Thoughts on Individualized Learning for the Gifted or Nongifted
Individualized learning can help a person of any age move through a subject at his or her own pace. Neither kids nor parents need to wait for their schools to figure out how to arrange for individualized learning. There are other choices, including private lessons, technology (much of it costing no more than an Internet connection), and mentors.
I am personally rediscovering how individualized learning works. For quite a few years I’ve been thinking about becoming proficient in several languages and also studying piano. A couple of months ago I took the plunge.
For a foreign language, I decided to start with French. The last time I studied a language was in college. Technology has totally changed the way I can now learn. Rather than spend a lot of money on a class that has a set time schedule and curriculum, I’ve subscribed to a couple of French podcasts over iTunes (free). The podcasts include pdf files on vocabulary and grammar, which I download and print out to accompany the audio podcasts. That way, I can both see and hear the language. I’ve also signed up for an online class at LiveMocha
. I learned about this Web site from an article in The New York Times
, titled Learning from a Native Speaker, without Leaving Home
. I can progress through the LiveMocha course at my own pace with both visuals and audio. I also have the opportunity to communicate with real native speakers by writing, talking together, and even using a Webcam. Once I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of the language, I will join a group in my community that gets together with the sole purpose of speaking the language.
The second thing I’m doing is studying piano. (I had taken lessons as a child, under duress, and had never done very well.) I knew that I needed formal, private instruction for this. I interviewed four different piano teachers. Each had a very different style. I am very pleased with the person I chose. He is explaining techniques to me that no one had ever explained before. My teacher does not write lesson plans before working with me; instead, he listens to what I have practiced and watches the way I am using my hands, and then teaches me according to my performance on lesson day. While there is a general plan for the areas we will cover, the real value is in discovering where I am with my studies at a particular time and figuring out what needs to be taught. I can’t think of a better way to learn.
Before starting on either of these learning pursuits, I made a commitment to myself to work hard and enjoy each. The coupling of motivation, plus the individualized learning seems to be the perfect match. When hearing my enthusiasm for French and piano, some of my friends have used the words “obsessive” or “highly focused.” Sometimes, in gifted education, we more kindly say a person has a real passion.
We hear so much about the benefits of individualized instruction, but it isn’t easy to accomplish in a school setting. At least for some subjects, individualized instruction is the best way to learn. Remember that there are options outside the school setting to learn at one’s own pace.
Online Advanced Math Enrichment Courses
One of our authors, Sandra Berger, recently pointed me toward a great Web site for parents of children needing extra math challenges beyond what’s offered in the classroom. Art of Problem Solving is a Web site geared to boost problem solving and other math skills through online courses, an interactive community, and textbooks for contest preparation.
The site’s newest focus is Math Jams, a series of online courses aimed at helping students in grades six and up who are planning to participate in MATHCOUNTS, a national mathematics contest. According to the site:
Math Jams are free online classes hosted by Art of Problem Solving for a variety of purposes. Some Math Jams are improvisational problem solving sessions, some are informational sessions about prominent programs, or college admissions, or other topics of interest to our students. Other Math Jams include reviews of major contests, such as the USAMTS or the AMC series of tests. Instructors employ the same Virtual Classroom for the Math Jams as used in our more structured online classes.
Upcoming courses include Introduction to Geometry (March 3–August 18, Mondays from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST) and Introduction to Number Theory (February 28–May 15, Thursdays 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. CST). The Introduction to Geometry class includes a full course in geometry for students in grades 7–10 who have a strong background in the basics of algebra. The Introduction to Number Theory course covers fundamental principles in number theory, such as divisors and multiples, prime numbers, composite numbers, remainders, number bases, and modular arithmetic for grades 6–9.
To enroll, or for more information on the courses (including diagnostic tests), visit the Art of Problem Solving course information page.
In order to attend a Math Jam, you must first log on the Art of Problem Solving Forum, then click the Classroom button on the left panel of the site up to 15 minutes before the Math Jam begins. The Virtual Classroom should then open automatically. One of the biggest benefits I’ve found of this site is that the Math Jams courses and membership in the community forum are free—a great resource for parents!
Can Critical Thinking Really Be Taught?
The Washington Post published an interesting article this week on teaching critical thinking skills. The term seems to mean different things to different people. It might mean
- reading deeper into what is written.
- understanding why historical events happened, rather than simply memorizing facts.
- using analysis, synthesis, application, and reflection.
- discerning judgment.
All kinds of organizations are devoted to studying critical thinking.
According to the educational nonprofit group Foundation for Critical Thinking, a practiced critical thinker will
- raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
- gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret effectively.
- reach well-reasoned conclusions and solutions and test them against relevant criteria and standards.
- think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought.
- communicate effectively with others to solve complex problems.
A controversy seems to be whether critical thinking can be taught without content knowledge, and whether the skills can be transferred from one situation to another.
As Daniel T. Willingham, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, says, “To understand the structure and the nature of poetry, you need to read a lot of poems. It’s the same thing with mathematics and science.”
Teachers and parents need to make certain that students know the difference between memorizing material and understanding it, that they are open to different ways of thinking, and that they learn as much as they can about as much as they can.
“The easiest way to encourage critical thinking is to force [students] to question everything,” said Michael Tabachnick, professor of physics at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, PA, who teaches a course in it.
“Question me, question their parents, their pastor, everything,” he said. “It doesn't mean you can’t believe, but you must question. Is it true? Is it opinion? Is it justified by fact? . . . Students eventually learn to analyze. Some will do it better than others, but you can always get them to at least question.”
The Gifted Introvert
In society today there is a great emphasis on being social and having lots of friends, but some people savor being alone and are most productive in this state.
There are many ways to consider learning styles and personality types. One way is to classify a person as either an extrovert or an introvert. The extrovert's main interests are with the outer world of people and things, while the introvert is more involved with the inner world of concepts and ideas. Well developed introverts can deal competently with the world around them when necessary, but they do their best work inside their heads, in reflection.
Many teachers (and parents) are extroverts. It is very difficult for an extrovert to understand an introvert. Therefore, an adult may see the introverted student as someone with a problem, not as simply someone with a different personality type. This may lead to attempts to get the young person to be “friendlier,” to work in large groups, to talk more often and more spontaneously, and to be more outgoing and interactive.
There is nothing wrong with being an introvert. It does not need to be cured. It simply needs to be understood and accepted. Of course adults need to be able to tell when the introversion (or extraversion) is dysfunctional, but normally introverted students don't need to be changed to match other students.
- Are territorial—desire private space and time
- Are happy to be alone—they can be lonely in a crowd
- Become drained around large groups of people; dislike attending parties
- Need time alone to recharge
- Prefer to work on own rather than do group work
- Act cautiously in meeting people
- Are reserved, quiet and deliberate
- Do not enjoy being the center of attention
- Do not share private thoughts with just anyone
- Form a few deep attachments
- Think carefully before speaking (practice in their heads before they speak)
- See reflection as very important
- Concentrate well and deeply
- Become absorbed in thoughts and ideas
- Limit their interests but explore deeply
- Communicate best one-on-one
- Get agitated and irritated without enough time alone or undisturbed
- Select activities carefully and thoughtfully
So, don’t try to change kids who are introverts. Don’t think there is something wrong with them.
There are many advantages to being an introvert. Introverts
- don’t always need to have people around.
- are quite happy to entertain themselves or to learn on their own.
- are potentially more productive, because they can get right to the task at hand rather than being distracted by others.
Join the Association for the Gifted (CEC-TAG)
I would like to ask the readers of this blog to consider joining a dedicated group that speaks up for gifted kids.
For many years, I have had the great pleasure of collaborating on many exciting projects with the Council for Exceptional Children's The Association for the Gifted (CEC-TAG). CEC-TAG is made up of individuals from across the nation and world who are devoted to gifted children.
Speaking Up for Gifted Kids Without a Strong Voice
I think this organization has touched my heart because of its tireless work for gifted children, especially those gifted kids who don't fit our preconceived notions—gifted kids from diverse backgrounds, gifted kids with Asperger's syndrome, gifted children with physical disabilities, and other children who are twice-exceptional.
Simply put, this is an association dedicated to challenging assumptions about gifted children and championing their cause. I am a member of this organization, and I would like to personally invite you to join me in becoming a member as well.
Join CEC-TAG and Receive Exciting Benefits
The benefits of joining this professional organization are very compelling. Your annual membership includes the following:
- Four issues of the Journal for the Education of the Gifted (JEG) per year (includes online access to current and past issues)
- Six issues of Teaching Exceptional Children
- Four issues of Exceptional Children
- Quarterly newsletters from CEC and from CEC-TAG
- A discounted member rate for all meetings of CEC and TAG
- 30% discount on all CEC products
- 10% discount on Prufrock Press products
- Peer-to-peer support
- A network of colleagues who are leaders in the field of gifted education
For 50 years, CEC-TAG has been the leading voice for special and gifted education. CEC-TAG establishes professional standards for teacher preparation for the field, develops initiatives to improve gifted education practice, and ensures the needs of children and youth with exceptionalities are met in educational legislation.
Become a member of a team of professionals devoted to (a) improving educational opportunities for individuals from all diverse groups with gifts, talents, and/or high potential; (b) sponsoring and fostering activities to develop the field of gifted education; (c) supporting and encouraging specialized professional preparation for educators; and (d) working with organizations, agencies, families, or individuals who are interested in promoting the welfare and education of children and youth.
How to Join CEC-TAG
You can join CEC's TAG Division in two ways.
Download a CEC-TAG Membership Application
Click here to download a membership application in PDF format that can be completed and mailed or faxed to the CEC offices.
Visit the Web site of the Council for Exceptional Children and select the "Membership" tab near the top of the Web page. Please remember to join the TAG Division when your reach the division membership area of the online membership application.
Thank you for considering this request. I honestly believe in the cause of this organization, and I hope you will consider joining CEC-TAG.
Black History Month Resources for Gifted Kids
February is Black History Month and there are rich resources available to learn about important African Americans and their contributions to history. With a click of the computer mouse, teachers and students can access audio interviews, music, video, photographs, text, and Internet links from reputable sources. You can read biographies, listen to live performances of spirituals, hear great speeches and discussions about cultural influences, learn about important movements, and view study guides.
Here are just a few of the resources available.
If you are an iTunes user, go to iTunes U and see the free downloads on Black History Month that are available for your computer or MP3 player.
Prufrock Launches New Gifted Education Online Journals Platform
This week, Prufrock Press launched its new online journals platform. We now offer online access to current and past articles from all of Prufrock's gifted education and advanced academic journals.
We've been working on this project for more than a year, and we're very proud of this new online resource. The site features the following:
- 10 years of back issues for most journals (with more to come);
- Articles searchable by journal, title, author, and abstract;
- Complimentary article downloads for current journal subscribers; and
- Pay-per-view options for nonsubscribers.
Active subscribers have complimentary access to any journal to which they subscribe. If you are a current subscriber, login information and a temporary password will be published on the back of the next journal issue you receive in the mail (the Winter 2008 issue of Gifted Child Today has already been mailed and includes this information).
For non-subscribers, the Web site offers a pay-per-view option.
Let me invite you to visit Prufrock Press' Online Journals for Gifted Education and Advanced Academics.
Alternatively, you can reach individual journals directly by clicking on the following links:
Enhancing Creativity through Elaboration
Another important element of creativity is the use of elaboration—to embellish, enhance, and enrich. Elaboration allows for the addition of significant detail to basic ideas, making thoughts and products more complex and intricate.
Think of the artwork in Where’s Waldo? books or Richard Scarry books. Young children delight in the pages completely filled with minute illustrations. Consider a very detailed description of a place or person. After finishing the passage, you have a clear picture of what that place or person is like. You cannot only “see” the object of interest, but you can also “smell,” “hear,” and perhaps “feel” it.
Examples of elaboration activities you can practice with kids include the following:
- Give each student a blank piece of paper along with pencils, crayons, or markers. Instruct them to draw a simple house by sketching a square with a triangle on top of it for the roof. Next, set a timer for five minutes. During the allotted time, students should add as many details to the picture as possible. At the end of the five minutes, share the pictures and talk about them. Encourage children to add more details as they see/hear the ideas of others that they like. The object is to make the pictures as elaborate as possible.
- Sit down at the computer. Have your student or even a whole class take a seat near you. (You are going to do the typing.) Write a simple sentence, such as, “The boy walked down the street.” Together, generate questions and answers that will allow for the elaboration of the story. Why was the boy walking down the street? Was he by himself or with someone else? Can we replace “walking” with another word? What did the boy see around him? How was he feeling? What was he wearing? Fire the questions out as quickly as possible and insert answers before, in the middle of, and after the original sentence. You will be surprised at how you can turn a simple sentence into an elaborate story.
Have a child or a small group of children help plan a party including invitations, decorations, games, food, and entertainment. Use everyday materials that are found around the house. The more detailed the decorations are, the better. This party can be for people, pets, or stuffed animals. It might be fun to have it theme oriented.
Review classified ads and human interest stories with your young person. Look for ideas that evoke images. Take turns creating stories based on the mental images created from the ads. For example: “Lost—bag of pearls in blue velvet bag somewhere between Main Street and 7th Avenue after large dog grabbed it out of owner’s hand. If found, please call 644-5983.” What kind of story can be created using elements from this ad? What kind of a person would walk around with a bag of pearls? How did the person acquire the pearls? What was the person going to do with the pearls? Where did the dog take the pearls? The possibilities for a great story are endless.
Encourage students to put lots of detail into their school projects, when appropriate.
When a young person tells you something, encourage him to elaborate with statements like, “Tell me more.”