Importance of Teaching Self Advocacy

self-advocacyI teach middle school children. I love their spunk, jokes, personality, and stage of life. Middle school children have a lot of insecurities. They have to deal with their hormones changing and figuring out life as a middle schooler. I believe the more I am with middle school children the more I understand them.

One aspect of middle school children is the fact they complain. Sometimes the complaint is valid, and sometimes it is just to voice an opinion. When it comes to them knowing they need to have a chance at being challenged more because they are either bored, or feel they can do the next level of work middle schoolers can be hesitant. They don’t want to be seen as “that kid.” So we need to teach them it is alright to want to be challenged, and want to help come up with a solution.

I feel it is important to to teach gifted children to ask and question the right people at the right time and place about their education. It should start with a conversation with their parents. They need to talk to their parents about why they feel they should be accelerated or able to do independent studies to be more challenged. The parent should help to gather some information with the child. They should compile a list of issues they have. Try to stick with aspects that can proven with test scores, home work scores, or project scores. Helping the child know themselves is a great place to start.

After that conversation the gifted child should talk to the school councilor. Talking with the school councilor they can ask for a career placement survey to see what their personality matches. It would be a good thing for students to also know their learning style. The school councilor can help with as well. A great resource that can be used is a document from Richard Felder and Barbra Solomon on learning styles and strategies. During this meeting the student could ask for their cumulative record. Most schools have it in electronic form. It should have all the state test scores, and gifted screening scores in it along with grades cards. This data would be good to use and to know for the student and councilor to determine the best route for change. If the councilor is unwilling to share it, then a parent needs to step in and ask for it.

For self advocacy to be taken seriously the student should have good character. The student should take their education, and their work they turn in seriously. If they are just complaining they are bored just to complain self advocacy could be difficult. They may have to be more intervention with the gifted intervention specialist helping the student.

For self advocacy to be effective the student must have support from parents, teachers, and the school councilor. Once everyone has bought into the fact that the student is ready to be tested, or a committee formed for acceleration of whole grade or subject.

Many times when a student says their bored it can be a complaint. Many times it a cry for help. As a teacher you need to investigate it. Is the student bored because they don’t like the content, or is it because they already know the content. As educators we can down play when a student is crying for help. We don’t always know the answers. We have to genuinely listen to our students.

What do you do to teach gifted children it is alright to self advocate?

 

 

Ten Things Gifted Teachers Should Consider in Their Classrooms

top-tenI was talking to a few teachers this week, and the conversation of classroom climate and management came up. So from that conversation I came up with ten take-a-ways that gifted teachers should consider.

  1. Teachers set the climate of the classroom. Teachers set up the goals, expectations, and we challenge the students to meet and exceed those challenges.
  2. Form relationships with your students. Make time in your daily routine to have a short class meeting. In that meeting allow students to talk, share, and express themselves with you and others.
  3. Know your students. When pairing students together know who is an extrovert and an introvert. Do some learning inventories and pair students that way.
  4. Let students take ownership of projects. Give your students some leeway to put their personality stamp on projects that you do in your classroom.
  5. Listen to your students. Many students have passions they want to explore. Give time in your weekly schedule to allow students to explore these topics. Give them the opportunity and materials they need to effectively explore their passions.
  6. Create a classroom library. This goes along with number 5, but as you are listening to your students see what interests them in their reading. Get those books for your classroom library. If students like books along the lines of Harry Potter then try to get those books for your classroom. If you see that some students are interested in paleontology then get books on dinosaurs and such. The better stacked your library is the more opportunities you give your students to explore new and exciting topics.
  7. Climate of creativity. Allow your students to be creative. Do projects that multiple answers. Incorporate into your classroom passion projects or project based learning projects. By doing these you are giving your students some real world learning.
  8. Incorporate technology and social media. Just about every student has some experience with technology.Use that as often as it is appropriate. Along with that use social media (age appropriate as well) in your lessons. Allow students to use Twitter or Facebook to post thoughts, videos, and links to assignments.
  9. Co-Teach with regular education teachers. Sometimes it is good to go into the regular classroom to see how your students perform. Work with as many regular education teachers to help deepen the content for your students and for regular education students.
  10. Differentiate your curriculum. Even though all of your students are gifted, you still need to differentiate your instruction.

Did I miss anything that you feel I should add to this list? If you let me know in the comment section below.

Minorities in Gifted Programs

I love teaching in my urban school district. I have been teaching gifted children for over a dozen years now, and more often than not, I find that my classes are different year after year. Some years I have quite a few minorities, and some years I don’t.

I have been reading several blogs and research papers to get my head around this idea that minorities aren’t represented accurately in gifted programming. I truly do feel that this is a valid issue that needs to have attention brought to it.

So here is a few things I have found in my readings about minorities in gifted programming in urban settings:

  1. Gifted minorities may not test well due to language barriers
  2. Gifted minorities may not test well due to lack of life experiences
  3. Many gifted minorities have parents who never went to college or finished high school; they may be the first to do this in their family, so education may not be high on the list
  4. The test used to screen many urban minorities may not be the correct one to accurately screen for minorities

When you look across your gifted classes as a GIS, or as a coordinator does the percent of minorities that are in you school meet the percent of minorities in your gifted classes? If not, are you concerned? What can you do to help fix this problem?

A few suggestions that I have to help fix this problem are:

  1. Check your screener tests. Is there a better one that could help with identifying gifted children of minorities?
  2. Talk to regular education teachers to see if there are minorities who may be showing signs they are gifted, but it isn’t obvious
  3. Talk to regular education teachers, and express to them negative classroom behaviors may be a sign of a bored child that may be gifted

As a GIS, my passion is to see as many gifted children succeed in class, and ultimately in life. I feel that a great gifted program takes into account all the factors that limit students chances of getting and succeeding in a gifted classroom. Sometimes it changing tests, test scores, or culture. Teaching regular education teachers characteristics of gifted children will always help.  Staying in contact with regular education teachers and helping them see some obvious and latent behaviors that can help them recognize and ultimately recommend these students for gifted testing.

What are some things your school district does to ensure gifted minorities are being identified and serviced?

Are we Killing Creativity?

As the new year gets going for teachers so does the anxiety of teachers to get everything they need to teach to students taught for the state exams. The anxiety teachers feel is real. Knowing you have to be on pace to get the required material in before the test can and is overwhelming.

With that being the case, and one that probably won’t change for some time, I began to wonder: are we killing creativity in our students, and in our teachers?

killing-creativity-picTeachers

For many teachers long projects on a few topics isn’t something that will work. Instead they will do some projects that last just a day or two, and most likely don’t have the depth or complexity they would like due to time constraints.

All teachers want their students to succeed, but they also know they have to get the scores of their students up for their school, and their district. They don’t want to be “that teacher” that has the lowest scores in their building or on their team. They don’t want to be seen as not pulling their weight.

When teachers only focus on only struggling students they are missing a lot of students who could use more challenge in the classroom. I am not saying that focusing on struggling students isn’t the wrong thing to do. It is wrong when you don’t focus any of your expertise to the average and above average students. Those students aren’t getting the challenge and complexity to push them to do better on their exams.

I am not saying that I have the answers. I don’t. Each class and teacher are different. Its the idea behind the State mandated testing that is the same for everyone.

Students

As teachers focus on test material, students aren’t getting the complexity or depth they need or deserve. The state tests aren’t about creativity. They are about showing what you know on a given day.

For many students, they aren’t analytical or mathematical. They more of the “Right Brain” type of person than “Left Brain”. We need to give these students and many other students the chance to be creative. We need  allow students to use their imaginations, critical thinking and reasoning skills to be prepared for life beyond the test. We need to challenge our students to use their hands, minds, and each other. Life isn’t all about what is on a standardized test.

Students need to have hands on activities, labs, field trips, project based learning, and passion projects to be challenged. Students need to have freedom to express themselves in writing and orally. They need to be challenged to analyze and evaluate data, writing samples, and opinions from others. Students need to be challenged to use technology, social media, coding, circuitry, and engineering principles to learn new and exciting things.

In summation, I hope teachers don’t get overwhelmed with the idea that Standardized tests scores determines if they are a good teacher or not. In the long run, students will remember the awesome labs, dissections, and field trips not the awesome test questions you prepared for them to help them on their standardized test. Do as many activities as you can that allow students to use their imagination, creativity, and critical thinking skills. Give time for play and creativity in your classroom.

 

What about the Label?

In a school setting there are so many labels that get tossed around (good and bad): SP.ED., jock, athlete, band-nerd, geek, teacher’s pet, cheerleader, and bully. But one that seems to get a lot of attention by many. This label that is placed on children who are different than many of their peers. That label is gifted.

cloud-giftedis2Being a student with the gifted label comes with many different connotations. Some will say that since you are gifted everything comes easy for you. Some will say you are the teachers pet since you tutor all the other students. Some will say you are embodying elitism, since you have a label that sets you apart from others.

The language people use to describe the concept of intellectual giftedness and talent shows just how comfortable they are with the label of gifted.  Our society is based on talent, and put a price on talent. If you watch any sporting event you will hear the commentators describe just how gifted and talented the athlete or team is. You can see just much talent is worth when you Google the net worth of famous athletes.

When it comes to educational talent and giftedness the words seem to be less positive. We don’t hear to often about the net worth of giftedness like we do in athletics. I think it is because it goes back to classifying children and adults. When you wear the gifted label you are expected to be a certain way. I also think the gifted label comes with a negative view of cliquicishness, and elitism. It seems when you label one group “gifted” you labeling everyone else “ungifted.”

It doesn’t matter if you like the label or not. It is part of our culture and society. There is nothing wrong with having intellectual abilities, just like there is nothing wrong with having athletic giftedness. As teachers and parents we need to prepare our children for the negative and positive connotations of the gifted label. The child will wear the label regardless. We need them to understand what the label means, and how to carry it so it doesn’t define who they are.

Finding Talent Through Negative Attitudes

I was talking with some teachers the other day who thought they didn’t have any gifted children in their classes because many of their students aren’t hardworking, have good behavior, and many don’t have a good work ethic.

So I thought to myself with that kind negative ideas they may see the talent these students have with a biased lens. I feel when students don’t fit the “gifted” stereotypes then there must not be gifted students. We have to educate regular education teachers to step away from preconceived notions of what a gifted child looks like. We also have to educate regular education teachers that you have to take out your biases and objectively evaluate students on their work not how they behave. We know that when gifted children get bored they can act out and can exhibit unwanted classroom behaviors.

I teach in a school district that has Title 1 services and 100 percent of the students are on free lunches. Research shows that Gifted programs have few students from minorities and low socioeconomic status families. Along with that many teachers hold negative attitudes about the educational abilities of these students, and many times will low academic expectations for them. Many times the negative behavior or unwanted classroom behaviors overshadow the talent these students have. 

Due to the issues listed above schools particularly like the one I teach in must have a strong advocacy program in place. I believe we need to have an advocacy plan that is broken down into the following:

  • Needs assessment team made of teacher teams to help teachers find gifted and talented students even though they may have unwanted classroom behaviors. 
  • An appointed Advocate for the student. This teacher should have some experience with differentiation and /or working with gifted children and understand characteristics and needs of gifted children.
  • Implementation and testing team. This is where the Gifted Intervention Specialist and School Psychologist would work together to make sure the State procedures for testing and screening are followed. If the student does qualify for gifted services then parents are notified and student is placed in the appropriate gifted services . 
  • Follow-up team of the Student advocate, Gifted Intervention Specialist and the School Psychologist follow-up with regular classroom teachers and parents to see if this student is making progress, or if there should be a change of delivery of gifted services . 

When many people are working together to make sure students are placed in the right educational setting you can take out the negative attitude toward the actions of students out of the equation and focus on the talents and strengths of the students.

What does your school do to help ensure minority and low socioeconomic status  gifted students are being identified and placed in your gifted program? what are some of the process steps you are proud of about placing students in the right educational setting?

Purposes of Grouping Gifted Students

cori_middle_school_readingOver the past weekend I read a position paper on grouping from the National Association for Gifted Children.  I thought that I would discuss some of the high points of this position paper.

Grouping gifted students is one of the foundation practices of gifted education. There are many different types of grouping strategies that can be done that can produce positive results. The optics of groups is what can be interpreted as “elitist” or creates the illusion that this group of gifted children may think too highly of themselves, or it may be perceived that grouping gifted children harms the struggling students. None of this is shown in recent research.

There are four purposes for grouping:

to ease the delivery of appropriately differentiated curriculum to learners with similar educational needs;

to facilitate the use of appropriately differentiated instructional strategies to learners with similar educational needs;

to facilitate addressing the differential affective needs of these children in the most conductive manner;

to allow for learners of similar abilities or performance levels to learn from each other.

The overall aching affect of the strategy of grouping is to create the least restrictive environment possible for learning to take place. This also allows schools to channel challenging course work to these students.

Grouping Practices

There are two types of grouping: full time and part time, and they each have strategies that can fall into performance based or abilities based groups. Performance based group option is based on grouping students with similar achievement levels. Ability based group option is based on grouping students based on intelligence, ability, or aptitude tests.

Full Time Ability group options:

  • Full time gifted program
  • Self-contained gifted classroom
  • Special / Magnet school for the gifted
  • Cluster grouping: (top 5-8 gifted students at a grade level are placed in a mixed ability classroom as a small group, and are provided with appropriate differentiated instruction.

Research shows that using full time ability grouping strategies across all subjects could yield students growth levels of 1 1/3 years to 2 years growth. There will be some positive gains in social maturity and cognition, along with more participation in extracurricular activities.

Part time Ability Group options

  • Pull out/send out/withdrawal/resource room enrichment groups: gifted students are removed from their regular classroom for specific time each week to work on differentiated activities such as critical thinking, problem solving, and extensions of the general curriculum.
  • Like-ability cooperative groups within classrooms: when a teacher decided to use cooperative learning groups in a mixed ability groups with usually the 3-4 highest ability students being grouped together.  They are given appropriately differentiated expectations and assessments.

Research shows that using part time ability grouping strategies  could yield students growth levels of growth of more than a year in creativity, and critical thinking skills in subjects that are focused on during the pull out. There will be some positive gains in social maturity and cognition, along with more participation in extracurricular activities.

Performance groupings that meet daily (subject specific)

  • Cluster performance grouping: top performing gifted students in a specific core subject like math or language arts are placed in a mixed ability classroom and are provided with differentiated instruction in that core subject.
  • Regrouping for specific instruction: top performing gifted students in a specific core subject are placed in a high performance classroom and provided with accelerated and enriched content and skills from that core subject.

Research shows that using performance based grouping strategies across all subjects could yield students growth levels of 1 1/2 years to 1 3/4 years growth depending on the content that is .

Performance grouping options that do not meet daily:

  • Within-class / flexible grouping: a teacher of a mixed ability class divides the class into groups according to their “readiness” for the curriculum to be taught.
  • Like-performing cooperative learning groups: when a teacher decides to use cooperative learning groups places the highest 3-4 performing students in their own group receiving differentiated instruction and assessments.
  • Performance based pull out/ send out/ withdrawal/ resource room enrichment classes: the top performing students in a core subject are removed from the regular classroom to work on more challenging and complex content and skills based on the core subject.

Research shows that using part time performance grouping strategies for specific subjects could yield students growth levels of 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 years growth depending on the subject.

Schools should have many grouping options available to students from pre-school to high school. How schools decide to group will be based on what is the culture of the school. The options chosen by schools and teachers will have to fit the culture of the school. What ever option that is chosen is ensure that gifted students achieve at their highest potential.

Grouping students together is a way to allow gifted students access to learning at the level and complexity that is needed. It allows gifted students to make social connections with same aged peers who think and learn like them.