Dr. Maria Katsaros-Molzahn
WATG Secretary and Membership Chairperson
To say that a lot resonated with me during the 2022 WATG conference would be an understatement.Trying to organize these thoughts into one cohesive reflection might take some time. However, one speaker truly captured the essence of this critical time in our collective educational history, Colin Seale. I don’t take fan pictures, and yet here I am, proud as Puck:
The question that arises is: why does this person and his message resonate with me so deeply? The truth is because he is a mirror; albeit, different gender and race, yet his story and my story are eerily similar. Moreover, his success, and my success come from access to enrichment during critical times in our personal lives. As he noted, it must be understood that Maslow + Bloom need to co-exist.
Maslow is a social scientist who explained that all people need to have their basic needs met before they can develop personal autonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy focuses on academic readiness. According to Bloom, we all begin learning by remembering and then, with practice, we move up the pyramid. For years, educators have used these two models to explain learning progress. However, as Colin explained for underrepresented and underidentified kids, kind words without enrichment don’t do much. They need opportunities.
Colin and I were lucky. Somewhere, somehow, in our academic careers a teacher (for me) and an aide (for him) provided the guidance we needed just in time. In Colin’s case, an aide in second grade told his mother that she needed to test him for giftedness. He was that child that questioned everything, didn’t know how to sit still, and made life difficult for his teachers. For me, a seventh grade teacher opened the world of wonder and beauty. It should be noted that this person never showed intense interest in me as a person. Or maybe she did, but I was at such a low point that I failed to see it. Nonetheless, her passion and dedication to all of us opened up the world for me. Both Colin and I got lucky; however, it shouldn’t be a matter of luck.
As parents/caregivers, educators, and advocates there are steps we can take to ensure that EACH child has access to opportunities. Joining the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted is a great first step https://www.watg.org/membership.html. Our organization works hard to educate and advocate for gifted individuals, especially children. We are dedicated to the interests of educators and parents/caregivers as they serve children. As members, parents/caregivers have access to reduced rates and special workshops such as the Sunday pre-conference day we offered at this year’s fall conference. Through our organization, parents/caregivers have opportunities to meet more people with similar children. Together they can share parenting tips, advice, and resources.
One current opportunity is our newly formed Parent Book Club. In this club, we will be reading and discussing Raisin’ Brains. In this heartfelt and humorous story, author Karen Isaacson paints a wonderful picture of the trials, tribulations, and amazing adventures that come with parenting this population. We look forward to discussing this book as a community, and look forward to having you join us. All of the details you need are in the link above. Happy reading!
Almost 2 decades ago, I had the privilege of earning my Master’s degree in Special Education from Loyola University, in Chicago. It wasn’t until July 2021 that I realized how interconnected my career in special education would be with my new journey as the parent of a gifted child.
Previously, I spent fifteen years as a developmental and behavioral therapist and consultant overseeing private programming for children who were diagnosed with Autism, Down Syndrome, and Seizure Disorders, and had been internationally adopted. I spent time in their homes, collaborating with private preschools and working with their other therapists to provide whole-child care. I facilitated programming for their young children, replacing school days in self-contained classrooms with mainstream inclusive school settings. I understood their needs. I collected data. I curbed behaviors. I supported the parents and siblings as they navigated the new structure provided in their homes.This eased tensions and allowed families to function in a more productive manner. And most importantly, it was my job to fiercely advocate for their children’s needs with school personnel.
The children I worked with were often those who didn’t have any verbal skills at six years old, who craved constant sensory input, who up until my time with them, didn’t relate to others… and who were consistently offered nothing more than 30 minutes of speech and 15 minutes of Occupational Therapy per week, services that fell immeasurably short of meeting their needs. And that is where I learned how critical advocacy was for these children, and any children in an educational system that pledged “not to leave anyone behind.”
My clients were outliers; traditional education wasn’t designed for them. They each had unique profiles. Some had great eye contact, others were apraxic. There were children who banged their heads against the wall when frustrated and those that chewed inedible objects to satisfy their oral fixations. There were also kids who could read at 3 ½ with no formal training, those who had unnoticed seizures, and even some who were indistinguishable from their peers until they reached kindergarten.
Over time, my job evolved from creating and managing in-home programs to advocating to get “my kids,” (no matter how far they strayed from the norm), into inclusive classroom settings where they had their best chance of learning and adopting appropriate behaviors and language with their neurotypical peers. While I still supported my clients at home and collaborated with their private therapy providers, my focus became proving how critically necessary inclusive education was for each child. Luckily, for the kids and families I worked with, my data, programming support, and school observations provided strong cases for each of them to be mainstreamed, and 10-15 years later, I am proud to say they are graduating from high schools, getting their drivers’ licenses, and are much more well-adjusted and successful than their peers who stayed in self-contained classrooms receiving minimal support from schools.
Now, almost twenty years later, I am a mother of two. My son, 9, was identified as gifted through a private evaluation a year ago, and it became apparent that school wasn’t meeting his needs. Armed with my years of advocacy skills and the awareness that our educational system isn’t designed with outliers in mind, I contacted our local public school in late August after my efforts at his private independent school failed. This time though, I was not willing to hear “no”. Our public schools, by state law, have an obligation to educate gifted learners, and I came to the table prepared - with the evaluation results, my experience as a mom, and my decades of experience as a special educator. I plead our case.
The school and school district, (a new one for the 3rd time in 5 years), reviewed my son’s private evaluation and was now willing to talk. They wanted to complete the IOWA Scale of Acceleration and complete a few more supplemental tests. He was an excellent candidate for acceleration, and, with very little hesitation on anyone’s part, we agreed on a full grade acceleration, with a double acceleration in math. His 31 year veteran teacher, a true gift to education, found ways to keep my son engaged, celebrating his gifts and talents with her students and championing his successes. He finished his first year at the new school with a smile on his face and a hope for continued recognition of his diverse skill set and unique needs.
Summer was spent playing instruments with the district’s middle and high school music groups and absorbing as much math as possible. This fall a simple transition was expected - fifth grade with one of his best buddies, a van to take him and a few peers to the middle school each day for sixth grade math, the promise of Jazz Band. Our son, at nine years old, was finally afforded the opportunities to flex his musical prowess and passion for mathematics in our neighborhood school district. This was how a fairy tale should end…
But here we are, one week into school. The mathematics acceleration might not be enough. The accelerated, extra curricular musical opportunities don’t follow policy and are denied. So, once again I put my advocacy hat on, email the appropriate parties and start the process for a Performing Arts Gifted & Talented Evaluation, and (im)patiently await the results of the Fall STAR Math test and a plan to ensure that my son’s 90 minutes daily in sixth grade math is meeting his needs.
And so this fall, my former career and my current life collide once again. My son isn’t easy to educate. His brain, like those of my special education students in Chicagoland, works differently. He craves a pace of education that most cannot provide. His motivation is driven by challenge. He strays as far from the norm as some of my youngest clients did when they started their educational journeys. He needs a school and district willing to set aside their policies and think outside of the box to meet his unique needs. And as his mother and forever special education advocate, I will not stand idly by. I will be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease - for students such as my son who need customized and appropriate educational plans. My next mission will be to advocate for his friends who are twice-exceptional; the need for advocacy never ends.
Mary Pape, Board Member
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
You can feel the crispness in the air. The days aren’t as long anymore. The palette of the landscape is changing. Recently a co-worker of mine who lives in Northern Wisconsin said, “The ferns are dying. Summer is over.”
That kind of change is good. It marks rebirth and helps us reset.
But some changes make us more uncomfortable.
My oldest has an issue with change. This year he moves into a different school. He is a seventh grader, so he will be in middle school for the first time, sharing a building with eighth graders.
He has dreaded this first day of school since last spring. We have had many dinner conversations about expectations and new beginnings. I think that may have put him at ease a little bit, but he still has a hard time not knowing what’s happening next.
I told him that I completely get it. Trusting something, whatever it may be, is really hard. I remember when I was a tyke and it took me a while to jump into the community pool, even though I knew that my big strong dad was going to catch me.
These are the times that we must flood our children with positivity and belief in their capability. Words like, “You’ve got this!” or “No problem!” can help. Just reinforce that it’s OK (and normal) to be anxious about new things, and give them the reassurance to overcome that. Share experiences from your own life.
Sometimes anxiety over change persists in our adult life. For example, I am a grown man and I still get nervous whenever Costco changes where various items are kept. Now this is a silly reason to be anxious, but we are all creatures of habit. I only get one of my two favorite subs from Subway, and I’ve been doing that for about 25 years. Just think about that. The Subway menu is vast and has many different kinds of bread, meat, and cheese options, but I only opt for the meatball or Subway melt. Perhaps you have some quirks like this, too?
We always revert to what is comfortable, safe, and predictable.
So if your children are having a tough time transitioning/handling change, try some things to make it a little bit easier. Hide their favorite piece of candy in their backpack, write a note of love and support and e-mail it to them the night before school starts, or tuck a favorite family photo into their folder…the possibilities are endless.
Life is filled with positive challenges. It’s how you handle those challenges that will ultimately define what those challenges mean and how important those challenges are in shaping behaviors, motivations, and goals.
There’s nothing wrong with change. (We just have to keep reminding ourselves of that.)
WATG Board Member
It almost always begins like this - a group of parents, caregivers, and grandparents are sitting in a circle, focusing on the joys and challenges of living with their gifted children day in and day out.
In these circles, many parents have questions about the unique characteristics of gifted children - their curiosity, their focus (or lack of focus), their incredible intensities and super sensitivities, their motivation (or lack of it), their possible susceptibility to perfectionism, stress, anxiety, and depression, or their inability to make many agemate friends. Their children may report being bored at school, and the adults worry about appropriate educational challenges. They come looking for resources, recommendations, and reassurance. Many report having a burning desire to talk to other parents, grandparents, and caregivers about their unique children, but haven’t found a safe, nurturing environment…yet.
Then…they experience a Parent to Parent: Sharing Your Wisdom workshop at a WATG conference. Here they meet others who are “walking the walk”. Guided by SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted) national trainers and facilitators, Dal and Jackie Drummer, the parents and caregivers share their joys and challenges. They offer advice, comfort, and knowing smiles. They share ideas and resources. They lift each other up. Sometimes they even share contact information and their children become friends. Sometimes the adults make new friends too. All of this is done in a confidential environment under the care of the Drummers, who have over 100 years of combined experience teaching, parenting, and grandparenting gifted children.
If you (or someone you know and love) is yearning for this type of experience, we invite you to register for the parent portion of the WATG Annual Fall Conference on Sunday, October 2 at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells. The morning will feature the Parent to Parent: Sharing Your Wisdom workshop. It will be followed by an opportunity to network with other adults for lunch, and then a variety of afternoon workshops designed especially for parents, caregivers, and grandparents. If you have the time and interest, stay for the entire conference October 3 and 4; we have many additional outstanding workshops planned.
Do consider joining us; registration information for the parent conference (and the entire conference) can be found here. We look forward to meeting you!
One of the challenges I endured as a young mother of three children was that I didn’t understand the education system. I certainly did not understand the system enough to navigate it and advocate for my children effectively. Some questions I had included: What is the responsibility of the school board? What is the relationship between the school board and the educators? What powers do the PTA/PTO have? What services are my children legally eligible to receive?
In the late 90s, I quickly discovered how important it was to understand these systems and services. My son was struggling academically. He was not struggling because of diminished intellect but because of boredom and being under-challenged. “Students who are under-challenged are not always gifted, but they are typically competent and very smart and do not always present that way” (Morin, 2020). My response was to give him more challenging work at home and involve him in after-school programming where his intellect would be stretched. I even challenged him to practice responding to some of the questions on my Law School Admissions Practice test, to which he always seemed to get the answers much quicker than I could. As a parent, I was becoming frustrated with the notes I was receiving from his teachers despite the additional support I was providing him at home. He continued to struggle at school, and his teacher was prepared to label him learning disabled.
In his 7th grade year, he met a new teacher who looked like him, understood his cultural background and community, and most definitely understood how to navigate the education system. She took the initiative to engage me, as his parent and first educator, in a more in-depth dialogue about how we could better support my son’s k-12 academic journey. She told me about services that the school had available to support my son, which would test him so that we were sure that he was assigned to the correct level courses, and offered services that would support me. My son was eventually tested, removed from most of his major classes and into advanced placement courses, and, through the efforts of his teacher, was enrolled in Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. He was able to take his SATs in the 7th grade (scoring higher than his 11th-grade brother), scores that he was eligible to use to enroll in college, and thrived in a way that I could not have imagined if it had not been for his African American 7th grade teacher.
Black students are more than 15% of the total student population, represent nearly 10% of the students in gifted programs, and are three times as likely to be identified as gifted if their teacher is black (Mullaguru, 2016). According to a study conducted in 2016, millions of students should be designated as gifted, and the reason that they are missing from the data is typically due to schools not identifying students as gifted and talented due to funding; additionally, they may attend a school identified as ‘high poverty, or be overlooked because they are Latino, black (like my son), or another underidentified group (Gentry, 2020).
Under-motivated children rarely see an incentive to do the work and often complain about the classroom experience. They will often express that they already know what is being taught and, like my son, may even declare, “I am more intelligent than my teacher.” Children who experience this may be labeled as lazy or learning disabled, especially those who are a part of an underidentified group, and consequently are seen as “problem children”. “Due to systemic exclusion of minority students, gifted programs may exacerbate the racial achievement gap by further boosting outcomes for more privileged students…” (Cohen, 2022).
Unfortunately for my son, it took seven years before he was provided the support he needed to thrive academically, and we are grateful for that gift from his educator. If you are/were lucky enough to figure out the system early, share the knowledge with other parents. If you are still struggling to try to find ways to challenge your young scholar, here are some things that you can do:
Today my son is a father, husband, and child advocate, and he still believes he is more intelligent than his teachers :)
Danielle Y. Hairston Green
WIsconsin Association for Talented and Gifted Board Member
If you clicked on this article, odds are that there is a young gifted underachiever in your life, or someone who is at least perceived as an underachiever by others. It's so frustrating when we care about someone who seems not to be living up to great intellectual or creative promise, or who has been labeled as "...not working up to potential." There are many thousands of publications on motivation and the gifted, and if you're interested in the scholarly perspective, you can check out the articles cited at the end of this brief list of tips. While all of the tips are based on empirical research evidence, they are also parent and teacher tested!
TIP #1. Is the student truly underachieving, or are they just not achieving at what their parents and teachers wish they were? We may despair when a student fails to do homework, but if they are tinkering with inventions in the basement or writing and performing music, they may be developing passions and skills that will carry them far. If they don't appear to have any interests or passions at all, it's probably time for a mental health check. Depression or anxiety can be root causes of some underachievement.
TIP #2. Intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation? Research indicates that gifted students have motivation patterns similar to other students, though they may tend to be a little more intrinsically motivated. We are all motivated to put forth effort both by what we like to do (intrinsic) and by external desires/pressures (good grades, money, avoidance of punishment). It’s important to save the extrinsic motivators for tasks/situations that don't interest the student but seem to be important for life success. And if you can connect the unexciting task (taking out the trash) to something about which the student is passionate (recycling and the environment), so much the better!
TIP #3. Is being labeled "gifted" or "talented" good or bad for motivation? Research considers this something of a mixed bag. The label can serve as validation - an outside authority considers the student capable of high-level accomplishment - and this can be important especially in cases where untrained teachers may overlook underrepresented gifted students. The label can also result in some performance anxiety, but those effects can be mitigated with a "growth mindset" approach. Teachers and parents can emphasize the joy of mastering challenges and point out that errors and failures are just part of developing a talent.
TIP #4. Speaking of challenge - is the school providing an appropriate level of challenge for the student? A state of "flow" (a motivation concept defined as being deeply immersed in an activity) depends on both interest AND appropriate challenge. It's fine now and then for students who finish work early to help the others, but that should not be confused with programming that is appropriately challenging. If you are ready for algebra, tutoring other students in multiplication is not an adequate substitute.
TIP #5. Can underachievement be reversed? There are a number of studies, particularly case studies, on gifted underachievers who showed considerable success later in life. One thing that many of those studies have in common is that the students generally had at least one adult in their life who was non-judgmentally supportive, often an adult who shared an intellectual or artistic passion that was not necessarily offered as part of regular school curriculum. So there is hope for long-term underachievers!
For more scholarly/academic discussions of these and similar issues check out these articles:
Clinkenbeard, P. R. (2012). Motivation and gifted students: Implications of theory and research. Psychology in the Schools, 49, 622-630. https://doi.org/10.1002/pits.21628 (FYI, this article has been requested frequently by other scholars.)
Clinkenbeard, P. R. (2014). Motivation and goals. In C. Callahan & J. Plucker (Eds.), Critical issues and practices in gifted education: What the research says (2nd ed.). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Pamela Clinkenbeard, Ph.D.
WI Association for Talented and Gifted Board Member
If you are a parent/caregiver or a grandparent, here is a special invitation for you to join us for a day to learn from WATG experts about key themes in raising and supporting your gifted child(ren)!
In the morning, you can participate in a SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted) workshop facilitated by Jackie and Dal Drummer, members of the WATG Board.
Here is more information about the workshop: Parenting gifted kids can be both a joy and a challenge. Sometimes gifted children and their parents/caregivers feel alone as they navigate life’s ups and downs. This session, “Parent to Parent: Sharing Your Wisdom” is a chance for parents to share their parenting experience and advice, to give and receive comfort, and to discover resources that will help them on their journey. It will be facilitated by Dal and Jackie Drummer, who are SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted) national trainers and facilitators. Together they have over 100 years of teaching, parenting, and grand parenting, and have facilitated numerous groups nationally. Come to learn, to share, and to gain tools to help you as you grow along with your child. Many parents and caregivers report that this workshop has given them additional insight, sensitivity, and confidence.
After this session, join us for lunch (location to be announced) for an opportunity to get to know other parent members. Lunch is on your own; however, we will suggest a meeting space for all interested parents to network.
In the afternoon, we will have a Parent Member Unconference. In an Unconference, participants may choose mini-workshops that most interest them. Here you can learn from WATG experts about various topics, including:
Parent members will leave with resources related to these topics for further exploration. We will also share more information about an upcoming opportunity to participate in an online parent book club.
Sunday, October 2, 2022’s Full Agenda:
Please join us; you will be glad that you did!
Mary Pape and Jenna Cramer, Event Planners
WATG Board Members
Gifted individuals can often be described as people who crave challenges. One of the earliest indications that our son was gifted was his consistent thirst for knowledge and challenges. He was potty trained at the age of 2 and was motivated by the opportunity to learn about ceiling fans through catalogs he “read” while training. He learned to swim independently across the pool at 3 years old after doing multiplication problems in between each attempt. While in K5, he became disengaged in class because of a complete lack of challenge. Our conference that fall was disappointing and alarming. After a mid-year school switch, when he was 6, he did his first Power Point presentation because he wanted to illustrate the history of the piano and his passion for it to his peers; it was a challenge he took on all by himself, creating every slide and its animations independently after a brief tutorial. And today, just recently at 9, he prefers challenging piano pieces over those that are simple. He assembles expert Lego sets containing thousands of pieces in a matter of hours. He masters “challenge” pieces more quickly than the piano pieces that are supposed to come next in his repertoire. He works on his Lego sets with intense focus; each page is a different and unique challenge and the motivation to complete the biggest sets in a short time keeps him interested.
Challenges motivate our son and so many other gifted children. Without challenges, the risk of undesirable behaviors escalates. It is our job, then, as parents and educators, to find ways to keep our curriculum engaging and stimulating so that we do not “lose” the gifted kids in the mundane, repetitive, and slow-paced environment that is a traditional classroom.
Keeping gifted children challenged is a constant struggle. As parents, we strive to find enrichment activities for after school or throughout the summer months. We beg schools to give our children more in-depth material, to move them along at a faster pace than their peers, or to allow them to accelerate to a more appropriate placement for their current academic level. We constantly invest in books, toys, and online learning platforms to fill their constant desire for information and challenge. We take them on trips around the world, join several different FB groups; we are desperate for inspiration, and even choose to move states to find an environment that will consistently offer our children the challenge that motivates them to remain passionate about learning and remain engaged.
So often, we hear the phrase “rise to the challenge.” In the gifted world, no truer words have been spoken. Gifted kids need to be challenged. They ought to have the chance to reach their fullest potential. They aren’t “just fine” because they are smart. They deserve, as outliers to the norm, to have an education and opportunities that allow them to flex their curiosity. We have a challenge before us - to keep these children motivated, and although it won’t be simple, I promise it will be worth it in the end!
WATG Board Member
(WATG would like to extend its deep appreciation to Esther Vazquez Guendulain of Appleton Bilingual School for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can be found below.)
Motivado por el desafío: Una perspectiva del padre
Los individuos con talentos excepcionales a menudo se pueden describir como personas que anhelan desafíos. Uno de los primeros indicadores de que nuestro hijo tenía talentos excepcionales fue su consistente sed por conocimiento y desafío. El ya avisaba para ir al baño a la edad de 2 y estaba motivado por la oportunidad de aprender sobre los abanicos de techo a través de los catálogos que “leyó” mientras se entrenaba para ir al baño. Aprendió a nadar de manera independiente atravesando la alberca a los 3 años de edad después de hacer problemas de multiplicación entre cada intento. Cuando estaba en kínder, él se desintereso en la clase por la total falta de desafío. Nuestra conferencia en ese otoño fue decepcionante y alarmante. Después del cambio de mitad de año, cuando tenía 6, el hizo su primera presentación en Power Point porque quería ilustrar a sus compañeros con la historia del piano y su pasión por el; fue un reto que lo tomo todo para si mismo, creando independientemente cada hoja de presentación y sus animaciones después de un breve tutorial. Y ahora, recientemente a los 9, prefiere el desafío de piezas en piano que aquellas que son simples. El ensambla en cuestión de horas, juegos de piezas de legos para expertos que contienen miles de piezas. El domina las piezas de “reto” más rápido que las piezas de piano que se supone que siguen en su repertorio. El trabaja en sus juegos de lego con un enfoque intenso; cada página es un desafío único y diferente y la motivación por terminar rápido el juego más grande lo mantiene interesado.
Los desafíos motivan a nuestro hijo y muchos otros niños con talentos excepcionales. Sin desafíos, el riesgo de comportamientos no deseados aumenta. Por lo tanto, como padres y educadores, es nuestro trabajo encontrar la manera de mantener nuestro plan de estudios atractivo y estimulante así no “perdemos” a los niños con talentos excepcionales en un ambiente mundano, repetitivo y lento, que son los salones de clase tradicionales.
Darles desafíos constantemente a los niños con talentos excepcionales es una lucha constante. Como padres, nos esforzamos por encontrar actividades de enriquecimiento para después de clases o durante los meses de verano. Les rogamos a las escuelas que les den a nuestros hijos material más profundo, para que se muevan a un paso más rápido que sus compañeros o para que puedan adelantarse a un lugar más apropiado para su nivel académico actual. Constantemente invertimos en libros, juguetes y plataformas de aprendizaje en-línea, para llenar el constante deseo de información y retos. Los llevamos a viajes alrededor del mundo, nos unimos a diferentes grupos de FB, estamos desesperados por inspiración e incluso nos cambiamos de estados para encontrar un ambiente que ofrezca constantemente a nuestros hijos, desafíos que los motiven a mantenerse apasionados sobre el aprendizaje y que se mantengan interesados.
A menudo escuchamos la frase “estar a la altura”. En el mundo de las personas con talentos excepcionales, no se pudieron haber dicho palabras mas ciertas. Los niños con talentos excepcionales necesitan ser desafiados. Se les debe la oportunidad de que puedan alcanzar su máximo potencial. Ellos no están “bien” porque son inteligentes. Ellos merecen, como valores atípicos a la norma, tener una educación y oportunidades que les permitan flexionar su curiosidad. ¡Tenemos un reto frente a nosotros – mantener a estos niños motivados, y aunque o sea sencillo, les prometo que al final valdrá la pena!
Miembro de la Junta de Gobierno de WATG
(WATG extiende su agradecimiento a Esther Vazquez Guendulain de la Escuela Bilingüe de Appleton por la traducción de este articulo al español para nuestras familias y educadores hispano-hablantes. La traducción la puede encontrar también en los bloques de nuestra página web.)