Thursday, June 24, 2010

How do you talk about your gifted kid?

Parents like to talk about their kids. Sometimes (when we are around friends without kids, for instance) we realize that we barely talk about anything else! And part of being a parent is being proud of your kid and wanting to share good news, and share concerns as well.

If you've got highly gifted offspring, though, this can be a problem.

I was thinking of this while reading the "Unwrapping the Gifted" blog over at EdWeek. Tamara Fisher describes a parent weekend in Montana, and the awkwardness of discussing your kid in mixed company, as it were:

"Parenting a gifted child is not usually the cakewalk others assume it to be," she writes. "These kids are intense, they crave (and seek out) challenge and mental stimulation, and their learning needs are typically not well-met by a regular classroom pace and content. These factors can lead to parenting struggles that a parent's friends just don't understand. It's not easy to say, 'My child is four grade levels ahead in his reading abilities and I'm worried he's not getting what he needs in the classroom' when the societal response to that worry is cynicism and sarcasm."

It is also very hard to talk in public about your kid's accomplishments. As the Davidsons and I wrote in Genius Denied, "Bragging about one's child is a birthright of being a parent -- when she took her first step, said her first word, learned how to read. But friendly bragging in the neighborhood and at work involves a quid pro quo. You talk about your kid for a bit, then I'll talk about mine. If you can't talk about the same thing, the bragging stops. Parents who are proud of an A on a test resent hearing about another kid who has just skipped three grades, published an academic paper, and still complains that the work is too easy."

As one parent told us about her daughter, "I feel like it is seen as inappropriate for me to say too much 'good' about her. I worry about this because I want her to hear me say good things about her, but it is so uncomfortable."

So here's the question: how do you talk about your gifted child? How do you participate in those friendly parenting conversations at work or at the park? Or do you just keep quiet and save most of the conversation for parenting gatherings where everyone is dealing with similar issues? I'd love to hear how Gifted Exchange readers handled these situations.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Itinerant teachers: expanding access or scaling back?

The Davidson Institute graciously sends me a round-up of gifted headlines from around the world every week. This past week, two articles caught my eye because they seem to show an interesting trend in gifted programs. This trend is to do away with a full-time stand-alone gifted classroom, and to substitute a roving teacher.

This is largely budget neutral. Kids still have to be transported, whether to a gifted classroom/school or another school. Teachers still have to be paid whatever the wage is for their tenure and expertise, whether they are in one classroom 5 days a week, or in one 3 days a week and roving for two, or roving for the whole time. But both a Johnson County, NC school district, and a district in British Columbia, have elected to do this sort switch in order to, as an NC official said, be "using these teachers better, more efficiently." A roving teacher can bring gifted services to more students.

It is hard to know what to think about this. If a district has 100 gifted students, but only 20 are in a stand alone classroom available at one school, then this doesn't seem like a good set-up. On the other hand, serving 100 students 1 day a week is not equivalent to serving 20 students 5 days a week. Ideally, there would be full-time services for all 100 kids. That could also be budget neutral, as long as the class size for gifted students is no smaller than for other classes. But for a variety of reasons, this full-scale readiness grouping does not seem to happen many places (possibly because of the attitudes discussed in our previous post on the "stupid class").

I'm curious about Gifted Exchange readers' experiences with roving teachers. Is it better than nothing? Quite good? Or not really worth it? Is it a stealth way to get rid of gifted education?

Monday, June 14, 2010

The End of the "Stupid Class"

Sometimes it's good to be reminded that not everyone views the world the way I do. I am saying that, because that is the only positive point I see coming out of the tone of a story called The End Of The Stupid Class, which ran at Voice of San Diego recently.

The piece documents a detracking effort by Correia Middle School in Point Loma, CA. The author, Emily Alpert, starts from the assumption that this is a good thing because ability grouping (or as I like to call it, readiness grouping) "tends to help kids at the top and hurt those at the bottom." (That's the summary of the article in "The Big Picture" section on the left side of the page). So clearly, we wouldn't want to help kids at the top. And she quotes kids talking about things slowing down, and mentions that fewer kids are scoring in the top levels on the 7th grade math exams. But she quickly rushes past that and quotes other people talking about how gifted kids thought there should only be white kids in their classes and hence now this is better.

In other words, anyone who believes in readiness grouping is racist. Get it?

After your head stops spinning when you read the article, it's time to take a more sober look at the concept. In general, detracking is very hard to make work. If you have a school of extremely gifted teachers (that is, you've managed to ability group to get your staff to all be much better than average), sometimes it can go all right. But if you have a school of extremely gifted teachers, anything you do will be fine. In general, teachers have an easier time of instructing kids who are relatively close in terms of their preparation.

I don't want to completely smack Correia, as it sounds like there is still some tracking for extremely gifted learners, as well as students with special needs. In general, it's better to have a smaller, more targeted gifted program than a huge one that ropes in students who just happen to score in the top 25%. And if students were ever calling classes the "stupid class" then it sounds like many of the folks involved in the school needed an attitude adjustment. But the way this article is written just totally misses the point. Gifted education is not a reward for white children and a way of punishing kids by putting them in the "stupid class." It's an educational intervention for children who need it. Maybe if we keep saying that often enough, the message will get through.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The 2016 hours of summer

(cross-posted at My168hours.com; this fits in the "parenting" category for Gifted Exchange).

There are 168 hours in a week. Many kids have roughly 12 weeks off from school for June, July and August. This raises the question for families: what are you doing with these 2016 hours (168 x 12) of summer?

Sure, you'll be sleeping some. Grown-ups will sleep about 672 of them. Kids a bit more. And many adults also have far less than 12 weeks off work. But even if you're working 40 hours during each of those 12 weeks -- 480 hours -- that still leaves 864 waking, non-working summer hours. If you take a week or two off work (most people have a few days off around July 4th anyway) that puts you up over 900.

This is a lot of time, even if you already have commitments like camps or sports practices. Do you know how you'll spend these 900 hours?

We have been trying to figure this out in my house. Sure, there are bigger things: a weekend trip to the beach, a few days visiting grandparents, a week's beach vacation in August. But many of those 900 summer hours come in shorter spurts. They come as a lazy weekend day, or a gorgeous summer evening where it stays light up until bedtime.

In my book, 168 Hours, I reference an exercise created by career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine, called the "List of 100 Dreams." This is an unedited list of anything you might like to do or have in life. It's a good way to start thinking about how you'd like to fill your time, because time management isn't just about saving 5 minutes here and there. It's about filling your weeks with activities that bring you and your loved ones joy.

I've been thinking these last few days that it would be a good idea for families to create a List of 100 Summer Dreams. Sit down as a family and start thinking through anything you might like to include in your summer. Evening bike rides? Camp-outs in the backyard? S'mores in the backyard? A weekend canoeing trip? A hike in a nearby state park? A family swimming class? Volunteering together? Making a quilt together? Picnic breakfasts?

You can come back to this list multiple times. But as you look through your weeks, keep looking at this list, and looking for places in the 2016 hours of summer where they'd fit. You have time for anything you really want to do. A canoeing trip your kids may remember for years could only take 10 hours or so on a Saturday. I don't believe in scheduling our lives (particularly our summers!) down to the minute. But we live in a distracted world. When we don't plan to do things that take effort, we tend not to do them. And we lose our summer hours to television, web surfing, chores, errands and puttering. Better to start off with the question of what we'd like to be doing as families, and go from there.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Girls Prevail in New York CIty Programs for Gifted

That's the headline on yesterday's article in the New York Times. While the city's schools as a whole are about 51% male, the gifted programs in the early grades are about 55-56% female.

What causes the disparity? Some experts say that little girls are better able to sit still during the exams required for entrance to these programs. Girls may also develop verbal skills at an earlier age, and hence be able to communicate their giftedness to adults better. (I guess we can be grateful, for the cause of gender relations, that experts aren't suggesting that girls are smarter than boys -- a reverse of the way people spun Larry Summers' comments a few years ago).

If these gender differences are true, though, what is to be done about it? I suppose the same things many of us advocate for making gifted programs fair on multiple dimensions (race, class, etc). Use multiple assessments. Allow people to test in (and out!) of gifted programs at many different points. And stop treating gifted education as a reward. If it is seen as an accommodation for kids who need it, and all children are getting an education that matches their needs, then it matters less what the exact percentage of each different group will be.