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.


Gail Post, Ph.D. said...

You capture this dilemma so well in your example. What incites so much resentment among those who have negative reactions to gifted services are just these situations. Education that should be available to all and is only offered to gifted students. What is lacking is the understanding that gifted students frequently require a different pace and intensity to whatever concept is taught.

Gail Post/

nicoleandmaggie said...

Yeah, it was striking to me when I read Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom (now Gifted Kids in Today's Classroom) when she pointed out that the differentiation techniques described were good for *all* kids, not just gifted kids. (And can help unidentified gifted kids.) And differentiation is certainly a buzzword, but I suspect it's much more difficult to apply and it's much more difficult to have multiple activities in today's classrooms than it sounds when people talk about it.

I think if all teachers were as amazing as my 4th grade teacher (trained in open classroom and new math etc. techniques, and actually able to use them to their potential) and there were full services for BD and LD kids (so she didn't have to take care of disruptions on her own), then everybody would benefit. But I only had one Mrs. A in my K-12 career.

Jen said...

Along similar lines, Laura, is what I'm hearing in New York: that the rigor of the Common Core standards provides sufficient challenge for gifted kids. In fact, the purpose is to raise the bar for all students (and teachers)--but it has nothing to do with gifted ed.

Unfortunately, there is not even a gifted ed mandate in New York State. My daughter skipped 3rd grade; now, in 5th grade, she wants to skip again because our district isn't set up to deliver compressed instruction at an accelerated pace. She does receive pull-out instruction for one period twice a week, but there seems to be little differentiation in her typical school day instruction. So, we try to make up with afterschooling instruction at home, but we're realizing that this isn't a long term solution.

Jen /

Sara said...

Yes! This is so true.

Laura, can you find in all your time a "how to advocate for your gifted child" post?

I'm very frustrated this year (3rd grade) because the 3 GT-identified kids are in 3 separate classrooms allowing for very little differentiated learning (or at least very little that scales in a way that is worth the teacher's time like I've seen in the past). I think I'm going to "engineer" a cluster next year by having all 3 sets of parents request the same teacher (but I don't think I should have to do this, and arguably I shouldn't know how those parents are).

I'm also frustrated because my daughter's GT reading project this year is to read a Magic Treehouse book on castles and build a diorama. She can get through the book in 30 minutes, so I'm not sure where the appropriate challenge is.

I also recently found out the school gets $10 more a day to educate GT-identified kids, yet there are 0 resources allocated to them. (Really. Aforementioned teacher wanted a book we had 2 copies of in the libary, and we ended up with Magic Treehouse because it was the only historical fiction with 2 copies???)

Maybe you should do an "open Q&A post" ("office hours"?) and let us all chime in on how we do things or the challenges we are facing?

Laura Vanderkam said...

Sara- that is frustrating. We actually had Magic Tree house come up recently for something, as my son was tested reading at a "K" level on the A-Z scale. I guess I'm supposed to view that as good because C is grade level for start of 1st grade. Except that the Magic Tree house books are "M" level and my son was reading those almost a year ago. Hmmm. We may have to have a conversation on paying attention during assessments.

Anyway, we could definitely do a post on advocating for your gifted child, and people can chime in with ideas. Might be hard to do simultaneously, but I'll try to respond frequently!

Davidson Institute Staff said...

In response to Sara's post, here are some advocacy resource and article links compiled by the Davidson Institute ( team:

* Advocacy Guidebook -

* Gaining perspective on the difficulties and challenges of advocacy -

* Discussing the process of advocacy -

* NAGC's Effectively Communicating with your Gifted Child's School -

* Davidson Gifted Database Advocacy Articles -

* Davidson Gifted Database Advocacy Resources -

* Davidson State Policy Database -

Hope Gifted Exchange readers find some of this information helpful! We wish you the best in your advocacy efforts!