Category Archives: Early Learning

Redshirting: How to Make a Bad System Worse

In school, there is a standard curriculum that is offered to all learners who are grouped according to age. This is an antiquated system, but it is the way we have been doing it since the industrial revolution, and—as I’ve written before, changing that system is not happening. Instead, it seems, it’s being exacerbated. On a recent edition of “60 Minutes,” Morley Safer examined the practice of redshirting children for kindergarten. Redshirting is defined at the beginning of the interview as “holding your 5-year old back from kindergarten until he’s 6 so he’ll be among the oldest and smartest in class.” One parent elaborated that she preferred her son be older in kindergarten so he would become a leader rather than be younger and a follower. All this was news to me—older equals smarter and leader.

Safer suggests that a sharp increase in redshirting is a direct response by parents to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “Outliers.” I was disturbed by this book when I read it, not because of Gladwell’s premises as much as by his conclusions. Gladwell’s comments on this show make me even more appalled. In January 2010, I quoted from the book regarding Gladwell’s observation that smart children studied by Lewis Terman who happened to be poor did not “make a name for themselves” as adults because “they lacked something that could have been given to them if we’d only known they needed it: a community around them that prepared them properly for the world.” Gladwell saw them as squandered talent and I agree with him that they didn’t need to be.

Redshirting, however, is not helping poor children but most likely putting them at greater disadvantage. As the show pointed out, low-income parents can neither afford to hold their children back nor to send them to private schools. Redshirting is not “putting a community around them.”

I agree with Samuel Meisels, President of the Erikson Institute, who on the show calls redshirting “educational quackery.” I believe in “cumulative advantage” but not in the way Gladwell defines it. Cumulative advantage does not imply that older is better or that the older a child the greater his or her leadership potential. It means carefully planning special, supplemental educational experiences, starting early in school and continuing into college, graduate school, and professional life. It means studying deeply and broadly. It happens when students are introduced purposefully to concepts, programs, activities, career possibilities, and people, who in turn introduce them to more and more possibilities until the right one clicks. It happens when their learning activities are aligned with their interests, abilities, and motivations.

I agree with Meisels that children need a level playing field and that they develop at different rates. It is true that cumulative advantage is about being in the right place at the right time, and that it usually does not happen by coincidence. Ideally, we would be putting all children in the right place at the right time. The only way we are going to prevent the kind of squandered talent that Gladwell deems unfortunate is to open more and more doors of opportunity.

At its foundation, educational opportunity should not mean forcing all kids to learn the same curriculum at the same pace and with the same strategies—whatever their age. Let them start at age 3 if they are ready and a kindergarten classroom is where they’ll best develop. Let them start at age 6 if they are not ready and a delayed start will mean a better fit with the learning environment when they are ready.

May bullying and boredom never become a part of the conversation! Oh, my mistake, Meisels pointed out that behavioral problems and boredom are already being detected in these opposite-of-pushed children. I’ll not go there—for now.

Read to Your Young Children Every Day

For the past month I have been posting the titles of exciting books for young children − mostly for preschool age, but also for children in grades K-2 who are still into picture books. In fact, I recommend picture books for all ages. They can be read by children and adults for not only enjoyment, but for conceptual development as well. Never underestimate the thought and discussion potential from reading simple statements and, moreover, from reading pictures.

Reading with Young Children

Unfortunately, the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, reports that about 10 million children have difficulties learning to read. Even people with mild reading impairment do not read for fun and suffer from a low self-esteem. A surprising statistic is that reading problems affect girls at about the same rate as boys. Because boys are more apt to act out whereas girls more often enter a quiet dream world, boys receive more attention in schools for their reading difficulties. Long-term studies have shown that from 90 to 95 percent of reading-impaired children can overcome their difficulties if they receive appropriate treatment at early ages.

Parents can make the difference. Head Start research on the affects of reading to children under age 3 reports that English-speaking mothers who begin reading to their children as babies have toddlers with greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies, and higher cognitive scores by the age of 2. Likewise, Spanish-speaking mothers who read to their children every day have 3-year-olds with greater language and cognitive development than those whose children do not have the benefits of early reading. Researchers advise that parents take advantage of every book a child wants to read. Even out-dated books conceptually (for example science books) can connect with a child, convey basic information to build upon, inspire questions for further exploration, and simply provide parent-child bonding and fun.

Jocelyn of The Tattered Cover Book Store continues to recommend great new as well as some tried-and-true titles for the little ones. You will find these on the Tips and Previews page of this blog.

Grandma is Reading at Liliana’s

Every Sunday evening Liliana’s Restaurant in Fitchburg welcomes families, giving parents the opportunity to kick back, while their children (under age 12) eat free. This Sunday night there is an added bonus. I will be there, reading my book to children ages 0-7. If you live in the Madison, WI area or will be there for any reason on Sunday, Dec. 4, stop by anytime after 5 p.m. with your children.

 I look forward to meeting you, exploring ideas with your children, and signing books as well.

Start your child off reading like this little guy. A world of wonder is the result.

 

For more information on Liliana’s go to http://www.lilianasrestaurant.com/. And don’t forget – every Sunday is Family Night, and kids eat free.

Children’s Picture Books for the Holidays

Of course I’m selling “Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart” for the holidays. I’m thrilled that CUNA Mutual Insurance Foundation and The Rainbow Project of Madison are working with me to distribute 50 copies to poor children. I read in early November at The Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver − where “Grandma Says” is still available, will be selling books with the Rainbow Bookstore  Cooperative at the trade show in Madison on Dec. 3, and am reading at Liliana’s Restaurant in Fitchburg on the evening of Dec. 4 − children eat free.

I am also thrilled that I met a new friend in Colorado −Jocelyn , who works in the children’s book department at Colfax Branch The Tattered Cover Book Store, running their children’s Story Time every Tuesday morning. She recommended several great new books to me for my grandchildren, one of which I mentioned in my last blog. Jocelyn has agreed to send me lists of her recommendations of new titles and old favorites, at least through the holidays. I will post these on the Tips and Previews page, with the first list appearing today. Thank you Jocelyn for helping me to finally update my tips page, and in such a valuable way!

Grandma Says It’s Good to Read

Brotherly Reading

This past week I got to live what I preach. I spent a week babysitting with my two grandsons, and reading was at the core of our activities. The little guy is 5. He says, “Kindergarten is ‘kinda’ easy.” Every night his homework consists of reading a different book that he has selected to bring home. While he read aloud to me, the older brother was to engage in a quiet activity until I could help him with his math. On some nights it was his own reading homework. On others, it was reading a book for fun. Here the two boys have extended fun as the younger boy climbs into the chair and joins in.

I have written about the significance of early reading previously. In this posting, I reiterate its benefits based on the National Institute for Literacy’s recommendations in action:

* Gives children information on a variety of topics. The older boy is intensely interested in frogs and toads, sharks, dolphins, and fish of all kinds. We read several reference books on amphibians and ocean life, some from his school library and other treasures from his personal bookshelf. The younger boy is still 100% into picture books and we had fun with all kinds of stories. One old favorite is “Scranimals” by Jack Prelutsky. We brainstormed our own Scranimals, then drew and made stories about them to add to the book. Two new favorites are “What Animals Really Like” by Fiona Robinson and “Black and White” by David Macaulay. The first is highly imaginative with beautifully complex pictures to read. The latter is a book I bought when I heard David Macaulay speak a few years ago. It consists of four stories that can be read separately but become increasingly blended into one complex story as you read. I was waiting for the two boys to grow into it, and they sure did!

Promotes language development and literacy skills. Both boys are growing into independent reading. The third grader did not learn to read as quickly as other Schatzes in our family, but he was always read to, loved stories, and eventually became the reader I knew he would become. The younger boy craves books. Both have learned that reading can introduce them to adventures, people, lands, and ideas that otherwise they’d never know.

Helps increase attention spans. The photo proves it. What I expected to be at maximum a 10-minute activity, became a long expedition into the imagination. I think I had to peel them from the chair to get back to unfinished homework assignments.

Promotes family relationships. Again, the picture is worth a thousand words.

Raises reading levels. I do think the kindergartner grew several grade levels in reading ability in the week I was with him. His ability to use context and his memory for words once he’s seen them once was a joy to observe. Whatever skill it is we are attempting to master, practice is the key. Practicing reading should never be a chore. I’m so glad both boys are totally delighted when reading a good book.

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.

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.