Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Promoting a Book that Promotes Twice-Exceptional Understanding

I now interrupt the flurry of holiday advertisements with one of my own, but only because it feels too important to put off. This new twice-exceptional resource is one of the best I've EVER read. And the holiday break would be a great time for anyone to do a first pass of this book and be ready to use it in January.

drum roll please...

The book I think we've all (parents, educators, counselors, etc.) been waiting for: Twice-Exceptional Children: Understanding, Teaching and Counseling Gifted Students by Beverly A. Trail, Ed. D.

This book "gets it" and is the whole package: a discussion of the different twice-exceptionalities, the facets of their impact, what to about them. There is a solid RtI explanation at last! And a discussion of the continuum of needs and services (assessments, briefly what these might reveal about strengths and challenges, an overview of the different services and strategies the many specialists might collaborate to offer, and then real suggestions about what this might look like). Discussion of executive functioning, cognitive style, self-actualization. I love that socio-emotional is wrapped in as a significant component to academic success. References woven artfully into the easy-to-read text. Actual plans for accommodations!

As a parent and advocate for gifted students, I want this book--and the breadth and depth of information it offers in one place--to be something with which every one of my children's teachers is very familiar; I'm sure it is a reference that they would often reach for, that they would share with parents and even their students, and it would make everyone's lives easier! Some parents might initially shy away from the "educational" title and the charts and figures offered inside but many of these offer tools that are valid at home as well as in the classroom.

Sometimes the hardest part of determining how to help a twice-exceptional student is simply knowing what questions to ask along the way. The appendix here offers a Twice-Exceptional Planning Continuum to help teachers and administrators (and counselors and parents and students) consider the assessment data, plan interventions, and monitor progress (the chapters support the planning). Excellent points for discussion that could be used as an "outside" guide to take a meeting from a place of personal frustration to an active plan recognizing individual need and implementing change.

If all the stakeholders in gifted and twice-exceptional student education were to be familiar with the insights and suggestions in this book, so much practical progress could be made: everyone would be on the same page (so to speak) with a foundation and strategies for early intervention and twice-exceptional student success!

Read how to implement the change you want to see in the world!

Note: I encourage you to support the HoagiesGifted webpage at no additional cost to you: click one of the Hoagies affiliate links before you shop, such as if purchasing this wonderful book via Prufrock Press or one of the booksellers.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science. Clearly.

In 2005 the National Academies created a bipartisan group which strongly recommended 10 actions the federal government could take to enhance science and technology so the US would be globally competitive in the 21st century. Reading the report, it is as much about supporting innovation as about science."Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5", an updated  2010  report notes, the progress that has been made (or the lack thereof):  "The committee concluded that the United States appears to be on a course that will lead to a declining, not growing, standard of living for our children and grandchildren (p. 19).

Where does gifted education fit in?

Recommendation C: Make the United States the most attractive setting in which to study and perform research so that we can develop, recruit, and retain the best and brightest students, scientists, and engineers from within the United States and throughout the world. (p.30)

Gifted education is, of course, more encompassing than math or science. As is education in general. But basic "literacy" in science and math is critical to modern individual success. And fostering innovation is clearly proving to be central to the current and future health of the U.S. as a nation, not just in "the sciences" but in all the technologies and economies that innovation trickles down to and later supplies.

As Dr. Ann Robinson, president of the National Association for Gifted Children, noted in NAGC's press release about the report, "If we fail to identify and cultivate our most promising minds beginning as early as possible, we will squander this talent and cripple our ability to compete and thrive in the years and decades to come"

This may well be a opportune time to promote gifted education. Apparently passé since the Cold War--"the best and brighest" are looking more relevant now. Dr. Sally Beisser's 2008 analysis of the Unintended Consequences of No Child Left Behind Mandates on Gifted Students corroborates sentiment found in the Fordham Report: “Teachers want these advanced students to move up the list of education priorities because educating them properly is the right thing to do and because it’s good for the nation, but mostly because they see in their own classrooms youngsters whose considerable talents are not adequately challenged or fully utilized.” Dr. Del Siegle noted in the State of the States in Gifted Education Report that, "In the age of Sputnik, we put money into math and science, and we ended up on the moon...We really need to consider that again. We cannot afford as a country to ignore talent." The knowledge of the "right thing" isn't new. It only takes a national crisis for the support of innovation and sound educational practice to swing back into practical consideration.

Innovation should be valued and fostered. It is showing itself to be a national resource. This would indicate the importance of:
  • providing a solid background in math and the sciences
  • recognizing and nurturing creativity and potential in individuals

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) should be finding considerable support among educators, legislators and the public. However, creativity and problem-solving skills must be actively nurtured alongside STEM disciplines. Although the rudiments might be imposed, originality itself cannot be decreed but must be cultivated.
    The Gathering Storm recommendations clearly appreciate the importance of educators, K-20: "The two highest priority actions for the nation, in the view of the Gathering Storm committee, are to provide teachers in every classroom qualified to teach the subject they teach and to double the federal investment in research" (p.30) And gifted education has long been a front-runner promoting creativity, autonomous learners and high achievement in the classroom, a voice for the often unheard young innovators-to-be.

    The mission is clear: support GT education so gifted students can become the inspirational innovators and creative problem-solvers that they deserve to be as individuals and so that they have been nurtured as future generations might hope and need. Further, value and make available strong GT education so it can provide models for general educational success. And let us do whatever we can to hasten this because the foundation required to become a rocket scientist (of whatever sort, as innovation indeed comes in many forms) is best started early.

    Ask your legislators and community leaders if they've read the Gathering Storm report and what they are doing to ensure that the future of US innovation is supported now.

    We had more sports-exercise majors graduate than electrical engineering graduates last year. If you want to become the massage capital of the world, you’re well on your way.”
    Jeff Immelt, CEO, General Electric Co.

     If you don’t solve (the K-12 education problem), nothing else is going to matter all that much.”
    -Alan Greenspan, former Chairman, Federal Reserve 

    See also: the Davidson Institute for Talent Development 's National Statistics about "Why our Nation Needs to Educate our Gifted and Talented Youth".

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Kurt Vonnegut: Dystopia toward a Better World

    Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    Today is Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s birthday (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007).

    We're big fans of his writing at our house. His dark wit was born not only of frustration and humor but also, I think (as with good speculative fiction in general), with a view toward having the reader revisit uncomfortable issues and take a closer look. Reframe. Look again and work harder. And ultimately make things better in the "real" world.

    If you aren't familiar with Vonnegut's writing--or wonder what it might have to do with gifted kids--check out his dystopian take on intellectual elitism in the short story "Harrison Bergeron".

    THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.   -from "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

    It's a scary world if the law is that everyone must be the same, even worse when Diana Moon-Glampers enforces it. Certainly some GT kids relate to the frustration that the story's brings to the fore. Although set in a nasty fictional place, Vonnegut's story also offers a venue to explore truths about identity and expectations.

    Worth a read and a discussion. And thinking about how to apply truths from fiction to make the world we live in better.

    Tuesday, November 2, 2010

    Get Smart! Try Gifted Advocacy with the Feds

    The old "Call Your Legislator" trick.
    Last week I attended the SENG conference (in conjunction with the New England Conference for the Gifted) in Hartford, CT. There, among many thought-provoking sessions, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Del Siegle (who wrote the Gifted Children's Bill of Rights) speak about NAGC's ABCs of advocacy.

    I returned from the conference to my own state where, although there is a GT mandate it is only very partially funded (and some of that allocation is presently up in the air). As one can see from the Davidson Gifted Education State Policy page, GT ed can range from mandated and fully-funded to nothing at all. And such policy has an enormous impact on the families who depend on public education for their children. This certainly includes low-income students but also a broader spectrum; private education is not an alternative readily available to many families economically, geographically, or for a number of other dynamics.

    But if students, parents and educators presently find a need to appeal for gifted "rights" in practice--for the appropriate public education of those students who have "the ability to grapple with complexity”--they may find they court only disappointment. There is no demand for consistency in how gifted students' needs are met within state educational systems nor across the US overall (see some of the boggling array graphed on HoagiesGifted). And there is no federal gifted policy to ensure that teacher training includes identifying and serving GT students (especially important when so many gifted students are in regular classrooms). Nor is there federal funding to support this.

    What to do???  Legislators may not realize gifted education is important unless:
    • they hear from parents and educators (students too!)
    • they read about continuing GT needs in the papers (although a success story can make a good point as well)
    • the issues are presented as significant to the nation and future, as well as to a few impassioned individuals (who may also happen to be constituents)
    Volume. Persistence. Personal connection.

    Get Smart! Sign up for NAGC's Legislative Action Network to find out about advocating for gifted children, locally but with national intent.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Sea-Change, Social Networking and Songs of the Deep

    Full fathom five thy father lies:
    Of his bones are coral made:
    Those are pearls that were his eyes:
    Nothing of him that doth fade
    But doth suffer a sea-change
    Into something rich and strange.
    Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
    Hark! now I hear them—ding-dong, bell.
    --Ariel in The Tempest (I, ii)

    Apparently something about raising gifted kids inspires my husband and me to nautical references: eg."Why is the rum always gone?" So it's appropriate that just the other day I was telling someone I thought gifted education and legislation is undergoing a sea-change.

    Social networking is doing this, by uniting and giving voice to the GT community. Many parts of the deep transformation, started years ago, are starting to show their luster in ways my husband and I might only have dreamed some dozen years ago when we set out on our family's the frantic quest for answers, understanding, guidance, and empathy.

    In The Tempest, Ariel speaks of a transmutation where, although the basic form remains, its very nature has changed from something common into something fine. The GT community (or "tribe" as Seth Godin would say) isn't new or even common—and each step to the present have been fortified, sometimes again and again, by the innovation and generosity of its members—but its not an easily assembled community. Opportunities in the gifted community such as #gtchat, blogs, Facebook, etc have changed the form a bit for some. For those who have the opportunity, face-to-face gatherings are never going to become less precious. But the impetus and the synergy created by social networks has ramped up, such that ideas, camaraderies, and energy move without the borders of geography, memberships, parent/educator roles or (gasp!) red tape.

    Some issues that can be responded to quickly (although not always with finality):
    • Individual parenting or teaching concerns
    • Legislative issues (eg.Javits funding)
    • Contacts between stakeholders/innovators/perspectives

    Some issues that can be more easily and quickly discussed/initiated across a boarder spectrum of stakeholders:
    • Legislative issues (gifted rights, funding)
    • New ideas in education or parenting 
    • Systemic change (because social networking breaks down "silos")

    Ahoy and let's hasten the sea-change!

    Participate in #gtchat on twitter. Or read—and comment on—some of the wonderful GT blogs listed below. Now that advocacy can be initiated online and "go viral" (supported by the deep well of expertise already established) and now that the exchange of ideas is easier than ever, surely "something rich and strange" is on its way.

    And I’ll be raising my glass of rum to that!

    Saturday, September 18, 2010

    Apoxyomenos and the Lesson of Biomineralization

    A friend sent me an email. She said she didn’t know who else she could tell, who else might not think she was being an "overprotective crazy parent".

    She’d signed her four-year-old son up at a private gifted school. All seemed well until the school year was about to start and suddenly her son was not in with the expected teacher or classmates. She called them. No reply. She finally went to the school and they told her that after a twenty minute "interview" of her son and nine other children they could tell he wasn’t smart enough to be in with kids his own age and they wanted to put him in with the three-year-olds. Now they wanted to have her convince her son that this scenario would be better for him.

    This is a little boy who has told me about corrosion. Because he knows ALL about corrosion (eg. I am trying to see if he’ll draw me a picture of "Apoxyomenos" because he knows all about him/it; I confess I didn’t but I now know it’s a 2000-year-old bronze statue of an athlete raised from the Adriatic Sea in 1999, the restoration of which has taught scientists a lot about biomineralization and how certain mineral deposits slow deterioration). I suspect that this little guy may have had a difficult time finding anyone else with his level of intensity or expertise about engineering among the nine other four-year-olds. Or he may have felt a little shy. Or just have been polite and let others speak. Regardless, he is one of the smartest children I’ve ever met (and I’ve met some doozies); the interviewer completely missed the boat.

    Thank goodness his mom trusts her knowledge of her son better than I did mine at that stage of the game. I assumed that when I asked if my oldest might be gifted and teachers said, "Meh. He’s OK. Nothing special." that because they were "the experts", they must know and my instincts were wrong. That misplaced trust (and responsibility) was my mistake as a young parent, but my son paid for it. He grew increasingly depressed. We later found out he was bored out of his mind but trying desperately to fit in; he thought something was wrong with him. 

    Fortunately my friend told the crazy school—the "gifted" school—there was no way she was manipulating her child—or that he was attending there! Good for her! She clearly understands about intentional GT biomineralization: about providing a protective layer when needed, about preserving the important things, about modifying the situation, about recognizing and advocating for her son’s needs in a difficult environment.

    Part of me rises up in furious indignation at what she is going through. But at this point another part sighs, beginning to feel resigned. I know this story only too well. As angry as it makes me, I cannot feel surprised. Little has changed in the 16 years since my oldest son was that age. And precious little in the eleven since my youngest son was four either.

    Except that their childhoods are gone.

    They are young men. My oldest son is a graduate student now, my youngest a junior in high school. (My daughter is a college sophomore.) We arrive at this current point following years of patchwork educational experiences—largely homeschooling after we realized finding “fit” in the system was an effort in beating our collective heads into the wall (I guess we all biomineralize in our own way).

    However, such unmet needs were nothing new when my children were little either. In Stephanie Tolan’s 1985 article "Stuck in Another Dimension: The Exceptionally Gifted Child in School" she noted the damage being done to gifted children who were unchallenged or held back out of ignorance, and she asked for change. That was twenty-five years ago! A generation.

    I’ve been told that I expect too much. That I should be more patient. That change takes time. Well, how MUCH time? Seriously. How many childhoods or generations? Should I be patient if my children are only moderately depressed instead of mostly, due to their needs not being met? Should I be satisfied that the least-bad option has been to homeschool. That my oldest two couldn’t get public high school diplomas because the system was too rigid? Wouldn't it be better to create a safe, non-corrosive environment where learning and growing are the focus instead of forcing students, parents and educators to expend resources simply to keep children from being damaged?

    Too late for my children but time is passing and it brings new, hopeful students every year. Because I wonder how in good conscious I can not do my best, having seen the damage we have, for any other mother's child if I can help mitigate it. Don't they deserve better? Instead, that four-year-old children who can speak passionately and knowledgeably about corrosion have their gifts go unrecognized, that their mothers are encouraged to hold them back, breaks my heart. Again.

    So, I guess I’m not so resigned after all. I don’t want to be patient (perhaps I don't know how to be.) I want to support parents and educators like my friend, who know that a child who can get excited about Apoxyomenos and his lack of corrosion has amazing gifts that must be protected and nurtured. And I don’t think we should wait for this little guy’s childhood to pass by. He’s four and I think he’s waiting for us to catch up to him as it is.

    Thick incrustation that protected the bronze and patina from corrosion (photo: Croatian Conservation Institute)

    restored sculpture of Apoxyomenos, preserved under the biomineralization (photo: American Chemical Society)

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Where There's Smoke. . .

    At several recent meetings of GT organizations, it's been asked, “Why don’t more people join? Why don’t they participate? Or pay?”

    From my own experience I think the answer might be that if things are going well, other demands easily clamor more loudly for time and money (and with gifted children this may especially feel like the case; we are all stretched thin in many ways). Further, the value of investment in GT organizations may not have been strongly made. However, that is what it is—an investment:  in resources, in legislation, in infrastructure and continuity, in a community.

    Having a fire detector, a fire extinguisher, or a local fire station might not seem important until someone has a fire. Likewise, when a GT crisis comes—personal, legislative, for one’s family, for one’s neighbor, for the school or for the state—if nobody has remembered to make that investment then sadly the resources may be unavailable to resolve the situation in as quick and positive a manner as expected or hoped. Or to resolve them at all. We hear "gifted kids can make it on their own". But would we want to face a major fire alone? Of course not. And especially not when we know we can prevent catastrophe, or that we might instead have support should there be difficulty.

    Therefore, I would like to reframe the idea of investment in GT organizations:  If you know (or suspect) a child you care about is gifted, then “there’s smoke”, therefore investing in “fire safety” is proactive and responsible. Here are some things to consider:

    Yes, a fire could happen to you.
    My hope is that every child has a perfect childhood and that the adults in their lives find meeting parenting and educational needs to be a “piece of cake”. But meeting individual needs is terribly challenging regardless. And because gifted children are asynchronous with development and needs that often don’t match age or grade peer expectations or timing, that “cake” recipe is practically impossible to pull off. Family, educators and others can be caught off-guard, especially when twice-exceptionalities and overexcitabilities are thrown into the mix. The GT community is a wise investment.

    Fire insurance cannot be purchased after the fire.
    It’s nice to have a support network anyway, but if (when?) there’s a GT crisis in one’s life and one is kicking around the ashes of a schoolyear or parenting issue gone suddenly awry, it is of immense value to already have some resources in place. These children need unique support. So do the adults who love them and who work to meet their needs.

    There’s a lot to learn about fire safety. Many—although certainly not all—GT crises can be avoided or scaled back by an investment in knowledge beforehand, such as that gained by reading, by attending GT seminars and conferences, by asking questions of those with experience and, of course, through anything that develops good relationships and communication. Learn as much as you can about these things—even if you don’t apply them firsthand, perhaps you can help someone else!

    Fire is a “public safety” issue. Most GT organizations are non-profits, run by volunteers. None are making big money. Some school, local and state organizations disappear due to lack of funding and volunteers. Legislation and school funding also disappear. The only way to keep availability—not just for today but for future generations—is the ongoing support and involvement of the GT community. And then by teaching others without immediate need about the importance on ongoing vigilance. Gifted education has a huge longrange "trickle down" benefit for everyone in many ways.

    One person or even a small group cannot make an effective fire brigade. Legislation efforts cannot be effectively organized spur-of-the-moment, yet sometimes immediate action is needed for best results. Other advocacy groups have long found power in sustained and organized numbers. Resources need to be kept supplied in order to be available when they are needed.

    You don’t have to be a fire safety expert to make a difference. “Gifted” education conferences and resources are not for educators only. While some circumstances or "conflagrations" are best left to the experts, generally gifted education and parenting present situations where everyone benefits—especially the students—by having a more informed and responsible public working in collaboration with educators, counselors, legislators, students, etc. If there is a problem, we all need to work together to solve it and the more prepared everyone is, the better.

    Model fire prevention early. If you become involved in GT advocacy and legislation, and teach students positive and appropriate self-advocacy, you share a powerful life skill. The state affiliate’s Legislative Day is a good example of effective use of resources.

    Fire safety is excellent resource management. The things you learn, the time you give and even the money you spend will all come back to you in resources preserved (good parenting, good education information, limiting potential frustration), in the short term and big picture (not just your GT student now, but also hopefully many GT students being able to becoming fulfilled adults and contributing to the world).

    Start somewhere. This “preparedness announcement” isn’t intended to be guilt trip, rather a change of perspective: GT education and involvement as an investment. No, you can’t build a fire station by yourself. But you can check the batteries in the fire detectors in your home, join the Neighborhood Watch, and perhaps check out that CPR class (see if some friends will join you!). There’s a wonderful and caring community of other volunteer and expert firefighters who would be delighted to have your support!

    Remember, only YOU can prevent—or at least ease—GT fires. . . .

    The US Forest Service has a catchy phrase there.

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    When Worlds Collide (Or Diverge): An Inaugural Blog

    NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children) sent out a poll and included in the questions was one asking about subscriptions to parenting magazines.  While I no longer subscribe to any, the question provoked an apt launching point for this blog. 

    My two parenting magazine subscriptions:  
    • Family Fun:  Arch-typical Disney fantasy all they way.  Amazingly cute and user-friendly crafts, costumes, snacks, vacation articles, recipes, health articles, etc.  Nicely presented and packaged.  Pleasantville in magazine form.  A real “porch” read.  I confess that I stilI love thumbing through it –the beautiful modern, if commercial, idylls written on those glossy pages–and it inspired some lovely birthday parties.
    • LifeLearning Magazine:  Unschooling. Unrepentant and subversive. From our early years (perhaps our BEST years) homeschooling.  I kept the subscription for a long time because it inspired me, speaking to autonomous learning and parenting better than any other single publication I read. But overall it wasn’t quite our family’s reality either.

    Welcome to my world.  Or worlds.

    The whole magazine scenario, brought to the fore by the NAGC questionnaire, is a metaphor for our entire parenting and schooling experience.  Because I don't think there's a magazine for the creative parenting undertaken at our house. Instead it's been vaguely charted territory, best addressed in the supportive emails found on the listserves of the incredibly generous gifted online community.  But unfortunately there’s no HoagiesGifted Magazine.  No little piece of "home" to arrive in my mailbox, complete with photos and "how-to's" every month. (Not that my children would have enjoyed following a step-by-step—and, heck, I don’t do well with following directions myself—but some sort of a reference beyond "Thar Be Dragons" would have been nice, because the warning wasn’t going to do any good; the kids were launching us into Terra Incognita regardless.)

    Nevertheless, I remember the tinge of remorse that accompanied the eventual intentional lapsing of both subscriptions in recognition that the children had grown older.  For better or worse, that ship had sailed and we'd already whipped past the benefits to be gained or ideals marked by the magazines' charts.  Had we wanted to add those ports?  Had we managed to?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.   But the ship sails on. . . .

    Here's a homemade Christmas card from many years back.  Despite the the unschooling and the frequent fights with the system, clearly I've never been able to move past a certain desire to embrace the traditional.  (We were stretching a bit further back than Norman Rockwell:  the costuming is for St. Lucia and, yes, that is live flame atop my child's head.)

    Recognizing that gifted adults are unlikely to find a single destination in life appropriate or desirable to them, my husband and I have done our best to encourage our children to approach life's diversity as travelers:  to live in many worlds (literally and metaphorically), to be at home in their own skins, to be flexible thinkers and creative problem solvers, and hopefully to know that they will always find safe harbor with us.  Now they are reaching the age where it is less about equipping them for their own journeys and, alarmingly, more about seeing how they begin to fare.

    As for those magazines and the sometimes-perplexing juxtaposition between the microcosms of expectations and reality they present:  On the up-side, I can still whip up an awesome Halloween costume when the need arises.  But I'm more pleased that I ended up with creative individualists who enjoy making their own.

    CookieMonster Slayer: willing to wear costumes even without occasion to during her two-year stint at public high school, my daughter enjoyed classmates' responses to this not-so-Family-Fun costume two Halloweens ago.