Dal Drummer, WATG Advisory Board Member
The other day, I was perusing an article in Edutopia, by Sara Gonzer, entitled The Spatially Gifted - Our Future Architects and Engineers are Being Overlooked, which triggered a number of thoughts about the arts and education of our students. The premise of Gonzer’s article was that gifted programs usually miss students who are gifted in the spatial arts. As a result, gifted programs that focus on using the main assessments of verbal reasoning and math concepts to screen students for gifted programs, tend to leave out students who are spatially gifted and often weak in verbal areas and math. Often, these missed students are also ones from minority populations or ones with disabilities. As a result, gifted program populations tend to perpetuate the very disparities that schools keep working to fix: gifted programs that are lacking in students of color, or lacking in those with disabilities, or 2e (twice exceptional) kids. They remain focused on students who do well academically.
Students who are spatially gifted tend to be the future artists, architects, designers, and sculptors who are so important in our world. These spatially gifted students often struggle with their academics because: 1) academics aren’t as interesting as creating something; 2) the students often have weak academic areas within their abilities; 3) for spatially creative students who cannot create, or create often enough, school just isn’t important to them and as a result they have higher absenteeism and/or suspension from school; 4) spatially gifted students often ONLY attend school because they are allowed to be in creative programs that meet their needs. They tolerate academics in order to create. Most likely, if students’ academics are suffering, or they are absent too often from school, these students probably wouldn’t even be considered for gifted programming, resulting in greater socioeconomic/racial disparity within specialty programs.
So how can this be solved? Gonzer recommends change in 3 areas: 1) develop curriculum for the spatially gifted in the classroom; 2) provide teacher staff development on how to work with and look for the spatially gifted child; 3) develop new assessments for spatial gifts. I would also include a fourth: allow students with spatial/artistic gifts into gifted programming and provide needed help for their weaker academic areas. In other words, just because students have weak academic performance, that shouldn’t automatically screen them out of gifted programming where they can develop their spatial/artistic gifts.
As examples of what I am talking about, I want to relate several personal examples of what supporting the spatially gifted can do for students. First some background. I taught in and was the Artistic Director of Lincoln Center for the Arts (a 6-8 middle school) in Milwaukee Public Schools. A large group of us founded the Lincoln Center, and grounded it by offering a wide selection of the arts as well as the normal academics, knowing that many students whose focus/interest lies in the arts get missed for specialized programming. The arts offered were: visual arts, musical arts, both instrumental and vocal, TV and radio broadcasting, computer arts, wood working, theater. The school featured ten different professional artists and studios, all housed within the school. To get into Lincoln, students completed a simple entry form. They had to write/show us by example what their art interest was, and why they should be accepted into the school. This was the only screening offered. We knew that this would bring us wide variety of students, many of them poor and diverse cultures, especially those who could not get into a school elsewhere. But we also knew it would attract those students who had a keen interest in the arts, even those with disabilities.
Here are two of their stories (names have been changed):
Scott was a 6th grader when I met him and his mother. He didn’t speak, only nodded his head and only when prodded. Scott only got in the door of the school because his mother literally dragged him in crying. We accepted him, after his mom (not he), showed us some of his work. It was well beyond the work of a student his age. For the first week, Scott refused to come into the school and his mother often had to take him back home. The second week I was able to coax him into my art room to sit for slowly extended periods of time. Then he would bolt out the door of the school, only to repeat this the next day. Finally, I was able to get him to start doing some artwork, not what we were doing in my class of course, but his own ideas. And he began to slowly talk to me.
Of course, during this time I was besieged by requests from his academic teachers as to why I wasn’t getting him to attend their classes. He was failing them due to no attendance! My argument with them and the principal was this: “He is finally attending school. He said he would not attend academic classes, and while I have tried to get him to do so, we should be grateful he is feeling safer in school, and we will get him there eventually. But not now.”
It took me fifteen weeks of school to get Scott to attend one academic class, with an escape plan. If he needed to, he could still come to the art room at any time. By semester, Scott was attending all of his academic classes, but still coming to the art room in all of his free time. It was his safe haven. By year’s end, Scott was getting B’s and A’s in his academics and spent all his free time working on art in the art room.
Scott successfully went on through 7th and 8th grade and was accepted into High School of the Arts, an arts college, and became an artist in his own right, and an art teacher.
Granted, Scott was an extreme example, but his feelings are mirrored by many spatially gifted students.
Theo was a skinny, stuttering, rapping student from a very poor black family, living in the inner city of Milwaukee, when he came to Lincoln. He couldn’t sit still for more than five seconds or he would begin rapping some rhythm out on his desk, his table, his leg, or whatever. I’m sure he drove his teacher nuts!
We managed to get Theo enrolled in instrumental music (drums, what else?) and since he also liked to act out a lot, in theater. Theo muddled through 6th grade. In 7th, he began to take a more active role in different art programs besides theater and drums, and his academics picked up also. In 8th, he began making his own music on the side, while keeping up with his academics. He, too, was accepted into High School of the Arts and went on to a career in music (rap of course!). He returned several years after graduation, when we had him perform on stage at Lincoln. Afterward, he took me aside and told me that if it hadn’t been for the arts in school, he wouldn’t have graduated, much less gotten into a successful career in music, because academics just didn’t interest him! He said he hoped more kids like him, from the inner city, would come to Lincoln.
The Arts matter! We do our students and our society a disservice by missing highly creative students, and not offering them the same opportunities to develop their gifts as we do those who are academically gifted. We need to make some changes. Kids like Scott and Theo are counting on us.
Are you looking for holiday gift ideas for kids who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) topics? Are you interested in gifts that will pique curiosity, or develop and interest, or gifts that will continue to provide enjoyment? Then you may want to check out this list from Modern Parents Messy Kids.com, which features the Toy Awards that “parents in-the-know” have already viewed over 7,000,000 Times! The list includes toys, games, and activities for children up to about 14 years of age. Happy browsing!
As many of you know, WATG’s annual conference was held recently. For many of the board members, amidst the planning, preparation, and implementation of the conference, doubts emerged - doubts regarding the effectiveness of the platform we chose, doubts about delivering timely content in a virtual format, and doubts about the effectiveness of a completely digital conference. These doubts could have stemmed from insecurities regarding the newness of the conference format, or they could simply reflect general social stress during a pandemic. In a world that has so often been disappointed and stressed in the last year, our Board hoped to produce a virtual conference that would run smoothly and be highly meaningful for our constituency.
Ironically, despite waiting to hear negative feedback about various conference or delivery details throughout the week, none came. Even when participants were given the opportunity to evaluate their experience, our worries were unfounded. Those worries seemed to be figments of our own imaginations and thankfully, not manifest in participants’ experiences.
This led me to think about the role of perfectionism in our world, and how gifted students (and adults) experience it. Gifted students today are often plagued by those same frets and worries that our WATG board experienced this last week. However, the fears students encounter are more pervasive, and they permeate everyday tasks, from academics to personal life. Perfectionism can be immobilizing for gifted youth as they become entrenched in vicious mind games with themselves. Oftentimes, perfectionism is largely self-imposed, based on internalized fears of external factors. For some, the thought of disappointing someone, or letting others down is ever present. When it comes to executing daily tasks then, perfectionists get caught up in the details. If there are doubts about the potential quality of the work, perfectionists struggle to get motivated to begin, already anticipating the eventual disappointment of not living up to personal or perceived standards. Whether real or imagined, these standards become controlling. Perfectionists cannot help but fret about the details and work they are completing, rendering them unable to finish work or unable to hand it in until they feel satisfied with the end result. If that satisfaction never comes, then the work, regardless of the quality seen by others, will be a failure in the eyes of the gifted child.
Much of the drive for perfectionism can be an attempt at controlling a situation. This is especially dire for gifted students in the U.S.right now. In retrospect, our WATG board’s worries about the conference were limited to the weeks surrounding the conference; many of us were able to move on and shake off our nerves following the completion of the conference. However, for gifted kids struggling to maintain a semblance of control in a world that is decidedly out of control, it is not as easy to just “move on” or “let go.” Attempting to control life situations is ongoing.
As parents, educators, and mentors of gifted children, we need to be aware of this vise-grip that perfectionism can have on some of our kids. It is not their fault for striving for perfection. It is not them being difficult. For many of them, it’s part of their personality. In the words of my daughter who has been a perfectionist for decades, “If I could care less, I would. I would love to be confident in the final product, to see what others see in my writing or work. Sometimes it physically pains me to submit materials when I feel I could have done better. I get stuck in a cycle of if I think I can do better, why don’t I? -- and it starts all over again.”
In an effort to better present my thoughts about perfectionism, I looked up the definition of the word perfectionism. Besides the typical definition in Oxford Languages “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection,” an interesting tidbit came up with the definition. There was an N-Gram that demonstrated the use of the word perfectionism over time. Interestingly, there was a blip in the early 1600’s, the 1840’s, and then a rise that has not subsided since the 1940’s. As a matter of fact, one can see the exponential growth in the use of the word perfectionism in the last two decades. Clearly the English word “perfectionism” is being used more and more in writing, perhaps in part to address the issue that is plaguing our gifted children. You are not alone if you are experiencing this in your family or classroom!
We are not going to solve this in this writing. But we have to ask some questions and keep working on the answers. What’s the link between giftedness and perfectionism? What are the factors in our world that are driving some of our gifted kids (to drive themselves) to the limit at their own expense? What can we do to mitigate those factors? How do we infuse the idea of perfectionism into the lessons of a “growth mindset”? If this is something that you would like to continue having a conversion about, please let us know. Perhaps we could arrange for a Facebook Live event or a webinar on the topic. WATG is here to help support our gifted kids. Let us know how we can help!
Suggested resources- If you are interested in learning more about the use of the word “perfectionism”, here is a link to the graph provided:
by Cathy Schmit, WATG Board President
A team of researchers (Dr. Garbe, Dr. Ogurlu, Dr. Logan, Dr. Cook) at the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point examined educational situations at home after COVID closure. They surveyed parents to find out their struggles with remote learning. This research was one of the first studies on the immediate impact of COVID on education; research on COVID is mostly in the health field.
After the school closures, parents took the responsibility of teaching their kids at home. According to the study results, most of the parents strongly supported the school closure and were generally satisfied with the level of support provided by school districts, whilst describing some areas of struggle.
Parents stated that they were having difficulties with balancing responsibilities. The concern for various responsibilities competing for the limited resources of time and energy was frequently expressed by respondents. Specific concerns included struggle to balance parent employment demands and learner needs, struggle assisting multiple children in the home with learning, and lack of personal balance. Parents also cited lack of learner motivation specifically related to remote learning as another struggle. Finally, parents mentioned a concern for quality or quantity of the content of remote curriculum, adequate academic progress for their kids, and the socio-emotional development of their child/ren during COVID closures.
The UWSP research team is currently working on teachers’ struggles with remote learning, and will report its findings.
For more, here is the full research:
Dr. Uzeyir Ogurlu
WATG Board Member
As the fall quickly approaches, many teachers and parents are starting to wonder how they can best support their gifted students during the school year, whether they are attending virtual or face-to-face in the classroom. Here are a variety of ways you can help every student.
Organization – Help your students be organized by providing them with a checklist or calendar of some sort that they can keep track of the work they need to complete. Many students like having a list with “must dos” and “can dos” so they are able to do extra work if they prefer. Teaching children to prioritize, and allowing them to have choice and voice in their learning fosters decision-making skills. Google Classroom is a great place to put all the students’ assignments, so they do not have to go to multiple places to find what they need.
Communication – Communication is a big key when it comes to virtual/socially distance learning! We do not want students to get stressed and worn out, especially during these already hard times. Let them know you are still there for them to help them both emotionally and academically. Provide time for students to talk with their peers as well, using tools such as video conferencing so they are able to maintain social connections. This will help alleviate some of the stressors of not being able to see their friends. Hold daily office hours where students can pop on to your video conference to ask questions or just talk. You can also have students sign up for individual or small groups sessions where you are able to answer their individual questions and provide them with feedback on ways to improve their work.
Executive Functioning Skills – Before digging into the academics at the beginning of the school year, try to focus more on executive functioning skills with your students. Talk about time management, goal setting, chunking tasks, self-regulation, etc. Our students need to learn how to manage these different skills, and by teaching the students the skills at the start of the school year and continuing to work on them throughout the year, they can be more successful in managing their time and setting goals whether virtual or socially distancing in the classroom. Executive functioning skills are lifetime skills.
Provide Extra Virtual Challenges – Provide students with challenges they can do at home. This could include virtual escape rooms, creating something at their house, scavenger hunts, etc.
Choice Boards – Choice boards are a great tool to use in the classroom. Choice boards provide options for students to show what they have learned. This would be a great idea to use for virtual learning because the students may not always have the materials you would like them to use for a certain task. Therefore, by being provided choices, they can select ones that fit the materials they have at home.
Talent Show – Each one of our students has a plethora of talents, and they are not always able to show off those talents in the classroom. Let them show their classmates what their talents are through a virtual talent show!
Whether you are teaching virtually this school year or social distancing in the classroom, it is important to let your gifted students know you are there for them academically and emotionally. We need to work together to support them during these challenging times. Using the suggestions above can help you support every one of your students.
Board Member, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
We have what I think is the best last day of school tradition I have ever heard of. We eat ice cream for breakfast. Yup, that’s right, ice cream for breakfast on the last day of school. Why not? The kids are all crazy that day anyway. Embrace it!
So here I sit with a freezer full of ice cream, but when is the last day this year??? Is it the day they stopped assigning graded work? Is it the day that we drive up, hand over our technology and books and receive a bag of locker contents and school supplies? Is it the day on the calendar that was supposed to really be the last day? And what about the fact that the kids are sleeping late these days to the point where I really have to question if it can still be considered breakfast! What a wild ride it has been!
And so we will adapt, just like we have been. Just like EVERYONE has been. But through it all one thing has remained a constant; we love our kids. And we only get eighteen summers with them. Let’s embrace this short season that we have with them. We may not be able to go on that epic family vacation, but we can go on a hike together. They may not get to go to summer camp, but we can make s’mores and act silly and have impromptu dance parties in the backyard. We can catch fireflies and spot satellite trains and stare in awe and wonder at the sunset. We can craft and bike and serve our communities. We can make our little corner of the world a better place. And we can breathe and rest and renew so that when the next school year comes along (whatever it may look like) we can face it head on with renewed strength and hope. Grab a spoon! Summer is waiting and the Rocky Road is calling.
A good friend of mine works for an energy company. He is in maintenance at a hydroelectric facility in our area. While many people were filling their vehicles with toilet paper and foodstuffs, I texted him, “I just wanted to thank you for the continuous electricity you help provide. I use it every day and appreciate it very much!”
He replied: “I’d like to report that water continues to flow downhill, we are generating at a furious pace. Take care. Greetings to the whole family.”
You might have guessed that the WATG Government Action Committee visit to Washington DC to advocate for gifted education funding (specifically the Javits grants) did not happen this year. So instead of an update on a trip that didn’t happen, I’d like to look at things that we can focus on with those closest to us in the midst of the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Like most of you, I’m finding my calendar suddenly very empty. Committee meetings, projects, errands, practices, after school activities and appointments that were once vital for myself or the kids have either vanished or evolved into a video chat. It’s an odd feeling of being connected, yet disconnected at the same time. Our piano lessons can now be given through Zoom. A therapy session can come via Facetime. WebX seems to work for those meetings that still need to occur…
For many of us this will be remembered as a stressful time. But is that true for kids? Does it need to be stressful for them? For those of you active in social media, you’re probably seeing a lot of friends doing crafts: sewing, art, woodworking, and painting are just a few of the interests that seem to have appeared from some previously concealed box that was tucked away in a closet. People are engaging with their kids. In 20 years we might look back at today and recall uncertainty, gloom. But children might remember family dinners, boiling maple sap into syrup, repairing a bicycle, or learning to sew an article of clothing. They might recall going online to find recipes, science projects, or learning about how wind direction influences the weather. Never before in history have we had a larger library available in most of our homes.
Additionally, we’ve been given the gift of time with our kids to find and complete satisfying projects. GT kids are bright. We know they can finish and submit their regular days’ schoolwork through an online classroom in a very short amount of time. This opens a great part of the day for other activities. How about assigning a pizza project? What’s the chemistry behind yeast? Some dough rises and others stay flat. Yeast isn’t just for bread, you know. Have you ever made root beer at home? A regular two liter bottle with a threaded cap works well, and it’s very easy to know the carbonation is building by squeezing the sides.
Water continues to flow downhill and our online world is still open to us. With so many good ways to engage our kids (or students) that can include their whole family, this can be a time of tremendous growth and positive memories.
Hillarie Roth, President-Elect (with input from her husband, Dean Roth)
1. Pick a household item and invent at least 10 new uses for it.
2. Listen to a foreign radio station while cooking a recipe from that country.
3. Have an “opera hour” during which people can only sing their conversations.
4. Invite a family or neighborhood elder to discuss “olden times.” Compare and contrast with life today.
5. Plan a bedroom safari using stuffed animals, tour guides, etc.
6. Listen to different types of music and make up dances.
7. Fingerpaint with pudding and eat the leftovers.
8. Discuss TV shows and plan new plots and sub-plots for characters. Relate TV to real life experiences in your child’s life.
9. Plan a real or fictitious trip – have your child research stopping points and decide
whether or not to stop there.
10. Dance to various types of music – salsa, tango, waltz, disco, etc.
11. Star gaze and investigate “star stories” from various viewpoints.
12. Invent a new sport and play it.
13. Create an original cartoon strip.
14. Keep a family diary and visit it often over time.
15. Listen to the news and identify local problems that kids could solve. Make a plan and try to solve one.
16. Plant a garden with things that you can eat. Plan meals around your produce.
17. Check out a book on experiments from the library. Have a science night.
18. Have family members dress up as different characters. Write a play using only these characters.
19. Have your child help with a home repair project.
20. Practice random acts of kindness to teach your child the joy of doing for others.
21. Make snow monsters and spray with colored water.
22. Make a snow slide in your backyard.
23. Design ramps and balls, design experiments with them and practice the scientific method – problem, hypothesis, investigation/experiment, observation and conclusion.
24. Create your own math symbols and design problems with them.
25. Make up a new language and keep expanding it.
26. Invent something using only things from your toy box.
27. Tell ghost stories in a round-robin fashion, stopping and starting with a new narrator every minute or so…
28. Graph the weather.
29. Go on a “wonder walk…” pause often to ask wondering questions.
30. Camp out on the living room floor – spread blankets over chairs, etc.
31. Play twenty questions.