February is a time to look toward spring, hopeful that the heavy winter months are behind us, although March is still to come, and March always seems unpredictable. In Wisconsin, February also starts the public school open enrollment period. This year open enrollment runs from February 3 to April 30, 2020. This is a time when parents may explore schooling options for their children outside of their own geographic school district (except for districts involved in school voucher programs throughout the year).
In this blog I have written about open enrollment each February for the past few years, so you may wish to check the archived blogs for additional information. The best way to get accurate information about open enrollment is by going to the DPI website (listed below), and by talking to the school and school district that you may be considering. Consider that even virtual schools are included in open enrollment. Remember, also, that the school district to which you wish to enroll must accept your child; it is not automatic.
During this time many school districts hold open house sessions for families considering open enrollment. I encourage you to attend the open house sessions, take your student, meet teachers, and look around the school. If you think a particular school looks promising, ask about visiting during school hours to get the feel of the school when students are there, and have your child shadow a student for a day. Talk to other families in that district. Do your research. Selecting a school via open enrollment is similar to conducting a college search for a high school student. Gifted students may need something different from what their home school district can or will offer, and open enrollment is often a good option to meet their needs. However, it is a highly individualized decision.
The open enrollment website at DPI is given below. It includes the forms, deadlines, and other information necessary to learn about and apply for open enrollment. Also below is an example of a public virtual school’s open enrollment informational web page: Wisconsin Connections Academy, part of the Appleton Area School District. The web page will give some idea of how school districts may provide open enrollment information. In case you did not know, WI Connections Academy offers services for gifted students.
Making a decision about where your child will attend school is often a difficult one. It may take a long time to decide (making sure your child has a voice in the decision), and you may second guess yourself. This is normal. Know that many other parents have gone through the process of trying to find a school that is a good fit for their gifted student.
Open Enrollment Resources
WI Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Webpage for Public School Open Enrollment
WI Connections Academy, Appleton Area School District Open Enrollment Web Page
January 2020. Does it seem as though it is the year 2020? Time seems to be flying by with the years coming and going one by one. At the start of this year there is disagreement as to whether the year 2020 is the start of the new decade or the end of the current decade. There are explanations for each side, some with scientific or mathematical facts and others without it. That is a question for students who are gifted to debate.
Regardless of the outcome of the decade question, we are now in a new year, and 20 years into this century. What is important to students who are gifted, their parents, and teachers? One thing that is very important for every student, parent, and teacher is advocacy. We advocate for ourselves, our children, or for others many times throughout the year.
Do you ever try to convince your boss to give you that particular Friday off so you can meet your friends for a long weekend away? Has your child ever tried to talk you into letting him go to school late so he could sleep in a little after a late night at some event? Have you ever tried to convince the principal to allow a particular student to take your class because you knew she was up to the challenge even though she was a year or two below the grade that normally takes the course? These are all examples of advocating for someone or something.
Advocacy has specific skills and approaches that must be learned in order to be most effective. Sometimes we, as parents, think our children should come with an owner’s manual with instructions, and advocacy should be an included topic. To help with that, below is a list of links with information about advocacy for parents, and teachers. You are welcome to explore links in both categories, but I listed them in the two categories in case you have little time to explore the information.
I would like to point out a few resources listed below. Several of the resources highlight advocating for students with disabilities. While gifted students do not usually have a disability (unless they are twice-exceptional), they have exceptional learning needs. Parents and teachers who work in special education with students with disabilities have a long history of developing and using advocacy skills. These skills and approaches are easily transferable and applicable to giftedness if one substitutes giftedness in place of disability. This applies to the resources below from Wrightslaw, and Rick Lavoie. Both are experts in the field of disabilities, and their writing applies to giftedness as much as disabilities.
As we start the new year, I encourage you to be positive, collaborate with others, and use your advocacy skills to work together so students who are gifted have an appropriate education in order to impact their world in extraordinary ways.
For Parents and Teachers
Gifted Advocacy-List of Resources and Links
Hoagies Gifted (2019)
Advocating for Your Child-Getting Started
Wrightslaw, Pamela Wright (2016)
Tips for Parents: Advocacy-Working with Your Child’s School
The Davidson Institute (2015)
Advocate for Your Child
From Emotions to Advocacy: The Parents’ Journey
Wrightslaw, Pamela Wright (2018)
Best Practices in Self-Advocacy Skill Building
Center for Parent Information and Resources (2018)
Advocating for Your Gifted Child
Institute for Educational Advancement (2017)
How Can I Advocate for My Gifted Child?
Gifted Today, Duke Blog, 2016
Skills for Effective Parent Advocacy-Parents
The Pacer Center (2010)
Advocating for Gifted Programs in Your Local Schools
Teaching Strategies That Advocate Your Students
Teachers as Advocates: If Not You-Who?
Julia Link Roberts and Del Siegel
Gifted Child Today, January 2012
Educators Must Believe in and Advocate for Their Students
The Edvocate, TED Talk by Rita Pierson
Introduction: The Teacher as Everyday Advocate
Fighting the Good Fight: How to Advocate for Your Students Without Losing Your Job
Rick Lavoie (2008)
Dr. Wanda Routier, Former WATG Board Member
It seems as though our world, especially in education, is trying to remove labels, which for the most part is a positive move. Most schools today have some sort of inclusionary programming, in which students with varying degrees of exceptionalities are included in the regular classroom. This inclusion movement (which began decades ago, and was termed ‘mainstreaming’) is attempting to break down barriers and remove labels so that students see each other as classmates, rather than “smart” or “autistic” or “in a wheelchair.” The irony is that special education requires a label in order for a student to receive services; however, that label does not have to be the main descriptor of the student in school. The same should be true for gifted students.
For anyone who knows truly gifted students, you know that they have just as significant and unique learning needs as students with disabilities. Meeting the needs of gifted students may require adjustments to the classroom, the curriculum, instruction, assessment, or the schedule. Above all, meeting the needs of gifted students requires “Different Not More.” In other words, gifted students need different work, not more work; different classes, not more classes, etc.
There is an interesting article on the Kendall Hunt website that gives several ways to start to effectively challenge gifted students. Teachers do not have to change everything all at once; each small step implemented helps meet the needs of gifted students. The article stresses the importance of asking our students how to best serve them. We need to ask them how to improve our teaching, and what they need to learn best. We need to be willing to learn from our students. They are the best guides to meeting their needs.
It is no secret that our communities, schools, and classrooms are diverse. In school, teachers have students with very diverse learning needs in their classrooms. A teacher may have students who have average abilities, students who are just learning the English language, who have gifted abilities, those who have a disability and receive special education services, and students who are gifted and have a disability. Teachers have a huge task trying to teach these diverse students in the same classroom.
Students who are gifted and have a disability are also known as twice-exceptional or 2e students. According to the NAGC twice-exceptional students are both gifted and disabled, and “…may also be referred to as having dual exceptionalities or as being gifted with learning disabilities (GT/LD).” Twice-exceptional students may also have other disabilities such as ADHD, autism, or other disabilities (http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/glossary-terms).
Many school districts struggle to meet the needs of gifted students. Students with disabilities, when identified, have services through the school with education regulated by federal law (IDEA), and schools sometimes struggle to provide for these students. Twice-exceptional students are often missed entirely. Because many teachers are not trained to recognize gifted characteristics in students with disabilities, or disability characteristics in students who are gifted, they often do not recognize the needs of twice-exceptional students.
The Edutopia website has a post from September where the author talks about how challenging it is to recognize and provide services for twice-exceptional students. That is true. They cite the Montgomery County Public School district in Montgomery County, Maryland, a large northwest suburb of Washington, DC. Montgomery County Public Schools has offered a program for twice-exceptional students since the 1980s and is one of very few school districts in the nation that do. I used to live in Montgomery County, MD and its services for gifted and twice-exceptional students is worth investigating. They offer many different kinds of services for gifted and twice-exceptional students, and offer many resources on their district website.
According to the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), twice-exceptional students need:
“* challenging instruction in their areas of strength
* instruction to improve the areas of weakness
* individualized accommodations
* case management and social/emotional support”
The main MCPS website for twice-exceptional students and services is: https://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/curriculum/enriched/gtld/
Scroll down and take a look at the resources available. Be sure to look at the MCPS Resources section, especially the Staff Guidebook, GT/SLD characteristics checklist, and the GT/LD Characteristics interactive presentation. The Staff Guidebook has a lot of information for teachers and parents with all types of documents and tips for teaching twice-exceptional students.
While the Montgomery County Public Schools programming for twice-exceptional student is unique and serves students well, it is not very realistic to compare it with school districts in Wisconsin, where some districts have little to no services for gifted students. The point of reviewing the websites and information given in this blogpost is the hope that you may find one or two (or more) ideas that are applicable in your school and/or for your student. It helps to learn from each other. The fact that Montgomery County Public Schools has this information on their public website indicates they are willing to share the resources. Take a look and find some things that will help the twice-exceptional students you know.
Twice-Exceptional Students, NAGC
NAGC Position Statement, October 2013
Ensuring Gifted Children with Disabilities Receive Appropriate Services: Call for Comprehensive Assessment
Meeting the Challenge of Twice-Exceptional Students, Edutopia, September 12, 2019
Montgomery County Public Schools, Twice-Exceptional Students and Services
Montgomery County Public Schools, Twice-Exceptional Students: A Staff Guidebook for Supporting the Achievement of Gifted Students with Disabilities
GT/SLD Characteristics Checklist for Staff, Montgomery County Public Schools
GT/LD Characteristics Interactive Presentation, Montgomery County Public Schools
The annual WATG conference was held in Wisconsin Dells earlier this month. Did you have a chance to attend or have a student attend the teen conference? This year I wanted to hear Ian Byrd, who was the keynote speaker on Thursday, October 3rd. I have followed his website, www.byrdseed.com, for quite some time and wanted to hear him in person. It is always good to hear advice and recommendations from people who have personal experience with the subject, so I figure that Ian Byrd, as a gifted individual, was worth listening to at a conference about gifted students. I was not disappointed.
For the Thursday keynote address Mr. Byrd talked about the label of “smart.” When working with teachers and undergraduate students studying to become teachers, I hear many who refer to students as “smart,” or they tell parents their child is “smart” simply because the child can answer a general question about homework or a reading passage or a math problem which is at grade-level or below grade-level. I continually ask why they label the student as “smart,” and if they have referred the student for advanced academic opportunities or the gifted program since they have decided that the student is “smart.” Most of the teachers and my students have never considered a response and do not know what to say. I encourage them to not label the student, but to respond to the student and parents by acknowledging the answer to the question they asked the student.
Mr. Byrd referred to gifted students who are labeled as “smart” and how that label is a burden and prevents gifted students from learning and seeking opportunities because they feel they are expected to already know everything. To gifted students, as Mr. Byrd pointed out, “Smart = Easy” and “Hard = Not Smart” and has gifted students asking themselves if they were ever “smart” to begin with. This scenario is also known as Imposter Syndrome. This type of label equally impacts gifted students as much as the label of the students in the previous paragraph.
To provide an example, Mr. Byrd used an analogy and asked us to consider a trainer. A trainer’s job is not to tell the client that they are strong and accomplished when doing easy tasks; it is to encourage the client to achieve the harder goal and keep working. According to Byrd, teachers can use the following as a guide in the role of a trainer to provide an educational environment that challenges students to learn more deeply:
1) Provide specific feedback (‘great job’ is not specific)
2) Know what students can already do (pre-assessment)
3) Pose questions that require thinking, not just remembering (consider asking divergent questions where there is no right answer or a known question; for example, what do you wonder?)
4) Students ask questions (remind them they are learning, and it is okay to not know everything)
Mr. Byrd made the following statement in his keynote address: “Easy 100%’s are an education emergency.” Oh, that more teachers and parents would recognize this and pursue an education that challenges gifted students.
To follow up on the work of Ian Byrd, here are some of his articles:
Long Term Success: Giving Bright Kids Feedback
Asking for Student Feedback
The Curious Case of Imposter Syndrome
Next month is the annual WATG Conference at the Wilderness Resort in Wisconsin Dells on October 3-4. This is a time for parents, teens, and educators to come together to learn, share, and rejuvenate. The conference has something for everyone focused around the theme of “Revolutionizing the Basics: Making Education WORK for Gifted Students.”
If you have a teen in your life, consider bringing them to the Teen Conference on Friday, October 4 from 9-3. The title of this year’s Teen Conference is “What matters to You? Raise Social Awareness through Game Creation.” It looks to be an exciting day spent with other gifted teens, something that many gifted students rarely get to do, engage with Stacy Read, a web and software instructor at Waukesha County Technical College. See the link below for more information about the teen conference.
If you are a parent of a gifted student, the conference offers many workshop sessions relevant to parents, a parent room, and Thursday’s keynote by Ian Byrd, a noted gifted adult who is an author, speaker, and author of his website Byrdseed.com. I have followed Byrd’s website and writings for quite some time and have listed various links to his website in this blog in the past. I look forward to his keynote address, and the workshop sessions he will give during the conference. Friday is parent’s day with special discussions for parents.
For educators, there are many workshop sessions on Thursday and Friday, and the keynote session on Friday by Dr. Scott Peters, former WATG board member, who will speak about gifted education and RTI. Workshop sessions are presented by other educators of gifted students, parents, and gifted students in a student panel on Friday.
Check out the WATG website and links below for more information about the conference, teen conference, view the schedule, and register. Note there are early deadlines for registration discounts.
I hope to see you there!
WATG Conference (see the links under the WATG Annual Conference banner)
Byrdseed-Ian Byrd’s website
The start of a new school year is quickly approaching. It seems the summer goes by quicker each year. Have you been able to spend time with your gifted child this summer to explore new and/or different things than what the school schedule allows?
I remember planning some activities for my child, with his input, of course, and also leaving free time in the schedule for relaxing, and for other opportunities that popped up. This allowed our schedule to be flexible so we could take advantage of unexpected opportunities such as a special speaker at the library (a last minute addition to their calendar), or a new exhibit at an animal park (due to storm damage in another state that required the animals to be sent to other states until their home could be rebuilt). My child and I learned a lot about a number of different things that we had not planned, but that were interesting and valuable. We also learned to have downtime at home to do nothing.
During the school year it is more difficult to have unscheduled downtime because so many parents think they have to have every minute of their child’s day scheduled. This is also true during the summer and school vacations. Sometimes a little free time is important to give the child (and adult) an opportunity to take a deep breath, sit and do nothing but think about the day they just had or the one coming tomorrow, and to learn to be content with themselves during downtime and just let their mind wander or daydream. It is during downtime that creativity may be sparked by the brain’s wandering through thoughts and memories. Downtime has health benefits, too, even for children. There could be many blog posts about the great variety of benefits downtime provides.
Gifted children need downtime to think and play and to just be, because their minds are often going non-stop. They need to learn how to reflect and calm themselves in our intense world. That includes leaving screen viewing for a period of time. Lest you think I’m against screen time, I assure you I am not. I am a staunch advocate for students using devices in school and in daily life to be productive, since that is what their world expects as they grow into adults. However, downtime as I speak of it here, means time without a device nearby.
While it is very tempting to schedule our children’s activities and time every day after school and on weekends, see if you can take one night off and have some downtime at home where family members decide what to do with this unscheduled time. At first it may seem odd to everyone, but stick with it. Family members may eventually even become accustomed to it and some may learn to like the downtime. It is essential for all of us to recharge, but especially for gifted children as they gear up for the coming school year and daily life.
Want Students to Be More Creative? Give Them More Downtime
The Benefits of Downtime: Why Learner’s Brains Need a Break
Research-Tested Benefits of Breaks
Is Your Child Overscheduled? Kids Need ‘Down Time’
The Joy of Doing Nothing
Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime
Ask the Doctor