This past week, like most, I engaged in several different conversations with teachers, parents and administrators from a variety of different places regarding how to meet the needs of advanced learners. Although the needs of the students being discussed are significantly different a common theme of misunderstanding ran through them. Students who show evidence of meeting or exceeding benchmarks before their same grade peers are not “perfect.” The people I was talking with didn’t say the students were perfect. They were focused on giving me examples of how these students are NOT.
“He asks me 20 questions about everything to make sure it is correct.”
“She cried because she couldn’t find her pencil.”
“He doesn’t play competitive games with the other kids at recess.”
“I know she gets 100% on all of her tests but she only hands in her homework about once a week.”
“This student has an IEP, how can you put her in an advanced class?”
“It’s expensive to bus the students to another school. They could figure this work out themselves and just go 3 days a week instead of 5.”
Each conversation involved people who care deeply about students. Everyone wanted good things to happen for the child we were discussing. But, misunderstandings became roadblocks. One conversation in particular stands out. It was about a boy who was grade accelerated. The move from one grade to the next was made mid-year. All of the rest of the students in class had already learned the routines and rules. This may have caused some confusion as well as a bit of anxiety on his part because everyone knew but him. Before being grade accelerated school was always easy for the boy. Struggles with his academics did not exist. For the first time in his schooling “career” he was being challenged; a new feeling. At first the teacher didn’t think acceleration was a good fit and was frustrated with all of the questions. She expected him to know the rules and routines right from the start. Until someone in the conversation said, “This could be the first time in his life that he isn’t the one helping other students. It could be the first time he has to ask for help.” Wow! Looking at the student from this different perspective helped the teacher see the student differently. This new viewpoint set the student-teacher relationship on a new path. I’m happy to say this one small change has made a large, positive impact on this student.
But misunderstandings continue to be roadblocks when working to meet the needs of advanced learners.
Gifted students are not ok without a teacher. They need models…and time to understand and know things.
Gifted students are asynchronous. High ability in one area does not equate to high ability in another. This fact is often forgotten.
Sometimes students struggle emotionally. A new learning path may make this better, worse or it may not make an impact at all. And, emotional struggles exist for MANY students. Finding strategies to help them is part of helping them find success.
In my quest for helping people “know what they don’t know” about the truths and myths about advanced learners I’m always looking for materials and strategies that have been effective. If you have a great article, book or resource or an effective strategy or process to help others build their understanding please send it to me!
Here are a few that I pass on when nudging someone forward.
The Misunderstood Faces of Gifted
NAGC Myths about Gifted Students
10 Facts you may not Know about Gifted Students but Should
Unwrapping the Gifted
I’m conducting an experiment. For an entire year I am going to try (I know this will be hard) to replace one word in my vocabulary, both written and spoken. The word I’m replacing is but. My experiment is to replace it with and. But/and but/and but/and…Getting started feels difficult and awkward but and I’m hoping with practice, it will become more natural.
My reasoning for trying this strategy is two-fold. First, although I don’t have exact evidence, more often than I care to remember, the word but becomes a roadblock for a student; especially students who are labeled gifted.
“There is evidence that John should be accelerated in math.” “But he isn’t organized.”
“The reading material is not challenging to Isra.” “But she doesn’t participate in class discussions.”
“I have an online learning opportunity for Juan that I think will challenge him.” “But he doesn’t hand in his assignments.”
When situations like the above happen, the strategy I am going to try is to restate what was said by both parties by changing the word but to and.
“I think we can both agree, the reading material is not challenging to Isra and she doesn’t participate in class discussions. How can we work with her to overcome both of these roadblocks?” The conversation now opens the door to the opportunity of working together to meet the student’s needs. Nice!
My second reason for focusing on the word and is that in my work as an instructional coach I know I use the word but too often. My goal is to provide feedback to help teachers make small changes that produce a big impact. But/And sometimes that one little word can be a roadblock I unintentionally placed in front of the person I am trying to help. I don’t want to be a roadblock.
“I noticed you are using the R.A.F.T. strategy but the students are confused about the A-audience component.”
The word but instantly made the teacher become defensive.
“I noticed you are using the R.A.F.T. strategy and the students are confused about the A-audience part.” Now simply changing the word but to and alters the climate of the conversation from defensive to reflective.
Every specific (and maybe even small) change we purposely make has the potential to positively impact the learning environment or learning path for students. If you want to read more about this strategy I’ve included a few links. Help me change the world, one word at a time.
The Magical Psychological Powers of And
Give Better Feedback by using And instead of But
The word but-use it with Caution
From the President
"Every specific (and maybe even small) change we purposely make has the potential to positively impact the learning environment or learning path for students. "