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10 February 2010 @ 10:53 am
My primary source of research for this one is a super awesome research paper that was done on the Portland schools.  It can be found at www.tagpdx.org/accelera.htm

Ok... so now for the various forms of acceleration .  I'll do my best to give each a complete explanation. 

Acceleration can be achieved in several different ways including:

  • early entry to school -  Early entry isn't available in all areas.  In order to check, you can either use the National Association for Gifted Children's state by state guide, or you can check your local state and/or districts websites.  Specificly, go after any and all information available for gifted education.  Either way, early entry isn't easy to achieve.  It requires a great deal of evidence to prove that it's a valid thing.  And I'm not talking about what a proud parent says.  There are various testing methods available to the public.  Most colleges with graduate schools have free and/or low cost psycological testing available (it's how their grad students practice).  In addition to that, several of the learning centers such as Sylvan offer testing.

  • grade skipping or "double promotion;"- The best know form of acceleration.  It's done when a child's grand total scholastic achievement is at least two grade levels above their classmates, constistantly through the year. 

  • ungraded classrooms where students of varying ages are grouped together and the curriculum is based on individual mastery rates rather than the age of the student;-  They have this?  Seriously?  In the public schools and not a private Montessori?  Seriously though, that's pretty much the Montessori model of education.  It's a great idea, but I haven't seen it be the best in practice.  My major problem with Montessori is that, if it's a student guided education, students get lazy about what they don't like.  And for us, my darling daughter hates math.  No way I'm gonna let her be lazy about that.

  • curriculum compacting, which involves skipping material that the student has already mastered;-  Yet another great idea that doesn't work so well in class.  We have to remember that teachers are dealing with an average of twenty five kids per class.  The difficulty with cirriculum compacting is having one or two students way ahead of the rest of them.  It's a logistical nightmare for the teachers.  Basically, it requires two seperate lesson plans, which have to be conducted at the same time.  I imagine this option works best in home schooling or independant study environments.

  • grade telescoping which involves completing a program that usually requires a fixed number of years to finish in less than the usual time;- Oh look!  They're talking about me in kindergarten.  First the kindergarten reader.  Then the first grade reader. Then the second grade reader.  Then the third grade reader.  Then the fourth grade reader.  All in a few months. Um... yeah. My feelings on telescoping are pretty much neutral.  Good side is that the child is able to learn at a faster pace.  The down side is that, in a classroom environment, the child telescoping is pretty much left to their own resources.

  • concurrent enrollment, enabling a child to attend more than one school at a time;-  Yes, I know this happens.  Yes, I know that for some kids, this is the right decision. But, dear god, when do these kids just get to be kids?  When do they get to play games and hang out with their friends and laugh and be stupid and normal?

  • subject acceleration, which involves offering the student an advanced curriculum in a single subject; - This is basicly what we're doing with my daughter.  She's a freshman.  But she's in the sophomore AP American Lit and AP US History classes.  Her gifts lie primarily in the humanities.  (To be specific, she's language, logic, and fine arts.  But humanities works too.)  For us it's working well.  I'm extremely determined that my daughter deserves the opportunity to go to her senior prom at the same approximate age as everyone else, to learn how to drive at approximately the same time as all her classmates, and on and on and on. By doing subject acceleration, we're able to keep her relatively challenged without having her be that much more of an outsider.

  • advanced placement classes,- I am absolutely a fan of the AP classes.  As a general rule, they cover much more in the same time as their counterparts.  They go deeper and broader than regular classes (The regular sophomore US History text is about two hundred pages.  The AP one is over four hundred.  That should give you the idea.)  And then there's the added and  spectatularly cool benefit of these classes can become college credit, after taking the AP finals.  That's just plain cool.  By the time my daughter graduates from high school, she'll have over a year and a half worth of college credits.  Oh yeah.

  • classes taught at an accelerated rate or at a higher level of difficulty which enable a student to gain credit for completing curriculum usually taught in subsequent years;-  Um.  I really don't understand the differnce between this and some of the ideas they've mentioned above.  It sounds like a combination of subject acceleration and telescoping or curriculum compacting.  Whatever.

  • mentorship, individual instruction at an advanced level in a single subject offered by an expert in that subject;=  I believe most people call this independent study.  

  • credit by examination;-  Testing out.  I don't know how much I agree with this being done on the high school or below level.  I've seen a lot of it done on the college level, but I don't know about lower.

  • early admission to college.-  Two seperate cases to address here.  The first is kids who are accelerated straight out of public schools as in the ten year old who attended the same college as me.  I'm not for that.  I don't feel he was in any way ready for dealing every day with nothing but adults.  For the most part, I feel this kind of early acceptance needs to be very carefully done.  It's one thing if it's a sixteen year old who's so bored in high school, there's really nothing left to do.  It's another if it's a ten year old. The other kidn of early admission is either concurrent with their regular school (see above) or as part of subject acceleration.  I know Colorado has a law that, if the schools cannot keep up with the intellectual needs of the gifted child, the state is required to pay for the child to take equivalent courses on the college level.  This means my daughter could take college level history and laguage arts classes and have them paid, but not things like gym.  Things like gym, the high school more than meets the needs.

    To finish up this post, I'm just going to take directly from the study I found.  They say it better than I could.


The evidence in favor of acceleration for highly gifted children is unambiguous and overwhelming.

Despite a significant effort, we could not find any work that questioned its benefits. It is also the method that is implied in state law, and by the State Board of Education rules committee. Yet educators in general, and the Portland School district in particular, seem unnecessarily conservative in recommending it. Research on this subject covers more than seventy years, beginning with the longitudinal studies of Terman in 1925. Both single studies that have accumulated since then and repeated reviews of the literature have consistently shown that this practice is successful with appropriately selected students. For example, in a literature review that cited more than 220 sources, Stephen Daurio concluded in 1979 that

"All indications point to the maintenance of professional attitudes of excessive concern over potential socioemotional maladjustment among intellectually precocious young accelerates, and too little concern about the probability of maladjusting effects resulting from inadequate intellectual challenge.... based on numerous retrospective accounts of early entrance to college, there appear to be no data reported in the acceleration literature to refute the appropriateness of acceleration for intellectually able students. Furthermore the single major prospective report... offers considerable positive evidence that acceleration is indeed advantageous for intellectually able and socially mature youths..... No studies have shown enrichment to provide superior results over accelerative methods. Enrichment at best may only defer boredom.... Much resistance to acceleration ... is based on preconceived notions and irrational grounds, rather than on an examination of the evidence. Most resistance stems from concerns about the socioemotional development of the accelerated student. When the facts are studied, however, we find that such adjustment problems generally are minimal and short-lived.... accelerated students ... perform at least as well as, and often better than, 'normal-aged' control students, on both academic and nonacademic measures."

Yep, that says it all.
10 February 2010 @ 08:28 am
this special post is just for you!  (it's a community of two AND i'm the moderator.  i can do what i want.)

since you're moving to the springs, i got you a few things.

colorado springs district 11 gifted coordinator-

Gary Marx  marxgc@d11.org   www.d11.org/doi/gifted/


colorado springs academy school district twenty

talented and gifted coordinator... 

ruthi manning-freeman  ruthi.freeman@asd20.org  www.asd20.org/education/components/scrapbook/default.php

start asking questions NOW.
09 February 2010 @ 11:42 am
Oh yeah.  I've so been looking forward to this one.  Whee.

Anyhow, like any specialized field, gifted education has it's own terminology.  It does help to know all the terms before you go into meetings, not only so you can understand what the educators and administrators are saying to you, but so that you can better communicate the needs of your child to them.

Acceleration-  Acceleration comes in several different forms.  Full acceleration involves having the child skip one or more grades.  Subject area acceleration involves the child skipping grades in just specific subject areas.  Personally, we're working with a subject area acceleration model. There are several different theories on the long term affects of acceleration on a child.  Some districts won't accelerate at all.  It can be quite a battle to get it working right.  Personally, I believe that as long as reasonable limits are placed upon it, then it can work fine.  For example, when I was in college, there was a ten year old who was also a student there.  Tremendously bright child, but zero social skills.  He wasn't being allowed to develop naturally with his own peers.  Many of the kids who are accelerated that far find themselves at seventeen, unable to work because of their ages and lack of social skills.  The Davidson Institute for Talented Development has put out the Templeton National Report on Acceleration: A Nation Deceived.  A brief overview of their study can be found at www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10321.aspx  If you believe that acceleration may be the correct answer for your child, I highly recommend giving the information a good reading.  Further information on acceleration can be found with the Institute for Research and Policy on Acceleration, found at www.accelerationinstitute.org/Default.aspx

Differentiation-  Differentiation is the classroom's/teacher's ability to provide different work for the gifted child.  There are curriculum standards for each grade out there.  However, the way the subject is tackled may not be the most effective methods for the gifted child.  The best explanation for differentiation may be a measure of the flexiblity of the classroom environment to suit the needs of the gifted child.  Differentiation is of particular importance in districts where the primary gifted programing on the elementary level is immersion.  The major difficulty facing differentiation is simply that it is entirely dependant on the teacher's choices.  As there are a wide variety of people in the every day world, there is also a wide variety of teachers and teaching styles.  Yes, I have been known to insist on specific teachers for my daughter to ensure that she has gotten as much differentiation as possible.  A good article on differentiation and it's importance for gifted education can be found  www.prufrock.com/client/client_pages/IAGC_article.cfm

Immersion-  Ok... so I can't find an appropriate link for this one and I've talked about it before in other posts, but this one's important, so I think I'll be talking about it again.  Along with pull outs, immersion is one of the two standard models of gifted education used in modern education.  In immersion, the gifted child's needs are addressed entirely within a normal classroom environment.  Immersion education is primarily dependant on the above concept, differentiation.  The problems facing immersion are the exact same as above.  It's entirely dependant on the teaching style you child gets that particular year. 

Pull Out-  The most traditional model of gifted education on the elementary level.  The National Association for Gifted Children has a brief article on the benefits of pull out programs available at www.nagc.org/index.aspx  In a pull out program the gifted children of the school meet together for a while once or twice a week.  Personally, I've seen a tremendous change in the direction of pull out programs.  While mine was very fun and enriching, my daughter's was primarily work sheets upon work sheets all geared to improving test skills.  The primary issue concerning pull out programs isn't one of teachers, though.  It's a question of funding.  As districts are allowed to decide how the lump of their "special needs" funding is spent, gifted pull outs are frequently placed on the choping block and replaced with the less expensive immersion model.

Twice Exceptional-  A twice exceptional child is one that falls under both ends of the special needs spectrum.  The one I know best is a brilliant young child who, in addition to being exceptionally gifted, also has cerebal palsy and asperger's syndrome.  A twice exceptional child could be a gifted child with anything from ADD/ADHD and other learning disablities to other physical disablities.  Unfortunately, a twice exceptional child means twice the battles.  Frequently the education system wants to address the more apparent disablities and leave the giftedness by the wayside.  A good article on twice exceptional children can be found at www.nagc.org/index.aspx

That's all I can think of for right now.  The ABC's for Parents section at the National Association for Gifted Children has a great deal of information that you may wish to take a look through.  It can be found at www.nagc.org/index.aspx
07 February 2010 @ 02:14 pm
Ahh.. the early years.  I miss them some days.  Preschoolers don't date or learn how to drive.  But, my daughter was definitely a crash course in the good and the bad of a gifted preschooler.

If we're going to tackle this topic realistically then we need to be realistic about the way many modern parents live.  That means daycare.  I know it can be intimidating to think about even daycare needing to be specialized.  It's not really a matter of specialization at this level.  It's a matter of understanding and support.  I once had a daycare provider throw out nearly three hundred dollars worth of toys that I had provided for my daughter because, "I thought they were too advanced for her."  There were no choking hazards, no dangerous elements, nothing that was a threat to my child.  They were simply more intellectually challenging and she objected.  I decided that the three hundred in toys that she had thrown out constituted her last payment.

Here's a list of basic questions to ask both your daycare provider as well as consider for yourself.:

1)  Does the daycare provider have experience and/or training in dealing with the specialized needs of gifted kids?  (Tremendously rare, but there are a few places out there that have specialized training.  Even without specialized training, experience helps tremendously.)

2)  Does the daycare provider provide an environment that is appropriate to your child's needs?  Are their challenging books?  Are there challenging toys?  If not, will they mind if you provide these things for your child?    Um... I believe the above paragraph demonstrates this one well.  Doesn't need any further explanation.  

3)  Do they provide a combination of both structured time and free time?  GT kids can become very attached to structure in their days.  It helps them feel safe, which allows them further growth.  However, they also need time to go off and do their own things.

4)  Are the kids read to each and every day?  Again, this one's all about the development of language acquisition.

5)  Are they capable of providing a differentiated environment based upon your child's interests and needs?
  A child who's gifts lie in science and math needs to have that gift nourished.  They don't need to spend all their time finger painting.  And yes, quite frequently a gifted child's gifts are apparent that early. 

6)  How open are they to parent input?
  We are the parents of special needs children.  We are their voices until they have the capacity to speak of their own experiences.  If it's a daycare provider who won't listen to you, what's the point in dealing with them?

And the last, but most important isn't a question.  It's simply...

7)  TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS!  If your heart tells you it's the wrong place, it's the wrong place.  End of story.

Now on to preschool.

First thing's first.  Many states allow early entry into kindergarten, if there is a proven need.  A great place to check for the rules for your state is the state by state guides offered at www.nagc.org/  (National Association for Gifted Children.)  While full grade advancement offers it's own difficulties, only you can be the judge of whether or not it's the appropriate decision for your child.  I didn't feel that was appropriate for my daughter.  I'm a firm believer that the best way for children to develop the necessary social skills is for them to be with kids their own age.  I'm all for subject area advancement, but full blown advancement is a much more difficult issue.  Anyhow... back to the topic.

Decisions on preschool depend a lot on the area you live in and your income.  At the time my daughter was going into preschool, the public school program was only offered in economically disadvantaged areas.  As we live smack dab in the middle of the middle class suburbs, there was no opportunity to do a free option.  I ended up sending her to a small preschool program that was offered at my mother's church.  It ended up being an excellent experience for her.  The class size was very small (ten or twelve kids) and there was lots of individualized attention.  Her teacher still asks my mother about how my daughter's doing.  It was definitely a loving and supportive environment.

However, the same list of questions as above applies to the preschool experience.  We were lucky in finding a relatively inexpensive program that suited all the needs and requirements I was looking for.  It can be a difficult search and I recommend starting looking well in advance.  The really good programs fill up well in advance.

Dependent on the program, preschool can also mark the first formal assessment for GT kids.  I got to play substitute that day for my daughter's class.  It was an absolute blast and culminated in this story told to me by my daughter's teacher.  "So, we get to the part where she has to count as high as she can.  She gets to twenty and I encourage her to go on and she says to me, with her little hands on her hips, 'Nope.  I'm all done counting now.  It's boring."  Yep, that's my daughter.  That notorious GT stubbornness was already there in spades.

Next on my list to tackle will be basically a dictionary of all the wonderful terminology associated with GT education.  Then something on the various forms of advancement.  Then kindergarten through third grade... And on and on and on.
04 February 2010 @ 06:01 pm
And now let's move into the physical functioning of the brain.....You'll get pictures and everything.

High IQ is known as a familial trait.  There is no known genetic link, however it is far more likely that a child who develops a high IQ will come from parents with high IQ's.  They've proven so far that this isn't strictly a case of environment.  Studies done on identical twins who were adopted at birth to different families have proven no more than a few points difference in IQ, despite what can be radical differences in environment.  However, a child with a stimulating, safe, stable and loving environment has a far greater likelihood of developing a higher IQ.  I'm sorry but all those brain boosting baby toys that have become so popular are a total and complete waste of time.  The two things that have been proven to help the intellectual development of a child are read to them every day until about seven or eight and no baby talk ever. 

The reason why reading to a child (yes, by child I mean from day one of birth onwards) and no baby talk are so important have to do with language acquisition.  Language acquisition is arguably the single most important thing that happens in our early development.  Think about it.  While yes, there are visual thinkers who think in pictures, the vast majority of us think in words.  Language frames and defines our worlds.  The greater our vocabulary and growth of vocabulary, the greater our capacity to interpret the world in a way that is understandable.  Language changes that woman who clothes, bathes, feeds, and plays with us to Mommy.  So yes, read children's books to your children.  But you don't need to stick to "Pat the Bunny" or "Everybody Poops".  Feel free to grab a novel like "Harry Potter" or "Wind in the Willows.".  If you come across a word your child doesn't understand, don't change the word.  Explain it.  Help them grow their capacity to understand that which surrounds them.

And now on to the section that will actually include a picture or two!  I know.  I know.  You're so excited.  (The up coming pictures are taken from cognitrn.psych.indiana.edu/busey/Q301/BrainStructure.html)

So the entire reason they know that IQ isn't simply a matter of environment has to do with the physical structures of the brain and studies done with CAT scans and MRIs.  It has been shown over and over again that the physical structure of a GT brain is dramatically different than that of a brain from a person with a low IQ.  The areas of concern are the the cerebral cortex and the hippocampus.  While it's not labeled on this picture, the cerebral cortex is the outer layer of the brain that looks like a wrinkled up bag.

Isn't it handy that I got a picture with lots of labels and descriptions?  Anyhow, on to explaining the brain and working my way towards the hippocampus and then the cerebral cortex.  The single most basic part of the brain is the medulla oblongata.  There have been a few, fortunately very rare, cases of babies being born with only a medulla oblongata.  It's always a very sad case.  The babies can breath on their own.  Their hearts beat on their own.  But the only thing their brains can do is the basic autonomic functions that our organs take care of.  Technically they can live, but they can never talk, never walk, never take care of themselves.  Their lives are profoundly sad.

The brain is built from the inside out.  The most basic structures are controlled by the smaller bits and parts that are shown in the above picture.  The rudimentary emotions are found within these basic functions.  As evolution continued, the brain continued to get more and more complex.  I'm not completely sure, but it makes a lot of sense that worms lack a hippocampus.  The importance of the hippocampus is that it processes information and stores it in long term memory.  But we don't commit  every action or every thing we read to long term memory, so it's a bit more complicated.  It essentially assigns a priority to whatever has come into short term memory.  If it's important, it's saved.  If it's not, it's thrown away.  For example, my brain decided it was important to remember my childhood address but can't remember where my keys are every single morning.  I'd really much rather remember where my keys are.

Now on to the cerebral cortex.

As you can see from the above picture, the cerebral cortex is responsible for a whole lot.  In addition to the basic functions of processing our senses, motor control, and language, it's also where we store our long term memories.  It's where we reason, where we are logical, where we interpret seeming chaos into sanity.  The cerebral cortex is definitely our friend.  It is this part of the brain that raised us, evolutionarily speaking, above the apes.  While the great apes do have a cerebral cortex, it is considerably a less complicated structure than ours. 

Those twists and turns in the surface of our cerebral cortex are the secret of man's survival as well as the secret of what makes a GT brain different from one of a more normal person.  Imagine you have a large sheet of paper. The more you scrunch it up, the smaller the area it can fit in.  Those convolutions in the cerebral cortex are just like the convolutions you would see in that sheet of paper.  By a brain who's surface twists and turns like that, we are able to store greater amounts of information.  The higher the IQ, the larger the level of convolutions, twists, and turns in the cerebral cortex. 

It is believed that the hippocampus of a gifted brain preforms it's work more efficiently, thus helping to grow greater convolutions in the cerebral cortex.  However, it is tremendously difficult to study the brain as a living structure.  We can look into it through scans, but very little can be done internally while a person is alive.  There exists at the base of the skull something called the blood brain barrier.  This prevents much of what we put into our blood into entering our brains, or at least it affects the brain at far lesser amounts.  If all the alcohol a twenty one year old put into their blood on one weekend out went straight to their brains, they'd be dead in a minute.  The blood brain barrier exists to protect the single most vital and delicate organ in our body.

Ok... enough neurology.  At least I didn't go into neural hormones and how the synapses fire.
I had to take yesterday off from writing.  I was just too tired to think straight.  By all likelihood, this will happen again tomorrow as I have to be up at 4:30 am to take my parents to the airport.  Whee.

Magnet Schools
The biggest benefit of magnet schools is that they are free.  Magnet schools are specialized public schools.  There are science and math focused magnet schools.  There are fine arts focused magnet schools.  And there are a few GT focused magnet schools.  The school my daughter spent her middle school years is a K-8 GT magnet school (www.hulstrom.adams12.org/).  As with anything else, there were good parts and not so good parts with our experience.

As far as curriculum, subject area advancement, and differentiated work, it was outstanding.  The teachers were extremely dedicated to really giving the kids what they need academically.   The teachers were not only supportive of the kids, they were the same for the parents as well.  They keep up on all the research and openly acknowledge the problems inherent in the current education system.  Other than one teacher who didn't last long, I can't honestly say that we had a single bad experience with any of the staff there.  All in all, I found them to be a tremendously knowledgeable, dedicated, and compassionate lot.

But, of course, academics isn't the total package of either a child or their education.  Socially, there were problems.  My daughter's eighth grade class was a total of twenty six kids.  They had EVERY class together.  That got to be too much.  The kids were tremendously competitive within themselves.  It would be common for them to stand in the halls between classes and compare the scores they got for various standardized tests.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of the kids there had no social abilities with normal kids.  The only access they had to normal kids was for the handful of kids who competed on the middle school sports teams.  While yes, sports are most definitely a valid extra curricular, they aren't exactly good for socializing with kids from other schools.

Now that they are off to high school, many of the kids in my daughter's class are being completely over whelmed.  Not only is there the lack of challenging academics, but the social rules of dealing with normal kids versus a school full of gifted kids are completely different.  I've heard through the parental grapevine that many of them are already facing major depressions and the poor choices that leads too.  They've gone from being big fish in a very small pond to being very very little fish in an ocean.  To a certain degree, that's typical of freshmen in high school.  However, with these kids, it's even more so. Most normal kids at least have hope of fitting in some day.  These kids don't.

Charter Schools

Charter schools, to some, are the best of both the public school world and the private school world.  Essentially, it's a matter of funding that clarifies the primary difference between magnet schools and charter schools.  Charter schools are affiliated with a public school district, but only receive part of their funding from the public school system.  They have the ability to get funding from other means as well.  Yes this means that some charter schools charge tuition.  However, in comparison to a lot of private schools, it's relatively cheap.  Some charter schools use corporate sponsors to increase their coffers.  Any way it goes, it's a simple equation of increased funding means a direct increase in  what's available for the kiddos at the school.

Charter schools, as they are partially affiliated and funded by the public school system, must follow the same curriculum and grade standards as any other public school.  However, they aren't as limited in how exactly they work towards those goals.  If full blown private schools can offer the highest level of flexibility in education, then charter schools are the medium level. 

However, they face the same social problems that magnet schools face.  The transition from charter school to normal school can be just as difficult as it is from magnet school to normal school.  And just as my daughter got sick of her classmates in the magnet school, the same thing can happen within a charter school.  With small grade levels that don't have much change in students, it gets pretty easy to get tired of each other.

Private Schools

This one I have the least amount of knowledge on.  Yes, there are a handful of GT specialized private schools.  However, they come at a high price.  The best one in my metro area at handling GT kids costs 25,000 a year.  It's a phenomenal, amazing program with a phenomenal, amazing waiting list.  Not to mention the fact that it's harder than heck to get a scholarship there.  However, if you've got the money, look for one that specializes in GT education, requires extra curriculars, includes such normal things as sports teams and school dances, and has specialists in GT education on staff.  For me, though, there's no way I can afford it.

02 February 2010 @ 01:13 pm
The two primary programs through the elementary years of dealing with gifted students are either pull out programs or immersion.  Both have benefits,but neither is a perfect fit for the needs of gifted kids.  I'll do my best to weigh the pros and cons of both.

Pull Outs

This is probably the most common form of elementary gifted education. I had it.  My daughter had it.  Generally one gifted teacher is shared between several schools. Mine was two.  My daughter's was four.  It depends on the budget of the school district and how hard they push for gifted education.  Nonetheless, gifted teachers are not regular teachers who have their own room.  My elementary school was able to have a specialized room that was specific for gifted programs, but that's only because it was an underpopulated school that had the space.  My daughter's pull out met in an the office of the librarian.

Pull outs can be grade specific and only the gifted kids of one specific grade may meet together.  They may, due to budget concerns, combine various grades together.  Back in my day, there were two gifted groups.  There was the group for the younger grades and the group for the older grades.  Again, the physical structure of the groups is dependent on the district. 

The benefits of pull out, regardless of how the district funds or structures them, are simple.  It's time for socializing with other gifted kids.  It's very important for gifted kids to have the chance to know other gifted kids. It provides them the opportunity to think that maybe they aren't so weird.

The downsides of pull outs can be big though.  First, the kids are responsible for whatever work they miss in the classroom.  For most gifted kids, this isn't really an issue, but for those obsessed with perfection and dealing with something that's not clicking, this can be difficult.  Secondly, pull outs are obvious.  It's clear that those kids are leaving to go to "the smart kids class."  Yes, teachers value the gifted students they have.  The peers of the gifted student don't.  Pull outs can  make it more clear on who to single out for harassment.  Thirdly, there has been a dramatic shift in the way education works since my days.  In my day, I had a wonderful teacher who worked hard to make our program relevant and enriching.  Our lessons were frequently tied in to whatever we were learning in history or science or language arts.  We got to learn further and deeper in our program.  But.... Now education is much more test centered.  The annual standardized test that our kids do has become the primary focus of ALL education.  I got field trips and history projects and research projects.  My daughter got math worksheets and vocabulary worksheets and reading comprehension practice.  The only real benefit that my daughter got from her elementary pull out was spending time with other gifted kids.  The actual program did very little for her.


Immersion is the new variety of gifted programs.  While I have no personal dealings with it, I do know several parents and kids who have.  I'm not sure if the basis for immersion is research, trends in education, or just plain budgetary concerns.  In districts that use the immersion model, they don't have to pay for gifted teachers.

In immersion, the gifted child stays in the classroom.  They are given work that is at least partially suited to their needs.  Instead of enrichment in a group of gifted kids, they receive their enrichment sitting at their own desks.  It does have the benefit of being much more subtle.  It's less obvious that theses are the smart kids and therefore, the kids are less likely to be the victims of harassment.

But...  the quality of the immersion is entirely dependent on a teacher who's generally dealing with twenty five other students who all fighting to learn the things the gifted student already knows.   More often than not, in a regular classroom, the education system's idea of enrichment isn't real enrichment.  It's really just more work.  It's work that doesn't count for a grade, but yet the students are responsible for it.  That's like a boss saying to you, "Hey, you're doing so well that we're doubling your work load but it won't count towards a raise or promotion.  Have fun."  In addition to that, the immersion model doesn't consider how vital it is for gifted kids to be around other gifted kids.  It doesn't acknowledge the social value the kids receive from being around others like them. 

Yeah, I know I'm dreaming.

All the research I've read backs me up on this one.  The perfect model of gifted education is a blended, balanced model.  In it, the gifted children are together, with JUST gifted kids, for their core classes (language arts, social studies, math, and science).  All other classes are done with normal kids.  This allows them the opportunity to not only have socialization with their own and others, but also a more challenging and flexible environment in the areas they need it. 

At this point, the ideal is difficult to pull off.  In an elementary school with a population of 700 kids, they probably have around sixty total identified kids.  Yes, that's two full classes, but that's two full classes through six grades.  Breaking it down, that's an average of ten per grade.  It's hard to justify classes that only contain ten kids especially when the next classroom over has anywhere from twenty to thirty kids.  In addition to this problem is the far more serious attitude that most of the education system takes of "They're smart.  They'll be fine."  The assumption is made that because the child can easily and readily master the learning material, everything must be just fine.  Until the education system acknowledges the need to look at kids as whole people instead of just little people waiting all year to take a standardized test, then it's going to be very hard to change that.
02 February 2010 @ 01:12 pm
Welcome to our official second member, scifiphan .  Whoo Hoo!  Now I'm not just whistling in the dark!

I wonder if I should enforce the community rule of making you post an intro and talk about your kiddos.
The actual day to day functioning of what goes on in the school life of a gifted child are markedly different.  The variations depend on every thing from district and state regulations to teaching styles.  The single most important thing that the parent of a gifted child can do is learn how to become their child's advocate.

Becoming an advocate means that it's not just your kiddo who's going to do a whole lot of reading.  It's the parents job as well.  But first things are first.

Step one-  Ensure there is a strong working relationship with your child's teacher or teachers.  Even if you can't be there in person, send regular e-mails.  Do whatever it takes to maintain that relationship.  Ask questions continually.  Ask not only how your child is doing academically and if they are becoming bored, but ask what the teachers are observing socially.  Think of teachers as the front line soldiers.  They see the most and know the most about the daily lives of our children.

Step two-  Talk to your kids, really talk with them instead of just telling them things, every single day.  Listen to them with open ears and an open heart.  This is particularly important in the adolescent years.  Never ever take the attitude of , "They think they know everything."  Most GT kids are well aware that they don't know everything.  However, that parental/adult attitude denies them (and all children) the respect they deserve.  Only the kids are capable of telling us what goes on in the lives of kids.  They may not know everything, but they sure know a heck of a lot more about their lives than we do.  The only way to have a relationship with a teen where they actually feel like they can talk to you is to talk with them every single day and show active interest in their lives.  Don't be a passive parent.  Don't be a parent with an attitude.  You don't need to be their best friends either.  But you do need to respect that they have their own minds and their own points of view.

Step three-  Learn how your district's Gifted program works.  Is it a pull out program?  Is it immersion?  There are pluses and minuses to each of those (I'll be going through those in a later post.).  Are there charter or magnet schools in your area that are better equipped to handle the needs of your student?  Learn if the district allows specific subject advancement or full grade advancement or none at all (Yes, I'll go through those too.).  Familiarize yourself with the testing standards for the gifted programs in your area.  If you're in a metropolitan area, is there another district nearby that is more equipped to handle your student?   Does your district or state mandate Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or Advanced Education Plans (AEPs) for gifted students or nothign?   An excellent starting basis for your research can be found at www.nagc.org  That's the National Association for Gifted Children.  They have a state by state guide that is at least a good beginning.

Step four- Get to know the chain of command.  You need to know more than just your child's teacher.  The gifted coordinator for the elementary level is generally one teacher.  On the middle school and high school level, that position is generally moved to guidance counselors.  You're going to need to know whomever the coordinator is at the school level.  Due to the specifics of my situation, I know every body from the school level coordinator up to the district wide boss of GT education.  I had to go that far in order to get my daughter what she needs.  If I hadn't known who to go to and already had some contact with the head of GT education for the district, it would have been even more difficult to get my daughter what she needs.

Step five-  Start learning everything you possibly can.  Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted is a great organization (www.sengifted.org/) Their on line article library is free, extensive, and absolutely dead on accurate about the needs specific to gifted children.  It is the job of the parents to know, to understand, and to help with the emotional side of being gifted.  Honestly, we need to worry very little about the intellectual development of our kids.  The emotional side, however.... That can be fraught with trials and tribulations that frequently make the parents of gifted kids envious of the parents of normal kids. 

Step six- Encourage.  DON'T PUSH.  Gifted kids are notoriously stubborn.  More often than not, before trying a new task, they've spent a great deal of time mentally figuring out how to tackle the task. Pushing them through their processes only makes them dig in their feet and refuse to tackle the task.  If they show interest in any given area, encourage it.  Never push them into an area that they aren't showing interest in themselves.  Let them show you where they want to go instead of you leading them on a leash.

Step seven- Find appropriate extra cirriculars.  I cannot stress enough the importance of extra cirricular activities with gifted children.  It's not a matter of achievement.  It's a matter of a realm to develop social skills.  Extra cirriculars have the benefit of all the kids in them are actually interested in the activities, therefore there's a common ground, an automatic seed of friendship.  Gifted kids need regular exposure to a wide range of peers.  While yes, it's much much easier for them to communicate with others at their own level, they need to learn affective communication with all people.  Let's face it.  Our kids won't grow up to a world filled with people just like them.  They need to learn how to deal with all.  Extra cirricular activities help the child be exposed to that wide range and help them learn the necessary communication and social skills.

Ok...that's what I can think of for now.  I'm sure there will be more later on.
01 February 2010 @ 07:50 am
While they are frequently lumped together, there is a very clear and distinct difference between the over achieving student and the gifted student.  Gifted kids can be over achievers, but they can also be a completely different ball of wax.

Over achieving kids are, in many cases, seen as the traditional definition of gifted kids.  However, this isn't necessarily true. Over achievers are the straight A kids.  They thrive on competition.  They are the kids who end up class president, the star of the track team, and dating the stud or hot girl of their time.  Their primary drive is a tremendous need to stand out, to be better, to prove that they are the best.  Scholastic achievement is frequently only one aspect of their competitive spirit.  Due to their drive, they are frequently put in with the gifted kids.  While yes, there can be benefits to this (gifted kids getting exposed to more "normal" kids as well as increased pace of learning for the over achiever), there a can also be drawbacks.  The psychological and social needs of the true gifted students are very different than the needs of the over achieving student.

A true gifted child may very well be an achiever.  I know we've got a stack of awards that's verging on ridiculous.  However, any achievement is merely a by product of following passions.  That competitive spirit, that drive to be better, is absolutely lacking.  In fact, most gifted kids would much rather have an environment where they blend in.  They've spent so many years standing out by doing nothing but being themselves, that many of them are desperate to simply have a place where they fit in.  While yes, gifted kids are perfectly capable of making straight A's, it's also quite common to find them making D's and F's.  In their profound boredom with the educational system, they simply refuse to do their work. 

Gifted kids can be labeled the trouble makers.  It all depends on how they deal specifically with their boredom.  While I was a classroom chatter box with a continual need for movement whenever I wasn't absorbed in a task, my daughter can happily spend her time drawing.  Therefore, as my behavior was more disruptive, I was more the trouble maker than she could ever dream of.  Unfortunately, the label of trouble maker is a very common thing for gifted kids.  Once a kid is labeled, not only do the schools tend to define their treatment of the child according to it, but frequently the child will adapt their behavior to suit it.  It's an attitude of, "Oh, so I'm a trouble maker?  Let me show you real trouble."  Suspensions and expulsions are very common.  I didn't manage to achieve that distinction, but probably only by the skin of my teeth.

What is far more insidious to the gifted child are the every day social problems that they face.  Understanding their peers can be next to impossible.  The best way I can describe it is this:  

Imagine three small towns that are lined up on a highway.  In the first town you come to, it's filled with the "normal" kids.  It's by and far the largest of the three towns, a bustling place verging on metropolis.  The kids there do a great job of getting along with each other.  Some of them have even gotten to know a few of the kids in the next town over.  There's a slightly different language in the next town over, but it's not bad.  It's like translating a bad accent.  That last town, though, they've heard things about the kids who live there, strange things that make them want to avoid those kids.  The handful of times they've seen the kids from the last town, it's more than just the language barrier that keeps them apart. It's as though those kids come from a completely different planet.

The second town along the line is significantly smaller than the first.  It's population is roughly seven to eight percent of the first.  Unfortunately, this means less peers for the kids to choose friends from.  However, for the most part, they're a relatively happy small town.  Sure, there's Joe who lives out by the tracks who doesn't want to be friends with anyone, but for the most part people get along.  The part that bugs them is the same thing that bothers many about any small town.  There are so few of them, that, for the most part, they all know each other's business.  Like any small town, that can be a frustrating life.  However, they do a pretty good job of having friends within their own small town. A few of them have made friends with people living in the adjacent towns.  The language barriers can be difficult, but they do an ok job bridging the gap.

The last town is only called a town by legal definitions.  It's really just a bump in the road.  There's a handful of stores on one block that get just enough business to survive.  The people who patronize them live quite spaced out from one another.  While this town's population is roughly one percent of the first town, they cover the same amount of land.  It's not really a choice to have things that spaced out.  It's just the way things happened.  The people of the town try to have friends, but due to their isolation out on their big chunks of land, they frequently lack the knowledge of how to develop friendships. Some of them have tried to make friends with people living in the next town over.  It's hard for them, but they try very hard.  However, those people living in the first town are utterly baffling.  None of how they live their lives seems to make sense for the people living in this odd collection of loners.  While there are a few in this last town who are happy, friendly people, many of their population are desperately sad and lonely.

Statistically, moderately gifted students count as seven to eight percent of the United States's student body population.  Highly gifted is slightly less than one percent.  This means a dramatic reduction in numbers in the variety and number of kids that have the potential of creating understanding, sympathetic friendships.  For example, for second through eighth grade, I was with the exact same twelve other kids day in, day out.  By the end of the six years, we were more than a little sick of each other.  There were small groups of two friends here and there, but there were also deep disagreements.  The biggest bully I ever faced was in that class.  Yet, because we were in the same gifted program, we had no choice but to deal with each other daily.  

It's a simple numbers game.  The greater the pool of kids, the greater the likelihood that there will be another person with similar interests who would be appropriate to develop into a friendship.  The smaller the pool, the lower the likelihood.  Just because a group of ten kids are all gifted, doesn't mean that any of the ten will have anything in common. 

The greatest and most profound differences between over achievers and true gifted kids are found in social skills and social adaption.  Over achievers are proud to play the stand out role.  They seek the status of being perceived as the best of the bunch.  Gifted kids, however, are desperate to be seen as normal as possible.  They tend to prefer blending in over standing out, despite the fact that the vast majority of them have no choice but to stand out.  Their natural abilities are too great to fit in.  Many gifted kids would happily hand over every award and even the potential of every single future award simply for the chance to have someone in their life who truly gets it and truly wants to be their friend.