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, August 27, 2012

"It might open the floodgates"

I have heard this given as a reason for not accelerating a child, not moving a child to another class even when the current placement isn’t working, not allowing a child to use a computer or iPad despite recommendations from professionals that they need the accommodation in their learning, and in a handful of other scenarios.

It is a quick and easy answer, but one that (I hope) is one mostly given without much thought.
Others might ask …..
The real reason often seems to be a worry that if one gets something, others might also want it too. It is not hard to see where the worry might come from. We are social beings, and there is safety in belonging. One way we seek to belong is to be as similar to the next person as we can. We are well aware that society often deals with outliers by exclusion. Yet we are also very conscious that what is required to fit in changes constantly so we jump on new trends and look for (safe) ways to get an edge within the herd so that we aren’t left behind. The notion that someone having something you don’t means they might have more (and thus you have less) might be part of a worry about feeling left behind. As parents we are even more conscious of our children not being left behind.
But what does belonging have to do with denying an acceleration, the shift to different class, or a child being able to use an aid to help them develop and demonstrate their potential?

My feeling is that schools worry that allowing one child to have an opportunity (even one for which there is a demonstrated need) might mean others want the same opportunity and that means they worry that it will make more work, cost more, or that it might resulting unhappy parents should their child not be allowed the same opportunity. These reasons effectively place convenience or structures already in place above the needs of the child, often without the realisation that that is the case, rather than placing the needs of the child at the centre of the decision making. 

We have National Goals for Schooling in the 21st Century and these are reviewed every 10 years. The 1999 Adelaide Declaration stated that ‘schooling should develop fully the talents and capacities of all children”. The current goals were outlined in the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young People (2008) build on the previous declaration and state that Australian schooling will promote excellence and equity, and that all young Australians will become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active  and informed citizens.

If the goal of education is to develop potential then there is going to need to be variations in how that is achieved, because we are well aware that there is variety in levels of potential.

Access to opportunity is a matter of equity. Fair doesn’t mean everyone gets the same, it means everyone being able to access what they need. Consider what would happen if we insisted everyone gets the same (or no-one is allowed to be different) using the example of a child with diabetes. Because someone needs insulin, everyone should have it. In this situation, what will help one child is likely to be lethal to many others. Or, because we don’t want to encourage difference, the child who needs it, is denied the opportunity. It simply doesn’t make sense and we would be outraged if this occurred.

Returning to the concern about opening the floodgates…… there is a way to avoid the worried about potential flood of parents wanting something for their child.

Developing a system for addressing requests means those who truly need the intervention are able to access it, and those who would ‘like’ it (or think their child 'might' need it), must demonstrate the need.

If there is a system for addressing the request, a procedure for guiding the decision making, outlining what information is needed, and any additional questions which may need to be addressed, make it much easier to deal with. It can be a simple flowchart outlining the steps and requirements so that it ensures decisions are made based on need. Everyone is clear about the reasoning for or against a decision, it largely removes subjectivity and can allay any suggestions of favouritism or similar.
You meet the criteria. Or you don’t.
Ideally of course, the procedure would also look at what alternative interventions may be needed for those who don’t quite meet the criteria.
And the criteria need to be reasonable, and based on what the research shows. That is something I will be talking about in my next post.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Time slips by - its a blog birthday!

Photo credit Stuart Miles Free Digital Photos

Suddenly, it is 3 years since I started this blog.
Sometimes I have posted regularly, other times it has been a bit patchy, mostly because life gets in the way, but this is post number 97. Time slips by and it is amazing how things which seemed incredible at one point, are common place before long.

I remember when I was first running holiday programs for gifted children 10 years ago, the sign up forms had to be returned by post, I didn’t have a dedicated domain name for my website, nor the technology for online submission of registrations. Hard to imagine now when those things are so easy to organise. Those who enrolled were born in the 1990’s, the youngest was born in 1998. Of course before long all that changed, I obtained a domain name, built a new website, enrolment forms could be emailed to me and there were children who attended who were born in or after 2000. That was hard to believe at the time.

A few years after I moved to Perth when I started consulting to families most of the children I saw seemed to be around 7 years of age, with a scattering of older primary school age children. Year 2 seemed to be the point where the school experience faltered and families needed help to make sense of what was going on (and it continues to be for many families now too). A year or so later families contacted me about 5 years olds, then not long after I saw a whole bunch of children who were only 4 and whose parents were proactive enough to act early, before they ran into problems. This seemed young, until I had a call from a parent of twins who were just 20 months old……….

Over time technology has raced ahead and I have tried to embrace the changes as best I can. I set up forms that could be completed and submitted online for the holiday programs and other events, along with a facility for online payments. It its early form it was much more cumbersome than the Paypal system I changed to a couple of years ago, but it was quicker and easier to manage than the manual system of entering details from paper forms. Consultations were conducted via Skype for families in the country, and newsletters were sent out by mail merge rather than via BCC.

In the 3 years since I started this blog, the newsletters have moved between a couple of different email management services, and can now be scheduled to go at preset times, with follow up messages scheduled to go automatically at various intervals. Consultations are now booked using an online scheduling service saving a lot of time and paperwork. My books can be purchased online using 'Buy Now' buttons and electronic versions are delivered automatically.

The growth of Facebook and social media has been a boon, not only for keeping up with what is happening in the ‘world of giftedness’ – literally keeping in touch around the globe – but also because with the many groups and pages, parents can find a place of connection and support in between the challenges of household schedules, work and distance. The isolation of families in the country as well as those scattered about the city is vastly reduced. That is a big change in the last few years. I am a little envious really having lived so many years in the country in the days before the internet made information readily available.

The blog posts here over the last few years have touched on topics of current interest, or questions raised by parents and I have a fat folder full of notes and ideas just waiting for me to write new posts. Over the years those topics have been wide ranging, from how our gifted students compared to a wider pool, to acceleration, testing, our assumptions about education, what we can learn from eminence, the dangers of over protecting our children, how our expectations affect what we see, perfectionism, skills for the future, happiness, gifted girls, handwriting, programs for our gifted or for our talented students, the selection process for special programs, qualities of effective teachers, the dangers of coasting, advocacy, learning difficulties and many more topics.

As I was reflecting on the last few years of blogging I went back to my very first post. It is titled ‘What is it that parents want for their gifted child?’ Funnily enough I was talking about this very topic at a bookshop talk I gave last week. A parent contacted me after the talk to say it was refreshing to find a focus on a happy child rather than a gifted child simply being expected to be achieve highly. I think the question I asked back in 2009 is as relevant now as it did 3 years ago. I still wonder, as I did then, why is it that parents of gifted children feel somewhat embarrassed if their wish is for a happy child, one who sparkles and finds connection, rather than simply for a stellar student.

I wonder if it is because parents themselves long for the same thing – a sense of wholeness and connection, somewhere safe to talk about their child, to share the successes and highs just as much as the lows with other parents on the same journey.

Despite the rapid changes in technology, some things don’t change very much after all.
Or maybe they do.
Perhaps now we feel more comfortable with the idea that happiness and connection matters above all else.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mind Your Language - the power of little words

During the last year or so I have been taking Italian lessons and, in the process, learning grammar I didn’t learn at school. My school years fell in a window of time when there wasn't a focus on teaching grammar in more than a very basic way. So in learning a new language I am discovering all manner of things about English and the power of different parts of speech to change the intention.

Conjunctions (or 'joining words' as they were when I was at school), for instance, are small but they are clearly not interchangeable. They have the power to completely alter the intention of a statement.

Take for instance the ‘little’ words ‘and’, ‘but’, and ‘or’. Despite their size they are heavy weights.

Consider the impact on a twice exceptional child – a gifted learning disabled child. Our choice of conjunction makes all the difference to their future, at the very least in the short term.

Gifted and learning disabled

Gifted but learning disabled

Gifted or learning disabled

A child who is seen as gifted and learning disabled (or having learning difficulties of some sort) is recognized for both the giftedness and the disability or difficulty. It is reasonable to expect then that both will be catered for, even though the giftedness may be difficult to see when it is masked by the difficulties. Acknowledging both the giftedness and the difficulties means that schools (and parents) will be more likely to look for ways to accommodate both of these differences.

Gifted but learning disabled has a different tone. It almost sounds like an apology. The giftedness might accepted as being present but, oh dear, there is this learning difficulty that means we don’t have to take it too seriously. We won’t expect too much, perhaps not provide too much for either the giftedness or the disability.

Gifted or learning disabled is even more dangerous.  Make a choice. Gifted. Or Learning Disabled. One wins, the other loses. And it is not just that it is one or the other, it is the fact that it is one without the awareness of the impact of the other. If the learning disability is ignored and the child considered gifted, they will struggle in gifted programs and the classroom without accommodations for their disability. Sooner or later doubt will set it, for the child, the teacher or the parents……. Maybe they aren’t gifted after all………. opportunities dry up.

If the giftedness is ignored and remediation put in place using the methods and pacing that would typically be used with less able children, the gifted child is unlikely to be engaged or motivated (either by the pace of the level of content), and gains are likely to be small. Sooner or later this is used to discount the presence of giftedness at all. It becomes self fulfilling and convenient when it is awkward or time consuming trying to solve the problem of why learning is difficult.

If you have a child whose learning needs differ from the mainstream for some reason, listen closely to the words used when there is discussion about your child, their needs and how they can be accommodated.

One little word can speak volumes.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

AAEGT Conference snippets from Adelaide 2012

I posted these snippets on Facebook during the conference, but a few people have asked about them, so I am reposting them here over the next few days, along with a little more detail for some comments.

Reflecting forward
Abraham Lincoln suggested “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”  Jim Watters in his Eminent Australian Address suggests this could be extended now to “The best way to create the future is to predict it.”

Jim reflected on where gifted education has traveled over the last 10 years and offered some insights into the future, for the period of the next 10 years, drawing on research changing views in the world and the field of gifted education, the media and Future Studies.

Jim suggests we need to ‘lay some predictions in the sand‘ and follow them to fruition, so they happen, rather than just seeing what unfolds.

Dyslexia is not just about transposing of letters.  Anne Jackson from Kids Like Us, a Nor For Profit Group, gave a really interesting presentation reinforcing the need to have a history of accommodations in place in order to get the disability recognized with extra time or special provisions (for example a scribe) in TEE exams.

She explained that dyslexia is a neurological, life long condition and it arises from a chromosomal mutation. There is a strong family link, often most evident in male relatives (including uncles). Dyslexia is a spectrum disorder ranging from mild to severe and Twice Exceptional (2E) kids are more prone to depression and anxiety especially during adolescence as a result of the frustration of the condition.

Signs that ‘nothing is working’, when gifted children in particular are not achieving with adequate instruction (i.e. what is sufficient for others to learn) is cause for alarm. While most gifted children will learn to manage to a degree and most will learn to read, some do not and these children may not have their gifts recognized either. Often the difficulties are most evident in high school where the demand increases and the work load in terms of reading and writing increases. Gifted children are often able to mask their difficulties to a degree until the demand increases.

Snippets from Carolyn CallahanDownload the slides from Carolyn's presentations
"If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got."

"As responsible educators we have an obligation to evaluate the programs we implement."

"We must make sure changes we make are good for the child. Put the child at the centre of the decision making, not the convenience of the administration."

"Differentiation is different to a program for gifted, and it is not sufficient on its own."

"Appropriate education fulfils a democratic ethic – not to make everyone the same but to offer equal opportunity to develop and show their gifts."

"Treat them as they are and they will stay as they are. Treat them as they ought to be or could be and they will become what they ought to be or could be."

Updated profiles of the Gifted from Betts and Neihart
These profiles were updated in 2010 to reflect the changes in knowledge over the last 20 years. Much more is known about 2E children in particular, but it is also apparent that the Underground Gifted Child encompasses minority and disadvantaged students not just predominantly girls.
Find Maureen Neihart’s presentation slides here

Questioning Preschoolers
Rosalind Walsh presented on her research indicating the way we question preschoolers has a significant impact on the complexity of their responses (and may communicate our expectations of them in subtle ways) . The Williams Model is a useful tool for differentiating questioning BUT it needs preparation. You probably cant develop questions ‘on the run’ while reading a story using Williams. Which means differentiation for early childhood (as at any point), requires planning.

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