Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Carol Fertig: "It is impossible for teachers to do it all"

Today we welcome Carol Fertig to Gifted Exchange. Fertig is a gifted education expert and the author of Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook, new from Prufrock Press.

GE: You've been in gifted ed for decades—why did you write Raising a Gifted Child now? Did you learn anything new in the process?

Fertig: Writing Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook presented me with an opportunity to combine two things that I enjoy very much: writing and sharing resources.

Since the spring of 2005, I have been doing the Gifted Child Information Blog for Prufrock Press. In the weekly entries, I include lots of information on a variety of topics specific to gifted education, including philosophy and theory, practical information and techniques, many excellent resources, and current events. The blog is designed to appeal to both teachers and parents. Joel McIntosh, publisher of Prufrock Press, asked me to put the book together for parents, based on the type of information that I include in the blog.

Writing the book gave me a chance to take much of the information I had previously assembled in the blog and reorganize it into meaningful chapters, while weaving in interesting stories of real students and families.

The biggest challenge was working with such a large document. I had to learn how to manage so much text.

GE: What's the biggest misconception about parenting a gifted kid? (that the public has, and that parents themselves have)?

Fertig: Probably the biggest misconception is that parents of gifted children need to be afraid. Well-meaning parents may read articles or books that suggest that a gifted child’s needs must be met using a specific strategy at school or the young person will be destined to misery the rest of his life. Most parents do not realize that whether their child is highly gifted, gifted, or just bright, there are many choices for directing and supplementing educational opportunities. In Raising a Gifted Child, I show parents that they don’t need to be afraid; instead, I present the many possibilities there are for school choice (including homeschooling and virtual schools), mentors, tutors, enriching experiences, and resources. I explain how many strategies can be combined to provide good educational experiences.

Most people (the public, parents of gifted kids, and teachers) get hung up on cookie cutter approaches. Much time is spent on the definition and identification of giftedness rather than looking at kids as complex beings with sets of strengths and challenges. The definition of giftedness varies between experts in the field. If the experts can’t agree on a definition, it is even more difficult to find a uniform identification process. Some students have and/or develop much greater strengths than others. It is more important to figure out and act on the strengths of kids than it is to label them.

GE: When a parent first learns that his or her child is gifted, what should the first step be? What resources do you recommend?

Fertig: It is important for parents to realize that there is no one right way to raise and educate highly capable children; instead, there are many good choices and one must pick what works for each family and situation. The only way to understand the possible choices is to learn about them.

In Raising a Gifted Child, I offer a large menu of strategies, organizations, school options, Web sites, tips, and suggestions to encourage smart kids to learn and develop. I provide specific suggestions for language arts, math, science, social studies, foreign language, music and art, technology, high-level thinking skills, and creativity. Many suggestions are for students who have strong interests and perform above average. Other resources and strategies are for the few kids who are among the smartest in the nation.

GE: You call on parents to be pro-active and constructive when dealing with the child's school. Please talk a little bit more about what this means, and what's the best approach.

Fertig: It is impossible for teachers to do it all. There is simply not enough time. Parents can be a great asset at school, setting up mentorship programs, before/during/afterschool clubs and enrichment classes, and working with small groups of children on specific skills. In Raising a Gifted Child, I talk about the most effective ways for parents to offer their services (giving specific language to use) and explain why teachers are sometimes reluctant to ask parents to help. I describe in detail several mentorship model programs that have been successfully executed — mostly set up by parent volunteers. In the chapter on specific subjects, numerous academic clubs, commercial programs, and supplementary materials from quality educational publishers are listed. These can all be used for enrichment and subject acceleration opportunities.

GE: How can Raising a Gifted Child best be used?

Fertig: The book can be used in a variety of ways, including as a resource for students who have specific strengths or interests, for parents to see the many educational choices they have, and for ideas for enrichment at home. Raising a Gifted Child is a good starting point for parent/parent and parent/teacher discussions. It is also a good resource for parenting networking groups — especially as a jumping off point for sharing strategies and resources that have worked in families with gifted kids.

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