While the end of the year brings a time to reflect upon events from the past year, the new year often brings resolutions to perhaps do things to improve oneself, to spend more time doing an activity, or to change a habit, among other things. Given the fact that over the past year we have lived through very different times navigating a pandemic, there are lots of stories to tell.
Over the past few months, I have read many oral histories describing how people have coped during the pandemic. These included stories about New York City and various other geographic areas, patients and staff in health care facilities, people in specific jobs, stories about teaching and learning, and personal stories from many individuals. Many of the people told how their experience provided time for personal growth.
I have always known about the power of stories to reach people and aid learning, but it wasn’t until two years ago when I started work on an oral history project with a colleague that I became aware of the formal discipline of oral history. The Oral History Association is a great resource from which to learn. Universities, libraries, government agencies, and others are involved in gathering oral history (see links below). Even school children can gather oral history stories.
Gifted learners are often very sensitive to current events such as the pandemic. They care about how such an event impacts people, including their family and others, and can be quite affected by their intense emotions, anxiety, worry, stress, and behaviors. Perhaps doing something to document the experience during the pandemic would help them feel some sense of control over their environment. Gifted students may want to create an oral history of their own family, their neighborhood, their class, or school. It doesn’t have to be a big project; it can be accomplished with just one or two people. This may help gifted students feel as though they have some impact in the midst of our current situation.
Below are some examples of oral history projects, hints and tips for gathering oral history, and resources for teachers and students to help with an oral history project. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of resources, and there are many more resources available for you to investigate on your own.
Happy New Year and best wishes on beginning an oral history project!
Pandemic Oral History Project
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institute
Pandemic Oral History Project
Smithsonian Pandemic Oral History Project Interviews
DEMI, Pandemic Oral History Project, Archives of American Art, 2020
Linda Lomahaftewa, Pandemic Oral History Project
Kay WalkingStick, Pandemic Oral History Project, Archives of American Art, 2020
Oral History Project: Pandemic Stories, St. Joseph Public Library, St. Joseph, MO
Oral History Project: Pandemic Stories
NYC COVID-19 Oral History, Narrative and Memory Archive — INCITE
Oral History Society, University of London
Advice on oral history interviewing during the Covid-19 pandemic
Oral History Society, University of London
A guide to oral history for schools and youth groups
COVID-19 Oral History Project, Tufts University
COVID-19 Sample Oral History Questions | DCA
The Oral History Review, Vol. 47, Issue 2, 2020
Socially Engaged Oral History Pedagogy amid the COVID-19 Pandemic
Tell Us Your Pandemic Stories for Our Oral History
Oral History Program, UW-Madison
Oral History Program | UW Archives and Records Management
Oral History Association (OHA)
Oral History Association
Oral History Association Resources:
Technology: Oral History in the Digital Age
Web Guides to Doing Oral History
Oral History Association Educator's Resource (Examples and Sample Lesson Plans)
Oral History, Grades K-5
Oral History: A Writing Workshop Teaching Guide
Oral History: A Writing Workshop
Oral History Interview Guide and Worksheet
Supporting Your Gifted Child During COVID-19
In late November I read an article about the new class of Rhodes Scholars that was recently announced. There are 32 U.S. students who were selected as Rhodes Scholars for 2021. Among the new Rhodes Scholars is Santiago Potes from Miami, Florida who graduated from Columbia University in May 2020. He has a broad background, with a major in Asian Studies and Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and interests in physics, philosophy, social psychology, neuroscience, leadership, and languages. He also has published widely about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
The main point that struck me about Santiago was what he said about his elementary school gifted and talented teacher who worked with him from second through fifth grades. He credits this teacher with the success he has had throughout his life because she exposed him to a rigorous education, even though Santiago was classified as a DACA student under American immigration policies. As a child of illegal immigrants, Santiago was educated and succeeded in Miami because, in part, his elementary gifted and talented teacher recognized his gifts and helped him flourish. The fact that Santiago publicly credits his GT teacher with his success is such a gift to his teacher. Most teachers toil daily and seldom hear about the outcomes of their efforts with students. GT students may stay in touch with teachers who had meaning to them more than other students, but still most teachers never hear from their students. It is touching that this young man, now a Rhodes Scholar, gives credit to his elementary GT teacher and urges a national discussion about the importance of elementary school teachers, since they have such an influence, either positive or negative, over young minds.
As we try to identify and reach gifted students who have diverse culture, language, disability, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, age, socioeconomic status, immigration status, sexual orientation, or other characteristics, it is important to remember that the effort is worth it, for if we reach even one student like Santiago, just imagine the impact on the world. We can improve the lives of others in exponential ways we will never know. That is the essence of teaching, and working together with students and parents -- our collective impact on others to improve their life is assured.
During these challenging times, given how we must teach and learn during a pandemic, take heart that teachers and parents are of value, and are working together to influence our children and youth. They are always watching.
I wish you and yours a blessed and joyful holiday season.
American Rhodes Scholars-elect for 2021
Santiago Potes, District 7, Florida
Many students who are gifted have an incessant curiosity for knowing how things work. For many, it is not just a curiosity, but a vital need from deep within. These students explore everything until they know or figure out how it works. If you live with one of them, you know what I mean. It is exhausting to parent them as children because they may not consider danger in their explorations, they just need to know how things work. Anything that isn’t locked down or off-limits is fair game to them, and often being locked down or off-limits is meaningless, (or an additional challenge). In my household we learned very early on, (in toddlerhood), that we should keep shelves of items that were available to be taken apart at kid height, and other things that we needed intact had to be hidden away. Curiously, we found that everything that was taken apart was put back together correctly, or it was improved upon.
This week I saw a news story and video about an historic building in Shanghai that was moved to a new location to preserve its historic value, rather than knocking it down to make way for a new commercial center. The headline read that the building ‘walked’ to its new home. That intrigued me because I knew the move was an engineering marvel and required an enormous amount of advanced physics, math, and other technical skills. It is incredible to me that any building can be moved, but to see this 5-story concrete building ‘walking’ down the curved street was truly astonishing. Having an engineer in the household (all that taking apart led to a career), I knew that the brain power, technology, and skills that were used to move the building were astounding.
I thought about the learning that students could experience once they viewed the video and read about the task. This is the type of story that motivates students to delve deeper into STEM subjects and real-life uses of ordinary classes they have every day, classes that often become boring and tedious. Courses like algebra and physics are essential to moving a building, and related equations would be much more engaging than pages of worksheets. Working on a challenge to move something in their classroom or outside, or to simply figure out how the engineers accomplished it in Shanghai could provide the motivation for students to relate their learning to real-life problems. Even elementary students learn algebraic and physics concepts. Of course, advanced STEM skills were used, but the challenge for all students, including those who are gifted, is to figure out how things are done, and apply it to their world. Other experts were also involved, so subjects beyond STEM could also be involved in an interdisciplinary study. After all, someone had to dream up the idea of moving the building, write proposals to gain the permits, write the story and shoot the video for the news, among other tasks.
These are the types of student activities teachers should consider for lessons and units. Through them, students will learn, apply, and use STEM subjects. It is always within your purview to make a suggestion to your student’s teacher. Better yet, let your student work up a plan for an interdisciplinary unit, using a story such as the ‘walking building’ to delve deeper into STEM and other subjects. Encourage your child to share the plan with his/her teachers. Imagine all the learning and differentiation that could occur in this type of exploration!
1) Old Chinese Building ‘walks’ to New Location to Make Way for Shanghai’s New Commercial Centre
South China Morning Post
2) A 5-Story Building in Shanghai ‘walks’ to a New Location
CNN Style, Architecture
Jessie Yeung, CNN
Serenitie Wang, CNN
by Dr. Wanda Routier
Have you heard about this year’s WATG fall conference, Hands On-Minds On: Now More Than Ever? In a few short weeks the WATG fall conference will go virtual. The fall conference is always a time to meet new people, reconnect with friends and colleagues, and to learn some new tips and strategies for working with and/or parenting students who are gifted.
The virtual format will be a bit different from past years, but it still promises to provide the same opportunities for learning and renewal. Have you previewed the conference yet? If not, I recommend you visit the website at: https://www.watg.org/annual-conference.html There you will find tabs on the left to explore registration information, a conference schedule, keynote speaker bios, other highlights, and information about the parent to parent session and teen conference-both on Sunday. The teen conference focuses on Engineering Design Using the Arduino Uno and is facilitated by Maria Isabel Mendiola Ramirez, an award-winning teacher from Mexico, and Peter Haydock, a former teacher and curriculum developer who worked for National Geographic and Smithsonian.
There are many sessions on a variety of topics including differentiation, social-emotional learning, STEM topics, equity and diversity issues, and creativity. This year’s keynote speakers are Dr. Marcia Gentry speaking about Equity in Wisconsin on Monday, and Dr. Brian Housand speaking about the future of gifted education on Tuesday. There are three different registration levels which provide broader access to attend.
Mark your calendar for Sunday through Tuesday, October 18, 19, & 20, 2020, and go to www.watg.org to register. Enjoy the conference!
One of the things that many gifted students, parents, and teachers have mentioned to me over the summer is how they have been communicating with others, near and far, when we can’t always be together due to COVID-19. Families, friends, individuals, partners, teachers, students, relatives, and people in the community have been finding ways to communicate even though our plans may have drastically changed over the past few months.
It is important to remember that communication is highly valued even if we are not face-to-face. Many people have used Zoom, FaceTime, or other streaming apps to keep contact going over these months. Others talk on the phone more often. Still others use written or voice communication. It doesn’t matter which method you use, what does matter is that you keep in touch with people.
This is especially true as teachers and students return to school. Regardless of how students and teachers return to school, excellent communication is key to success. Communications should include the schedule of your school (whether in the classroom or online) and the schedule for school assigned work (e.g., whether students need to be in class online at a specific time or if they can work on assignments in their own way and on their own timeframe). If your family will not return to school at all and has chosen home-schooling, this also requires communication with the school.
As we begin the new school year, let’s all remember to continue to communicate with each other. We are all living, working, and playing in this changing time. Our lives are moving forward, and schooling is moving forward. A little understanding, and empathy goes a long way as we communicate with each other on a daily basis. I have added some resources to help you communicate with your child’s teacher/s and school. Have a wonderful year!
Ten Tips for Talking To Teachers (for students)
Dr. Jim Delisle, Judy Galbraith
How to Talk to Teachers: 10 Tips for Student Success
Talking with Your Child’s Teacher
How Two-Way Communication Can Boost Parent Engagement
10 Tips for Teachers When Working with Parents
During these past six interesting months I have had the time to read for pleasure. Normally, I don’t make the time nearly as much as I should because of work and other factors. I love reading, but the lack of time often gets in the way. This past spring, I started reading some children’s literature because I love this genre. I thought the stories would be a quick read, which would then motivate me to continue reading. I was right. I started with the children’s series, The Magic Tree House, that my own child loved, and after reading some of the newer books in the series I could see why our love for the series continues. I also enjoyed the Magic School Bus series. Some of you may know that the author of this series, Joanna Cole, passed away in July. She brought fiction/non-fiction and science to a whole new level with the stories about Mrs. Frizzle and her science class, a favorite of many children/adolescents.
While reading these books, I often thought about gifted children and adolescents and how many of them often have a voracious appetite for reading. They often begin reading early, or if reading late, they may begin by reading entire paragraphs and can read and comprehend far above their age/grade level. They can be held back in school in terms of reading selections, or may be told what they have to read. For these reasons, reading outside of school becomes especially important for them. This self-chosen reading has many names: leisure reading, recreational reading, reading for pleasure, and many more, I’m sure. The point is, it is child/adolescent driven. The child/adolescent has full control over what, when, why, where, and how they read.
Some gifted children/adolescents may prefer e-books on a tablet or cell phone because they can read anywhere. Others prefer hardcover or paperback versions because they like to feel every page. Still others prefer audio books because reading words is a tedious and difficult process. Some children/adolescents read at specific times during the day or evening and have a routine they follow. Others have specific places they read -- in their favorite bean bag chair, outside in the shade of a tree, or in a homemade sheet “tent” in the family room. Some children/adolescents read until they finish a complete chapter, while others are okay with stopping at a certain section within a chapter. Still others love to read book series and are relentless in their pursuit of reading (and perhaps collecting) every single book in the series, plus every new book in the series for the rest of their lives, regardless of how old they become. Some read one book at a time; others read many books simultaneously.
When children/adolescents are asked why they read, there are as many reasons as there are children. Some say it is because it transports them to other places or times. Others say it is their escape from people or the world for a short time, and still others have different reasons.
Some children/adolescents consider books to be almost sacred, and not to be desecrated by writing in them, annotating, or anything else; they are just to be read and savored. That is okay. Respect for these practices and beliefs is necessary.
Whatever the reason for reading, reading during childhood/adolescence is one of the best ways to develop mind, body, and spirit (it’s even good for adults). For gifted children, it may be the only time they have to use their imagination in ways very different from the real world, especially in school.
I encourage parents to give their gifted children/adolescents time during these last few weeks of summer vacation to read for pleasure -- whatever, wherever, whenever, and however they want to read (within reason, of course).
As adults, we know we are in a very stressful time this year with so much being unknown about how back to school will proceed, and how to keep children/adolescents safe and healthy. The concerns are many. Giving our children/adolescents time to immerse themselves in reading before the back-to-school rush, anxiety, and stress commence is a gift.
Below are some web links related to leisure reading. For more details, please talk with your local librarian. They have a wealth of knowledge and resources for all ages. Most libraries have online checkout, with e-books and audio books available to download, so one does not even have to go to the library and risk exposure, if that is a concern. Hopefully, library visits will be an activity we all can safely return to together sometime soon.
Leisure Reading Resources
Leisure Reading: A Joint Position Statement of the International Reading Association, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, and the National Council of Teachers of English (2014)
Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers
Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic (9/19/19)
2020 Summer Reading Lists, Birth-Grade 8
Assoc. for Library Services to Children (ALSC)
Division of the American Library Assoc. (ALA)
Topical Book Lists, Birth-Grade 8
Young Adult Library Services Assoc. (YALSA)
Division of the American Library Assoc. (ALA)
List of Children’s Book Series
List of Children’s Book Series
List by alphabetical order, age group, grade level equivalent, genre, and more
List of Children’s Book Series, Alphabetical Order
List of Children’s Book Series, Age Group (0-16+)
We are in the summer days of hot weather, insects, spontaneous thunderstorms, and rain. This year, many communities have limited access to traditional summer activities. Many community swimming pools and parks remain closed, and summer camps are unavailable. For many families, summer will be spent at home. While for some this may feel overwhelming since they have been at home since early spring, others are searching for different activities to fill the days since school is now out for the summer.
There are many activities to do at home, in the yard, and with each other. I’d like to propose an activity for children, youth, and even adults--having a penpal--handwriting and mailing letters. Why on earth would I recommend handwriting a letter when texting, email, and other instant communication methods exist? There are many reasons.
Research shows several benefits of engaging the mind and the body to write a letter, especially when writing in cursive. When the mind and body are both engaged, brain activity and creativity increases, retention increases, cognitive function is influenced, and signing one’s name provides practice for a legally binding signature. In addition, it is fun to hear from others through a letter that is more than 280 characters. The wait time between writing a letter and receiving a reply can help build delayed gratification skills, which are the opposite of the immediate gratification of texting, or platforms such as Twitter, and Instagram.
How does one begin? The first question to ask is this: to whom should I write? Think of family members or friends who are out of town or in a different state, someone who is in a nursing or assisted living home such as a grandparent, aunt, or uncle; or someone who lives nearby such as a cousin, or friend who you may not see as much as you did in the past. Anyone who wants to try something different is a good person to partner with to write letters. For someone who wants to explore other ways to get a penpal, there are many websites, gleaned from an Internet search, that offer ideas for finding a penpal, including teacher websites linking students with other students, penpals with veterans, and others. See the links at the end of this blog post.
The next question to ask is this: what should I write about? The first response may be “anything you want”. Here are some ideas to get you started:
-daily activities (what you do in a day)
-all about your pets
-what you play with your pet
-favorites, such as foods, TV shows, movies, books, etc., music, subjects in school
-arts that you like
-musical instruments you play
-weather near your home
-what you like to cook
Depending upon whom you write to, you may also write about your family, although keep in mind privacy and security when sharing personal information.
A final question to ask is this: what questions can I ask my penpal? You may turn the ideas above into questions for your penpal, or consider new ones such as:
-where have you traveled?
-if you had three wishes, what would you wish for?
-what do you like about where you live?
-do you have a garden?
Why should gifted students bother handwriting letters when their minds work at warp speed and it is likely that their hands can’t write quick enough to get their thoughts on paper? Sometimes, the physical act of doing something different can be engaging and stimulate other actions and thoughts. To help with the fast ideas/slow writing dilemma, the student could write a list of ideas on paper or in digital forms so they can get ideas down quicker. Writing may provide a means for relaxing in a new and different way when it can be done in a comfortable setting.
I am a huge advocate for gifted students (and all students) having the opportunity to do schoolwork using technology and digital tools. Note-taking, annotating using digital books, and writing essays, papers, etc. are tools that help gifted students do schoolwork in a way that helps get their thoughts and responses “down on paper,” using technologies that may support and extend their abilities. However, there are times when gifted students can learn from doing a task that is hard for them or different from what they are accustomed to (such as handwriting); this will help practice delayed gratification, a necessary life skill. After all, waiting for a return letter in the mail takes time.
Mailing letters may pose a barrier for many families, due to the cost of postage stamps or lack of stationary. Fancy stationary isn’t necessary. Plain paper or lined notebook paper is just fine to use. A student may need to compose an email and send it to his or her penpal so that postage is not necessary. If families do not have access to a device, internet, or email, the public library has devices that are available. Another idea is to write to people in your own household and leave letters in a specified place that serves as a mailbox. Sometimes it is easier to write things down than to say it to someone in person, so there are additional benefits to having a penpal in one’s own family.
So, if you’re looking for a way to have fun this summer, try writing letters, however they are done, and discover the joy of connecting with others.
Pen Pal Tips and Ideas for Kids, 4/5/2020
A Simple Guide to Pen Pal Writing, Homeschool Notes, 3/22/18
Are There Any Benefits to Having a Penpal in the Digital Age?, Ivy Ngeow, 3/25/19
The Benefits of Handwriting for Young Children, Susan Brunk, 8/18/2016
Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments: Why Digital Writing Matters in Education
Paige Donahue, 5/18/2016
Articles and Educational Resources
Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age, Perri Klass, M.D., 6/20/16
Writing Letters to a Pen Pal, Lesson Plan by Scholastic
9 Powerful Apps to Help Kids Learn Cursive Writing
The end of school is here, albeit a very different end of school this year. For many families the end of the school year came in March when schools closed, and learning shifted to the home. For others, school continued in some fashion until the end of May or early June. Now that school is officially over, it is time to think about summer.
COVID-19 still has us concerned about catching the virus, spreading the virus, or otherwise being at risk or putting others at risk. Perhaps we’re worried about grandparents, young children, or those with health issues.These are valid concerns. Even though Wisconsin has ‘opened up’ and the state is no longer on restriction, many families are choosing to remain so to some degree to keep themselves safe and healthy. That is a perfectly fine decision; however, how do we keep our kids busy this summer with many traditional summer activities now considered at-risk behavior, and many events, such as summer camps and programs, cancelled? After all, gifted kids have minds and/or bodies that never stop.
Below is a list of activities to not only keep youngsters (and adults) occupied, but also to work on building their bodies and minds while outside. Below the list of activities are links for websites with even more outdoor ideas. The lists could be endless so there are only a few activities and resources listed. I encourage you to investigate your favorite places online; better yet, ask your gifted student to do the investigating and inform the family of what they learned. Many of these links have unique activities and ideas for the summer that do not include actually being at the location. You may even start some new traditions with some new activities.
Always remember to follow CDC guidelines and practice social distancing if playing with others outside your own family. Wear a mask, wash hands a lot, use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available, and disinfect equipment after use to limit the spread of germs (balls, chalk, gardening tools, jump rope, etc.).
Here are some guidelinesHow to Protect Yourself & Others, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Enjoy the summer months together with your family. It is sure to be a summer as unique as this year has been.
Activities to Build the Body and Mind
Fine Motor (Small Muscles) Skills
Dig in dirt or sand
Sidewalk/driveway chalk art
Blow bubbles with bubble mix you make
Play with a ball (catch, basketball, softball, dodgeball, badminton)
Collect leaves, rocks
Make mud pies
Wash the car
Gross Motor (Large Muscles) Skills
Climb a tree
Play in water
Jump rope by yourself or with family members, reciting the rhyme you created (see Creativity below)
Play with a ball
Exercises (jumping jacks, lunges, squats, run in place)
Field Day Activities
Distance runs (run around the perimeter of the yard)
Ball throw (shot put)
Long jump (short jump)
Frisbee throw (discus)
Hurdles (use a box or something with age appropriate height)
Make up your own games
Make new rules for well-known games
Create the rhyme to recite while jumping rope
Sidewalk/driveway chalk art
Write letters to family or friends
Read a book (many libraries have curb-side pick-up, or are open for limited use, and for eBook checkout online)
Write a short story or book
Keep a journal
Websites with Activities
Keeping Kids Active and Safe During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Johns Hopkins University
Nature-Based Activities to Do While Practicing Social Distancing
University of Minnesota Extension
Keeping Children Active During the Coronavirus Pandemic (free PDF)
American College of Sports Medicine
How To Keep Kids Engaged During COVID-19
Wisconsin Public Radio, Central Time Podcast
Playing It Safe While Getting Cooped-Up Kids Outside, National Geographic
National Park Resources, National Geographic
Junior Ranger Online, National Park Service
Family Activities to Try During Closures-COVID-19 Checklist
Ohio, Department of Health
101 Ideas to Keep Your Kids Busy During Coronavirus Closures, Forbes
Explore.org Animal Live-Cams, World’s Largest Nature Network
Live cameras of wild and domestic animals around the world.
Explore.org Free Nature Lesson Plans
How to Make These Next Few Weeks A Little Easier, Courtesy of Birds
All About Birds, The Cornell Lab, Cornell University
CESA 6 COVID-19 Resources
CESA 6, Curricular and Instructional Support (click links of subjects for resources)
CESA 6 Websites and Lesson Ideas (including extended learning for GT)
COVID-19: Travel, Wisconsin Department of Health Services
Keep Children Healthy During the COVID-19 Outbreak, CDC
Physical Activities Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Ask the Doctor