Monday, November 26, 2012

NAGC 2012 Recap

High expectations, innovation, bullying, neuroscience, diverse populations, curriculum, literacy, STEM, disengagement, peers, “grit”... to name just a few topics. There was a lot to talk about in only four days! 

Last week in Denver I attended the 59th annual convention of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). The NAGC 2012 convention itself (Nov. 15-18) had over 3000 attendees, 1000+ from Colorado--educators, administrators, counselors, researchers and a growing number of parents. This does not include attendees of the Colorado Association for Gifted Children (CAGT’s) “Parent Day at the National” on Nov. 17, which made available many convention speakers and sessions, nor those attending the National Consortium of Specialized Secondary Schools in Math, Science and Technology (NCSSSMST) adjoining conference. The NAGC 2012 convention theme was “Reaching Beyond the Summit: Educating with Altitude”. In keeping with Colorado’s independent and motivated outlook, the convention featured challenging sessions, opportunities to dialogue with leaders in the field, time to network and collaborate, wonderful student entertainment, and enthusiastic volunteers.

Considering Consensus and Outliers

Talent Development was a recurring topic, generating much discussion. It became clear through the course of the convention that the definition of Talent Development is, itself, in development. The importance of matching individual student interests to projects, thereby promoting engagement and achievement, seem unanimously supported. And there is urgency about reaching the many students whose abilities go unrecognized and unsupported due to economic and cultural barriers. I heard firm commitment to a strong general education base. Yet concern arose that strict focus on demonstrating high achievement will leave some gifted students without vital support. What about students who aren’t highly motivated, who are unable to perform due to disability, or whose don’t find internal motivation in conforming to educational norms? In several sessions it was asked if highly gifted or twice-exceptional children (gifted and with a disability) are represented by statistics or policies.

Some Highlights of the Convention

The Leadership Forum preceded the convention, bringing together school district and community leaders to discuss unleashing the potential of gifted students in varied local circumstances. This forum included an inspiring presentation by Ron Berger, author of The Ethic of Excellence. He spoke about using project-based learning to engage students with real world problems. This kind of problem-solving gives students a sense of themselves, as they do purposeful hands-on work as part of a team. Berger shared a website where some projects are available as models already linked to Common Core standards. Speakers from Denver Art Museum, the Cherry Creek Institute for Science and Technology, and the Center for Bright Kids also shared examples of how educators can use assets in the community to inspire and support gifted and talented students. CAGT, the Colorado Department of Education, and NAGC are to be commended for co-sponsoring this unique collaborative event.

U.S. Dept of Education Asst. Secretary Deb Delisle spoke at evening reception of the Global Awareness Network. Delisle has worked as a gifted specialist, principal, district and Ohio state superintendent. In an inspiring presentation she noted that children depend on us to model leadership,that “every decision we make tells students what it is we value”. She spoke against false proxies we’ve created in learning: finishing a course isn’t achievement, listening to a lecture isn’t understanding, and getting a high score on a standardized test isn’t proficiency. And she ended her presentation with a reminder that “behind every piece of data, every number, is the heart and soul of a child wanting to achieve”.

Throughout the convention there were many reflections on the work of Annemarie Roeper, a foundational figure in gifted education who passed away this May. An active and compassionate educator for over 70 years, Roeper founded a school and wrote extensively, Her philosophy is tied to the child’s developing worldview and on valuing self-actualization and interconnectedness. It recognizes intellectual ability but also the importance of nurturing the unusual creativity and deep concern for ethics found in gifted children. Educational decisions that neglect or quash the gifted child’s “self”, including a constricted definition of achievement, won’t ultimately benefit the child or the world.

The dynamic closing speaker, Jonathon Mooney, was also particularly memorable (similar presentation in Oregon here). Mooney, who has dyslexia and ADHD, spoke of how he overcame predictions of failure, difficult learning environments and narrow ideas of intelligence. He stressed that normality is contextual and that the context of schools can make unusual children feel “broken” when what they need is advocacy and motivation. He shared that it would be valuable for children to ask “How am I smart?” instead of “How smart am I?”

Reflection

The last NAGC convention in Denver was in 2002. My husband and I attended that convention together, only beginning to grasp the needs of our gifted children. A decade later I was even more appreciative of the many high quality sessions, glad of the creative and liberating uses of new technologies, and also a bit discouraged that some foundational lessons have not yet been taken to heart. But this is why we meet. For the children’s sake, it is so important that ideas are aired, philosophies examined, and that those who care about and work with gifted children find resources to strengthen and refresh those efforts.

Experience with my own children’s struggles over the years has certainly not diminished my sense of urgency regarding appropriately meeting the needs of gifted students. There is intertwined global and individual importance to empowering children to hear and value their inner call to care, engage, learn, and create. And so it was meaningful to see people from so many places and varied personal and professional backgrounds sharing and learning together in support of these children. How wonderful to connect with others who already realize that parenting, educating and (most important!) being a gifted child are often achingly complex and challenging. I could use more days where this kind of understanding was already the norm!

Friday, November 9, 2012

First Grade Flow

May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children. ~Rainer Maria Rilke

I thought I saw a familiar face at the store today. Finally a name matched the countenance. "Are you Rhonda Cratty?"
The woman smiled, a glimmer of recognition suspended above her groceries. "Yes."
I told her my daughter had been a student in her first grade class. That was over a decade ago but Mrs. Cratty remembered her enthusiastically and we caught up for a few minutes.

Leaving the store I felt a wash of gratitude for our experience with Mrs. Cratty. A lot of water has passed under the educational bridge for our family and sometimes the current only flowed due to frequent dredging. Second grade was a trial and we chose to homeschool for years after that. But first grade, with Mrs. Cratty, was a genuinely good school year. 

My daughter found school engaging in first grade. There was joy in the work and a lot of energy in classroom--neither random busy-ness nor outwardly driven production, rather a purposeful, natural energy. She especially remembers the science; they did lots of hands-on experiments. My recollection of the overall classroom was that it was organic: each part related to the whole.

Next May the little first grader who loved science will be graduating from college, majoring in physics; she hopes to continue her studies in complex systems and ecology. That year of discovery in the classroom, with a great teacher acting as an encouraging guide for a novice explorer, was a good foundation. Thank you, Mrs. Cratty!

And Rhonda Cratty now writes about ways to include educational lessons in daily life. Relevant and organic! You can see from her online posts how every day offers a opportunity to find a little more depth and flow as we connect with young people.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Giving with One Hand, Taking with the Other

The November/December 2012 issue of Scientific American Mind is a special issue focusing on the topic of Genius. In the article “Nurturing the Young Genius”, Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius and Worrell state that the chief goal of identification and programming for gifted youth is “preparing young people for outstanding achievement”(Mind, p.52) and that “the aim of our proposed framework is to increase the number of individuals who can develop the innovative products and services and to deliver the creative performances that can improve and enhance our lives (p.57).

There is something chilling about the stated motivation behind the delivery of these boons. Should not the students should be the primary beneficiaries? And should we not seek to educate and support children, without reservation, because it is the right thing to do

Gifted children must have opportunities and encouragement for learning, health and personal growth, not be penalized because of some false idea of equality. But if they are not motivated to perform eminently according to someone else’s standardized scale of ability, performance, conformity, and the future, is that their failing or ours? Children should be supported as individual learners simply because they are children and, as such, we have a responsibility to nurture them--not because they had better deliver the goods.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. 
They come through you but not from you, 
and though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.  
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts. 
For they have their own thoughts. 
You may house their bodies but not their souls, 
for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.  
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. 
For life goes not backward, nor tarries with yesterday. 
-Kahlil Gibran

Monday, October 1, 2012

Getting the Most out of the Opportunity

The opportunities to learn and speak with others who “get it” about gifted children can be both rare and enlightening.  Therefore, I believe we (families, educators, community members and other GT advocates) must fortify ourselves when we can.  The NAGC Convention/“Parent Day at the National” in November 2012 brings such an opportunity for learning and support (and to Colorado -- where I happen to live!).  I'd especially like to encourage folks to attend and share some thoughts about how to get the most out of it!

Attendance is an investment of resources already, of course.  However, putting a little further attention into some details has added to what I have personally brought away from conventions and conferences. These are some of the individual investments I would suggest for you to get the most from the NAGC Convention and “Parent Day at the National” experience:
  • Consider your goals:  Determine ahead of time what you hope to get out of the event. Spend some time thinking or writing/drawing/talking out some priorities. How would your attendance most benefit you and the gifted children in your life?  In what areas do you most want to strengthen your knowledge?  What question(s) do you most want to ask?
  • Do your research:  It doesn’t have to be a lot; focus on what is most important to you. The NAGC convention schedule is online for those registered to attending from the 15th-18th. The Parent Day schedule is also available for those attending on the 17th. Take the time to read an article if it will help you better understand a session or ask a question. Look up the layout of the convention center and surrounding area. Know ahead of time where you want to be so you use your time and energy well.
  • Equip yourself for success:  Plan you time. Take breaks if you need them.  Attend with a supportive friend or colleague (you can reflect on ideas throughout the event and afterwards). Carry small snacks and water (in Colorado you can’t have enough water!!) Wear something comfortable and carry your belongings comfortably. At the site, ask NAGC volunteers for directions.
  • Be flexible and prepared to challenge yourself a little:  Ask that key question. Introduce yourself. Meet people from other disciplines and places. (There are people attending from everywhere, all interested in GT -- business cards can be so useful for keeping track of the folks you meet!) Seize an opportunity to learn or do something new and perhaps even unexpected.
  • Note applications:  As you go along, create some form of notes about how you (or others you know) might apply what you are learning. It’s easy to think you will remember but there can be so many good ideas that, by the time you get home, it may be hard to recall specifics.
These suggestions should be thoughtfully adjusted to suit your needs. The most important thing, for the sake of your child, student, and community, is to proactively attend so that you can make a difference for gifted children.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Don't Be a Turkey: Say Thank You

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. 
~Albert Schweitzer

It's been a difficult year around here. Yet I was thinking today about all the things that actually went well, the people who were kind, supportive, or (sometimes unexpectedly) took on a challenge or went the extra mile. People I found inspiring, for their insight or for their generosity. Sometimes people pass through--or out of--our lives before we have the opportunity to thank them for the difference they've made. This is a reminder to let them know. Now.

In our GT lives, challenging although these often are, there are almost certainly thanks to be given. More than five people, but it's a start.  Some suggestions:
  • significant other/family member: Sometimes we take our closest and most stalwart supporters for granted. Why not thank them for something that made a big difference to you? They may not even know if you don't tell them.
  • a child: Although they are younger that doesn't mean that kids can't give adults new insight, new motivation, new wisdom. Acknowledge someone who did this.
  • a peer: Thank another parent, educator or committee member, someone who offered support knowing what it is like to be in your situation.
  • a resource: Someone who you may not have even met in person may have provided information, help or inspiration through a book, an article, a presentation or online.  Let them know.
  • across roles: Are you grateful to someone who crossed lines of similarity in roles, who might have a different vantagepoint?  A boss, someone you hired, a remarkable educator or a special parent when that is not your role.  The extra effort on this person's part is all the more reason for thanks.
Not your average turkey; this one counts his GT blessings

You needn't be long-winded in your thanks, but do be specific and sincere. It can be spoken, a quick handwritten personal note, or even an email.  Or you can not only thank that someone but also cc. others or express it publicly so that your appreciation is more widely known. Need some words to get you started? Try something like this: "In this season of thanksgiving I was thinking about who I feel especially grateful for and you came to mind.  I really appreciated when/how you _____________.  This made a difference because  _____________. Thank you."

It may take a moment's effort but your thanks can be very meaningful to the receiver. And the reflection benefits the sender as well. Parenting and educating gifted children can involve a lot of struggle. Finding ways to appreciate and express the positive lightens the load and the outlook for everyone.

Don't put it off.  You--and others--will be grateful you did.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Child Buyer

John Hersey, The Child Buyer, NY, Bantam, 1960, ISBN 978-0-394-75698-1 (read online)
I read a remarkable piece of speculative fiction last week.  Although written in 1960 (before I was reading, or even born) and now out of print, I'm nevertheless surprised to never have heard of it before:  The Child Buyer by Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer and journalist John Hersey. Sharp stuff.

An excerpt:
BARRY RUDD: Mr Clearly kept referring to gifted students as the 'monster quotient' and kept talking about me as a 'deviate.'
SENATOR MANSFIELD: I noticed that was Miss Henley's favorite word, too, sonny. I don't blame you for bridling at that.
SENATOR SKYPACK: You got a better word for it, Mr Chairman?
BARRY RUDD: "While they were talking about their busybody old tests, I was having one of my regressive reveries--thinking that all my knowledge was innate; I'd been born with it. I'm often amnesic as to the source of my information, and I've just felt that I've 'Always known.' 'I just knew it.' When I used to believe in God I long had the image of facts and stories having been written in pencil on a sort of reel of microfilm made out of skin in my head by Him before I was born. I thought of God as being able to talk big and write very small.
SENATOR SKYPACK: Top off the rest of it, he's a blasphemer.
BARRY RUDD: I didn't intend any disrespect of your views, Senator.
(pp. 145-146, from 1964 Bantam Classic edition)

Although the entire story unfolds in the format of Senate Hearings, every character comes across strongly with an individual voice and agenda. The result is a poignant commentary on just about everything: education, politics, psychology, group dynamics, child-rearing, loyalty, patriotism, self-image.... What I found most alarming was that the basic premise--the very title--never proves an issue; no one questions that there might be a "Child Buyer" at all!  But the story isn't about the whether a company might legally purchase a ten year old boy, rather can the representative find the price of each very different townsperson so that the sale that Barry Rudd, a profoundly gifted child, might be arranged? 

Wry, haunting, funny, heartbreaking, timeless. This is dark commentary, as pertinent today as ever. In addition to the sad question of the gifted child's relationship with the larger society (outcast, curiosity, dependent, burden, commodity?), it further begs a deep and terrifying human question:  What is the price of our convictions?