Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Dealing with Back to School Anxiety

Today is the last day of summer vacation....well...for teachers anyway.  I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't anxious about the beginning of the school year.  It's equal parts exhilaration and full-blown terror.  Luckily, I'm prepared to ride this roller coaster and have been doing so for many years.  Anxiety is a normal feeling for kids and adults alike, however many students are not yet equipped with the coping skills needed to deal with big changes.

Gifted children specifically seem to experience unique anxieties so I am devoting this month's posting to this topic.  In honor of it being the last day of vacation, I ask that you read this article titled Anxiety in Gifted Children: 3 Simple Steps Parents and Educators Can Take by author . It does a great job outlining things you and your child's teacher can do to reduce anxiety as we begin to wind-up for the new school year.  Additionally, she lists some great resources towards the bottom should you want to read more.

Now, don't mind me while I spend one more gloriously sun-soaked afternoon at the pool.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Fact or Fiction?

Before I began working closely with gifted students, I had preconceived notions of what these students were like.  As a young teacher you could say that I was even nervous to work with these students.

They don't need my help.

They are experts in everything!

That student is such a slacker, he can't be gifted!


While at times it feels like I'm playing Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, these students vary greatly in their abilities and the supports needed.  (both academically and socially)  Today we will piggy-back off of our previous post defining giftedness and debunk some of the common myths about gifted students.

Myth: Gifted students will do fine without any teacher support. 

Truth:  Even gifted students need the support of teachers to help them reach their full potential.  Even the best athlete needs a coach to provide feedback to help them grow.  In fact, many Gifted Education Specialists are now taking on more of a coaching role when it comes to student and teacher support.  Many gifted students enter their classroom with knowledge so far ahead of their age-appropriate peers that they may require additional differentiation.  Without an intervention, these students often become bored and/or frustrated, leading to low morale, poor achievement and work habits. 

Myth: Since teachers differentiate for all children, gifted kids don't need to leave the regular classroom.

Truth: Since gifted learners often have profound learning differences from their peers, they may require a different approach to instruction.  While I find it more helpful to support the classroom teacher and students within the regular classroom, there may be certain situations when leaving is more appropriate.  Unique needs of class, the subject, scheduling, or other factors are considered in developing learning modifications for gifted students that would improve learning for everyone.  Most Gifted Education programs offer a variety of student service provisions depending on the student need and classroom situation.  On any given day, I may be working with students in a small group outside of the classroom, writing curriculum, co-teaching, working inside of a child's regular classroom to support a student, or facilitating digital-learning activities.  Generally, specialists work closely with classroom teachers to identify ways they can support students whether it be inside or outside of their regular room.    

Myth: Gifted students are great role models, and make everyone in the class smarter. 

Truth:  Research has shown that watching someone who is expected to succeed does little in growing the self-confidence of struggling learners.  Gifted learners benefit more from classroom interactions with peers of similar ability and can become bored, frustrated or discouraged when placed in classrooms where they are primarily paired with low or average ability students.  In addition, while gifted students may perform in a superior way, that does not make them great role models.  Gifted students sometimes lack the social skills to lead in this way, and the nature of they way they learn is often unrealistic for a lower performing student to try and replicate.  Many schools cluster gifted students with others of similar ability in mixed-ability classrooms.  This method exposes all students to a variety of view points which may increase the rigor of classroom conversations.  

Myth: All children are gifted.

Truth:  All students are unique and have something special to offer the world, but not all students are gifted.  The term gifted is generally used in the school setting in reference to students who have profound learning differences leading to consistent performance above their same-age peers.   Also remember, that not all gifted children are gifted in all areas.  To read more about this topic, visit this earlier blog post

Myth: Acceleration placement options are socially harmful for gifted students.

Truth:  Acceleration placement options such as early admission to Kindergarten, grade skipping, or early exit may may be appropriate for some gifted learners.  Some gifted students may feel out of place with their same-age peers and naturally gravitate towards older students who are more like them intellectually.  Studies have shown that many students are happier mingling with older students who share their interests than they are with children of the same age.  For some students, accelerated placement is a great fit, while for others may be ready for this change academically but not socially.  It is best to consult with the school to determine the most appropriate learning environment for a student, remembering to consider all of a child's needs.   

Myth: Gifted education programs are elitist.

Truth:  Gifted education programs are meant to help all high-ability students.  Gifted learners come from all cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic groups.  However, many of these students are denied the opportunity to reach their full potential because of the way in which programs and services are are funded or how gifted students may be identified.  While different school systems have different policies and practices for gifted identification, reliance on a single measure of achievement for admission to gifted education programs is generally frowned upon.  Many districts are finding unique ways to identify students and develop equitable assessment practices.  While there has been much improvement, there remains much to be done to ensure that all high-ability students receive appropriate supports and services.   

Myth: Students with poor grades can't be gifted.

Truth:  It is important to remember that there is a difference between student performance and actual ability.  A discrepancy in these two could have many causes.  As previously mentioned, the engagement of gifted students in the classroom plays a giant role in their performance.  When bored, or discouraged they are known to underperform if left unchallenged.  Other students may mask their abilities in order to better fit in socially, and still others may have a learning disability that masks their giftedness.  It is important for parents and teachers to know the signs of giftedness in their students (Both teacher-pleasing, and not) and work towards identifying these students so that they may reach their true potential.  

Myth: Students with disabilities can't be gifted. 

Truth:  Some gifted students also have a disability.  Remember, that not all gifted students are gifted in all areas either!  These students are often referred to as "twice-exceptional" and can often go undetected in classrooms because their disability and gifts may "mask" each other, making them appear average.  Other students may be identified as having a disability and as a result, may not be considered for gifted services.  It is important that students are provided with opportunities or additional services (like special education) in school to perform to their highest ability.  Ever heard of Albert Einstein?  He did not even speak until the age of three and even as an adult, struggled to find words to express his thinking.  He was thought to be simple-minded, until it was realized that he was able to achieve by visualizing vs. with written language.  Remember, not all gifted students are gifted in all areas, and sometimes a profound deficiency in one area may require additional support.  

Myth:  Gifted students are happy, popular and well adjusted in school.

Truth: While many gifted students flourish in school communities, some find it particularly challenging.  Gifted children differ in terms of their social skills, emotional and moral intensity, sensitivity to expectations, perfectionism, or deep concerns about the larger world.  They may not share similar interests with their classmates and as a result may feel isolated or even picked on for their unique performance abilities.  Because of this, school can be particularly difficult for some students.  

One my favorite parts of being a Gifted Education Specialist, is helping students learn to love their differences.  School is hard, and being a kid is hard.  Throw being gifted into the mix and a kids' childhood-awkwardness levels may go through the roof!  Just thinking about my childhood-self gives me the willies sometimes.  I try my best to help students understand themselves, their abilities, and how to grow as a person in all areas...not just academically.  


Today's post was adapted from this great article published by the National Association for Gifted Children.  

You can also find more information about famous twice-exceptional individuals here

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
                           -William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Gifted.  It's a loaded word, and defining it is not easy.  You will encounter many opinions on what "gifted" means and there are many definitions floating out there depending on who you ask.  While there is no single definition of giftedness that is accepted by everyone, today we will try to understand the world's origin and how it is typically defined and used in schools to describe students. People refer to gifted children in many ways, but we will focus primarily on how this word is used in schools.  

The term gifted was first used in 1869 by Francis Galton who used it to refer to adults with exceptional talent in some area.  He also referred to children with the potential to become a gifted adult as gifted children.  By the 1900s this term had expanded to also include high IQ and it was around this time that the long-term study of gifted children began, leading to the first publications on giftedness.  In 1926, psychologist Leta Hollingworth published the book Gifted Children, Their Nature and Nurture, which also emphasized the role of nurturing in order for childhood ability to develop into adulthood.  Since then, the term gifted has been used by many to refer to children of high potential.  

Here are a few big things to remember as you encounter this word in the education "world".  

Different school districts have their own specific definitions of giftedness. 
The Federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act defines gifted and talented students as "Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who needs services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities." [Title IX, Part A, Definition 22. (2002)]

Many states and districts follow the federal definition but may vary slightly.  While school are responsible for growing ALL of their learners.  It is often necessary to identify and name the unique needs of students.  All learners need different supports and activities to help them grow and meet their full potential.  The main purpose of Gifted Education Services is to ensure that there are supports and opportunities for these types of learners to fully develop and grow their skills.  

"Gifted" does not mean "special". 
While you will hear this word in schools, it does not imply that one child is better or more special than another.  Unfortunately, many people interpret the word this way.  In the field of gifted education, "gifted" does not mean having a "gift" but rather, that a student has a specific learning difference.  

Each child is unique and has something special to offer the world.  But not every child is "gifted".  In addition not all gifted learners are gifted in everything.  A student who is reading far above grade level, may not necessarily be performing in the same manner in other areas such as math or science.  Often times, these students also develop asynchronously, meaning that their minds are often ahead of their physical growth.  Sometimes their social-emotional needs and cognitive abilities.

Gifted students learn differently.
Gifted or not, all of us learn differently and have different preferences/styles.  Gifted learners however, have dramatic differences in how they learn information.  For example, while most students begin learning how to read in Kindergarten/1st grade, some gifted learners begin learning as early as age 3 or 4 without being formally taught how.  This example does not apply to all gifted children all of the time, but you can see how this difference illustrates a need for support.

Should we talk about this word with students?
Yes!  Begin a conversation not just with gifted learners, but with ALL learners.  While you don't have to go into all of the details, it is important for students to understand how they may learn differently than their peers.  In fact, gifted learners are often excited to talk about this.  They want to know what "gifted" means, why they may be working with another teacher, and what this means for their learning.  They want to understand and know that someone "gets them".  Kids are smart.  They may sense the elitism that many people assign to them.  Talking about what gifted means may begin to help the accept who they are in addition to becoming sensitive to the learning needs of others.

I would love to hear your feedback in the comments.  If there is a specific issue you would like to know more about, please leave a suggestion for future blog posts.

Want more information? 

Click here to find out more about how giftedness has been defined in the research and to compare different definitions of giftedness in other states.  The National Association for Gifted Children is a great place to learn more.  Seriously, you could get lost in that site!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Mrs. Nguyen's Top 10 Summer Activities for Gifted Kids

Looking for cool new activities to engage your learner?  Get the summer started off right with my top 10 list of summer activities for gifted kids...or anyone for that matter!

  1. Go on a virtual field trip(scroll down for a great list of destinations).  From the Antarctica, to the far reaches of our galaxy, explore what our universe has to offer. 
  2. Hop over to Science Buddies and choose an amazing science project to begin. 
  3. Try geocaching.
  4. Listen to the top 10 TED Talks for Kids.
  5. Enroll in a local summer camp. (click the link for suggestions)
  6. Start a blog to document your summer experiences and flex your writing muscles. (Blogger, Weebly, and Kidblog are great for beginners)
  7. Visit a local museum.  My favorites include (Durham Museum of Life and Science, North Carolina Museum of History, Charlotte's Discovery Place, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences...just to name a few)
  8. Experience and learn at the Duke Lemur Center.  
  9. Watch a play, or documentary on a new topic.  One of my favorite experiences in the area is the Paper Hand Puppet Intervention.
  10. Get outside and explore what nature has to offer.  Visit the North Carolina Botanical Garden or the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.  Both offer engaging guided tours daily. 

Did I miss anything cool?  Let me know and I will expand the list.

Happy Summer Learning!