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…

Balancing Content Standards with Real-World Learning

Balancing Content Standards with Real-World Learning

Do We All Need to Read “Hatchet”?

I was attending a middle school book fair and was perusing the shelves for something to purchase. There were the usual Harry Potter series, multiple items from Rick Riordan, and lots of books that alarmingly have more pictures than print in them. There sitting on the shelf, was this book without the usual supernatural vampires who know magic and live in a dystopian future. It was simply what looked like the image of an ax. I was quickly corrected as I read the title to be “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen. This was a book that was very familiar to me, having seen it on the shelves in many classrooms over the 22 years of my teaching career or in the hands of many a middle school boy. I had even been at a conference the week before where one of the presenters was using “Hatchet” as an example of how to teach depth and complexity. I thought to myself,

Why have I never read this book before?

This was a bit perplexing. The book came out in 1987 when I would have just been entering high school. Even then I was an avid reader, often drowning out my chemistry or Geometry teachers as I read the latest Stephen King book at my desk. Not only that, it was the ultimate boy’s book. While the more popular books of that era were geared towards girls such as VC Andrews and Judy Blume, here was a book that every red-blooded boy should want to read, and yet I hadn’t. What had I been missing out on in life because I had not yet read this book? What advantages did those who had read it hold over me? What would I say if anyone ever asked me if I had read the book at a conference or dinner party? 

These pangs of guilt caused me to snatch it from the shelf and quickly buy it before anyone had figured out I was doing so because I had not read it before. In my continued shame, I would only read the book in private, not wanting anyone to find out the horrendous truth. The further and further I read, the less concerned I became. About a quarter of the way through the book I realized, I really didn’t need to have read “Hatchet.” Sure, it is a pretty well-written book, and I was enjoying it, but if I had never seen it that day at the book fair, would my life had been the less for it? 

I decided that no. I had survived my first 46 years of my life without having read the book and seemed to be doing just fine. I am positive I could have gone another 46 without reading it and have been great too. Well, as long as I don’t go down in a plane and crash in the woods in the wintertime. 

This got me thinking. How important is it for students to be learning all of the content they are learning? 

Theory vs. Practice in Teaching

Theory vs. Practice in Teaching

The challenge of going into the administration side of teaching is that there becomes this separation between theory and practice. While you are teaching in the classroom, it is all about practice, practice, practice. What worked today, what didn’t, what could I have done better, what will I never try again. You are living the practice. It is constant trial and error as you search for what you think works and once you find something that does, you usually hold onto it for dear life.

When you make a move to administration, you get to pull back a little and have the opportunity to look at the big picture since you no longer have to focus so much on the day-to-day activities. You are no longer in charge of a single classroom; you are responsible for a system. Because of this, you get into the theory side of things. Wouldn’t it be great if teaching looked like this, how would students be affected if we tried this innovative teaching strategy, why don’t teachers ever try this? You read a lot of books, you go to a lot of conferences, and you hear about all of these amazing educational theories that look great on paper. And you think to yourself, “If I were back in the classroom I would do things differently.”  

This mismatch of theory and practice is problematic because so many of the teaching experts and innovators, aren’t actually in the classroom anymore. The gap between theory and practice then becomes larger and larger each year you are out of the classroom. How do these people know their theory can actually be put into practice if they themselves are not practicing?

I have been reading a lot of educational theory books. Each one is better than the previous and my head is just bursting with great ideas as a result. The more I read, the more I think how I could have been running my classroom so much better. How my classroom, like most, was more about compliance than guiding students how to love to learn.

I got an opportunity then. We had a teacher call in sick at the last minute and we had no substitute coverage. I volunteered to take the class for the first half of the day until a sub could be procured…

Space Program Is Ultimate Problem-Based Learning

Space Program Is Ultimate Problem-Based Learning

The film First Man has recently come through theatres and tells the story of how Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. Of course, this event is the very ending of the movie. Prior to this are all of the things that had to come before this great accomplishment could be achieved. The most eye-opening thing for me was in seeing all of the failures of the mission. There is failure by Armstrong when he is test-piloting a plane. Failure as the astronauts are subjected to a device where they are spun in all sorts of directions and have to make it stable before passing out, often times throwing up at the end (that would not be good in a space helmet).

The tragedy of the crew of Apollo 1 dying in a fire was certainly not a success. There was the time Armstrong was testing the Lunar Landing Research Vehicle and had to eject moments before it would have killed him. It seems like there are far more failures than there are successes. But then that’s the point of it all, isn’t it? Like Armstrong himself says in the movie, “We need to fail. We need to fail down here, so we don’t fail up there.” A failure up there results in lives being lost. A failure down here is a learning opportunity…

10 Myths of Gifted Kids

10 Myths of Gifted Kids

There is a myth that surrounds the gifted child. That they are super smart, that they can figure out anything, that they have all the answers. The problem with these representations is that that giftedness becomes like a gimmick, so when we are faced with a real gifted child, we expect them to do unrealistic, amazing things like some sort of parlor trick. 

There are many myths about gifted children but here are ten of the more common ones:

1.) Gifted children will succeed in life no matter what

This one can be problematic because if one believes this, as many do, the thinking becomes that gifted children do not need any specialized education aimed at their abilities. What then happens is the gifted child becomes bored because he is not being challenged and becomes turned off by school. 

2.) Gifted children love school and get high grades

What it should read is gifted children love to learn. The problem is that sometimes, what children want to learn and what school is offering can be two very different things. If a child is not willing to play the game of school, the grades might not reflect his ability.