Educating the Gifted and Talented

“People should be free to find or make for themselves the kinds of educational experience they want their children to have.” -John Holt-

Thursday, November 08, 2007

How to deal with existentialism in gifted youngsters

"Gifted people can become cynical because they can “see
through” people, they empathize
and perceive the dark side too
-Elizabeth Meckstroth-

"The point is that the danger lies in having an exceptional IQ in an environment completely lacking in intellectual peers. It's the isolation that does the damage, not the IQ itself."

(photo from: The Situationist)

Some (many?) gifted individuals experience the world as if they are observing it from within a glass bubble. When they talk, it is as if no one really listens to what they are saying. This can leave them alienated, lonely, frustrated and even pained. How can they deal with that?

Ginger Lewman, a GT teacher and also Director of a charter school that serves predominantly gifted students says "..we need to be having these types of conversations with kids on a regular basis. .. I think the BEST thing I've seen .. are the Ten Power Questions..from a book called How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.

10 Power Questions

• When am I most naturally myself?
• What is one thing I could stop doing, or start doing, or do differently, starting today, that would improve the quality of my life?
• What is my greatest talent?
• How can I get paid for doing what I love?
• Who are my most inspiring role models? Do I apply their lessons daily?
• How can I best be of service to others?
• What is my heart’s deepest desire?
• What are the greatest obstacles to the fulfillment of my dreams and goals?
• What are the blessings of my life? Do I recount them every day?
• What legacy would I like to leave?

I encourage my students to consider a couple of these questions at a time. In fact, these are PERFECT blog starters, but some will have pretty personal answers too that should not be publicized.

Either way, it gets high/middle schoolers to consider things beyond tomorrow and beyond their daily dramas.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Gifted dropouts deserving of federal aid

From Eduction Week Talk Back:

In a recent Education Week Commentary, economist Anthony P. Carnevale writes that high-achieving students from working families are often overlooked in American education. Students from affluent families benefit from active and involved parents, while children in poor families receive some help through programs such as No Child Left Behind.

One solution he proposes is to develop individualized standards for each child that will complement state, or even national, standards.

What do you think? Are students from working families often left out of education reform? What can be done at the federal level to help these students?


Conny Jensen, GT Advocate - 10/03/2007 1:57PM

After interviewing and supporting gifted students at one of our local high schools I found that it is most often the ones who "fail in school" who are most at risk of never going on to college.

Although I had no access to personal information I intuited that most who had failing grades were from working class families. Gifted kids from wealthier families often ended up in the International Baccalaureate program; an indication perhaps that their parents indeed contribute to pushing them toward success in higher education.

So, failing gifted students leave school without a diploma, but not because they do not understand what they were supposed to learn - often they understand a whole lot more which makes them cynical about "education".

These kids, leaving school with their self-esteem crushed, seen as failures by school and often by their parents as well, are not likely to pursue the GED needed to get federal student aid if they want to go to college.

I would suggest that the federal government allow these bright dropouts to receive federal student aid so they can immediately start college. The money could be given as a loan they will not have to pay back if they are successful!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Nurture a child's thinking skills

Harvard graduate and author, Sandra Parks, showed Greeley educators how important thinking skills are to each child’s success in school. At a workshop for District Six teachers she gave examples on how to nurture thinking in the classroom.

Inadvertently but fortunately I did many of the things that Sandra suggests. Watching videos of my children’s early years I noticed how much I talked with them! The spoken interaction greatly boosted their reasoning skills. My many questions gave them opportunity to ponder and express themselves. I also urged them to explore and feel, and this awareness stimulated their thinking. Studies of the brain show that focused interest, and sensory experience, actually lead to increased intelligence. The more exciting the information is that enters the brain, the more synapses, or connections, are formed to expand a person’s understanding.

Children also become competent readers when exposed to words they understand. The more words they know, the better they can think, whereas not being able to name what they see can stunt intellectual growth, sometimes even severely. Words are truly the stepping stones to knowledge!

To nurture children’s understanding, adults need to be responsive. Taking time to answer questions with care and patience will invite more wondering still. It’s when kids are curious that they analyze and learn! Yet, questioning and class discussions are often thought to be less important than learning facts. In his book, “Schools Without Failure “, education expert Dr. William Glasser writes, “A totally quiet, orderly, unemotional class is rarely learning. Quiet and order have no place in education as valued assets”.

Scientists too, find that learning must be exciting. Neurons literally only function when stimulated. Sadly, high demands put upon teachers leave little room for excitement or personal interaction with students. According to Rexford G. Brown “The lecture mode, known to be the least efficient way of presenting information, dominates far too many classrooms”. Walking the hallways of my daughter’s Junior High it always surprised me to not find a single classroom with desks arranged in a circle. Students always face the teacher and except for those in the front row, all look at other students’ backs too. Not exactly the best situation to get to know each other. Circle time, much like it was experienced in preschool or kindergarten, is still the best way to open up to each other and feel accepted.

Education only improves when teachers and students are involved with each other through thinking. Reasoning with peers and teachers fosters curiosity, which in itself is a way to understand and learn more. Students will develop a skill that leads to success in life more than anything else that’s taught in school. Glasser stresses “We must show that questions are just as important as answers. Factual answers are worthless unless they are linked to ideas and thinking. We must teach children to question without fear and to inquire into topics they and even their teacher don’t understand.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dutch Gifted Teens' Needs Overlooked Too

In the summer of 2000 we met for the very first time. Seven mothers subscribed to an Internet mailing list about Dutch gifted teens. This first encounter was kindly planned around my vacation in The Netherlands as I am the only one who lives elsewhere. We gathered at the train station in Utrecht, a city centrally located and easiest to reach for all.

Going up to the first two women who stood waiting was only briefly awkward. The four others soon followed, and after introductions and espresso we headed into the old city center. We descended a wooden staircase to one of numerous terraces on the stone wharf that lines the water of “Oude Gracht”(see photo). It is a canal like those in Amsterdam, only more narrow. This strand of bricks also gives access to various restaurants, quaintly housed in dungeon-like cellars underneath the street.

Sitting by the water’s edge, which attracted more and more people as the sun broke through the clouds, we enjoyed our conversation. Interacting was easy for we have all walked in the same proverbial pair of shoes. Without exception we have teens who, despite being gifted, are not succeeding in the public school system. In the ongoing fight for suitable education for our children we experience similar obstacles, frustrations, and pain.

Changes in instruction for highly capable students in The Netherlands seem to occur even more slowly than in the U.S. and Dutch students too sometimes become emotionally traumatized in the process! Whatever small improvements we, as gifted advocates, may help accomplish usually come too late to benefit our own children. Patience, hope, and limitless stamina are prerequisites to support our kids the best we can, especially when they have already been adversely affected!

Though Holland’s secondary schools offer four different levels of academic challenge, gifted students can also be found in the easiest one and in vocational schools due to underachievement. On the other hand, the hardest level (which guarantees entrance into universities, much like the International Baccalaureate programs in the U.S.) is no certainty that gifted students will succeed. Clearly it is not that they are intellectually unable, just that their learning needs require a differentiated approach. Rigor is usually only synonymous with strictness and can especially stifle the curiosity and unconventional thinking that many gifted students display.

All of us found that we not only encounter a lack of understanding for our gifted kids in the school system but among friends, siblings, parents, and sometimes even spouses as well. If the people in our private lives are not aware of the challenges and also the dark side that giftedness can bring, it is even harder to foster understanding and empathy in others!

That was indeed a somber realization but one that must never be allowed to overshadow the need to keep fighting for our children’s well-being in school. We will continue to share our frustrations, trials and, occasional triumphs. We simply must keep doing what we can to make people understand that gifted kids are different from the norm and need to be understood and accepted!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Highly Recommended Books

Guiding the Gifted Child
- A practical resource for parents and teachers

Webb, Meckstroth, Tolan

Standing Up For Your Gifted Child - How to make the most of kids' strengths.
Joan Franklin Smutny

Gifted Children - A guide for Parents and Teachers
Virginia Ehrlich

Managing the Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted
Connie Schmitz & Judy Galbraith

The Gifted KIds' Survival Guide - A Teen Handbook
Judy Galbraith and Jim Delisle

The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children - What do we know?
A Service Publication of the National Association for Gifted Children
Maureen Neihart, Sally M. Reis, Nancy M. Robinson, Sidney M. Moon

When Gifted Kids Don't Have All the Answers - How to Meet Their Social and Emotional Needs
Jim Delisle & Judy Galbraith

"Gifted" is not a dirty word - Thoughts about being bright in an average world
Nancy Alvarado Stone

Genius Denied - How to stop wasting our brightest young minds
Jan & Bob Davidson

Upside-Down Brilliance - The Visual-Spatial Learner
Linda Kreger Silverman

The Gifted Adult - A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius
Mary-Elaine Jacobsen

Gifted Grownups - The Mixed Blessing of Extraordinary Potential
Marylou Kelly Streznewsky

They can but they don't - Helping students overcome work inhibition
Jerome H. Bruns

The Childhood Depression Sourcebook - Diagnosis, Treatment and Strategies
Jeffrey A. Miller

Learning about giftedness when a child is young "Is A Good Thing!"

It is great when parents seek info regarding giftedness before their child has even entered school! I did not learn about the complex issues tied to high intelligence until my daughter was in middle school. She had breezed through elementary school with A's and I never stopped to wonder if she had been challenged.

Later, due to underachievement and depression (it's hard to say which came first) she lost academic self-confidence and self-esteem. She dropped out of high school in 10th grade. At 20 she regained interest in learning and now, at 23, she will graduate Summa Cum Laude with a degree in philosophy. Click here for more about her journey.

Even though each Greeley-Evans school has a half time GT teacher, you are your child's most important advocate!

These books I found especially helpful for learning about giftedness. Some are available at the Weld County libraries; others can be purchased from
Some parents worry and believe they may not be able to homeschool their gifted child because they are not gifted themselves. Remember though, as parents you are likely the only people who can and will truly empathize with your child when he or she experiences the shadowside of giftedness, such as intense frustration, unhappiness due to loneliness; the feeling that no one "out there" really understands how sensitive and caring he or she is and that their experiences can therefore be intense and difficult to process.

You can give public schooling a try as long as you regularly touch base with your child's teacher to make sure your son or daughter receives appropriate challenge. If your child's needs are not met, homeschooling may be an option.

Tour several schools to get a feel for the staff and the building environment. Be sure to meet with the GT teacher too. We visited several schools before deciding in what "school boundary" to purchase a home.

In retrospect I wish I would have pulled my daughter out of Junior High when she started to fail and got deeply discouraged about school. I too thought I wasn't capable of homeschooling. I now know she would have been able to educate herself more efficiently by pursuing areas of interest at a time she was ready to tackle them. You can always call in the help of a tutor for the tougher subjects like math or sign your child up for on-line classes.

The most important thing is to be supportive of your children and to accept them for who they are and to respect what they may want to do in life. Our 20-year-old son is gifted too. He did graduate from high school, but wanted to work before starting higher education. He's had several different jobs already, mostly blue collar ones. Right now he's working for a company that makes dumpsters. He likes the job because it offers him much variety including welding, and at the end of the day he can see exactly what his labor has produced. It is not clear where his life's journey will lead, but as parents we simply want him to be content and do what he enjoys.

Advice for anyone!

The Manifesto for Children

E. Paul Torrance

Don't be afraid to fall in love with something
and pursue it with intensity.
Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit
and enjoy your greatest strengths.
Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others
and to walk away from the games they impose on you.
Free yourself to play your own game.
Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you.
Learn the skills of interdependence.
Don't waste energy trying to be well rounded.
Do what you love and can do well.

Are you gifted?

You have a gifted child, so..are you gifted? Read the following to see if it rings true for you.

An excerpt from Giftedness in the Workplace by Dr. Mary-Elaine Jacobsen

In general, the gifted exhibit sensory and emotional sensitivity, difficulty in accepting criticism, extraordinary empathy and compassion, passionate dedication to causes, deep concern and worry, overwhelming feelings of responsibility for the well-being of others and the advancement of humanity, and become easily outraged by injustices and inhumane acts.

Not unexpectedly, gifted adults are prone to periods of existential depression. On the other hand, one of the more glaring traits of giftedness is extraordinary goal orientation that coexists with a relentless curiosity.

Challenge seems to be more of a need than a want, and feelings of being driven or pressured to understand and excel are the companions of achievement. Entelechy (from the Greek entelekheia meaning full realization, a vital force urging one toward self-actualization) is the sum and substance of their remarkable self-motivation and perseverance.

We can see evidence of adult giftedness in a broad knowledge base that is woven together over time and easily linked to new information. They also display a habit of self-monitoring and self-guidance, personal insight and metacognition --- often in the form of harsh self-scrutiny.

Gifted adults generally rely on their pliable thinking and unusual perceptivity. They share an ability to see through the veneer, to quickly ascertain problems (adept problem-finders) and reinterpret things beyond traditional views.

They can cut through complex issues to the heart of the matter and move directly toward creative solutions by combining intellectual strengths (e.g. verbalizing internal images).

The astute observer will detect signs of adult giftedness in their love of puzzles and preference for complexity, their penchant for original responses, and fondness of novelty. These characteristics become all the more obvious when they stay the course and tolerate ambiguity long after others have bowed out of the investigation.

The gifted adult often displays a tendency to be excitable, especially when something new tweaks challenges their imaginations. They may appear to have unusually high levels of energy (not hyperactivity), shifting from one area of interest to another without loss of zeal.

Sometimes excitability is evidenced by overt expressiveness, love of intense discussion and debate, the ability to concentrate for long periods of time, multiple interests that reflect their multipotentiality, and by complaints of being easily bored.

Frequently gifted adults in counseling report a history indicative of uneven or asynchronous intellectual, emotional, psychomotor, language, and/or social development (e.g. reasoning ahead of language skills; complex ideas ahead of ability to sufficiently express; emotional maturity lagging reasoning).

They may be proud of their exceptional intelligence and high academic achievement or self-conscious and baffled about experiences of underachievement despite their recognized exceptional ability.

When gifted adults feel free to reveal information about their inner lives they often admit to being perfectionists and complain that they have find mundane tasks intolerable.

Many report feeling driven by, and often suffering from, exceedingly high standards for themselves and others; pulled toward high achievement by their profound idealism while simultaneously engaging in devitalizing self-criticism.

Particularly for the gifted female, it is not uncommon to find a self-perception distorted by accompanying feelings of being a failure, a fraud or impostor, or a belief that it is others who are truly gifted.

Contrary to popular opinion and faulty expectations of nerdism, the gifted adult commonly shows unusual psychosocial maturity, popularity, charisma, trustworthiness, social adjustment and relationship competence.

For many of them, leadership is a natural role that is upheld by self-assuredness and an excellent sense of humor.

Despite their abilities, the gifted experience recurring feelings of isolation and being largely misunderstood. Most have been aware since early childhood that they are inherently different, though they may not know in what ways, and typically believe their differences are disreputable.

Likewise they may eventually admit to chronic experiences of deep loneliness in spite of a preference for working alone. In addition, many have been berated for being picky, perfectionistic, or overly-committed to orderliness because neither therapist nor client realize it is normal for the gifted to seek security by systematizing.

Gifted adults may fail to respect their own need for solitude, reflection, and time to daydream or play with concepts and ideas. They may shame themselves when their strong bids for autonomy result in a pattern of butting heads with authority figures when most have never been told that they challenge tradition because of their deep personal values and a reverence for truth and authenticity.

Overall, the gifted adult is almost entirely unaware that the so-called excesses of their nature are the very same traits that underpin excellence. With help, as gifted adults discover their true identities, they can rewrite their histories in terms of assets rather than liabilities.

They may come to understand a gifted child’s tears and rage over playground unfairness or pointing out politically incorrect truths were early signs of moral leadership.

They may finally realize that badgering teachers and parents with questions and getting into all kinds of investigative mischief often foreshadows entrepreneurism and innovation.

They may also discover that when the gifted child’s touchiness seems excessive, it may be a harbinger of profound empathy, the kind revered in social reformers and servants of the poor and needy.

Thus, a corrected personal history is fundamental for self-support, a prerequisite for confidently embarking on new ventures in a world that is still stuck on stereotyped notions about the gifted.

Bad Math Teachers

In his article "When Teachers Don't Make the Grade" which I accessed
through the National PTA website, Jay Matthews, education reporter for the Washington Post wrote:

"Take, for instance, my daughter's math teacher. I did nothing about him.
My wife had written a letter to our son's high school principal about a
struggling Spanish teacher a few years before, and that had prompted no
action. We figured that this case was also hopeless. My daughter endorsed
our decision to butt out. She found a way to survive. Her subsequent math
teachers were better, restoring her interest in the subject and eventually
making her the only family member ever to take math electives in college."

I responded to him: Your daughter was lucky that she did not get turned off to math. That is what happened to mine because of an unforgiving 9th grade math teacher. She was exceptionally good at math and even won a class award for some difficult problem. However, there was no understanding by the teacher that she had extreme difficulty doing lots of "practice" (?) problems she knew how to do but that were repetitious in nature.
In the end her homework
remained incomplete and resulted ultimately in a failing grade even though her test scores were still high! Not exactly fair.

She dropped out of 10th grade, got her diploma by alternative means, went on to the community college to get general credits out of the way and to build her GPA and is now at a four year college where she's majoring in philosophy with a minor in environmental studies. She still has to take the math requirement but intends to do it by CLEP. And...she still dislikes
math thanks to that one teacher who did not nurture her obvious talent!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rote learning can halt achievement.

Predictable classroom procedures and rote learning can cause learning problems. It can lower and even halt achievement, particularly in identified gifted students. In fact, they can even start to fail the easiest of tasks! Marylou Kelly Streznewski, a Program Specialist in Gifted Education, writes that researchers have found that the brain of a gifted individual has more complex connections and faster activity between them. “Their minds do, literally, race.” she says in her book “Gifted Grownups”.

The result of having a more active brain is that, in order to learn at all, gifted students need more new and challenging content. If they do not get that, mental functioning slows and gets disorganized or even blocked. “Prolonged deprivation can result in irreversible damage”, according to the author.

Virginia Ehrlich, who wrote “Gifted Children”, would agree. She says, “Many bright youngsters leave school out of sheer boredom and frustration”. So, it is therefore critical that schools adapt the curriculum to meet these students’ special needs. Some schools are starting to do just that, but it needs to happen in all classrooms and especially immediately for all students who are currently at risk of failing. When falling grades are not noted and taken seriously by teachers or parents, chronic underachievement can set in. If not reversed in time, emotional damage caused by a severely lowered self-esteem can negatively affect the student, sometimes for good!

According to educator Jerome Bruns, as many as 20 percent of American students do not routinely do the work that teachers assign even though they are intellectually able to understand and do it. He calls it work inhibition. Of the students analyzed, almost all had average or high intellectual abilities, with 36 percent having IQ scores in the superior to very superior range. For the latter group work that is too easy or boring especailly can cause aversion.

Yet, despite their refusal or “inability” to do assigned work, many “failing” students still did well on exams and scored average to high on achievement tests. Virginia Ehrlich urges parents and teachers to take such results into account when evaluating the child. She says they are a truer reflection of the child’s level of performance. Failing classes is clearly not always because of lack of ability but rather of not completing homework. Since homework completion is factored into the final grade, not doing it becomes a punishment and distorts the picture of a student’s true ability!

Research by Bruns, cited in his book “They Can But They Don’t”, found that students with weak skills obtained at least C’s if they turned in their assignments, while students with excellent knowledge obtained D’s and F’s if they did not complete their work. “Teachers do not give low grades to students who “try”, he says, “but they will fail a brilliant child who doesn’t.”

Many gifted students may be underachieving. In one Greeley high school in the first half of 2000, almost 25 percent of all identified gifted students had a GPA of C or lower. Doubting their abilities and seeing their credits for graduation dwindle, these students may likely become the next crop of dropouts. Forcing them to retake classes is often insulting and futile as many could have passed if only test scores had counted!

To educators gifted underachievers seem to be “unmotivated”, “lazy”, or having behavior problems. They usually recognize that they are capable of doing better but often do nothing more than blame the student for not applying him or herself, causing the student to feel even more like a failure. Yet, it is the teacher who can offer relief by seeking the student’s feedback on how he feels he can perform better and allow for necessary adaptations in work and alternative methods of assessment.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Focus on intellectual development!

Many parents whose gifted kids excel in school with straight A's are not aware of special needs besides academic challenge. Others whose equally gifted kids are failing likely believe it is their child's fault! Teachers who do not understand what giftedness is often believe this also. They see no reason to offer the gifted student support; in fact they do not really believe some students are "more gifted" than others. Wanting to appear politically correct they will say that all kids are gifted. “Turn this around”, says psychologist and giftedness expert Linda Silverman, “and see how much sense it makes if they were to say, all kids are retarded!”

Kids who lag far behind average students in their understanding and in the speed and ease with which they can process information need adaptations. The same is true for students who are mentally advanced, the ones we call the gifted. They are far ahead of average students in their understanding and in the speed and ease with which they can process information. They too need adaptations!

Most regular classroom teachers still do not have training in meeting the needs of intellectually advanced students, so it’s up to parents to help bring about the much needed changes. Parents should inform themselves about the various effective strategies in which their children can and should be taught. For example they can and should insist that a school make use of cluster grouping, compacting, cross grade level grouping, subject or grade skipping and in some instances even allow their child to attend school half-time.

Due to the competitive nature of high school and the ensuing track to college much revolves around high GPA, ACT and SAT scores. Few people, whether they be parents, teachers, community members or the students themselves, realize that straight A's can actually hint at debilitating underachievement. Underachievement because the student is usually capable of more challenging material and debilitating because the student does not want to risk losing perfect grades by actually doing more challenging material. So, grades remain more important than nurturing the intellectual and social-emotional development of students.

Academic challenge is very important, but not enough for the few GT kids who are non conformist and who, through observation and analytical thinking, are likely smarter than many adults around them! These students, the brightest among the bright need help not hindrance in pursuing their goals and fulfilling their potential.

Due to the reorganization that has taken place in District Six it is important that parents’ voices for the support of gifted education are heard. They need to find out what sensible options there are for gifted children whose talents and intelligence should be seen as a valuable resource to the community but who often end up as “the forgotten”

What Gifted Students Need

By listening to many gifted high school students I have come to the following beliefs:

--There's still a strong need for staff development so that regular classroom teachers get an understanding of the needs of, and an appreciation for, GT students as a whole but in particular for those who do not excel or who are at risk of failing and dropping out of school.

--It's important to promote cluster grouping of GT students at all levels and place such clusters only with those teachers who are knowledgeable about GT needs, who like these students or who are actively showing interest in learning about GT issues.

--Many GT students do not possess an appreciation for their talents, strengths and interests and often feel insecure about themselves. Although many do remember participating in pullout programs at the elementary level, they do not know they were identified as GT or what that implies. Some believe that they are not gifted anymore when they enter middle and/or high school if no GT program/guidance is visible or available.
As a result, many GT students do not receive guidance to choose appropriate courses when they start high school. A majority do not realize that they may be able to skip introductory courses such as Composition I or Integrated Science I, etc., in order to be challenged at a level that is better suited to their needs.

--Often GT students believe that accelerated classes or AP courses are too difficult and they'd rather not take those out of fear it may lower their GPA. Many feel they have to get straight A's and often their parents expect them to get A's as well. There's a need for appropriate counseling of these students (and their parents) regarding this drive to “succeed” at all costs.

-For some students alternative schooling ( the Aims Diploma Program or the GED exam) is and should remain an option which should be presented to them, their parents and also to our community in a positive manner so that students feel comfortable to pursue such option without shame or loss of self-confidence.

--In middle and high school a lack of socializing with intellectual peers may make these students feel different from the norm and can cause disfranchisement from school. Promoting discussion groups or a "mandatory" elective in "GT 100" where students can learn about characteristics related to their giftedness, where they can meet others like themselves and where they can learn self advocacy for their needs would be a way to instill and nurture self esteem in GT students.

--At the very minimum schools should create an electronic discussion board for their GT students as a means to get in touch with others like themselves, to inform them more easily about issues that pertain to them and to give them an opportunity to hone their reasoning and discussion skills.

--Schools should also promote a GT area on their websites with information regarding giftedness, identification, and available services and books for students and parents.