Welcome to a collection of thoughts, questions and interesting links relating to giftedness ..............
You may also like to check out my website where you will find more information for children, parents and teachers.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Power of Connection

A year or so ago I was joining a group of ladies and we were each asked to bring something along to an evening that said something about ourselves as a way to get to know each other. Textiles are an important part of my life and I own quite a lot to pairs of scissors. In various places around my home I have scissors for embroidery, for dressmaking, for cutting paper, offset ones for snipping threads when machine embroidering or quilting and duck bill ones for trimming layers of fabric. I have pinking shears (including a pair which belonged to my grandmother), baby nail scissors, ones for snipping things from magazines... even a tiny antique pair given to me recently by a friend. So my first thought was to take a pair of my scissors.

Then I thought about what scissors are used for - cutting things apart or for separating things.

Much of what I do both in my work (and in a different way in my creative endeavours) involves bringing things together. In the end I gathered a whole lot of buttons from the various jars and tins they are stored in, some old and some new, some shiny and some with hidden qualities and put them all into an old jar for my ‘show and tell’. That seemed to tell more of the story.

We are naturally social creatures and have a strong need for connection.We work hard to ‘fit in’ with a group but strive even harder to find a place where we naturally ‘fit’. The value of finding like minds should not be underestimated. I have spoken with parents moved to tears when their child clicks with another gifted child, when they see their child relax and the exchange is not guarded, when they almost need to be prised apart when it is time to part.

It is not just the kids who need to feel that connection. Finding somewhere where you can share your challenges and frustrations as well as the joys and delights of parenting gifted children is just as important for parents.

I am fortunate to speak to so many families, either in person or via email. Inevitably someone mentions a need they have, or perhaps a skill they possess and this is just what someone else I have spoken to is seeking. Or I come across something in my reading and searching which might be of interest to some one I spoke to. Or someone tells me about their experience with a school, a tutor, an allied health professional, a website……..

These are the times where the button analogy seems to fit. Where I can put people in touch with each other, can pass on a link or contact, help people to get together or pass on some information which might make someone’s journey a little less bumpy. Finding someone else who is or has homeschooled their child; someone else coping with a highly sensitive or intense child; someone who doesn’t think it so unusual to be reading Feynman’s essays as bedtime stories or explaining the intricacies of inner space; or who just ‘gets it’ when you talk about how ineffective star charts have turned out to be, can make all the difference.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mind the Gaps

Many years ago my oldest daughter was cruising along at school. She learned quickly and sometimes read a book under the table when things were re-taught or when repetition was involved. As was inevitable, she sometimes also tuned out new information but was able to use her reasoning ability to work out what she might have missed. As well as being highly able reader, she was also good at maths. Her confidence in her maths ability was shaken however when she suddenly found she was making mistakes with subtraction. How could this be happening? Her knowledge of number combinations was sound and she had been getting them right, so it was initially a bit of a mystery as to what was going on.

Fortunately she was in a small class and her teacher had the foresight and the time to observe her as she worked and did discover what was going on. Somewhere along the line, my daughter had ‘missed’ a crucial piece of information which made subtraction different to addition. Order mattered! While in addition you can add the numbers top to bottom or bottom to top, this is not the case with subtraction. You must subtract the bottom number from the top one…….. this gap in her understanding hadn’t shown up right away because initially the subtraction sums had been simple, the larger number was on top and no borrowing was required. It was not until things got more complicated that the gap became apparent.

I am often reminded that just because a child is gifted it doesn't mean they have mastered every skill, or know 'everything'. It is tempting to think if they understand a complex concept, they will know how to do other things, if they know so much about outer space that they will also know how to write a research question and present the information ..... There have been a few times I have wondered, based on the comments made by a teacher, whether some people might believe a gifted child comes pre-loaded with knowledge, in the same sort of way your computer comes with some programs already loaded, and you simply insert a disc to load more.

It is quite possible for a gifted child to have gaps in their knowledge or learning. The important thing to remember is that these gaps are likely to be filled much more quickly than is usual (as the pace with which such children learn is much faster than typical). It is also possible to see skills develop unevenly, for a 6 year old to read and copmrehend like a 10 year old, but to have hand writing or spelling typical of a 6 year old.

It is also quite possible for a gifted child to have a learning dysfunction or preferred earning style which makes learning some things more difficult for them. It is important to realise that these kids are often really good at hiding these weakenesses.

Being the teacher of a gifted child means constantly scaffolding and feeding their appetite for new ideas and big concepts. It also means being constantly on the lookout for anomalies or discrepancies which might hint at gaps or problems, some of which may have been there for a long time. It can help to think about learning as a wall of bricks. If one is missed out earlier, the strength of the wall above is affected and eventually it shows up.

Do be sensitive though if you discover gaps. Don't tell a child "you should already know this". They probably already know that! It does however provide a great opportunity. To track back and discover the gap can make a real difference to the child. If these was ever a way to enhance the relationship between a gifted child and their teacher, this is a great one.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

2011 EXPLORE test coming up

Many gifted children don't have the chance to really stretch their wings in primary school. Taking an above level test can help identify strengths that might not be seen in the regular classroom. By raising the ceiling, students, parents and teachers can all gain valuable insight into a child's capabilities.

The EXPLORE test is just such an opportunity and it will again be available to families in Western Australia this year.

Testing will be conducted during the morning of April 9th 2011 at three locations – South Perth, Albany and Geraldton.

EXPLORE is designed for US students in the 8th Grade (13 or 14 years of age). Thousands of younger students sit this test each year as a Talent Search opportunity in the USA. In 2011 it will again be available to students in WA who are currently in Year 4, 5 or 6.

If your child is within the top 5% of their year group in either potential or achievement, you may like to consider this opportunity. Details about the sorts of information you will need in order to demonstrate your child qualifies to sit the test can be found under FAQ’s in the EXPLORE Test section of the Thinking Ahead website.

Cost of testing $97 and registration can be completed online, or by a print and post form.

This test is offered in WA in conjunction with the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University in Illinois, USA. They offer testing to thousands of gifted students and are making it easier to access the test preparation materials and information this year. After registrations close you will receive Log In details to their site which will allow you access to articles and information and later also access your child's results and other useful information.

Students who took the EXPLORE exam previously (in 2009 or 2010) are encouraged to take it again in 2011 if they are still within the age range as it provides an indication of progress over the last 12 months.

Registrations will close at 5pm on March 25th (to allow materials to arrive from the US prior to testing).

More information is available on the website where you will find answers to FAQ's and registration forms.
If you would like a flier to pass on to others, you can download one here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If something doesn't feel right....

Last year I asked some friends via email a question about how many senses they thought we have. Some took the question at face value and responded with the typical 5 we are taught at school. Some responded with an extra here or there. One friend included a more comprehensive list and it included 'the mummy sense'. As she said "You know the one where you just know something is going to happen right before it does, or when you just know that that game is going to end in tears minutes from now, or when you wake just before your baby does." She felt it was hard to pin down exactly what sense it actually is, it looked almost like an instinct (except dads don't have it in the same way, nor do non-parents).

Perhaps she was talking about what what we call 'intuition'.

Intuition is our ability to tap into our inner wisdom, to 'know' what is right, what is going to happen next or whether we need more information to make a decision. While it seems to happen without thinking, it seems that our decision or feeling actually arises after extremely rapid analysis of the information at hand, our brain comparing this information to it's database of experience or knowledge, and making a judgement.

It is not unusual when parents call or email to organize a consultation for them to describe a sense that 'something' is not quite right, that they 'feel' their child is capable of more, or that there is more to the story than the analysis they have been given by teachers, family or even medicos. Most indicte that this feeling is accompanied by a physical sensation, a tension of sorts, what is sometimes described as a 'gut feeling'. And given that there doesn't appear to be 'proof' or certainty to back this feeling these same parents often mirror the doubt expresssed by others about it, and many virtually apologise for mentioning it.

I find it interesting that we doubt our intuition so readily. We even doubt it with the same conviction that we doubt the child who correctly completes maths problems with no evidence of having worked them out. They cant possibly 'just know'...... the working out is evidence of the certainty.... It seems our intuition is effectively silenced by the need for 'proof'. If we cant be sure, we should not trust our own conviction.

And yet the parents (it is mostly mothers who call me) are very often right. They are aware that something just isn't quite right, something doesn't sit completely comfortably with all that they know. They aren't looking for their child to be something they are not (actually many express a wish for their child to be 'normal' at some point on their journey, although exactly what that is no-one seems to be clear). These parents are looking for ways to help their child be all that they can be. It is perhaps most common with parents of gifted children with learning difficulties, particularly where the child has been compensating sufficiently well to avoid attracting too much attention to their difficulties, nor falling behind.

 Trusting our instincts or intent might be the best thing we can do for our child (and ultimately for ourselves). If we can overlook the lack of certainty, and trust that our brain has tapped our inner wisdom, we can be confident that we are on the right track.

My advice to parents when we discuss this 'gut feeling' that something is not quite right is, in many cases, to trust their own judgement. If they feel like they don't have all the answers they need, keep searching. They may not turn up straight away but trust that looking means they will in time.

If we remember that everything we learn or try adds to our mental data base and that our brain will scan this new information as well before it settles on an 'intuitive' decision, we can perhaps feel a little more confident in heeding this sense.

It can be difficult not to defer to those we perceive as 'experts', particularly in relation to education (or health), but don't be tempted to assume that anyone knows your child better than you do. If you feel that what you have been told doesnt sit quite right, trust yourself. Keep looking.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It all depends on how you look at it

So many things depend on how we look at them. A glass is half full, or half empty. The sun which is warming to one person is burning to another. The dog pestering you out of bed is doing you a favour, or spoiling your sleep in…….

Our perception and assumptions about our intelligence are no different. The way we think about out intelligence makes a big difference to the path we follow.

A mindset is a set of entrenched assumptions which provide an incentive to continue to think or behave in a certain way. The term was popularised recently by Carol Dweck with her book titled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She believes that your beliefs - your mindset -  shapes what you achieve. And this is irrespective of your level of potential.

She divides views of intelligence into 2 types. Someone with a fixed view of intelligence believes that intelligence is an entity and we have each been endowed with a finite supply. Basically, you have it, or you don’t. On the other hand if you have a growth mindset you would believe intelligence can be expanded through practice and effort.

Those with a growth mindset are more likely to seek out challenge, to learn more deeply and to achieve more. Those with a fixed mindset will likely play it safe, choose the easy options, shy away from challenge and ultimately limiting their options.

Dan Pink recently included The 3 Rules of Mindsets on his blog recently and I thought they were worth repeating it here.

RULE #1Fixed mindset: Look clever at all costs. (“The main thing I want when I do my school work is to show how good I am at it.”)

Growth mindset: Learn, learn, learn. (“It is much more important for me to learn things in my classes than it is to get the best grades.”)

RULE #2Fixed mindset: It should come naturally. (“To tell you the truth, when I work hard at my school work it makes me fee like I’m not very smart.”)

Growth mindset: Work hard, effort is key. (“The harder you work at something, the better you’ll be at it.”)

RULE #3Fixed mindset: Hide your mistakes and conceal your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d spend less time on this subject from now on. I’d try not to take this subject ever again, and I would try to cheat on the next test.”)

Growth mindset: Capitalize on your mistakes and confront your deficiencies. (After a disappointing exam score, “I’d work harder in this class and spend more time studying for the tests.”)
Dweck isn’t the only person to talk about personality and approach having an impact on the development of talent. Francoys Gagne’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent includes Intrapersonal factors as contributors, Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers also examines how a person’s environment combined with personality factors shapes their path towards success. Martin Seligman's work on resilience and positive outlook al

What separates Dweck perhaps is that she believes a growth mindset can be learned.

I recently came across an excellent graphic which clearly shows the differences between the two ways of looking at the world (and the comparative inputs and outcome of each). It is one worth printing out and leaving lying around.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting..............

Today I began Italian lessons at the local Learning Centre. I had enrolled in the Beginners level course because even though I have listened in while my children and husband have been learning at various times, I felt I had only snippets and was definitely a ‘beginner’ (a fact reinforced by daughter #1 who dissuaded me from buying an Intermediate level text over the summer)

Today I also had an experience which was a powerful reminder of the situation for many gifted children in classrooms where the degree of challenge and the pace of learning is not a good match for their learning needs.

For the first 90 mins I struggled to keep paying attention. My language skills are truly very basic (and I am not understating them) but for the majority of the lesson nothing new, nothing that I didn’t already know, was covered. I kept wondering when we were going to get on to something new, something that would make my brain focus, how much longer the lesson would run………. The lady sitting next to me (who has previously learned Spanish and also has a smattering of French) seemed to be having the same problem. At one point she commented to me that she really learns better when she has to stretch. On the whole though, everyone else looked like they were crunching their eyebrows. So I was left thinking maybe I could get more out of it, if I tried harder………… I have to admit that in the last 20 minutes there were a few new things, but it seems they were included to tantalise, dangling a little of what might be to come but came with the comment "But don't worry about that yet, we will get to it later.

I do not mean to cast the teacher in a poor light. He is a volunteer, an elderly gent who no doubt has a good knowledge of Italian (and French as it turns out). And I am sure he was presenting as he has in the past, using materials he has used in the past. And as it was the first session so perhaps he was ‘sounding us out’ in terms of skill development. Does all of this sound familiar? Remarkably like the first few days of the school year in many places perhaps.

So the real test will come next week. If the teacher is astute, appreciates that there is a range of skill development amongst those coming into his class, and senses the differing rates of learning within the group (some of the ‘crunchy eyebrow’ folk seemed to pick it up more readily than others), then some differentiation might occur……….. if not, perhaps the bulk of my learning will probably happen outside of ‘school’.

Which is, sadly, what I hear too often from gifted kids.

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