Turning Theory into Practice #5 – What can bibliotherapy look like with gifted children?

Turning Theory into Practice #5 – What can bibliotherapy look like with gifted children?

Tracy Alley, in the June edition of Parenting for High Potential (PHP), has a very good article concerning the use of picture books to meet the social-emotional needs of your elementary aged students. She throws out several suggestions for books such as I Am Enough by Grace Byers, The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein, and We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio.

This process is known as bibliotherapy, and Alley sets the mood in her classroom by having the students gather around on the floor in a mock campfire setting. She also provides some general questions you can ask of students when talking about the book:

  1. How did the character resolve or fix the situation?

  2. Could you connect with the main character’s feelings? If so, when did you make the connection?

  3. Many events happened in the story. Has anything similar happened to you or a friend?

  4. Have you ever experienced (insert emotion, like sadness, happiness, guilt, regret, jealousy) like the character in the story? Do you want to share what that experience was like?

  5. Did the character in the story handle the situation in a good way? If so, how? If not, what could have changed the outcome– through action or emotional response?

  6. How would you have handled the situation?

Lots of great tools for doing this with students in the classroom. In an effort to turn theory into practice, here is a lesson plan of what you might do with students concerning bibliotherapy specific to gifted students.

Learning objectives:

To have students ponder why someone might not want to use their gifts as a learner (underachievement).

What Is the Difference Between Bright and Gifted?

What Is the Difference Between Bright and Gifted?

Oftentimes, gifted kids are referred to as being bright. We want to be careful when labeling them with this because it is not always accurate. You see, a bright child is someone who has the following qualities:

  • Is attentive

  • Works hard

  • Learns with ease

  • Enjoys peers

  • Love school

  • Is a people pleaser

  • Is good at following direction

  • Is compliant

That’s a pretty good list and one that any teacher would give part of their paycheck if all students in their classes were of this quality. But this is not necessarily the gifted child. In fact, many times the gifted child can have a clear distinction to the quality:

There are a few clear distinctions between the two. For instance, the bright child is a hard worker, while the gifted child tests well. That does not mean that all gifted children do not work hard, but what it does mean is that some gifted children do not have to work hard in order to achieve good grades. As a result, some of these gifted children have learned not how to work hard, but how to hardly work. And who can blame them?

Lessons to Be Learned from the New York City School System Gifted Dilemma

Lessons to Be Learned from the New York City School System Gifted Dilemma

When word broke that NYC schools were considering 86ing all of their gifted programming, I was livid. After all, I have spent my entire career fighting for the rights of gifted students and making sure they have specialized services for their unique abilities. Then I began to read some of the articles debating the topic and like most things in life, found that things were not so cut and dry.

The major problem is that there is no good guy or bad guy in this situation. Both sides have very legitimate arguments. On one side of the argument are those who would seek to discontinue gifted programming. The rationale is that the programs are predominately white and Asian, even though the NYC school system is 75% black and Hispanic. These programs have created a very “have and have not” atmosphere, with those who can afford it getting help in being accepted (a la college admissions scandal), or who are just more knowledgeable about the system and know how to play it to give their child advantages over others.

The problem is not in their argument but in who they are arguing against. They are pointing the finger at the programs themselves and want to discontinue them. The problem is the admission policy to get into these programs. 

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.