By Jessica Albrecht-Schultz, WATG Board Member
We have all heard the old adage “you are what you eat,” but does that apply to your brain as well as your body? Can a diverse diet play a role in your child’s neurocognitive development?
Diverse diet in the evolution of the human brain
First, let us review some human evolution to see how our big brains came to be.
Between 1.9 and 2 million years ago, the brain size of our human ancestors increased dramatically. Stephanie Pappas, in her article Ancient Brainfood Helped Humans Get Smart, discusses how bone fragments and fossils from various animals found in northern Kenya during this time period adds evidence to a theory that these pre-humans owed this brainpower boost to fish. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in the fish could have provided the nutrients the hominins needed to evolve larger brains. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal published a study that also revealed a huge variety in the hominids’ diets. Aquatic animals are believed to be part of early hominid diet and likely helped with the evolution of large brains, but it may have been the diversity of diet rather than single food groups that pushed hominid evolution forward.
Our ancestors had seasons of abundance and those of hardship due to Nature’s relentless cycles. When fish, meat and fruit were scarce, our ancestors relied on whatever was available, which oftentimes was not much more than plants, nuts and seeds, tubers, wild grains, and bugs. They ate what they could get their hands on which led to a diverse diet.
According to the “cooking hypothesis,” the advent of cooked food again altered the course of human evolution. By providing our forebears with a more energy-dense and easy-to-digest diet, it allowed our brains to again grow bigger.
Eating better made our ancestors smarter, and being smarter now allowed them to feed themselves more efficiently. Little by little, as the brain grew larger, man grew taller… eye-hand coordination improved, and planning skills became more sophisticated… allowing for better hunting techniques to catch bigger and… fresher game. This high-quality diet further increased our ancestors’ fat consumption and available energy, which proved crucial for this rapid brain evolution of Homo erectus.
In Kelly Brogan’s book, A Mind of Your Own, she argues that carbs as well as fish have been key to human evolution. She says there’s no way we could have developed such big brains had it not been for our access to carbs, in addition to high-quality protein. Carb consumption, particularly in the form of starch from tubers, seeds, fruits, and nuts was the key to the rapid growth and development of our brains over the last million years.
If a diverse diet is thought to be crucial to brain growth and development, humans should have a very diverse diet today as we have the easiest access to a variety of food in history. Simply go to the grocery store at any point during the year and you can get high-quality foods such as fresh wild fish, grass-fed animal protein, local and exotic organic fruits and vegetables, and any type of grain, nut, or seed. Over 300,000 foods and beverages are available with 30,000 to 40,000 available at supermarkets; however not all are considered healthy. Diversity in our diet is available to us, but the typical American diet is less diverse than ever. The majority of foods in grocery stores are processed forms of commodity crops, mainly corn, soybeans, and wheat, none of which are sold in their original form from nature, and are often high in sugar, manipulated fats, refined salt and chemical preservatives. Still, the availability of whole foods, in a state similar to how they are found in nature, are more available to us than ever before. Naturalists regard biodiversity as a measure of a landscape’s health. Should diversity at our local supermarket be a measure of our physical and mental health? I believe it can be, but only if we consume that diversity as nature intended.
… humans can live just about anywhere on earth, and when their familiar foods are in short supply, there’s always another they can try. Indeed, there is probably not a nutrient source on earth that is not eaten by some human somewhere – bugs, worms, dirt, fungi, lichens, seaweed, rotten fish, the roots, shoots, stems, bark, buds, flowers, seeds, and fruits of plants; every imaginable part of every imaginable animal, not to mention haggis, granola, and Chicken McNuggets. The deeper mystery, only partly explained by neophobia, is why any given human group will eat so few of the numberless nutrients available to it.
Food sciences today
Nutrition science is a relatively new science. It began less than two hundred years ago and is today approximately where surgery was in the year 1650. There have been some interesting and beneficial findings, but there is much confusion around which foods and nutrients are good or bad for you. New studies contradict the findings of earlier studies. As is the case for all scientific studies, the results depend on a vast number of factors. In the case of nutrition, whomever funds the study, the expected results, the interpretation of the data and what is chosen to be highlighted from the study all influence the published findings. The ramification is confusion and inconsistency. Additionally, food trends are a darling of the media, and we are bombarded with information about new superfoods, foods to avoid and fad diets, all adding to the confusion. Diversity of whole foods in our diets steer us away from this confusion. Nature has given us a plethora of foods that humans can eat.
Neuro-nutrition, or how food affects the brain, is even younger. Nutritional requirements for the brain may be substantially different than requirements for other organs of the body. Diversity is believed to be key for neuro-nutrition. However, in looking at food and its specific relationship to the brain, we may be trying to isolate something that is meant to function as a whole. A lot of research is being done with a holistic view of the mind-body connection and the gut-brain connection.
Nutritional psychiatry is a newly recognized but growing field. This discipline focuses on how the use of food and supplements can be used as treatments for mental health disorders. According to Eva Selhub, MD in her article Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food, this field is finding that there are many consequences and correlations between not only what you eat, how you feel, and how you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut. Microbiota in the gut and the beneficial bacteria that live in it are being studied for the impact on your immune system and various medical conditions.
What to eat
Whole foods, those of which are unprocessed and typically found in the outer aisles of the supermarket, are the best brain foods and are also good for our bodies.
Food that contains polyunsaturated fat which has Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be necessary for healthy brain function. These foods have been studied to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and memory loss, and contain the fat that our brains in large part are made of. Omega-3s are found in fish and shellfish and have higher concentrations in wild-caught than farm raised fish. The same is true for wild game and grass-fed beef, compared to their conventional counterparts. I find it extremely interesting that walnuts look like a brain and are the top nuts to eat for brain health. But don’t limit your nut consumption to walnuts just because they have a high concentration of Omega-3s. All nuts and seeds, in general, are good for the brain due to their rich sources of fatty acids and antioxidants.
Eggs contain nutrients such as choline, which is used by the brain to memorize information and learn from experience. Of all the animal foods available to us, eggs are hard to beat for brain nutrition. To continue your diverse diet, try as many types of eggs as you can find. I’ve found chicken, duck and quail eggs at my local supermarkets. In addition, friends who have geese, guinea hens, and pheasants have given me some of their eggs for my family’s meals.
Whole grains slowly release glucose in your bloodstream, which helps with concentration and focus. They also work to reduce inflammation in the brain, potentially preserving your memory. Ancient grains, such as einkorn, emmer, amaranth, millet, quinoa, black rice, black barley, and spelt, can be found at the supermarket, or are now easily ordered online. These ancient grains are nutritionally superior to modern grains like wheat, corn and rice.
Phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables are powerful to protect our health and promote healing, but also work specifically in the brain to improve memory and learning. Over 8,000 phytochemicals exist, again advocating for diversity in our diet. Nutritional science has started to figure out the synergistic effects of combining certain foods, but much is still unknown. Our ancestors may have figured out these synergies intuitively or by trial-and-error without having the science to help them. This synergistic knowledge of what types of foods to combine with each other in a meal has been passed down from generation to generation, and may have been lost in part when America’s fore-families moved away from their homelands and thus lost their generational food knowledge.
It is my belief that incorporating as many types of whole foods as possible into your family’s diet is key to a healthy, strong, and clear brain in which new synapses are able to form, allowing for deeper and more complex thought. This diet provides more nutrients than a low quality, uniform diet.
Diverse for diversity
Not only is a diverse diet likely beneficial for brain growth and development, expanding the variety of food offered to your children, and encouraging enjoyment of dishes from various cultures is also a good way for us to demonstrate racial, ethnic and cultural diversity. Voicing opinions about diversity is common in 2020, but feeding our children dishes from many cultures is a small, but important way that our actions will help our children be tolerant and understanding of the diversity in the world in which we live. It’s actually food for thought, as they say.
I’m a mom of two gifted kids. I spend most of my time volunteering at my children’s school, for their extracurricular activities, and advocating for educational opportunities that will lead to their academic growth. Food, however, is my passion. I love to cook for my family and friends, discover new restaurants, collect and study cookbooks, grocery shop for the best available ingredients and learn about food history, culture, and policy. This article is meant to get the GT community thinking more about the link between our diets and our brains. Many of the ideas have, or could have, entire books devoted to them. It is not meant to be comprehensive, and I am not a food nutritionist or neuroscientist. I’m just a mom trying to do what I think is best for my family, like so many moms and dads out there. I’m happy to receive constructive feedback, but please keep it positive.
The 2020 WATG Conference will be here before we know it. As a parent, another conference or meeting held virtually in front of your device may be the last thing you want to do, but the WATG Board has assembled an impressive conference schedule with both educators and parents in mind.
Our keynote speakers, Dr. Marcia Gentry and Dr. Brian Housand will be presenting new information from which we as parents can benefit, either personally or globally. Dr. Gentry’s keynote, “Equity in Wisconsin” will feature state report cards in several important inclusivity areas, as well as possible approaches to improvement. Dr. Housand’s keynote “Where do we go from here? Charting the Course Ahead for Gifted Ed” will provide practical opportunities and strategies to challenge all gifted students, including your own. The different conference tracks, as well as exhibitor sessions. are sure to provide you with plenty of learning opportunities.
Before you fill your schedule with sessions specific to your child’s needs, though, don’t forget to consider your own needs. With pandemic-influenced circumstances imposed since last March, the line between teacher and parent has blurred in many of our homes. I suggest you use the conference’s offerings to give you ideas and confidence to grow your knowledge and skill sets. Try attending sessions like “Exploring STEM in the Classroom” (even if that classroom is now your kitchen) or “Social-Emotional Learning Through Leadership.”
I encourage you to attend a session or two that don’t appear to have direct relevance to your child, but are just plain interesting to you. Last year, I attended a session about how to incorporate art into every subject. Now, artistic prowess doesn’t exactly run in our family; it fascinated me to see how art can be incorporated into social studies, math and language arts. Maybe your child isn’t into reading about anything but current times? Attend “Learning the Importance of the Classics” to remind yourself how the classics influenced your life.
Maybe most importantly, don’t miss the opportunity to attend a session that reminds you that you are not alone navigating gifted education for your child in these unusual times. The conference offers some great sessions which explore the affective needs of gifted kids, workshops such as “Defining Ready: The Head, The Heart, The Courage,” “Wicked Good Family: Hands-on, Minds-on Community,” and “Racial Disparity in Academic Achievement.”
On Monday at 4 PM we will present our “Unconference” on Zoom, hosted by WATG Board members. Breakout rooms will be devoted to various topics centered on gifted children and gifted education. As Board members, we bring a diverse set of reasons we became involved with WATG, and we are eager to share. These sessions will be an opportunity to casually discuss a wide range of topics with current board members.
To quote a sign at the exit of a fitness chain, we as parents should remind ourselves that “you did something great today” every single day, even when our confidence takes a hit. Take advantage of the WATG Conference to help you with that reminder.
Lalitha Murali, WATG Board Member
We are living in unpredictable times. There is a global pandemic. Many of us are wearing masks and practicing social distancing as a sign of mutual respect for each other. Our Black brothers and sisters are fighting for their lives, and we stand in solidarity with them by listening to them, amplifying Black voices, and sharing and practicing anti-racist ideologies.
So how do we, as gifted individuals and/or parents and educators of gifted children, activate our social conscience and practice social justice daily? The answer may be simpler than you think. Perhaps we already are.
Giftedness is all about imagining and achieving the impossible, and living through these unpredictable times is also about imagining and achieving the impossible. Our lives have been greatly altered, and we’ve had to adapt.
First of all, I challenge you to think about challenges that you’ve already faced in your life. What did you have to do to achieve work-life balance? What have you had to do to remain safe and keep everyone around you safe? How have you reconciled your feelings about the world with the actions in your life up until this point? Think about how you’ve grown, changed, and adapted. You’ve been resilient.
Now that we know and understand how resilient our minds are and how we grow to adapt to our life circumstances, let’s discuss how we keep this momentum going and create change to make this world a better place.
You see, giftedness is about using the skills you already have and utilizing them to achieve greater heights. The more you perfect these skills, the better equipped you will be to face the challenges ahead. And believe me there, will be many challenges that will eventually make us better humans. These challenges will force us to rethink our ideologies, and to work together to make the world a better place.
So keep reading, my friends. Keep writing, keep talking, and keep doing. These skills will serve you and the world well.. And we need these skills now more than ever.
We are all familiar with the story of the LIttle Red Engine faced with a seemingly insurmountable task to get up a big mountain, who does indeed achieve the goal. The story teaches us persistence and positive thinking are the keys to success. But is there a downside to persistence?
America’s almost mythical view of persistence is at least partly from it being a requirement for the early settlers to leave everything they knew behind for a long trip to an unknown land, survive the harsh New England winters, and explore westward through treacherous and sometimes hostile terrain. The book, “Master the Art of Quitting: Why it Matters in Life, Love, and Work” by Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein © 2014 presents an interesting distinction between two thought processes of stopping: quitting (“I’m outta here because it’s hard”) and disengagement (“this isn’t leading to where I really want to be”). Its main concept is that disengagement frees the mind and spirit, allowing new goals to form, and stops what may have become a disheartening cycle of failure without goal achievement. The book covers many aspects of both quitting and disengagement concepts, with a plethora of workplace examples; however, some of the ideas are ones that I find interesting when I look back on raising a gifted child and some of his struggles and successes.
Manage Thoughts and Emotions
As almost all parents will say, being a parent is the most important role they will ever have. The impact of a supportive environment helps kids in every area, including this one.
Growing up in a warm,supportive environment is a strong indicator of someone’s ability to know when to switch gears, by helping children learn to manage the emotions transition often causes.
Sometimes you have to walk away from what happened. Think about a situation that changed around you, that was out of your control, and made your current path no longer a good fit. Ruminating about something out of your control is not the same as reflecting on what happened and can be downright detrimental. Disengagement is a conscious, healthy choice to re-evaluate and head in a new direction and is a way to get control back over your own life.
Encourage your child to know if the stress of a challenge energizes them or stops them in their tracks. The message should be: form goals based on what makes you feel positive about reaching them. Use an example. Let’s say you are assigned a task for which 85 percent of people who attempted it failed. What is your first reaction? Do you worry about the 85 percent or get thrilled by the challenge of being in the 15 percent?
Focus on a learning goal rather than a performance goal. This is a hard one for a lot of advanced learners, and it is completely understandable how achieving perfect grades can sometimes take precedence over gaining knowledge. In my experience, this is one of the most important areas for us as parents to focus our energy.
Goals are much more likely to be successful if they are not conflicting. You have to be willing to adjust your goals so that they accommodate priorities. It may take some hits and misses for your child to find their goals, and that’s OK. Allow them to re-evaluate. If someone had told me 25 years ago what my career would be now, I never would have believed them because it is such a departure from what I had planned back then. That change came about primarily from unexpected opportunities and my own need to resolve conflicting goals.
Map your Goals and Own Them
We’ve all heard it, and it’s been proven time and time again: recording your goals helps clarify your thought process and makes your goals more concrete. It gives you an opportunity to work through articulating your goal and what steps you need to take to get there. An entire chapter in the book is devoted to a process to vet and develop goals. That level may not be necessary, but give adequate time and thought to defining goals. Remind your child their goals are theirs and no one else’s.
It’s often a fine line to find when it’s time to walk away from a situation or what you thought you wanted to do. It is also a learned skill, through life’s experiences. Encourage your child to learn from their own experiences, both good and bad. Did I give up too soon? Hung in there too long? Most adults have stories to tell when they stuck with something too long, as well as when they let go too easily. They’ll also have advice learned when all that was needed was a simple leap of faith.
Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why it Matters in Life, Love, and Work
by Peg Streep and Alan B. Bernstein Da Capo Press © 2014
During this difficult time, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted is continuing to develop ways to support ongoing connections with our members and the gifted community at large. One of the many resources we are currently offering are links to curated lists of educational resources that might be most relevant to gifted families. Our current list is on our website, and has been posted on Facebook.
While a resource list can be very useful, families and educators are also interested in the personal story related to that resource. It provides the context, relevance, and connection.
We would love to hear from you about something that your kid(s) or the kids you work with love doing and why. What age/s are the kids? What is bringing joy right now? How are you coping with some of the new challenges? How are your kids continuing to learn and stay curious?
We will include some of these stories in our next WATG newsletter.
Also please consider adding to that support by sharing your personal story about a resource you and/or your kids love. Our newsletter deadline is always the last Sunday of each month. You can send your ideas to us at watg.org. Please put the words “for newsletter” in the subject line.
We know you are all very busy with adapting to our new normal, but we hope you will find the time to share with the gifted community.
Through our stories, we can relate, support, connect and learn from each other. Together we grow.
We as parents are laser focused on ensuring that our children’s education sets them up for success. We search and fight for opportunities for them, hoping they will find contentment in their adult lives. But, what do adults in the workforce think of when they look back on their K-12 years?
A 2015 article in Psychology Today written by Katharine Brooks, Ed.D. titled, “How Does Your Giftedness Affect Your Career?” highlights ten traits common among gifted adults in the workplace. Most of them can be recognized as the adult version of what gifted children experience: restlessness or boredom, needing challenging work, and tending toward perfectionism. Sound familiar?
A trusted friend and co-worker, Maelle, is such an adult, and was gracious in sharing her thoughts on getting through life, first as a gifted child, and now as a gifted adult. We met approximately 14 years ago when she was a relatively recent college graduate, working in her first “real” job in information technology for a large company. Several years ago, we worked together on the same small team. It was immediately apparent her thinking was on a different level. You could almost feel she was several steps ahead in every technical discussion. The intensity of her concentration was profound.
But first, how did she get to that “real” job?
Maelle attended a school district which traditionally has strong GT services. Her K5 and second grade teachers realized she was ahead and provided advanced work. In third grade, she was officially identified as advanced in reading/writing, math, science, and art, although there was no advanced art path in the district. Her mother, however, enrolled her in any art experience she could find through the local art museum and pottery shops. Through sixth grade, she was in a group of 2-5 children for several hours every day to work on advanced math, science and language assignments. By all accounts, she was several years ahead in terms of ability, especially in math, but was not grade accelerated.
Middle school can be a tough time of life for all kids. It’s a time when somehow no one feels like they fit in. Maelle’s mother saw she was having a more difficult time than most. She decided that for two years, Maelle would take Honors classes, but not be in the GT program. Maelle has no negativity about this decision; rather, she feels it helped prepare her socially for high school. (This is a good reminder to all of us parents -- to see our children as a whole person, and adjust however we think is best for them in the long run).
There was no GT programming in her high school, but Maelle excelled, taking every AP and Honors class she could fit into her schedule.
I asked her what the school district could have offered that would have helped her prepare for her post-secondary life. She suggested moderated small group discussions with other students like her in which they could discuss ideas, such as having to balance not making peers feel inferior while not hiding their own abilities.
Maelle struggled, as many gifted high schoolers do, with selecting a college major when she could succeed in so many areas. Her advice now is to know your end goal and your non-negotiables, then use them to narrow down your choices. For her, that meant finding a technically challenging occupation with job availability and growth potential. Computer Science fit the bill.
She says her biggest transition came when she started working full-time after college. Workplaces have a much wider range of peers’ ages, experience and skills than any educational setting. She was promoted more than once over her peers with significantly more years of experience because it was clear she could succeed solving the toughest technical issues and completing high-profile projects requiring meticulous work.
This did not always make for smooth team relations, but she adjusted along the way. Here are some things that seem to work well for her :
Her advice for gifted adults struggling in a workplace, and feeling that their talents are not fully being used, is to find a passion. For the past ten years, Maelle has volunteered in a number of animal rescue organizations, taking on social media and website administration, implementing standardized processes to increase revenue, and designing new bird foraging toys. This involvement gives her fulfillment and gratification.
How is she handling the workplace these days? The short answer is: very well. Her adjustments have certainly helped, and her teammates have come to respect her abilities. As a co-worker, I can attest to her recognition as the go-to resource when a difficult issue or project arises, and that whatever she works on will be efficient and error-free. And, you can count on hearing her enthusiasm when she tells you about her latest animal rescue volunteer experience too. Her passion and talents extend to both the workplace and to her life outside of the workplace, creating a perfect balance.
Many thanks to Maelle for agreeing to this interview, and for her candidness.
Mary Budde, Treasurer
WATG Board of Directors
By Martha Lopez, WATG Board Member
When you tune in to the news, it seems that most stories concerning Black and Latino males are overwhelming with bad news. In the United States, Black and Latino males lead the nation in many negative statistical categories, including incarceration, death, unemployment, and high school dropout rates (Davis, 2011). A large proportion of Black and Latino male children live in poverty, in high crime neighborhoods where they see little hope of pulling themselves out of the cycle of failure. For over a decade, I have worked closely with Black and Latino males as their teacher and advanced ELA teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools.
The first thing we need to know is the truth: 9.1% of Black male students are in special education compared with the national average of 6.5%. Meanwhile 14.5% of Black males are in honors classes compared with the national average of 25.6% of all students (Toldson, 2012). We can look at these figures and focus on the fact that Black males as a group lag behind other student groups. However, we can also look at the figures another way, celebrating that there are more Black males in honors classes than in special education. Black and Latino gifted male students can succeed—and they are succeeding every day. What about Black and Latino male students that are potentially gifted? How can we help them succeed also?
Bridging the Gap.
It’s a simple concept, but one that is too often overlooked. Building relationships with students is the key to their success. Our goal as educators should be to educate, activate, and motivate our students regardless of their background. Otherwise, we fail them.
How do we build healthy relationships with Black and Latino male students? We must know who they are, both in and out of school. We must take the time to explore not only their test scores, but also information like family dynamics (incarceration, homelessness, abuse, hunger), strengths and weaknesses, emotional well-being, speech problems, and other obstacles affecting their success. Next, to help bridge the gap, I will suggest additional recommendations that have worked for me.
Be an Active Listener
When your students express their thoughts, pains, or concerns, listen without distraction and without judgment. You may find that some kids are dealing with serious issues at home. Even when their concerns are minor, the empathy you display will go a long way in determining how they will perform in your class. By practicing active listening, you let students know that you really care about them, thereby gaining their trust and making them more eager to learn from you.
I have learned so much from my students by simply listening to them. Several years ago, one of my students approached me before our reading enrichment class. This youngster was broken and had low self-esteem. His perception of himself, especially as a student, was negative. I listened to him tell me about his family dysfunction, including an absent father and lack of support. I actively listened to him and after he was done talking, I told him his current situation wasn’t his final destination. He may not control other people’s decisions, but he has total control of the decisions he makes. After this conversation, he knew he could come talk to me anytime he was feeling down.
Be Fair and Consistent
Treat every student fairly. What does being fair look like? It means that you are impartial and you hold all students under your leadership to the same rules. It’s tough to build relationships with students who feel they’re being treated unjustly. When you and your students set rules, everyone must abide by them. For example, if you have a rule of no chewing gum, that rule should apply to all students. If you are ever in doubt about your discipline choices, ask yourself if you would treat your own child that way.
As a coordinator for our elementary ballet program, I had a close relationship with my young dancers, who trusted me enough to lean on me for guidance and advice. At the same time, I was known as a firm teacher with high expectations. At times, my young dancers would try to get away with irresponsible behaviors like claiming they were too tired to attend ballet class. They knew without a doctor or parent excuse, I had to hold them to the same high standard as I did with other students. At the time, it was tough for them to understand, but eventually they respected the fact that I held them accountable.
Healthy communication means connecting with trust and respect so that you know students and they know you. Let your students see that you’re not perfect. Let them know you made mistakes along the way, and tell them how you overcame those mistakes. You can’t teach students to learn from their mistakes if you never share your own. The more transparent you are, the more students will trust you. For example, one of my Latino students was having a tough day and said, “It’s not easy being the dumb one in math.” I shared with him that when I was in school, math was a tough subject for me too. Like him, I was a better reader and writer. I mentioned to him that I also felt frustrated and understood how he felt, but I was motivated to get help and work extra hard. We both came up with ideas and strategies he could use when he felt stuck in math. Number one on our list: Ask for help! His math scores began to increase and so did his self-efficacy.
Challenge Your Mental Models
When judging someone, we often fall back on mental models, which are thinking patterns established by past events, experiences, and messages we receive from the media. These models serve as filters through which we respond to the world. They shape what we see and hear, what we feel, and what we do. Unfortunately, mental models can give birth to stereotypes. We all respond to situations and people based on our mental models, which are often invisible to us.
That’s why it’s important to stop and ask ourselves, “Is there a possibility that I could be wrong?” If your unconscious mental model tells you that Black and Latino males aren’t capable of being successful students, it will affect how you respond to them and they will perceive your low expectations. We cannot lower our expectations for our students at any time. Every student has the potential to succeed. No matter what their home situation is or how they dress or look, we must view every student as a potential success. For example, one of my students had trouble reading at grade level. He would get upset because he was embarrassed that he struggled to sound out words. I stopped students from making fun of him when he read aloud. In private, I explained to him that if he wanted to compete with the rest of the world for his education and future employment, he would have to work on reading until he got it right. I shared about my dyslexia and my fear of reading aloud because I knew my classmates would laugh at me. Therefore, I had to spend extra time sounding out words until I got it right. I set high expectations for him instead of feeling sorry for him. I was not going to let him self-doubt or underestimate his potential—I was going to challenge him to do better. We continued to read aloud, and this young man became one of the best presenters in the class!
Discipline with Care
Discipline is essential for all students, but it has to be the right kind. Two mistakes are especially harmful to Black and Latino male students. The first is using sarcasm. Sarcasm is the last thing that a young person coming from a tough background needs to hear. A sarcastic remark may make the educator feel superior, but it can only make the target of the remark feel inadequate. Second, I’ve observed many educators showing anger when they have conflicts with students, and the results are never positive. There’s a difference between being angry and being firm. What our Black and Latino male students need is an understanding teacher who doesn’t take their behavior personally, but instead responds with empathy and calm during high-stress situations.
Whatever form of discipline you use, do it with care and concern for the student. Many students have serious emotional issues that are not being addressed. To build healthy relationships, you must let students know that even if they make a terrible mistake or decision, you still believe in them and their ability to bounce back and make better choices. That will go a long way toward building better relationships with them.
Hungry to Learn
Finally, some low-income Black and Latino males may feel under-appreciated, unimportant, and unequipped to succeed. They feel that educators not only don’t expect them to do well, but also don’t put forth effort to help them grow. But poverty doesn’t have to mean “at risk.” Many young people who grew up in poverty have become gifted doctors, lawyers, business owners—and teachers. Beneath their exterior, these young men want to be educated just like any other student. They are hungry to learn. They just need educators with empathy who care enough to build relationships with them.
If you have any questions or comments about this topic, please contact Martha López at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Martha Lopez, WATG Board Member
As a former classroom teacher of 12 years, I have had the great fortune of teaching incredibly exceptional bilingual students. Jessica Ojeda-Barojas is one of those students. In December of 2019, Wisconsin State Senator Tim Carpenter (3rd District), who sponsored her for this program, announced that Jessica was accepted to participate in the Wisconsin Senate Scholar Program. This program is an elite program designed to challenge Wisconsin's best students with an advanced government curriculum that includes classroom instruction, roundtable discussion sections, and a lab component. This highly competitive program only selects 33 students.
Allow me to share who Jessica is and why her acceptance is so important. She is currently a senior in the iForward Online Public Charter School where she is on track to becoming the class of 2020 valedictorian. But, my relationship with her began years ago. I met her eleven years ago when I was her 1st and 3rd grade teacher in Milwaukee Public Schools. Since she was very young, it was evident that she was a highly gifted learner, and she consistently demonstrated excellence throughout her educational career. Besides her intellectual capability, she has a strong desire for social justice issues and a passion to serve the Latino community. She offers a cultural perspective and representation that we desperately need in government. Jessica has an exceptional ability to understand logical connections that allow her to detect inconsistencies. As a result, she possesses the critical thinking skills necessary to effectively solve problems, regardless of their complexity. Jessica demonstrates the ability to solve a variety of problems in conventional and innovative ways. She has shown she can identify and ask the important questions which clarify conflicting views from either side to provide the best solutions. For example, I have seen Jessica engage in emotionally charged conversations, critically examine the issue, and consistently respond in a logical and constructive manner. She always offers an acceptable and appropriate solution, and is respectful of others’ ideas and opinions. These are all skills we expect our elected officials to possess and carry out on behalf of their constituents.
Why is her acceptance into this program so important? As of today, there are 36 Latinos in the House of Representatives (out of 435 representatives total), and four in the Senate (out of 100 senators), yet Latinos make up 17.8% of the US population. In recent years, there are more Latino politicians in congress than in prior elections. However, there is still a lack of matched representation. If we sought for perfect Latino representation, we would expect about 77 House members and 18 senators. Unfortunately, we are far from matched representation. As you can see, Jessica’s participation is important because she represents the 6% of Wisconsin’s Latino population. Thanks to the Senate Scholar Program, this opportunity creates a pathway for minority students to engage in politics and possibly help increase minority representation in the US government.
Jessica is one of the 33 exceptional young leaders that will participate in this program in 2020. Congratulations to all of the juniors and seniors that will be working with Senators, legislative staff and the University of Wisconsin faculty. The Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted applauds your accomplishments!
“The Senate Scholar Program is an intensive week-long educational program offered by the Wisconsin State Senate. Admission to the program is highly competitive and is limited to 33 academically exceptional high school juniors and seniors from around Wisconsin. Each Senate Scholar receives a hands-on, up-close view of the Legislature’s role in our democracy.” For more information, visit http://legis.wisconsin.gov/ssgt/senatescholar.
Maria Katsaros-Molzahn, Ed.D
Ever since Carol Dweck wrote Mindset: The New Psychology for Success (2006), the educational community has focused on the importance of teaching perseverance to all students. Dweck discovered that all people fall somewhere within the mindset range from fixed to growth. According to the research, 40% of all people fall within the growth mindset, another 40% the fixed, and 20% are somewhere down the middle.
People with a growth mindset understand that learning requires effort. Rather than having an idealistic outlook, these people tend to be pragmatists. They recognize that hard work does pay off. Conversely, people with a fixed mindset view traits and talents as bestowed, or fixed, at an early age. For fixed mindset personalities, practice might lead to a better outcome, but it is fraught with frustration. Most importantly, when a fixed mindset person fails at something, the fault is attributed to external variables, and not to the effort of the individual.
Interestingly, many gifted students tend to exhibit fixed mindset characteristics. Thinking about this population of children, this observation makes sense. Gifted children often possess a heightened awareness of perfection within a given domain. Further, their cognitive abilities usually mean their reasoning skills are at odds with their fine motor capabilities. They know how a product should appear, but may lack the appropriate skill set to ensure success. This can result in frustration and resignation... (“I just am not good at this.”)
Parenting (and teaching) gifted students is filled with joys and challenges. These kids have insights that go deep, and often beyond their years. However, when fixed mindset kicks in, they can lose sight of reason. Luckily, however, growth mindset thinking is teachable. With a bit of practice, students and parents can develop growth mindset thinking. Here are some tips to facilitate the process:
Tip #1: Talk about the brain as a muscle. All muscles need exercise, a healthy diet, and healthy habits to grow strong.
Tip #2: Model making mistakes! Children need to see adults in the process of cleaning up after mistakes. They need to hear phrases such as, “Oops, I just __________, this is frustrating. Now I have to______________.”
Tip #3: Differentiate between too easy, too hard, and just right. Growth mindset does not mean one can walk into an operating room and be the doctor. Instead, growth mindset means, if someone desires to work in the medical field, he/she sets forth the motions and extended effort to get accepted into the medical field, do the work, and continue to improve with practice.
Tip #4: Use real-life examples to teach about mindsets. Arguably, growth mindset existed long before Dwek named it. Reading books about real people from varying backgrounds allows children to view the inner lives of important people, and to vicariously experience the joys and challenges that they experienced as they learned to apply growth mindset practices. Some of my favorites include Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (Latham, 1955), Wilma Unlimited (Krull and Diaz, 2000), and Heart of A Samurai (Preus, 2012).
Tip #5: Take the mindset quiz (available online).
Remember, the growth mindset strategies do not guarantee success; instead, they make arriving at success easier.
Working for the Oregon School District, Maria has 25 years of experience in the field of gifted education. Ever since reading and teaching about Growth Mindset, Maria discovered students were more comfortable accepting challenges!
Published:February 28, 2006
Publisher:Random House Publishing Group
Author:Carol S. Dweck
When I joined the WATG Board, I promised my ten-year-old daughter that she would have an opportunity for her voice to be heard about what it was like to be gifted, and to give her perspective on what gifted children need from their teachers and schools. To this end, I interviewed my daughter. This is what she wants people to know about being gifted and in school:
As my final interview question, I asked her what she would do if she were “queen of education.” She said she would make a new law. If someone is identified as being potentially gifted, the school would test the student and accommodate the student’s learning needs. The school would have to help the student. She wanted to make it so that there was no way around the law to help gifted students.
Student and Parent Voices
Hear from and about gifted and talented students and parents across the state Wisconsin.