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-

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!