Monday, April 9, 2012

Motivating Gifted Students-Part 3... Doing Hard Things

One of my favorite family mottoes is:

What a legacy to give our children! Gifted kids can struggle with doing hard things for a variety of reasons:
They have never had to do hard things because school has always been easy.
They think that if something is hard for them, then it proves that they are not smart enough.
They do not have the skills to do hard things.

So how do we help kids to learn to do hard things?

1. One of my standard answers is to have kids learn to play the piano or another instrument. Lessons progress at their own speed and they are always just a little bit hard. Practicing is not always "fun", and every song is not a favorite song. It is a good exercise in doing something worthwhile that is not easy.
2. Let kids figure out what to do.
 My daughter forgot her science book at school, and the assignment was due the next day. When she told me I said, "What do you think you'll do?" In 5 minutes flat she had the neighbor on the phone, and a study date planned--problem solved.
3. Let kids do their own "business."
My kids have bought and sold and trained horses, to earn money. We have them call on horses to buy and we have them deal with buyers for horses they have trained. We are always there, and there is often a list of questions that we have all come up with sitting by the phone, but they are in charge. They make the decision to buy or sell. This has instilled great confidence in them about their ability to be self-sufficient and capable.
My youngest daughter, then just 8 years old, called about 50 dog owners out of the paper, until she decided that she wanted a toy poodle. She told us that she was too young to break horses, but she could sell papered poodle puppies to earn money! She has a big bank account for a 10 year old!
4. Push the envelope a bit.
All of my kids went on a 50 mile backpack trip when they turned 8. They learned to ski when they were very young, and they all ride horses. None of these things are very easy. When they think things are hard, we say, "Pleas-s-se! You have been training horses since you were 10 years old! You can do this math problem! Let's take a look!" Half of the trick of doing hard things is believing that you can do hard things.
5. No list would be complete without talking about my husband's favorite saying, "Use your R and I!" (Resourcefulness and Ingenuity) Living on a farm presents daily challenges that are not pre-planned. i.e. The cows are walking down the road and it is dark and dad is teaching his night class. So what to do? Use your R and I! The kids have learned to think for themselves and to solve problems without having to be told what to do. They are pretty adept and taking care of business. Again, we are always there, but they have a lot to say about how to solve the problem. We try to model this by creatively solving life's daily problems and talking about our thinking.

We can do hard things!


Motivating Gifted Students Part 2--Practical Ideas and Solutions

Hello Again! I wanted to continue our discussion about motivation, with some real life examples and ideas. I will still use Del's format, but the suggestions this time will be mine. Take them with a grain of salt, but they may start your wheels turning and you will come up with your own ideas tailored to your children. It will take time to figure out what works,but you will be amazed at what you and your child can accomplish!

Learning Disabilities and Other Disorders...
I have posted about this before, but I cannot stress enough how important it is to advocated for gifted students with learning abilities. It is so frustrating for these students to be asked to do work in a way that does not work for them, when a simple adaptation can make a huge difference! Don't be afraid to ask for those things that seem reasonable to you. We found that we had to break big challenges down into doable steps. Here are a few scenarios that might get you thinking. I used these with my gifted son who has a writing disability.

Task: Learn the times tables and write the answers to 100 of them in 5 minutes.
He tried and tried, but I am not sure that he could write his name 100 times in 5 minutes when he was in 3rd grade. During the summer, I wrote all the times tables on 3x5 cards and put them up on a large blank wall in my bedroom, with stick tack. The first day, we went through the cards and moved ALL of the ones he knew into the KY KNOWS THESE! column. He was encouraged because he knew more than he didn't know. We chose two new ones to work on that day. All day I asked him, "Hey Ky what is 6x7? What is 4x8?" We wrote the problems on the top of his hands and the answers on his palms, so he could check himself all day long. The next day we went through all the problems he knew...if he missed any, they went to jail and he studied them again that day. Then he told me the answers to the 2 problems he had been working on. If he got them right, hooray! and we moved them to the KNOW column. If he missed them, no big deal we just kept working on them AND the ones that were in jail. Eventually he knew them all! The next year, when the dreaded 100 timed test came home, with the words "Keep practicing!" on it, I sent a note back that said, "Give them to him orally!" Eventually he did pass the test, but it was by saying the answers out loud and then writing them.

Task: Get 100% on a spelling test
Ky would study his words and spell them all correctly at home, both orally and written, but when it was time for the test at school, the teacher would go too fast and he would miss some of the words. It came to the point that getting him to study spelling was like pulling teeth. We finally came up with this solution--Ky would take the test with the other kids and the teacher would correct it. Then she would give him the words he missed, (the same day), slow-w-ly. If he missed them he missed them, but if he got them right, they were  counted right. He had to whisper the spelling as he wrote the words, but he was able to do that taking the time he needed.

Mismatch Between Students and School...
I have posted quite a bit about this subject too, but I wanted to share one quick story.
My nephew was getting into trouble at school, and my sister couldn't figure out what was going on. This was a new thing, so she talked to her little guy about it, but he didn't really know why he was being naughty. Eventually, my sister figured out that he was not being challenged in his first grade class. She talked to the teacher,  who was open to suggestions, and she agreed to challenge him more. Guess what! The behavior stopped. 

But...what do you do if the teacher won't fix the situation?
1. Extend your student's learning at home...give them more advanced math problems, have them write,or draw, or do science projects. Volunteer to share some of these things with your child's class.
2. Relate what your child is  learning to real jobs and situations in the world
3. Go to the library and get books on subjects your student is interested in, whenever possible, have your student use those interests as subjects for assignments.
4. Research with your child on the internet. It can be fun to learn MORE about what they are studying in school.
5. Advocate! Every child should learn something new every day!

Student's Attitudes...
Okay, here is where the rubber meets the road...gifted kids can be downright stinky! They are smart enough to know how to reason and argue, and it is hard to get them to do things that they do not think are worthwhile. So what is a mom, or dad to do?

Young kids....
Reward small needs to happen EVERY DAY! Some kids will do hard things without any extrinsic reward at all, but those are not the kids we are talking about. Here are some things that I have tried:
1. A sucker or marshmallows for my 3 year old to eat while I cut his hair. The screaming evaporated.
2. One skittle per piano song played. Play it 5 times in a day, earn 5 skittles OR a sticker for playing all the songs on your list (for an older child.) or make a 100 chart and the child marks an x each time they practice-celebrate big time when they reach 100! (Have the child decide what the prize will be.)
3. Make games.
My daughter needed to learn the names of 15 explorers and what they discovered. She hated it and saw absolutely no reason to do it. I made a game and she had them learned in one day, and she took the game to school, to help all of her friends learn them.
4. The jar.
This was my kid's all-time favorite motivation tool! I sat all of them down and had them tell me what they would like me to put in the jar as prizes, but it couldn't cost money. They came up with things like, "sit in the front seat," (before we had a passenger side air bag), "stay up 15 minutes later than their bedtime," "skip a chore," etc. etc. The most coveted prize, even for my pre-teen daughter, was to be rocked for 15 minutes! My kids would do anything to pick out of the jar. We used it for piano practicing-- to celebrate a week of "perfect practice!", we used it to motivate our kids to do hard things, such as a school project, we used it as rewards for great behavior, or as rewards for extreme kindness to one another. It helped to sweeten a school assignment that was just yucky!
5. The Break Bowl
Doing homework can terrible, especially if it is busy work and/or too easy, so I let my kids take breaks. I wrote down all kinds of crazy things for them to do: run around the outside of the house, do 50 jumping jacks, get a cookie, get a drink, etc. etc. We set how much work had to be done before they could take a break. If I was really struggling with them to get the work done, we took LOTS of breaks. If your child has a hard time getting going again, then take less breaks.

Older kids...
1. Talk, talk, talk
My son is a wonderful student and he does well in math, but he does not like it--probably because it is one of the few things that is hard for him. As a senior, he decided that he did not want to take Calculus. The Calculus teacher was giving him a hard time about it and he even spoke to me about it, saying that my son was being lazy. senior and I sat down and talked about it. He said that he did not like math, but he had taken it every year. He told me that he did not plan to go into the medical field, engineering, or anything else that is math based, and he just didn't want to take Calculus. So..he didn't take it. Perhaps that was not the right decision for everyone, but it was for us, and if he needs to take Calculus in college, so be it!
2. Mix the hard with the fun.
"Do your math and then you can read two chapters of Call of the Wild."
3. Explain why the assignment is important, and if you can't come up with a good reason...ask! Every teacher should be able to justify his or her assignments!
4. Teach life skills.
"Sometimes you just have to do things you don't want to do!" That is a fact of life. "We don't always get to choose what we want to do." "We can do hard things." All of these are life skills that we stress with our children, not just with school, but with housework and yard work and farm work and backpacking, etc. etc. And then we celebrate the achievement!

Lack of Regulation and Study Skills...
Some gifted children really struggle with organization and breaking projects down into small pieces. My oldest daughter drove me crazy in middle school, because she was a perfectionist and she did even the dumbest assignment  with great care. Needless to say, she stayed up every night until midnight and then could not get up for school in the morning. It got to the point that something had to be done....Every night, we went through the homework and talked about what "needed to be done" and "what needed to be done well." It was hard for her, but she learned to rush through the things that didn't really matter, and spend her time on the things that did matter. To this day, she says that it is one of the best things I ever taught her.

Here are a few other study skills ideas:
1. Some kids need to be where it is quiet to study, and some kids need noise and distractions around them. Music playing in earphones can be either one, depending on the child and the music.
2. Be aware of your child's assignments, even when they are older.
In middle school, my oldest son got an F in math. I was quite surprised, since he was an A student and his math test scores had been good. I made arrangements to talk to the teacher.. He told me that Ben had not turned in any of his math assignments. Luckily, I knew that he had completed the assignments at home, so I turned to Ben and said, "Why haven't you turned in your assignments?" Ben said that he HAD turned them in...all of them. Upon further investigation, we discovered that Ben had turned them in, but he hadn't written his name on the paper and the teacher had the policy of throwing away all papers without names on them. I gave Ben a spiral notebook and had him write his name on all 80 pages so that he would not forget for the rest of the semester, and he got an A in math.
3. Smart kids can have problem areas too!
My most "school smart" kids were my dingiest kids when it came to remembering to take or bring home math books, tell me about parent/teacher conferences, or that they had volunteered me to take cookies to school. It took a lot of trial and error to come up with ways for them to get organized. The most successful thing we did and continue to do is a Sunday night family council where we plan the week. Everything gets written on the master calendar. If it is not on there, it doesn't happen. All week long, we add to the calendar, but I can't pick up from soccer practice if I don't know there is a practice.
4. Set a time for homework and be available. Sometimes it just takes a minute to get kids headed in the right direction. I also had to teach my kids to skip a math problem or question that they needed help with and just go on and finish the kidding, they would sit there for an hour waiting for help!
5. Some bright kids need help organizing papers or stories they are writing...they have so much in their heads, that they can get carried away and write too much--details that do not matter. I have used many different ways to help with this:
a. graphic organizers
b. K-W chart (K=what do you know already? W=What do you want to know? Then write using those parameters.)
c. Cut up a child's writing into sentence strips and sort them into topics--arrange the sentences into coherent paragraphs and tape together--throw away unnecessary sentences. Organize paragraphs in logical order. Re-type or re-write the paper.
d. Help students to research by using a K-W chart. Write topics out on sticky notes and put across the table or on a poster board. Decide a logical order for the topics. Take turns reading the research material with your child--the child decides what is important. Write the important items, in the child's words, on sticky notes, (include info. for citations). When research is done, sort the sticky notes under the topics. Rearrange them into logical order.  Then write the paper...the student has already put the research into his own words.

I hope that some of these ideas will help you to navigate the trouble spots you experience with your children! I would love to hear YOUR ideas! Leave a comment so we can all learn!


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Motivating Gifted Students

 Through the years I have known several students who were "scary smart," but they dropped out of high school or barely finished with terrible grades. In their adult lives they worked menial jobs and really struggled. What causes highly gifted and talented students to throw their gift away? Is there a way to stop this? Are there proven strategies to help students that fall into this category?

I didn't have to look very far, to find an expert on the topic...Del Siegle has researched and written on this subject, for years. Del is from the University of Connecticut, and just happened to be the professor in charge of my master's program!
Del Siegle
Del's article, Making a Difference: Motivating Gifted Students Who Are Not Achieving, can be found in its entirety here, on the UConn site.

We all know that many factors affect success in school, motivation being one of them. Del suggests:

"Motivated students appear to exhibit three main perceptions. First and foremost, motivated students find value in their school experience. They enjoy what they are doing or believe what they are doing will produce beneficial outcomes. Second, they believe they have the skills to be successful. Third, they trust their  environment and expect they can succeed in it."

When students exhibit these perceptions," they are more likely to exhibit the following resultant
behaviors: (a) implementing self-regulation behaviors, (b) setting realistic expectations, and (c) applying appropriate strategies for academic success."

"Gifted students are one group of exceptional learners who are not normally considered at risk for academic
failure. We often expect the brightest students to also be the most motivated. Unfortunately, many gifted students seem to lack motivation in school...Why do some gifted students demonstrate low levels of achievement?

Underachievement has at least four potential underlying causes.
First, an apparent underachievement problem may be masking more serious physical, cognitive, or emotional issues, such as a learning disability (Moon & Hall, 1998; Reis & McCoach, 2002).
Second, underachievement may be symptomatic of a mismatch between students and their school environment.
Third, underachievement may result from students’attitudes about themselves and their schooling.
Fourth, lack of self-regulation and study skills may hinder some students from achieving academic success.
Each of these reasons requires different intervention strategies. Therefore, educators should attempt to isolate the origin of the underachievement. We also recommend that gifted students who are having difficulty with school should be screened for a wide variety of physical, mental, or emotional issues before focusing on motivation problems (Reis & McCoach; Siegle & McCoach, 2002)."

"What motivates a person to put forth effort to accomplish a given task? Students engage in a task for two basic reasons: either they enjoy the activity or they value the outcome or byproduct of the activity in some way. Some students are unmotivated to achieve in school because they do not value the outcomes of school nor do they enjoy completing schoolwork; therefore, they see little value in completing their schoolwork.
To reverse underachievement that stems from an apparent lack of motivation, we must first determine how to build value into a student’s scholastic experiences...Students see utility in tasks that are integral to their vision of the future or are instrumental to their pursuit of other goals. Because goals can play an essential role in attaining later outcomes, we should help students see beyond the immediate activity to the long-term benefits it produces. Teachers need to be able to answer the common query 'Why do we have to study this?'"

Del gives the following suggestions:
1. Explain the value of the activity.
2. Use extrinsic motivation carefully, if needed.
3. Invite someone from the community who can tie the activity to real world work.
4. Help students to see beyond the assignment to the long-term benefits. (ie. learning to do algebra will help you to graduate from high school and go on to college where you can study art. The student may still hate algebra, but at least he understands why he needs to study it.)

Learning Disabilities and Other Disorders...
"Students with learning disabilities often exhibit poor academic self-confidence (Baum, 2004; Stone & May, 2002) Further, they benefit from explicit teaching of self-regulation and study strategies (Reis & Ruban, 2004). Therefore, we believe that strategies related to two of the four factors discussed—self-efficacy and self-regulation—are particularly well suited for use with high-ability students having learning disabilities." I might just add parenthetically, that in students who are gifted and learning disabled, the gift masks the disability and the disability masks the gift, so students may be seen as average or low average, even though those closest to them can see their brilliance.

Mismatch Between Students and School.. 
"Intrinsic value often results from the enjoyment an activity produces for the participant (Wigfield, 1994). When students enjoy scholastic tasks, they are intrinsically motivated to do well. Both their interests and personal relevance produce intrinsic value for a student. Generally, students are intrinsically motivated to pursue activities that are moderately novel, interesting, enjoyable, exciting, and optimally challenging. Material that is either too hard or too easy is antimotivational. When schoolwork is too easy, students
become bored. When tasks are too difficult, students become frustrated and anxious (Deci & Ryan, 1985).

Del's suggestions:
1.Learn your student's/child's interests and incorporate them into instruction. (As a parent, this can be done by suggesting topics for papers that the kids are interested in. My son wrote a paper and gave an oral presentation on Australian Shepherd dogs, he also wrote about braiding leather, and survival skills, all topics that he is passionate about.)
2. Let students choose how to show mastery of the subject--it doesn't always have to be a test or a written paper!
3. "Classroom activities should be appropriate to students’ current knowledge and skill levels. Ideally, a lesson’s content should be just above the skill range of the students. The activity should be
something that the students can master, but not without effort and the use of appropriate strategies (Morrone & Schutz, 2000). Ideally, students should be challenged, but not frustrated, by classroom activities."
4. "One reason for the popularity of computer games is that immediate feedback enhances the psychological
impact of the activity. When possible,strive to build opportunities for immediate feedback into classroom
activities." (One Skittle for each time a piano song is played, a sticker for each day the piano is played, etc.)
5. Be enthusiastic! Treat the subject as if it is exciting and interesting.
6. Encourage students to think seriously about how their performance in present classes can affect their future goals, as well as to explicitly articulate their reasons for choosing or failing to put forth effort in a class.
You can use students’ responses to the following statements:

1. When I try hard in this class, it’s
because _____________________.
2. I would spend more time on my schoolwork if ________________.
3. If I do poorly in this class, then _____________________________.
4. When I don’t try hard in this class, it’s because _____________.
5. I would rather do _____________ than do my work for this class.
6. Doing well in this class will help me to _______________________.
7. Doing poorly in this class will keep me from ________________.
8. This class is important because _____________________________.
9. The thing that I am most interested in learning more about is ________________.
10. The most interesting thing that Ilearned in ____________ class is _________________.

7. Gifted underachievers often view school negatively (McCoach & Siegle,2003). They may believe that they do not fit into the system, and in some cases, giftedness can actually represent a stigma in school. Instead of appreciating the special gifts and talents these students exhibit, some teachers are threatened by the presence of gifted students in their classroom. Therefore, in some situations, low motivation may
represent a coping strategy, whereby students strive to adapt to an anti-intellectual school environment (Cross,1997).
Student's Attitudes...
"Students must also believe they have the skills to perform a task before they will attempt it...Success breeds success. Students’beliefs about how well they can perform are first, and foremost, influenced by
how well they have performed in the past. Significant adults in children’s lives can increase students’ confidence by helping them recognize past accomplishments. In this way, success breeds success. Helping students acknowledge past growth is an important contributor toward their future growth."

Del's suggestions:
1. Videotape students doing activities such as playing the piano, dancing, etc so that they can see their progress.(Home videos are great!)
2. Keep samples of academic work and review them periodically.(I throw work in a drawer throughout the year and then we sort the work for scrapbooks periodically. It is fun to see how they have grown throughout the year.)
3. Encourage students to compete with themselves. (set goals)

Dweck (1999) demonstrated that students who believe abilities can be developed and are not fixed are more likely to attempt challenging tasks and persevere through difficulties than students who believe abilities are innate. Students who have a performance orientation approach new situations as opportunities to show what they know. These students tend to believe that abilities are fixed. Therefore, they view any mistakes
as evidence they lack ability. In contrast, students who have a mastery orientation view new situations as opportunities to acquire new skills or improve their existing skills. Students with a mastery orientation tend to believe that abilities are malleable, and they are more likely to tackle difficult tasks...Gifted students also need to understand that just because they find something difficult does not mean they are not smart. For some students, not trying preserves their self-image."

4. "The way we compliment students also has an impact on how successful students perceive themselves...The essential component in complimenting students is helping them realize that skills are
developed and that they have acquired the skills necessary to succeed. The feedback must contain (a) recognition of the talent and (b) attribution of its development to the student.
5. "Compliment students on the specific skills they have developed by drawing attention to the skill and to its development. This tactic acknowledges the effort without drawing undue attention to it."
6."Use specific rather than general compliments. A general compliment, such as “Good work,” does not carry the weight of something more specific, such as “You have learned to provide very good supporting sentences for the topic sentence in your paragraphs.” Specific feedback allows students to better appraise their progress by letting them know two things: (a) what specific skill they possess and (b) that they developed it. Both components are necessary."
7. "Teachers and parents can discuss with students the obstacles they believe are keeping them from doing well and what options exist for them. This approach includes a discussion of what is within the students’ control as well as what is beyond their control. Teaching students to appreciate multiple viewpoints should be part of the discussion. Teachers and parents can help students understand when “standing their ground” is important, when compromise might better serve their interests, and when ignoring the situation is the best course of action."
8." Avoid letting students use their environment as an excuse. At times, young people may attribute their failures to their environment rather than to themselves."

Lack of Self-Regulation and Study Skills... 

Many gifted students lack self-management strategies, such as time management and study skills. Because gifted students often progress through the early years of school without being challenged, they sometimes fail to develop the self-management skills that other students master. In the early grades, good memory and fast processing skills can compensate for note taking and other study skills."

Del's suggestions:
1. "If students are not being academically challenged, encourage them to explore opportunities to interact with more challenging and interesting material." (Parents can find sources for reports and or presentations that are geared toward the student's level and interests.)
2. "Evaluate what study skills your students need to be successful. A word of caution: teaching study skills to
gifted and talented students before they really need them can be counterproductive. Some common study
skills include note taking, outlining, and using memory mnemonics."
3. "Teachers and parents can help students organize their work and study time."
4. "Some gifted students lack self-monitoring skills. These skills include monitoring distractibility, practicing
delayed gratification, and being aware of performance avoidance. The Premack principle, also known as
“Grandma’s rule,” suggests using a more preferred activity as a reward for a less preferred activity."
5. "Help students plan schoolwork tasks, and encourage parents to do so also. This approach serves two functions. First, it develops a mindset that the task is doable. Young people are often reluctant to begin a task because they are unsure how to begin. Second, it minimizes the unknown. Through planning, students can visualize a task’s coming to fruition."
6. "Educators and parents can teach students to set short-term attainable goals and to reward themselves once those goals are completed. This skill includes learning to withhold the reward if the task is not completed." (For example, a treat if all piano songs are passed off, but none if even one is missed.)
7. "When working with performance avoidant students, provide detailed assignment instructions and include
an evaluation rubric when appropriate. Divide larger tasks into smaller tasks, and recognize the student’s
performance at each step"
8. "Help students set realistic expectations. This skill involves setting goals that are difficult enough to be challenging, yet not so difficult as to be unachievable and discouraging."

Final Thoughts
"Educators and parents should support students and encourage them to pursue their interests and passions. In addition, adults can help students (a) see that what they are doing serves a purpose, (b) believe they have the skills to perform well, (c) trust that their environment will encourage their productivity, and (d) set realistic expectations for themselves. Early encouragement of these behaviors will help young people lead productive and fulfilling lives."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creativity and IQ

Did you know that it takes a fair amount of brains to be creative? Did you know that most conceptions of giftedness include a creativity component? Did you know that creatively gifted kids do not fit well in the rigid standards that we call public school? 

Creatively gifted students are our future! They think outside the box and they discover new ways to do things. Creatively gifted students can be the Bill Gates or the Steve Jobs of the future, so they deserve our attention and care.

Photo: Dr. E. Paul Torrance (
Paul Torrance, an American psychologist developed what is know as the threshold hypothesis. This states that there is a correlation between IQ and creativity. This means, stated simply,"that it takes a fair amount of brains to be creative." It also means that a highly creative person probably has a fairly high IQ, BUT, a person with a high IQ many not necessarily be creative.

Wikipedia gives a more scholarly explanation:  
"An often cited model is what has come to be known as "the threshold hypothesis," proposed by Ellis Paul Torrance, which holds that a high degree of intelligence appears to be a necessary but not sufficient condition for high creativity. That is, while there is a positive correlation between creativity and intelligence, this correlation disappears for IQs above a threshold of around 120. Such a model has found acceptance by many researchers, although it has not gone unchallenged." 

Photo: Dr. Joseph Renzulli (

Dr. Renzulli, of the University of Connecticut, is one of the foremost researchers in gifted education. His 3 Ring Conception of Gifted, includes a creativity component.

Each of the circles are shown the same size, but not all students have equal amounts of each component. Students who excel in creativity are considered creative-productive gifted. Dr. Renzulli describes his thoughts on creative-productive students...

(In Dr. Renzulli's own words),
"If scores on IQ tests and other measures of cognitive ability only account for a limited proportion of the common variance with school grades, we can be equally certain that these measures do not tell the whole story when it comes to making predictions about creative-productive giftedness. ...
Creative-productive giftedness. describes those aspects of human activity and involvement in which a premium is placed on the development of original material and products that are purposefully designed to have an impact on 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 skills (process) 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. In other words, creative-productive giftedness is simply putting one's abilities to work on problems and areas of study that have personal relevance to the student and that can be escalated to appropriately challenging levels of investigative activity... such as constructivist theory, authentic learning, discovery learning, problem based learning, and performance assessment. " 

Creative-Productive Giftedness (click on the link to read Dr. Renzulli's entire article)

Photo: Dr. Bertie Kingore Ph. D (

Bertie Kingore, Ph.D has a fascinating article that compares high achievers, gifted learners, and creative thinkers. Pay special attention to the cartoons and the chart. Her chart, which compares how each type of learner thinks. is especially enlightening. You will notice, on the chart, that the words that describe creative students, are not necessarily the descriptors of compliant, model students:
sees exceptions
overflows with ideas, many of which will never be developed
is in own group
shares bizzare, sometimes conflicting opinions
questions, "what if"
questions the need for mastery
relishes wild, off-the-wall humor
initiates more projects that will ever be completed
is unconventional
is idiosyncratic read the list, and you have a creatively gifted child...Now what?

Photo: Carol Fertig (

Carol Fertig, who writes a blog for Prufrock Press, gives some wonderful, practical suggestions!

Exquisite Minds: Gifted and Creative Children is a site dedicated to creative-productive children. It includes ideas, links to other sites, and a forum.

Visual Manna is another site that has some wonderful information and food for thought about teaching cre-ative children. She advocates the arts as a way to challenge creative-productive children. Her blog begins with the following...

This quote by Pearl S. Buck, master writer and sculptress is so good! Sometimes creatively gifted students are considered overly dramatic.
“To him…
a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a love,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.
Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – - – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” 

Relish your wonderful, quirky, dramatic child and sit back and watch what he or she may become.  Advocate for him, push her, give challenge, follow his lead, and you will be well on your way to an adventure! Take it from the mom of several creative-productive students.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Teaching Young gifted students

One of my great passions has been to teach young gifted students. Students as young as 4 or 5 can begin to show promise. This can be demonstrated in many ways,but the most noticeable ones are early ability to read, early ability to understand and compute math problems, unusually high vocabulary, early artistic ability, such as drawing, singing, playing an instrument, etc, and an ability to remember information that is not usual for their age.
Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

There are lists available that help parents to spot giftedness early, although I believe that most parents of gifted students already suspect that their children are advanced . Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D.,(see her credentials here), has a very interesting list of traits for children from birth to 2, and from 2 to 4. Read the article here at Yahoo Voices. I have found it interesting that the checklists that I use with my Kindergarten students do not seem to work for pre-school students. I gave the check lists to several families who had other gifted children and asked them to mark them for their 4 year-olds. All of the checklists came back showing that the 4 year-old children were bright, but not necessarily gifted. Incidentally, all of the students did indeed have gifted qualities and were identified when they were a little bit older. I think that the checklist had too many items that a parent would not be able to observe, until their child was actually in school. Dr. Sandhu's lists, on the other hand, are designed to cover items observable in very young children.

The National Association for Gifted Children, (NAGC), has published an article entitled  Early Childhood Gifted Education. In their own words, "This position statement, initiated by the Early Childhood Division of NAGC, focuses on creating optimal environments for recognizing, developing, and nurturing the strengths and talents of young gifted children, age 3 through 8."
The paper contains a wealth of information from one of the most reputable sources in gifted education and is well worth the read.

There are educators that strongly oppose the identification of gifted students at an early age. They feel that this creates a "winner/loser" scenario where the losers are "Black,Hispanic, and low income students.
Julie Rasicot -Education Week March 12, 2012  
Julie Rasicot explains these concerns in an article for Education Week. Read the article here
I suppose I agree, to a point,  that it is unfair to minorities, IF identifying young gifted students means that they get an entirely different program , which no one else has access to. However, I don't see how allowing a young child to learn to read instead of sitting through lessons prescribed to teach him his ABC's, which he already knows, hurts anyone. Making a gifted child repeat and repeat,however, definitely hurts the gifted child.

An excellent article by Tokyo Children's Academy, (International school for the gifted), encourages the early identification of gifted students, and refutes some of the most common concerns about early identification. They state, "It is commonly held that giftedness cannot be ascertained until third grade; however, this belief is not supported by research. Evidence that it is possible to accurately identify the gifted in primary grades, preschool, and even younger has been available for over half a century."

According to the article, 
"There is also a widespread concern that early identification may find the wrong children. It is believed that IQ scores are unstable in the early years, and that children who look developmentally advanced when they enter school lose their advantage in subsequent years. The myth of the instability of IQ scores was refuted by both Hollingworth (Hollingworth & Kaunitz, 1934) and Terman (Terman & Oden, 1947; 1959) and, more recently, by Elizabeth Hagen, co-creator of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Revision IV, and the Cognitive Abilities Test.
The correlations between scores obtained at ages four or five and later IQ scores are slightly lower than those obtained at age nine, but not that much lower. (Hagen, as quoted in Silverman, 1986a)

The article addresses another common assumption: "An equally tenacious and equally bizarre belief is that somehow, magically, all the other children will "catch up" to the gifted child. If two children have different capacities for obtaining information from the environment--for storing, organizing, remembering, retrieving, associating, and applying that information--how on earth could one "catch up" to the other? This would be like saying that a 1972 computer could "catch up" to a 1992 computer, when the former has less memory capacity and speed and less sophisticated organization than the latter. The only way this can appear to happen is when we use only a fraction of the abilities of the child."

And finally: "Another frequently expressed concern is that if we identify gifted children early, we may overlook some children who later turn out to be very capable. This may be true, but it is insufficient reason for ignoring the information we have that can positively identify a large portion of gifted children. There is no method of identification that finds all gifted children; all methods will miss some who are exceptionally bright. Therefore, multiple means must be employed at different stages of development."

The Earlychildhood NEWS puts yet another spin on the controversy:
"Young children with special needs have been the focus of increased attention since the passage of federal legislation, PL 99-457, in 1986. This law is a downward age extension of earlier legislation which guaranteed the provision of special education services in the public schools." They go on to state that young gifted students fall under this law and should therefore have early intervention services available to them. The article also includes another checklist for young gifted students.

I firmly believe that all students deserve an education and that they should learn something new every day. We do not seem to struggle with the idea that students who learn more slowly should receive intervention services, but for some reason we want to hold gifted students back. Most teachers do not see anything wrong with having gifted students repeat and repeat skills that they already know. It is essential that every student is taught on their own level as much as is possible. It is difficult as a parent, to get schools to provide these services, but parents must advocate for their young children. Keep trying! Keep pushing! Don't give up! It is possible to have a great education for your gifted child.


Two more articles you might be interested in:

The Gifted Child Quarterly published an article by Steven Pfeiffer and Yaacov Petscher who give a wonderful overview of  The Gifted Rating Scales–Preschool/Kindergarten Form (GRS-P), which is a new test for identifying young gifted children. Click here for the article.

Identifying Gifted Children gives, "Examples of criteria often used to help identify gifted children and tips on how you can spot a gifted and talented kid."

Friday, February 24, 2012


I just attended an IEP meeting for my twice exceptional 8th grade son, and I was struck again at how simple and yet how hard it is to advocate for him.The solutions to his school struggles seem so simple to me and yet getting the school to fall in line can sometimes be soooo hard. This IEP meeting was actually the most productive and the least frustrating I have ever attended, and I felt like we made good progress in planning for his transition to the high school next year.

I am going to digress for a moment and talk about what twice exceptional or 2E means and how 2E kids are different from the kinds of gifted students we have discussed in the past.

An article by Dawn Beckley in the NRC/GT 1998 Spring Newsletter, (re-posted on the UConn website), describes twice exceptional students this way: 

"Since Terman's time, a widespread belief about gifted children has been that they regularly score high on intelligence tests and perform well in school (Brody & Mills, 1997). Yet during the last decade, increasing attention has been being given to the confusing question of high ability students who also have learning disabilities. These learning disabled gifted and talented students, or "twice-exceptional students" (Nielsen, Hammond, & Higgins, n.d.), need remediation activities. At the same time, they also require opportunities to promote their own individual strengths and talents in one or more domains in which they have previously displayed their superior abilities."

The rest of this article is an excellent overview of the characteristics, identification, and educational needs of 2E children.

Twice exceptional students are gifted, but they also have some sort of disability. Often the gift masks the disability and the disability masks the gift, so the students are seen as being very average. Sometimes, as was the case with my son, the disability is noticed by teachers, or is severe enough that help is given. Ky has a writing disability, which became very apparent in the 2nd grade. Anything that requires thinking and then writing is very difficult.

Sometimes, twice exceptional students are seen as bright underachievers, and their disability is not diagnosed, and other students are just viewed as average students and their giftedness goes "undiagnosed."

The meeting that I attended was for Ky's three year evaluation, so we looked at psychological testing. It was very easy to see his giftedness, as his verbal score was in the 130's, (gifted). Several of his other scores were above 100, (in the average range), and the score that involved writing was 78, (below average). His composite score was just a little bit above average. In the past, the school has fought me tooth and nail to do anything but remediate the writing issue, but this year they were open to options and we came up with a program that is working well. My son is not in any special ed classes, but he does have accommodations which make it possible for him to keep up. Math is especially difficult because it is all "think-write," but finally they are allowing him to use a calculator, which has made all the difference. He knows how to do the problems, but thinking the calculations and then writing them is hard. With the calculator, he can quickly work through his homework and is successful. Incidentally, a test showing his ability to calculate math, (without a calculator), came out on a late 5th/early 6th grade level, while a test on mathematical reasoning or understanding the math concepts came out at a late 9th grade level. Times tables and remembering the algorithms are hard, but understanding the concepts is easy.

My friend Susan Baum is the guru of Twice Exceptional education.  I have taken numerous strands at conferences from her and talked to her at length about my son and my fight with the school to have his needs met. She is my hero, and she has a number of great articles and books that anyone with a twice exceptional child, should read.

Here is an article that gives a great overview of her thinking:

Gifted But Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox

The Idaho State Twice Exceptional Manual, (printed with permission of Dr. Susan Baum), gives another good overview and some ideas for teaching 2E students:

TWICE-EXCEPTIONAL:students WIth Both GIfts andchaLLenGes or dIsaBILItIes

or read her book:

There is also a fabulous newsletter, available to parents and teachers: 2e Twice- ExceptionalNewsletter
 Here is another website I found, with some good information: Twice Gifted

Ky is my second Twice Exceptional child. My older daughter is a very talented RN, who also struggled with writing but was highly gifted in math, science, and hands-on learning. Do not despair! Keep advocating for your student! Susan Baum has told me repeatedly that I just need to get Ky through public school, so that he can go on and be brilliant.

Kids who don't know their times tables can still do math, kids who can't write can still be successful.We as parents CAN make the difference!

Monday, February 20, 2012

They will all catch up by third grade?

I am not sure if it was in my college classes or during my first teaching jobs that I heard the statement, "all students seem to catch up with each other around the third grade."  As a new, young teacher, I accepted this, without reservation.  I was aware of developmental differences in children and I knew that not every baby walked at 12 months on the dot. It was easy to spot differences in my first grade and kindergarten students--some did not speak in complete sentences, and some came in reading,  so when I was told that these developmental differences all seem to end around third grade, I believed it. Then my oldest daughter went to school...

Haylie is very bright and she is schoolhouse gifted.  I could teach her something once, and she had it. I found myself constantly frustrated with her school experience.   Her first grade teacher had her in a middle reading group, ("because she was comfortable there with her friends"), even though she read head and shoulders above the top group. She never pushed Haylie in any way. Second grade was more of the same. Haylie passed every spelling test with 100% without even studying, she used cute little bear manipulatives to add and subtract, even though she could do it in her head, nothing was new or challenging.  Any suggestion I made about advancing her skills was treated with the typical pat on the head and the insinuation that this was my first child and I just didn't understand. (Never mind that I had been a kindergarten and first grade teacher myself.) I was beginning to doubt that all students caught up developmentally at third grade. To me, it seemed to have more to do with making kids sit around and wait while everyone else caught up.

Then we moved to another state. My daughter had a teacher for third grade that had two gifted daughters of her own, and she had studied gifted strategies. She immediately recognized Haylie's giftedness and she pushed her--hard. Haylie thrived.  Her reading level increased dramatically, as well as her writing skills. When the students were asked to do a report on a famous person, after reading their biography, Haylie brought home a book that was written on a middle school level, not a third grade level and it was perfect for her. She learned a ton that year and was NOT on the same level as the other students.

It has been twenty years since Haylie was a first grader, but little has changed.  My sister is dealing with the exact same attitude toward her highly gifted Kindergartener. She is completing the first grade curriculum for reading, but will be expected to do it again next year. She can add and subtract in her head, but she is not allowed to go on to first grade math.  The teacher told my sister that by third grade, all students seem to catch up, so it will be ok.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Do students really catch up developmentally by third grade, OR is that idea so entrenched in the teaching philosophy that we make it a self-fulfilling prophesy?  Does not teaching bright kids on their level when they are in the primary grades, ensure that all students catch up? I decided to see if any research has been done on this wide held belief. I am still searching for actual research on the subject, but I did find the following articles that provide thought provoking information.

This is a great article by Carol Bainbridge   that looks at this question from several angles. It discusses "hothoused children,"  or children that are drilled on letters, numbers, sounds, etc. from an early age, and then come into school ahead of their peers. Some of these students have had three years of preschool and lots of one-on-one time, but when they enter school, and have to learn required skills at a faster pace, they slip, and they are no longer ahead of the rest of their class. I acknowledge that this happens, but the second half of the article gives good information about how to recognize a truly gifted student.

Here is another article with one mom's opinion about early education and giftedness. The comments are well worth reading.

And just so you don't feel alone in your is a page of "real" situations that parents have encountered while trying to advocate for their gifted kids...laugh or cry, it's your choice!

Monday, January 23, 2012

What to do with gifted kids at home...

As a mom of many gifted children, we have struggled to keep everybody busy and happy!  My kids have lots of different interests, so we have tried to build on those.

Here is a quick list of some of our activities:
Piano lessons, voice lessons, violin lessons, roping lessons, horseback riding lessons, swimming lessons, trumpet lessons, and gymnastics lessons, and weight lifting.
Soccer, football, baseball, volleyball, wrestling, cheerleading, dance and swimming teams.
We have conducted research on: braiding cowboy gear, Australian cattle dogs, Egyptian mummies, dogs, dog training, Indians, Pioneers, stars, birds, rabbits, saddles, bridles, cows,  and famous people.
The kids have experimented with drawing, painting, cartooning, making cartoon movies, computer games that require kids to think (Spy Fox, Pajama Sam, Freddie the Fish for little kids), computer games that allow kids to create things, digital photography, scrapbooking, card making, legos, playmobil and other building sets.
We read to our kids, let them see us reading, read with our kids, and had them read alone.  We tried to make books available that peaked their interests.  Some of my children were gifted in math and science NOT in language arts, so I even paid them a dollar a book to read in the summer! 
We have also made crafts, sewing projects, wood projects, leather projects, cooking projects, games, movies on movie maker, and gifts for friends and family.
We have bred angora rabbits, bred dogs, broke ponies and horses, trained dogs, trained birds, had a saltwater and freshwater fish tank and more than our share of guniea pigs, hamsters and gerbils.

We have done lots of work together: painting the house and rooms, building things both in and out of the house, household repairs, working on cars, doing basic car repairs, yard work, gardening, harvesting, canning and drying food, remodeling bedrooms, daily animal chores, household chores etc.
We have gone to movies, zoos, museums, visited historical sites, hiked the trails around our home, taken multi-day family lightweight horse packing trips, talked about the mountains and other land marks near our home, took car trips and did anything else we could think of to stimulate our children to think.We also made sure that they had plenty of time to play, imagine, and build.
 So...where do YOU start?

There are tons of websites on the internet that parents can access--just google what you are looking for and you will be amazed at what is available.

There are also many people in most communities that are willing to share their knowledge. We have contacted people that we knew, or friends of friends, that had the same interests as our kids. They have been more than willing to share and the friendships developed through this contact has been a true blessing to our children.

We have made countless trips to the library, looking for information on projects and interests. When our small library was not helpful, a quick search of usually allowed us to buy the needed books very inexpensively.

We have utilized classes and programs offered very through the community: sports teams, scouts, classes from the local university, job shadowing opportunities, clinics, one-day seminars, etc.

We have never had a lot of disposable income, but nearly every resource we used was free or charged a nominal fee.  I believe that the most important part of challenging gifted children is being aware of who they are and what they are interested in.  Their forays into well loved interests can make all the difference in how they view themselves and how they view learning.

Here are a few professional websites for you to check out:

Prufrock Press has a list of books that address the interests of talented students. They include books on encouraging math, science, and writing talent.
Scholastic also gives some ideas for encouraging gifted children at home.
Fun and Challenging Activities for Gifted Children, is a website that addresses where to find stimulating
This is a great pdf for parents about activities and gifted children.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I have a niece that is in kindergarten, who is gifted.  She is ahead in reading and in math.  The school has done a fair job of meeting her needs, by letting her work independently in math, BUT....the district has a new math program which uses new vocabulary and a new format.  The teachers are concerned that she is not learning these. Should my niece attend the regular math class with the rest of the kindergarteners so that she can learn the skills, format and vocabulary? The teachers seem to think so.  My sister called me with this question and both of us agreed that the solution was to grade level accelerate her into a first grade classroom where she could receive daily instruction on her level, AND learn the vocabulary and format.  This is not an option, however, so what to do?

Teachers are often bothered or worried about these issues;"holes" in a student's learning, if they are allowed to work ahead.  I hear this every time I want to accelerate a student to a higher level.  Personally, I think that when gifted kids run into a "hole," all the teacher has to do is explain the vocabulary term or the concept once, and the student has it.  Gifted students have a great ability to quickly learn information, especially in areas they are interested in.

Karen Rogers is Professor of Gifted Studies in the department of Special Education and Gifted Education in the college of Applied Professional Studies, at the University of St. Thomas, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Rogers is a frequent keynote speaker for state, national, and international conferences on gifted education. She is the author of more than 150 articles, 18 book chapters and 4 books. More than 500,000 people worldwide have read her paper on ability grouping, written for the National Research Center on Gifted and Talented. She was the co-developer of a one-week television series on the nature of giftedness, called, "One Step Ahead," which is housed in the PBS Network Library, in Nebraska.
" Karen B. Rogers introduces five "lessons" about the needs of gifted students...
First, she explains that in order for gifted students' talents to flourish and grow, they need to be presented with a daily challenge that will enhance their particular strength. With progressively more difficult challenges, the students will grow intellectually in their areas of strength and will learn to connect old and new ideas.
Second, gifted students need opportunities for independent work pursuing their specific areas of interest.
Third, they need the opportunity to learn at their own levels; how can a fifth grader who is reading on an eleventh grade level be appropriately challenged in her fifth grade class?
Fourth, in addition to academic needs, Rogers explains that gifted students need opportunities to spend time with other students with abilities similar to theirs. This gives the students an opportunity to work with their peers and spend time with students who think how they do.
Lastly, gifted students need to learn at their own pace. Just like any other students, in order to be academically challenged, they need to work at a pace that matches their learning styles and abilities. Gifted children tend to learn and retain information at a much quicker rate. If they experience too much down time while the rest of the class is reviewing, they will become bored and lose focus. They too need to learn at their own rate in order to maximize their learning abilities.

All of these lessons teach us that students need challenge and appropriate curriculum in order to thrive.  I don't believe that having a student placed in a math class that is well below her level, follows these five lessons.

Another article that addresses this issue, was written by Carol Bainbridge. Carol has been providing advice to parents of gifted children for nearly fifteen years, including work as a gifted children expert on
Carol talks about academic problems for gifted children on the website:
She says, "Ideally, all children will be challenged appropriately. The work they get will be neither too hard nor too easy. If it is too hard, children will give up. If it is too easy, children will give up. In the first case, they will give up because of the stress; in the second, because of boredom." She goes on to say, "For most gifted kids, getting work that is too hard is not usually the problem, at least not initially in school. They may sail through school getting straight A's, but at some point either in high school, college, or life, they may encounter work that does not come easily to them and they may not be able to meet the challenge that work presents. It's not that the work is too difficult for them, but it may feel that way to them simply because they've never been challenged before and don't know how to approach the challenge.

Getting work that is too easy makes it very difficult for kids to concentrate on it. Younger children, who don't have the words to explain the problem, may say that the work is too hard. What they might mean, however, is that it is too hard to concentrate on the work and get it done. They don't mean that they are incapable of doing the work. Gifted children who are not given challenging work in school may end up being underachievers. It is simply easier to give up than to deal with the excruciating boredom day in and day out. These children, too, may find it difficult to meet the challenges later in life that lead to success." 

Next, Carol discusses the social aspects of challenging gifted students,"...gifted kids may be as advanced socially as they are academically. That is not always the case, but is possible. Even if they aren't much more advanced socially than their age mates, an inappropriate academic setting can make them appear to have social and behavioral problems.

Those problems can be caused by boredom, but they can also be caused by the lack of intellectual and social peers. Imagine how frustrating it would be to spend about six hours every day performing tasks to teach you what you already know and to have no one who shared your interests or could understand what you were talking about. Giving children appropriately challenging work and allowing him to interact with social and intellectual peers can prevent or solve many social problems."

Finally, Carol talks about emotional problems that mismatched curriculum can cause gifted students. "An inappropriate academic setting can also lead to emotional problems. When gifted children are not academically challenged and are not able to spend time with other children like them, they may begin to feel as though there is something wrong with them. Why is everyone else struggling with the those math problems? Why can't the other children read already? Why don't the other kids want to spend all day learning about planets and black holes? Why do those kids say such mean things? The answers to all those questions are quite obvious to adults, but not to the young gifted child.

It is even possible for a frustrated gifted child to become depressed, so if your child is not being challenged in school, you want to be on the lookout for signs of depression. Children can appear to be angry, but anger can be a sign of depression in young children."

I do not believe, given the situation, that keeping my niece in a grade-level math class is the best option. What do you think?