Ask many children whether they would rather do art or math, art or writing, art or whatever, and most likely they will answer art. Have you ever wondered why this is?
As people of world cultures, we are still discovering and studying art on cave walls, carved bones, petroglyphs, and pottery. Humankind has been making art since the dawn of humankind. Why is this?
And how does art fit into the world of giftedness?
When I speak of art, I am including all art forms: visual arts, dance, video, music, the written arts (like poetry or rap), etc.
Art has taken a backseat to academic skills over the last 15-20 years in our schools. The main reason seems to be this -- while many academic skills can be fit into a continuum that can be tested, scored and used to compare one student to another, one school to another, one state to another, or one culture to another, art cannot be quantitatively measured. There are so many characteristics of art that there is no easy way to pin art down and say, “This is art. This isn’t.” “This is good art. This is excellent art.” Therefore, if there is any art in a school, it is usually minimal, comes “after” the “regular” curriculum, if there is time in the schedule. Testing rules.
I propose a novel idea -- that art should not be an add-on to the curriculum, but should be the center of the curriculum, with all other subjects rotating around it, or linked to it. If you Google art and education on the internet, you will find a wealth of studies and articles showing what art does for learning! Art is used in so many ways -- as representation or recording of events, as a way of storytelling, in interpretation of something, as an emotional or energy release, as creativity itself, in synthesis of ideas, as a way of resisting or rebelling, in transforming, in the design of things that we use in living our lives. And, above all, making art just feels good!
We are always studying the arts of previous and present-day cultures to learn what people were/are like. How did they live? What did they do in daily life? What was important to them? Why/how did they perish/disappear? The purpose of studying a culture’s arts is several: representation or recording art from a culture shows what things a people did in their daily lives (e.g., pictures of people fishing in a boat). Pictures of daily life can act as storytelling (e.g., first they took the boat out, then they caught a fish, and by bringing the fish back, they fed many people). Art can encourage us to interpret (e.g., this was a very basic way to make a living, and this was the way this culture fed their people). Children often use the components of dance or interpretation naturally as they tell stories or act out life events for themselves, their friends, or a gathered family audience. Gifted students, like all others, can use the arts to express what they have learned in a similar way, rather than filling out a test, or doing writing which may be difficult for them. Many children remark that the arts free them to express themselves without boundaries.
Many educators and students have found another important use for art as interpretation. Studies have shown that students drawing, doodling, or making sketches of what they are learning/listening to allows them to use multiple areas of their brains, leading to greater learning and understanding. This has been shown to be especially true for economically poorer students. Studies of students drawing or sketching while learning show that their learning was far superior to those just writing notes or just listening. The studies of students who use the arts in their learning also show that the arts give them greater focus/concentration, better use and learning of language(s), more self-control, better behavior, and greater empathy towards others. Additionally, studies of learning linking music to cognitive skills is also highly predictive of success in school and life.
Allowing gifted students to regularly practice an art form along with their academics has several other important outcomes. For many students, art is an emotional or energy release. Many gifted students are blessed with an abundance of energy, creative and physical. Allowing them to participate in an art form allows these students a release of this energy, so that they can better concentrate on academic matters.
Since art is also a creative process, it can allow escape from “reality,” at least temporarily. Bill Waterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoons are perfect examples of this phenomenon. This temporary escape from reality allows ideas to pour out, to be put down on paper, to be interpreted, and sometimes presented for the world to enjoy. Alternatively, sometimes people simply “do” art for art’s sake, for the pleasure of it.
The Arts can also allow for synthesis of ideas that perhaps could not be expressed or brought to the surface in any other way. Sometimes students cannot express in a few words what can be acted out or drawn. Maybe after acting out or drawing a student can then express what their thoughts are. Art can be the expression of thoughts, but in a different (and sometimes safer) way.
The arts can also allow for resistance or rebellion to be expressed in a safe way. Artists have been doing this for years! Go to any museum of the arts and see the paintings and sculptures that were created by great artists who were rebelling against kings, governments, or the aristocracy. Look at all the contemporary tagging and graffiti painted on walls and train cars around our cities. Listen to the music of the oppressed. This expression has purpose! The arts allow expression through painting, dancing, singing, or building something. The arts celebrate human emotion!
The Arts can also be transformative. Many students in school have endured the academics required of them just so they could do drawing or dance or engage in some other artform. Only after considerable time has passed will these students realize that they aren’t just enduring the academics anymore, but that there is actual enjoyment in some or all of their studies! Art can change people.
Of course, art is used to design things. Without some way of expressing new ideas, the things we use in daily life, from the clothes we wear to the car we drive, wouldn’t change. Life would not improve, and cultures would not evolve. Invention and design are hallmarks of thriving cultures, and students instinctively understand this. Humans are wired for novelty and exploration.
Finally, making art should be encouraged simply because it feels good. Whether students draw or dance or write imaginary stories, they can be encouraged to “just do” some form of art simply for the sake of doing it. Again, studies have shown that completing something of personal consequence just for ourselves gives us a great feeling of satisfaction. This is because doing so releases dopamine, our body’s natural hormone, giving us a natural “high.” A closing thought - how much better would our world be if all of our “highs” were derived from the arts?
Dal Drummer, WATG Board Advisor
Former Artistic Director of the Lincoln Center for the Arts, Milwaukee Public Schools
WATG Board Member, Conference Co-Chair
As an Instructional Coach who is also the Gifted and Talented Coordinator in my district, I often spend the weekends working on developing support systems for teachers. This weekend, I was creating a resource for assessment questions that encourage critical thinking based off of Diane Heacox and Richard Cash’s Differentiation for Gifted Learners: Going Beyond the Basics. (This invaluable book is a MUST have for all teachers!) The idea is that we need to allow students to take information they have learned and manipulate it in such a way that is beneficial to building skills, instead of allowing only simple regurgitation. Here is a sample of my resource:
These types of questions on assessments allow all students to manipulate information, but it is the gifted students who thrive on these questions. Too many times, gifted students do not feel challenged in school and are just waiting/begging for something or someone to kickstart their brain. As teachers use these types of questions on their assessments, they will see student responses blossom.
My mind is racing. Will the teachers incorporate this? Will they find it helpful? Burdensome? What if they don’t know how to incorporate it in their subject? By constructing this resource, something popped in my mind from January 19, 2020 on Edutopia.
And then I realized it’s just that simple. “What else do you know that I didn’t ask you?” This question is for the kids who excitedly ran home to Google topics learned in school, for those who crave more than we can teach within the confines of schedules, for those who love to delve deep into a topic, for those who can make connections to the topic we teach in such ways that we haven’t even realized yet. So, please...consider adding this question to the end of every test. It may not be a conversation/essay starter for many students, but what if it is for that one? It may open up doors for them you haven’t anticipated.
By Stacy Sweetalla, WATG Board
As we approach a new year, most people are setting personal goals. This is a great opportunity to teach your child how to set goals for themselves, as well as how to monitor and review the goals they set. Richard Cash states, “When working with students, what’s most important in the goal-setting process is the level of commitment the student has toward the goal.” Goals needs to be relevant to students’ lives, including their academic level (Cash 2018). By setting goals, students “…tend to be more self-energized, motivated, and directed toward being successful. With each goal attainment, students develop greater self-efficacy and confidence” (Cash 2018).
Richard Cash suggests not just setting a SMART goal, but setting a SMARTS/S goal. This additional “S” or “Strategies to Success” helps students plan HOW to achieve their goals, and would be something great to teach gifted children at a young age! In case you are not familiar with the basic SMART goal framework, we will go over what each of the letters mean:
The S/S in SMARTS/S stands for Strategies to Success. It is important that children know what strategies to use in order to help them gain success. “Typically, young gifted students learn strategies quickly, without a great deal of repetition or practice” (Cash 2018). Therefore, it is important that we teach children how to refine different strategies to work in a variety of situations, as well as how to use multiple strategies to find one that works best. This can especially help children when they encounter a more complex task as they get older.
So, remember, when you go to create a goal with your gifted child this New Years, stick with the SMARTS/S goal framework. Help the child see and understand the steps to not only making goals, but also accomplishing them.
Reference: Cash, Richard M. “SMART Goals for Gifted Students.” Free Spirit Publishing Blog, 4 Jan. 2018, https://freespiritpublishingblog.com/2018/01/04/smart-goals-for-gifted-students/.
Our board and the audience had some fun at our Fall 2019 WATG conference when we sang (a new version to) the old folk song Big Rock Candy Mountain. This was a favorite song of mine growing up, with the words and melody conjuring up a magical place… a place that any child might beg to go! It hit me that gifted children might be looking (begging) for a similar magical place where their needs are met. I asked my daughter if she would rewrite the song to reflect what the that mountain top might look like for gifted children. Please try not to think of it as a “mountain” that is difficult to climb, where reaching the summit is impossible. Rather, think of it as a place that we should all be striving to reach… a continuous movement of one foot in front of the other. Just think of the fun of doing this together with a common goal in mind! That’s almost as much fun as an impromptu folk band jamming at the fall conference!
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain- (Gifted Style)
One evening as the sun went down
And the summer fire was burning
Down the path came along a dream
And it said, I’m not leaving
Until there’s a land not far away
In which giftedness is counted
So come with me, we’ll go and see,
The Big Rock Candy Mountains
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains,
there’s a land that’s fair and bright
Where parents, kids, and teachers
don’t ever have to fight
about curriculums or funding
Because everyone agrees.
About grades and tests
And which is best,
And what should count
It all works out
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains,
The whole world has been trained
and the needs of gifted brains
And every student’s needs are met
Without exacting pain
You can learn at a pace
That makes sense for your place
Is rightly viewed
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains.
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain
You’re never shamed or shunned
For having quirks and tendencies
At which other kids poke fun
Learning has no boundaries
So the rules are flexible
You can wiggle and grove
When you need to move
You need to think
or have a point to prove
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains.
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains
Group projects can be fun
Everyone does all the work,
It’s not left to only one
Dropout rates all disappear
They need to see our kids
Hear them too,
Teach them all
With a challenge or two
In The Big Rock Candy Mountains
I’ll see you all, Yes, I’ll see you all!
In schools throughout Wisconsin!
Gifted text by Hannah Schmit
(Original text and tune by Harry McClintock)
Mary Budde, WATG Treasurer and Board Member
As parents, we fully throw ourselves into the most important role we will ever have--raising our children through the years, teaching social skills, nurturing emotional needs and promoting educational growth. For those of us in the GT world, the constant quest for appropriate educational challenges is something which has, at times, consumed us. We feel the struggles of our children, and celebrate their successes along the way. We advocate for them, and we ultimately teach them to advocate for themselves, so that they are prepared to embark on adulthood.
Sounds like I’ve had it under control, right?
Not entirely. As much as I thought I was prepared for dropping off our son at college five hours from home, I was less than calm in the days leading up to it. I was sure I had forgotten a whole bunch of things that at some point I had thought he had to take along. There must be some form we forgot to complete. We didn’t test the refrigerator to see if it worked before packing it. And on and on and on …
I did manage, though, to keep most of that turmoil inside by focusing on staying present. I didn’t want to add to anyone else’s stress, especially our son’s, nor did I want to miss any moments before he left. For his part, he was, at least outwardly, confident and ready to attend a college all of us thought was a perfect fit for him. So, we packed up the van and headed out on Moving Day.
And you know what? We were all fine. We didn’t forget anything critical. He has found the local stores, in addition to Amazon, for the few things he needed that he didn’t have. He enjoyed the first month of school even more than he hoped he would and is thriving on the academic work. He and his roommate (whom he first met in person on Moving Day) get along. He has the beginnings of lots of new friendships. It won’t all be idyllic, but a good start is worth a lot.
Above all else, we want our children to be happy in every aspect of their lives; sometimes that means we have to let them experience on their own and risk less-than-great situations. We have to trust that while we may not have done it perfectly, we did our best to prepare them for whatever the next stage of life brings.
I can’t wait to have him home at Thanksgiving. After all, I am still his mom.
Did you know that the plural form of octopus is octopodes? Yup, octopodes. (pron. ok-TOP-uh-deez) Who knows this stuff? Better question, why do I know this stuff?!? I’m not a marine biologist (though I do have goldfish) or some kind of grammarian. Nope, none of that. I learned this from my then-11-year-old daughter when I (incorrectly) used the term octopi.
Apparently you can’t put a Latin suffix on a Greek root. Sigh. I took a vacation to Washington DC with my daughter when she was going through an architecture phase. Specifically, an architectural columns phase. That was a long trip. I have to say, I never dreamed that there could be so many columns of so many styles in one city and I swear that every single one of them was pointed out to me and explained in detail!
I am a mom of gifted kids. And as a gifted kids’ mom I am privy to all kinds of random knowledge and facts. This is just everyday life for us.
So where am I going with this and why do you care? Well, because over the years I have heard many parents share how much they have learned from their children about parenting, themselves, and the world around them. How blessed are we that we get to learn all of that AND the random trivia! Add to that a side of intensity and a dash of asynchronous development and now we’re really having fun! It can feel lonely here in the trenches of gifted parenting. That is why I am so excited about WATG’s upcoming conference. With parent sessions where we can connect, support, and laugh with one another, I walk away feeling refreshed and not so alone in this adventure we call parenting. Come and join us for a day or two! I truly hope to see you there! -And I promise not to point out the columns or correct your grammar.
WATG Board Member
While the official title of the SENG, 2019 conference was "Exploring New Frontiers," a more apt title could have been "Gifted: Equity, Quality, and Life." The constant themes of the presentations centered on the fact that giftedness exists and talented people need services, equity includes giftedness, and giftedness does not end at grade 12. Attending the keynotes and various workshops each day, strengthened the resolve to continue advocating for this diverse population.
The conference began with the keynote, "On A Mission to Advocate for Underserved Gifted Students." Dr. Esquierdo spoke about the importance of building the assets and challenging misconceptions since "gifted children exist in countries that don't speak English." It is crucial, to begin with, an understanding of heritage and what the student brings into the classroom. She pointed out that we, parents, educators, and advocates, must understand that children know their abilities; it is up to us to teach who they are now and push them to become their best selves.
Equity encompasses all children, including those with exceptional giftedness. More than an IQ score, the critical issue that differentiates moderate, high, and profoundly gifted centers around the discrepancy between mental and chronological age. Dr. Kane observed that while profound giftedness is a statistical rarity in the population, affecting all aspects of the individual's development, it is becoming more common. Significant challenges faced by these children include lack of peers, placing a lot of "stock" into their giftedness, and not knowing what to do when something gets hard. Strategies to help profoundly gifted children include finding mentors, acknowledge their worries, and help them develop a sense of agency, promote both/and vs. either/or thinking.
The development of an asset model approach to the identification requires building innate student abilities. I presented research on the importance of art education for underrepresented gifted and talented youth. The science of poverty is shocking; empirical research confirms that poverty adversely affects the cognitive abilities of all people, severely impacts children's brain development, and creates adverse health outcomes. Along with these sobering findings, research confirmed that art education supports students from Low-Economic Status and minority enclave communities. Providing the arts does more than offer a special treat for children; it helps build fine motor skills, perseverance, and abstract thinking.
Equity extends to the social-emotional needs of gifted populations. Mr. Hess stated that asking gifted children to "act normal' is highly insensitive; they are "acting normal." Normal, after all, is a highly subjective word. Dr. Gato-Walden explained that the higher a person's level of giftedness, the higher their worry meter. One reason for this problem? Gifted, 2e and Highly Gifted people tend to live in their heads and being smart, they have a hard time letting go of their beliefs. Co-presenters Ms. Harlow and Mr. Hunt explained that anxiety and giftedness are related characteristics. Helping children grow into their cognitive and problem-solving includes strategies such as realistic goal setting, participating in real-life problem-solving activities, and providing parameters for them to follow both in the home and at school.
Twice-exceptional (2e) children are diverse, and many mask their exceptionality because their giftedness compensates for the needs. Dr. Sanguras shared research confirming that the development of grit influences performance, self-discipline, life satisfaction, and happiness, all traits that impact life long-term. Dr. and Mrs. Postma focused on the challenges faced by 2e kids and the importance of building system capacity to serve these students. Ms. Brown shared that misidentification leads to frustrations in life-long success. As advocates, parents, and educators, it is essential for us to understand our children, to identify early, and develop safe zones for them to be themselves.
Raising and advocating for gifted children requires acceptance of who we are. Ms. Merrill, the second keynote speaker, focused on the importance of developing an adult superpower toolkit. She explained that parents of GT kids never know where this ride will take them, or what others, well-meaning and otherwise, will throw at them. Strategies that help parents include recognizing the infinite patience and constant vigilance it takes to deal with the overexcitabilities of their children. She recommended fostering radical self-forgiveness and perspective; parents (educators and advocates) do the best they can with the information they have in front of them at that time.