local activities that you and your colleagues can replicate in your own communities.
As we get this rolling, check back often to learn what others are doing on our events calendar and share your information and stories by completing our upcoming events form.
Here’s an example of a program run by parents for parents and children.
Game Night . . . and Beyond!
Jennifer McCarthy and Janet Foust, organizers
Our event is open to families in any of the neighboring areas. We meet once a month at Books and Company in Oconomowoc from 6:30-8:30p.m. You are welcome to visit! We welcome interested presenters, too!
We modeled our Gifted Game Nights on a similar event we attended in a neighboring school district. At the time, we both had gifted girls in high school and felt we were always trying to plead our case for developmentally appropriate education, always trying to find ways to foster their emotional and social needs.
Our goal is to reach out to families and gifted children aged 8 and up to give them tools to navigate through school, through friends, through . . . life! Our first night at Books and Company in Oconomowoc was in December of 2011.
While the students play educational games with each other, the parents attend a presentation and discussion time. We have listened to attendees as to what we need to focus on. For example, WATG’s President, Deb Douglas, spoke to the parents about Dabrowski’s Overexciteabilities in gifted children, the Wisconsin Center for Gifted Learners offered their advice, and Judy Shaffer, Gifted Resource in Whitewater, gave advice on advocating for your children.
The kids have gotten together to create gratitude journals, to practice mindfulness, to be dramatic with First Stage Theater, to learn about ecology and art, etc. And, yes, we have had the kids play games with each other, too, on occasion! We have no budget. Our presenters have volunteered their time and we are grateful.
And here’s an event just for students.
Mary Kennedy, organizer
Fine Arts Weekend is an aesthetic experience at American Player's Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Students see three plays in the fall performed at APT. They also get to engage with actors in a talkback after one of the shows as well as participate in an actor's workshop. Students also tour the backstage and buildings of APT finding out all the inner workings of what it takes to produce a play.
Included in the $150 fee are the tickets, the backstage tour, the actor's workshop, dinner Friday, breakfast Saturday, a pizza party with the actor's Friday night, as well as lodging for Friday night. Students this fall will be seeing Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare.
Fine Arts Weekend was a brainstorm between Robin Carelli and Ron Jordak about 15 years ago. It has been organized by a volunteer through the Greater Dane County Talented and Gifted Network and advertised to districts in Dane County and surrounding areas. Many districts find creative ways to fundraise to partially scholarship students to reduce the $150 fee, so that students can fully experience and appreciate the arts.
Please let us know what you’re doing. We learn so much from each other.
Happy anniversary to all of us!
This year marks two milestones in Wisconsin’s gifted history:
· 40 years ago the Wisconsin Council for Gifted and Talented was formed, the first state advocacy organization.
· 20 years ago Wisconsin parents and educators joined their separate advocacy groups to form WATG.
We are thrilled to be working with archivists at the Wisconsin Historical Society to preserve our history. Ruth Robinson, WATG board member and past president, is meeting regularly with our “History Hunters,” the group of Wisconsin gifted education pioneers who are collecting and recollecting the stories of our work.
As I listen to their tales of struggle from 40 years ago I’m saddened that the same struggles exist today. Yet I’m also encouraged. For I remember that it was they and their efforts that made all the difference for my own kids over 25 years ago. And it was their voices I heard and responded to, their research I relied on and their organization that supported me when I began my own professional journey into gifted education.
I’m reminded of the butterfly effect: What may have begun with just one small flutter of wings in 1973 changed the history of gifted education in Wisconsin. It also changed my life and my children’s lives . . . and no doubt the lives of thousands of others throughout the years and throughout the world.
And what about the future? Rather than feeling disheartened by the struggles that lie ahead, I’m energized. For today we parents and educators continue to work together for the sake of our gifted children. We have successes; we have failures. But I believe those seemingly small steps we take each day for the sake of one child . . . those little wing flutters in the Wisconsin wilderness . . . will also impact lives around the world.
We stand on the shoulders (or maybe we fly on the wings?) of some very wise, resourceful and passionate people.
Grades 9-12 can be frustrating for gifted teens. Too often schools believe that offering
AP, IB or honors courses of one sort or another will adequately meet the needs of all
gifted high school students. Truth is, secondary schools need options now fairly common
in elementary schools like differentiated instruction and curriculum compacting.
This frustration comes through loud and clear when bright students are allowed to air
their gripes. Usually they're pretty generic like these from students in a recent self-
• I hate it when it takes forever to teach something
• Classes simply move too slowly
• I'm bombarded with homework when I already know the answers
• Teaching me stuff I already know is a waste of time
• It's hard to act like I’m paying attention in class
But helping them to focus on the specifics and choosing just one thing at a time to change
is a good place to begin.
I like to use a format like this that puts the student in the pilot's seat:
This example is just the beginning of the year-long plan and it may
feel like baby steps to only address one need. But often success
breeds success . . . for oneself and those following along behind!
In November I joined many WATG members from around the state at this year’s
NAGC conference in Denver. This is a gathering place for everyone whose books
you’ve read or research you’ve cited, making it a fun place for “star-gazers” like me.
Here's a brief list of some of the experiences I learned from this year:
• Thinking Like … A Master Teacher with Sandra Kaplan
• Gardner, Renzulli, and Sternberg: In Their Own Voices in Our Time
• Creativity is a Decision (Robert Sternberg)
• Bright Not Broken: Maximizing 2e Minds (Temple Grandin)
• The State of Education Going Forward (Deb Delisle, Asst Sec, US DoE)
• Sharing an elevator with Julia Roberts
• Plus casual conversations with the likes of Marcia Gentry, Sylvia Rimm,
Jim Webb, Ann Robinson, Judy Galbraith, Jim Delisle, Nick Colangelo,
Diane Heacox, Rich Cash, Karen Rogers.
Fellow WATG board members Pam Clinkenbeard, Scott Peters, Seth Sondag and I
attended the NAGC State Affiliates Breakfast. Although 7 a.m. is not my favorite
time of day, I loved waking up to the energy of colleagues from across the nation
who share our passion for gifted education.
You can find out more about the info shared with the Affiliates:
• Unlocking Emergent Talent: Supporting High Achievement of Low-
Income, High-Ability studentshttp://www.nagc.org/emergent_talent.aspx
• NAGC Leadership Initiatives:http://www.nagc.org/StrategicPlan.aspx
Special thanks to you our WATG members for making my attendance at this
conference a possibility. I trust I represented you well.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this year’s WATG conference so successful . . . from our wonderful, hard-working board members to the enthusiastic attendees. Networking with you all engaged and enlightened me and I left feeling more empowered than ever as I enter year two of my term as president. What a great job I have!
“Gifted kids __________ (fill in the blank)”
It was a beautiful September day when I visited Green Bay's School for Academically Gifted Learners. It's housed at Langlade Elementary as a new school-within-a-school. Their principal, Tammy Van Dyke, is one of WATG's honorees this fall for her work in making this happen.
During the afternoon the students (grades 2-6) became "myth-busters" as they helped me prove that gifted kids are not all alike and that everything is not always easy for them. At the end of the day they made statements about what they know to be true about themselves and others like them . . . things they think adults should know. I read their thoughts to parents that evening and have selected a few to share here.
- Gifted kids can do more than you think. Jess gr. 2
- Gifted kids want to have a chance to show their teachers their abilities. Breanna gr. 4
- Bullies are big problems for us. Stronger rules/disciple will help us not to be afraid or worried. Samantha gr. 4
- Gifted kids need to be recognized and not like an old rag that has been used for over 5 years. They cannot be pushed around like they don't matter. Kelley gr. 4
- Gifted kids are not geniuses from the start. In order to grow, they need their individual needs to be met not based on how educated the rest of the class is. Michaela gr. 6
- Gifted kids need: more time to do reading, more gym time, more holidays! Varsitha gr. 4
- Gifted kids want fun with the challenge, not boring.
- Gifted kids have a imaganashon!
- Gifted kids want to be treated the same as other kids. Gavin Gr. 3
- Gifted kids aren't perfect, the same, or have the same gift. We're all different colors on a rainbow. No one is the same shade. Camryn Gr. 5
And finally, in true Green Bay style . . .
• In my head, life is a big football game. I think of the gifted kids as a full time QB. The QBs have to have the right strategy and they will succeed in the game of life. Simon gr. 5
Thanks to Tammy, the teachers and all the kids at SAGL for a wonderful afternoon.
Beyond a doubt, teachers want all kids to learn. But since many pre-service programs include only a passing glance at the needs of advanced learners, many educators may not realize how to create and maintain a gifted-friendly classroom.
When I first began exploring giftedness, Dorothy Kennedy was director of the Network for Gifted Education at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. I learned much from her years of experience and have kept this gem since it was first published in May/June 1995 issue of The Roeper Review
. Her suggestions below are as pertinent today as they were 17 years ago.
1. Resist policies requiring more work of those who finish assignments quickly and easily. Instead, explore ways to assign different work, which may be more complex, more abstract, and both deeper and wider. Find curriculum compacting strategies that work and use them regularly.
2. Seek out supplemental materials and ideas which extend, not merely reinforce, the curriculum. Develop inter-disciplinary units and learning centers that call for higher level thinking. Don't dwell on comprehension-level questions and tasks for those who have no problems with comprehension.
3. Encourage activities that call for analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking, and push beyond superficial responses.
4. De-emphasize grades and other extrinsic rewards. Encourage learning for its own sake, and help perfectionists establish realistic goals and priorities. Try to assure that the self-esteem of talented learners does not rest solely on their products and achievements.
5. Encourage intellectual and academic risk-taking. The flawless completion of a simple worksheet by an academically talented student calls for little or no reward, but struggling with a complex, open-ended issue should earn praise.
6. Provide frequent opportunities to stretch mental muscles.
7. Help all children develop social skills to relate well to one another. For gifted children this may require special efforts to see things from other viewpoints. Training in how to "read" others and how to send accurate verbal and nonverbal messages may also be helpful. Tolerate neither elitist attitudes nor anti-gifted discrimination.
8. Take time to listen to responses that may at first appear to be off-target. Gifted children often are divergent thinkers who get more out of a story or remark and have creative approaches to problems. Hear them out, and help them elaborate on their ideas.
9. Provide opportunities for independent investigations in areas of interest. Gifted children are often intensely, even passionately, curious about certain topics. Facilitate their in-depth explorations by teaching research skills as needed, directing them to good resources, and providing support as they plan and complete appropriate products.
10. Be aware of the special needs of gifted girls. Encourage them to establish realistically high-level educational and career goals, and give them additional encouragement to succeed in math and science.See my personal blog at http://giftedselfadvocacy.blogspot.com/ for more ways teachers and parents can support gifted students
What Would You Have Said?
I recently heard an interview with Jackie Hooper, author of The Things You Would Have Said. She also manages a blog (http://wouldhavesaid.com/
) where people post letters they never wrote: “Whether the person has passed away, contact was lost, or the strength needed at the time was lacking, this is a chance to say what you have always wanted them to know.” The letters are sometimes sad, sometimes humorous, but always poignant.
Of course I always hear things through my “gifted self-advocacy ears” and as I listened to the interview my mind drifted back to my own school days, my classmates, my classes, my teachers. What could I have said or done that would have made school better for me?
The first thing that came to mind . . .
Dear Mrs. Bryce. About that round-robin reading of Romeo and Juliet we’re doing in English class . . . I love the play, but the slow, slow pace is driving me crazy. Could I do an independent project instead?
And then I thought . . .
Dear Mr. Swanson. I really don’t get this sine/cosine/tangent stuff but I’m afraid to ask for help. I don’t want you or the other kids to think I’m as dumb as I feel right now. Do you know a good math tutor?
Of course finding an appropriate academic challenge isn’t a new concern. We all probably struggled with it at one time or another and so did our parents and their parents. But in an age of budget cuts, staff reductions, and gifted program elimination we MUST empower our students with the skills to advocate for themselves.
So now it’s your turn. What do you wish you’d said to an educator?
Let’s create a list to share with the students at the Teen Conference next fall. Revealing our own academic frustrations may give them ideas on how to improve their lives.
Post your own “note to my teacher” in the comments below. Then check back often to read what others have to say.
And trust me. Getting it off your chest feels pretty good!