Category Archives: Gifted and Talented Children

All Kinds of Smart

As people all over the world have been watching the Olympics this summer, myself included, I wish the lessons shared by the participants would be equally applied to all kinds of smart. Whether your talents lie in linguistics, mathematics, music, art, nature, interpersonal, or intrapersonal areas of development, the requirements for success are the same.

As Gabby Douglas flew through the air, and touchingly a rare flying squirrel landed at our birdfeeder (no one in our area had ever seen one until this creature appeared for a few days and then again disappeared), here are a few talent-development lessons I felt were worth repeating:

  1. Opportunity is the key: From Michael Phelps to Gabby Douglas, from track sprinters from around the world to athletes of all backgrounds and specialties, we have heard how the doors of opportunity had to be opened. There are so many potentially talented children out there who are never recognized, supported, and applauded when successful; anchored when in trouble. Gabby’s mother made the supreme sacrifice for her little girl to shine.
  2. Letting go must happen sooner or later: Over the years I have seen parents struggle to let their talented children go to a summer camp in their area of passion, be it academics, music, or any other field. Gabby’s mother listened to Gabby and Gabby’s encouraging older sister when it was time for her to leave home. She let her go, not for a week, but for years of hard training, living with a new family and community, and facing a diverse world of new values and hard lessons.
  3. Hard work: In her first interview upon winning her gold medal, Gabby attributed her success to hard work and dedication. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t. Young talented children often think success comes naturally or with a little luck. The necessity of hard work, i.e., practice and persistence, must be taught. Our Olympic champions are great role models.
  4. Success is golden: Gabby became homesick in Iowa, but she persisted in reaching for her dreams. Of her win, she said, “I did think it was a gold-medal performance.” Self-confidence and focus are not easy to achieve when things go wrong, as they frequently did for members of the gymnastics team, including Gabby. But, as Gabby explained, “If you can push through the hard days, you can get through anything.”
  5. Belief is golden: “It’s very tough for me to focus,” Gabby reported in The New York Times, Aug. 2, 2012.  But as Douglas was going to the Olympic arena, her mother called and said, “I believe in you, baby.” Douglas said, “I believe, too.”
  6. Success is not perfection: Even Michael Phelps did not always win. Doing your best and working through the disappointments are lessons that loving families bestow upon their talented youth. As Gabby inspires other young African Americans, her message is clear: I am so happy to be me, and although I would have preferred another gold, it’s not the end of the world that I didn’t get it. On to the next competition! On to the next challenge and new experience.
  7. Respect others for their talents and dreams: At WCATY summer programs, I have had students who received perfect 800’s on their SAT Math tests at ages as young as 13 and 14 sit in an advanced math classroom with other smart students who did not and most likely could not achieve perfection. I saw the same kind of respect and camaraderie in those classrooms as I’ve been observing among the gymnastics, swimming, track and other competitors. That their passion for their field includes a desire to experience new levels of knowledge or success by others as well as by themselves is exciting to behold.

In summary, may we realize that the lessons learned by our young Olympians are lessons to be learned, valued, and respected for children with all kinds of smart.

WATG Recognizes NUMATS Students

Dear Talent Search Top Scorers,

You have become a part of a tradition that goes back more than 20 years. Bob Clasen, Professor at UW-Madison and I, as state consultant for gifted programs at the Department of Public Instruction began recognizing the top scorers in Talent Search on the UW campus in 1989. I’m proud that 23 years later you have been invited to the University of Wisconsin to celebrate your interests and successes. I join you in letting the world know,  “It’s good to be smart.” Thank you to WATG for honoring you and your parents and guests.

It would have been my delight to be with you this weekend, but I am making my way home from a vacation in the Bay Islands, Honduras with my grandsons, ages 6 and 9.

Jordan loves writing. Here he got to write on the table!

As they leave to travel to Colorado, I am thinking of you – our future in Wisconsin.

Benj has a new passion: snorkeling. He’s discovered the wonders of the underwater world.

Have any of you been reading the young adult novels by Terry Pratchett? I enjoy the wit and wisdom as well as the many links to literature and life in Pratchett’s books. From  A Hat Full of Sky, I share this thought with you today: “With balloons, as with life itself, it is important to know when not to let go of the string. The whole point of balloons is to teach small children this.” As you continue to develop your talents and realize your dreams, always remember when NOT to let go of your strings!

 

Have a great day.

Ellie Schatz, State Consultant for Gifted, 1987-1990

Founder and President, WCATY, 1991-2006

Author, It’s Good to Be Smart, 2009

Multiple Intelligences

I’ve been playing around with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences in my mind. First, they are the basis for Color Me Smart, my current children’s book manuscript, which I may (or may not) publish in 2012. Second, as I’ve been reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I couldn’t help trying to categorize Jobs within the eight intelligence types.

When I’m working on my book, it is with a degree of certainty — children need to be recognized and encouraged for all kinds of abilities. Teaching the multiple intelligences framework to children and their caregivers should help us, as a society, to be more appreciative of children’s innate strengths. Further, we could then be expected to encourage a greater degree of excellence in education and production. But there is also a degree of uncertainty. Many children are multiply intelligent, and to typecast them could potentially limit others’ understanding of them. I especially felt this when casting children as people- or self-smart when I had already perceived them as another kind of smart.

When reading the Jobs book, I felt an even greater degree of uncertainty. It was almost the opposite of what I was feeling with my child characters. I never doubted that Jobs was smart. But, what kind of smart? He certainly didn’t have interpersonal intelligence (people smart), yet even within this realm he ultimately succeeded by repeatedly forming and leading what he called an “A team.”

So what are multiple intelligences and where does Jobs fit? This is an especially intriguing question given Isaacson’s conclusion (p. 566): “Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power.”

According to Kac, what most geniuses have is “ordinary genius,” the kind that most of us might observe, “I could do that if only I were better at …” But the magician genius is such that we can’t fathom how the end result came about. Jobs consistently expected the seemingly impossible and made it happen. He didn’t achieve it himself; he led others to do it for him.

In rethinking Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, I conclude that we are broadening our definition of smart or intelligence within the realm of the ordinary. And, I still think that’s a good place to start. We need to recognize word, music, math, picture, body, people, self, and nature smart in children, but maybe there is more. Just as I’ve never liked the federal definition of giftedness because it positions academic ability, intellectual ability, creativity, leadership, and artistic ability as parallel categories — and they are not, so magician genius does not seem to parallel multiple intelligences. Creativity and intuitive leaps must cross them all. Jobs had a talent for recognizing talent in others and bringing them together such that their individual abilities became a part of the whole. Together they fostered his magician genius. His magician genius crossed all aspects of excellence required in the design and engineering of the products for which he is known.

I wonder if Gardner is playing around with the concept of magician genius?

 

 

Gifted Pyramid Model Revisited

At the end of the WSJ article regarding Madison’s planned gifted program on August 10, one critic stated, “…the district already requires teachers to develop individual learning plans for every student and the talented and gifted plan duplicates that effort. If that function worked for every child, there would be no need for additional attention given to gifted students.”

I wish we could individualize for every student, but we don’t. When I introduced a philosophical model to DPI, it was to establish a clear pathway toward such an ideal. Here is the pyramid as it was intended to work. Let’s hope MMSD can so integrate their gifted plan that it seems as though “additional” attention is a thing of the past.

The base: Not every state, every district, is known for excellence in education. Wisconsin, including Madison, has earned a reputation for excellence in education. It is necessary that we examine and build on that reputation from the standpoint of these three premises:

  1. All students must develop to their fullest potential.
  2. There must be healthy regular programs in the schools to provide a foundation upon which excellence can be built.
  3. Excellence is attained only when the ideal of meeting differentiated individual needs is met.

Side 1: The model assumes active participation and sincere advocacy by significant players – administration, school board, staff, parents, community, and students.

Side 2: Support functions are a given in the school district now. This model makes clear that talent assessment is a part of individualization, parents must be involved in decision-making, counseling is often important, flexible pacing through any given curriculum is critical, staff development helps define and support each teacher’s roles, and coordination holds the parts together.

Side 3: This is the part we usually see and discuss (see my last post), but it does not exist as a lone triangle, just as one-third of this side cannot exist without the two functions above it. All programming begins in the regular classroom. When sharing this model with classroom teachers I always draw a dark line between regular classroom and special group programming to insure them that this is where their personal time commitment ends. The individual teacher must recognize the need for and help facilitate options beyond the classroom, but that is when the other support roles and functions kick in. Group programming and individualized services must be available to any learner should the regular curriculum not be a perfect fit.

Side 4: Evaluation completes the circle back to talent assessment and flexible pacing. This is outcomes-based education at its best. Talent assessment details the learning needs. Student outcomes should show an optimal match between those needs and the learning process. Pace, depth, and breadth of learning should be a correct match for each child. If not, back to the drawing board. Which support role, which function is not working properly?

 

I agree with the critic and made a similar statement years ago. If the system is working, I’m a “teacher of the gifted” or “gifted program coordinator,” but rather a learning coordinator ensuring the needs of all learners are met.

 

Pyramid Model

In the investment world, pyramid is a bad word. A pyramid scheme is structured with an initial recruiter who is on top. This person recruits a second person, who is required to invest money that is paid to the initial recruiter. Then the new recruit must recruit more people under him and so on and so forth.

In gifted education, pyramid is a good word. The Richardson Foundation of Texas originally coined the name and concept in the early 1980s based on sound research. When I was Consultant for Gifted Programs with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in the late 80’s, we developed our own pyramid model for the state. Now the Madison School District, in an attempt to be in compliance with the state standard for gifted programs, is planning to adapt a pyramid plan. Interestingly, the Wisconsin State Journal article on the plan (August 10, 2011) doesn’t label it a pyramid.

With the gifted education pyramid, you start at the bottom rather than the top of the triangle denoting direct curricular options. Enrichment and differentiation options exist for all children in the regular classroom. Differentiation means that each child should be able to proceed through an appropriate curriculum at his or her own pace. For teachers to be able to successfully differentiate for a classroom of diverse learners, training, materials, and support are necessary. The concept of creativity explains the enrichment component perfectly. In the 70’s and 80’s, gifted programs typically followed what was called the pull-out model. Certain children were identified as gifted, usually using test data, and then pulled out of the regular classroom for 1-3 times a week for enrichment. Often this enrichment entailed learning how to be creative and participating in creativity activities. This was neither what the identified children needed nor what the children back in the classroom didn’t need. On top of that, the pulled-out kids were labeled “the gifted.” With the pyramid model, creativity is back where it should be.

The middle of the gifted pyramid is where “pull-out” now occurs. But, if administered correctly, it will be by interest and broad ability as opposed to labeling and narrow ability.   The best way to present it is as the ensemble model. This is where high schools do best and middle and elementary schools could use the upper grades as the model for expanding options. Many children leave the classroom for various ensembles, groups, or teams based on their interests and talent areas.

At the top of the model, an individual child’s learning needs are so great as to go beyond the capacity of the group and its leader. The familiar example is the musically talented child for whom private lessons become necessary. The difference here is that the top of the pyramid is not where individualized education starts. It’s where it leads because of demonstrated interest and ability in the classroom and in the ensemble. The teacher’s obligation – at the bottom or middle of the pyramid – is not to provide the individual lessons or even to necessarily set them up, but to recognize the need and see that the necessary resources are contacted so that the child, regardless of cultural and economic background, has the opportunity to pursue the area at an appropriate depth and pace.

I hope that a comment in the newspaper that “one goal of this [plan] is to sort kids” is not true. The pyramid model de-emphasizes labeling. Of course kids recognize the person with exceptional talent and achievement. But they are more apt to naturally admire and support this person if the pyramid works as it should.

Let the Children Learn, Dream, and Reach Out for More

I read an article in the New York Times this week that made me nostalgic and hopeful at the same time that I continue to be alarmed by statistics that show little progress in three areas that greatly concern me.

First, we’re no closer to realizing an education system that will challenge all children than we were when I started my career (many years ago). With gifted children, this means that if they come to the classroom knowing what is about to be taught, the school has an obligation to find a way to take them to new levels of knowledge/understanding. When we know that happens in scattered schools across the nation, why can’t we ever learn to get it right?

Second, we continue to under-identify disadvantaged children from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In NYC, “black children made up 11 percent of this year’s gifted kindergarten classes, down from 15 percent in 2009-10. Representation of Hispanic students was 12 percent in both years. The school system as a whole is roughly 70 percent black and Hispanic.”

Third, why do we under-identify? Because we continue to rely on testing, not authentic testing of what is important in a child’s real world, but rote testing of facts and skills that disadvantaged children have had little or no opportunity to learn.

So why am I nostalgic and hopeful? One article stood out from all the rest. Entitled, “A Sleepaway Camp Where Math Is the Main Sport,” it immediately caught my eye. Is this a Talent Search-based program? Is it even WCATY (the program I founded) today? No to both questions. It is a program for NYC public school students entering 8th grade, where at least 75% of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches. They represent a diverse population and their past experiences with challenge and opportunity were sadly lacking, but they have three positive characteristics in common: they love learning; they love math, and they are good at learning! Add to that, they love this program and are “cruising” through mathematical concepts that ordinarily most students wouldn’t see before college.

One of the criticisms of the program is that these children cannot catch up with their more privileged peers in the short time they attend the program. As I told parents of underachievers when they were considering attendance at a WCATY summer “camp,” it is true that their school may not have changed and that there will be a hard road ahead, but the children will have changed. They will dream bigger dreams; they will be aware of possibilities; they will refuse to stand still; they will seek additional opportunities; and they have found advocates who can help them to made valuable connections. I can tell many heart-warming stories of WCATY students who have done just that.

Special Offer for National Parenting Gifted Children Week

National Parenting Gifted Children Week is hosted by SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted).

 Follow their Blog Tour

Download SENG’s free NPGC Week ebook, The Joy and the Challenge: Parenting Gifted Children.

On June 24, The New York Times reviewed Alexandra Robbins’ “The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth,” in which she states that although adults are proudly admitting their earlier nerd status now that they have achieved success, “there have been surprisingly few trickle-down effects… bullying and exclusion are rampant” (in our schools). She elaborates, “many of the traits that correlate with ‘outsider’ status among high school students — originality, self-awareness, courage, resilience, integrity and passion — reveal themselves as assets later in life.”

The review is less than an endorsement of Robbins’ writing style or message, and I do not agree with the concept of overachievement, the topic and title of her previous book. However, as the reviewer – Jessica Bruder – points out, “None of this dampens the urgency of her broader message. Adults tell students that it gets better, that the world changes after school, that being ‘different’ will pay off sometime after graduation. But no one explains to them why.”

The article concludes that Robbins is “dead on: teenagers need to hear that adolescence ends. And more than that, they need to believe it.”

The point of “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” is that for many gifted kids, the teenage years are too late for this message. That is why they don’t believe it. Grandma says start telling them that it’s good/cool to be smart early on. Starting in infancy and toddlerhood, smart and gifted children need to feel good about their abilities and have that message reinforced every time an unfortunate incident of name-calling, bullying, or negative peer pressure to hide who they are and what they know occurs.

In honor of SENG’s National Parenting Gifted Children Week, I am offering a special price for “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart.” Start your little ones on a path to believing in themselves and their talents at an early age. Go to the “Contact Ellie Books” page of www.allkindsofsmart.com for details on how to order.

Grandma Says Start Advocating Early

Eric Heidin, Olympic skater and gold-medalist, once remarked that it all began because someone gave him some skates. This is an apt metaphor for advocacy. Someone must provide the skates. But Eric received more than that. Advocacy for him meant also receiving an arena, a coach, time for practice, competition, guidance, caring when he struggled and lost, and pride when he achieved and won. It means the same for all children with talents, whatever the field of endeavor. They must be given the materials and the tools for learning. They need someone who can feed their passions and guide them through the hard work and determination it takes to succeed. They need to stretch their limits and be respected for their goals and accomplishments. Advocacy for talent development is advocacy for excellence, whatever the domain. Advocacy for appropriate educational options is essential along every person’s road to success and happiness.

In the literature on talent development, Peggy Dettmer (1991, p. 170) presents stages of advocacy that she believes can help parents and teachers become more effective in bringing about educational change. Attention is the first stage, because if you are going to make a difference, you must first gain the attention of key people in whatever constituency you need to affect. After attention, the interest you’ve roused in the situation invites participation by those you need to assist you. Their concern for the students you’re trying to help should follow. Those who are concerned should be ready to get involved with your situation. As they grow in knowledge they should become more willing to make adjustments to the curriculum, policy, or program. This leads to their commitment and puts them in a position to provide encouragement for others to support your efforts. They will be able to help you promote an optimal match between learner characteristics and curriculum or program. Finally comes resolve to make the change successful, perseverance to see that this is accomplished, and progress toward realizing the educational goals you had in mind. Dettmer suggests that as your children go through school, you will need to cycle through the stages again and again at increasingly sophisticated levels.

These descriptors need not occur in any set order. You might or might not experience them as stages. Chances are your advocacy will require you to work at increasingly complex levels, but you might simply consider these helpful key words that inform your thoughts, feelings, and actions as you guide your child’s talent development.

“Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” can help you to start advocating at the basic levels for your smart and talented children when they are preschoolers or in the early grades. In honor of National Gifted Education Week from July 17-23, I will offer a special sale of the book throughout July. See the Contact Ellie Books page of this blog for details.

Autistic and Gifted

Every parent of an autistic child should read the books of Temple Grandin and see the movie about her life. While downplaying the autistic child’s need for personal relationships, Grandin  emphasizes their need to be identified as smart. She writes, “Autistic children will remain in their own little worlds if left to their own devices…. People with autism can develop skills in fields that they can really excel in. Where they really need help is in selling themselves.” She goes on to explain that it is now thought that Einstein might have had Asperger’s. He didn’t speak until he was three, he silently repeated words to himself, and he didn’t interact with his peers. He did poorly in school until he was sent to a school that allowed him to use his visualization skills. Later in life he told a psychologist friend, “I rarely think in words at all. A thought comes, and I try to express it in words afterwards.”

One of the smart, autistic children I worked with is Terra, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when she was in 2nd grade and who is now a graduate student living independently of her family. Terra’s mom, a special education teacher, admits that she wanted only to see Terra’s strengths and not her weaknesses when she was little. She says, “I didn’t want her labeled for her deficits in school. Kids with the learning-disability label are categorized based on their weaknesses. But Terra’s social and sensory deficits became more and more apparent as she approached middle-school age. I knew I needed to get an IEP [Individualized Education Plan] with Asperger’s listed. By pretending the issues don’t exist, you are denying the child her full development. You must work on the weaknesses, as well as the strengths.”

When Terra was in 7th grade, she took the ACT through Talent Search. She had a phobia against math, and those scores were low, but her English and reading scores were high, a 28 and 27 respectively, compared to a mean of 20 and 21 for college-bound seniors. Her mom sent her to me at WCATY. “My goal in sending Terra,” she reported, “was for her to see herself in relation to smart kids, rather than only in terms of her disability. I wanted to expand her world intellectually and build her confidence, and I hoped that maybe she would find a friend.”

Terra concentrated on the areas she excelled in – art and writing. She did grow intellectually, gained confidence, and made a friend – a close friend.

Her mother advises, “Do not push thoughts of the future on your children with multiple exceptionalities when they are not ready for thinking that far ahead. But do help them to develop their gifts. At the same time, don’t deny their limits. They must know and understand both their weaknesses and their strengths if they are to become all they can be.”

Like all mothers, Terra’s most wanted her child to be happy. “So much is heavy in her life,” she said, “But I can’t make her happy. The best I can do is to keep making connections and hope to get her in the right environment. She sees herself as being from another planet, an alien. Once we get her through high school, maybe the connections in the academic world will work. She is a little professor.”

The connections worked, and this little professor is succeeding in her academic world today!

 

Urban Prep: A Model for Excellence

I had the opportunity to hear several young men from Urban Prep Academies of Chicago speak this morning of their high school education. Their all-boys inner-city school expects the best from them; slacking off is not an option. The first graduating class experienced a 100% enrollment in college this past year, and it is expected that every graduating class to follow will achieve the same. One of the young men explained, “I wasn’t thinking of being college bound when I started at Urban Prep. But they kept saying, ‘college bound’ along with ‘we believe.’ Now I see why it is they repeat this over and over. They want us to become leaders. And, we’re going to college to graduate.”

Here are a few more words of wisdom shared in the presentation.

From the school leader, “We hear people refer to ‘those’ kids, but they’re really ‘our’ kids.” And, “You cannot demand exceptionality without showing them what it is. The key to our success [in addition to modeling] is passion. We discipline hard, educate harder, and love hardest.”

From the panel of three high school juniors: “Talent without character doesn’t cut it in the world. Urban Prep develops the character as well as the talent.”

“I was unguided and undecided when I arrived as a freshman. At Urban Prep, it all fell into place. I gained confidence in myself because of the resources I was given and the assets I see in the people around me. We all come in as raw materials, but we learn that we can become gemstones.”

“Knowledge is power; education is power; wisdom is power.”

A member of the audience commented, “It shouldn’t be necessary for these articulate young men to tell us this, it should be automatic to us. Excellence should be a way of life.” I agree that it should be a way of life, but unfortunately for the majority, it isn’t. Special services would not be necessary if all children were alike. Our age-grade paradigm might work if all children of the same age were alike. Mentors and corporate sponsors might not be necessary if all families could support their children academically, psychologically, socially, and of course financially. Gifted programs would not be necessary if every child could learn at his or her own pace. But these ‘ifs’ describe an ideal that does not exist in our society. It takes extraordinary commitment, compassion, discipline, and support for a whole school to turn every learner’s story into a success story.

As Kaleem Caire, CEO of the Urban League summed up, with 52% of our black and Latino boys not graduating from high school in Madison, and with only 7% of the very few boys-of-color who even take the ACT demonstrating that they are college ready, we are in crisis mode. Madison Prep, like Urban Prep, will turn these statistics around. We need to do in Madison what it seems to the clear-headed thinker to be common sense. We must put forth the passion that Kaleem models so well. We must rise to the challenge of turning a plan that is well into the making into reality. We must turn the ‘ifs’ of excellence into every day occurrences.  I can’t wait to hear that 100% of our boys from diverse backgrounds are graduating from Madison Prep as they are at Urban Prep, with graduation from college as the next goal for each and every one of them.

Young men from Urban Prep in Chicago