Saturday, November 26, 2011

The NAGC’s Bold Step and What it Means for Your Gifted Child

What a way to start off a new job … with a bang! Paula Olszewski-Kubilius took over the reigns of the NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children – U.S.) at their annual convention earlier this month. She's also the director of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development and a professor in their School of Education and Social Policy.

In her inaugural message to NAGC members, ‘Taking a Bold Step’, Olszewski-Kubilius states, “I suggest that we take a bold step and consider making talent development, rather than giftedness, the major unifying concept of our field and most importantly, the basis for our practice.” Critics were quick to contend that this was a bold statement for the new president of an organization which is considered to be all about giftedness rather than talent development; even going so far as to suggest it change its  name.

Nothing less than a firestorm has erupted in online gifted communities. Perhaps it is just the company I keep, but the cons sure seemed to outnumber the pros. It also re-opened some old debates between the importance of recognizing giftedness vs. focusing on talent development … talent development based upon principles of psychology rather than education. Many negative comments seemed predicated on this conflict rather than on an in-depth review of the underlying reasons why the NAGC has committed to heading in this direction.

It just so happens that yours truly had been plodding her way through a 45+ page monograph for three weeks prior to the publishing of the latest issue of Compass Points. I say plodding because it reminded me of why I dropped out of graduate school (thus my lowly status of blogger rather than college professor). 

To be honest, the monograph, "Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science", was not written for a lay person. The synopsis provided by the journal in which it was published, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, did not do it justice. In fact, in some social media circles it acted like high-quality kindling on a fire that was just getting started. The monograph was written, however, in my opinion to serve as the basis for a fundamental change in direction at the NAGC. It redefined giftedness as “the manifestation of performance or production”, that “achievement is the measure of giftedness”, and that “eminence is the basis on which this label [gifted] is granted”.
The controversy online made this topic almost too hot to handle for this blog. I say ‘almost’ because the more I read about it, the more intrigued I became about digging deeper. Talk about emotional intensity … it’s like an American attending the World Cup! You love the game – fútbol or soccer, as we like to call it – you know some of the players, you have a general idea of who you want to win, but most of the time you feel confused and wish those around you would just stop blowing those vuvuzelas!

So why did the NAGC decide that now was the time to change course? From a review of this year’s Gifted Child Quarterly – the official journal of the NAGC … and yes, I am a member – it became clear that articles were published in anticipation of this move to an emphasis on talent development. It should also be noted that all three authors of the ‘Rethinking Giftedness’ monograph – Rena F. Subotnik, Paula Olszewdki-Kubilius, and Frank Worrell – are also members of the Editorial Review Board at Gifted Child Quarterly. (More on the authors can be found here.)

In the Spring 2011 issue of Gifted Child Quarterly one such article appeared entitled, “State of Research on Giftedness and Gifted Education”. The authors – Dai, Swanson & Cheng – came to the conclusion after an extensive review of gifted research articles between 1998 and 2010 that there needed to be a clearer definition of giftedness that the entire gifted community could agree upon if any forward progress was to be made in gifted education; at least in the U.S. They showed a dramatic increase in the amount of research on giftedness and gifted education, but also an increasing divergence in the direction of that research. Basically, they were calling for new standards in the field.

What were the motives behind this move on the part of the NAGC? Is it their intention to replace the term gifted with talent development? Are the social emotional issues experienced by gifted children no longer valid? What role does the NAGC’s support of The Talent Act sitting in Congress have to do with any of this? And last, but not least, for whom does the NAGC speak? I look forward to hearing from the NAGC should they decide to address these questions.

In the final analysis, this blogger must ask, “What does this mean for gifted children?” Yes, remember them – the children – the reason we teach, research, and for whom we advocate for a clearer understanding of their needs and education? This change of definition will definitely make a difference for future generations, but in reality … probably not for our children today. Which begs the question – should parents even be concerned about this whole issue?

Do I think it’s important for parents to be concerned about the direction taken by an organization who is a major player in shaping gifted education policy in the U.S.? Why, yes,! Just as I feel that progress will only be made when parents step up to the plate and make their voices heard in support of their children. For too long – like forever – parents have sat on the sidelines complaining about the gifted programs in their local schools, the lack of funding at the state level, and the lack of federal mandates to validate the need for gifted education at all. You need to become part of the conversation or things will NEVER change. You will become grandparents complaining from your rocking chairs and wishing you had done something years ago.

A word to my international readers … this is not solely an American issue. All parents need to become advocates for gifted education to ensure a brighter future filled with opportunity for your children. Better still … we must all come together as a forceful reminder to the larger gifted community that it is about … the children!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

It’s Elementary … Working as a Team

 “It’s elementary, my dear Watson” … an oft quoted line of Sherlock Holmes is quite appropriate when talking about gifted children and the importance of the early years spent in elementary or primary school. It is here that the foundation of their lives is built. If a parent or school waits until a child is older to consider identification and appropriate educational placement, it can be an opportunity lost forever.

Young gifted children need to be challenged during the beginning years of school. For too many of these kids, it is easier to take the path of least resistance rather than the road less travelled. Elementary school is a ‘breeze’ for many gifted children. They know the curriculum inside and out even before they open a book. In the first few years it is like a game for them. Always knowing the answers, their little hands are the first ones up when the teacher asks a question. After multiple wrong answers are given, the teacher finally calls on them. With beaming faces, they give the correct answer and receive appropriate praise from the teacher. Although parents may see this as an ego boost, in reality it is setting a bad precedent. Without proper guidance these children may become boastful and alienate classmates or become bored and mischievous. The latter often resulting in numerous trips to the principal’s office or phone calls home.

There are some ways to break this cycle, but it involves parents and teachers working together as a team. Yes, I realize that this can be a problem when one of the parties does not want to engage in the process. As a parent, however, if you want everyone invested in your child’s best interest you must be willing to attempt to build strong relationships based on mutual respect. This requires a great deal of diplomacy and work on the part of the parent. When you are working with educators you need to act professionally, keep your emotions intact, prove that you know what you’re talking about through written documentation and use of appropriate educational language, and know the law in regard to gifted education in your school’s jurisdiction. Basically, you need to know how the system works, who the decision makers are, and what you hope to achieve for your child’s education; not an easy task for a young parent.

Building a strong support system for an elementary level child should be the ultimate goal of every parent. Model the behavior you wish your child to display. Remember that education is so much more than what you learn from a book. Learning how to work well with others to achieve your goals is one of the most important lessons in life we can teach our children. In fact … it’s elementary my dear parent!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Parenting Gifted Children … Does it Have to Be So Hard?

When I first started contemplating parenthood, I shared the idyllic dreams of many wannabe parents of what life would be like with children. Visions of … “Mommy, I love you!” … danced in my head. Never, ever, did I think it would be as difficult as it has been and this has come as quite a shock to me! No one said it would be easy, but … geez … did it have to be this hard?

Recently, I started taking a more serious look at the books written about parenting gifted children. And wow, there are quite a lot of them! Most are excellent resources, well written, and offer good advice to frazzled parents. I would recommend them to anyone. In fact, I’ll include a short list at the end of this post.

That being said, I began to look back at my experiences with my own children. They are both in college now, thankfully; so, I have much to reflect on concerning their early years. The information available to me as a young mother was not much more than what my mother had used … Dr. Spock and Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. Widespread use of the Internet was in its infancy and I had no idea that they were ‘gifted’ … amazingly bright kids who seemed to win arguments more than they should, but gifted?

Information is power and the earlier a parent has it, the better! Although it’s good to know how to be a good parent, in the case of a gifted child … it’s also good to know what you’re dealing with. It helps to prepare you for the rapid-fire advancement through various stages of development with a little asynchronous development thrown in for good measure. Make it a point to learn what your school district offers in the way of gifted programming K – 12, who is responsible for administering and providing services, and what the law is regarding gifted education in your state/country. This can be done even before your child sets one foot in school.

Now that you have that down, let’s talk about potential problem areas when parenting a gifted child. I have already mentioned one of the most difficult challenges – asynchronous development. Most people don’t even know what that means and you may not either; but, you’ve ‘seen’ what it looks like. Gifted kids can be brilliant at a very young age, but this frequently doesn’t match their social and emotional maturity. In fact, the discrepancy between brain function and maturity can make for some very unpleasant situations. Knowing that this is relatively common in gifted children and being prepared to deal with it is half the battle.

Another challenge faced by gifted parents is realizing early on that nobody cares more for your child and their education than you. The buck stops here. Not only must you be the one to advocate for your child at school; you must also take responsibility for providing supplemental learning opportunities outside of school. This can take various forms such as afterschool programs, classes at universities that offer gifted programs, summer camps, cultural experiences, and travel to historical locations to name a few. It can also be as simple as a trip to the library or a nature hike. Talk often with your child and find ways to spark their curiosity.

Did you hear the part about “talk to your child”? Since they seem to be asking questions incessantly, this shouldn’t be hard to do. Talk about many different topics … they are usually up for a debate anyway! Talk to them about those things you value most and why you hold certain beliefs. They won’t always agree with you, but one day they will thank you for it. Never be afraid to say, “I don’t know”. Consider it an opportunity to learn together. Buckle up – it’s a wild ride!

In the final analysis, it’s you and your child … that’s just how it is. It is a journey you take together and do the best you can. Laugh with, love, and enjoy them, because in the blink of an eye – they are on their own. If you do your job, it will be the happiest time in both your lives!

And now for a brief list of books (in no particular order) I (and a few of my closest friends) like on gifted parenting …

  • Living With Intensity (Susan Daniels/Michael Piechowski)
  • Emotional Intensity in Gifted Children (Christine Fonseca)
  • The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids (Sally Walker)
  • Guiding the Gifted Child (James T. Webb, Stephanie Tolan, et al.)
  • Academic Advocacy for Gifted Children (Barbara Jackson Gilman)
  • Raising a Gifted Child (Carol Fertig)
  • A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens (Lisa Rivero)
  • Making the Choice (Corin Barsily Goodwin/Mika Gustavson)
  • When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers (Jim Delisle/Judy Galbraith)
  • Raisin Brains (Karen Johnson Isaacson)
  • 5 Levels of Gifted (Deborah Ruf)