By German Diaz, WATG Board Member
As part of a class in the field of Applied Linguistics, my undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee were asked to explore the theme of bilingualism and its relationship with giftedness. These students are preparing to become ESL teachers and since most of their courses focused on learning and language, I wanted to challenge them to think of language or better yet, the ability to speak several languages, as a gifted trait.
Traditionally, giftedness has been associated with areas of reading and math. Thus, many of my former students struggle to find a connection between bilingualism and giftedness, although most, if not all of them, pointed out the pragmatic ability to speak more than one language as a definite talent.
There are few doubts that learning a language is a huge challenge. However, there are people who can learn a second or third language with little or no difficulty. Could these individuals be considered linguistically gifted? It is estimated that only 15 to 20 percent of all Americans are bilingual, compared to 56 percent of Europeans. Although such a difference in the number of people being able to speak more than one language between Americans and Europeans is significant, there are many reasons associated with this reality, including the need to communicate and interact with others (need and interest), an aspect that until now seemed unnecessary for the average American person.
In Canada, for example, until quite recently the definition and educational implications of giftedness had not encompassed bilingualism as a separate cognitive or social construct, even though cognitive advantages of child bilingualism have been thoroughly researched over the past 40 years. According to Joseph Renzulli (1986), “gifted and talented children are those possessing or capable of developing a composite set of traits and applying them to any potentially valuable area of human performance”. The composite set of traits Renzulli referred to is the core of his three-ring conception of giftedness: above- average ability, task commitment, and creativity (Renzulli, 1978). This should include people whose mental abilities allow them to learn one or more languages. Valdés (2003) presented one of the few studies available to date that attempt to bridge the conceptual gap between child bilingualism and giftedness. In her study of the intercultural interpretation practices of school-age bilinguals in immigrant communities, Valdés claimed that “these youngsters display abilities that are in many ways more sophisticated than those measured by verbal analogies, cloze procedures and items found on standardized tests of intelligence”. As a result, bilingual individuals “exhibit a range of abilities that can be considered within a framework of exceptionally cognitively competent individuals”.
Expanding our notion of giftedness at the local and national level, as well as daring to think outside the set limits takes risk and courage. Giftedness comes in many shapes and forms, and perhaps it is time to begin considering bilingual and/or multilingual individuals as truly gifted. What is your opinion?
My job has me traveling quite a bit these days. As some of you may recall from my January article, I’m an engineer and I work in the construction industry. I often visit job sites to assess the quality and workmanship of newly built buildings. Recently I visited a project in Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville is home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, also known as the Marshall Space Flight Center, which is home to Space Camp and the Army Redstone Arsenal. I made arrangements to stay an extra day so that I could visit the museum and take in the sights. While I would highly recommend the experience if you find yourself in the area, this article is not about the facility itself. I was fortunate enough to be in town the same weekend as the 2019 Rover Challenge. Since 1994, NASA has hosted a competition for high school and college students to design, build, and race “moonbuggy-like” vehicles. From the event’s website:
The Rover Challenge continues the agency’s mission of providing valuable learning opportunities to students who, someday, may be responsible for planning future space missions, including crewed missions to other worlds. After constructing their own rovers, teams attempt to traverse a nearly three-quarter-mile course with grueling obstacles that simulate terrain found on Mars, as well as other planets, moons and asteroids throughout the solar system. In addition, they have to complete tasks, such as sample collection and instrument deployment.
Since 1994, the event has attracted schools and colleges from all over the world. This year over 100 teams registered and competed. I met students and teachers from dozens of U.S. states and other countries. A team from Technólogico de Monterrey, Mexico broke out into a song while cheering on their teammates. Some teams created five-spoke wheels using the bases of office rolling chairs. Others wore their school colors, gloves, hats, and even space-themed socks. The whole event was broadcast live on NASA TV. In addition to the race, the students visited the museum’s exhibits, demonstrations, and many “space-flown” artifacts. They met NASA staff, faculty, and contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Jacobs, and Aerojet Rocketdyne. There were also schools in attendance that didn’t compete in 2019, but were taking notes so they’ll be ready to compete in 2020’s event. Thousands of people including students, teachers, parents, volunteers, and sponsors now come together every year for this event and have made it something truly special to look forward to. As Special Guest Astronaut Sunita Williams so eloquently said during the event, “it’s like American Ninja Warrior for geeks!”
The whole trip was fun and exciting, but I feel incredibly lucky especially to have been able to catch the Rover Challenge. It reminded me of similar events I was a part of when I was younger. From a fifth-grade Egg Drop to a college-level Electrathon race, the hard work and dedication of so many is an inspiration and gives me a bright outlook on the future.
Business & STEM Representative, WATG
Hillarie Roth, WATG Board
I have found myself in a real funk recently. The unending winter, snow on snow on snow, cold weather (I’m sure that I have not been warm in months), bad roads, nine (yes NINE) snow days for the kids this month, and the list goes on... blech! Sometimes I just want to hibernate! But for me, March is shaping up to be a month where I will do anything but hibernate!
As I move into the new month, I feel renewed knowing that spring is right around the corner. Warm weather, sunshine, green leaves, and tremendous opportunities await me personally as I get to learn more about gifted resources and funding in our fine state of Wisconsin. Early this month, I will have the opportunity to attend a day-long session on school funding, and I look forward to gaining a deeper understanding of how the economics of education in Wisconsin work. This is organized by the Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN), and they are offering sessions all over the state. I encourage you to look into the opportunities that they provide to support our public schools! This month I also get to hop on a plane and head south (not south enough for palm trees, but hopefully south enough for warmer weather) to Washington D.C., where I will attend the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Leadership and Advocacy Conference. Here I will hone my advocacy skills, before meeting with Wisconsin Congressmen and Congresswomen to advocate on behalf of gifted learners throughout our state.
As I look at what I have just written I can’t help but wonder how on earth this all came to be. HOW? How does a registered nurse, turned stay-at-home mom, turned radio personality, end up in Washington D.C., meeting with our state’s (dare I say Nation’s?) leaders? Well, I’ll tell you how; by loving my kids, my two beautiful, challenging, gifted daughters, and by tiring of the constant lack of opportunities and funding for these amazing kids. This also happens when one becomes fired up and passionate about helping gifted kids to be challenged in our home, at school, or in other social settings. And you know what? It feels really good to be surrounded by people with that same burning passion for gifted kids everywhere! So I got involved, and you should too!
WATG has offered me and my children a great place to be, and to learn; a place where the kids can be themselves and I can arm myself with knowledge as I continue to fight a system designed to let gifted kids remain unchallenged and unfunded. Consider getting involved. We would love to hear from you. Yes you -- the reader who managed to make it to the end of my ramblings! As we move forward with advocacy and government action, we would love to hear from you about your experiences (good or bad) with gifted education. We would also love to have a list of parents and educators that would be willing talk with legislators. I know, intimidating right? NO! We will coach and train you, and give you the knowledge you need to advocate right alongside other passionate individuals like yourself! We would love to see you at our annual conference in the Wisconsin Dells on October 3rd and 4th! Ian Byrd of byrdseed.com and Dr. Scott Peters, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a highly respected researcher in the field of giftedness, will be our keynote speakers, and there will be opportunities for educators and parents alike. Come and get fired up with us! Bring your kids to the teen track of the conference! Let them catch the fire as well! Let’s fund and change a broken system together!
I can’t wait to see you there!
By Kitty Ver Kuilen, WATG Board Member
“Your relationship with your child is more important to her long-term future than any educational or enrichment opportunities you could provide, and it will suffer without good interpersonal communication.1
Here are some ideas to enhance the communication with your child:
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!