Tag Archives: Middle School

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.

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1st Week of Spartan U

IMG_20150424_143948_997Last week was our first week running our new Spartan U. For the most part it was a success. I have to tell you that I am very proud of our Spartan U instructor Eric. He has done a great job managing the boys in Spartan U. What I am also proud about is the fact the staff is really getting behind this new program, and are sending work down for the boys to do, and the boys are getting some success. Many staff members have gone down to the Spartan U to do small lessons with the boys, and some have just stopped in to give them some words of support.

Our boys are beginning to take ownership of the Spartan U. During some discussions the boys wanted to make a difference in the school. So they decided it would be a great idea to spruce up our school sign out by the road. They spent about an hour outside on Friday pulling weeds, and later this week our principal is ordering more dirt, flowers, and mulch. I really feel these boys will take pride in the work they are doing. I know when they are out and about in the neighborhood they will see the work they are doing and share it with those around them. They can point this project out to their parents and friends and say “look what I helped do.”

The week did have some hick-ups. A few boys earlier in the week decided to play around on the computer instead of doing their work. They lost computer privileges for a few days. In those days they were off they did earn the computer privileges back. We had some students not meet their daily goals. The instructor made some calls home, and had a parent conference to remind the student of the expectations of the class.

Some of the boys went beyond and earned some “pizza with the teacher”. The Spartan U Instructor also played a few games with them during this time. Eric is doing a great job at balancing work and effort with rewards.

My co-pilot Rochelle, was in the Spartan U on Thursday, and one boy said to her during a conversation “for the first time I feel like I could have some success at school.” I can tell you this really touched her heart. She told me later that she was so choked up that she had to step out for a few minutes. The boys in Spartan U have a lot of discipline issues, and have a disillusioned view of school. So to hear one of the say he feels successful is great feeling for us. Our intention was not to send this troubled students off to Siberia. It was designed with the idea that if these students had a mentor, who was interested in them, and wanting them to succeed they too would want that. Rochelle, and I believe that every student has a right to an appropriate education that meets the needs of the student. We know these students can’t function in a large setting that is unstructured. So we put them in a smaller environment, and put a ton of structure and routine into the day. We want these students to succeed.

As teachers, we want our students to grow, learn, and become a vital part of society as a whole. It is our responsibility to help develope their skills to help make them successful in society.

In a few weeks, I will share how this program is working, and give an overall update.

The Tears of a Teacher

Last week I wrote about some characteristics of Gifted children. I shared the Neihart and Betts information.  One aspect of that is starting to become more and more evident in one of my classes. That aspect is this: The Underground.

Type 3: The Underground 

These students hide their giftedness. Most of the time, in middle school these students are females. By high school some males fall into this category because of the pressure to pursue sports. By in large this group is female who hide their gifts and talents to fit in with the non-gifted crowd. These girls are anxious and insecure. They begin this change in middle school, and pushing these students can make them abandon their talents and gifts even more.

What makes these students so complicated is the fact they have gifts and talents, and they purposely choose to ignore those just to fit in. They change who they are to be something they are not.

My Gifted Girl

I have a class that mainly made of up of girls. They are a vibrant, creative, and a talkative group.  This group works well together, and  at times goes they go through their own struggles like all students do. What makes me sad about this group is that it is getting smaller. It started out with a mixed group of students around 10 in number. It has shrunk to a small group of four girls. As we were talking this morning, my students were telling me they missed the few other girls that have left the Enrichment class. They left class for a variety of reasons, but for the most part they left because they want to fit in with their other friends.

What makes me sad is the fact that our school district has brilliant, gifted, and motivated girls who would fore go the development of their gifts and talents and settle in to mundane school life just to fit in. I wish I could bring these girls to the realization that it isn’t others who bring you self-worth or identity. It is themselves. It pains me to think about these girls and the decisions they are making when it comes to choosing socializing than to ultimate success not only in school, but in the future. My heart is truly broken.

My Gifted Girl2

One of the most frustrating aspects of this pain that I have for these girls is the fact I don’t know how to change it. As a teacher I talk to them and encourage them, but I don’t think it goes anywhere. I wish that I could show them the mistake they are making like the ghosts show Ebenezer Scrooge his life in the past, present, and future. I am not saying that being in my class is the answer. What I am saying is these girls need to shown that they are a huge asset to their family, school, and community. They have so much potential to do some amazing things in the future, and they are throwing it away. Even as I write this I get that heavy lump in my throat. I want them to see themselves like other teachers along with myself see them.

What do you do to reach these girls who hide themselves to fit in?  I saw the quote above from a really good Facebook Page called My Gifted Girl. It is a wonderful place to go to read about what gifted girls are doing. I have suggested this website to my girls in hope that they understand that they shouldn’t give up on their gifts and talents.

What do you suggest how to reach these talented girls?

Hoodies, Headphones, and Axe Spray

I love being a Middle School teacher. I feel like this is the place where I am supposed to be. There are certain things about middle schoolers that make them a special population regardless of their intelligence and ability. This became clear this morning as I was at my morning bus assignment. Every morning I stand out front and I greet the students coming to school as they get off the bus. As I was greeting students some things about them just stood out. I highlighted them in my title.

lima-senior-spartans-student-council-hoodie-586-586-55-55-2013lshs-nn-8-0266-0-sc

Hoodies. 

You can tell a lot by the hoodies that our students wear. Most of the time, they wear hoodies with sports logos, school spirit, brand names, music artists, and images that they really like. Our students here in my school district wear school uniforms. They don’t have a lot of choices. That’s why I really like to see the hoodies they wear to school. It’s easy to see what students like. You get and idea of the music they like, and the brand names they like. Sometimes they wear those things to fit in with their peers. Sometimes they are the trend leaders in our school. I like to see students wear our school spirit wear. It gives me the chance to see what kind of sport they played or are currently playing.

Headphones.

I bet when you walk by a teenager you will find they have some headphones in or on their ears. They are either listening to music, a Vine, or YouTube video they found on Twitter or Facebook. Today’s teens love listening to music or watching videos. Some students can afford the Beats headphones. Some can’t. Some prefer the headphones that came with their phone or iPod. Some like the portable speakers they can carry around. I have found those students like to more vocal about their music than others.

Sometimes, students wear headphones to block out stress, or so they don’t have to socialize with other students. Headphones can be a wall that a teenager sets up for any number of reasons, some may not be school related at all. The next time you see a teenager sitting in the cafeteria alone listening to some music sit down with them and ask them what they are listening to. Break the walls down. You may find that you have somethings in common.

Axe Spray.

If you walk down any hall of any middle school right before home room starts and you hear that familiar sound of spray coming from aerosol can. Then you can smell the Axe in the air and you eyes will burn. Middle school boys in particular will wear the famous body spray. Most of the time to is too much. So why do they do it? They are trying to get the attention of girls. They are at that stage in life when they are trying to figure out who they are, and how they relate to girls.

There is so much behind the Axe. Many students are unsure of themselves. Some are just trying to fit in. Some are hiding their insecurities. it not until we get past the cloud of smell that we can see that some of our students need attention just as much as they think they need to smell good. How do we do that? We have to create safe, inviting, and open classrooms where students don’t feel like they have to be someone else to succeed or fit in. As a teacher, I try to greet every student that comes in to my classroom right of the bat so they know I am glad to see them. I have done this for years. It’s the best way to start off class right. It also shows students that you are interested in them. It’s not about what they look like or how they smell. It’s about them as a whole. Once students know that about you students will be more open with you.

So if you are a middle school teacher have fun with your students. Let them know they are valued, and not judged by what they wear and what they listen to. Enjoy it all…even the Axe Spray.

The Real Struggles of Gifted Teens

Sometimes you never know what will impact someone when they read your blog. Its a great feeling to know that someone is reading your thoughts. That’s what happened over the weekend. I want to share something with you that really pulled at my heart strings. This is the comment she made to a guest blog spot I did on the High Ability Blog.

“I am actually in 6th grade myself. I am now at a new school that doesn’t have a gifted program, but my old school did and I was diagnosed as gifted. At my old school a lot of people were gifted or bright, and the people who were slightly less smart were ostracized. Here it is the complete opposite. The magority of the class are average or below average students, and they ostracize the more smart people. Right now, being new, a lot of people haven’t passes judgement on me, or at least I thought so until last Friday. I was talking to one of my sort of friends (people who hang out with me just to cheat of off me) and I told her that I was staying in for lunch to help one of my other sort of friends with her exponenents because she didn’t understand them when another girl that I’d never talked to in my life came up to me and said, “You’re confused with exponents?” I explained what I had really said and she said “Yeah, becasuse aren’t you some sort of genius or something? I don’t think that you would get confused.” First of all, I am no genius. I may be smart, but not that smart! Also, I get confused a lot.

Anyway, I don’t really get teased much, just used. However, the leader of the sort of friends is just getting worse and worse. Yesterday she was giving me the silent treatment (I don’t know why) until she realized that she needed help on her homework and came over to me for the answer. The problem is that it is really hard to keep myself from giving out answers because they will just keep begging me for them. Anyway, I gave her the answer, and then she went back to not helping me again. She calls me a nerd and a genius (which is a derogatory term to her) almost daily. I am panicking about going back to school because we have to present our book reports, and mine is 8 pages long. I have a feeling that the situation is not going to get any better.”

As educators, and advocates we constantly talk about what makes the Gifted Child different; how to give Gifted students the right classroom environment; and we talk about the issues of funding. But, one aspect that is at times, ignored (which I am guilty of) is not spending enough time talking about the real struggles of Gifted children. Sometimes we need to focus on the emotional side of Gifted.

I believe what this young lady has written is something that happens more often than we would like to admit. So, what can we do for this young lady as well as others who are in the same situation? I don’t want to claim that I have the answers, becuase I don’t. But, I do feel that there is a few things that we as educators and advocates can do.

Watch Out and Listen

As educators we need to watch the interactions of all students. We need to keep an eye out for bully behaviors. Most times, the smart ones are bullied first, and most often, along with the smaller students. We need to watch how these students interact with others in and out of the classroom and common areas, such as lunchroom, hallways, restrooms, and library. Once the bully behaviors have been seen, as an educator or advocate you need to take swift action to remedy the issues.

We also need to listen to the conversations of students. When you hear phrases that could sound deroggatory toward a student or group of students then you need to make sure to take sift action, I understand someone may be trying to make an innocent comment, but the other person may take it as an insult. We to model to students how to talk to students. Sometimes role playing is a great way to show points.

Support 

We need to support our Gifted students emotionally. As educators and advocates, we need allow our Gifted students be themsleves. They need to know and feel that how they learn, and the products they do is normal for them. If they do a book report and its 8 pages long, then they need to know that its alright. Just like we need to show those who do a book report that is only 2 pages that it also alright.

We need to show support for them by giving them a curriculum that matches their learning progression. But we also need to make sure that they don’t feel like they stick out “like a sour thumb” when they present their products to the class. Some students embrace their giftedness, and some try not to allow others to see their giftedness. As educators we need to be sensitive to that.

Educate Ourselves

One thing that can help Gifted students become more educated about Gifted and Talented students. Teachers and advocates can do this by taking classes and siminars, joining Gifted Associations, or joining Twitter chats, Facebook discussions, or Google Plus hangouts about Gifted students and issues. The more regular education teachers know about the tendies of Gifted students, the more Gifted students will be successful in the regular classroom.

I know, I don’t have all the answers. You already may be doing many of the suggestions above. So, here is my question: what are you doing to support your Gifted students?