In life as well as in society role, models play a crucial role in helping and inspiring others to act or to emulate them. This is certainly true for me -- I often look to others for inspiration, advice, and guidance.
One of my favorite inspiring figures in today’s society is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Born on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated from Columbia Law School, going on to become a staunch courtroom advocate for the fair treatment of women while working with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
There is no doubt that her personal experiences as a woman, intellectual, and minority law student in a male-dominated field had a great impact on her life. In a recent documentary about her life, she shared information about the obstacles she faced from the moment she became a law student at Harvard University. When looking at her immense success it is really hard to imagine, almost 60 years later, the many challenges that now Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg faced at the start of her career. Despite this, she has become a social leader in fighting injustice. Such challenges not only contributed to shaping her character; they also developed in her a sense of urgency to challenge the status quo.
When reflecting on Justice Ginsburg and her career, I cannot help but be inspired by her story and her struggles to overcome gender inequality. As an educator, there are two characteristics that I dearly admire about her. The first one is her commitment to promoting equality, and the second is her personal dedication to advocating for those who do not have equal access to opportunities. Such characteristics are especially important in achieving social equality and educational equity.
Socially, and specifically in the field of education, there is no doubt that there are still many obstacles that impede attaining equal access to educational opportunity, especially for minority students. Some of these issues might include poverty, gender, race and/or socioeconomic status. Therefore, educators must pay close attention to these issues when working with minority students. It is my belief that educational equity is more than just giving the opportunity for less privileged students to attain a good education. For me, in order to achieve this, it is necessary to provide students with the support they need to be successful when pursuing opportunities. Thus, advocating on behalf of others who do not have the same access to educational opportunity and investing oneself in achieving social change demands, first and foremost, a personal commitment and a change in mindset. I challenge you to consider these ideas as you work with students, and in our educational system.
WATG Board Member
By Dr. Pam Clinkenbeard, UW-Whitewater and former WATG Board Member
Earlier this fall I talked with Dr. Jim Rickabaugh, Senior Advisor and former Director of the CESA 1 Institute for Personalized Learning (institute4pl.org). I had been working with some schools districts and had done a few conference presentations with colleagues on doing gifted education within a personalized learning framework (“GT in PL”), but I wanted to get Jim’s perspective based on his expertise in personalized learning (see Rickabaugh, 2016). We touched on most of the following seven items presented at the “GT in PL” panel* at the WATG 2018 conference. Following that is a paraphrased summary of our conversation in Q&A format. Note: there were several presentations at the WATG conference that addressed aspects of this topic, and information about those talks can be accessed at http://www.watg.org/conference-schedule.html.
How does gifted programming either fit into personalized learning or coexist with it?
Q: School districts around the country are moving toward “personalized learning” (PL) as their major philosophy for preK-12 education. A shift to PL may result in a number of practical and structural changes in a district. How does the education of gifted and talented students fit into this picture? Does PL “take care of” or replace gifted education and advanced programming?
A: The PL model is completely consistent with advanced learning. The focus is the learner, not the program: their abilities, interests, and personal characteristics.
Q: What might that programming look like?
A: It’s probably a mistake, depending on the specific circumstances, to replace existing advanced or gifted programming as part of personalized learning implementation. Whether advanced programming takes place as differentiation in the regular classroom (Weichel et al., 2018) or in outside programs including community resources and district-level or regional programming, the focus should be more on the learner and the learning than on the instruction. The PL model is about “more of this” and “less of that” rather than a radical overhaul of the system.
Q: In gifted education we often say “The gifted student (like all other students) should learn something new every day.”
A: Yes – the PL focus is on learning more than on instruction. The learner is as much a resource as a target in PL, with respect to them letting us know how to address their learning needs best.
Q: In PL, where else does the “advanced learning” take place?
A: Game design is one example of an area where “non-traditional” gifts might be nurtured. Game theory has a lot of math in it and gaming of course attracts large numbers of students, many of whom presumably would not be traditionally labeled gifted.
Q: Regarding diversity, are underrepresented students any more likely to have their gifts and talents found and nurtured under a PL system than with traditional gifted programs?
A: There are aspects of the PL model that must be intentionally applied to guard against overlooking underrepresented kids’ talents. These include the focus on the individual student, the co-construction of learning paths, and the fact that PL “starts with the learner and not the lesson.” Also, when contexts other than school are considered [as places for opportunity for advanced learning], more students are likely to be seen as having advanced talents and needs. A broad array of opportunities should be open to any student who is interested and could benefit from them. “Intentionality” is important (i.e., making it a point in your programming).
Q: What are some other resources or ideas that you think might be useful?
A: Allison Zmuda’s work on classroom context for personalized learning – it addresses motivation to some extent, and is consistent with advanced learning. I also like how PL turns away from deficit or weakness language – that is, if a student is struggling with something that we consider important for that student, we emphasize how learning it might help the student’s own goals (rather than calling it one of their weaknesses alongside their strengths). “Success” in PL is defined as building the capacity of the learner toward independence as a learner, rather than how well schools “personalize.”
*Clinkenbeard, P., Borsecnik, L., Franke, A., & Miller, A. (November, 2018). Personalized Learning and Gifted: District Examples. At the annual conference of the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted, Wisconsin Dells.
Rickabaugh, J. (2016). Tapping the Power of Personalized Learning: A Roadmap for School Leaders. ASCD.
Weichel, M., McCann, B., & Williams, T. (2018). When They Already Know It: How to Extend and Personalize Student Learning in a PLC at Work. Solution Tree.
Zmuda, A., Curtis, G., & Ullman, D. (2015). Learning Personalized: The Evolution of the Contemporary Classroom. Jossey-Bass.
Joe has been an educator for the past 21 years. He began his career as a 6th grade classroom teacher where he taught Social Studies and Language Arts. Following his first three years as a teacher, he and his team proposed the creation of a looping structure. For the next seven years, Joe looped between 7th and 8th grade. This looping experience had a large impact on Joe’s views of education and the power of relationships.
Following his tenth year in the classroom, Joe was asked to move to administration. In doing so, he became a Dean of Students and G/T Coordinator at his middle school. After completing his master’s degree and spending four years as a Dean, Joe moved districts to be closer to his family. Today, he serves as a district Teaching and Learning Coordinator where one of his privileges is to work with an amazing Talent Development Team.
For the past five years, Joe has served as the President of the CESA 7 G/T Consortium. He is also working to finish his dissertation and earn his PhD in Education and Leadership Studies. His hopes in joining the WATG Board are to continue learning from colleagues while participating in the statewide dialogue about how to best challenge our highly capable learners.
In his spare time, Joe enjoys travelling with his wife, coaching his two sons (basketball), racing bicycles, and gardening.
By German Diaz, WATG Board Member
I have to admit that the person who inspired me to write this article about the topic of identity was my daughter. Although she is only five years old, her unique inquisitive mind and her awareness about her identity continues to amaze me. I am married to a Puerto Rican woman and therefore, both of my children are bilingual, bicultural and multiethnic. They also have had the opportunity to travel abroad to various Latin-American countries. Therefore, their identities are a collage of various Latin-American cultures, and languages of which I am very proud.
A few days ago, my daughter told me, “Daddy, do you know I am Colombian, Puerto Rican and American.” As she was saying that, her face was full of excitement and I could not help but to reaffirm to her that being all of those was indeed a very, very special gift. A gift that often is not seen as such, in a society in which minority students are often seen from a deficit model lens.
The topic of identity is very complex. And therefore, it is something that many parents may not feel very comfortable talking to their children, especially if we add the issue of race. In a recent interview, Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the book: How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success (2016), shared her own insights about the topic of identity by referring to her own experiences growing biracial. The word biracial first came to use in the late 80s and let’s keep in mind that not too long ago in the 1960s, marrying some from a different race was considered illegal in fifteen of the fifty states.
In this interview she discusses the fact that growing up, her parents did not protect and prepare her enough for when she had to be on her own. By this she meant that her parents felt short to protect her by failing to reaffirm her biracial identity. She argues that at times, parents of multicultural and/or biracial children are unable to have deep conversations with their children about their beautiful, yet complex identities. She mentions how growing up her parents reaffirmed her black identity, but fell short to expose her to black role models outside the family circle. Thus, she grew up affirming her blackness, while denying her whiteness.
Her story, makes me think back about my daughter’s own perceptions of being Colombian, Puerto Rican and American. And it makes me think that perhaps, as a dad I have done a decent job, reaffirming her cultural and racial identity as something worth celebrating. It is my hope that my daughter and other children alike will to have the opportunity to grow and flourish surrounded by parents, teachers, and a community that truly appreciate being diverse.
When I look at the sixth graders gathered together for our reading mini lesson each day in Reading Workshop, I see a wide range of abilities, interest and readiness for research. Genius Hour is one way I try to engage my students in “their” work instead of mine.
We have Essential Outcomes for nonfiction reading which include learning how to track central ideas and supporting details. Throughout our second nonfiction of the year, my sixth graders complete their Genius Hour research and create something to teach us about what they have learned.
A Starting Point research question document is create so that students have research at appropriate levels. Some students may ask basic questions about their topics and others, who are ready, can ask more sophisticated questions to guide their work. I have students use this Question Helper, based on Dr. Maureen Neihart’s work with helping gifted learners develop rigorous inquiry topics. My students read about their topic during reading workshop and create podcasts to share the central ideas and supporting details they’ve learned each week with their loyal audience on their KidBlog. Here are some of our current podcasts: AM Workshop and PM Workshop. We would love it if you listened to one or more and added a comment!
It is possible for a classroom teacher to use Genius Hour with an individual with gifted needs or even a small group in his or her grade level. The Genius Hour project can be done when the rest of the class is working on grade level material. Since I have my whole class do Genius Hour, I make sure I conference with my gifted students about the rigor in their work and make sure they are digging deep and not just reporting what they already know.
I have a page on my classroom website for Genius Hour, which contains directions, tips, rubrics and podcast information. My students publish their work on a Genius Hour Google Site. I created a Site template for their use with all of the slides and rubrics preloaded on the pages for their reference.
Summer, a time that excites almost every student, is just around the corner. The potential opportunity to spend hours immersed in inquiry about a passion topic or multiple topics magically opens up. For some students this is their time. A chance to learn about what they want to learn in the way that makes sense to them. Books, camps, time to explore outdoors or conduct experiments are available to fill the time off of school. Authentic learning occurs.
The keys to making time off of school successful could be easier than you think. Let your child guide the path. Start by finding out what interests your child. What questions are rolling around in her head that just make her wonder? Then head to the library or internet to delve into finding those answers. If the answers will be found in doing or experimenting say yes to whatever you can. Businesses and organizations that connect with the inquiry are often excited to help young learners learn—if you ask. Contact them and ask. If they aren’t able to help they may be able to direct you to another business or organization that can.
Don’t worry about reading levels. If your child wants to check out a book from the library that seems too hard, let it happen. The worst thing that will happen is that the book won’t get read. Of course you want to check on the appropriateness of the content.
Camps abound. An internet search may help you locate one that meets your child’s needs. Some of these camps can be a bit expensive. Scholarships are often available. Don’t be afraid to ask. If the camp doesn’t offer them the people holding the camp often know of other organizations that support student summer learning scholarships.
Make the most of this wonderful time to inquire. Spend time with your child engaged in conversations full of questions. Don’t let all of the questions come from your child. Share what you are wondering about. The circle of inquiry can start anywhere…and go anywhere. I wonder…I discover…I think…I saw…I tried…
Enjoy this wonderful time and soar with your child!
We know that many of our advanced learners breeze through school with no struggle. They get straight A’s (or an occasional A-) and enjoy their success. They may actually be driven by their success. They receive accolades for their good grades. They thrive on this positive attention and verbal praise. They may even get paid for getting good grades. This creates a situation where students feel they need to get good grades in order to feel valued and respected--even loved. The result is the possibility that they only accept tasks that are easy; of only doing things that they already know how to do. Therefore, success is guaranteed even though it takes little effort. If a student is praised only for the product--not the process, their self worth becomes dependent on this approval from others and not from within.
True happiness comes from a feeling of pride. Pride is earned through hard work. Hard work means accepting a difficult task, persevering through the task to a result that accomplishes a goal. Sometimes this requires a bit of sideline coaching or facilitation but the work needs to be accomplished by the student alone in order to reach the level of self-satisfaction for a job done well. Teach them task analysis; failure analysis; to discover multiple pathways to reach the same goal. Teach them acceptance of failure as a means to accomplishment.
The gift we can give our children and our students that will last through every difficult situation that life throws at them is the gift of perseverance. We all need to develop our own a bag of tools to tackle challenges. We also need the work ethic to take the time necessary to solve these problems. These key components to success are realized only by being presented with appropriate challenges throughout our lives. Do you know anyone who is addicted to a game? Whatever the game is, it presents an appropriate challenge--that is one that can be accomplished through a reasonable amount of time and effort. The result? Pride of accomplishment and better yet, the desire to continue to accept more challenges.
Weinbrenner1, a guru in the field of gifted education, suggests that parents and teachers should consider the following:
Our future needs our gifted youth. They are the ones who will solve future problems. Our goal should be to help them advance with the skill set necessary to grow, learn, communicate and contribute with confidence.
Whether it’s Baby Einstein for infants to violin lessons in kindergarten, many parents are eager to give their kids a head start with a lifestyle that equates with success. Sure, as parents of high achieving kids we might place too much pressure, overschedule with extracurricular activities, and demand high scores on standardized tests. But, why can't kids just be kids anymore? Some of us are immune to the competitiveness that seems to have gripped every playground. Today, foreign languages are the new ABC's, kindergarten is the new second grade. Somehow, despite the “my kid is a genius” craze, U.S. students are struggling to keep up with their international peers. American students lag behind while countries like Finland, Singapore and South Korea raise the next generation of math and science whizzes, the very skills our digitally driven culture boasts about. So, as parents, what can we do to support our gifted kids?
Talk, talk, talk
Ask your kid open-ended questions, like “What would happen if all the animals on Earth disappeared?” Such questions help a child reflect on what they think and are reassured their opinion matters. Don't worry if your child is too young to understand. Likewise, don't be afraid to use relatively sophisticated words. They may not understand them, but have the ability to figure it out if the words are used multiple times in different contexts. As an elementary teacher and mom of a high-achieving middle schooler, I have always conversed with my daughter about every topic you can imagine. Since she was 2 years old, I would talk about lessons I was planning for my students. Whether it was on the solar system, the water cycle, civil rights movement, or Hispanic heritage month—I made it a priority to expose her with a variety of topics in many domains. Today, she is a well-rounded conversationalist.
Read, read, read
Researchers agree that access to books and one-on-one reading time is a predictor of school success. Why? Reading stimulates the brain to make connections and builds background knowledge about the world. Reading is the foundation of all learning and will enable a child to absorb and apply content from all areas, including math and science. What’s more, modeling good reading habits at home may give your child an advantage. If your child observes the family reading for enjoyment that attitude will more likely be adopted. At home, invite your child to cozy up and read anything together. Put books out everywhere—on coffee tables in the living room, on bookshelves in the bedroom, and sure, even in baskets in the bathroom. Lastly, share what you're reading with your child, and ask them what new book they checked out at the school library. This will not only spark conversation, but build vocabulary and comprehension.
Give specific praise
As teachers and parents, we are preoccupied in making kids feel good that we pay less attention to the time it takes for kids to actually become great. It's hard to accept failure if you're constantly told you're the best. When gifted kids go to school and don’t solve a problem correctly, they may be too hard on themselves or blame others for their failure. Therefore, knowing how to respond is important. Children who are praised for solving a problem tend to be more motivated in school than children who are told they're just smart. The latter, ironically, often become frustrated when something isn’t that easy. So instead of giving broad praise such as, “You're the smartest kid in the school!”, give kudos for specific accomplishments such as, “I'm proud of how you found a different way to solve that word problem”. Likewise, if they didn’t achieve a goal or get the right answer simply smile and encourage them by saying, “You're almost there. Don’t give up.”
Children are naturally very curious. Unfortunately, some kids may lose that sense of curiosity as they get older. What can we do at home to prolong curiosity? Keep them excited by targeting what interests them. Ask questions about what they're interested in and you will have initiated a love of learning that may pay off in their future. Thereafter, your child will ask more questions and continue to delve in that curiosity. Also, take time to share what you're excited about too. Check out a new museum or watch an interesting documentary together, and tell your child what you liked about it and why.
Seize teachable moments
You can help your child develop superior school skills throughout the day. Researchers conclude that education does not only happen in school. Experiences outside of the school are just as valuable. For example, if you drive under a thunderstorm. Instead of saying “Hey, it’s a storm!” ask a question: “How do you think thunder is formed?” Encouraging observation of details will help your child do the same in school. Another example, a trip to the store can be a chance to build vocabulary, math skills and managing money. Tell a 2-year-old the names of fruits as you bag them. Ask a 3-year-old to find four bags of frozen broccoli. Have a 5-year-old write down which cereal she wants. Older kids can compare prices and sizes, and sort fruits and vegetables.
In conclusion, these tips will benefit all children, whether your child is gifted or not. One of the best predictors of future success is for parents to be involved and engaged in their children’s education, at home and in school.
WATG is looking to fill a few positions on the current board. Having a diverse board, comprised of a mix of educators, parents and community members that represent the state of Wisconsin is a key objective we are committed to meeting.
What does the WATG board do?
Good question! You can find the current strategic goals on our webpage www.watg.org under the About tab→ Mission and Goals. We work as a team to impact positive changes on behalf of this special population of students.
What is the time commitment for a board member?
The WATG board is a volunteer, working board, dedicated to advocating for and educating about the needs of gifted in Wisconsin. As a full board we meet once a month. Most meetings are virtual and last about 90 minutes. Three times a year we meet face to face for a full day. Face to face meetings typically take place the Saturday after our fall conference, once in the spring and once in early summer. These face to face extended worktimes help us dive deeply into the work that needs to be completed.
Each board member is asked to serve on one or more committee. These committees meet in addition to the monthly meetings, as needed. Between meetings board members are self-directed in completing action commitments. There are always opportunities to get involved! A minimum time expectation of a board member is 3 additional hours per month. The average board member spends approximately 5-6 hours per month on WATG work.
Are all board members education professionals?
Not at all. The board is committed to bringing together and hearing the voices of all stakeholders. Understanding varied viewpoints is crucial to making the best decisions and building a solid system to meet the needs of gifted individuals in Wisconsin. Diversity matters.
How do I apply to be a board member?
Applications can be found on our webpage at www.watg.org under the More tab →Join the Board. Once your completed application is received, someone from WATG will contact to you answer any questions you have and get to know you a bit. Your application will then be shared with the board at the next monthly meeting. Board terms are usually voted in on Friday, at the annual conference and board terms then begin. However, when necessary to fill a vacant spot, sometimes board membership will begin mid-year. A board member may serve seven consecutive one year terms before being required to take a two year leave. This allows for the voice of new members.
Don’t think board membership is for you but you want to be involved?
Board membership comes with a commitment of time and work. For one reason or another you a board position may not be the fit for you but you want to help out with a specific work group or project. We have an option for you! Just fill out your contact information and select the project you are interested in working on. A committee member will contact you and get you involved. –Many hands makes light work.
I’m looking forward to working with you!
I am an addict. I am not recovering. In fact, I hope to never give up my addiction. Fortunately, mine is a healthy kind of addiction known as exercise. My late, great father used to encourage me to take a break from undergraduate studies to go for a walk, do jumping jacks, ride my bike or go snowshoeing. “I don’t have time for that!”, I’d exclaim as I frantically crammed for an upcoming exam or smeared white out onto a term paper. Turns out, many, many years later I can finally agree that, cough, Dr. Hayes was, ahem, right.
There are myriad reasons to exercise including but not limited to the prevention of depression and disease, vanity and weight control. Another compelling reason applies to both school-age youth and those of us who are becoming a bit more long in the tooth: exercise changes the brain in ways that may protect memory and thinking skills, warding off dementia and brain fog and promoting long-term memory recall. A Canadian study revealed that regular aerobic exercise that raises the heart rate and activates sweat glands appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the area of the human brain responsible for learning and verbal memory.
Additionally, exercise stimulates brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. UCLA researchers recently discovered that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections while learning takes place.
Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
It’s never too late to start reaping the benefits of exercise, both physically and mentally. As the Nike ad tells us: Just Do It. Go for a brisk, 20 minute walk. Play “Just Dance” with your family. Challenge someone to a game of one on one in the driveway after dinner. Dance around the kitchen while making meals or during clean-up. Even raking leaves, and all too soon, shoveling snow in Wisconsin.
“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory and learning.” ~ John Ratey, M.D.