Friday, November 15, 2013

Approaching the parent-teacher conference

Blog reader Sara asked on the previous post about advocating for your gifted child. The staff of the Davidson Institute posted a number of their online resources, which I recommend looking at. In this post, I'd like to talk about how people have approached parent-teacher conferences.

Ideally, there is plenty of communication going on between school and home. You've been in your child's class on occasion to help out; you've exchanged emails with the teacher already. The first parent-teacher conference isn't your first get-together, and so you've already established a working relationship.

My husband and I like to approach these things much as we would meetings for work. We discuss before hand our objectives and questions. We talk before hand with other stakeholders who won't be there (e.g. the kid himself, babysitter, etc.)

If one major objective is to convey that your child is capable of challenging work, and would like to be challenged, you want to bring in evidence to support that. Think a portfolio that represents what you see: stories the child is writing, what books he's reading, the pie charts he draws for fun in his spare time. Particularly if your child doesn't do his or her best on assessments -- because they're boring and cover stuff the kid already knows -- you want to show material that shows your own assessment of the child.

Obviously, if you've had the kid independently evaluated -- which ideally the teacher already knows about -- you'd bring that information in too.

Then, hopefully, it's a pleasant conversation -- approached as "what can we do to be supporting you" in making sure the child has work that challenges her brain and keeps her engaged. Take good notes; thank the teacher for specific examples of what's happening the class (like your kid being put in a small reading group tackling a higher-level book).

I'd love to hear how Gifted Exchange readers have approached parent-teacher conferences, and how they've gone. They've gone well for us, and I know we've been fortunate that way. I'd love to hear how you've navigated them, and I'd love to hear from teachers who read this blog about how they like them to go.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Building bridges -- but to where?

I have recently learned that my state, Pennsylvania, requires that gifted learners be identified and served. My local school district sponsored a small gathering on gifted education recently, which I'd hoped would feature a discussion of our district's policies and offerings for such children.

Instead, we got a discussion of the skills gifted students would need in the 21st century. And while it was fun, and fascinating, it reminds me of the trouble gifted advocates have gotten ourselves into, historically, in the way we've shaped the conversation on gifted education.

We spent much of the hour devoted to this conversation on gifted education building a bridge. Each table had a divider in the middle, and the teams on both sides of the divider had to build a bridge with a package of random materials. The catch was that it had to exactly match the bridge on the other side of the divider. Every 3-5 minutes or so, we'd send up a negotiator to talk with someone from the other team. They'd confer, they'd come back, and we'd all adjust.

It was certainly a more enjoyable way to spend an hour than many other things we could have been doing with our time, but the point was that we were using 21st century skills: problem solving, negotiating, team work, and so forth. These soft skills are the ones that employers say people most need. They're also the ones employers are likely to say people lack. These are the skills that gifted children will need in the 21st century.

Except they're also the skills that all children need. And this is where the gifted conversation goes awry. Because many pull-outs over the years have been built around fun project based learning. But all kids can learn that way, and all kids can enjoy going to science museums, or whatever other trips these pull-outs have entailed.

What gifted kids need in particular is work that stretches their brains to the extent of their capabilities, in an environment with their intellectual peers. Bridges can be part of that. But bridges can be part of everyone's learning. What belongs under the gifted education rubric is something a little different.