Last year, the WATG Board chose the theme “Hands On - Minds On” for our annual fall conference. Little did we know how prescient that choice was to be!
As 2020 has unfolded, we began to realize that this year was going to be a “Hands On - Minds On” year, now more than ever, and so we amended our conference’s theme to be “Hands On - Minds On: Now More Than Ever!” More than that, we amended so many ways that we do things as a board.
Now more than ever, we as a board are meeting virtually and often, and have many, many projects in the works which require many minds and many hands. Let us share some of our highlights.
As many of you probably know, our conference will be October 18-20, and will be presented virtually. This has required much new learning, and we are all growing because of it. The behind-the-scenes work of a virtual conference has stretched board members and our amazing executive assistant to collaborate in ways that are new and exciting. We will be offering two thought-provoking keynote addresses: Dr. Marcia Gentry will speak on “Equity in Wisconsin” and will address our state reports cards concerning access and equity in gifted identification and programming. Dr. Brian Housand’s keynote address is entitled “Where Do We Go From Here? Charting the Course Ahead for Gifted Education,” and he will focus on identifying some of gifted education’s greatest challenges and re-examine them as opportunities for growth. Complementing these thought-provoking keynote addresses will be a myriad of outstanding breakout sessions, chat opportunities, a lobby, exhibitors’ presentations, a zoom “unconference, social get-together,” a zoom facilitated parent discussion room, a teen conference, and many other surprises. This is going to be a premiere conference like no other! Registration information will be announced very soon, so stay tuned and plan to join us.
While our Programming Committee has been exceptionally busy, other committees have been equally engaged in “Hands On - Minds On” work.
Our Legislative and Government Action Committee has been closely following developments in the state and national arenas, and is poised to act when the timing is right. We maintain informational and working relationships with legislators on issues that pertain to gifted education, and look for your help when we mobilize for action.
Our Membership Committee has been developing a comprehensive list of potential members, partners and supporters of gifted education in Wisconsin, and is in contact with them, growing relationships and suggesting ways that we can help each other during these new and challenging times. If you have ideas for potential collaborations, please contact us with your suggestions.
Our Acceleration Team has recently finished an extremely comprehensive report entitled “Advanced Learning and Accelerated Learning in Wisconsin: Moving Wisconsin Students FORWARD.” This report reflects several years of hard work by a highly dedicated team, and will be made public during the first week of August. You will want to check the WATG website, watg.org, to examine this report. Plans are being made to disseminate the report, present findings at various gatherings, and organize future informational sessions. Again, stay tuned!
WATG board members have also been highly active in many other arenas. We have been engaged with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and the WI Gifted and Talented Consultant, Mark Schwingle, on zoom meetings to discuss the “Education Forward: Reopening Wisconsin’s Schools” report. We are especially pleased to see that gifted education has been showcased in this report. See pages 77-79 for the specific recommendations.
Additionally, board members have been active and presenting at various conferences, workshops, and webinars locally and nationally. Some of these include WPEN (the Wisconsin Public Education Network), SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted), and NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) Affiliate and Leadership workshops.
An upcoming webinar entitled “Meeting the Needs of Gifted Children in Your Classroom” will be presented by WATG board advisor Jackie Drummer on August 18, 7:30-8:30pm. Jackie brings decades of work as a gifted coordinator and differentiation specialist to this presentation. Registration details are available at Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted.
Finally, WATG Board members remain committed to serving the needs of our constituents on a daily basis. We often field calls for information and support. We do our best to act as “conduit” between our constituents and solutions that fit their needs. As you might imagine, we have had many conversations lately!
All of the work of the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted is possible because dedicated volunteers share their brilliant minds and their serving hands. We welcome new board members, and others who want to partner with us for short-term or long-term projects. Again, contact us at watg.org. Now, MORE THAN EVER, the time is right to volunteer to make a difference for gifted learners in our state!
As current events surrounding racial justice unfolded in our nation, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted Board of Directors, on June 5, 2020, united with this public statement: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” (Maya Angelou). “As our nation faces the grave consequences of long standing and systemic racism, The Wisconsin Association for Talented and gifted remains committed to equity and justice for all. As an organization, we are cognizant of the inequities in identification and educational programming for gifted students of color. As always, we are dedicated to examining and rectifying these discrepancies. We pledge to do our part to dismantle structural and institutional racism. We invite partnerships with other institutions, groups, and individuals to share conversations about the impacts of race, and will work to listen, learn, and support each other in this critical process of changing our world.”
As an affiliate of NAGC.org, the National Association for Gifted Children, the Board of Directors of WATG supports their public statement, NAGC Denounces Racism and Stands for Social Justice, and mirrors their call for action: “We must do our part to confront systemic and institutional racism. Action is being taken now on collecting and developing resources that address the issues of racism and racial injustice for gifted students. Plans are also being developed with the Board of Directors on additional actions NAGC can take to further address issues of social justice, underserved populations, and supporting Black gifted students and scholars.“
In both vision and mission, WATG and NAGC share common goals, shared vision and shared mission. However, now the time has come to support our words with action, and WATG is committed to shared further action.
To give you an idea of some of the steps WATG has taken in the past, and some recommendations for the present and future, please refer to our,NEWS FROM THE BOARD article of December 2019 entitled “Equity and Excellence.” As a Board, we recognize that our work is ongoing, and will never be completely done. We are grateful for the opportunity to grow. Here are some of the steps that we are committed to taking in the present and future to help us grow:
First, WATG continues to take deliberate steps to share resources that address the issues of racism and racial injustice. During the month of June, on our Facebook page, we shared lists of resources to encourage conversations about these topics. Here are some of the links:
Books to Help Kids Talk About Racism,
20 Picture Books for 2020: Readings to Embrace Race, Provide Solace & Do Good
We also suggested, for adults, resources to begin discussions about race, racism, and social justice. Some of the resources featured included:
Stamped From the Beginning,
How to Be an Anti-Racist,
White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,
Just Mercy, and
Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century
While we realize that there are many more resources specifically targeting the conversations around gifted individuals and social justice, these resources offer ways to encourage the critical and difficult conversations that underpin the work that must be done. We will continue to share resources that support doing our part in gifted education, and we invite you to do the same. If something moves you and speaks to your heart, please share it with us. If some research becomes available, if some injustice is uncovered, if some group or individual exemplifies best practice in social justice, please share it with us. We are called to act together.
At this writing, we at WATG are currently in the process of planning our Annual Fall Conference, though this year it will be a virtual conference offered on October 19th and 20th, 2020. Our theme this year is, “Hands On, Minds On: Now More Than Ever,” and our keynote speakers are Dr. Marcia Gentry and Dr. Brian Housand. Dr. Gentry’s keynote, “Equity in Wisconsin” will address our state report cards concerning access, equity, and “missingness” in gifted education. Her findings are timely, important, and matter to students from underserved groups and their educators. Dr. Housand’s keynote, “Where Do We Go From Here? Charting the Course Ahead for Gifted Education” will identify some of gifted education’s greatest challenges, and reexamine them as opportunities for growth. He will explore a roadmap of ways to reverse the long history of underrepresented populations in gifted programs, outline strategies for developing more critical consumers of information and media, and develop meaningful learning experiences designed to challenge gifted students in a variety of learning environments. We are currently finalizing our lineup of breakout sessions, some of which will address racism and injustice in gifted education, so expect much food for thought, and much opportunity for action. Our goal is to stimulate and activate our conference attendees!
Finally, as we at WATG further our mission to raise public awareness about the unique needs of gifted individuals, we vow to remain vigilant in pursuing social justice for all so that our work reflects sensitivity, passion, and commitment. We welcome your help, your calling us to task, your commitment to having difficult conversations, and your willingness to support us in our efforts. We welcome learning and growing together, for it’s only when we share vision, mission, and action that real and lasting change happens.
The “indefinite present” moment that we are currently experiencing during this pandemic has certainly given us more time and space to read, and ponder, think, and plan. It is often during these times of paused reflection that we can analyze some of the best ideas emerging from the great thinkers in our world, and generate ideas and plans for the future. This is true for individuals as well as for organizations.
A recent lengthy report in the newsletter from the World Gifted Organization has given us much to think about. The article, entitled Delegate Discourse, contains a brief synopsis of current issues, plans, and best future thinking of 23 countries in the realm of gifted education. These countries include Algeria, Australia, Canada, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
While all of these countries are in different places in the development of gifted and talented research and programming, all are committed to serving the needs of high end learners. Here are some of the highlights from some of the countries:
Algeria reported that “attention to research (about gifted and talented students) has increased...The Algerian Association for the Gifted and Talented has also been advocating for the gifted by preparing a guide for the association, conducting radio and television interviews, and using the written press.”
Along with reports from various gifted associations around their country, Australian delegates reported that “State and territory education ministers have recently agreed on a revised national declaration on education goals for young Australians (2019). These goals are (1) The Australian education system will promote excellence and equity (2) All young Australians will become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community.”
Canadian delegates reported these emerging and ongoing issues: “Historical underprovision for First Nations (indigenous) learners also includes gifted students in this population who are also much less likely to be identified than non-First Nations gifted students; this problem is receiving increased attention across the nation. Gifted learners are part of the Special Education array, but teacher pre- and post-certification courses tend strongly to focus on the other areas of special education such as autism, learning disabilities, and mental health/behavioral canada World Gifted newsletter May 2020 page 10 issues. As a result, new teachers receive very little preparation and develop little understanding of the needs of gifted learners. Therefore, they often fail to recognize gifted students in classrooms. If they do become aware of these learners, their repertoire of responses is very limited in comparison to the strategies for other special needs students. Increasingly, parents are raising issues of inappropriate responses from schools regarding their gifted children, and their interest in establishing parent advocacy groups is growing. Interest is also growing in advocating for giftedness as an area of increased emphasis in teacher education programs. Additionally, there are signs of growing interest and activity among researchers, teachers, and parents in two areas with respect to gifted learners: social emotional development, and effective responses to support complex twice-exceptional learners.”
Delegates from the Czech Republic shared some of the current frustration with programming for gifted students in their country with these words: “Of course, there are a number of public schools that are of high quality despite the current problems. However, the number of applicants for admission to these schools significantly exceeds their capacity. Therefore, many parents who want to provide quality education to their children create private schools. This situation is unfavorable for those gifted children who do not have the opportunity to attend a school capable of working with them.”
Though the delegate from Denmark spoke highly of many services for gifted students, he also expressed this concern, “Just before Christmas, the new Social Democratic government, elected in June 2019, sent a sad message for the gifted and talented in Denmark when it announced that the 65 million Danish Crowns allocated for talent projects and research in Denmark will be taken away from talent funding and instead used to lift the general educational system. Many students, professionals, and parents have expressed concern that gifted students will be lost in an egalitarian political system where we are perceived as all being the same. We will have to think creatively in the future.”
Germany’s delegate focused on many facets of the German educational system, but closed with these words, “ Some states (in Germany) have no figures at all on grade skipping, the most common form of acceleration, and have never had them, let alone on any other form of acceleration. There is very little teacher training on it, so few teachers and schools know how to select, prepare, and support children for whom this form of education is the best option. Therefore, it is no surprise that it sometimes goes wrong, leading teachers to assume that ‘acceleration is no good.’” Acceleration will be a focus in German gifted education.
Hong Kong highlighted their ongoing project entitled GIFT (Giftedness Into Flourishing Talents). According to the reporting delegate, “The project has had an impact on the Hong Kong community and the field of gifted education through building the capacity of educators to enhance the strengths of all students and, in particular, to identify and nurture students with giftedness and talents. The fundamental principles underpinning the project are to enable students to understand their own interests and strengths, develop their gifts and talents to actualize their potential, and empower parents to understand the characteristics and needs of their gifted children and provide appropriate support. The project also has a focus on developing evidence-based assessment and intervention programs and practices, together with curriculum and learning resources for school-based implementation.”
Israel reported focusing on these things: Teachers’ Professional Development Program, learning about the needs of gifted students in the regular classroom, meeting students’ social needs, and promoting teachers’ pedagogical skills. Additionally, Israel is focusing on musically gifted students. (About 224 musically gifted students were identified with a new tool developed especially for gifted students in music. Their school curriculum will be adjusted, and they will be entitled to enrichment hours tailored to their unique talents). Finally, Israel showcased their Online Parents Assist Center. The Division opened an online help and guidance center for parents.
Jamaica shared that, “We continue to expand and maintain our existing regular and pilot programs to promote and advance the cause of giftedness in Jamaica and this region of the world. These programs include: (i) Deokoro Magnet Schools for the Gifted and Talented elementary and high schools; (ii) the Caribbean Centre for Giftedness and Creativity (CCGC) POPIN Gifted Clubs in schools and PEP-A-STEM resource centres; (iii) the Gifted Education Consultancy for universities, colleges, schools, and teacher-associations (government and private); (iv) psycho-metric and psychoeducational screening and assessment of gifted children; (v) counseling services for parents and teachers of gifted and other exceptional students; and (vi) conference presentations and professional development workshops.”
Jordan showcased a number of their activities that centered around international competitions, particularly in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.
Lebanon reported that, “Three Lebanese universities are offering new courses at the undergraduate and the graduate levels on gifted education. There is also an increase in the number of in-service training workshops for school teachers and practitioners. At the research level, Lebanon has witnessed a growth in the amount of research conducted in the field of giftedness, especially by university graduate students. There has also been an increased interest in developing enrichment activities for gifted students, prompting a few educators to participate at Confratute during the summer.”
Mexico’s delegate shared that new schools are opening for gifted students, especially in Mexico City. At the writing of the report, a major conference was planned to showcase many of the projects of talented students. Additionally, “2019 ended the first stage of professional attention to gifted programs in Mexico. Our work expanded the development of scientific events and increased the number of success stories of talented students while also setting the stage in Mexico for the arrival of a new generation of gifted students in the next decade.”
New Zealand reported lofty goals for 2020. They include: “Implementing an extended package of support for gifted children and young people, establishing study awards to allow gifted learners to undertake extension study and projects, establishing study awards to build teacher capability in gifted education, extending current supports to early childhood education services (including the transition into primary school), increasing access to One Day Schools or similar and mentored online learning opportunities where One Day Schools cannot be accessed, and continuing to work with the gifted education expert group to monitor and evaluate the gifted learner package of supports.”
Saudi Arabia shared an emerging promising program at their University of Jeddah. It focuses on talent development over time. Here is a synopsis: “Policies, research, and pedagogical models in gifted education have mostly focused on serving and nurturing gifted students while they are in grade school. However, less attention has been paid to the persistence and sustainability of gifted education programs in higher education and beyond. The gap between how we nurture giftedness and talents in primary education and how we do so in higher education is becoming a critical issue in the gifted education system around the globe. Two questions frequently posed are, “Do students identified as gifted in schools become extraordinarily accomplished when they are adults in society? Why do we lose many bright, gifted students in adulthood?” Emerging work will center on researching and strategizing to answer these questions.
In Slovenia, though there is some support for gifted education, the model is not nationally cohesive. The delegate from Slovenia expressed this hope: “It is expected that with the new version of the White Paper on Education in the Republic of Slovenia, planned for the next couple of years, gifted education will get the opportunity to develop further in accordance with contemporary professional guidelines and empirical findings from recent CRSN (Center for Research and Promotion of Giftedness) research projects.”
The delegate from Spain reported on the work of a group from Catalonia that has been doing countless informational conferences to different Catalan schools for teachers, administrative staff, and parents, as well as round tables about Creativity and High Intellectual Abilities and Clinical Pathologies, Double Exceptionality, etc. Additionally, special commissions have been formed to deal with specific tasks. A Research Commission is going to create a resource guide for different communities to use as a reference, and to help them put pressure on their institutions. A Secondary Commission is studying reasons for a possible drop in secondary performance of students. The Expertise Committee is creating a new accreditation process for psychological experts. The Creativity Commission is working to collaborate with several schools,. Plans are being made to bring together representative professionals from various groups (gifted, AACC, dyslexia, ADHD, transgender people, etc.) to ensure that viable and practical protocols are designed and implemented for each group.
Sweden reported that, “During the second half of 2019, some important steps have been made in the progress of gifted education in Sweden. In June, the Swedish government gave the Swedish National Agency of Education (SNAE) an assignment to propose how schools can improve the support and stimulation of students of all ages who easily reach the curriculum benchmarks. The purpose is to improve realistic opportunities for enrichment and acceleration for these students, regardless of where they live in the country. In the assignment, the government specifically mentions opportunities to accelerate and to take courses and earn grades at the next level of the education system. For example, a primary school student could take mathematics at the secondary level, an upper secondary school student could take English at the university level, etc.”
The delegate from Switzerland shared that Switzerland has, for the last 15 years had, “a research and scientific-based and practical program for the continuous education of teachers to become specialists or experts in gifted education and talent development.” He also reported that, “The schools in Zurich restructured their programs in gifted education. The new model presents an arrangement of ongoing and gapless promotion activities and formats from inclusive gifted education to pull-out-programs within the schools to out-of-school activities, with a research center for high achievers and mentoring programs.” Additionally, “The Swiss Teacher Association presented a position paper to the Swiss Board of Education. This paper requested that the board provide schoolwide and nationwide gifted education programs in Switzerland. The paper is very important because Switzerland, as a federalist nation with 26 different cantons, each with its own school laws and policies, does not have any national policy or regulation in gifted education. The position paper asks for the implementation of talent promotion at every level of education, from toddler to tertiary level); specialized staff, targeted training and further education of teachers; school and teaching development processes for the design, implementation, and evaluation of talent promotion; capturing potential through multi-stage, pedagogical, and goal-oriented procedures; and composing talent promotion from different and individualized opportunities and activities.”
From the United Arab Emirates delegate comes this report, “Gifted and talented education is relatively new in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The country’s vision calls for a first-rate education. As a result, many organizations have introduced new initiatives to support and reach the country’s vision... For example, the Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation for Distinguished Academic Performance, based in Dubai, has introduced a national plan for gifted and talented education, the first of its kind in UAE. In 2015, in line with the 2015 year of innovation in UAE, the Hamdan Foundation established the “Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Centre for Giftedness and Creativity.” The delegate further described some of the work of this foundation.
News from the United Kingdom included these remarks, “Looking ahead, we are planning to host another Above and Beyond awards ceremony, celebrating those who go above and beyond with gifted education students and supporting their needs. Work will continue on DME (Dual and Multiple Exceptionality) and on raising awareness and training occupational therapists. We are also looking at an initiative on alternative forms of education for gifted and talented children, spearheaded by the Nisai Educational Trust, which has been established to explore how to support non-traditional education models, including home education.”
Finally, the delegates from the United States, Laurie Croft, Shelagh Gallager, and Ann Robinson reported on a national survey about practices in gifted education. The results present a snapshot of the patchwork quilt of approaches to gifted education used across the US, with a particular emphasis on issues related to equity. You can read more at this Education Week link, Gifted Education: Results of a National Survey. They then continued with this, “Few issues in US gifted education are more critical, or more challenging, than the underrepresentation of low income gifted students and gifted students of color. Across the nation, the education news is full of accounts of calls to dismantle gifted programs because of disparities in identification.” They detailed the work of the North Carolina Association for Gifted and Talented in presenting “a day of many voices that welcomed different perspectives on the problem of under-representation in gifted programs. A majority of invitees represented organizations invested in improving education for low-income students or students of color but uninvolved in gifted education, including early childhood educators, after school coordinators, school-to-college program directors, leaders in the faith community, education policy specialists, and civil rights advocates.” Calling this day an experiment in ‘outward facing advocacy,’ participants proved that this demonstrates that support for gifted may be more robust than detractors claim and that there are many organizations ready to engage in a broader advocacy coalition on behalf of low-income gifted students and gifted students of color.”
Additionally, the United States delegates posted the winners of the Jacob K. Javits 2019 awards and their focus. The list can also be found in the link above.
For those of you who have read this far into this article, BRAVI TUTTI! We hope that you’ve found this global thinking stimulating and provocative. Though we may be suspended in time for the near future, we must all think about the future of gifted education. As a state organization, we will be doing just that, as we move into strategic planning for our organization. What do you think should be our focus? How does this fit into a local perspective, a national perspective, or a global perspective? Most of all, how does it serve gifted students, their educators, and their families?
Please share your ideas with us; we look forward to your perspective.
As the events of COVID-19 unfold around us, many of us at the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted are undoubtedly sharing many of the same emotions as those of you at home. We are worried for the health of our friends and family; we are devastated by the news from our cities, country, and other corners of our world. We may feel anxious about our jobs or financial health, or worried about the health and safety and livelihoods of others. We may be grieving the way things were, and are feeling what the Germans refer to as “Weltschmerz,” or the pain of the world.
Those of us who are educators are missing our students deeply, and are hoping and praying that they are safe and secure. We are doing our best to meet their learning needs and their social and emotional needs while we also attend to the needs of ourselves and our own families. We are adjusting to this enormous disruption of school as we once knew it; we are innovating daily, and many of us are admittedly overwhelmed. We are, however, most thankful for those of you who are parents and guardians and are carrying extra loads -- tending to your own jobs (or unemployment) and mental health, the daily needs of your family, and assuming the new (and sometimes scary) role as teacher/mom or teacher/dad. We see daily evidence of families figuring out ways to make this all work -- with grace, creativity, and humor.
Finally, there are our children, and our students -- they are lively, curious, thoughtful, insightful, scared, questioning, trying, joyful, confused. We are all trying to find the words and actions which balance their concerns with their need for hope and normalcy. And though there are many encouraging signs of hope, the resolution to this crisis is not clear or immediate. It is as though we are suspended in a huge moment of pause, grand pause.
If you are a musician, you may be familiar with the term Grand Pause, or G.P., or caesura, sometimes known as “railroad tracks,” or “tram tracks,” designated by two slash marks, like this: //. When these are indicated in a musical score, the sound stops, and there is time for echo, absorption of sound and emotion, reflection, and anticipation of the resumption of the music. There is often curiosity and wonder during this repose; there is usually a sense of impending change.
It seems possible that we are in a time of Grand Pause right now. Undoubtedly, things will never be the same, but they might become even better than they were. We might become better parents, neighbors, friends, citizens. So many of us are using this Grand Pause to reimagine ourselves, and to transcend ourselves. We read daily about ingenious ways that people are coping and thriving. We see numerous testimonies to the grace, and the compassion, and the creativity of people. We see communities banding together, celebrating and thanking health care professionals. We see food banks asking for and receiving tremendously generous donations. We see neighbors anonymously leaving gift certificates for ice cream, or groceries or wine or masks, or pictures on others’ doorsteps. We see people sharing food. We see nursing home workers dressing up in costume to entertain their residents. We see teachers caravaning through school neighborhoods, waving to their beloved students. We see countries offering donations of money and supplies to each other. We see international scientists and medical professionals working tirelessly together. We see children offering hearts and pictures and words of comfort and chalk drawings on sidewalks. We are, indubitably seeing better versions of ourselves emerge, and have time to evaluate the meaning of this metamorphosis during this Grand Pause.
Inevitably, this Grand Pause moment will be over, and our lives will move on, and the music of life will begin again in earnest. However, the burning questions will remain -- what do we want to carry forward with us? What really are the most important things in life? Can we sustain the lessons that we have learned? Will we emerge from all of this as more compassionate, more wise, more selfless? Our children will undoubtedly be watching, just as they have been all along. The moments of the Grand Pause should give them hope; the moments of the Grand Pause should give ALL of us hope.
At this writing, during the outbreak of COVID-19, we acknowledge that many of you have heavy hearts. We are traveling in uncharted waters, and have many concerns about the present and the future. We know that many gifted individuals, children and adults alike, feel things very deeply. We may seek news, and yet be frightened or immobilized by it; we may feel the pain of the world, and yet feel impotent to mitigate it; we may crave company and comfort, yet understand the need for social distancing; we may worry about our loved ones, our country and our world, we may also worry about ourselves and our own health and resilience, and we may feel helpless.
Yet during these strange and difficult times, there are so many rays of hope, so many helpers. As many of you know, one of Mr. Rogers’ often quoted pieces of advice included these words: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Whether you are helping your child/ren to navigate these turbulent times, calming your own fears, or helping others find solace, looking for the helpers is one way to center yourself and your loved ones.
So many individuals, groups, agencies, institutions, and corporations have emerged as “helpers” these past weeks and months, and we’d like to highlight some of them, and encourage you to think about how they use their gifts and talents in service to our world. Also our hope is that the stories shared will give you and your loved ones hope during the coming weeks and months, and may provide thoughtful and grateful conversations about what it means to be a “helper”.
First of all, our medical and safety professionals - our scientists, our doctors and nurses, first responders and hospital staff, police officers and firefighters -- deserve our most grateful thanks. They are literally putting their lives on the line for the health and safety of us all. In the words of David Ho, of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University, “Behind the scenes, too, so many people are contributing, from those discovering small-molecule drugs that could block various enzymes of this virus, to coming up with antibodies that could neutralize it.” The gift of intellectual curiosity and academic pursuit, combined with the boots-on-the-ground delivery of care, is astounding.
Our government officials have been making tough decisions daily, with the scenario changing rapidly -- locally, nationally and internationally. Many pray for wisdom and guidance for our leaders, and celebrate the gift of leadership.
Then there are the transportation and logistics people and those keeping open vital services, such as grocery stores and pharmacies and utilities. Our nation’s industries and ingenious individuals have stepped up their game, many of them changing direction during this time of need. We are seeing undergarment companies making masks, alcohol distilleries making hand sanitizer, individuals using their 3D printers to make valves for ventilators, and even teenagers creating 3D printer prototypes for ventilators, to name a few. Ingenuity is alive and well. The gift of creativity is flourishing.
Without a doubt, our educators have been heroes/helpers during these difficult times. With very little training, and certainly very little time, educators at all levels are “building new planes and simultaneously flying them,” collaborating in ways that are magical and promising for both the present and the future. Overnight, virtual support groups of teachers have seen memberships grow to thousands, virtual resources are being shared daily, and educators are striving to reach out to families and individual students with challenge, comfort, and assistance. Though crafting the balance between academics and family time/leisure time has been tricky, most educators are adjusting expectations for themselves and families as things unfold. While it’s true that this crisis has uncovered gross inequities in our communities of learners, perhaps it will be the impetus for future investigation and change. Certainly this is the time to reimagine schooling, another challenge for the gift of creativity.
Finally, the gift of the visual and performing arts in these difficult times has been a tremendous source of comfort for so many of us. From individuals and families performing music in their homes and sharing virtually, to symphony orchestras broadcasting from empty halls, to virtual services of worship, to virtual theater productions, to TV and internet subscriptions that enrich and provide respite, to virtual tours of museums, national parks, even Disney World rides, the arts have provided solace. In the words of Hans Christian Andersen, “where words fail music speaks.” The arts are speaking loudly and clearly during these times.
So, in this world of helpers using their gifts and talents in service to our world, our question to you is, “How are you using your gifts and talents as a helper?” Because, to quote Mr. Rogers once again, “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we're giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That's one of the things that connects us as neighbors--in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver."
During this month of March, we at the WI Association for Talented and Gifted are working especially hard to promote advocacy for gifted education, and for our gifted students. Advocacy is defined as the act of speaking on the behalf of, or in support of another person, place, or thing, and in this article, we will be sharing ways that we are advocating, and that you too can be an advocate for gifted education, and for gifted kids, whether your own or others’. Advocacy happens at so many levels.
On a national level, at this writing, three WATG Board members, Past Presidents Cathy Schmit and Deb Kucek, and President-Elect Hillarie Roth are preparing for a visit to the National Association for Gifted Children’s 2020 Leadership and Advocacy Conference, followed by an advocacy mission to Capitol Hill in Washington DC to lobby for gifted education and our students. At the NAGC, they will work together with affiliates from other states, and learn how to effectively lobby for legislation and funding. They will then use this knowledge as they meet with legislators and aides. Please keep them in your thoughts as they speak on behalf of our children. We thank them for their critical work, and are looking forward to their report at the conclusion of their visit.
At the state level, we are pleased to report that our Government Action Committee at WATG has filed a request for a legislative study on gifted education in Wisconsin. Though we will not hear about the status of this request until spring, we are pleased with the message of advocacy, and the bipartisan support of legislators for this request. Again, thank you to all who have worked tirelessly on this initiative. Please stay tuned!
At the local level and personal level, many of you often email us at WATG about advocating for things related to gifted education. In fact, advocacy for your child/ren and gifted programming services are your top concerns. Below are some tips that we often share with parents as they request help in advocating:
Finally, one of the most important things we can do for our children is to teach them to advocate for themselves and their learning. Most often this should begin in the middle school years, with the budding adolescent learning to advocate for himself/herself. Deb Douglas, Past President of WATG, has written a wonderfully helpful book entitled, The Power of Self-Advocacy for Gifted Learners: Teaching the Four Essential Steps to Success (Grades 5–12). Deb’s four steps include helping gifted kids to understand their rights and responsibilities, develop their learning profile, investigate available options and opportunities, and connect with other advocates.
So often, many of us in gifted education have found that when we teach and trust children to advocate and problem-solve for themselves, they invariably solve in more creative and satisfactory ways than we had imagined. And when we ALL work together to advocate at any level, truly amazing things can happen!
Greetings from the WATG Board! Although our fall conference is still many months away, on October 18, 19 and 20, 2020 at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells, much planning is going on behind the scenes right now. As you may imagine, a conference such as ours requires lots of hands on and minds on, (and a lot of love or “heart” for the work that we are doing), so it is fitting that we have chosen the title “Hands On, Minds On” as our theme. You may have seen our call for proposals, with a deadline of April 20, 2020, and we hope that you will consider lending your talents and your voice to our conference this year. Check out our website www.watg.org for details, and please think about all of the ways that we can engage both the minds and the hands-on learning that is so critical for our students.
To get you thinking, let us share some of our preliminary planning. On Sunday, October 18, we will feature a teen conference from 9am-noon. The theme of this teen conference will be “Engineering Design Using the Arduino UNO,” and will be for students 12 years of age and older. Isabel Mendiola and Peter Haydock will co-facilitate, and participants will be engaged in thinking and creating using coding, and engineering and design. Watch for e-blasts and information on our website for further information.
Concurrently we will run a parent strand from 9am-noon on Sunday, October 18, and will feature workshops such as a facilitated parent sharing group, a workshop on growth mindset and gifted students, and information about SOAR summer camp for middle school students. Perhaps you also have an idea for a proposal that would be designed to engage parents and guardians?
The afternoon of Sunday October 18 will be dedicated to a NUMATS celebration. Each year, WATG joins with Northwestern University to honor elementary, middle, and high school students who have scored extremely well on out of level tests. “Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) is a research-validated program that utilizes above-grade-level assessment to help parents and educators better understand their students’ academic strengths and educational needs. NUMATS allows eligible students to take internationally recognized tests before the grade levels at which they are normally administered. The PSAT™8/9 test, designed for students in grades 8 and 9, is administered to students in grades 3 through 6. SAT® and ACT®, designed for students in grades 11 and 12, are administered to students in grades 6 through 9. NUMATS identifies academic ability, measures growth and connects gifted students to educational resources and opportunities for enrichment and acceleration.” See this link for more information on NUMATS. WATG NUMATS celebrations are a prime example of the hands-on hard work, and the minds-on reasoning that are present in outstanding achievers. This event will be offered by invitation.
Our main 2020 WATG annual conference will commence on October 19 and 20, 2020 and will feature Dr. Marcia Gentry (Monday), and Dr. Brian Housand (Tuesday), both exemplary leaders in the field of gifted education. More information about them will be shared in the coming months.
Our fall 2020 conference will also feature dozens of breakout sessions, and that’s where you come in. What kinds of things are you doing in your classrooms, in your schools, and in your communities that support gifted students? What have you tried that has worked well? How has your gifted programming evolved? How have you helped all gifted students achieve their potential, including those from diverse backgrounds? What activities or materials work best, and how do you utilize them? What kind of programming is achieving excellent results for your gifted students? What does the research say, and how are you using it in your classrooms? How have you used the research to guide your work with gifted students, and with other professionals? How do you blend social and emotional learning and goals with academics for your gifted students? What kind of counseling works best for gifted kids? What kind of advocacy is needed? How are you advocating for gifted kids and gifted education in your community, state, or nation?
The possibilities for sharing a workshop are endless, and we know that there is huge potential in you, our constituents. So we are asking...Will you lend your talent? Will you rise to the call of “Hands On, Minds On,” and share your wisdom by presenting a workshop at our conference in October? Together our minds, our hands, and yes! our hearts can and will provide better programming and services and understanding for our gifted learners. Come and join us to share and to learn -- October 18-20, 2020 at the Wilderness Conference Center in Wisconsin Dells.
Happy New Year from all of us at WATG! As we enter this new year of “2020,” we are eager as an organization to sharpen our vision of all issues related to gifted education. Several months ago, we shared an article that discussed the “view from the balcony,” or the big view of gifted education in our state and nation, as well as the “view from the dance floor,” or the more targeted view of what it’s like to work everyday in our schools and our homes with gifted individuals. Today we’ve chosen to look at an issue that is both overarching and targeted, and that is - gifted education in rural areas.
The United States Census Bureau defines rural areas in this way: “For the average American, rural is an abstract concept of rolling hills and farmland rather than a concrete definition. Thus, it can be a difficult task trying to define the term "rural" and an even harder task trying to explain it.
The Census Bureau defines rural as any population, housing, or territory NOT in an urban area.”
According to the 2010 Census Bureau data, 20-39.9% of Wisconsin is considered to be rural, with urban pockets mainly in the Milwaukee metro area, Madison area, the Fox River Valley, Wood and Marathon Counties, and in the LaCrosse area. (If you are a geography and demography kind of person, you will find the interactive Census Bureau website listed above very fascinating…) With up to nearly 40% of Wisconsin considered rural, we as a Board have begun exploring what this means for educating the rural gifted population in our state.
In an article published by the Davidson Institute in Gifted Child Today, Meeting the Needs of the Gifted in Rural Areas Through Acceleration some of the problems with gifted education in rural American are explored, and some suggestions are offered to ensure challenging educational outcomes for gifted students. The problem is presented like this…”One of the most challenging groups of gifted students to reach in terms of educational programming are those living in rural areas. The main source of difficulty is that any one rural school may contain only a few highly gifted students.” Additionally, the distances between rural schools may prohibit combining students from several rural areas for face to face interaction. Though technology has improved communication, and more learning can be done virtually, the benefits of daily interaction in real time cannot be underestimated.
The article then goes on to assert that one of the most effective ways to meet the needs of gifted students in rural areas is through acceleration. “Basically, it involves using the curriculum or resources designed for older students with young, but academically advanced students. It is placement according to competence rather than age, a principle readily accepted in the arts and in athletics. Why should the principle or placement according to competence not work for academics? After all giftedness is a talent, just as is superior artistic or athletic abilities.
Some of the educational provisions that would fall under the acceleration label are early admission to school, grade skipping, entering college early with or without a diploma, International Baccalaureate, taking a course 1 or 2 years earlier than typical, going up to a higher grade for instruction in an area of talent, taking a college course on a part-time basis before graduating from high school, taking special fast-paced courses during the summer or academic year, completing 2 years of a subject in 1 year, compressing curricula, taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses and examinations, and individual tutoring in advanced subject matter.”
As your WI Association for Talented and Gifted Board, we are highly committed to acceleration as a necessary option for gifted students in Wisconsin, and see it as a most promising practice for our rural communities. If you attended our annual fall conference in Wisconsin Dells in October, you may have had a chance to view the work of our Acceleration Team. The synopsis is included below:
THE WHY: The Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (WATG) is committed to promoting effective gifted and talented programming options for students in EVERY district in Wisconsin. Acceleration is proven to be a highly effective strategy, yet is is underutilized or not offered at all in many districts. In 2017 WATG set out to research, analyze, and develop action steps to improve acceleration practices across the state.
THE WHAT: The goals of the acceleration team project:
THE HOW: An eleven question survey request was sent to every district in Wisconsin asking for information regarding the acceleration practices currently available.That data has been analyzed and is available in first draft form. Our next steps include:
To examine some of our data, click on this link: Interactive Map.
Thank you to all districts who have contributed data, and to the acceleration team for its continued work on this valuable project. For more information or to request professional development for your district, contact email@example.com
Additionally, WATG has formed a partnership with the WI Rural Schools Association, and will be submitting a proposal to speak at their fall conference, and to continue our ongoing discussions. On a broader level, the National Association for Gifted Children has also formed a Rural Gifted Special Interest Group, and you can join in their efforts and follow their progress. For more information on gifted students in rural areas, see also the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s article Small Town, Big Talent: Identifying and Supporting Academically Promising Students in Rural Areas
A final reminder, in the words of Marcia Gentry of the Gifted Education Resource Institute at Purdue University, is, “Rather than comparing kids who go to a poor, rural school with the national [testing] norm, and then saying ‘There are no gifted students here,’ I think you have to say: within this context, who are our superstars and how can we develop them?” Superstars can be found in all of Wisconsin, and WATG remains committed to finding them and to furthering their talent development. If you want to join in the work of this initiative, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.