Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

11.17

How Grade Skipping Changed Everything

speed limit

By Deborah Mersino

I’ve only been knee-deep in the world of gifted and talented education for 3+ years. Prior to that, my exposure was somewhat minor. I read scores of parenting books (some on gifted children), and we had both girls tested for programming at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. We also considered sending them to Quest Academy in Palatine, Illinois, prior to our move to Colorado. However, it wasn’t until this summer that we heard the words about our dd10 (dearest daughter who is 10), “She’s an excellent candidate for a grade skip, and she wants to…”

Then, a week or so later, the same scenario repeated itself with my younger daughter at the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado. “She, too, would be a prime candidate for acceleration.”

My first reaction was, “Really? Are you serious?” For one, I thought acceleration was primarily geared toward early entrance to kindergarten and profoundly gifted kids entering college. Our two daughters, ages 9 and 10, were smack dab in the middle of elementary school. Did people really grade skip at this juncture? I had loads of questions:

  • How will we know if it’s the right decision?
  • What happens if one skips and the other one doesn’t want to?
  • What about the fact that one daughter doesn’t seem to be particularly fond of school? She’s not even getting top marks.
  • What about my perfectionistic daughter? Will it be too challenging for her?
  • What about socially? Are they mature enough to handle a skip?
  • Will the school be amenable? How do I even initiate the process of discussing acceleration?
  • Should we be concerned that there are equally bright students (perhaps even more advanced) in their current classes?  They do have peers. Shouldn’t they simply stay where they are?
  • Will they feel too much pressure? Is this just a novel idea that will wear off when the work seems harder?
  • What about learning gaps? What happens if they don’t know what they’re supposed to learn about Colorado history and/or certain science requirements?
  • What if they start and then hate it?

Thankfully, we got all of these questions answered and then some. Between Dr. Linda Silverman, Barbara (“Bobbie”) Jackson Gilman, and Kim Boham at the Gifted Development Center, we not only discussed each question thoroughly, but we also learned an extraordinary amount about research on acceleration, how vital it is for the students to initiate the idea (not parents), and how to advocate with the school to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Many of you have asked me to share a bit more about our experiences. I’m going to simply provide a brief summary. As you can imagine, every child is different, and every school situation differs as well. This is not meant to be an exhaustive testimony on acceleration, but rather an example of how it unraveled for one family – ours. My hope is that you may resonate with some of the questions and/or concerns we had and learn a bit more about how to explore this option.

Here are some of the biggest lessons we learned:

  • Comprehensive assessment and testing is essential. We were fortunate to have both girls tested at the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado. We started with a Needs Assessment. Then, the measures administered included the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Fourth Edition (WISC-IV); Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement (WJ-III ACH), Self-Perception Profile – Ages 8-12, “What I Am Like”, Gifted Development Center Emotional Inventory, Characteristics of Giftedness in Children Scale, Introversion/Extraversion Continuum, Behavioral Checklist, Short Sensory Profile, Overexcitability Inventory for Parents (OIP). This is only a sampling of the tests/measurements available to families; these represent the customized recommendations based upon our girls’ Needs Assessments.
  • Having a psychologist who specializes in gifted learners is essential. Both our girls felt an immediate rapport with the testers. Given we have an introvert and an extrovert, I was delighted. Such camaraderie helped make the entire experience much more enjoyable. Both girls had fun, and my oldest even said, “Why can’t school be more like this?” Moreover, the amount of experience and discernment such experts bring can have a significant impact on the quality of the evaluation, recommendations, and consultation.
  • Proper assessment gives parents a clear picture of their student. As someone who is admittedly controlling, I thought I had a pretty good read on my girls. I was actually aghast upon looking at their WJ-III scores. “Really?” I thought. I was also surprised to hear some of the comments they both had made to their testers about school. Afterwards, we felt as if we had new lenses on, which would help us in the years to come.
  • Parents can discover hidden learning disabilities and/or minor glitches. We learned that both girls had small tracking issues with their vision, something that often goes undetected in regular eye exams. Both girls received referrals for visual-therapy. Parents of twice exceptional students benefit particularly from comprehensive assessments such as this.
  • The post-test consultation was worth its weight in gold. I found myself shaking my head in amazement as I learned new insights about their personality types, their strengths, nuances, outlooks on life and family, views on school, needs, and passions.
  • The Psychoeducational Evaluation we received allowed us to initiate discussions with our girls’ school in an ideal manner.

Iowa Acceleration Scale

In the days to follow, we contacted the school’s GT specialist, who offered to complete the Iowa Acceleration Scale for both girls. According to the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration, the Iowa Acceleration Scale offers the following:

  • A more objective look at the student;
  • An analysis of the major factors to be considered in making a decision;
  • Guidelines for weighting the relative importance of the major factors;
  • Documentation of the student’s strengths and concerns;
  • A numerical range to guide the discussion and decision of acceleration; and,
  • A standard of comparison with students who have had successful accelerations.

Together with the Psychoeducational Evaluation provided by the Gifted Development Center, this tool accessed additional factors. After the specialist discerned that both girls were, in fact, good candidates, he scheduled a meeting with the school principal, the assistant principal, the school counselor, the District’s Gifted and Talented Coordinator, and our entire family.

We sat down in July with this group at the school and had an informal discussion about what the girls wanted and their concerns. Both girls readily stated they wanted to do a whole grade-skip. After discussing specifics, including dd10 going into Middle School instead of 5th grade, we came to a final decision.

In the weeks following, we had several conversations about next steps. It was then that the GT specialist suggested our dd10 take the end-of-year 6th grade Math assessment. Based upon her Woodcock-Johnson III scores, he and the principal thought she might benefit from a double-acceleration in Math. After taking the test, she was given the option to go from 4th grade math directly to 7th grade math; she chose to give it a whirl.

We’re now several months into the school year, and I must say, the grade skips have had such an extraordinary positive impact on both girls. We’re fortunate that the receiving teachers welcomed the girls with open arms and understanding. The principal,  GT teacher, GT coordinator, and counselor proved so supportive and insightful. The adjustment has been much smoother than I anticipated. DD10 has confidence navigating the halls of middle school and has made good friends. She even went to her first dance right before Halloween! DD09 has finally gotten comfortable with not immediately knowing the answers in class and is developing much more of a growth mindset. She says this is her favorite year of school by far.

I realize we’re fortunate. Not all administrators and classroom teachers are familiar with the empirical research on acceleration. My hope is that this post might open a few minds. There will always be those who argue, “But you’re giving up a whole year with your kids!” and “They won’t have their driver’s license at the same time as other kids.” I feel more calm about our decision than ever.

Thanks to the experts at the Gifted Development Center and the girls’ school who guided us, I’m now aware of the dangers of not grade skipping students with certain profiles. Breezing through coursework without being sufficiently challenged and potentially losing interest in school altogether can prove debilitating – and even toxic – later on in life.

Here’s to promoting  a love for learning with no limits. Here’s to the psychologists, gifted specialists, and administrators who take the time to learn about the research and the cognitive and social-emotional needs of these learners. You’re impacting our collective futures, and I, for one, am utterly grateful.

11.17

Are You a Visual-Spatial Learner?

picture in mind

By Deborah Mersino

I remember vividly the day my daughter at age 4 said spontaneously, “You know Mom, when you want to remember something important, you just need to take a picture of it with your mind. Then, you can keep it forever and go back to it whenever you want.”

At the time, I had never heard of the term visual-spatial learner (VSL), nor did I understand the essential implications for supporting students who think in images at school and at home.

In her book, Upside-Down Brilliance: The Visual-Spatial Learner, Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, writes about this learning style in detail. Silverman, a licensed psychologist who directs the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development and its subsidiary, the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, explains that “…the way VSLs learn is upside-down: easy material is often hard for them and the hard subjects are easy.”

In describing how society views these individuals, she says, “…right-hemispheric giftedness turns all of our preconceived notions of “smart” upside down. Visual spatial-learners usually don’t conform to the typical notions we have about bright people. We rarely think of them as gifted children. Yet, in adult life, it is visual-spatial reasoning that leads to true genius: scientific and technological breakthroughs, innovative forms of art, inventions, new perspectives in every field, and visionary leadership. Sounds like something we should know about, right?

Silverman’s colleague Betty Maxwell summarized it this way:

  • There appear to be two major ways of learning: auditory-sequential (more left-hemispheric) and visual-spatial (more right-hemispheric). Auditory-sequential learners are good listeners, learn well in a step-by-step process, tend to be rapid processors of information, and are generally able to express themselves verbally. They are often able to compartmentalize their reasoning from their emotions.
  • In contrast, visual-spatial learners are excellent observers, comprehend holistically – may have a sudden “Aha!” understanding that leaps over steps – appear to think in images, may need translation time to put their ideas into words, and sometimes have word retrieval problems. Their thinking and emotions are very intertwined.

So, why then should we learn more about visual-spatial learners? Neither learning style is better than the other. According to Silverman, “Some of my highly gifted, complex friends find this dichotomy too simplistic. Maybe it is. I certainly don’t mean to imply that people are completely one or the other. I see each pair of the characteristics as a continuum, and I believe we are all a mixture of both.

“More teachers need to be able to spot visual-spatial learners, so that their special talents can be developed,” says Silverman. “Validation studies we conducted with middle schoolers suggest that approximately one-third of the school population are probably visual-spatial learners! Their numbers are growing and we simply can’t afford to ignore them any longer.”

Do you think in images? Are you a visual-spatial learner?

Are you ready to discern whether your student is a VSL? Whether you’re a VSL? Click here for the Visual-Spatial/Auditory-Sequential Identifier.

Then, to learn more, visit http://visualspatial.com/. This site, which will be redesigned soon, is chock full of useful information for teachers, parents, psychologists, and administrators. I also highly recommend the book, “Upside-Down Brilliance.” It’s now available for purchase via the Australian Gifted Support Centre. Click here for the order form (it’s a bit tricky to open; you’ll need to right-click and save).

Upside-Down Brilliance

It’s worth it though. This book provides specifics on all things visual-spatial, including assessment, twice-exceptional students, the inner world of introverts, the challenges of parenting a visual-spatial learner, teaching techniques that work, and what it means to be a visual-spatial adult. I could not put it down.

When I saw one of the cartoons in the book, with a teacher asking a student this question, “You mean to tell me that you can do this complex math problem, but you can’t tell me what day follows Tuesday?” I smiled and thought of my daughter. She makes more sense to me now. And isn’t that what the best books do? Expand our knowledge and understanding?

Here’s to visual-spatial learners everywhere; after all, you do make the world click!

10.19

TAGT Signs On as Lead Global #gtchat Sponsor!

#gtchat Sponsor logo

By Deborah Mersino

Global #gtchat just got a boost. Today, I’m pleased to announce that the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) has signed on as a Lead Global #gtchat Sponsor for 2011-2012!

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the work of TAGT, I encourage you to visit the TAGT Web site and check out its upcoming 34th Annual Professional Development Conference, which will take place this year in Austin, Texas from Nov. 30th to Dec. 2nd. Tomorrow, TAGT Executive Board President Michelle Swain will share a Guest Post on the Ingeniosus Blog with all the details on this year’s Gifted 3.0 theme and conference offerings. It’s just around the corner, and it’s all about connections; I could not be more enthused!

According to TAGT Executive Director JJ Colburn, “The Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) is thrilled to sign on as the 2011-2012 Lead Global #gtchat Sponsor, and we look forward to working together to connect our community. TAGT has been exploring strategies to expand our online presence and #gtchat is a proven leader in providing services to and collaboration between educators, parents, advocates, and gifted learners. Innovative, relevant, and engaging are words that embody the purpose of TAGT and also describe perfectly the endeavors of #gtchat, making this relationship a natural fit.”

The Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) is the nation’s largest state advocacy group of its kind, providing more than 2,500 engaged and diverse members a forum for exchanging ideas and information about the education of gifted learners. Chartered in 1978, this non-profit organization leads the way in creating and offering meaningful resources to benefit the gifted community. TAGT’s mission is to connect and empower educators and parents to meet the unique social, emotional, and intellectual needs of gifted and talented students, and it carries that mission out by providing relevant, innovative educational services, programs, and resources.

What a privilege to have TAGT step up and recognize the power of #gtchat and collaborative online platforms! TAGT’s Lead Global #gtchat Sponsorship will support the upcoming expansion of the Ingeniosus Web site, including the addition of an Ingeniosus Parent Portal and an Ingeniosus Educator Portal. Moreover, this sponsorship will help ensure Global #gtchat continues to be a source of education and inspiration for the thousands of parents, administrators, educators, psychologists, and gifted education advocates who make up our growing community. Here’s to positively impacting the lives of gifted and talented learners in the year ahead; thank you, TAGT!

10.18

Q&A with Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, author of Bright, Talented, & Black

by Deborah Mersino

On October 7, 2011, Dr. Joy Lawson Davis, author of Bright, Talented, & Black: A Guide for Families of African American Learners, served as a Guest Expert on Global #gtchat. What transpired during that hour moved me immensely and also touched those participating in the chat.

Our discussion about identifying and serving gifted learners from Argentina to Somoa highlighted the fact that many of the challenges pertinent to African American gifted learners today mimic the issues faced by gifted and talented individuals of other races worldwide. We were extremely fortunate to have Dr. Davis with us, as she shared her perspectives on how educators, parents, caregivers, and advocates of Black gifted learners can foster more support for this critical population.

Whether you are a parent or grandparent looking to support your gifted learner or an educator or administrator who wants to better understand the specific needs of Black gifted learners, you will find this book and Dr. Davis’ Web site to be an essential guide chock full of relevant, timely information and resources.

It’s been a privilege getting to know Dr. Davis these past few months; I highly respect her work. Later this month, I will share a follow-up post, which will include a sampling of the online resources she shares in her book and a poignant poem by her daughter, entitled “I Am.” For now, though, please enjoy this Q&A with a true game changer, who is working tirelessly to ensure we support all gifted and talented learners worldwide.

1. What inspired you to write this book?

As a gifted education coordinator in local school districts and later as state department director I was in contact w/ many parents & educators who were concerned, as I was, that schools were not appropriately identifying and serving all gifted learners. Too many Black students, low income, and other diverse populations were attending schools wherein their strengths were going unrecognized and thus, the children were unchallenged and their gifts and talents wasted. I also realized after my interactions w/ so many parents over the years, that one of the reasons that more white students were being served was because of strong advocacy on the part of their parents. I knew that whenever I had a chance to write a book it would be for Black parents who needed to know more about gifted education so they too could become strong advocates and ‘push’ schools to do more for their high potential and gifted learners. The black community & educators also needed to know more about challenges these students face and how conditions could be improved in schools for the benefit of more students.

2. What are some of the most common challenges Black gifted learners face today?

There are three that always come to mind when this question is asked: 1) The first challenge is low expectations that many educators have for African American and other diverse populations simply because of their discriminatory behaviors/biases and lack of knowledge about the black culture. 2) The second challenge is related- teachers with minimal or no training about cultural diversity and how culture impacts the way students learn, how teachers lack understanding or experience with other groups and the strengths that culturally diverse populations can express in a culturally sensitive environment. 3) The third challenge is retention in gifted and advanced learner programs once identified and placed. Identifying students is a challenge, but without the right set of affective supports- many students will lose interest, feel out of place, and simply withdraw from services designed to prepare them for more challenging learning environments in high school and beyond. Supportive peer or cohort groupings of gifted learners from similar cultural groups have a strong impact on the retention of students in gifted and advanced learner programs. Engagement of parents & families also has a positive impact on student success and retention in gifted programs.

Bright Talented Black Book Cover

3. What do you hope parents will take away from reading “Bright, Talented, and Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners”?

I hope that this book empowers parents to become Advocates and Champions for their children and others like them. When we do see a population of black students identified for gifted programs, these students are still under-represented as compared to the general population. Nationwide, while black students represent 17-18% of the general school-aged population, they still only represent 8% of the identified gifted population. When parents are empowered to speak up for their own children, my hope is that they will do the same for others. Far too many students are languishing in classrooms everyday because their teachers don’t recognize their gifts or refuse to and that parents don’t have the information they need to make good decisions about how to get schools to address their child’s strengths and provide the right services for them.

4. What can parents, educators, and community members of all races do to better ensure support for this critical population?

Becoming informed is the first step, the next is forming community-school task force groups to look into why schools and school districts are continuing to overlook or under-serve these students. Community-school task force groups can be VERY effective if they hold consistent meetings, with deliberate agendas to probe the school district and use information from Bright Talented & Black and other resources to inform their goals and objectives.

5. If a parent is concerned about their child or teen potentially underachieving, what can they do?

Underachievement is often difficult to spot. It is more than your seeing a ‘dip’ in school performance. Underachievement can have many causes, student-teacher relationship, school environment, the student’s own internal motivation, peer relationships and home issues are just some of the triggers. What is a bit tricky, however, is that some students may be getting ‘good grades’ and still underachieving, because the coursework lacks challenge and is too easy. Thus, those students may also be underachieving because of low level expectations and coursework.

When a parent realizes that a student who was once very satisfied and motivated by the school experience loses that motivation and satisfaction…the first step is to talk with your child. As a matter of fact, in research studies, high achieving Black students report that at home they talk frequently about school related matters, values, traditions and that their open honest conversations assist in keeping them focused in school. Accusations of the teacher, school, and student are not beneficial. But, a frank honest conversation about what is happening at school will usually reveal some clues. A meeting with the teacher(s) or counselor is also helpful. There are a number of excellent books to assist parents with tackling underachievement. I list many of those books in the Appendix of Bright, Talented & Black. Other resources can be found at the Social-Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) organization’s website.

6. How have your own experiences influenced your insights and advice?

My experiences as a student, parent, and educator taken together have enabled me to look at the issue of under-representation of Black students in gifted programs from many viewpoints. While my schooling took place many years ago, I was accelerated and grade-skipped during elementary school and for the most part, challenged across content areas. Later, in high school, I was bored and unchallenged- It was through the arts and leadership experiences that I had opportunities to stretch and have a more enriched experience. As a parent, I went into parenting then as a strong advocate, but not only for my children, but for others as well. I took advantage of numerous opportunities to initiate new programs that would serve more students and provide enrichment as well as acceleration for them. Working at the state department and seeing gifted education from a broader perspective did the most to inform my insights. It was through my work at the state level that I came to understand more fully what disadvantages some children had simply because of their ethnicity, their geography/location, or their income. Clearly, more work had to be done and I committed myself to devote my career to opening access and opportunities for students whose needs were not being met in schools in varied settings.

7. Although the title says it’s a guide for families, “Bright, Talented, & Black” is highly relevant for educators as well. What do hope educators will take a away from this book?

I do hope that educators will use this book as a resource guide to help them become more familiar with the intellectual and affective needs of African American gifted learners. I also hope that the book will provide resources, strategies and programs they might utilize locally in developing improved services options for these children and others whose needs are currently not met in gifted programs. I believe that Bright, Talented & Black while written with the African American community in mind can serve to enhance understandings of the nature and needs of all gifted children. With that in mind- I think that educators will find this a useful tool that they want to be sure to have on their bookshelf and one that they will gladly refer to others.

8. Is there anything else you would like to share?

I would just like to say in another generation, I do hope that we can ERADICATE the whole notion of under-representation from our educational jargon. Identifying the gifts of learners from all ethnic groups is critical to our survival as a nation and as individuals. We can no longer afford to waste anyone’s gifts and talents. The cure to cancer, AIDS, the nation’s economic dilemma, development of an educational model that is efficient, effective & equitable, and the end to the energy and ecological crisis lie in the mind, heart and soul of a gifted learner somewhere right now. No one knows who that gifted learner may be, what neighborhood they may come from or what hue their skin may be, or how much money their family may have. But it is our shared obligation to seek them out, nurture them and provide options for the development of their ideas.

About Joy Lawson Davis, Ed.D.

Dr. Davis is an assistant Professor of Education at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, she teaches undergraduate & graduate courses in Diversity Education & Gifted Education, respectively. She began her career in gifted education as a local coordinator in Virginia and eventually served for five years as State Specialist for Gifted Programs, K-12 for the Commonwealth of VA. As a sought-out expert in the area of Diversity in Gifted Education, Dr. Davis has provided services to districts across the country, in the Caribbean and South Africa. She holds two degrees (Masters and Doctorate) in gifted education from The College of William & Mary in Virginia, and is currently serving Co- Chair of the National Association for Gifted Children’s Diversity & Equity Committee. Dr. Davis also writes a column for Teaching for High Potential, a publication of the NAGC and is co-editor of MOSAIC, the Special Populations Network newsletter for NAGC. Most recently, Dr. Davis was named to the Advisory Board of Gifted Child Today, a practitioner-oriented peer reviewed journal with the largest subscription base of any gifted education journal in the nation. Dr. Davis is married, has three adult children, and shares four grandchildren with her husband.

09.18

When Ideas Spark

By Deborah Mersino

Be willing to fail. Magic just might happen. When reaching for something grand, failure is always a possibility. That possibility, though, should never derail simmering ideas from having the chance to fully ignite.

Unfortunately, in our society today, people still long for assurances. We want and demand straight lines, correct multiple choice answers, proficient stats, empirical research, and guarantees of success before we dive in, mix it up, get messy, fall down, stand back up, dance around the fire, and create with passion.

We’re afraid of all the things that could go wrong. We forget that bumps are inevitable, dips serve us powerfully, and failure – perhaps even getting burned – is always, always inherent in risk. We forget that if and when we fall down, we may just see situations anew and stumble upon new trajectories. One wrong turn may lead us to novel avenues, fresh thinking. And remarkably, sometimes our first, second, fifteenth or six hundredth try will actually work.

When our children, our students, our colleagues, our teachers, our politicians, our friends and family have an idea, do we immediately respond with, “That sounds fine and dandy, but…” or do we allow the flickering idea to flourish for a bit? Do we throw sand on the embers or add our own sparks of support?

I ask because right now we need idea generators. We need creative solutions. We need risk takers. We need spark plugs. We need you.

So the next time your right brain delights you with an idea, be kind to yourself and nurture the possibilities. All those left-brain, rational considerations will be addressed in due time. The warmth and glow of that initial firestorm, though, will be what gives you the strength and clarity for the long haul. Let’s.all.think.differently.