Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #3 – Teaching the Skill of Notetaking to Gifted Students

Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #3 – Teaching the Skill of Notetaking to Gifted Students

We often read or hear of methods to help students study. Many include reviewing their notes, such using the SOAR method that involves

Selecting and noting the critical lesson information

Organizing it using graphic organizers such as hierarchies, sequences, matrices, and illustrations

Associating it with other information, both inside and outside the lesson

Regulating learning through self-testing

The SOAR Method is all very well and good, but the student must capture the information in the notes in the first place. If the student comes home and is missing large concepts that were shared in class, they are not going to have the foundation they need in order to learn the material. How do we turn the SOAR method into a practice—we teach notetaking first.

The way notes are usually organized is as a collection of facts, but not thoughts. This can run contrary to gifted students who are constantly thinking, sometimes to the detriment of their paying attention and getting what they need to get. The teacher has brought up something, the gifted student begins to wonder about all the cause and effects of such a thing, meanwhile the teacher has moved on to something else important that the student is now missing. How do we allow gifted students to capture what they need, but still allow them to explore their thoughts and feelings? What if we taught them a notetaking method that provided them with the ability to collect the information, but also the opportunity to give their thoughts or insights to the information?

I was always very purposeful in teaching my students how to take notes. Part of the reason is because I got all the way through high school and into college without anyone showing me how to take proper notes. I just listened in class and captured enough of the material in my head in order to pass the test. Unfortunately when I got to college, I discovered this was no longer going to work. I remember my very first class in a lecture hall with 300 students, the professor began to speak and, like Pavlov’s dogs, 299 of them opened up a notebook and began to scribble furiously. I on the other hand sat there wondering what everyone was doing. It was then I determined I would have to learn to take notes in order to survive. I didn’t want any of my students to find themselves in that position, so even for young 3rd graders, I made sure they knew how to take notes.

I always liked to present my students with choices. I would show them the outlining method of notetaking, one of the more commonly used, where ideas were organized in sections and subsections. I presented the mapping method for my more visual learners, during which students place a concept in a bubble and then attach terms and examples that connect to the concept But the method I always made sure to show my gifted students was the Cornell Method.

What Does It Mean to Be Almost Gifted?

What Does It Mean to Be Almost Gifted?

The starting point for the question of what defines someone as almost gifted would be answering what it means to be gifted and working backwards from there. Although there is no universally accepted definition of gifted, there have been lines drawn in the sand to enable school districts to identify those students who have high ability. Typically the identification of gifted students are those in the top 5% of a nationally normed test. If a student scores in the 95th percentile or higher, she is given the label of gifted. The tests that are used vary from state to state as each state has its own approved list of assessments that can be used to identify gifted students.

There are two types of tests a typical district would give. Some are subject specific tests that look at reading, math, and even social studies and science. These are called achievement tests and are a reflection of what students have learned and how this compares with their peers. If a student were to be in the top 5% of everyone who took the test in math, then he would be considered gifted in the subject area of math. The second type of tests are cognitive tests that can give a good idea of whether a student is adept at thinking outside of the box. Cognitive tests such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), Otis Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT), In View, CogAT, the Stanford Binet, and the Woodcock Johnson can be used to determine a child’s School Ability Index (SAI). Students who are higher than the 95th percentile are deemed superior cognitive and thus gifted.

These tests are based on academics, but as the National Society for Gifted and Talented (NSGT) indicates, performance and accomplishment is also important. There are other methods of identification of gifted that can measure this performance and accomplishment such as creative thinking ability, visual performing arts, psychomotor which is athletics and how coordinated one is, and some states have even taken to measuring the leadership ability of students. But these are not as widely used as the specific content and cognitive tests.  

Cognitive tests are a greater indicator of student potential because it is a measure of intelligence, not content specific.

Good Teaching Translates into Any Language

Good Teaching Translates into Any Language

I recently had the good fortune to be invited to present at the Hawker Brownlow Education Thinking & Learning Conference in Melbourne, Australia. I had never been to the Eastern Hemisphere before, but at least the language would be familiar to me so I wouldn’t be too much out of my comfort zone and so was very much looking forward to the experience.

When I arrived Down Under, I noticed that there were slight differences between our cultures. For instance, there are small changes in the names of products. I saw the familiar icon of the Burger King sign, only to see that here it was called Hungry Jack’s. In the cereal aisle of the grocery store, I was perplexed at the box that said Rice Bubbles instead of Rice Krispies. When I ate in a restaurant and received my bill, there was no spot for me to add a tip. The money was made of plastic, and it took me forever to figure out that the smaller, gold coins actually represent dollars and the larger silver coins are worth far less. And I won’t mention my panic when, on arrival at the airport terminal, I sincerely thought our bus was going to crash into an oncoming car. Driving on the other side of the road would take some getting used to – fortunately I’d not be climbing behind the wheel this trip.

When the conference started, I was working with teachers on a variety of topics including gifted education, project-based learning, authentic strategies and 21st century skills. There were times when I would state something and I would get corrected in a friendly manner. “We actually do it differently here,” I was told when I brought up something that was fairly common in the States. But the more I worked with these teachers, the more I realised that despite slight differences, the practice of good teaching was exactly the same.

The Humility of Being the Coordinator and Parent of a Gifted Child

The Humility of Being the Coordinator and Parent of a Gifted Child

Part of my vocation is working with parents and trying to help them to figure out how to best work with the uniqueness of their gifted child. It is really easy to delve out advice when it is someone else’s child. To allay their fears that these quirks are just the natural order of having a gifted child and to not be concerned when one of their over-excitabilities kicks in. 

Many gifted children, not all, have what are called over-excitabilities. There are five of these:

• Psychomotor – a heightened excitability of the neuromuscular system, which can include a “capacity for being active and energetic.”

• Sensual – a heightened experience of sensual pleasure or displeasure emanating from sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.

• Intellectual – demonstrated by a marked need to seek understanding and truth, to gain knowledge, and to analyze and synthesize.

• Imaginational – a heightened play of the imagination with a rich association of images and impressions, frequent use of image and metaphor, facility for invention and fantasy, detailed visualization, and elaborate dreams.

• Emotional – heightened, intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, identification with others’ feelings, and strong affective expression

There are various strategies for helping to cope with these such as providing time for spontaneity, creating an environment free of offensive stimuli, helping them to use their imagination to function in the real world, and accepting their feelings. 

Over the years, I have shared these various strategies with parents of gifted students who have their over-excitabilities. For example, I once had a mother bring in her 5th grade son to explain to me that he might act tired in class because he didn’t get any sleep. When I asked her why, she explained he was worried about people in Africa who were starving. I have had other students who became very emotional with almost no provocation, or students who seem hyperactive, or those who just won’t just a question they are pondering go. 

But what happens when it is your own child? It isn’t so easy then. I found myself in this position with my younger daughter. She has the sensual over-excitability. How this manifests itself is that she is very particular about the clothing she is willing to wear. To the point where she found a pair of underwear she liked and wore them for nine days. She wears the same four outfits even though she has drawers full of clothing with the price tags still attached. She doesn’t like having any ties around her waist and yet likes her pants a size bigger than they out to be, meaning she often is holding up her pants by holding them.

Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #2 – Finding Meaningful Collaboration

Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #2 – Finding Meaningful Collaboration

A lot of times in the educational discussion we can get bogged down in the theory, and it simply is not user-friendly for teachers practicing in the field. This blog will seek to translate some of the theory surrounding gifted education and how to use it practically in your classroom.

In the May edition of Teaching for High Potential, Christine Dietz has an interesting article titled “All For One: The Essential Art of Collaboration”. In the article, a teacher of gifted finds colleagues in her district also in gifted and is purposeful about collaborating with them. They find ways to connect with one another whether it be over the internet or through mobile text, sometimes organizing meetings and providing resources.

This is a valuable idea, but how does it translate into practice? How does one find people to collaborate with, especially teachers of gifted who sometimes live a very lonely existence? There have been several folks who work with gifted students who tell me they are not just the only one doing this in their school or district, but sometimes the entire county. I actually had someone call me from Illinois, two states over, because she needed someone to talk to about gifted. Just a conversation with me made her feel more relaxed in her role in gifted education because as she said, “it’s nice to know I’m not alone”.

Even within a district it can be lonely to be the gifted intervention specialist. They often either are isolated in a resource room where kids come to them like children to a divorced parent without any communication between the two adults, or they are shuffling between so many buildings that it is nearly impossible to get to even know other staff members’ names. When it comes to collaboration, you definitely have to make a concerted effort to do so.

One possibility is that if you have other gifted folks who teach in your district, make efforts to meet with one another even if not in the same building. This could be a gathering at a Panera before school, during school at shared professional development time, or after school at happy hour. Having someone to talk to can be very cathartic as well and you’ll pick up any tips they may be able to provide.

What Is the Purpose of College? Knowing the risks and rewards associated with a college major including future job opportunities

What Is the Purpose of College? Knowing the risks and rewards associated with a college major including future job opportunities

I have a 17-year-old daughter who is graduating from high school this year. We did the typical barnstorming tour of visiting various colleges she was considering, spent hours getting her application together, and crossed our fingers while waiting to hear what institutions had accepted her. Her going to college though was not really a decision, but rather a foregone conclusion. It was just the expectation. And why was this? Because like many, our family has bought into the notion that one has to go to a university if they are going to find a good job. That college is the gateway to bigger and better things. It is just a stepping stone that one has to hop on before moving on to their real lives. And if one doesn’t go to college, that person’s in for a world of difficulty finding a good job.

But is that really the truth? Does one absolutely have to go to college? Is it necessary to be successful in life? It used to be a few decades ago that one could learn a vocation and then when they graduated from high school, they could enter the field of which they trained. These jobs are drying up, however. As more automation takes the work of manual laborers or these skilled jobs are shipped overseas to save money, jobs are becoming more and more specialized. If you want an excellent book to read on this topic, check out Brian Alexander’s “Glass House: the 1% Economy and the Shattering of an All-American Town.”

Because of this, it is difficult to train for such a profession. Colleges have convinced the public that they are now the vocational schools and without going, it will be challenging to find a good job. Why have they sold us on this story? Lest us not forget that colleges are a business. Unlike public school systems which operate as a non-profit, sinking in any overage back into the education of kids, colleges are in it to make money. Just take a look at the latest college admissions scandal where parents were bribing officials to guarantee admittance into their university. Why would parents spend that much money? Because they believe that by their child getting into a prestigious college, it guarantees success later in life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #1 – Fostering Leadership in the Gifted Classroom

Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #1 – Fostering Leadership in the Gifted Classroom

In the article “A Longitudinal Case Study of Exceptional Leadership Talent” by Thomas P. Hébert published in the January 2019 edition of Gifted Child Quarterly, Hébert followed a single student from his elementary years thru entering the workforce and witnessed the development of his leadership skills. Hébert saw four factors that were responsible for shaping this person into a dynamic leader. They were:

  1. Family factors and support

  2. Emotional intelligence

  3. Practical intelligence

  4. Internal motivation

The question becomes, what can you as a teacher do to foster and develop leadership in your classroom? This can be tricky because leadership is one of those soft skills that in this day and age of data and standardized testing, often gets pushed to the side. But, there are definitely things that you can do in your classroom that will allow those students with giftedness in leadership to develop.

The beginning of the article makes an argument for nature versus nurture; are people born leaders or is it something they learn? The truth of course is somewhere in the middle. Of course, there is not much as a teacher you can do concerning the first of these--family factors and support. Our gifted students come from all sorts of family dynamics. Short of adopting a student, you have no control over how a family supports this child or sets a good example. For instance, Hébert’s subject, L.J., had a father who acted as a role model for successful leadership. You, as the teacher, can have a modest influence. As teachers, we are often the leaders in our classrooms and modeling leadership for our students. We do this by being organized, having confidence in our subject areas, and managing our classrooms well.

Here are five things you can practice with your students to help develop their leadership skills.

  1. Put them in authentic, high pressure situations

As much as possible, provide performance assessment for students where they have to either publically speak or present. The number two fear people have (number one being spiders) is public speaking.

Why We Need Authentic Learning More than Ever Right Now

Why We Need Authentic Learning More than Ever Right Now

The basic definition of learning is the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or being taught. But let’s face it. All learning is not the same. Think back to your own learning experiences. There are some moments that stand out from the rest as being a game changer or as being particularly meaningful. When you imagine these moments, what are you seeing? I can pretty much guarantee what you are not seeing. You are not remembering the time you were sitting there filling in a bubble sheet on a test or completing a worksheet. You are also probably not remembering reading a textbook or having a teaching lecture to you. The things you are most likely remembering are authentic learning. These are moments of learning where you make connections from the learning to the real world. The stronger you can make these connections to your own life, the more meaningful it will be for you. The more authentic the experience, the most significant the learning is going to be. 

Here is the problem with today’s school system. They are not setting up a whole lot of authentic experiences. Instead, we teach students inside a bubble and do not make the connections that will make the learning more meaningful. Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmithencapsulate the problem with schools very poignantly with an example. The example is learning to ride a bike. I remember learning to ride a bike most vividly even though it is an event that happened over thirty years ago. My dad sat me on the bike, encouraging me and letting me get my balance by holding onto it. Then all of a sudden, he shoved me down the road. I felt like I was going a hundred miles an hour, my dad getting smaller in the distance. There was no training wheels, no knee pads, no helmet to protect me. I either steered that bike correctly or I was going to be in a world of hurt. And guess what, I learned how to ride that bike. Guess what else. I have never forgotten how to ride that bike. It was an enduring lesson for me, transcending the moment and providing me with a lifetime authentic lesson. 

Wagner and Dintersmith provide an example of what learning to ride a bike would look like in the traditional United States school system. It would start by students learning all of the parts of the bike. I’m not sure how useful that information has ever been to me in my bike riding history, but from there, they might learn the history of bikes, learn the physics of how the gears and chain work to propel the bike, might watch other people riding a bike, and test the effectiveness of various bikes. In no part of this learning would anyone actually be riding a bike, experiencing that authentic lesson. We would then send these students out into the world with all the confidence that what we have taught them will enable them to ride a bike on their own. Of course, many of these students will fail. They will fall off the bike, not know how to keep their balance, or not even be able to get onto one. But enough of them will figure it out for themselves that we will deem or educational system a success, ignoring the fact that these students would have been successful no matter what. 

When I walk into classrooms, I see a lot of teachers telling kids how to ride a bike or expecting them to know without providing them with the authentic experience…