Gifted Children & Poverty
When I was young, growing up in a suburb north of Chicago, I heard rumors of Cabrini Green
. This was one of the “projects” in Chicago, northwest of The Loop. It was to be feared. When I first learned to drive, Division Street (where Cabrini Green was located) was firmly imbedded on my mind as a place to avoid at all costs. When you’re on the subway, I was taught never
to get off at Division Street. Cabrini Green was filled with poor, angry, black people.
Now, many years later, I frequently go back to Chicago. To get from the area where I stay to one of the main highways, I have to drive down Division Street, past Cabrini Green. Much of the area is being gentrified. One by one, the projects are being torn down, replaced by expensive new row houses. A large grocery store has been built in the same strip mall as a Starbucks. But a number of the old Cabrini Green structures are still there, waiting their turn to be torn down. Meanwhile, they are still occupied by the same population that has been there for decades. Every time I drive by I am sickened. This is like a war zone in a third world country. It is inexcusable for our country to allow anyone to live in the squalor that that exists in these projects. The buildings, surrounded by tall chain-linked fences are literally falling apart. It is evident by the smoke stained concrete that numerous fires have taken place in the buildings. Children of all ages “hang out” on the broken sidewalks and grassless, dirt yards.
Each time I drive past this scene I wonder about the children inside. What kind of a backgrounds do they bring to their school experiences? What hopes do they have for learning? We are told that in every population there are similar percentages of gifted students. If this is true, how will they be found in this population and how will they be served? Will anyone care?
Grants for Gifted Education Teachers
Finding grant money for special projects and activities can be a challenge for classroom teachers; however, there are opportunities out there. In each issue of Prufrock Press' journal, Gifted Child Today, the editors feature a select number of grants that seem particularly appropriate for teachers of gifted children.
For example, teachers wishing to write a unique unit or classroom project dealing with the environment, will be interested in the following listing from the most recent Gifted Child Today: "The Captain Planet Foundation supports environmental projects fro children and youth. All projects must promote understanding of environmental issues; focus on hands-on involvement; involve children and young adults ages 6-18; promote interaction and cooperation within the group; help young people develop planning and problem-solving skills; include adult supervision, and commit to follow-up communication with the sponsor. Grant amount is from $250 to $2,500. Application are reviewed quarterly. For more information, contact Taryn Murphry, 133 Luckie St., 2nd Fl., Atlanta, GA 30303 or visit http://www.captainplanetfdn.org/aboutUs.html."
You can find other grants and awards in each issue of Gifted Child Today.
Gifted Kids & Video Games
My oldest son, Brian, has always been “into” computers. He enjoyed this pastime as a child and continues as an adult. He now builds and maintains computer systems on his job, and acts as a consultant for top companies and governments. At home, he is helping to raise a twelve-year-old boy and a five-year-old girl. When you enter his house, there are computers everywhere. Each of the kids has a computer and games are played regularly. For fun, sometimes my son will get together with his buddies, each bringing a computer to a central location where everyone hooks up to one another and they have a gaming session that can last for days. This is difficult for me to understand. Pardon the pun, but it doesn’t compute.
Recently, I was editing an article on technology—specifically on video games. The games sounded educational, so I emailed the article to Brian to get his impression. He gets irritated with the fact that everything has to be “educational,” whatever that means. After all, aren’t there different types of education and different types of skills and knowledge to be gained? He emailed back to me an article that he says expresses the way he feels about video games. The article, from the July 12 issue of USA Today, is titled Video Games Not Necessarily Turning Kids’ Brains to Mush
, by Kevin Maney. Maney talks about two books that espouse that playing video games might be one of the best things your kid can do to ensure future success.
The argument comes from Steven Johnson, author of Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter
. Johnson, a best-selling science writer who often tackles neuroscientific issues, feels that playing video games helps kids to learn valuable problem-solving skills. Games like The Sims
and RollerCoaster Tycoon
give kids a cognitive workout. We're getting smarter, Johnson says, and the reason is the growing complexity of popular culture—including video games. He feels that books lack interactivity and, therefore, understimulate the senses. It’s not the game content that’s important, but the mental process that is required to solve problems. At every point you have to make decisions. You have to think about patterns, long-term goals, and resources. Then you have to make decisions, get feedback from the game, and use that to readjust your decisions. Steven Johnson has his own blog
, if you’re interested in learning more about his thinking.
Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever
, by John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade states that video games are changing the way that work and data are managed. The authors stress the importance of kids learning to be fluent in video games. Gamers believe that winning matters and they place a high value on competence. Game players learn about measured risk taking, have an amazing ability to multitask, and develop leadership skills.
So, perhaps, parents and educators should take another look at video games and discover what skills can be gleaned from them. Also, shouldn’t we consider how the techniques used in these games might be applied to future learning methods?
Metacognition and Gifted Children
Metacognition is analyzing one’s own thinking process—thinking about thinking. It is vital when learning to develop strategies for solving problems, whether they’re math problems
, learning a second language
, or social problems. It helps students make connections between different situations.
We can learn a lot about our kids by just sitting down and asking probing questions about their thinking. Some statements and questions that you might use are
- Think out loud for me.
- Tell me about the strategies you are using.
- Tell me more about that.
- What are some things you will have to think about before beginning this?
- When did you start having trouble?
- What was it that confused you?
- Is this problem like any other problem you have experienced?
- Is there another way of looking at this?
- How did you develop that idea?
I remember one time I was working with a class on some difficult math problems. After giving the students time to work individually on a problem, they still struggled. I suggested that we stop and share some of the strategies that students were using and how they were thinking about the problem. One rather quiet boy began explaining his thinking. Suddenly several others blurted out, “That will never work!!” (I didn’t think it would work either.) Instead of cutting the boy off, I told the others to be polite and hear him out. As he explained his thinking, the correct solution slowly emerged. Yes, he had approached the dilemma in an unusual way, but it had been correct. There are often many different interesting ways to approach a problem. That’s one of the things that’s exciting about all of this.
It will help your own children or students if you model your own metacognition. When beset with a task, talk out loud and state how you will approach the task. Tell if it reminds you of something you have done before, anticipate what information or tools you will need to accomplish the task, give yourself a timeline, etc.
When something isn’t working, stop and talk out loud. What might be a different strategy you could try?
Rather than focusing on judging, focus on thinking strategies. What works and what doesn’t work.
When students learn to use metacognition, they become more confident in their ability to solve new problems. They learn what to do when they don’t know what to do. By understanding how individual kids think, you may better understand their choices in the fut
Under Funding Gifted Education
Last year, PBS' NewsHour with Jim Lehrer was running a series of stories about the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) on the nation's schools. One segment in particular focused on NCLB's effect on gifted education.
The transcript (and video stream) of this NCLB and Gifted Education NewsHour segment offers a depressing look at the impact this act is having on the education of gifted children. Below are just a few choice quotes from the NewsHour segment.
- John Merror, the segment's reporter explains: "... programs for the nation's 3 million academically gifted students like Alex are disappearing from schools throughout Illinois and the rest of the country. The National Association for Gifted Children reported that last year, 17 states had no money set aside for gifted education."
- Don Roberts, a school superintendent captures the problem: "[gifted children are] probably the most underserved students that the districts have, because we spend so much time trying to bring the lower end up, that, you know, you tend to forget about the top."
- Penny Choice, a gifted education specialist puts the blame where it belongs: "Gifted services are going away very, very quickly because of the No Child Left Behind [Act]."
Creatively Gifted Children
I often get the following comment about my two grown boys: “They are both so creative and so funny. How did they get to be that way?”
The people who make this comment are correct; Brian and Todd are very creative. Being funny is probably part of that creativity. As adults, this innovative ability is demonstrated in their approach to their jobs, solutions to problems they encounter in life, and the way they spend their spare time. Because they can look at situations in creative ways, they also greet life in a very upbeat fashion.
Creativity is a great asset. Some seem to be born with it and for others it may be a bit of a challenge, but no matter what, it can definitely be enhanced.
I think that my two boys were basically born creative, but I also found that there were ways to enhance this trait as they progressed through childhood. I would like to share some of those ways with you.
Tolerance for Chaos
If everything in your house always has to be neat and tidy, you will have a difficult time encouraging creativity. Sometimes it is necessary to mess up the house to have fun.
Tolerance for chaos is also very helpful in making good decisions. Kids (and adults) often want instant answers. To make good decisions it is often necessary to have “think time.” During this think time, one can come up with a variety of possible choices from which to choose. The more choices, the greater the chance one has of selecting a good one.
Brainstorming ideas also fits under the umbrella of tolerating chaos. On their Creativity Central Idea Blog
, Jake and Maria G. pose a variety of questions that incorporate brainstorming by allowing readers to respond. You really should take a look at this as some of their questions and responses are quite thought provoking.
Less Is More
You don’t have to spend any extra money to encourage creativity in kids. All you need to do is look around the house and think about different ways of using the items you already have.
Sheets and blankets draped across furniture make great playhouses. This may mean rearranging the furniture. Add some stuffed animals and a whole fantasy world can be constructed. Let the kids use their imaginations for the use of each room or area of this fantasy world.
Keep a box of unused or discarded hats, costume jewelry, pieces of cloth, shoes, and clothing that children can use to dress-up. Make sure a full-length mirror is available so children can see how they look. An old slip may suddenly become the gown of a princess, especially when combined with a necklace and a feathery boa. Garage sales and thrift shops are also inexpensive places to buy items for the dress-up box.
Bathtub toys can consist of empty plastic bottles of various sizes that can be floated or used to pour water from container to container. A plastic bowl may become a boat. All can be stored under the sink in a plastic pail.
Recycle your plastic meat trays, tin foil, and anything else that can be washed. Save all kinds of odds and ends of ribbon, string, yarn, sewing scraps, colorful paper, catalogs, etc. Whenever you’re going to throw something out, look at it in a different way and think if your child might use it in some creative way. Keep the items in a creativity box for the kids on a rainy day. Coupled with scissors, markers, and glue, they will create artwork and create inventions.
When Halloween rolled around, we didn’t go out and buy costumes; instead, they decided who or what they wanted to be and we would decide together how the costume could be made. This was actually a practical reason for them to learn how to use the sewing machine.
There were a couple of times as my boys were growing up when they created whole fantasy themes together. For weeks or months, everything in their lives revolved around these themes. One time they decided they were each birds. Another time they decided they were flies. (This may embarrass them as adults, but it was great to see their young minds at work.) With each fantasy, they created songs, rhymes, ways that they moved their bodies, games they played, and how they slept. It would have been easy to discourage this, especially when the boys decided that birds only eat with their beaks. After all, this is not encouraging good manners at the table. I knew the fantasy wouldn’t last forever, so I let them be birds.
Older Children and Creativity
As the boys grew, their creativity demonstrated itself in other ways. They produced wonderful videos that were driven by themes or stories that they made up. Brian programmed his own computer games. Todd found unusual ways to practice the piano, making the memorization of pieces easy. They approached their sports (extreme skiing and technical rock climbing) with thoughtful problem solving techniques.
Mistakes Are Great
In his blog Creative Projects for Gifted Students
, Joel McIntosh talks about the importance of student projects that reach a real audience. Creative inventions fit right into this need. Why not encourage kids to participate in one of the many creative invention competitions, such as
Let Their Minds Flow
So, enjoy and encourage the creativity in your children. Know that with your encouragement, these traits will help them to become productive individuals and good problem solvers as adults.
Creative Projects for Gifted Students
In Carol Fertig's newest blog entry titled, Publishing for Gifted Students, Carol addresses the topic of how and why we should encourage gifted and talented students to publish their writing.
Gifted and talented students find a passion for learning for a lot of reasons, and I suspect those are as varied as the students. As a teacher, I found that one of the most effective tools for motivating kids to learn was to ask them to produce a creative "product" for a real audience that demonstrated what they had learned.
"Product" is a funny word for what I'm talking about. It generally refers to any creative ... well ... creation that a child might ... (well, shoot) ... create that demonstrates their learning. This can include all kinds of things: video documentaries, speeches, short stories, scale models, or science experiments. However, to make these kinds of projects really valuable they need real audiences. A product created just for a grade includes only a teacher as the audience. Think about it; as adults, we seldom make something creative only to have it stamped with a grade and handed back. We typically produce a product for some kind of audience.
Sometimes, in the classroom, the product and audience are simulated. This approach is easier for teachers because they can come-up with "simulated" products and audiences that align with the concepts and skills they are teaching. For example, a teacher might ask students to script and film a 60-second advertisement (edited in Apple Computer's iMovie) that models persuasive writing techniques being taught. While this kind of simulated product has solid advantages including streamlined curriculum alignment, it's not as powerful for motivating students as products for real audiences.
The Power of Real-world Audiences for Gifted and Talented Student Products
Gifted students who know that they are preparing a work for a real audience are more likely to take the project seriously and learn more from the development process as a result.
For example, in his blog titled, A History Teacher, San Diego teacher Dan McDowell asks his students to use the Internet as their publishing media as they create interactive, branching Web-based simulations on the Jewish Holocaust. In his blog Dan explains, "Basically [my students] are creating a branching simulation (think "choose your own adventure [story]") about a family in the Holocaust. They have to come up with realistic decision points, describe the pros and cons, address the consequences of each decision, and fill it in with a narrative that reflects their research on the Holocaust." The finished simulations are published on the Web and available to other students or anyone seeking information about the Holocaust on the web. Dan offers an overview of this project in a special section of his blog.
Of course, products can be designed for audiences outside of the school. For teenagers, there are several magazines that publish their work. One of my favorites is Merlyn's Pen. This magazine does a great job of publishing high quality works by adolescent writers.
Many of you know that Prufrock Press publishes Creative Kids, a great magazine by and for kids, ages 8-14. Creative Kids focuses on written works that represent the interests of kids in upper elementary and middle school. It also publishes art, games, puzzles, and jokes created by kids.
High school students talented in conducting historical studies may wish to submit their essays to The Concord Review, a history journal that is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic work of secondary students.
In her blog, Carol Fertig lists several more good places for young writers to submit their work.
Product Development Resources for Teachers of Gifted Kids
If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, I have two recommendations. The first is Prufrock Press' best selling, Ultimate Guide for Student Product Development & Evaluation. This book offers a step-by-step introduction to using creative projects in your classroom confidently. The authors give ideas for integrating projects into your existing curriculum, ways to help students plan and create their projects, and easy, effective evaluation strategies.
For those of you focused on teaching student writing and helping students get their writing published, I think the best resource available is A Teens' Guide to Getting Published. This book is the only resource for teen writers from the viewpoint of two successful, nationally published teen writers. Covering everything from getting organized to working with editors, this is a no-nonsense resource to help young people see their writing published.