Gifted Intervention Specialists Need to be a Visible Resource

The education pendulum has swung to side where collaboration and teacher teams are becoming more and more popular. Teacher based teams are the norm in many school districts across the country. These teacher based teams work to help improve curriculum and instruction for students in their classes.

As a gifted intervention specialist, I spent some time in some of these teach based teams giving my input. This wasn’t a common occurrence though. Many times, I felt like I have some expertise about a student population that I could give some insight, but it was not often sought after. So often I felt like I was on an island by myself.

I want to share a few ideas that gifted intervention specialists can use that can not feel like the only person on a deserted island.

  •  Be assertive: Have open discussions with your administrators, and general education teachers about the importance of students who are gifted being challenged and receive a curriculum that needs to be differentiated due to their abilities. 
  • Be a resource: Along with having discussions with administrators and general educators, ask to present to the staff during professional development days. Choose topics that could most benefit general education teachers in the classroom. The more visible you can be in your building, the more often you may be sought after when issues come up. I know some gifted intervention specialists who send out a weekly or monthly newsletter with gifted education information and other pertinent information such as testing, teaching strategies, curriculum compacting or acceleration benefits.
  • Build relationships: Communicate with your students’ parents often. Don’t wait until parent-teacher conferences to meet or talk to your students’ parents. Ask how they are performing in their general education courses. Let them know how their child is doing in your classes. With your students who are gifted, ask them how they are doing in their other classes. Let them know you are their advocate for an appropriate education that meets their abilities.
  • Be an advocate:  This is connected to the previous point. By building relationships with your students who are gifted, you build trust with the parents and their children. You are becoming the cog between the general education teacher and the home. Use Twitter, Facebook, a self built website, or other means to connect with your parents, staff, and students. For you colleagues who are tech savvy suggest people to follow on Twitter, or Facebook groups to join that are focused on gifted education.
  • Be supportive: If you can with the support of administration, I would suggest forming a parent support group made of the parents of your students. Present to them some information that would be helpful. Suggest books, magazines, websites, or people to follow on Twitter and groups on Facebook. Connect with your Education Service Center (ESC), gifted coordinator, or state gifted association for support in getting resources and guest speakers who can help educate your parents on gifted education. Invite general education teachers to join in so they can see different aspects of gifted education.

Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list. I would suggest looking at the climate of your building and school district to use and modify the few suggestions listed above to help you in your situation. What do you do to be active in teacher based teams, or being an advocate for your students?

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Creating a Tribe Like Atmosphere in the Gifted Classroom

This week, I have started reading a book by Seth Godin titled Tribes: We need you to lead us. As I am reading this, I am thinking of all my friends who classroom teachers, not only just gifted intervention specialists. I find that many of the ideas that Seth is writing about can be applied to the classroom.


Seth writes that a tribe is “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, humans have been part of one tribe or another. A group only needs two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” As teachers in a building we can either be a group or a tribe. Which do you want to be?

I have said before, being a gifted intervention specialist can be lonely. You may know, I was the only one of three in my district. So I had to create my own tribe. My tribe members were my students. Seth writes that tribes “need leadership. Sometimes, one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth, and something new. The want change.” As the leader of my tribe, I had brilliant students who had shared a label, but not necessarily shared the same interests, personality traits, and learning styles. I had to get us to a shared goal. That goal was to have and create some great moments of learning through some of the topics I would choose, and some they would choose. 

So I had, each of my classes become a tribe. To be honest it worked well, most of the time. I had my students for several years, most throughout their middle school years. So, I took advantage of that time frame I was given to create a culture that was tribe-like. I feel like I made a classroom where everyone felt like belonged, could contribute to the class in a meaningful way, and could help lead if the desire in them was there.

I didn’t think about the idea of tribes when I was in the throngs of teaching. I wish I had this idea then. A few weeks ago I read the book Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm by Hamish Brewer. In his book he places emphasis on building relationships with students. He creates tribes for his students to belong. 

Students who are gifted, want to feel like they belong. We all want to belong. These students who are gifted want to connect with others they feel are like themselves. I felt like it was my job to encourage that feeling by creating a tribe they belonged to.

How do you see your classroom? Are you the leader of a tribe? Are you creating a culture where students feel like they belong?

The Little Ones Who Are Gifted

It has been a while since I last posted. I am posting a presentation that I made for my wife to use with her students about Gifted Education in Early Childhood Education.

Many times parents and teachers may not know that their child or student in preschool or kindergarten may be gifted. The presentation is just about generalizations of things to look for.

If you believe that your child is gifted I would suggest that you look to a child psychologist who has a knowledge of gifted and talented children. The psychologist can use several tests that can be used to measure gifted ability such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Fifth Edition (WISC-V) or Woodcock Johnson IV (WJIV) Tests of Early Cognitive & Academic Development.

Having an early identification of gifted ability in young students is a great thing. Once we know these little children can perform at higher levels that their same age peers we can get the right interventions in place to help make these children successful.

Suicide and Gifted Children

suicideA few years ago in my small community in Northwest Ohio, had a rash of suicides by teenagers. In the span of about 3 years we had half a dozen teens take their own lives, and it brought our community together.

Being a gifted advocate, I began to wonder what I could do to educate myself on the topic of teen suicide, and suicide prevention. I grabbed a copy of Tracy Cross’ book Suicide Among Gifted Children and Adolescents. Dr. Cross has done extensive research on suicide among gifted children and suicide prevention.

I am not an expert on the topic of suicide, but I wanted to be informed. So I am giving a short synopsis of what I learned from his book.

Suicidal behavior has four behaviors:

  • Ideation: thinking about suicide
  • Gestures: behaviors that are not meant to actually kill the person, but appear like they might
  • Attempts: efforts to die that fail
  • Completions: killing oneself intentionally

Dr. Cross mentions 10 risk factors for adolescent suicide. These factors are:

  1. Psychiatric disorders
  2. Substance abuse
  3. Cognitive and personality factors
  4. Aggressive-impulsive behaviors
  5. Sexual orientation
  6. Friend or family member of someone with suicidal behaviors
  7. Parental psychopathology
  8. Stressful life circumstances
  9. Glamorization of suicide through media coverage
  10. Access to lethal methods

Some characteristics of gifted adolescents are associated with an increased risk of suicide includes “unusual sensitivity and perfectionism; isolationism related to extreme introversion; some overexcitabilities as identified by Dabrowski. Jim Delisle has researched four different issues that make adolescents susceptible to suicide attempts: perfectionism, societal expectations to achieve, differential development of intellectual and social skills, and impotence to effect real-world change.”    

There are many different theories and theorists that are mentioned in Dr. Cross’ book. I would suggest to read, and to educate yourself on those if you are further interested. A few theorists that are mentioned are Durkheim, Gould, Greenberg, Venting, Shaffer, and Shneidman. I am in no way an expert, I am still learning and educating myself.

After knowing some characteristics to look for, I think we need to turn and look to prevention. What can schools do to help with prevention? Dr. Cross mentions some suggestions that we can as teachers can stakeholders can implement.

Some of these suggestions include:

  • Schools need to create an overt plan that includes a steering committee representing all stakeholders;
  • Create a suicide prevention plan that would be a significant part of an overarching plan to create a caring community;
  • Training stakeholders and teachers, and administrators should be thoroughly trained in suicide awareness and prevention. Depending on the understanding standing of gifted children will determine the sophistication of the training;
  • Training teaching staff and administration about the realities of suicide and incorporating the training into a curriculum of mental health students can partake in starting in upper middle school and high school;
  • Include students in organizing and steering a committee that will help to create a safe school environment.

As a collective group: staff, administration, parents, and community stakeholders we need educate our gifted children and our non-gifted children out the prevention strategies that they can partake in. Having this collective group also know about the characteristics of gifted children, and some of their proclivities can help create an understanding that can create an environment of understanding and caring.

What can we as stakeholders do to help create an environment of caring, understanding, and suicide prevention?  

Taking off the Behavioral Masks that Gifted Children Hide Behind

paper_mache_plain_masksSometimes it seems so simple to identify the gifted children in your classroom. They answer all the questions, they read very well, and can make friends very easy. Sometimes they are labeled “teacher pleasers” or the “teacher’s pet.” But there are those that don’t fit this mold or the stereotypical nerdy child you see in the movies or on television.

It is my goal in this post to shed some light on some of the areas or masks that gifted children hide behind that may cause them to not be identified as gifted. This list isn’t a complete end all be all type of list. These are just a few that I feel that are most common.

Asynchronous Development 

  • Many gifted children function at a very high level in one or more areas, but socially and emotionally they may be functioning at much lower level. You may see very smart children acting what would be perceived as immature for their ability.

Lack of study skills or habits

  • As you may know gifted children are very smart. Many don’t struggle until later in high school. Passing through elementary and middle school without having to put much effort into their studying. Once that struggle comes many gifted students don’t know how to handle it. Their self concept can get damaged. Many gifted children will shut down. This doesn’t always happen in high school. It happens in the early grades as well.

Underachievement

  • Underachievement is basically when a child simply chooses not to perform to expectations of their teachers, peers, or parents. There could be some psychological reasons for this, some may have to do with personal preference with the subject, project, or environment they are in. This disengagement can lead to many gifted children not being identified correctly. They may be actually gifted, but teachers may see them as lazy.

Communication with Peers and Adults 

  • One aspect of gifted children have is ability to communicate. Gifted children tend to communicate more frequently with adults. Gifted children have the ability to think in the abstract, have a divergent thinking paradigm, and have comprehensive vocabularies. Sometimes this leads to less communicating with peers and more with adults. With a majority of their communication with adults gifted children can socially isolate themselves from their peers.

Social Isolation

  • Gifted children can feel very isolated from their peers. Peers may not understand their interests,  have trouble following their intricate games, and not understand them due to their large vocabulary. Finding true friends can be very difficult. Due to this many gifted children find it easier to do things on their own.

These are just a few behavioral masks that gifted children tend to wear. As gifted intervention specialists, parents and teachers we need to help our gifted children in different situations so they can be successful.

Have you seen some of these behaviors in your classroom? How are you supporting your gifted children?

Mental Heath and Gifted Children

unhappy-teen-150x150In the upcoming issue of the OAGC Review the central focus is going to be Gifted and Mental Health. I am a firm believer that we need to be aware of the mental health of our children. They have more avenues of stressors than what my generation had at their age, such stressor is cyber-bullying.

The Mental health and children has been a huge topic of discussion in my area of Northern Ohio after experiencing a half dozen successful suicides over the past two years. Over the past two years our community has experienced a half a dozen successful adolescent suicides. Our community has put adolescent mental health in the forefront of conversations in schools, churches, and in public forums.

At the school level, it is imperative to understand how important it is for teachers and parents to work together to know and form solid relationships with children. Teachers and parents should have an open, transparent and honest relationship when it comes to behavior change in their child. That open relationship allows both the parent and teacher to discuss issues about behavior, attitudes, grades, and social issues with their children.

When it comes to gifted children, they have experiences that only they can experience. They already see their peers and teachers differently. Some gifted children experience over-excitabilities, perfectionism, and a strong sense of not allowing themselves to fail. These stressors can contribute to a wide variety of emotions and can cause stress in the life of gifted children. These attributes, along with social and emotional development, can cause behavior change.

The life of a gifted child can be a roller coaster. In the early years of elementary school everyone wants to be their friend. As they grow up and move to middle and high school their ring of friends gets smaller and people begin to see them differently. They may experience bullying from others in name calling, alienation, and cyber-bullying. We know gifted children generally communicate with adults easier than with their same age peers that are in their classes. At times it may seem evident that their intellectual development doesn’t match their social and emotional development. This can cause a gifted child to feel like they have no friends or they just can’t fit in.

With these vulnerabilities, teachers and parents need to be diligent in looking for any changes in behavior such as:

  • Withdrawing from friends and/or social activities;
  • Losing interest in hobbies;
  • Giving away prized possessions;
  • Preoccupation with death and dying;
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; and
  • Losing interest in personal appearance.

The changes in behavior will be seen at home and at school. When teachers or parents start to notice these changes they need to get help to the student. But they also need to communicate with each other. We don’t want another statistic of an attempted or successful suicide.

Resources

Frazier, A. D., & Cross, T. L. (2011). Chapter 51 Debunking the Myths of Suicide in Gifted Children. Parenting Gifted Children (pp. 517-524). Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press.

Delisle, J. R. (1986). Death with Honors: Suicide Among Gifted Adolescents. Journal of Counseling and Development, 64(May), 1986. 558-560.

 

Working with Parents to Improve High Ability Students’ Education

middle-school

This week my school system is having their Annual Spring Parent Teacher Conferences. I feel this Spring Conference is just as important as our Fall Conferences are, but the parent turn out is noticeably lower than in the Fall. I was reminded over the weekend that Parent Teacher Conferences shouldn’t be the only time in which both parties work together to help improve the education of their children, particularly in middle school.

Middle School can be a tough transition for many students. In the elementary classes students are given their foundations, and middle school build on that foundation. In the middle school, students learn some independence and choice. Students can choose from sports, clubs, and after school activities that interest them.

When it comes to high ability learners, we have to be keenly aware that they are in the right classroom level that matches their ability. I found a joint statement that NAGC and NMSA (National Middle School Association) wrote in order to challenge schools, parents, and councilors to make sure they are meeting the needs of these learners.

To ensure that high ability learners are getting their needs met we have to look at creative ways to met them. Here are a couple examples of accommodations:

  • Long Distance Learning: If a high ability learner needs to take high school / college classes in middle school this is a great way to solve that.
  • On-Line Classes: If you high school or district offers online classes for high school credit. High ability learners would benefit from this.
  • Subject / Grade Acceleration: Moving a high ability learner a whole grade or just in a subject.
  • Independent Studies: Allowing a high ability learner to learn a subject on their on at their own pace is a great way to met the need to challenge students. (MOOCs are great for this since they are usually sponsored by a college.)
  • Participating in School and/or community based clubs: Science Olympiad, Quiz Bowl, Chess Clubs, Spelling and Geography Bees, Astronomy Clubs,and such: Allowing high ability learners to take part in programs listed above is a great way to met the needs of high ability learners.

All of the accommodations  listed above that would be effective and successful will only happen when parents, teachers, administrators, and councilors work together to make high ability learners challenged during school and after school. In middle school specifically, several of the accommodations listed above would work much easier the more parents and teachers talk and discuss the needs of their children.

In your middle school, what are some accommodations you have seen that have been successful? Share those in the comment sections below.