10 Ways to Develop Talents in Gifted Children
In my previous blog, Are Gifted Children Born or Made? (April 22) I questioned the influence we have over the development of the abilities of our children. I do feel certain that parents can have an influence over the potential development of talents and interests. Here are ten ways to encourage this.
- Expose children to a wide variety of experiences in addition to traditional academic subjects such as math, reading, writing, history, and science. Expose them also to art, theater, music, nature, sports, and technology of all types.
- Expose children to different types of people—people from different socio-economic backgrounds, different ethnicities, and different belief systems.
- Encourage young people to develop hobbies, join clubs, participate in competitions, attend extra-curricular activities, and take lessons.
- Support the interests of your child even if they aren’t the same as yours. Ask leading questions to help you understand what has drawn her to a particular topic. Speak and listen to your child with consideration and respect.
- Set a personal example by either having a wide variety of interests or one that has become special, developing into a passion.
- Interact with your child by participating in the things that excite him.
- Celebrate the interests of different family members and friends—everyone doesn’t have to be alike. Value one another’s differences.
- Teach your child how to find information and resources in a variety of ways—books, Internet, other people, etc. There will be times when your child's expertise on a topic will be greater than yours, and you will not be able to provide answers or solutions.
- Expose your child to many different experiences, yet allow time for her creative mind to develop and to pursue what she discovers. Don’t overload. This is a fine line to walk.
- Let your child lead the way. He will let you know when something piques his interest. Don’t be over-involved. Expose, but don’t push.
You will want to become more acquainted with developing the talents of gifted children by reading Early Gifts: Recognizing and Nurturing Children's Talents.
Teaching the Test, Not Gifted Children
Recently, the Texas legislature passed a law that allows districts to give 2 weeks off to any student who passes the state's mandated accountability tests. Even worse, HB 524, currently before the legislature, would allow school districts to only require 4 days of school per week for “certain high-performing students." I mention this here because Texas often acts as a barometer for the educational mood of the rest of the country, and I think this particular mood is not a positive one for gifted education.
According to this kind of legislation, if your children can pass the state's skills test, we don't even pretend that public school holds any educational value for them. They can just go home. Getting rid of the gifted kids gives "teachers more one-on-one with the students who are not passing," Suzanne Marchman, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman, explained in the Dallas Morning News. Clearly, we here in Texas are just focused on making sure everyone passes the tests, and we don't have time to bother with students who already can.
This kind of legislation is the direct result of the half-cocked "No Child Left Behind" initiative. The problem with No Child Left Behind is that it's wrong-headed. Anita Sharpe, in her blog, asks if the initiative wouldn't be better named "No Child Should Get Too Far Ahead," and I think she's right. Here's the basic idea behind "No Child Left behind" in the form of a sports metaphor. Your child's baseball coach announces that, from now on, every practice will be designed to ensure that every child on the team can pass a mandated minimum baseball-skills test. Those children able to exhibit mastery of the basic skills can go home because there is simply no time to coach anything beyond the basics. If you feel your child has baseball skills beyond the required minimum, perhaps you should enroll him or her in a special summer program because "we here in this baseball program are not interested in teaching all those new-fangled skills needed to actually win a baseball game."
I'm just tired of this. Those of us in gifted education have been running from this fight for too long. We watch as gifted programs get dismantled. We stand by as gifted children are placed back into regular education classrooms where they are forced to drill and practice for state achievement tests that they can already pass. We watch as thousands of parents pull their gifted kids out of public schools and place them in private schools and homeschools. We stand back as state universities eliminate teacher-training programs in gifted education. And I, for one, am tired of it.
I think it's about time that we as parents and teachers of gifted children get outraged at what's going on; time that we start raising hell with administrators who want to eliminate gifted programs in our schools; and time we start supporting those teachers out there who are going the extra mile for children of advanced ability.
And that's not enough. We've got to take an active role with legislators who don't support advanced academics. Through letters, phone calls, or votes, let those politicians who vote for legislation like that just passed in Texas know that we've had enough.
You've heard it before from shortsighted administrators, "Parents of gifted children are pushy." Well, let's start living up to our reputation and push with all we've got.
Are Gifted Children Born or Made?
How much influence do we have over the development of the abilities of our children? To what extent can we attribute giftedness to natural-born ability, exposure, encouragement, socio-economic status, or ethnicity? What would have happened to the first violinist if she had never been exposed to an instrument? What would have happened to the professional golfer if he had never been exposed to the game? Would that talent manifest itself in some other form or would it be lost forever?
Because a young person shows a strong ability, does that mean she will always retain that ability? When a young person seems quite average, does that mean that no real strength will ever surface? We say that we want to give students the chance to realize their full potential. What does that mean?
It seems to me that there are more questions than answers.
When my youngest son was three, my mother sent us the piano I had played while growing up. Todd immediately took an interest in it and asked me to teach him how to play. I told him he was too young and to wait a few years. “No, Mommy, no. I promise I’ll practice. I want you to teach me how to play.” He begged and he begged and finally I began teaching him. Once he started, there was no stopping him. He couldn’t seem to walk past the piano without sitting down to play. If he didn’t play a piece perfectly, he would try and try again. As he struggled with this, he would sit at the piano bench, close his eyes, and draw his hand down over his face over and over again, convinced that this would stop the tears from coming—that he wouldn’t make a mistake the next time. I worried about him. He seemed to be such a perfectionist. Todd got his first real piano teacher at age five and just kept practicing. He used to be afraid to go on vacation because there might not be a piano available. Through the years, I never asked him to practice. I never needed to because he loved the piano so much. When it was time for college, he chose to be a piano major. I often wondered how his life would have been different had my mother never shipped that piano to us.
When my oldest son was in third grade we got our first Apple IIe computer. He was not the least bit interested in reading any books about computers or attending any computer classes. Somehow or another, though, he figured out how to break into the listings of programs to see the language the programmer had entered. And somehow he figured out what parts of the listing caused which functions in the program. Then he memorized what he learned and put the parts together in new ways to create his own programs. Sometimes he would sit at the computer doing this for an entire day. I questioned my ability as a parent. Should I have limited the time he was allowed to sit in front of the computer screen? Now, as an adult, he builds and maintains computer systems for companies. I often wonder how his life would have been different if we hadn’t purchased that first Apple IIe.
Whether we are talking about prodigies or gifted students, many of the same questions arise. Are these students born or made? What correlation is there between the performance of the student and his parents’ socio/economic status? What role does exposure play? Are very bright students gifted by accident or are they just mentally more efficient? Can the management of mental resources be developed? Scientists aren’t sure.
In Child Prodigies
, by Joanna Schaffhausen, the author reports that being born with a high IQ or amazing piano ability is no guarantee of later success, and parents who push too hard are likely to set their child up for a fall. Some very bright students have a difficult time when other children manage to "catch up" by high school.
On the other hand, parents of seemingly "ordinary" children should not despair; many of the world's most significant contributions have been made by people who struggled as youngsters. Mozart was a child prodigy; Beethoven was not. The world still marvels at them both.
Getting Your Classroom Ideas Published
For the last few years at the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented's
annual conference, I've been asked to do a presentation on how teachers of gifted kids can get their great ideas published. I like giving the presentation because everyone who comes to the session is excited about the topic. In this blog, I'll try to mention a few of the most important tips for getting published that I've shared in those presentations.
I can't speak for other publishing companies (but if I could, I would say "We are evil, and you should only buy from Prufrock Press!"), so the tips below are specific to how I like to work with authors.
When considering which companies to approach with your project, pick publishing companies that focus on the kind of material and topics you wish to develop. Most publishers have a niche in which they specialize. It does no good to submit even the best book idea on a topic to a publisher that doesn't publish books on that topic. I can't tell you how many proposals I get for topics such as "psychic phenomena explained," "nature poetry," and "phonics for young readers." Prufrock publishes exclusively for teachers and parents of gifted children and high-ability learners. We really can't consider proposals that are off-topic.
Once you've identified a handful of publishers that might be interested in your work, visit their Web site and see if they have online author support and guidance. If they don't, you can send them an SASE with a request for their author submission guidelines. At Prufrock, we have an area of our Web site devoted to helping authors get started. Of most benefit to a new author in this area are two downloadable documents. The first, "Topics and Areas for Acquisition," outlines the topics we're interested in having authors write about. The document gives you a general idea of the kinds of products we see ourselves publishing in the near future. The second is our "Book Prospectus Preparation Guidelines. These guidelines tell exactly what information should be included in a prospectus sent to us. It is so helpful for our editors when we receive a prospectus that conforms to these guidelines.
Prepare your prospectus with the marketplace in mind. Try to find the intersection of the topic you want to write about and what educators are buying. Here is a suggestion: Review the online catalog of the publisher to which you plan to submit your prospectus. Check out the publisher's bestsellers -- that's a good indication of what the education market is looking for.
Once you have a marketable education product in mind and a publisher's prospectus guidelines in hand, you can develop your proposal. Now, write your proposal and send it in. So many teachers talk to me about writing an activity book over the summer, but they never get around to sending in a prospectus. Take the leap, prepare you prospectus, and sent it in.
I wish you the best in getting published. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to post them.
A Free Thinking Skills Puzzle for Gifted Kids
Okay, here is a cool thinking skills puzzle you can do with your gifted students. The thinking skills puzzle below comes from this book (you can't order the book yet; we're still editing it and laying it out -- I'll let you know when it's available for preorders). Anyway, try this with your kids this week -- it's a good "hook" (what the author calls his thinking challenges) to get a classroom thinking.
Hook: You have two identical beakers, each holding an identical amount of fluid. One beaker holds red fluid, the other blue fluid. You take 1 tablespoon of the red fluid, drop it into the blue fluid and mix it up thoroughly. You then take 1 tablespoon of this mixture, drop it back into the red fluid and mix it up thoroughly. Question: Do you now have more red fluid in the predominantly blue beaker, more blue fluid in the predominantly red beaker, or are there equal amounts in each?
Solution: Equal amounts. Although the quantity in each beaker is irrelevant, let us assume, that, to begin with, each beaker has 9 tablespoons of fluid. In step one we transfer 1 tablespoon of red fluid to the blue beaker. We now have 10 tablespoons of fluid in that beaker, one-tenth of which is red and nine-tenths of which is blue. We now transfer 1 tablespoon of that mixture back into the red beaker. That tablespoon is one-tenth red and nine-tenths blue, so we have actually transferred one-tenth of a tablespoon of red fluid back intothe red container, making the net amount of red fluid left in the blue container nine-tenths of a tablespoon. When we transferred the mixture into the red container, that tablespoon was one-tenth red and nine-tenths blue, so the net amount of blue we transferred into the red container was also ninetenths of a tablespoon. Not as easy as it seemed at first, eh?
Visit Prufrock Press' online catalog to see our entire selection of thinking skills activity books.
Children Gifted in Math
Mary recently made the following comment in response to one of my postings:
My son, Michael, is a sixth grader and is really smart in math. Last summer he went to a summer program for kids interested in mathematics at the local university and loved getting to do the advanced math that he was exposed to there. But, there isn't a gifted program at his school.
While he's making good grades in his math class, he finds it too easy and boring. What do you think I should do? He's got such a talent for this, and I hate to see him so bored with something he loved so much last summer.
Mary, you are asking a very big question. Of course I can’t give specific advice for your son since I don’t know him, but I can give you some general information. Also, let’s ask our fellow bloggers. If anyone reading this posting has additional advice or comments, please post a response.
First of all, it would be helpful to get a professional assessment of your son’s math abilities. Hopefully, you have already had a conversation with Michael’s math teacher. Talking to the teacher is always the first place to start. How does the teacher see Michael in relationship to other students in the classroom?
Second, if there is a gifted/talented resource teacher at the school or in the district I would talk with that person next to see what is available. You said that Michael's school doesn't have a gifted program, but there still may be a resource person who can help.
Standardized tests that have been given by your district will also help to shed some light on his abilities. You will find some good information on this by reading the ERIC Digest article, Discovering Mathematical Talent
Working with the School
Once you understand Michael’s mathematical abilities more clearly, you will want to educate yourself with current research on addressing the needs of high-ability, gifted, and highly motivated students in general and more specifically in math.
A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students
is a recently released report that can be downloaded over the Internet. The report advances the merits of acceleration—not just grade-skipping, but the many ways available that schools can accommodate the needs of students who are more advanced. This includes advancing them within the regular classroom.
Once you have an understanding of some of the background research available, you will be better prepared to advocate for Michael at school. Another book that will help you with this is Developing Math Talent: A Guide for Educating Gifted and Advanced Learners in Math.
This book is for both parents and teachers. The authors provide concrete suggestions for identifying mathematically talented students, tools for instructional planning, and specific programming approaches. It also provides concrete strategies for effectively advocating for gifted children with math talent.
One word of caution: In the U.S. we are often criticized for having a math curriculum that is "a mile wide and an inch deep." Rather that just accelerating students in math, it is highly recommended that students be given the opportunity to explore topics in depth. The article, High-Ability and Highly Motivated Students
provides suggestions for students to think deeply in mathematics by investigating complex problems.
Does Michael’s school have before and after school clubs? Are there any math clubs or competitions in which he might participate? If there are no such activities at his school, can you find these elsewhere in your community? You mentioned that last summer he attended a class at a local university. Are there similar classes that are held during the school year?
A number of well-respected universities offer multimedia, computer-based, distance-learning courses in math. You might explore one of these. Students who are most successful with these programs are those who are able to stay motivated while working independently. Information on the courses can be found at Stanford University
, Johns Hopkins University
, and Northwestern University
I wish you the best with all of this. Please let us know what works for you. Being an advocate for your student can be a lot of work, but with a positive and understanding attitude, you will be successful.
Gifted Children ... Moldable and Manageable?
A few months back, I came across a blog entry that really got my blood boiling. The author managed to come to the conclusion that gifted kids are not gifted, just lucky ... "Lucky because they have parents who have the road smarts to know what it takes to make a child appear teachable, moldable. Rule and routine-oriented kids. Precocious kids. Charming kids. Easily manageable kids."
What!?! Gifted kids ... easily moldable and manageable? Anyone with the least bit of experience with gifted and talented students knows that they can be some of the most obstinate, hardheaded, and challenging kids in a classroom. A quick read of Carol Fertig's list of positive and challenging characteristics of gifted kids makes it pretty clear that any teacher or parent of gifted kids will need to keep on his or her toes to keep ahead of these children.
The blog's author was responding to a list of characteristics of gifted children and definitions of giftedness. I don't think anyone could read those definitions and come to the conclusion she did. I honestly think she ignored those definitions and just responded to the "label" of gifted. I don't know what we do with all of the prejudice surrounding this label, but it's irritating to see it so clearly outlined in print.
On the other hand, I read a wonderful blog entry titled "Why is 'gifted' such a dirty word?", about this topic from the perspective of a homeschooling parent. In her blog, the author tackles the idea that "all children are gifted." She writes, "all children are gifts, all children are special, and they all have the potential to bring joy into this world if their unique qualities are nourished and celebrated. But not all children are 'gifted.' 'Gifted' refers specifically to talents and abilities outside of the norm. A gifted athlete is markedly different from an average one. We know them when we see them, and not all the training and love in the world will make an ordinary person into a gifted athlete. It would be nonsensical to claim that we are all gifted athletically, so why, when we are talking about intellectually gifted children, do we try to claim that all children are gifted?" She goes on to ask why we are so afraid to recognize that some children are, as she puts it, "smarter than your average bear," and she considers the consequences for kids if we don't make an effort to address the special intellectual and social needs of gifted kids. The author's blog, Yet Another Homeschool Blog!, is well written and creative. Drop by if you get a chance.
Welcome to Our Gifted Child Weblog
I am very excited about having the opportunity to be part of the weblogging community. Together we will share information, ideas, and comments.
The Label of Gifted Child--Is There a Better Way?
Recently, I was with a group of gifted education specialists and our discussion revolved around the meaning of the label “gifted.” One person commented that we (being specialists) all knew what the term meant. I questioned that. So, we went around the group and asked just what “gifted” meant to each person. Very quickly it became obvious that we all had very different views of it. This went way beyond the common definitions of gifted children
and ventured in to its subtleties.
Some people feel that all students have gifts. Some people feel that being gifted requires a high I.Q. or an exceptional analytical ability. To others it is a student who earns straight A’s or it might be a person who has social problems because he is so smart. There are many definitions of the word and many different interpretations of those definitions. Along with those interpretations go both positive and negative feelings of gifted children
My question is: Should we use the term “gifted” at all? Is it a useful term? Rather than label students as gifted, would we not be better off using more specific descriptors? As an adult, wouldn’t I understand more about a child knowing that she has great insight into her reading or has the ability to solve complex math problems in creative ways or that he is a great public speaker? Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to know a student is highly organized and goal oriented or is very sensitive to the feelings of others or is a wizard at science? If we need to use some general term, would we be better off using “smart” or “high-ability"?