Mentoring Gifted Children
There are many reasons to establish a mentoring
relationship and many possible ways to structure one. A variety of gifted student populations can benefit from such a relationship, including
- those interested in career choice and development
- students needing help in affective areas
- young people wanting to pursue a specific area of interest in-depth
- those having progressed beyond the curriculum offered at school
- disadvantaged children
A mentoring relationship will not meet the needs of every gifted student. Before going through the work of setting up a mentorship, one must ask seriously if there is enough of a commitment on the part of both the mentor and the protégé to make it successful.
Some people suggest that the creation of a mentoring experience should wait until high school. I think that it depends on the goals of the program. One elementary school had a very successful mentoring program, but it required a great deal of time on the part of a parent volunteer to make it work. The following steps were taken:
- Teachers and parents were surveyed to find students who had a very strong interests in subjects that went beyond the scope of the curriculum. This was evidenced by a strong interest in a specific subject for a minimum of two years.
- The student was asked if he would like to participate in a mentoring program.
- The parent volunteer searched for someone who might address the needs of that student. The circle of possibilities started close, asking teachers and parents if they knew of anyone who might be appropriate and then branched out from there.
- Once a potential mentor was found, the mentor, protégé, and parent met to make certain that they felt comfortable with one another.
- An agreement was signed to meet outside of the school building and outside of school time for ten times. (Many of the mentoring relationships went on long beyond that, but it is important to have that initial limit so that no one feels trapped by a long commitment.)
- Legal issues between the school and mentor were discussed. (This may vary from district to district.)
- Parents needed to address any concerns they had about leaving their child with someone they don’t know well.
Some examples of successful mentorships at the school, included
- A child who was interested in snakes being paired with a herpetologist from the zoo.
- A student who was interested in cartooning being paired with a political cartoonist for a local newspaper.
- A boy gifted in music being paired with a jazz musician.
- A young person who was interested in computers working with an IT person.
- A person who was very interested in visual special math pairing with a person who specialized in this field.
Mentoring disadvantaged children may be approached in an entirely different way and for different reasons. When mentoring this group of children, an adult may act as a mentor in a specific area of interest or she may help the student to see the possibilities beyond the young person's limited environment. In Mentoring Disadvantaged Gifted Children
, Neil Satterfield explains how this group of children has grown and he provides resources for those who are interested in helping.
The mentoring of high school students takes on an entirely different face. Subject specific mentors require more and more expertise and mentoring for career decisions can be very important. When considering a mentoring program at high school, you may want to see the work being done by Sigma Xi: The Scientific Research Society
. Also, corporations are sometimes willing to work with adults to set up mentorship programs with talented youth.
Whatever population is mentored, whether it is a formal program or something more informal, it can be a valuable experience.
Be sure and hit the “Add Comment” button below and let us know if you, your child, or one of your students has had a positive mentoring experience and what you think made it positive. Please be respectful of other’s wishes for privacy by not leaving specific names.
Gifted Education Pull-Out Programs Are Not Enough
On November 7, 2005, Get School: An Education Blog posted several criticisms of what is happening in many gifted education pull-out programs.
The blogger, Patti Ghezzi, writes that "Parents often complain that ... [pull-out programs are not] ... enough. Their kids are still bored in traditional class. They also complain that the projects are to showboaty and lacking in substance. They tell me they want their child’s gifted education to extend beyond the pull-out program, and they question whether teachers understand the complexity of the gifted child."
The blogger then asks the questions, "Parents, are you satisfied with your child’s gifted education program? What would your ideal program look like? Teachers, how do you handle gifted children in the classroom?"
The blog has been flooded with more than 60 responses from parents and teachers alike. Visit this blog posting titled, The Gift of Gifted Education.
Virtual Museums for Gifted Children
With the Internet today, the world is virtually at our fingertips. Gifted children are often interested in a wide variety of topics--many that would not normally be taught in school. Virtual museums allow students to pursue these topics by “visiting” collections around the world. Even by just browsing museums, a young person may become interested in a topic that he had not previously considered. You will see some overlap of topics or museums in the links below, but each is worth viewing.
This site provides links to online collections and exhibits covering a vast array of subjects, from classical art to architecture to mundane collectible objects. Links include MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art), The Smithsonian, a collection of advertisements printed in U.S. and Canadian newspapers and magazines between 1911 and 1955, and a museum of chocolate wrappers.
Here you will find links to The Getty, The Guggenheim, The Library of Congress, and also to digital art.
This is a specialty site that has great pictures and history.
If virtual museums pique your interest, consider creating a virtual museum with gifted students
. Look at the article, Building a Virtual Museum Community
, which describes how a school district and museum partnered to develop of a virtual museum devoted to local history at the turn of the 19th
Century. The article discusses strategies needed to cultivate such a relationship.
Geography and Gifted Education
When I started working as a gifted education specialist at one elementary school, I was told that there was a second grader at the school who was a whiz at geography. Peter was a whiz-kid! His father had introduced him to the subject before he ever started public school and he had been devouring it ever since. Ask him to locate any place on the map and he could point right to it. But he wasn’t just good at place names. He could tell you the climate, the animals, and the vegetation of the area. If asked to reason why a certain event might take place in a specific country or city, he would pause and then begin his sentence very slowly with, “Let’s see…” He would then take all the information he knew about the place and reason very logically why that event might have taken place there. He might also add, “But I would also like to know…” Peter was a phenomenal reader. At second grade, he was reading at a 12th grade level. This enabled him to research easily. Peter was gifted in geography.
I often wonder how many other kids might be gifted in geography if they were just exposed to it. After all, a child can’t get excited about something to which he has never been introduced. While most students in first or second grades are learning about their neighborhoods in school, Peter was exploring the world. Peter knew that geography was not a dry subject.
Geography is much more exciting than many people think, involving far more than places and locations. Geography helps us to understand the relationship of places and people. With a little searching adults will find that there are resources available to introduce young people to this subject.
To give you an idea of the scope of geography, check out the definitions
that were compiled from participants at the Geography Summit II which was held at Southwest Texas State University in 1996 and collected by Dr. Ed Fernald of the Florida Geographic Alliance.
Great Resources for Teaching
To help people gain a greater understanding of geography, in 1984 the Joint Committee on Geographic Education of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) and the Association of American Geographers (AAG) developed Five Themes of Geography.
These themes include location, place, human/environment interaction, movement, and regions. Be sure and take a look at this site as it explains each of these themes and lists fun activities to teach them. More activities for teaching the Five Themes can be found at Education World
At the National Geographic Xpeditions
site, you will find not only the U.S. National Geography Standards, but lesson plans, activities, an atlas, and an interactive learning museum.
Want to know if you have a student who is gifted in geography
? The national curriculum of England has actually set up standards.
Finally, if you would like to pursue geography on a competitive basis, take a look at GeoBee Challenge
. This site includes information for kids, parents, and teachers, including information on the National Geographic Bee.
So, have lots of resources available to students, including maps, atlases, and globes. I have a large world map hanging in my kitchen. There’s no need for me to look for it or open it up when I want it. If I read about a place and I’m not sure where it is, I can look it up. If I’m doing a crossword puzzle and one of the questions pertains to geography, I can look it up. Have maps for everything. I live in a sports oriented state, so I have maps of bike trails, hiking trails, ski area trails, and cross-country ski trails. They are fun to study. Also interesting are topographical maps, relief maps, political maps, and weather maps. Each gives different kinds of information.
If you go to the zoo, get a map of the animal locations. If you go to a museum, get a map of the exhibit locations. Have your child make a map of your house. Talk about the arrangement of the rooms and how the present locations function in your house. Then have your child create a map of his ideal house. Have him explain why he placed the rooms where he did. Is it more functional that way?
Use maps when studying history. Observe border changes. Why do they change? How does geography influence where people settle? How does it affect where people move? Discuss geography in relationship to current events. How does geography affect alliances and conflicts throughout the world? Why do the names of countries change?
Teach students how to read legends. Understand longitude and latitude and time zones. How does geography affect climate? Make geography a part of everyday life both at home and at school.
Benchmark Testing and Gifted Education
From November 11-15, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) is holding it's annual conference in Louisville, KY. Yesterday afternoon I flew in to Louisville with my best friend, Todd. Todd is Director for Advanced Academics for a large school district outside of Dallas, TX. Todd is an influential administrator and participates on lots of committees here at NAGC. Getting his take on the administrative end of education is often informative -- if infuriating. Apparently, the newest trend for school districts is to commit to something called benchmark testing. You can get a general description of benchmark testing from a recent Education Leadership article, but, in general, benchmark testing involves district-wide testing of kids progress every nine weeks or so with district-wide, district-developed assessments.
I want to say up front that we are making a big leap to assume that the central office staff in most school districts is qualified to develop the benchmark tests being used. But, even given this leap, benchmark testing is a mistake.
Todd says that benchmark testing is like weighing in at a Weight Watcher's meeting. It tells you how you are doing. I think Todd's analogy is false. It's more like going to a Weight Watcher's meeting and spending two days standing on the scales. Benchmark testing, if nothing else, wastes a lot of instructional time.
More importantly, most people attending Weight Watcher's just want to lose weight -- weight is their only measure of progress. It's simple. Education is much more complex. In a truly differentiated classroom, kids are learning a variety of things in a variety of ways. Qualified teachers are both artists and scientists as they build learning communities that support and challenge every child in their classroom. Some kids need more time to learn objectives, some kids will need to be accelerated on to more advanced material because they've already mastered an objective, some kids will need some direct instruction, other will want to work independently. The classroom that really differentiates for the variety of learners present needs a lot more breathing space and flexibility than can be measured by a nine-week benchmark test.
What I suspect we will find out with such tests is that slower learners aren't doing as well with the benchmarks and the gifted children have already mastered them. Something a qualified teacher could have told you in the first place. We've just taken millions of dollars in staff time and instructional time to develop, administer, score, and report information that any qualified teacher knew to begin with. (Oh, and don't think there aren't a lot of educational consulting firms and test development companies salivating over the potential school dollars that will flow to them once districts buy into this idea).
I suspect there is actually another issue in play here. Giving benchmark tests every nine weeks forces teachers to drill and practice students on a narrowly defined set of objectives (i.e., the "benchmarks"). It's a big stick held over the teacher's heads with the administration saying if you don't teach these narrowly defined set of objectives, we'll know it every nine weeks. It's really just a way that administrators, worked into a lather over all of the testing forced down their throats by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), can control what teachers are doing in their classrooms. The vision of these administrators isn't on creating exciting learning environments were every child can be challenged and succeed -- it's on drilling and practicing on a narrowly defined set of objectives so that every child in the room will reach a minimum level of achievement as measured by NCLB approved tests.
Groups that advocate benchmark tests speak out of both sides of their mouth. On the one hand, they say we can serve a variety of learners in truly differentiated classes, and on the other, they call for teachers to drill and practices on basic skills so schools will perform well on NCLB assessments. These groups can't have it both ways, and kids, classrooms, and teachers are being marginalized by their rhetoric.
Ratchet Science Fairs Up for Gifted Children
In many elementary, middle, and high schools, science fairs occur annually. These fairs offer gifted students a chance to explore areas of interest in depth. The fairs also provide opportunities for planning, academic discipline, and academic rigor. There is much information available on the Internet to help teachers, students, and parents work through the process. A sampling includes
Science Fair Central
--For students, teachers, and parents. Student section includes a "soup to nuts" handbook, project ideas, links and books, questions and answers, and tip sheets. For teachers, there is a science fair organizer. For parents, there are tips on helping your young scientist.
Science Fair Projects
--Includes a search tool that will help you find ideas for experiment. There are lists of topics for elementary, middle school, and high school science fair projects. Also included are links to useful sites.
Science Fairs Homepage
--This site is designed to aid students in the most difficult aspect of their science fair experience; getting an idea. It lists projects in three categories: elementary, intermediate, and senior.
--This website includes a sample science fair judging sheet to help the student and parent better understand how a project may be evaluated.