Monday, April 9, 2012

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!


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