Monday, June 20, 2011

Motivating Gifted Students

I have a good friend who has several gifted children.  Her oldest daughter is extremely creative, as well as being gifted in Language Arts, but she struggles a bit with math.  At times, the little girl does not want to try hard things at school.  My friend and I have talked quite a bit about motivating gifted students, but it just occurred to me today, that part of what we perceive as problems motivating gifted students may have to do with our expectations of that student!
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Let me explain....
Many people think that giftedness has everything to do with intelligence, therefore, if a child has a high IQ, he is gifted and can perform equally well in every subject in school.  We take that a bit further when we assume that a bright child who struggles a bit with a subject and doesn't like it or doesn't want to do it, is an underachiever, or lacks motivation.  There are strategies to deal with unmotivated gifted students, but today I want to talk about the nature of giftedness itself, and some misconceptions that we have about gifted students.
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Misconception #1  Gifted students are gifted in all subjects.
Carol Bainbridge wrote a nice article about this misconception for  You can access the article here.  She says: One common myth about gifted children is that they are good at everything -- math, language, science. You name it and if they are truly gifted, they are good at it. The truth is that most gifted children have uneven abilities. They may be exceptionally good at language, but not particularly good at math. Some gifted children are, of course, good at everything and these are the "Globally Gifted"children.
The majority of gifted children, though, are either "Verbally" or "Mathematically Gifted." These domains, however, are the more academic, school-oriented domains. Gifted children can also be artistically gifted, which means they are exceptionally good in either art of music.

TheNational Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) supports the ideas set forth by Bainbridge, in their definition of giftedness:
Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains.  Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports). 

 Read more here.

Misconception #2 Gifted students need to be highly motivated in every area in school.
Example: One teacher felt that because his student was very bright and did well on the state testing, that he was slacking when he decided not to take Calculus in high school.  The student was verbally gifted and did ok in math, but really did not enjoy it, or plan to pursue a career that required math.

It is much easier to understand the folly of this thinking, when we look at it in a different talent area...A child who excels at the piano and loves it, would be allowed a lot of practice time, as long as her other tasks were completed, (homework, chores, etc.)  We would not ask her to stop her piano practice to practice the clarinet, just because somewhere down the road it might be nice to know how to play the clarinet.
The same is true of the Calculus scenario....the student obviously has a good handle on basic high school Math, but loves English.  Why should he have to spend time studying something that he does not plan to use.  Now don't get me wrong, I am not advocating that fourth graders do not need to take math if they are verbally gifted--all students need to have a grasp of basic math.  We do, however, need to carefully make choices about programming for gifted students.  I believe that if we choose wisely, some of the motivation problems we encounter could be lessened.  Perhaps a gifted fourth grader who hates math, would do better in the grade level math class, instead of the accelerated math class.

Grade level acceleration, grade skipping, and enrichment in the area of talent are all pretty common and well researched ways to "grow" a student's talent area. I think that realization by parents that students do not need to be talented in all areas is also a great strategy for growing talents.  Let your student focus on their area of interest.  Be aware of activities and programs that will further stretch the area of talent, and be satisfied with grade level achievement in the other areas. 
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Higher Level Curriculum vs. Higher Level Enrichment

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We received a graduation announcement from the son of a good friend of mine.  He was not only graduating from High School, but from the local community college.  My son, who will be a senior in the fall, said, "I  admire the real scholars, and I always feel a little bit bad that I am not one of them."  This caught me off guard, because this particular son is about as gifted and talented as they come!  I decided that another post on the value of high level curriculum, AND the value of high level enrichment might be in order.

We live in a very rural area.  Our high school is small, but it offers some AP and Honors classes, all of which my children have taken.  The nearest university is 30 miles away, so dual enrollment is very difficult.

Our school does, however, have a plethora of activities going on, and students can be involved in many things at one time, (unlike my large city high school, where you could only do one thing at a time!)  
The son I mentioned, has taken great advantage of all of the activities, and has met the needs of his giftedness, through enrichment, quite well.

Just for an example...
Here is a list of what he did last year:
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Started on the varsity soccer team; had one of the starring roles in the fall musical; sang with the school's premiere musical group, (which included trips, competitions, and activities); qualified at district drama to go to the state drama competition, and attended the state drama competition; was a male cheerleader and continued to take gymnastics weekly so that he could  learn more stunts, (they cheered at all of the varsity games); competed in district speech and qualified to attend the state speech tournament, which he attended; had a starring role in the spring play; participated in student government; continued to lift weights daily; took honors classes; ran for and won the position of student body president for next year, and got good grades.

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 The point of all this is not to say that graduating from the Jr. College is not a wonderful thing,it is a great opportunity, but if you do not have access to higher level learning, do not despair!  Gifted students can prosper and even earn great scholarships to college, if they take advantage of theenrichment resources around them. (All 4 of my children who are old enough to go to college, graduated from our rural high school and attended the university of their choice on scholarship!)

I have mentioned Joseph Renzulli before, and his Schoolwide Enrichment Model.  Just as a review, this model for gifted programs relies heavily on enrichment for bright students.

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The Department of Education wrote an article about Mr. Renzulli's Enrichment Program.  A portion of the article is quoted below.  You can access the entire article here.
"Joseph Renzulli (Renzulli, Sand and Reis, 1986) created this model specifically for the education of gifted students so that teachers could provide programs that are qualitatively different.
                    The Enrichment Triad Model consists of three types of enrichment:
  • TYPE I - General Interest / Exploratory Activities
These activities are designed to provide students with as wide a range of experiences as possible, and include excursions, club, interest centres, visiting speakers and brainstorming sessions.
  • TYPE II - Group Training Activities / Skills Development
These activities are designed to develop thinking and feeling skills and students are involved in designing, experimenting, comparing, analysing, recording and classifying. Skills to be developed include creative and critical thinking, learning how to learn, using advanced level reference materials and communicating effectively.
  • TYPE III - Individual and Small Group Investigation of Real Problems
Students apply the knowledge and skills they have developed while working through Type I and Type II activities. They become investigators of real problems, working on specific areas of study towards presentation to a real audience. Activities include researching, debating, surveying, making a presentation, writing a journal article or producing a book or play.
A significant feature of Renzulli's Enrichment Triad model is that all students can work at the first two levels, and the activities generated within these levels support the third level. Type III activities are more appropriate for gifted students, as they allow for the generation of creativity."

The enrichment activities that my son participated in throughout the year fit right into the enrichment triad activities suggested by Joseph Renzulli's model.  Summer is here and it is a great time to involve your children in enrichment activities.  Be creative, follow your student's interests, but most of all...have fun!  Enrichment can be exciting and great fun!


Read more here:
Vertical Enrichment
Enrichment for Gifted Children in Math
Ideas for Enrichment
Ideas for Enrichment for Younger Children
More Ideas From e-How Family
A List of Enrichment Websites

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Motivating Gifted Students

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Motivating children who are gifted and talented can often be difficult.  Gifted students may find that school work is easy and requires no effort.  This may be the case for a few years, but eventually, students will run into curriculum that challenges them. My oldest daughter, who is highly gifted, nearly lost her scholarship as a college freshman, because she did not really know how to study.  Luckily, she figured it out that first year, and went on to successfully complete her degree.

There is an informative article called The Top Ten Ways to Motivate Gifted Children, written by Carol Bainbridge for About.Com.  Read the entire article here.
Here are her 10 ways:
1. Nurture your child's interests. (music lessons, how to books, etc.)
2. Expose your child to new ideas and areas.  (visit museums, attend programs, try new things together)
3. Use short-term goals and rewards--break a big project down into smaller more manageable pieces. (School is often easy for these children so they do not learn how to study or work hard.  A large project may be their first experience with having to work on something for an extended time.  Teaching children to break down a project into several small pieces is a life skill!)
4. Help your child learn to manage time.  (Some of my gifted children would spend inordinate amounts of time on things that did not matter.  Learning to prioritize, and decide what is worth 100% effort and what is just worth getting done is a difficult task, but also a very necessary life skill.  My daughter says to this day, that she is so grateful that she finally mastered this skill.)
5. Praise your child's efforts--praise specifically...not "nice work," but "you worked hard on your science  project; you deserved that A"
6. Help your child take control--these children need to understand the role that personal responsibility plays in success.
7. Keep a positive attitude about school--parents, watch what you say.
8. Help your child make connections between schoolwork and their interests--ie. vets need to do well in math and science.  A little research may be necessary to find the requirements of various jobs.
9. Turn homework into creative games
10. Keep in mind that motivation is not always about school achievement.  Achievement is not motivation. (sometimes just getting it done is the goal...motivation may not be possible.)

Sometimes, as students progress through school, lack of motivation becomes gifted underachievement.  The oxymoron of bright students who underachieve has been a troubling phenomenon in the field of Gifted and Talented.

Sally Reis, a leading researcher in gifted education shares her family's story of dealing with a gifted, underachieving son, and some ideas on how to work through this problem.  Read her insights here.
She has done extensive research on the subject.  You can find more of her articles online.  Here are a few:
The Underachievement of Gifted Students: What do we Know and Where do we go?
Gifted Underachievement: Oxymoron or Educational Enigma?
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Another researcher that written a lot about gifted underachievers is Del Siegel.  He has put together a very informative powerpoint presentation about this subject.  It has goal setting worksheets that can be completed with your student, as well as a survey that can help you understand why your child underachieves. It also offers remediation and help for parents.  I would recommend it to any parent struggling to motivate a gifted child.
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Creative/Productive Giftedness

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In a paper by Emiliya Velikova, Svetoslav Bilchev, Marga Georgievae entitled:  
Identifying of Creative-Productive Gifted Students in Mathematics,                               the authors state:

"Every Society is interested in gifted persons who are able to develop their creative potential, enrich their knowledge and experience and apply them to socially useful areas and activities.
The formation of future creators is a long and hard process, which starts at school. Hence, the teachers play the most important role in the identifying process." 

The authors offer the following tables to help us understand the differences between schoolhouse giftedness and creative-productive giftedness: (This applies to other subjects besides math.)

Table 1. The comparison of the general characteristics of giftedness
Schoolhouse giftedness
Creative-productive giftedness”
Learning of lessons and quickly adapting to the school environment
Development of original product that has an impact on a particular audience in respect to the interest of the creator.
Motivation – success in education.
Motivation – success in the area of interests.
Easy identification.
Difficult identification.
It is stable over time.
It depends on abilities, interest, motivation, stimulus and etc.
High IQ.
Above IQ.
Different level of CQ(creative quotient)
High CQ.(creative quotient)
Customers of knowledge.
Creators of knowledge.
Development along well-known special programs.
Development by purposeful pedagogy interactions that follows activity of creative personalities in some mathematical area.
Paradigm: I know how to learn.
Paradigm: I know what I want and can do it.
Table 2. The comparison of the typological characteristics of giftedness
Schoolhouse giftedness in Mathematics
Creative-productive giftedness in Mathematics”
Quickly assimilating ideas of others.
The thinking is original but not quick.
Quickly going into the problem.
Slowly, step by step is building reasoning and the result is harmonious mathematical theory.
Quickly solving the problems in school, competitions, Olympiads.
Not solving easy problems within limited time and solving very hard problems in unlimited time.
Quick change of interests.
The interests are solid.
Interested in nonstandard problems which are solved with great investigation and technique. 
Having ability for overall evaluation of the problem, to investigate many facts in the mathematical area of interest and to create original problem.
Limited capacity for work on one problem.
Capacity for  work on one interesting problem within a long period of time.

 Creative-Productive giftedness cannot be found through a simple test, as these students do not always follow the rules that schools play by.

Joseph Renzulli has observed that creative-productive gifted students tend to possess three interlocking abilities, which aid in identification:
1) Well above average abilities (general and specific) general abilities, high level of abstract thinking, verbal and numerical reasoning, spatial relations, memory, and word fluency, adaptation to the shaping of novel situations encountered in the external environment, actualization of information processing; rapid, accurate, and selective retrieval of mathematical information
2) High level of creativity
3) High level of task commitment  
This is taken from an article by Joseph Renzulli entitled :A Practical System for Identifying Gifted and Talented Students.  To read the entire article, click here.
Joseph Renzulli, a pioneer in gifted education has a great article that talks about creative-productive giftedness.  The entire article can be accessed here. In the article, he describes why creative-productive students are so important.  He says: "Creative/productive giftedness describes those aspects of human activity and involvement where a premium is placed on the development of original material and/or products that are purposefully designed to have an impact upon one or more target audiences. Learning situations that are designed to promote creative/productive giftedness emphasize the use and application of information (content) and thinking processes in an integrated, inductive, and real-problem-oriented manner. The role of the student is transformed from that of a learner of prescribed lessons to one in which she or he uses the modus operandi of a firsthand inquirer. This approach is quite different from the development of lesson-learning giftedness which tends to emphasize deductive learning, structured training in the development of thinking processes and the acquisition, storage, and retrieval of information. Why is creative/productive giftedness important enough for us to question the "tidy" and relatively easy approach that traditionally has been used to select the top 3 to 5%? Why do some people want to rock the boat by challenging a conception of giftedness that can be conveniently defined and easily measured? The answers to these questions are simple and yet very compelling. History tells us that it has been the creative and productive people of the world, the producers rather than consumers of knowledge, the reconstructionists of thought in all areas of human endeavor, that have become recognized as "truly gifted" individuals. History does not remember persons who merely scored high on IQ tests and/or learned their lessons well." 
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So  how can we identify Creative-Productive students?  Mr. Renzulli has some great suggestions:
1.  Test Score Nominations-This process starts by using test scores to identify a Talent Pool.  Any child who scores above the 85th percentile (using local norms) would be a candidate.  This approach guarantees that all traditionally bright youngsters will automatically be selected, and they will account for approximately 50 percent of our Talent Pool. This process guarantees admission to bright underachievers.  
2.  Teacher Nominations-allows teachers to nominate students who display characteristics that are not easily determined by tests (e.g., high levels of creativity, task commitment, unusual interest, talents. or special areas of superior performance of potential), that were not identified by test scores.  
3.  Alternate Pathways-Alternate pathways generally consist of parent nominations, peer nominations, tests of creativity, self-nominations, product evaluations and virtually any other procedure that might lead to initial consideration by a screening committee. The major difference between alternate pathways on one hand, and test score and teacher nomination on the other, is that alternate pathways are not automatic. In other words, students nominated through one or more alternate pathways will be reviewed by a screening committee, after which a selection decision will be made.  
4.  Special Nominations (safety valve 1)-This procedure involves circulating a list of all students who have been nominated through one of the procedures in Steps 1 through 3 to all teachers within the school, and in previous schools if students have matriculated from another building. This procedure allows previous year teachers to nominate students who have not been recommended by their present teacher.
5. Notification and Orientation of parents
6.  Action information nominations (safety valve 2)-orientation related to spotting unusually favorable "turn-ons" in the regular curriculum is provided for all teachers.  Teachers learn to spot creativity when a student becomes extremely interested in or excited about a particular topic, area of study, issue, idea or event that takes place in school or the non-school environment.                                                                                                                   
Parents are generally very aware of high levels of creativity in their children and there is much that we can do about it outside of school.  Allowing children to take lessons: art, music, dance, gymnastics, etc is a great place to start.  Parents can also be aware of their student's interests and help them pursue finding someone to teach a child how to crochet, working in the garage with a child on a birdhouse, providing the materials and supplies needed to do art projects.

We have used several programs and companies to meet the needs of our gifted children:

Cub Scouts       Boy Scouts
4-H                  Creative Girl’s Club
Sports              Service to others
Hoby                Natural Helpers
4-H camp        Missoula Children’s Theater
Lessons            Church activities
Girl’s State      H.S. Speech and Drama
Boy’s State      Book Clubs
Museums        How-to books
Travel              Girl Scouts

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Work-real world work--learning to garden, can food, cook, use woodworking tools, roof a house, drive a tractor, run a chainsaw, pull weeds, paint a fence, feed and care for animals etc. etc.  Our children have learned creative problem solving and have used their creative talents doing chores and working together as a family.  They have become self-reliant adults who know how to use their creativity in their every day lives.  All of my married children have said that learning to work was one of the very best things that we taught them!

Schoolhouse Giftedness

There are two basic kinds of gifted students, those who display schoolhouse giftedness and those who display creative/productive giftedness. Both kinds of giftedness are equally important.  They share some commonalities.  In the book Conceptions of Giftedness, Catya von Karolyi describes how gifted children are different: "The most obvious way in which gifted children are different is that they are precocious.  They are ahead of schedule in their interest in and mastery of a particular domain or domains." (Think math, reading, art, music etc.)  She goes on to say, "They grasp and apply underlying principles of a body of knowledge much more quickly than do their peers.  This rapid progress can manifest itself either in breadth or depth of understanding, or both....Gifted children are driven by a rage to master materials in their domain(s) of giftedness, and this rage typically makes itself known in the first few years of life." (1)
There is a great article by Carrie Bailey, written for school psychologists that gives more insight into the talents and needs of gifted students. You can find the article here.
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Students with the schoolhouse-type of giftedness can show talent in all school subjects or just one subject. These students excel in the school setting, often scoring high on tests and getting good grades.   I call them "Curriculum Eaters," because they can quickly devour curriculum and have an appetite to learn more and more.

Joseph Renzulli, who is one of the leading voices in Gifted and Talented Education has a wonderful article about giftedness here.  In the article he says, "Schoolhouse giftedness might also be called test-taking or lesson-learning giftedness. It is the kind most easily measured by IQ or other cognitive ability tests, and for this reason it is also the type most often used for selecting students for entrance into special programs. The abilities people display on IQ and aptitude tests are exactly the kinds of abilities that are most valued in traditional school learning situations. In other words, the games people play on ability tests are similar in nature to the games that teachers require in most lesson-learning situations. Research tells us that students who score high on IQ tests are also likely to get high grades in school. Research also has shown that these test-taking and lesson-learning abilities generally remain stable overtime."

Students with Schoolhouse giftedness generally do well in school, but they may quickly master the curriculum  for their grade level and need more.  There is a large body of research supporting the idea that there must be a match between curriculum assigned and the ability of the student.  Gifted students who are given a steady diet of curriculum well below their ability may become underachievers.  We will discuss this more in a further post.  I love how Catya von Karolyi puts it, "All children deserve an 'equal opportunity' to struggle to learn." (2)
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So what do your do?  How do you meet the needs of a student in third grade that already knows most of the third grade math or language curriculum?
One option to meet the needs of high ability students is to modify the curriculum. 
There is a wonderful article about this, written by Laura McGrail, which you can access here.
McGrail states, "Many educators have become well-versed in modifying the regular classroom curriculum to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Educators are not as experienced, however, in meeting the instructional needs of high-ability students... For many educators, services to gifted and talented students may seem to be elitist. However, public education is founded on the belief that all students (including those with high abilities) have the right to instruction appropriate to their needs. Gifted and talented students, like all students, should learn something new every day. "

 McGrail suggests that modifications can be done on several levels:
Lesson Modifications--by designing lessons that use  extended or enriched curriculum, open-ended questions and higher level thinking skills.
Assignment Modifications--"High-ability students are often expected to complete assignments that they find boring or irrelevant because they represent no new learning for them. Allowing them to reduce or skip standard assignments in order to acquire time to pursue alternate assignments or independent projects is called curriculum compacting. The curriculum for a gifted student should be compacted in those areas that represent his or her strengths. When students “buy time” for enrichment or alternate activities, they should use that time to capitalize on their strengths, rather than to improve skills in weaker subjects. For example, a student advanced in math should have a compacted curriculum in that area with opportunities given for enriched study in mathematics"
Scheduling Modifications--grouping students with other students of similar ability.  Cluster grouping is one option: 4-6 gifted students are placed together in a classroom with a teacher that is willing to modify the curriculum.

Another strategy not covered by Ms. McGrail is grade level acceleration, where the student goes to the next grade for the subject he is advanced in.

Children who show schoolhouse giftedness will not be "fine," if no interventions are made. (See the article by Carrie Bailey above.)  They deserve to have a steady diet of new and exciting things to learn, they need to learn how to work hard and how to do new things, and they need accommodations to help them have a positive school experience.  Parents can have a profound affect on the programs offered at their local schools. Mothering a gifted child is not easy, but it can be extremely rewarding--they are the future!
von Karolyi, C., & Winner, E.(2005).  Extreme Giftedness.  In R.J. Sternberg & J.E. Davidson, (Eds.), Conceptions of Giftedness,(1: pp. 378-379, 2: p. 385).  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Is my child really gifted?

The definition of giftedness is elusive at best, but talent and creativity abound in those around us.  As mothers and teachers, it is often hard to separate whether the sparks of genius we see are genuine or not.  There is no one way to "test" for gifted ability, but there are some traits that are common in gifted individuals.  A list of these character traits will help parents to begin to better understand how to identify giftedness in their children.

There is a very readable book called The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Children, by Sally Yahnke Walker Ph.D., which provides and overview of what it means to be gifted, and what parents should know and do to help their children.  Click on the link to read parts of this book and to access another checklist of gifted characteristics.

Trust yourself!  In the article Twelve Myths of Gifted Education by Louise Porter Ph.D,  she cites several studies which show that parents are accurate in identifying giftedness in their young children; much more accurate than teachers!

She says, "Many writers in the field of the education of the gifted report that as parents have detailed knowledge of their child’s milestones, motivation and personalities, and see their children in a range of settings and performing a range of tasks, they are skilled at recounting their children’s abilities (Feldhusen & Baska, 1989; Robinson, 1987; Roedell et al., 1980). Indeed, in two studies (Ciha, 1974; Jacobs,1971), parents correctly judged their child’s giftedness 76% of the time, compared with 22% and 4.3% for early childhood teachers’ ratings in the respective studies. These findings are similar to those of Louis and Lewis (1992) who found that 61% of parents correctly identified their preschool children’s advanced development, with the remaining 39% of the children falling just below the gifted category. Meanwhile, using a cut-off score of an IQ of 130 points, two-thirds of parents in a study by Silverman et al. (1986) correctly recognized their children as gifted, with 100% being correct in their identification if the cut-off score was set at120 IQ points."

In spite of the research, parents are often told, "All parents think that their children are gifted!" Don't be deterred by this attitude--if you feel that your child has gifted tendencies, speak are probably absolutely right!

Another other great books on this topic is: Re-Forming Education by Karen Rogers Ph.D