By now, most of us are settled into the 2020-2021 school year. Some of you are in face-to-face learning environments, some are in virtual, and some are in a hybrid environment. All of these environments are fraught with challenges, and with, no doubt, some fears. Over the past months, I have had the opportunity to think about the best way to support our families, our educators, and especially our children during these uncertain times.
In following social media, reading countless articles such as this one:
This is Our Season of Coaching Our Children Through Disappointment in the Washington Post, and speaking with many parents and educators, it has become increasingly clear to me that attitude matters. Attitude matters for our own mental health, and attitude matters for the mental health of our children -- because they are watching us. Attitude coupled with modeling problem solving skills, decision making skills, creative and critical thinking skills, and fortitude will help us make the best of these unusual times, and show our children how to press through adversity.
As this school year approached, I saw many fabulous examples of families with great attitudes. They chose to roll with the uncertainty, and think of ways to make the best of it. They planned for various scenarios, and encouraged their children to join in on the plans. I read about families creating quiet study spaces, checking home bandwidth, going “pretend” school-supply shopping in their basements, and picking out “first day of school” outfits, even though their children were starting the school year virtually. I saw families of means choosing to purchase their own chromebooks, allowing scarce school resources to be spent on families in need. I saw families discussing the importance of following school policies regarding masks and social distancing to prepare their children for a face-to-face beginning of the year. I watched them practice routines, and heard of patient and calm family conversations to allay fears. I heard of families having meetings to discuss how all community children would be able to access learning, and what plans communities would be making to accommodate everyone. Most of all, families were talking about the importance of flexibility should things change, as inevitably they would. And in these families, I saw resilience and resolve, and willingness to make the best of things. I saw that attitude matters.
Similarly, I saw educators, as they usually do, working tirelessly to “make it work” in a myriad of situations. Many spent countless hours working during the summer to perfect plans for a yet to be determined scenario; many watched in anguish as school boards struggled with making difficult decisions. Many experienced plans upended as circumstances changed in communities. Many worked through fears about online learning, or F2F learning, or juggling the increased demands of hybrid learning. Many worried about kids in unsafe situations, or kids who might not be able to access quality education. Many of them struggled with fears about health and safety. And many of them dug into deep reserves of creativity and persistence to triumph.
In a marvelous example of true educator awesome-ness and ingenuity, I watched incredulously as a well-known internet service provider chose to do a full-on upgrade on “third-Friday-count-day” in September, shutting down all virtual learning services in parts of southeastern Wisconsin. What did teachers and families do? They reimagined it as a “virtual snow day,” and proceeded with alternate plans on the spot. They rose above their frustration, put their creative talents to use, and carried on. Attitude matters!
Attitude matters, too, in how we support all of us making difficult decisions daily. Attitudes of gratitude must be shared with school boards and administrators. Though we may not always agree with their decisions, we must be cognizant of the difficulty of their jobs, and the great weight of responsibility that rests on their shoulders. We must have an attitude of gratitude for our educators who are relentlessly putting kids above their personal fears and their fatigue. We need to thank them privately, publicly, and often.
Finally, we must be kind to each other, and to ourselves. Families have made difficult decisions about how to school their children, based on their unique family values and circumstances. We must extend grace and kindness to all -- because attitude matters. We must extend grace and forgiveness to ourselves, too, because we are doing our best. Our children are watching and learning from us. How we handle adversity will influence how they handle adversity. Gifted kids in particular often have built-in intuition -- a kind of radar -- that causes them to finely examine and thoughtfully question adults. Now is the time to choose our best attitudes for them to examine and question! Attitude matters!
As you are reading this blog, many of you have already begun the school year. Some of you may still be waiting to commence, but all are learning to adjust and adapt to many new realities.
The first reality was that change and decision-making is undoubtedly difficult, especially with so much pervasive uncertainty. Some of you may have had decisions made for you by municipalities or other governing boards, with or without your input. Some of you have been given options, and have had to navigate the waters of change by yourselves. And many of you have had to explain/defend your choice or situation to children, other family members, friends, or acquaintances. Undoubtedly some of you may continue to question your decisions, or continue to wish that things were different.
One thing seems certain, however, and that is that we are all grieving. We are grieving the world as it was. We are grieving relationships, and proximity, and freedom to be out and about without anxiety. We are grieving school as it was. We are grieving teaching as it was. We are grieving learning as it was.
In a recent coaching conversation with an outstanding administrator, she and I began to examine the stages of grief as they apply to helping educators, parents, and children process their emotions surrounding the change in learning during the COVID era. We talked about the five stages of grief as posed by Swiss American psychiatrist Kübler-Ross. Though most of Kübler-Ross-Ross’ work was in the field of death and dying, I think it applies equally well to the death of education as we once knew it. Kübler-Ross defines the non-linear stages of grief as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Thinking back on the last months, many of us, adults and children alike, can probably identify with moving through these stages of grief. Countless articles, blog posts, Facebook posts, tweets, talk shows, and news sources have confirmed that we were/are not alone. And yet, what I’d like to focus on is the stage of acceptance, of finding ways to make the best of the new paradigm -- learning in the COVID era.
In a recent article in the New York Times, How to Handle Anxiety Over Back to School Decisions, author Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University, suggests some coping skills to help us during these uncertain times. Her suggestions include learning to cope with uncertainty, distinguishing between productive and unproductive worries, stopping the fight with our feelings, cultivating compassion, paying attention to our grief, practicing flexible thinking and acting, and focusing on our values and our sources of meaning. While all of these strategies will help us and our children navigate the stages of grief, many of us find ourselves already in our “new normal.”
So, what now?
In another recent article from the NAGC, Distance Learning Round Two - We're in This Together there is some timely advice for parents of gifted children who are immersed once again in distance learning. Tips from parents to parents include these:
For those of you who have re-entered or are re-entering face-to-face learning, the changes and challenges are also daunting. As we work on acceptance of these changes and challenges, we need to examine them and provide context, clarity, and time for discussion. In a recent article from Grown and Flown, pediatrician and mom Dr. Cara Natterson speaks about what teens can expect as school starts this fall, and how important it is to discuss the expectations and emotions associated with them.
Some things that will change (undoubtedly for kids and teachers in any age/grade group returning face-to-face) are:
My biggest takeaway from all of my reading, discussion, observation, and pondering how to accept these daunting changes is that, now, more than ever, we must pay attention to the social and emotional needs of our educators and learners. Absorbing and accepting tremendous amounts of change requires tremendous amounts of time, energy, and understanding. While the academic needs of our gifted learners are very important, their emotional health must also be safeguarded. We need to give everyone the gifts of patience, flexibility, and grace.
My heart goes out to all of you as you navigate these new waters, and I sincerely hope that you will find a safe harbor in a place of acceptance, at least for now. We can then contemplate the challenges of moving forward. Sail forth!
As always, I welcome your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WATG
There is no doubt that many thoughtful and intense conversations have been happening lately, and many of them center on the pandemic. These conversations are happening at so many levels in the world -- internationally, nationally, at the state, county, city, and local level, in school districts and school buildings, with administrators, teachers, and other school personnel, within families, between friends, and among those with diverse opinions. Our children are listening, even though we may not be aware of it. They are paying close attention to the conversations, mulling them over, perhaps worrying, thinking of solutions, and yearning to be included in the conversations. Because they are gifted kids, they may be experiencing a heightened sensitivity to the nuances of conversations, and yet they are seldom asked to join in on the discussion. Some children may have trusted adults to talk to, some children may not. Some children may be forthright in opening the discussion, some might be reticent. Some of us may feel comfortable and competent to have these discussions, some of us may not. Nonetheless, our children are pondering.
For the past few weeks, I have been keeping a record of questions and comments that I’ve heard coming from children, or read about, or that parents have shared with me. It’s convinced me that our children are full of great questions. Here are some of them:
“Why does the news keep changing?” “Why can’t scientists make up their minds?” “Are the numbers real?” “What is fake news?” “How do you know what to believe?” “How would sitting in the same desk all day, wearing a mask, not being able to hang out with my friends, having to eat a cold boxed lunch be better than sitting on my bed eating and drinking what I want when I want and having an actual conversation with my teachers and friends on Zoom?” “Will dad lose his job?” “Why did our neighbor get sick? Will the whole family get sick?” “Why can’t I go back to school if kids don’t get sick like adults do?” “Why do people with no children get to make the rules?” “My throat hurts. Am I going to die?” “What if grandma dies?” “Why do we have to go to virtual school anyway? It’s not helping me.” “What if we start school, and then school closes?” “I’m worried about my friend. She’s really depressed. What should I do?” “Even if we go back to school, it won’t be the same...and that makes me sad. Is it okay to be sad?” “How will we keep our classroom clean and safe?” “What if my teacher gets sick? Will we all have to stay home?” “I don’t want to miss school. It’s my whole life.” “Will we really ever get to do things again like we used to, or will it always be like this?”
Whether children pose these questions out loud, or fret about them internally and silently, the need to open the discussion remains. So how do we do this?
First of all, physical and emotional space must be made available. For our younger children, bedtime is often a time when worries and wonderings surface. The quietness, the comfort of one’s bedroom, and the let-down from the day often invite introspective conversations. For older children and adolescents, many parents report that “car time” is when many deep discussions emerge. The physical act of being enclosed, the fact that the grownup is generally focused on the road and not looking at the teen, and the fact that the conversation is totally private all seem to invite deep discussions. And for all children, deep conversations require deep listening skills, unimpeded by phones, TV, or other interruptions.
Some great conversation starters include: “So, what do you think about…” “I’m interested in your opinion about…” “What kinds of things do you think kids are wondering about…” ”You seem worried. Do you want to talk about it?” “What do you think will be the best thing about…?” “What do you think will happen?” What do you think should happen?” “What’s the worst that could happen?” “How likely is that to be true?” “What have you noticed?” “What do you wish would happen?” “Who could you talk to about this?” (To kick up the level of conversation, you may want to probe deeper by asking “why” often).
In addition to asking the questions and opening the discussions, we need to think about our next steps. We need to validate our children’s answers and feelings, and we need to regulate our own emotions while listening. Finally, we need to find ways to help our children (and ourselves) cope positively and move forward.
Some valuable ideas for these next steps include:
Above all, we need to be gentle with our children and with ourselves while we learn, and as we navigate constant change. Though it is important to open the discussion, where the discussion leads will require intuition, patience, skill, and practice. The process may not be perfect, but it is worth it. Our children are counting on us. We can do this. And if we need help, we can lean on others...now more than ever.
As always, I look forward to your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Even as we are basking in the warmth of the summer sun, many of us are wondering and perhaps worried about the fall. What will school look like? How will things be the same? How will things be different? What have we learned from our months of virtual learning? What do we want to keep? What do we want to do differently? How will our new learning make education more effective for all students? How will my child fare? How will I adapt as an educator? How can I support my child’s learning in any scenario?
At this writing, many states and districts are beginning to share their plans for the fall, as Wisconsin has recently done. Some are proposing in-person classes with additional safety precautions, some are continuing virtual education, and some are offering hybrid models, combining in-person and virtual learning. Many states and districts are adopting a wait-and-see stance until more information is available, and of course, things are still changing as new information becomes available, and as the scenario changes.
However schools resume -- one thing is certain. Students returning to schooling will arrive with an increasing variance in their readiness for new content. Some children will be arriving fresh and eager to learn. They will not have lost educational ground, and may, in fact, have made terrific progress. They may have had the good fortune of a stable learning environment, support, and the resources and materials necessary to learn well during the pandemic. They may have discovered passions, followed their imaginations, and enjoyed the guidance of supportive adults. They may have actually been freed from the constraints of the regular classroom. Other students, unfortunately, may not have had these advantages for a wide variety of reasons. All of this will definitely exacerbate the already difficult task of teaching a wide variety of learners in traditional regular classrooms, whether face-to-face or online.
In this recent article, New Research Predicts Steep COVID Learning Losses will Widen Already Dramatic Achievement Gaps Within Classrooms, the research by Rambo-Hernandez, Makel, Peters & Plucker (2020)examines assessment data on incoming fifth-graders in 10 states, and shows that, on average, student achievement spans seven grade levels (in a given classroom during a typical school year). Additionally, every year many students experience a certain amount of “summer slide,” or a deterioration of learning while away from school during the summer. Citing research from NWEA’s Collaborative for Student Growth Research Center, Rambo-Hernandez noted that this year’s “COVID-slide” may be even more severe than the typical “summer slide”. She stated that “on average, students next fall are likely to retain about 70 percent of this year’s gains in reading and less than 50 percent in math. Losses are likely to be more pronounced in the early grades, when students normally acquire many basic skills, and among those already facing steep inequities.” Yet, the authors of the article hypothesized this as well, “However, we estimate that losing ground during the COVID-19 school closures would not be universal, with the top third of students potentially making gains in reading.” Thus, they concluded, in preparing for fall 2020, educators will likely need to consider ways to support students who are academically behind, and further differentiate instruction for students who have maintained or accelerated their learning.
Digging more deeply into the effects on COVID-19 on learning, researchers at the Annenberg Institute at Brown University made further predictions in this EdWorking paper, Projecting the potential impacts of COVID-19 school closures on academic achievement. They asserted that the effects of “COVID-19 Slide” will impact future learning outcomes. A first assertion was that, “We show that students will likely (a) not have grown as much during the truncated 2019-2020 academic year and (b) will likely lose more of those gains due to extended time out of school. However, they added that, “We found that losing ground over the summer was not universal, with the top third of students in reading making gains during a typical summer. As a result of this variability, we project that the range of students’ academic achievement will be more spread out in the fall of 2020 relative to a normal fall term, particularly in reading.” But they also offered this hopeful prediction, “Finally, we show that, although our projections are dire, our models also suggest that students who lose the most while out of school tend to gain the most the following year (at least under typical summer loss conditions). Thus, there is hope that students most impacted by the additional average achievement losses under COVID-19 may also be the ones who rebound the most by the end of the 2020-21 academic school year.”
While this news is encouraging, many of us are also concerned about future learning for our advanced learners. If they have not experienced a “COVID Slide,” then how can schools prepare for their return so that they do not waste valuable learning time? How do we further their trajectories?
First of all, teachers across grade levels must communicate. Now more than ever, teachers must be knowledgeable about the curriculum that comes both before and after their grade levels. Vertical teaming will be essential in preparing for the vast differences in learning. And then, equipped with vertical teaming knowledge, and with learner profiles, teachers must differentiate. This will require renewed professional development on how to meet the needs of gifted learners, as well as all learners. Whether teaching in-person or online, teachers must pre-test, compact or telescope already-mastered curriculum, flexibly group or cluster-group learners by readiness for content, and deliver tiered content. This could be done in a variety of ways. Students could be grouped by readiness, rather than by age or grade levels. Different teachers could teach different groups, and the groups would be flexible, targeting students’ readiness. These things could be done face-to-face, or in a virtual environment using breakout rooms, such as those in Zoom. Using “repeated rhythms” of whole group presentations, and then small group work in rooms, teaching could be more targeted to learners’ needs.
School district personnel should also agree to accelerate students who demonstrate the need. This would require assessment, but research confirms that both ability grouping and acceleration, among other strategies, can benefit advanced learners. See these articles from the Fordham Institute, Do Programs for Advanced Learners Work? and Ability Grouping and Acceleration Can Help Teachers and School Leaders for more information. If students have mastered curriculum, they must be allowed to move on.
A percentage of high ability students may also need dual enrollment options to further their learning. In this article, College Classes for HS Students Have Been Growing in Popularity. But With K-12 Schools Shuttered, COVID Is Fueling a Dual-Enrollment Boom, the 74million.org shared their findings. They asserted that, “Traditionally, high school students have turned to dual enrollment to access advanced academic classes, embark on a career path or save money on college by accumulating credits at lower cost. Research shows that earning credits in high school increases the chances that students will graduate, go on to college and attain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. But this year, with many districts still struggling to figure out how to deliver either online or in-person education, and with camp and many summer jobs largely off the table, dual enrollment also offers a welcome degree of certainty about students’ educational experience.”
Another way to meet the needs of high end learners as school resumes is with personalized or individualized learning. Though many districts and schools have been experimenting with this, now is the time to scale it up. Students can and should have more voice and choice in their learning. Students and teachers can craft learning contracts, rubrics, and performance goals. Students can follow passions and interests. Mini-lessons can be taught as students need instruction on content or skills as their research progresses. Authentic audiences can be captured, either online or in-person. Mentors can be engaged. Many gifted learners have already used the last quarter of the 19-20 school year to experiment with this kind of personalized learning. We have a lot to learn from them, so let’s include them in crafting new ways of learning.
Finally, I believe it is imperative that teachers, students, and parents collaborate to help students continually set learning goals that will stretch them. Armed with data and plentiful communication, the most meaningful learning occurs when all stakeholders share their hopes and dreams, and then roll up their sleeves to do the difficult, yet enjoyable work. We have a unique chance to redefine, refine, and recreate learning for our advanced learners. Let’s use this incredible opportunity this fall!
As always, I welcome your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
As some of you may know, I have been a SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted) national trainer and facilitator for many years. In this role, I have had the great honor of training facilitators, and working with parent groups and individual parents and educators regarding the social and emotional needs (as well as the academic needs) of gifted individuals. My training and interest has provided many opportunities to confer and coach, and, as you might imagine, there has been an uptick in concerns about the emotional health of all of us during this pandemic.
As a result, I have been researching, reading widely, listening to podcasts, and conferring with other experts regarding how to help our children (and ourselves) manage big emotions during these trying times. I hope that some of these ideas, others’ and my own, will be helpful to you.
Recently I listened to a podcast by Dr. Matt Zakreski, Clinical Psychologist, speaking for the Minnesota Council for Gifted and Talented(MCGT) that helped frame my thinking about the pandemic and gifted children. Dr. Zakreski used Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician Kazimierz Dabrowski’s Theory of Overexcitabilities and his own personal experience as a psychologist to help explain how to best interpret and manage the big emotions that many of us and our children are experiencing. You can read more about Dabrowski's Theory of Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children here.
One of the overexcitabilities that Dabrowski researched was intellectual overexcitability. Signs of this overexcitability often include a high level of curiosity, deep concentration, the capacity for sustained intellectual effort, and a wide variety of interests. Children and adults with this overexcitability tend to be avid readers. They also may consume news and media frequently in their insatiable quest for knowledge. They may ask deep and probing questions, and may be preoccupied with issues that are troubling, such as issues of morality and ethics. During this pandemic, gifted individuals are often walking the tightrope of quantity of information -- too much or too little. Care must be taken to limit informational exposure, to examine quality resources, and to provide opportunities to process, question, and discuss the news and events with safe and trusted friends and family.
Additionally, gifted children’s intellectual curiosity may be adversely affected by our necessary rapid transition into virtual learning. While traditional schooling may not have fully met the needs of gifted learners, many students and parents report that much of the virtual learning currently being offered is relatively “one size fits all,” and is not challenging enough for their learners. Many parents are realizing what their kids have been saying all along about school in general for their gifted learners. To help ameliorate this, many gifted educators recommend using this virtual school time in a way that is both stimulating and effective. They suggest having students quickly complete regular schoolwork, and then allow them to work on “genius hour” or “passion” projects. There are many fabulous examples of kids doing just that. It is great to hear about kids creating COVID-19 tracking devices, writing their first symphony, experimenting with various art forms, tracking the stock market, pursuing a hobby, taking on service projects, or creating virtual theater and musical experiences. The possibilities are endless.
Similar to intellectual overexcitabilities, Dabrowski postulated that many gifted individuals display emotional overexcitabilities. Some characteristics could include extreme emotions, including anxiety, guilt, timidity or shyness, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, heightened sense of injustice or hypocrisy, and deep concern for others, Other characteristics could include problems adjusting to change, depression, and physical responses to emotions (stomach aches caused by anxiety, for example). Psychologist Dr. Matt Zakreski suggests these ideas to help deal with intense emotions: “Don’t fight this overexcitability; instead, go with the flow. Kids (and you) are allowed to be freaked out by the way things are. You and your children are allowed to feel what you feel, but we need to figure out what to do with this emotional energy. You may want to use the phrase “that sucks” to be approachably empathetic, and to show your children that you “get it”. Help your children name troubling feelings, encourage them to tell you more about the feelings, and figure out how to use this emotional energy positively.” Dr. Zakreski also recommends that we adults learn to assess our emotions too – our frustration, fear and fatigue can allow us to be sucked into kids’ emotions, and may be non-productive for all.
Dabrowski also postulated that gifted individuals may possess sensory overexcitabilities. The primary sign of this intensity is a heightened awareness of all five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. During this period of social isolation, many people report that our worlds seem to have gotten so much smaller, and we may see an uptick in manifestation of sensory needs not being met, both in adults and children. (As an aside, I am wondering if the sudden craze of stress-baking is related to this need for sensory stimulation… Just think how many sensory needs are being met while baking or cooking). So what can we do? We can try to deliberately build in sensory experiences -- through cooking, through baking, with mud, and clay, and puddles, and playdough, to name a few. We can encourage kids to take a warm bath or shower. We can give back rubs while watching a movie. We can deliberately choose clothing that comforts. We can be cognizant of the different needs of different family members...who needs a quiet space, who needs a sensory-filled, noisy space? Who needs to go outside -- NOW!? Who needs a quiet cuddle on the couch? We need to remember that sensory needs unmet create anxious (and sometimes annoying) people.
Psychomotor overexcitability is also common in many gifted children and adults. It is characterized primarily by high levels of energy. Children with this overexcitability seem to constantly be on the move, and are sometimes misdiagnosed as having ADHD (attention deficit with hyperactivity). For more information on this, you may want to check out Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults. Even as infants, parents report that these children needed less sleep than other children. So, during this time of much confinement, how can we help these children? Experts recommend “steering into the overexcitability,” with scavenger hunts, runs, walks, exercises, running up and down stairs, bike rides, yoga, Nintendo Wii, online dance, youtube classes (martial arts, etc.). As the weather improves, simply getting outside will probably help all of us immensely.
Finally, imaginational overexcitability may be at play with you or your gifted children during this pandemic. The primary sign of this intensity is the free play of the imagination. Vivid imaginations can cause us to visualize the worst possibility in any situation.This can keep us from taking chances or getting involved in new situations. There are so many things we currently can’t control, and we all are acutely aware of this. Dr. Zakreski recommends that we don’t fight these fears. Instead, we need to admit to ourselves and to our children that grownups can’t always fix things. We need to acknowledge the worries, and move conversations into productive avenues by using statements such as these: “Tell me more, let’s problem-solve together.” We may need to teach about “catastrophizing.” and ask questions such as “How realistic is this worry? How likely is this to happen?” We may need to separate content (the things we say and hear) from the process (truly listening to the feelings behind the content). And we need to remember that our imaginations are also powerful gifts. They allow us to express our fears… and they may also help us imagine some of the best possible outcomes of our current situation. Our imaginations may be our best tool to help us plan for the future.
I hope this article has been helpful. As always, I welcome your ideas. Together we grow.
Past President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted
Have you ever wondered how much talent is out there in our world, talent that is both discovered and undiscovered, or hidden? Have you ever wondered how much innate talent grows because the seed for this talent was sown on fertile ground, received adequate nutrients, was cultivated and trained and weeded and harvested at the perfect moments? And have you ever wondered how much talent might be just waiting...waiting for discoverage and nurturing? Conversely, have you pondered how much talent may never be discovered? These are things that I often wonder about, and I believe many of you do, too.
Lately, during this era of COVID-19 I have been thinking a lot about this, and have been praying for talent to emerge and coalesce to help solve the myriad of problems associated with the pandemic. So it was with great interest that I read this article,
Want More Dr. Fauci's? Ensure That Smart Kids Get Educated, Too by Chester E. Finn, Junior, at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The article begins like this, “Amid the plague that surrounds us, essential attention is properly getting paid to the education challenges of out-of-school kids: What can their parents, their schools, and their districts do to compensate for missed classroom time and the learning loss that’s bound to occur between now and the resumption of something resembling normalcy.
Within that universal concern, there’s been special focus on the educational needs of children with disabilities and those who were already lagging before their schools closed. All necessary, all important, all good.
Yet the plague also highlights—albeit indirectly—another set of students that’s so far receiving no special attention that I can spot: gifted and talented youngsters and their need for acceleration, enrichment and advancement designed to make the most of their abilities.”
Finn goes on to describe all of the gifted individuals that will need to be at the table to help us through this crisis, and others to come. He stresses the importance of finding this talent everywhere -- “it’s today’s smart kids from every sort of background who are by far the strongest candidates to play those roles tomorrow. But will they—enough of them, from across enough of the demographic and socioeconomic boards—be well-prepared to succeed in those roles with the levels of expertise, knowledge, and skills to generate the breakthroughs that we’ll need?”
And then Finn suggests something that really made me think. He suggests that this pandemic has highlighted the immense need to grow talent in kids from all walks of life, and this made me think about this moment in time as it relates to talent development.
Here are some of my thoughts: What if this pandemic is actually a gift to gifted learners? What if today’s complete disruption of education as we know it provides exactly the kind of fertile ground that we need to cultivate the tinkerers, the thinkers, and the leaders that we will need tomorrow? What if time spent during this “safer at home” period allows students time to find or follow a passion? What if this gift of time unites some students who are pursuing the same dreams? What if today’s leaders inspire a young dreamer? What if some adult mentors find these students and begin a life-long collaboration? What if a creative, out-of-the-box thinker begins a life-long passion project? What if our newfound ways to collaborate virtually build a network of young thinkers and dreamers and creators -- kids who can create anytime, anywhere, locally and globally? What if taking the structure out of schooling actually encourages students everywhere to experience the joys (and challenges) of unschooling? What if??? What if??? What if??? The possibilities are endless.
Although it is very difficult for me to think of this global crisis as having positive fallout, I believe eventually we will all find some silver linings, and perhaps new and mind-blowing opportunities for gifted learners will be one of them. My hope is that we are planting the seeds and providing the conditions for them to grow. I look forward to watching them grow and bear fruit, or flowers, or vegetables -- or amazing discoveries.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have had to adjust rapidly to a vastly different reality of how we provide schooling to our students. With little time and little preparation, and much dedication, worry, and creativity, educators are “flying the plane as we build it.” A major disruption has forced a major rethinking, and a retooling of educators and education.
While it is true that some tinkering has been done around the edges of education (think 21st Century Skills, project based learning, challenge based learning, personalized learning, online, virtual, and blended learning, maker space, genius hour), there has been little call for a dramatic revamping of education until recently. And yet some of us have been pondering what this bold new frontier might look like.
In this Teach Thought article, The Inside-Out School: A 21st Century Learning Modelauthor Terry Heick gave an interesting glimpse into what this new frontier might look like, and what we will have to do to prepare for it, communicate about it, deliver it, foster habits of mind around it, ponder it, and evaluate it. The Inside-Out Learning Model is based on the works of many educational thought leaders: the work of Lave (Situational Learning Theory), Bruner (Discovery Learning), Holmes (Communal Constructivism), Vygotsky (Zone of Proximal Development & More Knowledgeable Other), Kolb (Learning Cycle), Thorndike, Perkins and Wiggins (Transfer), Costa and Kallick (Habits of Mind), Paulo Freire, and the complete body of work by Wendell Berry.
The article begins by talking about learning activators, and considers things such as “project-based learning, play -- both directed and non-directed, video games and learning simulations, mentoring, and an examination of academic practices.” There has been much discussion in academic circles about all of these activators, and many of us in gifted education have participated in these discussions, and have tried many of these options, as we try to understand motivation and engagement in our unique students.
The article then moves into the area of changing habits, and this delves into some of the habits of mind that are necessary for effective education, whether traditional or novel. According to the author, we need to consider these things: to “fertilize innovation & design, acknowledge limits and scale, reflect on interdependence, honor uncertainty, curate legacy, support systems-level and divergent thinking, reward increment, and require versatility in the face of change.” Those of us who work in the field of gifted education have wrestled with many of these habits of mind as we try to change educational systems for our often non-traditional learners, and instill productive mindsets into these learners.
The third area that is highlighted is the necessity for transparency. Teaching in new ways will require us to be transparent between communities, learners, and schools. The author suggests that we will need to “make learning standards, outcomes, project rubrics, and performance criteria persistently visible, accessible, and communally constructed. Gamification and publishing may replace grades.” In the last several decades, many schools have begun considering these factors as they move toward new ways of constructing curriculum, learning outcomes, and measurements of learning. New ways of teaching require new ways of assessment, and I have seen many of us in gifted education tinker with new ways of assessment .
The fourth area to be developed is self-initiated transfer. The author describes this as “applying old thinking in constantly changing and unfamiliar circumstances as constant matter of practice, constant practice of prioritizing big ideas in increasing complexity within learner Zone of Proximal Development, and project-based learning, blended learning, and Place-Based Education made available to facilitate highly-constructivist approach.” As a gifted and talented educator, I find this area most promising. All learners, including gifted learners, benefit greatly when they are challenged at their level of understanding, and are encouraged to transfer and apply their current learning to new learning.
The fifth area addresses mentoring and the community. Promising practices in this area include “accountability via the performance of project-based ideas in authentic local and global environments, local action linked to global citizenship, active mentoring via physical and digital networking, apprenticeships, job shadows and study tours, and communal constructivism, meta-cognition, cognitive coaching, and cognitive apprenticeship among available tools.” While many schools have made forays into this kind of support from the community, a full scale-up will require much more commitment from everyone, and the payoff will be worth it.
Because education will be changing, the roles of everyone will change. Here are some ways that the author cites, “Learners will become knowledge makers, teachers will be experts of assessment and resources, classrooms will become think-tanks, communities will become not just audiences, but vested participants, and families will serve as designers, curators, and content resources.” As I think about the magnitude of this kind of change, it becomes apparent that schools will be teaching whole communities of learners about new ways of learning. This will prove to be a monumental task! My experience has shown that, while teachers and administrators and sometimes school boards understand the need for change, parents and community members need extra support in this transition. This is not the way they remember school!
New learning will necessitate new ways of assessment for and of learning.The author suggests these shifts that will need to be made: “Constant minor assessments will replace exams, data streams will inform progress and suggest pathways, academic standards will be prioritized, and products, simulation performance, and self-knowledge will delegate academia to a new role of refinement of thought.” While I have seen progress on some of these fronts in recent years, we still have a long way to go.
The next area that the author tackles is thought and abstraction. He states that, “In this model, struggle and abstraction are expected outcomes of increasing complexity & real-world uncertainty. This uncertainty is honored, and complexity and cognitive patience are constantly modeled and revered. Abstraction honors not just art, philosophy, and other humanities, but the uncertain, incomplete and subjective nature of knowledge.” Again, I feel that this change will be wonder-full for gifted students. So often they are the wonderers, the thinkers, and the tinkerers, and are intrigued by ambiguity. This shift in the educational paradigm may free our creative kids to dream and actuate.
Finally, the author states, this educational shift will expand literacies…it will encourage learners to “analyze, evaluate, and synthesize credible information, promote a critical survey of interdependence of media and thought, encourage a consumption of constantly evolving media forms, promote media design for authentic purposes, require self-monitoring sources of digital and non-digital data, and facilitate artistic and useful content curation patterns.” It seems to me that this is the kind of thinking that many adults use everyday in their lives and their work. When our young learners begin to build these educational habits, they are preparing for their futures.
At this point in time, I have no idea where the current disruption of learning will lead. I hope that many of the predictions in this article will come true for all learners. I know that many of them will be highly welcomed by our gifted learners.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President
WI Association for Talented and Gifted
If you are like me, you may often be drawn to articles that talk about intelligence, and how it affects our daily lives. If you are like me, you may often wonder about the qualities that will help our children be most successful (in many ways) as they navigate life, and you think about how to instill these qualities in the children in your care. And, if you are like me, you may be skeptical about some of the things you read; conversely, you may also feel a certain affinity with the thoughts proposed by some. Finally, if you are like me, pondering these things occupies quite a bit of bandwidth in your mind as you search for ways to put the research to use with gifted kids and their families and educators...
So keeping all of this in mind, it was with great curiosity that I approached this article, If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich? by Faye Flam in the Bloomberg Opinion on Economics. Basically the article asserts that “new research suggests that personality has a larger effect on success than IQ.” The article begins with the assertion that science doesn’t have a definitive answer (why IQ plays such a minor role in success), although luck certainly plays a role. But another key factor is personality, or personality traits, according to a paper that economist James Heckman co-authored in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Heckman found that “financial success was correlated with conscientiousness, a personality trait marked by diligence, perseverance and self-discipline.” Furthermore, the article explains, “The study found that grades and achievement-test results were markedly better predictors of adult success than raw IQ scores. That might seem surprising -- after all, don’t they all measure the same thing? Not quite. Grades reflect not just intelligence but also what Heckman calls ‘non-cognitive skills,’ such as perseverance, good study habits and the ability to collaborate -- in other words, conscientiousness. To a lesser extent, the same is true of test scores. Personality counts.”
Additionally, John Eric Humphries, the co-author of the paper, says, “he hoped their work could help clarify the complicated, often misunderstood notion of ability. Even IQ tests, which were designed to assess innate problem-solving capabilities, appear to measure more than just smarts.” He, too, attributes diligence and effort with success.
So what does this mean for those of us who live with and work with gifted kids? How do we recognize their intelligence, AND provide instruction and guidance that will ensure success? Here are some tips that I believe may aid us in this quest:
Above all, I’ve often thought that the biggest gift we can give our gifted kids is to encourage them to “do good life, not just good school.” The benefits of a good life are long lasting and deeply satisfying.
As always, I welcome your thoughts. Together we grow.
Past President, WATG
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think