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Illinois Association for Gifted Children
This month, Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Director of the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, offers insightful perspective for parents who are looking to support and nurture children with advanced learning needs...
Top Ten Skills to Cultivate in Your Gifted Child - Part 1
I am often asked by parents what are the most important “things” to do for a gifted child? Over the years, I have developed this list of characteristics that I have come to believe are some of the most important ones for parents to cultivate so as to help gifted children realize their dreams (notice I said “their dreams” and not their parents’). My list is based on the research literature in the field and my own experience as an administrator of gifted programs and as a parent.
Resiliency. One of the important facts about highly successful individuals is that though they achieved great notoriety for their creative contributions to society, their paths there were not always easy. Many encountered significant challenges in childhood including loss of a parent, instability in their family life, or poverty or racism. Often they found refuge in their talent domain—playing music, writing stories, or reading broadly and voraciously. And, even when they were in their professional careers, their success was not instant or consistent. They typically had significant failures along the way including loss of a job, work that was rejected or panned by critics, or business ventures that did not succeed. Yet, they came back from these failures and persevered. Children need to know that success and failure often go hand and hand. In fact, you often cannot get more of one without more of the other. We want to encourage our children to take risks and to see so called “failures” as opportunities to learn and improve. As parents, we can do that by modeling risk taking and effective coping with set backs and “bumps on the road”.
Optimism. Related to resiliency is what psychologist Maureen Neihart refers to a one’s explanatory style—or how individuals explain their success or failure. Neihart says that explanatory style has three dimensions—permanence (whether the cause of an event is viewed as temporary or enduring forever), pervasiveness (projecting causes across many situations), and personalization (whether I or an external event is responsible for the loss or failure). Children who are optimistic are more likely to believe that setbacks or failure are temporary and will persevere because they have hope that things will change for the better—and they can bring about some of that change (e.g. study harder). Optimists also tend to limit the effects of failures rather than blowing them into major catastrophes. In response to a bad grade, an optimist may say that their teacher has high expectations or the test was very hard rather than concluding that all teachers are unfair. As a result, an optimistic child can find a solution and way to improve the outcome rather than dissolving into hopelessness. Neihart says that pessimists blame themselves when things go badly and do not take credit when they work out well. Optimists do the opposite. They take credit for successes and recognize the (at least partial) role of outside factors in disappointing outcomes. The goal is to help children be accountable for their failures and address any areas of weaknesses but without losing confidence to try again. The good news is that optimism can be taught!!! Parents can help children by actively shaping their explanatory style for successes and failures—e.g. teaching them to entertain multiple explanations for a poor performance.
Being an Autonomous, Autodidactic Learner. This includes a number of skills such as being able to initiate learning independently, setting individual learning goals and following through on them, identifying what one needs to learn and do in order to complete a project, being able to monitor and evaluate the success of one’s learning, and accessing the appropriate resources needed for learning, including seeking help from knowledgeable others. While the learning that takes place in school is critical to developing the talents of gifted children, much of it is determined and dictated, at least in part, by a teacher, and often is on topics children need to study, but may not particularly engage or interest them. Outside of school is often where passions can be pursued and the ability and desire to learn things that are not required for school, coupled with the motivation to pursue these assiduously, are critical for the development of talent. Parents can help by modeling autonomous learning, helping children decide on projects and goals, and connecting children to activities that allow them to practice independent learning (e.g. competitions). They might also help by alerting teachers to a child’s significant interests and pursuits outside of school, thereby giving the teacher an opportunity to capitalize on and connect learning at home with learning within school.
Learning to Deal with Stress and Control Anxiety. Any athlete performing at a national level or performing artists such as dancers, musicians, actors, will tell you that a key to their success is learning to deal with stress and anxiety. It is not that elite performers do not feel stress and anxiety, they practice and develop techniques (e.g. breathing to reduce physical manifestations of stress or anxiety ) and strategies (e.g. over-preparation) to reduce it. Often, they are taught these techniques by coaches, sports psychologists, other performers, mentors and teachers. The performing arts schools, such as music conservatories, and training facilities for elite athletes recognize both the positive and negative aspects of stress on performance and how to capitalize on or mitigate these so as to enable peak performances. In the academic domains, we do very little of this even though scientists, literary scholars, mathematicians, and business entrepreneurs are often similarly involved in competitive (e.g. for grants, contracts, awards) or performance (e.g. presentations) situations. Also, there is stress and anxiety that comes from producing creative work, such as a story, piece of art, original song, a scholarly paper, and having it judged and evaluated by the gatekeepers, journal-reviewers, art critics, book reviewers, in a field. In short, everyone who works at the highest levels of achievement and creativity will encounter and need to learn to deal with stress and anxiety. As parents and teachers, we can begin early to help children with these feelings so that rather than shying away from a challenging course that requires oral presentations, choosing not to run for a school office because it involves making a public speech, or not submitting a story or art piece to a competition, students embrace these as opportunities to learn and view them as stepping stones towards the accomplishment of their goals. (See Neihart’s book cited above for more on this).
Duckworth, A, L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2007, 92, 1087-1101.
Duckworth, A. L., Quinn, P. D. & Tsukayama, E. (2012). What No Child Left Behind leaves behind: The roles of IQ and self-control in predicting standardized achievement test scores and report card grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 439-451.
Neihart, M. (2008). Peak Performance for Smart Kids. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2013). Top ten skills to cultivate in your gifted child: Part 1. Parenting for High Potential, 2 (5), 2-3.
Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (2013). Top ten skills to cultivate in your gifted children: Part 2. Parenting for High Potential, 2 (6), 2-3.
Siegle, D. (2012). The Underachieving Gifted Child. Prufrock Press.
Learn about 5 more important skills to cultivate in your gifted child in Part II of Dr. Olszewski-Kubilius's "Top 10 Skills to Cultivate in Your Gifted Child," which will be shared in our August 2020 "Question of the Month" Blog!
This summer, cancellations of many summer enrichment camps, pool programs, music, and sporting activities, can make finding ways to keep children with advanced learning especially challenging.
Nevertheless, creativity often flourishes within constraints, and this summer offers new opportunities for exploration.
What interests can your child nurture at home? Inventing a new recipe, writing a poem, making a sketch journal, inventing the "ultimate backyard workout routine," or creating a container garden for the patio or backyard are simple ways that your child may find enjoyment in a summer day.
In May, the topic for the Illinois Association for Gifted Children's Monthly "Virtual Parent Round Table" facilitated by Board Members Pamela Shaw and Denise Kuchta focused on ideas for summer fun and learning. This group inspired a list of Resources for Summer Fun and Enrichment, to which ideas can be added as a "work in progress." Please feel free to take a look! Perhaps you will find yourself enjoying online activities provided by a Chicago museum, exploring a new outdoor activity such as geocaching...
If you have an additional idea for this list, please email email@example.com!
Enjoy the fleeting summer days with your child, and please continue to explore our resources on the parent pages at iagcgifted.org.
How can I advocate for my child during times of remote learning?
During times of remote learning, advanced learners may be working at their own pace on academic content related to their interests. They may also encounter challenges with respect to staying engaged with online school assignments. Parent advocates can support their children by helping them to develop ownership of their learning and to practice skills that empower them to embrace challenges independently. Parents can also collect and record information that may be helpful to inform placement/differentiation decisions when children return to school. The May 11, 2020 NAGG Blog Post, "Supporting Advanced Learners: New Roles for Parent Advocates During Times of Remote Learning," by Patricia Steinmeyer, IAGC Executive Director has several suggestions for parents.
During these times of stay-at-home orders and remote learning, parents can do much to help their children manage anxiety. For strategies, watch "3 Top Strategies for Helping Your Child Cope with Anxiety During Challenging Times," an interview with Michele Kane, Ed. D.
Now more than ever in Illinois and nationally we need teachers, parents, and community members to advocate for programming to meet the needs of children from all cultures and backgrounds with advanced learning needs.
Advocate in Illinois:
At this time, Illinois lacks funding for gifted programming and professional development opportunities focused on supporting teachers of advanced learners.
In 2003, prior to NCLB and the end of state funding, approximately 80% of districts in Illinois had gifted programs. Currently, only approximately 27% of Districts offer gifted programming (Dwyer and Welch, 2016).
This lack of gifted programming disproportionately affects low income and minority students and creates opportunity gaps and excellence gaps. In Illinois, according to a January 2018 Fordham Institute Study by Christopher Yaluma and Adam Tyner, the percentage of high poverty schools with gifted programs is 32.8% -- much lower than the national average of 69.1%.
To learn more about opportunities for advocating for gifted learners in Illinois, click this button:
The following message from NAGC and invitation to the 2020 Leadership and Advocacy Conference in Washington on March 15-17, 2020 underscores the importance of advocacy in Illinois and nationally:
As educators and parents, we observe the inequities in gifted education and have a passion for changing the narrative, but often don’t know how to start facilitating change. However, you’re not alone. There are resources, tools, and mentors available to help.
The National Association for Gifted Children’s 2020 Leadership & Advocacy Conference March 15-17, in Alexandria, VA, is one place to meet fellow advocates, learn skills, and build your advocacy strategy. Here’s why you should attend:
We must join voices and forces in 2020 to reach our federal, state, and local policymakers to ensure the needs of gifted and talented children are met. Register for the 2020 Leadership & Advocacy Conference today!
Developing Good Thinking Habits in Gifted Education
Todd Kettler, Baylor University
Teaching students to think lies at the heart gifted education. Good thinking—thinking that is cognitively disciplined rather than impulsive—is necessary for exceptional achievement, innovation, and leadership. Our technical world of ubiquitous information requires students to mature into nimble, efficient problem solvers prepared to analyze and generate ideas. While constant, adaptive streams of information fuel both controversy and possibility, those who do not learn to master the information may be destined to be mastered by the information. Curriculum designers and teachers in gifted education should give serious attention to what constitutes good thinking.
Good thinking is a broad term that incorporates multiple approaches to intentional cognitions. Good thinking includes critical thinking, analytics, design, creative thinking, and problem solving. Becoming a good thinking requires students to master cognitive skills as well as disciplined commitments to clarity and consistency. For instance, it is not enough to know how to evaluate sources of information; one must commit to ongoing evaluations preceding knowledge and belief. In this way, good thinking becomes as much a character trait as a learned skill.
What is a Thinking Curriculum?
Over time, curriculum models have fluctuated on the relative importance of teaching thinking. A quick tour through some schools and classrooms today would yield a mix of emphases on content versus process. Whereas some learning environments emphasize content with some thinking opportunities, others may ground the learning processes in inquiry approaches such as engineering designs, problem-based and project-based learning, or small group seminars. A recent focus group of gifted students told me they want more time in school to think critically about real and important issues. They said they want more debate and discussion that engages the complexity of local and worldly issues. They described this as a fresh and meaningful curriculum that expects them to think deeply and act responsibly.
More than three decades ago, Raymond Nickerson, psychology professor at Tufts University in Boston, addressed the question of why we should teach thinking. Nickerson argued that the reasons for teaching thinking may vary based on our context or vocational perspectives. For instance, one might teach thinking because it leads to innovation and economic opportunity. Others view teaching thinking as foundational for self-governance and a just democracy. Teaching students to become good thinkers nurtures virtue, patience, and trustworthy character. Nickerson cautioned that schools and their communities must acknowledge that even when students become good thinkers, they will not always agree and arrive at the same conclusions. Sometimes schools resist a complex thinking curriculum because it is easier to focus on concrete fact and detail knowledge. It is easier to align a scope and sequence around content, and it is easier to benchmark progress on basic skills and recollection of information.
Experience tells us that good gifted education is not just doing what is easy. If gifted education is to be a model of world class learning, our curriculum commitments must be extraordinary. Good curriculum and instruction in gifted education should support exemplary thinking about significant content that builds expertise in production and performance domains. Below are some descriptors of good thinking that Nickerson began, and I extended. This descriptive list may highlight the considerable differences between the characteristics of good thinking and the type of thinking we may observe being regularly employed.
Good thinkers use evidence skillfully and impartially.
Good thinkers organize their thoughts and articulate them concisely and coherently.
Good thinkers distinguish between valid and invalid inferences.
Good thinkers value clarity and precision in their communication.
Good thinkers suspend judgment in the absence of sufficient evidence to support a decision.
Good thinkers know the difference between reasoning and rationalizing.
Good thinkers anticipate probable consequences of alternative actions before choosing among them.
Good thinkers understand that beliefs may be better categorized as matters of degree rather than a simple yes or no.
Good thinkers understand the value and cost of information, know how to seek information, and know when seeking more information makes sense.
Good thinkers see similarities and patterns when they are not initially apparent.
Good thinkers recognize discrepancies and the potential consequences of discrepancies.
Good thinkers know how to learn independently and equally as important, have an abiding interest to learn independently.
Good thinkers apply problem-solving techniques appropriately across domains, settings, and situations.
Good thinkers can structure informally represented problems in such a way that formal techniques or heuristics can be used to solve them.
Good thinkers listen carefully to the ideas of others.
Good thinkers seek better collective understandings rather than winning the argument or being right.
Good thinkers understand that authentic problems may have more than one possible solution, and those solutions may differ in numerous respects and may be difficult to compare in terms of a single figure of merit.
Good thinkers seek to carefully understand the problem before they begin to generate possible solutions.
Good thinkers know how to apply validated solutions to problems, and they know when problems require innovative solutions.
Good thinkers effectively remove irrelevancies from arguments and accurately restate the essence of the argument.
Good thinkers understand the differences between assumptions, conclusions, and hypotheses.
Good thinkers habitually question their own views when confronting new evidences.
Good thinkers attempt to understand the assumptions associated with their beliefs and the consequences that might follow from their beliefs.
Good thinkers assess the validity of beliefs against the intensity of which those beliefs are held.
Good thinkers can represent differing viewpoints without distortion, exaggeration, or caricaturization.
Good thinkers acknowledge that their understandings are always limited, and welcome opportunities to examine those understandings.
Good thinkers acknowledge the possibility of bias and prejudice within their beliefs and their capacity to examine evidence.
Including Good Thinking in Gifted Curriculum
Gifted education can be a model of world class learning, and intentionally developing good thinkers should be one aspect of that model. Blending principles of good thinking with high quality content that is relevant and meaningful has the potential to transform a wide spectrum of diverse potential into tangible talent. The following four steps are a good place to start building gifted curriculum rich in thinking and content.
Begin by being clear on what constitutes good thinking. It is quite difficult to develop a set of skills in students if the teachers and curriculum designers are not completely clear on what the skills look like in practice. Faculty or planning teams should talk about aspects of good thinking and define exactly what it looks like for the grade-level and/or subjects they teach.
Second, design learning activities for students where they have an opportunity to practice good thinking. Good thinking will never develop in learning tasks that focus on basic memorization or rote exercises. While those types of learning tasks are necessary at times, the thinking curriculum must be predominant and regularly engaged.
Third, talk often with students about what constitutes good thinking. Define it. Give examples of good thinking. Model good thinking, and celebrate examples of good thinking among the students. Think of the descriptions of good thinking listed above as the principles of a responsible and mature intellectual approach to life. Students ought to internalize the principles, and the teacher ought to motivate them toward an intellectual life guided by the principles.
Finally, use reflective learning techniques to help students increase metacognitive awareness of how they are learning to follow these principles. While teachers guide and direct students toward good thinking, in the end, we want the students themselves to become self-monitors of good thinking. Developing the skills and habits of good thinking will not happen overnight. It will take consistent effort and intentionality. However, as students mature through adolescence and into adulthood, the facts and details of the curriculum fade away, but the principles of good thinking will remain.
“Perfectionism” is a trait that is often associated with high ability and gifted children. These intellectually advanced and intense children are often able to envision a perfect, sophisticated solution, but they may become frustrated when it is not reached easily. Or, they may become accustomed to success in school coming easily, and avoid challenging work, fearing failure. Accordingly, parents and educators of gifted children need to support a growth mindset by helping gifted learners recognize that mistakes are a part of learning, and model healthy striving.
On November 16, 2019 at Wheaton College, educational consultant Kathy Green will explore perfectionism in her professional development seminar, Lazy, Procrastinator, or Perfectionist?https://www.eventbrite.com/e/project-teach-2019-tickets-77862012375
Lazy’, ‘defiant’, ‘uncooperative’, or ‘not working up to potential’. These are familiar ways of describing students (and ourselves) when we are stymied by a perceived lack of engagement. What if the real reason for that behavior isn’t one of those at all? What if the root cause is actually perfectionism?
There are various types and expressions of perfectionism, and a strong relationship for gifted individuals to paralysis, and procrastination. How can these along with practice, shame, and underachievement, both positively and negatively, impact the life of a gifted perfectionist? How can we recognize when adaptive perfectionistic tendencies become maladaptive?
The answers to these and other questions will be answered Saturday, November 16 from 1:00-4:30 at Armerding Hall on the campus of Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. Use the Eventbrite link to register.
The session is FREE, and open to anyone. Three free professional development hours available for teachers.
How can I make a difference to support advanced learners at my child’s school?
Parent advocacy can have many positive results when it comes to serving the needs of gifted children.
To learn about gifted programming and provide input at your child’s school, start by reaching out to your child’s teacher and/or building principal. You may wish to share resources about current policies and laws such as the Illinois Acceleration Act and the Report Card Act. The IAGC also provides a model acceleration policy to guide school districts with respect to the Acceleration Act. Further information can be found on the Illinois Association of Gifted Students website.
Become involved with the IAGC and our advocacy efforts to support advanced learners in Illinois. To find out more about ways to advocate in Illinois, visit our Policy and Advocacy Overview webpage.
When parents who share a common concern work and speak with one voice, advocacy becomes even more effective. For a useful resource, you may wish to access the free e-book from the NAGC and Prufrock Press,The National Association for Gifted Children Starting and Sustaining a Parent Group to Support Gifted Children.
As the school year begins, a useful ritual is to check out the view from each student’s perspective by sitting in each of their places as we arrange the classroom. How easily can each student see the projector screen? A talkative friend? A view of the playground?
Considering what students “see” can help teachers eliminate distractions and physical obstructions to learning; it can also help us find new ways to motivate advanced learners.
When setting up your classroom, imagine that you are a student. Take a seat, and look around...
Role Models and Vision: Is there a picture of an inspiring adult role model who shares my gender, culture, and/or race—a depiction that celebrates his or her contributions and achievements? What does that picture communicate to me about my future possibilities and potential?
High Level Questions: Is there a provocative, deep question posted that captures my attention and curiosity? Is there a question that I would like to explore and discuss with my friends and family? Is there a question that makes me think about how the themes or topics we will explore in the classroom this year may be important or relevant to my life?
Rich Vocabulary: Is there a new, rich vocabulary word displayed that would be fun for me to learn and use? How might it relate to math, science, or the world?
Personal Interests: Is there any place in this classroom for my own “learning agenda?” Does this classroom have a place for me and to explore and share what I love to learn?
When looking through a student's eyes, classroom landscape has tremendous potential to welcome and engage all learners, including advanced learners. And once teachers consider the view from the students’ seats, classroom spaces may provide a beautiful vantage point to “see” more students with gifts and talents than ever expected.
Adapted from 2016 blog post by Patricia Steinmeyer: https://pslearns.com/2016/07/24/meeting-the-needs-of-gifted-learners-in-the-core-classroom-try-sitting-in-their-seats/
Students who are gifted are not necessarily inclined to struggle socially, and in fact, gifted children tend to be socially adept, popular, happy and confident with their friends. Gifted children have many strengths: they are often inquisitive, imaginative, and highly communicative. They can be passionate about learning, joyful, and curious about the world around them.
Gifted students may also be sensitive, anxious, or focused on complex questions, intense interests, and/or world issues at a young age. As a result, some gifted students may feel isolated or misunderstood by their peers. Parents may observe that their gifted child prefers the company of older children or adults to whom they can better relate on an intellectual level. At the same time, the child may not be advanced emotionally, and he or she may encounter social-emotional challenges due to this uneven, or “asynchronous,” development. Parents should talk to their gifted children about their interests and experiences and encourage them to share their feelings about learning and friendships. Providing situations in which their child can interact with peers with similar interests and abilities is another way that parents can help their child to feel socially accepted and confident.
Another common challenge that some gifted students may encounter is dealing with anxiety or perfectionism. Students may imagine problems that are beyond the scope of what they can solve. They can envision a perfect, sophisticated solution, but they may become frustrated when it is not reached easily. By teaching a growth mindset--that mistakes and struggle are a part of the learning process--parents can help their gifted students to understand that problem-solving, asking others for help, and not “knowing all of the answers” are a natural part of the learning and growth process.
A wealth of books and resources are available to help parents and educators understand and meet the social-emotional needs of their gifted children.
To learn more, here are some useful resources:
National Association for Gifted Children Webpage, “Social-Emotional Issues”
Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (“SENG”) Website
VanTassel-Baska, J., Cross, T., & Olenchak, F. (2009). Social-emotional curriculum with gifted and talented students. Waco, Tex.: Prufrock Press.
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