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."