Does New Educational Lingo Impede Progress?

Does New Educational Lingo Impede Progress?

Every few years, new educational buzzwords seem to surface.  I remember first noticing this when we were in the third year of running a district wide Parent Support Group for families with Talented and Gifted students. In the third year of our existence, 2013,  a new instructional services person was hired. She was not new to the district but new to the position. It became entirely clear that she was not in favor of our efforts to support these students with more challenge, awareness and opportunities. After several repeated invitations, she finally came to our meeting and used the new common core state standards as an excuse to not provide students at our middle school with honors classes in language and the sciences, stating that the common core standards would support gifted learners because they were more rigorous. She also used the word “unpacking”. It was at that point she really lost me…….Unpacking???? What the heck? Did she mean getting used to? Starting to use? Implementing?  Now, looking back I assume she meant all of the above but her use of the word unpacking as applied to the Common Core State Standards, really turned me off. It was probably done so intentionally, as she might have assumed we parents did not “understand” what was needed in terms of time or effort from the district educators in getting used to the new standards. I, for one, did understand. I also understood, it was an excuse. I mean, really, who enjoys unpacking anything?


Thankfully, this person is no longer with our district. Unfortunately, her exit was only accomplished after she had time to wreck some damage with decisions that affected every student at our high school with a grade policy change in the summer/fall of 2016. When I asked, early that fall,  about the research and reasoning behind this grade policy change, which constituted 80% summative assessments, and 20% formative assessments, I was able to surmise that there was none. It was an arbitrary decision meant to “standardize” grading. Over the last two years, and after some analysis, I can honestly say it did nothing of the kind.  Other ways were found to manipulate grades such as the use of a multiplier (which was previously, almost always left at 1.0, but had now started to be used to increase or decrease weight of assignments and assessments). Some weird numbers were inserted for the multiplier on digital grading system, such as 2.67 or .43!  It just did not make sense and certainly young high schools students did not see the impact these numerical changes made on their grades, if they were even aware of them!  I can barely remember the correct name for this statistical tool – the multiplier – because in my head, I have equated it with being a “manipulator”.  All this from an educator who talked the lingo, such as “unpacking”, but really did not recognize (or maybe, did not care about) the impact arbitrary or poorly considered decisions can have on students.


The development and use of educational lingo has been around for decades. As with any discipline, terms develop and evolve according to the needs of those involved in the profession.  I know due to my recent forage into the field of Environmental Education – talk about an evolution of terms!  Anyway, I remember when my mom was still teaching back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and the terms inclusive and inclusiveness came into use. Certainly, these terms have stood the test of time in an educational capacity. However, you can be sure that when they were first utilized there was skepticism and uncertainty about how they were to be implemented. I vividly remember my mom having severely handicapped children placed in her “general education” third grade class without much additional support.  It took awhile for systems to recognize that while inclusiveness is good and necessary, it also deemed increased support for those teaching in an inclusive setting. Fortunately, I do think we have arrived at that point.  But, for my mom, it was the beginning of the end.  It took a while for the implementation to catch up with the phrase. She got out because the transition was not fast enough.


For years now we have been hearing about equity, another “educational buzzword”.  My first educational exposure to this word was when my eldest son was a young elementary student and I served on PTO. The principal at the school used the term during a discussion at one of our meetings, stating that equity is not the same as equality.  Given the fact that my son is now almost 24 years old, this was a wise piece of information for our principal to impart.  In fact, my own experience in K-12 education tells me that we still have not reached equitable experiences for all of our students and I have started to educate myself on that very subject.  And, while I did not have the chance to use my examples when I interviewed recently for a school board seat, you can be sure I went armed with them.  Sometimes, the pendulum swings so widely that we end up causing inequities for other groups of  students while we were trying to provide equity for those most in need. This applies to co-curricular offerings, community experiences, internships, and more – not just academics.  While the term equity has been around longer, it is still misunderstood by some of those who use it and therefore, remains a buzzword in education.  In other words, it makes you sound like you know what you are talking about when you really do not.

The Newest Terms

More recently, we are hearing the terms culturally sensitive and trauma informed.  I would consider both of these phrases educational buzzwords at the current time. They are new and have not passed the test of time like inclusiveness and equity.  Cultural sensitivity and trauma informed education are the popular subjects of books, discussions, and district personnel trying to find ways to reach all of our students – especially those that come from more difficult backgrounds or from outside what is considered to be the mainstream.  Reaching all students, especially those with challenges, is certainly an admirable goal, so I am not faulting the premise behind the development or use of these words.  Time will be the judge as the implementation is initiated, carried out, and tested.

In the fall of 2016, while in graduate school for environmental education I had to do a project that included forming a focus group on cultural interpretation that had to do with the administration of our lessons.  The largest minority group of students at the elementary school where I led a garden club for the past 13 years (2004-2017) were Hmong. I wanted to look at the proportion of Hmong students joining garden club and how I could serve this population of students/families better, as well as how we could learn from them. The Hmong tradition includes a great deal of involvement in gardening already. Could this be a reason few joined the garden club? This was only one of several questions posed.  I would have to say this was a “culturally sensitive” area to pursue. My focus group included building administrators, past and present, teachers retired and current, and our retired librarian, as well as the ESL (the English as a Second Language) teacher. The problem with this, however, is that none of the ideas that formed as a result of the focus group were ever implemented. I did the work for a class, the teachers and administrators supported my work, but we never moved forward with any of it.

I fear that might often be the case with new educational lingo. The words are developed or altered to fit our educational systems, book studies are done, discussions are held, parameters or action plans might even be developed, and then – nothing. We continue down the same path that was there before.

Admittedly, I do not know much about the trauma informed model of education that is evolving now. From what I do know, it makes sense to support students who have had trauma affect their lives differently than a student who has not had those life altering experiences. But, where do we draw the line? The potential problem I see with this is that not all student trauma is visible. It might not be the death of a parent, a house fire, a crime, or any other horrendous act that is traumatic for a student. We might not ever know every child in our classrooms that is affected by trauma. A good place to start, then, might be how to recognize trauma in all its shapes and sizes.  When it comes down to it, we might all have some traumatic incident in our lives that impedes learning. So, I have reservations about this newest phrase in the world of educational lingo and how it will be woven into current systems.


Does new educational lingo impede progress in our educational systems? I do not have the answer. In some cases, I think it does. Certainly,  in the case of the educator who used the word “unpacking”  used it as a divider, a distractor, and an excuse, it did.  In that case, yes, an impediment to our goals as a Talented and Gifted Parent support group was put in place by the “lingo”.  But, then you look at the word inclusive and how its understanding has helped to provide for many students over  a generation, and one becomes not so sure.

Words are important. In fact, words themselves play a huge a role in education.  We would be wise to pick ones that do not impede student learning by being caught up in how they are defined or put into action. The more time spent on that means less time for teaching. While it is important to continually evolve education to provide for all scenarios in the human condition, it is equally important to ensure the students who are in school now do not get passed by because of districts wanting to be on the newest wave of educational lingo.


Lessons from a Home Maker Space

Lessons from a Home Maker Space

Just over a year ago, my husband bought a 3D printer for our house. Really, it was bought for my 18-year-old who will graduate from HS in a few months. He’s our inventor, our experimenter, our dreamer.  Over the course of the last year, he’s put the 3D printer to good use.  He played with it enough to learn how to use it well. He’s read tutorials, been on forums, and even fixed it a time or two when one of the axis’ seemed off or the thermostat was not functioning. He’s patient. He is persistent and he perseveres. He’s self-taught. And, he’s great at using the printer, the software that goes with it, and our CNC machine – another “toy” out in my  husband’s shop.


Miniature versions of Groot have been made, some to keep and some to give away.  Car parts have been made as a custom order from a referral made by a friend at the high school. A vacuum table accessory has been developed and more, just by learning and persisting with a new tool, new knowledge, and practicing new skills.


He did not give up when things got hard. Instead, he tried to figure out the problem – and fix it – whether it was software or hardware based. It’s been fun watching him learn with enthusiasm.


And, this experience says a lot about learning. None of the skills he is using are measured at school. There is nowhere to apply them there with the exception of the art class with a very flexible teacher who let him carve a notebook cover of a wolf instead of sketching one for his notebook.  That was so cool!  Even the computer science course being taken now and the AP physics course of last year did not allow application of these skills.  But, he learned them anyway – because he wanted to.  Free of grades, free of judgment, free of the demand to be “right” with his answers every single time.  It seems he has been able to go beyond the walls and narrow tunnel traversing that traditional teaching and learning environment. Instead, he has become able to direct his own engagement in absorbing new material and the manner in which that is done.  The 3D printer and our home maker space has allowed my son to feel accomplished and have pride in what he has learned and produced.

School used to be the way kids obtained these feelings about their skill sets. Maybe it still is the path for “in the box” thinkers or traditional learners. But, the ability to think critically. learn from one’s mistakes without fear of a poor grade or drop in GPA, and continue forward, are traits we want all our children to have by the time they are adults. Where they acquire them should be secondary.  The home maker space, 3-D printer, CNC machine (on which he is also self-taught and produced products), and table saw have been essential for learning and making our son not only college ready,  but life ready.  I am glad we could provide these tools. He’s used them well with only the guidance of his own intelligence, drive, and dreams.

Now we have in-depth conversations about the synthetic production of body part replacement or web-based companies for products made on these machines that he has continued to master.  He is inspirational.  He is a new breed of learner.










Photos on phone


An Enrichment Post: Those Amazingly Awe- Inspiring Carnivorous Plants!

An Enrichment Post: Those Amazingly Awe- Inspiring Carnivorous Plants!

One of the best gifts I received this holiday season was a PBS documentary video called, “Plants Behaving Badly”, in which two types of amazing plants – orchids and carnivorous plants –  are described in detail. I am lucky that my husband indulged me with this item on my wish list.

Plants Behaving Badly

Home alone on Saturday afternoon, I sat mesmerized by this DVD. Well, I did not really sit; I was working on making some jewelry. But, the video kept pulling my attention to it!  Wow! I was thrilled with this gift!  The first part, carnivorous plants, offered a lot of material on this group of diverse plants that share the process of evolving in different ways in order to survive in poor, nutrient – lacking soil.  For the last 10 years, I have taught a carnivorous plant unit to my garden club students at the school my boys all attended as elementary students. This year, I am leading a new group of students in a new, larger school district, about 20 minutes from my home. This week, I will introduce them to the amazingly awesome world of carnivorous plants!  Although I knew much of the content in the video from my own research and reading over the years, it was still very informative, entertaining, and awe-inspiring! Although the school district is larger, my group is much smaller. So I have spend some time this week re-vamping my unit. I was pleased to find that the video offers a few clips via You Tube that I will share with the students later today.


A Summary of Carnivorous Plant Types

There are four main types of carnivorous plants.  Snap traps like the Venus Fly Trap are active plants that actually have developed the ability to move to catch their prey.  Another group, Pitcher Plants, are passive traps. This means they do not move, but their prey is attracted by the scent of sweet nectar and gorgeous colors to come closer and closer to the rim of the “vessel” or pitcher part of the plant. There, the unsuspecting ant, fly, or even occasional frog or mouse, slips and falls into the bottom part of the pitcher. Big deal, you say, they could just climb out!  But, no!  Nature has designed this plant to have slippery insides, many with a fatal reservoir of acidic, digestive enzymes, and downward pointing hairs to prevent the insect’s crawl up to the opening where they fell from and into the plant, in the first place! They are trapped, drown, and are digested by the fluid in the plant’s vessel. The third type of carnivorous plant is the sundew. Sundews are also tricky, luring their prey in with  “beads” of fluid that appear AND smell like nectar globules glistening in the sun, inviting a hungry insect with the false promise of a tasty meal. Once the insect steps onto the globules, he is stuck! It is not nectar at all, but a sticky glue type substance! What is even more fascinating is that some of the sundew plants are active traps and move their tentacle-type structures to encircle the prey once it is stuck. From there forward – well, you know what happens! The insect dies and the nutrients are absorbed into the plant to sustain it. Respectively, the pitcher plant is a pit fall trap and sundew plants are sticky traps. The video did not really cover Bladderworts, which are an example of a fourth type of carnivorous plant that lives underwater, sucking into it like a vacuum any tiny, unsuspecting aquatic organism that happens by.  Most likely, footage of the gorgeous Nepenthes pitcher plants in Borneo, a variety of which is known to be the largest pitcher plant in the world, displaced coverage of the small, underwater carnivorous plant that literally sucks!

Using Awe as a Teacher

I am, and have been, awed by these plants for many years. And, my experience is that students are awed by them as well.   The sense of awe is a great teacher! I try to use it as often as possible when I am teaching students about our natural world.  Many students have heard of the Venus Fly Trap, but might not have seen one.  I always try to bring an actual plant to share during our lesson. Luckily, I found a local store on Saturday with some in stock. Unfortunately, the two plants I have currently do not have traps. I think they are in their period of dormancy induced by cooler weather and shorter days. Venus Fly Traps are indigenous to only one place in the world, and that is the sandy forests of North Carolina, near the coast.  It is here that I introduce students to an uglier side of human nature – the activity of poaching and those who poach. Unfortunately, since carnivorous plants are so cool, people do strange things, like steal and sell the stolen plants.  In the U.S., the Venus Fly Trap is protected, so I let my students know that if they ever visit North Carolina, they cannot just pick up a plant and bring it home to Wisconsin! There are more protected varieties of carnivorous plants in other parts of the world, too.


Plants are amazing living entities! I know my former group of students could see how passionate I was about plants and our earth during my lessons, I hope the same for this new group! Only, time will tell! But, a large slice of my life is spent on lessons like today  – those Amazingly Awe-Inspiring Carnivorous Plants!

Post written for Slice of Life Tuesday sponsored by blog.

Thank you!

Wednesday Word Enrichment: Slough

Wednesday Word Enrichment: Slough

Yesterday, we drove 75 miles down the Great River Road from West – Central Wisconsin to North – Eastern Iowa. My husband and I had a dual purpose to our trip. Firstly, I needed to deliver some pieces to a gallery in the town of McGregor where I am on consignment as a jewelry designer/artist.  Secondly, we wanted to leaf peep.

But, along the road, which follows the eastern bank of the Great Muddy or Mississippi River, we were repeatedly exposed to the word, slough.

I am a person of words. I love vocabulary. I mean, I seriously LOVE it!  When I have the opportunity to teach, whether it is for an occasional day as a substitute, a garden club lesson, writer’s circle, or even while developing math questions for my math enrichment series, I try to build student vocabulary.  Words are interesting.  I try to show that to the students I encounter.  In addition, each of my boys, at some point in their younger days, had “word walls” – an idea borrowed from a few excellent teachers I knew – on their bedroom closet doors. We would post new words for a week, and review them at night. This mostly took place in the summer, but I remember it well.  My actions demonstrate how very important I feel vocabulary is to student success.  And, it is one of the easiest things to do to enrich your child!

But, here’s the thing. English is a weird language. It can be difficult. This was no better demonstrated by the difficulties my middle son had in second grade. Three to four nights a week we would enter a spare room in our house to work on word recognition, definition, pronunciation, and even, spelling. We just had a recent conversation about this ten-year old series of meetings. Although he hated it, and I knew that at the time, we both knew it was necessary, as he did not qualify for any “services” at school and it was important to both of us that he become a better than average reader.  Our lessons went on for a year, he made progress, and today is that above average reader we sought him to be. But we both noticed during our time together that the English language is weird. So many words are spelled alike but mean different things, so many vowels with similar sounds when in particular combinations, and so many other things that can throw one-off as a new reader and writer.  It can be extremely frustrating!

Such is the case with the word we saw on our journey yesterday. Slough. I thought I knew what it meant and even said it correctly in the particular context the signs meant to signify. Slough – pronounced to rhyme with cow.  Not slough – (ff) – pronounced to rhyme with fluff.  One word, spelled the same with two entirely different meanings.

As we drove, we noticed the small inlets, marshy areas, and even bogs along the edges of this great river. I knew, due to the context and a half century of life experience as a word lover, that slough was referring to these areas.  My husband, although more of a man of science than literature, had to agree.  But, just to confirm, this morning I went to my trusted online Merriam Webster Dictionary.  I love this resource and would highly recommend it to any student, educator, or fellow lover of words!  Here is a link to the word slough, as defined by Merriam Webster, as well as the Word of the Day Podcast for slough.  I love these podcasts….because they give the history of the word, as well as context and meaning. Listen to the end of the two minute podcast for the appropriate definition. Plus, I find the narrator’s voice very engaging!

Slough, “an inlet on a river, or swamp, or marsh.” Yes, a slough is what I thought. But, how interesting it also has the meaning to shed  or be removed, such as in a snake shedding its skin.  In this case, the same spelled word, slough, is pronounced with an “f” at the end. Slough (sluff).  I am sure if we looked alongside the river banks, on a hot summer day, we’d see some evidence of that, too.

Words are wonderful, fascinating, and enriching elements. Do you not think so?



Baking up Some Enrichment

Baking up Some Enrichment

A friend stopped to see me the other day.  She has three really bright, actually gifted is a better term, girls.  We have had many a conversation about how to best provide them opportunities to grow and be challenged while having a slim budget. This is a common question and I was more than ready to offer some suggestions.

The girls’ mom had similar ideas of her own about how to enrich during the summer. I think my input was more of a being an available sounding board for ideas. I know they are avid readers, learning languages through online platforms such as Duolingo, and have a plethora of vegetables growing in their own suburban yard.  Their mom is adept at providing the girls a multitude of experiences. They visited earlier this summer to pick cherries and I know many baked goods and drinks called “shrubs” were made in their kitchen. When they stopped on Saturday, a trip to the Hmong community gardens was underway with a blueberry poke cake to be made that afternoon.

Cooking and baking are great ways to enrich your children. The preciseness of measurements and ability to perform conversions are prime examples of the enrichment. Plus, you get an a product to enjoy and the children can be proud of when they are finished. My friend’s middle child, soon to be in middle school, has taken to the show The Greatest British Baking Show on PBS.  She has been turned on (read excited here) by the show and has been baking this summer as a result.  My friend is smart to support this interest.

I have had several conversations with math teachers about the fact that our local students do not really understand fractions that well.   I have wondered for several years now whether the fact that our children, in general,  do not do a great deal of cooking, baking. or sewing anymore has to do with their incomplete understanding of fractions. Baking and learning to sew were staples of my childhood. I memorized my conversion tables and know how to perform basic operations on fractions to either halve, quarter, or triple a recipe. Useful skills.

If you are looking to challenge your children, allow them to start baking or sewing. Allowing them to have real life activities involving math will add to the richness of their experience. They probably will not even realize what they are learning along the way, but you will be teaching sustainable living, especially if the products used in the baked goods come from your own yard or the community garden. You are reinforcing math skills that will be useful later on. And, you are allowing your child to produce, share, and consume a product of which they can be proud.

Baking and sewing also offers room for growth. Not everything will turn out as desired, but should get better over time. Seams will be more even. Measurements will be more accurate. The difficulty of both can be increased over time, as the skill set increases. They can be activities that allows for failure, without too much investment of time or money.  Other than a dirty kitchen, or finding fabric scraps stuck to the carpeting, there are not a lot of downsides to baking and sewing with your children.  Give it a try, like my friend has, enjoy the results and let me know how it goes!

Summer Math Enrichment Suggestions

Summer Math Enrichment Suggestions

Wow! I do not know what happened to the last ten days! On May 15th, I posted some suggestions on how to help your child/teen/student ramp up their vocabulary during the summer months. At that time, a weekly post on specific enrichment activities you can do with your child was promised. It appears I missed posting one last week! I will try to be more regular! Stick with me, I am fairly new to the activity of blogging!

Math. Math is a subject I have come to really enjoy. This both surprises and pleases me.  I think if I had a different trigonometry teacher in high school, I might have gone on to take more math. It appeals to me because I have a very logical mind and I also like to problem solve. As an adult, I can see so many daily applications for math that I started to write math questions based on my garden club topics!  Soon, more of these will be available on the Teachers Pay Teachers website.

All three of my three boys were all accelerated in math, starting in elementary and middle school. This will be the subject of a future post because there are both positive and negative considerations when parents need to decide about acceleration in a specific subject area. I  have a great deal of experience in the actual and potential outcomes of acceleration that should be shared with others.

But, I digress. Summer. Over the last 15 years, I have always kept my boys engaged in math activities over the summer. For the most part, even though they moaned and groaned, they enjoyed it. I also think it solidified some of the learning they did during the prior school year and kept them fresh for the start of school in the fall.  I will admit, the extra work/challenge, of having your children do math over the summer is easier when they are younger. So start early! If it becomes part of a summer routine, you’ll have less of a fight later on, when they are older.

The activities or resources suggested are only those I actually used with my boys. There are many resources out there, be sure to look them over before you ask that your child do any of them. In my opinion, it is pointless to have them do an activity or lesson if there is not an answer page or demonstration of how the answer is obtained. Unless, of course, you are adept at math yourself, and want to perform the problems with them to check on their answers. Remember that process is as, or more, important than a right answer. Showing how answers are arrived at is almost universally demanded now in schools and the extra practice will solidify this expectation.  If you have a child that is keen as well as skilled at solving problems in their head, the extra time spent writing out solutions will be valuable once school resumes.

The internet offers many math enrichment sites. This post would be incomplete without mentioning some of them.  A few popular ones we have used are the following:

  1. Khan Academy – Some people in the math world love this site, others just tolerate it. All three of my boys (now aged 15, 17, and 22) have turned to Sal Khan’s site for practice, clarification, or enrichment. What is nice is that you can pick the topic and there are literally hundreds of videos and practice problems through which to work.  The site will also track progress for you, if you are interested. FREE.
  2.  IXL – This is a site that has subject matter categorized by grade level and then, topic.  It is easy to navigate and has shows the answers.  Great for extra practice, review or enrichment.  You can only do 10 problems without paying a subscription fee, however.  Depending on what you want to get out of it, the subscription fee is not too bad. I think it was $9.95 a month for one child. There are options for more than one child and also to add language arts practice. We did subscribe to this site for a while. It also tracks practice time and sends email updates to parents.  It also was very easy to stop the subscription whenever you want. FREE/PAID.
  3. Kuta Software – This site offers worksheets with answer sheets. No examples of how the work is completed. Offers algebra through calculus.  We used this site often for extra practice problems when not enough of one type of problem was offered in the text-book for pre-calculus.  Also used for Algebra II review work. FREE.  There is a disadvantage of the work not being shown, as far as how to get the answer.
  4. AAA Math – used in elementary school for extra practice. FREE

Of course there are many others, but these sites are the ones we tended to use the most.

One forgets that math is like another language. Getting used to the language of mathematics through relaxed, enjoyable activities can be a way to enrich mathematic skills with out the drill and kill approach, which now has fallen out of vogue. We need critical thinkers. Many activities offer a chance to problem solve and critically think,  augmenting future mathematic skills. Using real life skill building can be a way to practice math skills without kids even realizing it.

  • cooking and baking – using fractions and conversions, measuring spoons and cups, accurately. Cutting recipes in half or doubling recipes can be good practice.
  • Make juice or lemonade and measure volume
  • sewing – using fractions and conversions for yardage, seam allowances, and amounts
  • gardening – measuring a site for size, perimeter and area, distance between plantings. Square foot gardening has great applications for math.

Thinking skills can be enriched by learning a new game such as:

  • Chess
  • Monopoly or Life, to practice using money
  • Othello – online or the board game
  • Blockus

Patterns, sequencing, and geometry can be practiced with:

  • Origami – There will be a future post on the benefits of learning to fold paper. This is a highly recommended activity to help students visualize angles, shapes, and have fun while doing it. Start at the site linked here for some recommended patterns.
  • Matching Memory Games – We had stacks of these games. Dinosaurs, Careers, & others, that were played constantly when our boys were preschool and early elementary age.
  • Pattern or object recognition – Search and find books, We owned a ton of these. Great for travel.  A few examples are Where’s Waldo?, I Spy Books, and others.
  • Logic Puzzles
  • Tile Puzzles like the famous 15 puzzle like this one we have
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Magna Tiles – We had a set of these that got some but not a lot of use. They are fun for creating structures and also serve the same purpose as tangrams. A set can be pricey.
  • Tangrams – These are shapes that fit together to build bigger shapes, allowing the child to “see” how something like a hexagon might be made of triangles.
  • Geogebra – This is a relatively new site that has some awesome interactive lessons for the older math student. For the right person, it is great fun just to play with the tools on the site. For me, it is not intuitive as I need it to be to actually know what I am doing, but it could be a help to a more visual learner.  Here is a link to one of the  tools exploring normal distributionBy clicking the boxes at the right, it shows the results of that operation on the graph. FREE.

There are many ways to provide math enrichment over the summer.  Whether you have a kid that loves math and wants to do it or a kid that dislikes math and avoids it, the extra practice over the summer will not be a waste. Try it and see!

Resources for the Gifted & Talented

Resources for the Gifted & Talented

It is not a popular topic in education today, arguably it probably was not ever given attention by the demands of the masses. But, gifted and talented education (GATE) or talented and gifted programs (TAG) address the learning needs of the students at the other end of the spectrum. The educational spectrum.  At one end of special education are the students with documented learning disabilities: autism spectrum disorders, cognitive impairments, physical disability, attention deficits, hyperactivity disorders, oppositional defiance disorder, and more. The media and even professionals engaged in the field of education choose to not focus public attention on the needs of the gifted student or those at the other end of the educational spectrum. Gifted and talented students have needs too. The needs are often unmet due to political climate, lack of funding, or just a mis-placed belief that this subset of students will be fine “without” intervention, and that the common core will “be enough”. Both statements are wrong.  TAG students need as much intervention to keep engaged and launch their learning from where they are (which might already be several grades above their current academic level) to where they need to or can be.

Why is this important to me? As a parent, educator, and student advocate I have worked with this group of students for over twenty years. Groups, such as Evergreen Garden Club, were started at our school to provide enrichment opportunities based on observations that  more needed to be aimed at supplying students additional experiences in life science, project based learning, citizen science, service learning, and environmental education.  Language arts groups were started as a need was noted in a first grade classroom for above benchmark readers. A writer’s circle was started to support and encourage third graders interested in becoming great writers, when they were already writing well. And finally, a Parent Advocacy Group was started to answer the need to increase local awareness about GATE and student needs such as increased differentiation in individual classes, middle school honors classes in subjects other than accelerated mathematics, and educate district staff, the community, and parents on the emotional, social, and behavioral characteristics of gifted students and what we can do to support them. It is a myth that the gifted student will be alright without intervention. They need support from staff, administration, parents, and the community just as any other sub-set of students need support. Why we continually let this group of students down is beyond my understanding.

These experiences do not even encompass those I have had as a parent of students who fall in to this category, complete with all the joys of prideful accomplishments as well as irritating frustrations involving the educational community and systems that are in place or lack of being put in place.  Those experiences will provide additional posts at a future time.

Today, I am sharing resources I have used over the invested years working with TAG students. Since I have been visible in my advocacy for these students, I am often asked by parents where they can turn for advice and/or enrichment and even possible advancement opportunities. The following list includes many sources of reading which will increase one’s understanding of the gifted and talented student, as well as prompt ideas for meeting the needs of this special group of students that can be so easily overlooked.

SENG –  Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted This is an organization with a website that offers a great deal of information on the emotional lives of gifted students. They offer a library of articles, conferences, and practical advice on how to help gifted students and their families deal with common issues like overexcitabilities, intensities, asynchronous developement, “feeling different”, and being accepted.

Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page – Hoagies Gifted Education Page Another website with a wealth of information about giftedness. This organization has divided topics between parents, educators, and students. It has something for everyone. This was a page I visited often, early on in my advocacy for the gifted. In my opinion, it is a very good place to start to increase your understanding of these students.

Davidson Institute – Davidson Institute for Talent Development – The Davidson Institute offers conferences, scholarship and enrichment opportunities for students, as well as a database of information regarding GATE. Personally, I do not have much exposure to this group, but know some who have really enjoyed their conferences.

Northwestern UniversityCenter for Talent Development In our area of the country, the mid-west, Northwestern University, outside of Chicago, offers many opportunities for acceleration and enrichment from advanced coursework to civic leadership workshops in the summer. This institution provides NUMATS (Northwestern University Midwest Academic Talent Search) which allows regional youth to take standardized tests such as the ACT, earlier than normally scheduled. All three of my boys were eligible to take the ACT as early as 6th grade through NUMATS. There are advantages to testing early that will be the subject of subsequent postings. The major disadvantage to programs through Northwestern University is that they are expensive and some are only offered in the Chicago area.

Johns Hopkins University  – Center for Talented Youth. We also have personal experience with the Center for Talented Youth through Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Like Northwestern University, Hopkins offers many opportunities for online coursework for credit or enrichment.  Their admission guidelines are clearly stated and reachable for most gifted students. My youngest son took a summer course called Math Counts Prep two years ago and really enjoyed it. We liked it because it kept his math skills up during the summer and his professor was accessible and very supportive. It was a great experience. Again, the disadvantage is expense.

Blogs – Of late, I have taken to reading blogs and have found some really great ones on giftedness. Through reading blogs, families and students can know that they are not unusual or alone as they travel through the sometimes tumultuous waters of gifted education.

Here is a blog by the National Association for Gifted Children: Blog Page at the National Association for Gifted Children and one I just found this morning, but is supported by the Davidson Institute you read about above: The Gifted Exchange Blog

SENG also has recommended gifted blogs for teachers here: SENG Blog Recommendations for Teachers on the Gifted.

Authors & Speakers – There are many speakers and publications on the topic of GATE or topics related to the education of all students. Here are two I recommend:

Sir Ken Robinson – Sir Robinson offers enlightenment on why our current schooling system needs to change. His ideas clearly support helping TAG students to reach their potential through personalized learning. He is also a very engaging speaker and has numerous TED talks.  Here is one of his more famous talks on whether schools kill creativity. Do Schools Kill Creativity? A TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. This is an important concept because students can be gifted in the arts like music and drawing as well as more the traditional paths of mathematics or language. Often, they go hand in hand. Again, something with which I have personal, parental experience.

Carol Ann Tomlinson – Ms. Tomlinson is the author on many books about differentiated instruction. Her described work could be used by any classroom teacher looking to challenge students through providing instruction to meet student needs using a number of different methods. I just finished reading How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms (2001) and would highly recommend it to any teacher wishing to differentiate instruction. She is clear that differentiation meets the needs of all students, not just the gifted.

Local Universities – Often I am asked about local opportunities for gifted students. One such resource can be your local university. These institutions offer summer enrichment as well as opportunity to take college courses while still in high school.  We took advantage of classes at both University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Winona State University. Often, the universities provide need based assistance too, for families that cannot afford the course fees for summer enrichment classes.  If you are able to take a college class while still in high school, your resident district will often pay for the class. You need to check your local high school policies and programming for those opportunities.

Today, you have been provided with some resources for gifted and talented students. In the future, I will expand on this topic with additional information. It is a topic with which I have much experience. I hope you find the information useful, as we need to provide for the learning needs of all students, at both ends of the spectrum.