Thursday, November 17, 2016

A new online high school for gifted kids

Greetings! I know it has been a long time since I've posted here, but there's some great news that I wanted to share with the Gifted Exchange audience. The Davidson Institute -- which is the sponsor of this blog -- has just announced the launch of a new full-time online high school option for the 2017-2018 academic year. The Davidson Academy in Reno has been serving the profoundly gifted population for the last 10 years, but has required students to live in Nevada (or families to move there). Now, the Davidson Academy's Online High School will serve students who live anywhere in the U.S.

For the 2017-2018 year, courses will be available for incoming freshmen and sophomores. Courses for juniors and seniors will be added in subsequent years. Applicants must be 12 to 15 years old as of Sept. 30, 2017, and will need to submit SAT or ACT scores and commit to being full-time students. The age requirement will be expanded upward as more advanced high school courses are added in future years.

For Nevada residents, the Davidson Academy is free to attend in person or online. For out-of-state students, there will be a $100 application and assessment fee, and if accepted, people will pay tuition, but there is financial assistance available. The application deadline is March 1, 2017. If space is available, late applications will be considered until April 15.

While there are various online school options available to students, the Davidson Academy has a unique perspective on the needs of profoundly gifted young people, and aims to create a community of such students (and families) who often don't get a chance to spend much time with their intellectual peers. If you've been trying to figure out a good school option for your gifted pre-teen/young teen, this could be worth checking out.

Friday, April 15, 2016

It isn't either/or

I have been reading (and enjoying) Anders Ericsson’s new book, Peak. Ericsson’s career has focused on researching how one achieves world class performance in competitive fields such as music or chess. His concept of “deliberate practice” has been written about widely in popular literature.

I was thinking of the concept of practice, and intelligence in the context of false choices recently. One of the tasks on the WISC (the intelligence test many children take when assessing for giftedness) features a test of working memory. The test giver reads numbers to you and you repeat them back (and repeat them backwards). The strings of numbers get longer.

Ericsson isn’t writing about children’s intelligence tests (and none of this should be construed that I am arguing with his points), but anyway, he opens his book with a discussion of such a working memory test. One of his early experiments was to turn a decent-but-not-top Carnegie Mellon student (where Ericsson was teaching) into the world random digit memory champ. Through diligent, deliberate practice, the student was able to repeat back 82 digits, which had not been done before. Now digit memorization is its own whole big competition, and the champions can repeat back hundreds of digits.

Getting this reasonably intelligent young man to 82 digits, then the world record, required about 200 hours. So it is reasonable to infer that a generally diligent young child might be coached to remember strings of 8, 9, 10 digits fairly easily. At least this subtest of the WISC would seem to be easily manipulated.

So...then what? Long time readers of this blog know that there have been a string of articles over the years pointing out that there is X, Y, or Z problem with intelligence testing, or the current state of gifted education, and therefore the idea of giftedness is itself a myth. Even if all these woes are accurate, though, therefore...what? What do you do with a bright child who is completely bored out of her mind in class, who teaches herself to read at a young age, who memorizes long strings of facts because she finds them fascinating, who pipes up from the backseat at age 5 with such interesting observations as “you know, multiplication is just a faster way to add?”

The point is, there can be facts that point in various directions that can be simultaneously true. Sure, certain elements of intelligence testing can probably be coached. It can also be true that there are extremely bright children whose educational needs are not being met in the regular classroom, and who need individualized instruction that challenges their frenetic brains. They need to be given an opportunity to work at the edge of their capacity, instead of being bored all the time. Few things in life are truly either/or, and this isn’t one of them either.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Standardized testing -- in or out?

My oldest child is now in 3rd grade, which in our state means it's time for the big No Child Left Behind-inspired assessments. There have been emails going around about the process of opting out, and my son even asked me about it. Some parents were having their children skip the tests, he said, so what about us?

I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I know what the tests will show. He knows the third grade material. His school is full of above-average children. This is time that he will not be learning much new material, or reading novels, or inventing timelines for fictional characters, or playing outside in the lovely spring air.

On the other hand, it is test practice, and I have my suspicions that test-taking is not one of his strong suits. Given that there is a lot of test taking in life (SATs, etc.) this is not a bad thing to practice in years when it doesn't much matter.

I am also not opposed to testing and assessment at all. While there were many flaws with NCLB (the lack of national standards, the once-annual as opposed to value-added and no-ceiling approaches) I know that there were schools that simply weren't teaching kids, and then claimed that tests couldn't account for all they did. Well, maybe. My son has had amazing teachers, which any test would show. I had plenty of good teachers over the years, too, though I also had some lousy teachers that I feel more rigorous assessment could have sussed out. That at least is the basic idea of testing and accountability.

In any case, I know many readers of Gifted Exchange have dealt with NCLB grade-level tests for years. What did you do? Did your schools have a culture of opting out? Did lots of families opt out, or was there broad encouragement to stay in? (if not from administrators, from other parents at least).

I would be curious to hear your experiences.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

This doesn't make differences less noticeable

One of the arguments against self-contained gifted classes is that children who don't receive this label will feel inferior. While that would certainly be a sad outcome, an experiment in Baltimore raises the question of how, exactly, creating heterogeneous classes would change that.

A recent article in the Baltimore Sun highlights changes in the area's gifted programs. In years past, all students were screened in 2nd grade, and students who met the criteria were put in advanced classes in reading and math. While some argue that second grade is a bit late, screening all children is definitely best practice (as opposed to having a secret program that parents have to ask about).

In any case, school officials decided that they wanted to move away from a so-called tracking approach, and do flexible, in-class groupings instead. Kids could move in and out of groups as they progressed.

There is nothing wrong with fluid grouping, and indeed, too many gifted programs have had no in or out, regardless of how life progressed. But the Sun article raised an interesting point, that "the new approach only makes differences among children of varying skill levels more noticeable, potentially harming those deemed not ready for more advanced material." In the words of one mother, "Children notice the differences. I think it calls more attention to the fact that children are reading in different groups."

When kids are in a different class down the hall learning something different, you're only vaguely aware of it at any given moment. If you are very obviously in the lower level group in a mixed class, the differences are right in your face.

So the problem isn't solved, and a new one is created: teachers have to adjust to multiple levels constantly. Even the best, most experienced teachers find this difficult. It's hard to see how this is a step forward.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How to work and homeschool too

I hope everyone had a great New Year!

I know from previous surveys that a high proportion (perhaps 50 percent) of families of profoundly gifted students wind up homeschooling at some point during their school years. These days there are a lot more options for online schooling and individualized instruction than in the past.

One thing that holds some families back is the assumption that one parent (likely Mom for a variety of reasons) will need to stop working in order to homeschool.

But it turns out that working and homeschooling aren't incompatible. I have a piece published over at Fast Company today on the ultimate second shift - "How These Parents Work and Homeschool Too."

To make it work, families need to embrace a few ideas.

First, work does not need to happen between 9 and 5, but even if it does, school does not need to happen between 9 and 3. Any of the 168 hours in a week can be in play! (well, probably not 2 a.m. to 5 a.m., but still).

Second, all working parents need childcare. For some parents, school serves this function, but the educational and custodial care functions of school can be unbundled. A number of homeschooling, working parents have nannies for some chunk of time. These caregivers might be able to supervise some aspects of schooling (e.g. trouble shooting for an elementary school student taking an online class).

Third, homeschooling parents can share the load. Two parents taking half the homeschooling means that the time load is cut in two. Many families belong to homeschooling co-ops or even district-run programs that offer electives or specialized instruction one day a week. This becomes time parents can work. Homeschooled kids might go to college classes, or do intense athletic or artistic endeavors, which fills some time too.

If the pieces of work can be moved around, then the math works. Someone could work 35-40 hours a week, and homeschool for 20, sleep 8 hours a night, and still have 52-57 waking hours per week left over. It would be a full life, but a doable one.

Do you or have you homeschooled? If so, did you maintain any professional involvements during this time?