The Importance of the First Day of School

The Importance of the First Day of School

When the first day of school rolled around this year, there was a positive buzz in the air. Kids had been away for three months and were excited to see friends again. There were plenty of smiles and hugs, and the attitude was full of enthusiasm, a bounce in most everyone’s step. Kids were actually excited about school and what their year would look like. 

I decided rather than sit at my desk all day which is how I pass most of my days, I was going to go around to various classrooms and see this excitement carried over into the classroom. I would get to see students have their pent-up summer-long curiosity satiated.

I started first with a science class. I thought maybe the teacher would be doing a cool experiment or something of the like to excite kids about science. I was shocked that the teacher was going through a PowerPoint while students passively sat there. What might have made it not so bad was if the teacher were talking about all of the amazing science they were going to be covering for the year or an introduction to their first unit. Instead, it was an hour of going over the rules and guidelines of the class. Mostly what you could not do, should not do, and may not do. There was no interaction, no ownership, and no engagement. I didn’t last more than a few minutes before the alchemy of the class turned the lids of my eyes into lead. 

I had to shake this off before I was snoring, so I got up and walked into a language arts class and sat down, a large smile stretched across my face for this was a subject I liked a bit better. I couldn’t wait to hear what books students had read over the summer or what stories they were interested in writing. Instead, students were sitting at their desks being lectured to how to put their binder together. They were instructed which color folders to pull out, what to put on the label that went inside the tab on the folder, and what order to put them in. It was micromanaging at its very finest, and I felt like they were training secretaries rather than working with kids. There was no choice in the matter; students were to follow the directions they were given to a tee.

It continued on throughout the entire first day, guidelines about the bus, expectations in the cafeteria, how to walk down the hall properly, there were even signs in the bathrooms informing one of the proper way to behave in the urinal. The kids went to gym and recess and instead of being allowed to run around and expend some of this burgeoning energy they had brought with them, they were talked at about the rules. 

I’m not saying kids don’t need boundaries and I certainly understand the importance of setting expectations on the first day of school in order to have a smoother rest of the year, but at what cost? These kids came to school with an excitement, an eagerness to get back to school and learn, and we sucked the very anticipation out of them. They were begging for engagement and we gave them passiveness. They looked for inspiration; we provided only indignation. 

It is tough enough for students to remain stoked about going to school. Why should we beat it out of them on the very first day? Shouldn’t we be providing activities that tap into this, engagement that inspires them to want to learn more, inquiry that makes them curious in order to get the year started on the right foot? This love of learning is way more important than order. 

What if, on the first day of school, we don’t worry about the rules and regulations? What if, on the first day of school, we try to get the kids excited about learning? 

Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #4 – Encouraging Higher Level Questions by Your Gifted Child

Turning Teaching Theory into Practice #4 – Encouraging Higher Level Questions by Your Gifted Child

In the April edition of Gifted Child Quarterly, there was an article by Jennifer A. Ritchotte and Hasan Y. Zaghlawan coaching parents to use higher-level questioning with twice-exceptional students. Although the focus was 2e, this strategy can be employed by any parent of any gifted child. After all, gifted children come to higher level questioning quite naturally on their own in the form of the billions of questions they ask. “Why is this the way it is? How does that work? Where did that come from?” And yes, it can be annoying to field these questions at times, but this spirit of questioning is something of which we want to be fanning the flames, not smothering.

Ritchotte and Zaghlawan do a fine job of giving parents a brief tutorial on how to use Bloom’s Taxonomy to ratchet up the levels of their questions to their children but it can be made even more simple by using two words; “how” and “why”. When your child proudly shows you a picture she has drawn, don’t just simply praise her artistic nature, ask her why she made the choices she did. Or when he marvels about a butterfly, ask him how he thinks it is able to maintain flight. These simple how and why questions do one thing; they cause your child to pause long enough to think about something. This is the habit we want to get them into. Pizza is your favorite food? Why is that? You managed to win at Candyland? How do you think you were able to accomplish that? By asking these questions consistently, your child just comes to expect it and thus is always thinking about the why and how of their actions.

Better than you the parent asking the questions is getting to the point where your child is the one asking the higher-level questions.

Why 8 Kids Tying at the Scripps Spelling Bee is a Wonderful Thing

Why 8 Kids Tying at the Scripps Spelling Bee is a Wonderful Thing

A couple of months ago eight participants at the Scripps National Spelling Bee were crowned co-champions. There had been ties before, but never eight of them. These eight spellers went through 20 rounds without making a mistake. Eventually, the organizers of the competition admitted they no longer had any words that were going to challenge these amazing competitors and declared it an eight-way tie.

I think there is a valuable lesson in this. We live in a “best culture” where we recognize the best in everything, even things where it is difficult to determine this—such as the best picture or the best athlete in a team sport. We celebrate the best and by doing so, give short shrift to individuals who have worked hard to get to the levels they are at. Isn’t is a pretty big accomplishment to receive a bronze medal at the Olympics? Hasn’t a team had a lot of success if they make it to the playoffs but do not win? Does one have to be the best in order to have accomplished something amazing? 

I am a big proponent for academic competitions. I think everyone has their skills and strengths. Some of these are athletic in nature, some of them are academic. In a school environment where we are constantly acknowledging students for their athletic prowess with trophies in the entry hall, banners hanging in the gym, and even signs at the city limits when someone achieves state champions, why isn’t there more about academic achievements? The morning announcements are rife with sporting accomplishments and yet you do not hear as many of these referring to academics, the thing schools should be touting the most. After all, that is their major purpose for existing. 

As much as possible I try to take students to academic competitions. Model United NationsMATHCOUNTS, Invention Convention, Destination Imagination, Word Masters, and a slew of others. I want students to recognize that they have academic strengths by displaying them in a public forum and be honored for them. The thing that I always struggle with however is that at these competitions we must crown a single champion. There were times I would be sitting in the stands, beaming with pride at the awesome skit my Destination Imagination Team had produced, only to watch their excitement be crushed when they weren’t deemed 1st place finishers. I often thought, why do we need to narrow it down to one? Why can’t we honor all of those who did an excellent job? Same with the spelling bees I have judged. There are many worthy spellers, but due to a combination of luck and chance, only one wins. 

This is what we teach our students though when we partake in class rankings and award a single valedictorian who had the highest GPA. It creates an unhealthy competition that pits students against one another rather than having them challenge themselves. I think class rankings are an outdated practice especially given that not all GPAs are created the same.

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.