Friday, September 11, 2009

Parenting Gifted Children: A Back to School Quiz!

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Oh, yes; it's that time of year. One wrought with anxiety and maybe a few tears--and not just for us parents of highly gifted children. Perhaps you've heard that the minimal funding Illinois had allotted for gifted education has been trimmed from the state budget? Urgh. When I said to one of my boys with the best of intentions, "Who knows maybe this will be an exciting year?" We looked at each other and started laughing.

But we're all off to a decent start. My 11-year-old came home excited on two occasions: one when a teacher told him they'd be doing high school level work and the other when he had a chat about string theory with a teacher who's a former physicist. Needless to say string theory is not on the syllabus, but I saw a tweet from Jeanne, gifted advocate/blog friend/mom of high-ability children that gave me an idea. I'll let you know how that goes.

In the meantime, I offer up this quiz of things that may have been said by school staff or administrators in recent weeks. Guess which ones are actual statements and share some of your own real or imagined comments based on your experiences.

A) If our students aren't challenged, they're cheated.

B) There's nothing we can do to challenge him beyond what we have.

C) We will do anything to challenge you children.

D) We wish there was a way for him to be challenged other than homeschooling

E) None of the above.

F) All of the above.

Really though, it could be worse. There do seem to be some teachers and admins who putting though and concern into the placement and challenge issue. And the Gifted Academy, the private school to which we previously sent the boys, continues to have growing pains and appears to be bleeding students in the higher grades, so I think it's best the boys no longer attend there.

Enough about us. How is your school year going?


Anonymous said...

My son just started the 2nd far, teachers seem nice, but no "mention" of how they plan to deal with him.

Your question about what schools/teachers have said...well, last year, this was said,

"Well, I realize he TESTED gifted, but I'm not so sure. Oh, and in terms of giving him more challenging 'bout he works on his handwriting? His penmanship is not neat,so that should be a 'challenge' he could work on."

OR from Admins:

"We understand you want him to have a more challenging work load, but we simply don't know how we can accomodate this request. Do you realize we have children who can't even read?"

Hmmmm...these two things didn't make your list (or any one of 100 other ridiculous statments last year), so I guess I would have to pick "none of the above".

Thanks for this blog, it is so nice to have people out there who "get it"....

-Lauren in OHio

Tiffany @ Lattes And Life said...

My daughter is taking her first High School Honors class this year. Only because it fit her schedule. She refused to participate in anything geared towards her intellect years ago. Thanks Elementary School! They didn't know what to do with her either. They wanted to skip her a few grades, but I went that route as a child and it was a disaster. Intellectually mature does not equate socially or emotionally mature. So, they ended up pulling her from her class and sending her to higher grades for reading and math. She was made fun of by her peers, and "left out" by the older kids. But she breezed through the work, so it must have been a success!!! Anyway, after a few years of that she refused to do it anymore. The school's answer was to give her extra homework, and more in-class work. Yea, that didn't go over well either. So by the time she reached Middle School she started dumbing herself down in front of her peers. It's a HUGE shame.

RL Julia said...

Bit the bullet this summer and had my son transferred to the class with the tougher teacher where ALL (sixth grader emphasis)his friends were. He is flying high. Loves the teacher, loves sitting next to his best friend (who is similarly talented. Between that, science fair, soccer, band, student council, a couple of bar mitzvah community service projects and the high holidays (nevermind religious school) he is occupied. All the usual dragging about school/life etc... being overwhelming is not present this (because he is older? because he is finally in a class with his friends and doesn't have to forge new friendships? who knows....).

My daughter is a less rosy story. Bit the bullet with her and actually went to the principal and her teacher before school started and suggested that they have a plan for her for math. So far I haven't seen anything but the school managed to finagle a half time position for dance/drama and she has fallen in love with the teacher - enough so that she actually bothered to talk about school the day she had the class. Her schedule (in and out of school) is less demanding so I am thinking about getting her started on a handwriting program. I think she'd probably like to have nicer handwriting and she tends to like those kinds of projects. Her dad (the engineer) is supposed to work with her on math as well. What she'd really benefit from is some sort of accelerated class for math -I have hopes for an after school math class/club. I am cautiously optimistic.

maria bailey said...

A guest on Mom Talk Radio once told me it takes as much energy to parent a gifted child as a remedial child. As a mom of two kids who TESTED gifted, she was right. And it pains me when schools say, they just learn on their own. WRONG ANSWER! Great blog post.

Stacey @ Tree, Root, and Twig said...

This whole issue is just so tough, and I think I only understand a sliver of what you've had to go through (I mean, my kids are gifted, but...string theory?! Uh, not THAT gifted). :) I'm pleased with how our district handles advanced jr high/high school classes, but there's a real lack of support for gifted students at the elementary level. It breaks my heart to see good friends who have a 4 yr old son who can read and write already and know from experience that rather than "impress the teacher" (which is what my friends think is going to happen), it's probably going to throw a wrench into her teaching plans for her class. There's just so little room for gifted kids in many districts!

Also, as a side note, it's very interesting for me to parent five such different kids - some of them identified as "gifted" and others not. It sure makes a school year an adventure! :)

Jeanne said...

Ha ha! Some of my personal favorites:

In an effort to instill confidence? "We really don't know what to do. We've never had a student like this before."

In an effort to diffuse a meeting: "Gifted in math, hmmm, I'm just not seeing it."

In an effort to refuse services: "Oh no - we simply don"t do whole grade acceleration in this district"

From a primary grade teacher "I've run out of word puzzles to give him."

From middle school teacher "He doesn't take good notes for the open notes tests." my reply "well, yes, but he has a 98 percent in your class" teacher "but he still should take better notes."

From an administrator "Think what would happen if kids were able to test out of entire classes!"

and finally, from another admin: "I just wish someone would advocate for the average/typical student for a change."

PJ said...

I can see our year being interesting as well ... just started my son (who's turning 4) in a montessori preschool. They have reading materials that are supposedly thru the 2nd grade in the classroom. At our parent-teacher meeting last week, my son started reading something and teacher just looked at us and said "clearly, our materials will not provide a challenge for him." Hmmm - I hope they can get some materials that WILL be of interest ;-) Still cautiously optimistic about the school year, though!

Heather said...

I wish I had something eloquent to say, but so far I'm in wait and see mode here. I'm giving it til mid-October to broach the issue w/ the teacher and then following up at conferences at the end of November.

We had our first eyerolling and sarcasm (from the kid!) today when she found out the next two weeks are devoted to colors.

So instead at home we are working on spelling "tests" and afterschooling on handwriting, geography and going further on topics that come up from the day. You mentioned doing a weekend class. I think I'm going to talk to the librarian about her being allowed to participate in the classes that are usually 2nd grade and up.

I'm not exactly encouraged that this is such a universal experience, but glad you're leading the dialogue.

Boz said...

I'm a gifted ed adviser in New Zealand. The stories are the same the world over *sigh*. Our new government has withdrawn support for professional development for teachers. For the past 10 years the national team of advisers have worked in schools throughout the country to help them develop provisions for their gifted and talented kids. Now we are out of a job and we go back to square one with noone supporting these fantastic kids in school

A couple of weeks ago I was in a Girls' College of over 1500 students. One of the teachers told me that they don't have any gifted kids in their school. ARRGGHH!!!!!

Miss Lori said...

Comment part 1:

First your quiz. I am pretty sure B and D were true. Last year the statement that really pierced my heart was from her teacher in response to an incident where a classmate swore at my daughter. This teacher said to my daughter, "What did you do to make him swear at you? You know, some of the kids think you are a little b-i-t-c-h 'y." This teacher, I believe, was dealing with my child as a peer instead of as a young student who needed protection and understanding. The teacher was entranced by my daughter's intellect because my daughter functions at a high level. High enough that she can pick up adult nuances and catch the subtle layers of language and complex thought that her classmates are years away from. So, eventhough this very teacher bristled at the notion that my daughter is "gifted," she came under the spell of my daughter's giftedness and blurred the lines of teacher-student communication, talking to my 8 year old as if she was in her early 20's.

As for the administration, no hope there either. Though our principal admitted that my daughter is highly intelligent and deserving of challenge, when I tried to discuss my daughters social discomfort and curricular boredom she said to me, "maybe this just isn't the right school for your daughter."



Miss Lori said...

Comment Part 2:
I am saddened to admit I have totally given up on the thought that school will give my daughter the necessary enrichment, encouragement or enlightenment that her intellect deserves. What I focus on, and fret most about for her, is her social development and her psyche. She has one friend to speak of in her class. One, and the girl is not a really solid one either. My daughter is ostracized by her so called peers. She was promoted a grade two years ago, (and truthfully needs to bump up one more, but I can't get anyone to take that idea seriously), and the kids in her class thinks she's a braggart. They seem to believe that answering questions, as my daughter does, is just her way of showing off. They shun her. Not only that, they, according to my daughter, make fun of her-the way she dresses, (which is quite expressive and original), her head hair, (which is curly and wild), her body hair on her legs, (which is dark), and her moustache, (which is visible-just like many of us). There was actually an "I hate you" club in my daughter's honor at the begining of school last year that hangs around her neck like an invisible weighted collar. She is so lonely, so desperate for a friend that she seeks out friendship from clearly unattainable people, only to get shut down. It's become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. She talks about how much people don't like her, then she reaches out to those same kids to try and schedule a playdate, they turn her down flat, and she says, "see, no one likes me." It doesn't help that her older brother and younger sister have so many perceived friends. Especially since my daughter was at this school first for a year and her siblings joined her a year later. They walked in and were immediately accepted into the fold leaving my daughter out cold on the periphery. (My other children are gifted also but in a presumably less threatening way to their peers and teachers. Though I can feel that tide beginning shift as well.) As a result, my daughter's desperation and insecurity are so palpable that even if she is able to encounter someone new, someone untainted by the vestiges of her class, she overwhelms them with her needy fueled bravado. She simply doesn't have any idea how to casually engage a friend. She's had no real experience. My daughter does try to dumb herself down, I've seen it. But it never lasts long. Her mind needs to be heard so it always finds a way to get the information out there eventually. However, that sets up such inner turmoil. She is constantly fighting against her own instincts.

But I ramble on. Sometimes that feels like all that I can really do, ramble on about my daughters' experiences. It feels as though all of my efforts to affect change have fallen short or just flat. I am left with a feeling of desperation or despair myself. I secretly wonder if I have brought this on her since t is so similar to my experience growing up. I carry guilt in my heart, not only because I can't seem to stop this speeding train of childhood depression in my young daughter, but fear that I myself may have released it from the station through osmosis or genetic transfer. Though my mind knows that's not true my heart bears the weight of the thought nonetheless.

Yet, I marshal on. No other choice. It requires so much energy and focus though that it wears me out. But that's my job. I have been entrusted with this beautiful creature, my daughter, and it it is my duty, (My privilege), to advocate for her against the tide of legislated mediocrity. We just have to survive these school years and get to the other side, the open field of life that is the beginning of adulthood. Then hopefully she will finally have room to spread her beautiful, intelligent wings and fly.



Miss E said...

Miss Lori -

Have you heard of the book "Good Friends are Hard to Find?" It breaks down the steps and rules of friendship into manageable incremental chapters, helping you and your child find friends for your child. It has helped me considerably with helping my Oldest girl develop meaningful friendships.

Miss E

Miss E said...

Miss Lori - If you haven't tried it, the book "Good Friends are Hard to Find" helped me help my daughter with making "the right" meaningful friends. I hope this helps if you don't know about it.

Diane Moline said...

I teach in a magnet gifted program for grades 1-6. Students come to us from all over the district after identified (if they so choose.) All of your comments are the major reasons why we believe so strongly in the concept. Students learn every day with other children who also (for the most part) like school, read, enjoy learning, have some idiosyncracies or geekness, and learn with depth and pace that challenge them. Even after teaching in such a program for over 20 years, it often amazes me how quickly they grasp abstract concepts. I work hard to provide real thinking opportunities - not always easy but well worth. Unfortunately, monies for gifted education are threatened every year.

RL Julia said...

Miss Lori:

If possible see if they school uses the Responsive Classroom curriculum (or if any of the schools in your district do) and see if your daughter can't go there. Responsive Classroom is a social curriculum that teaches kids how to interact positively and respect differences etc... Its presence in my kid's school is one of the reasons I think that my son has friends in school.

In the meantime, it sounds like it is time to find her an out of school community that appreciates her for the person she is!

Best of luck!

Jeanne said...

Hmmm - Responsive Classroom? In one of our schools Responsive Classroom is used to the nth degree (no honor roll award, no recognition of anything academic, no teacher comments at report card time because "recognition must come from within" or it's not authentic) and the kids are made responsible for the other kids' behavior e.g. - they use peer pressure to control the "out of control" kids. So if Johnny can't be quiet then no one gets to go to recess. The kids who do no wrong are bullied into submission and bear the weight of that punishment as much as the guilty party - a devastating consequence for the gifted or sensitive child. No, I'm all for social programs (and they exist in abundance) - but not when they come at the expense of academics or are inserted in place of teaching individual responsibility.

Responsive Classroom has been around for a long time - and there are no independent research studies - longitudinal or otherwise - that prove it has a positive effect on student academics. Although it may play a role in helping children to respect differences, it has been my experience that that does not extend to kids who learn at a faster pace.

Kim Moldofsky said...

I know RL Julia's experience with the program has been positive and she's got two sharp kids. Maybe it's a matter of how the school applies the program? I know her in Real Life (hence the RL moniker) and it sounds like the social lessons her kids are learning are better than the ones mine picked up in early elementary school where "diversity happened" but not in a very effective way.

Jeanne said...

It may very well be in how the school implements the program - this particular school has a few teachers who are paid to train the rest of the district - so it's a full court press there. I will say that my oldest seemed to like Responsive Classroom well enough and had his share of friends at his old school. It wasn't until after we left that school (for other reasons) that he started to speak out about how much he hated the way they taught at his old school and how unfair he thought Responsive Classroom was - and how ridiculous it was to go to a school where no value was placed on learning.
I personally felt that RC was kind of creepy in its reliance on behavior modification through peer pressure and teacher modeling. Not all teachers have the ability (or should) to influence a child's psyche that deeply. And it was in an RC environment that my son was told not to ask so many questions because it made him seem like he was a show-off. Social trumped academic at every turn. Glad RL had a more positive experience!

RL Julia said...

Any program can be twisted around to mess kids up no matter how good the original intention. In my kid's school it is used to instill/reinforce manners, teach tolerance for differences (including being bright or sensitive) and how to be caring or understanding in an appropriate way. Kids are sometimes held accountable for group behavior but if it is apparent that there is just one or two trouble makers among the bunch, they end up in the principal's office.

RC in my experience isn't supposed to turn the school into some self guiding collective nor is it to set academic standards for the school. Its supposed to give teachers a tool and a way to prevent bullying that they might not see, to teach tolerance for differences and to show kids how to productively solve problems together.

I would say that the culture of my kid's school (the mission of whcih is "the caring community") -which they would attribute to RC - is that in which my two kids who stick out (for a variety of reasons) have never been teased, taunted, singled out or otherwise punished for their differences.

Then again, I would also say, that the adminstrative team for the school (whose motto is "model adult behavior" - no, I am not making this up) is also excellent and spot on.

I have seen/heard from my kids about guided discussions that they have had in school that I find amazing - where a student who was being held back a year asked to discuss his awkward feelings about it with his entire class and asked if they would still say hi to him on the playground next year (they would) or where a group of second graders talk about having religious tolerance for one another or where I saw a whole class of kids wait patiently (far more patiently than I would have) without sighing and rolling their eyes as ONE kid who was lagging put her book away and got with the program.

If only everyone was as pleasant and courteous!