Archive for the ‘Research’ Category


CALL TO ACTION: Making Gifted Education Relevant Today

By Deborah Mersino

The educational world is in motion, in spite of the fact it seems to be shifting backwards at times and/or fully stagnating. As Sir Ken Robinson points out in his inspiring TED talk, every country in the world is in the process of reforming education today. In the United States, we’re struggling to find our way toward hope and success, as we untangle the contradictory challenges No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has brought upon our diverse learners, administrators, teachers, educational spending, curriculum models, evaluation policies, and ultimately, our educational prowess.

Here’s a clip showing Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) introducing the Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act a few weeks ago (May 13, 2011). The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) tweeted the clip this morning. Javits is among the supposedly “inefficient, wasteful” programs on the chopping block.

Amid all the debate between top education reformists, technical proponents, standards gurus, curriculum writers, instructional coaches, policy makers, teachers, lobbyists, and local school board members, we’re left wondering…Is it even possible to make the radical shifts needed to instill creativity, critical thinking, and newfound fresh approaches to a system born of the Industrial Age? Given that the top 10 jobs in 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004, can we give learners the skills – including the vital technical knowledge – they will need in order to survive and thrive in a global world?

In a day and age when nearly all third graders are still learning cursive as opposed to keyboarding and college graduates are no longer guaranteed a job, how do we – as adults and advocates – make sense of what’s essential, what’s not, what to advocate for, and/or how to be a part of the solution? How do we avoid the thinking that policy makers are untouchable and that the voices of parents and visionary educators are not only valuable, but also essential to the solution and the shift needed to find our way out of the complexities toward meaningful, relevant education reform?

And finally, where in the world does gifted education fit into this picture?

It’s clear that despite 25+ years of empirical research and dogged advocacy efforts, the needs of gifted, talented, and creative learners are not being met in the majority of public classrooms throughout the United States. Myths continue to promulgate and the potent paradoxes inherent in scholars’ findings and stances have further dimmed the light. The gap between public and private schools’ support of these learners only continues to grow. It’s a sad day when a $17,000/year price tag is what stands between a high-potential student being challenged and fully supported or being left to languish.

Phenomenal administrators and teachers do exist though. I see them on Twitter and online platforms every single day. They’re in classrooms engaging learners. They’re educating teachers and conducting critical research. I see them sharing the type of thinking and resources that could, in fact, help us find the threads of hope, construct them in ways that work, and give all learners a chance. Insightful, concerned parents exist. They’re the engines who help keep public schools working, vibrant, and positive. Gifted education advocates exist in large numbers as well; however, allow me to be the first to say, “The current course for advocating on behalf of gifted learners is doomed; a radical shift in mindset is needed.”

Here are my top five suggestions for making gifted education relevant in today’s world. Take a look at these straightforward, yet radical ideas and tell me what you think. Comment, argue, debate and/or agree. The time to crowdsource is upon us.

1. Get rid of the word gifted.

I don’t care if it’s been around forever. There’s no consensus and far too many definitions. The term “gifted” has proven to be one of the single, biggest inhibitors to the movement’s success. Like it or not, words matter. I know the majority of empirical research to date has utilized the term. What if we stopped and started using Asynchronous Learners or something related to the Columbus Group’s definition of gifted? I personally have been a fan and ardent proponent of “gifted” for a long while; however, it’s time to wake up to the fact the term is too loaded, causes too many negative connotations (and confusion with high-achieving students), and truly does more harm than good to the laudable efforts aimed at supporting these kids. The same holds true for the term “gifted behaviors.” FYI – I’m well aware of the domino implications, including renaming associations, conferences, publications, research shifts, legislative wording, etc. However, it’s time to face this deterrent once and for all. It might just be the ideal launch pad needed to ignite change. Before immediately dismissing it, think about it. I’m not 100 percent ready, but I’m certainly open to contemplating it.

2. Focus research on big picture education reform and simplify focus.

This recommendation will likely cause raised eyebrows. Allow me to shed light on my thinking. If all of the research (e.g., contents of the Gifted Child Quarterly, the Roeper Review) were being put to use, we wouldn’t be in this situation (albeit much of it is contradictory). Nevertheless, I’m well aware of the need for ongoing research. Javits proved extremely important. However, what if thought leaders in gifted education focused research more on a singular, yet collaborative area that could offer the most impact throughout the next five years and/or decade? Yes, we need to know how gifted fare in IB schools and whether certain discussion group formats work better than others (fascinating research to me). I think we would all be aghast though, to realize the raw numbers of how many classrooms employ some of the most forward-thinking models and best practices available.

The approaches may be sound, but they’re not being used nearly enough. It’s time to ask the cold, hard question – how many of leading scholars’ recommendations have found their way into the majority of classrooms in all states?

I’m happy to be first in line to kiss the feet of Renzulli, Van Tassel-Baska, Dweck, Rimm, Siegle, Tomlinson, Delisle, and Piechowski, and so many more. I’m in awe of their work. Nevertheless, if gifted education were an organization or business, we would have declared bankruptcy long ago. I’m not saying learners aren’t better off than they were decades ago. They are. Far, far more school districts allow acceleration and early entrance than ten years ago. My own kids benefit from Renzulli, Stanford’s EPGY, William & Mary curriculum and the like in a public school setting. I’m utterly grateful to all who have devoted their lives to make these realities possible.

I do believe, though, that it’s time to reevaluate exactly how past research and future research will fit within the context – yes the context – of today’s economic realities and reform efforts. It’s time to boil down the most vital empirical findings to a simple, straightforward foci with bullet points and utilize our advocacy platform wisely. As important as the next research project might seem, isn’t it even more important to enlighten the public about needs of asynchronous learners and ensure funding and professional development for all teachers, so alignment among top policy makers actually occurs? Underfunded and/or non-funded mandates have plagued the movement for far too long.

I’m well aware that there is no universal curriculum for these students and that individual needs vary greatly. Nevertheless, the need for influence exists amid customization and also requires coordination or the result is a mishmash of poorly implemented programs without strong backing.

For instance, if 2012’s focus is cluster grouping, then find a way to advocate for cluster grouping for asynchronous learners in a way that doesn’t make people cringe. And make a goal of guaranteeing it happens broadly. Find alliances within the gifted community AND with general education reformers and policy makers to garner consensus. Stay in a room until the fighting stops about the best way to identify for cluster grouping – knowing full well there will always be exceptions and that identification needs to be flexible and ongoing. SIMPLIFY. And then focus efforts accordingly. We can’t have it all, but right now, we propose so much, our most powerful messages get lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t have to be cluster grouping; it can be professional development of all general educators. Regardless, the time for narrow focus and rapid, collective movement is now.

3. Change the descriptor to the Talent Development Movement (no more “Gifted Education Movement”), and start tearing down protective, yet ultimately inhibiting walls.

After all, that’s what has allowed the Gifted Education Movement to stagnate. It’s understandable. Leaders respect other leaders; they feel a kinship. They collaborate and want to support each other. They apply for grants together, work tenaciously with each other on boards, and accomplish a lot. Unfortunately, gifted education as a movement has become a lowly island unto itself. It’s time to go across the bridge – aisle – and be linchpins for reform and learners. Separate silos of scholars, gifted specialists, administrators, general classroom educators, parents, psychologists, and policy makers have naturally led to misperceptions, miscommunication, lack of awareness, and ultimately – diminished impact.

4. Overhaul national and state nonprofit gifted associations’ missions and purpose.

What started out as an important mission – ensure the rights of gifted learners – has forcibly turned into a profit and loss game of cat and mouse between speakers and gifted education specialists. Worries about budget cuts now have state gifted education leaders in a corner; however, teachers aren’t the only target audience. State organizations have vastly underserved parents of asynchronous learners and the general public for decades. And we wonder why our funding is in the toilet? It’s time for state organizations to get lean, eschew bureaucracy, and start modeling futuristic behaviors relative to a successful Talent Development Movement. If state orgs simply started by cutting the number of presentations at their annual conferences in half, doubled efforts to engage parents, and started viewing and treating the Web and Social Media as their single greatest educational advocacy tool available, our students – and those who serve them – would be far better off. Stop printing, stop mailings, and start blogging, tweeting, creating posts, wikis, podcasts and online conferences. Create thumb drives for administrators, educators, parents, and school board members. Read The Networked Nonprofit. Get training. Take risks.

5. Give things away. Be generous.

Make research, articles, tips, events and conferences available online without roadblocks, sign-ins, and/or memberships. Read books by Seth Godin. Start following Mashable and embrace social media. Let go of APA style online. Be human. Nonprofits, schools, and leaders will be relevant in the future only through a complete about-face. Still not think it’s necessary? Well, that’s what Tower Records, Kodak, Borders, and scores of newspaper and magazine editors thought too. That’s why they’re out of business today and/or well on their way out. The Office Depots of the world will not survive in an Amazon world. Nonprofits will not thrive unless they learn the Rules of Engagement and find donor support from new sources and new constituents online. You’ll see financial returns on influence. Revenue streams will be altered. Times are changing and relevancy matters. Still not sure?

Think on this…How abhorrent is it today that most administrators and classroom educators across the United States – the ones who spend the most time with this critical population – have never heard of overexcitabilities, asynchronous development, multipotentiality and/or grasp the needs of twice-exceptional learners? How sad is it that the gifted world speaks primarily to itself? The time has come. The walls must come down.

Are you ready to be relevant?


Wow! Reflections on the First International Adult Giftedness Symposium

By Deborah Mersino

I hadn’t intended to get choked up. After all, I had heard two of the three keynote speakers present before. However, from the moment I walked into the sun-drenched room at the Lionsgate Center in Lafayette, Colorado on April 12, 2011, something stirred inside of me.

As an attendee at “The Gifted Journey: Hardwired for Life – The First International Symposium on Adult Giftedness,” I knew I was in for a treat. After spending the past two years working in the realm of giftedness, launching #gtchat on Twitter, and building my business, Ingeniosus, I was now going to be surrounded by inspiring leaders and colleagues who shared my passion and thirst for learning.

Amid the purple-donned tablecloths and stained glass windows, I spotted Dr. Linda Silverman of the Gifted Development Center; she was glowing and chatting away. When I first met Linda, she was presenting at the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented Conference in 2009. Her topic was “So what if I’m gifted? Am I thin enough?” I became a fan on the spot.

I then saw Dr. Patricia Gatto-Walden walking across the room with her trademark curls and beaming smile. She, too, had inspired me at that same conference in 2009. When Linda, Patricia, and I found ourselves on the same flight to NAGC’s Annual Conference in Atlanta more than a year later, I felt serendipity at work. For the record, short cab rides from airports to hotels can be life-altering.

Now, I found myself looking forward to a day of learning. Dr. Ellen Fielder was also going to be speaking on adult giftedness. Several members of the online gifted community had spoken highly of her, and I was eagerly anticipating her talk as well.

What transpired over the next eight hours caused me to shift my thinking, expand my awareness, and grow my appreciation for the gifted community. And although I couldn’t possibly do justice to each and every presentation and discussion at the symposium, I have decided to share my most poignant personal learns. Credit goes to the talented presenters, facilitators, and referenced scholars, who captured the essence of what matters to us, what moves us, what makes us tick, and what chokes us up. As I’m traveling through “The Gifted Journey: Hardwired for Life”, I now realize:

  • I can exhaust people! Linda Silverman spoke with levity about how she learned that gifted extroverts sometimes place inordinate and unconscious demands on those around them. Our love for ideation causes us to sometimes chatter away with verve without truly realizing the intensity we’re carrying. I didn’t take this as an affront, but rather it offered me relief. Somewhere subconsciously, I’ve felt this for decades. Now, I get it, and I can be more aware of my impact. I can also view my energetic daughters with fresh eyes.
  • I don’t have to have all the answers! While I’ve considered myself a life-long learner for some time now, I reveled in Patricia Gatto-Walden’s depiction of being in tune with all living things and time. As I heard her poetic words, I opened up my soul a bit. So often, gifted adults have a tendency to want to be “in control” and wind up feeling like they’re “too much” or “not enough.” And while I’m aware of Imposter Syndrome and the like, it finally dawned on me that my overexcitabilities, my intensity, and my creative drive are simply innate. I befriended them – perhaps for the first time in my life.
  • It’s okay to change my mind! Multipotentiality and giftedness can impart confusion and questioning regarding our career trajectories, our love lives, our interests, our preferences, and our desires throughout our lifetime. Add perfectionism to the mix, and it’s easy to confuse “the right path” from “the missed path” or “the horrid path.” The shared anecdotes from the various presenters, panelists, and participants throughout the day helped me let go of having to “get it right” and “do it right now.” Instead, this newfound grace allowed me to embrace “choosing what feels right to me at this particular juncture in time.” I did an inventory of my current “plate” and decided to make some room on it for me.
  • I want someone to do a doctorial thesis based on a question I asked! How does knowing about one’s giftedness – and being supported from an early age – impact a person’s life and their movement through Dabrowski’s 5 levels? With so many myths, paradoxes and debate around the “gifted” label, I believe knowing about one’s giftedness at an early age – and being educated on social-emotional issues in particular – can have a significant positive impact on a life. I’m not likely to pursue a Ph.D., so I hope someone runs with this! I see my own daughters growing up with books like, “101 Success Secrets for Gifted Kids” by Christine Fonseca and having lively, critical discussions in their peer groups. I know teens are benefitting from Author Lisa Rivero’s “The Smart Teen’s Guide to Living with Intensity: How to Get More Out of Life and Learning” and the empowering work of gifted authors and specialists throughout the world. I would love to have someone do empirical research on how gifted learners receiving full-fledged affective support in this new generation will forever be altered, as they view themselves more kindly, know themselves better, and travel through their lives with knowledge about their own hardwiring.
  • Gifted adults need peers! This isn’t so we can exhaust each other, but rather, so that we can make sense to ourselves at last. I’m a huge proponent of online communication; I’ve even founded my current career on it. However, at this symposium, I was reminded of the importance of face-to-face learning and dialogue. For instance, having lunch with Tracy Weinberg of the Texas Association of Gifted and Talented (TAGT) gave me a new look into his world, his strengths and his wisdom. Even though we’ve communicated online for some time now, our face-to-face time deepened my appreciation for him and his work and made me even more enthusiastic about supporting TAGT’s Annual Conference in 2011.
  • It’s okay that my daughter’s room is messy! Yes, that’s right. Thanks to the wisdom of Linda Powers Leviton, who serves as director of the Gifted Development Center on the West Coast, I now have a new solution to propose to my visual-spatial daughter, who shares a room with an audio-sequential learner. Linda and I both happened to be at the table discussion on family needs, when I raised the question about kids’ clothes being strewn about a bedroom. Without raising an eyebrow, she shared how she once gave her creative child two laundry baskets – one for clean clothes and one for dirty clothes. Her child didn’t have to hang up his clean clothes (just keep them in the clean basket). This solved the “clothes-on-the-floor” dilemma. And with that empowering support, I officially let go of long-harboring “mommy guilt” associated with non-Pottery-Barn-catalog-looking-bedrooms. Bring on the baskets!
  • I want to hear others’ stories! At one point in the symposium, five individuals representing five different stages of life, shared their stories. Each one blew me away. I found myself laughing out loud, tearing up, sighing deeply as I resonated with a story of struggle, and applauding as vigorously as possible – for these stories moved me. Even the infamous Annmarie Roeper, who is in her 90s, shared her story virtually. Barbara Mitchell Hutton read Annmarie’s written words with reverence and strength. I realized we have so much to learn from those who have come before us as well as those who are coming after us. I am determined to somehow capture more of these stories – either on this blog, in a book, and/or another forum.

These are just nuggets I gained, but are by no means representative of the full gamut of learning that took place at the symposium. Those who orchestrated this event did a laudable job ensuring that each individual had the opportunity to reflect on their own situation in a non-threatening, encouraging environment that was rich with support, peppered with humor, and enveloped in kinship. Near the end of the day, I choked up as I witnessed the main speakers reflecting on their life’s work. I felt honored to be in their presence and joyous that I’d found my home at last.

As I pulled away in my car at the end of the day, I felt immensely grateful. A thought immediately came to mind, and it has stayed with me until this day. The Adult Giftedness Symposium absolutely has to go on the road!


Beyond the Classroom: The Value of Research Experiences

What are the benefits of giving gifted and talented learners at the high-school level the opportunity to have research experiences beyond the classroom? According to Corey Alderdice, Assistant Director, Admissions and Public Relations at the Gatton Academy, students who engage in research experiences are better apt to:

  • Draw tangible connections to classroom concepts
  • Enjoy lessons embedded in real-world experiences
  • Appreciate that highly-relevant learning occurs outside of the classroom
  • Explore their interests outside of set parameters and assignments
  • Have the door opened to remarkable scholarship opportunities and co-curricular contests

Here’s a quick peek at what Gatton Academy students enjoy: Beyond the Classroom – YouTube.

It’s both inspiring and relevant, as we look to foster future leaders. For more information on the Gatton Academy, click here.