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The Kaleidoscope

A quarterly periodical from
Colorado Association for Gifted & Talented

Spring 2020


Welcome to The Kaleidoscope, now with a fresh new look! Each quarter, we provide quality, relevant articles of interest to help families and educators support children who are gifted. The Kaleidoscope is one of your benefits for being a member of CAGT. You also receive The Happenings, your monthly source for all gifted and talented current events, which also has a redesigned look to go along with our beautiful new website (click here to explore our new website). Enjoy!

In This Issue

  • A message from our CAGT President and President-Elect
  • CAGT Conference 2020 Information 
  • Article: "Disease, Race Riots and the Importance of Action for the Gifted & Twice Exceptional"
  • Article: "How to Make Distance Learning Engaging"
  • Article: "Stop Scapegoating Gifted Students for Inequality"
  • Article: "What We're Getting Wrong About Gifted Education"

Start-of-the-School-Year Considerations

Dear Families,

As advocates for gifted children across the state of Colorado, we have continued our work during COVID-19 to support and advocate for gifted learners.  We know each household is unique and therefore we acknowledge each of your lived experiences during this time.  Even in these times, we continue to hear stories and voices of hope, community, and love.  We are proud of our Colorado community!  We also understand the feeling of anxiety and thus wanted to provide guidance and resources for those interested when looking at our upcoming school year in response to Governor Polis’s and the Colorado Department of Education’s press releases.    

One difficult piece for all, including gifted children, is the ambiguity facing us as we look to the 2020-2021 school year and whether schools across Colorado will be in person, remote, or some form of hybrid learning.  When schools jumped into remote learning in March, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) created documents we shared earlier with you, but felt were worthy of a reshare here: 

   Supporting Advanced Learners: New Roles for Parent Advocates During Times of Remote Learning

   Resources for Educators During Covid-19

As we look to the fall, we continue to emphasize the need for strong, positive partnerships between students, families, and school staff based on the unique needs of gifted learners.  The need for granting one another grace will still be essential.  No matter the school setting, gifted students need a strong focus first and foremost on their social emotional needs and respond best to compassion and empathy before they bridge into academics.  Acknowledging a student’s struggles by recognizing when a task is hard for them and letting them know that you understand can ease difficult times. Let them lead the conversations to better understand their thinking.  One of the most important elements is being aware that there is a basis for the sometimes seemingly irrational overexcitabilities of our students.  Many of these students integrate their world through senses and attending to those needs can benefit the child and the families alike.  Here is an article you may want to read: Cultivating Calm Amidst a Storm (Nicole A. Tetreault, Ph.D., March 18, 2020).

Starting easy and gradually easing into increasingly difficult, complex projects can allow for your student to assimilate the skills and be comfortable with any new routine and expectations. Take the time to explore areas of passion and discover new areas of interest to engage their minds.  Understand that gaining new knowledge is important, and applying gained knowledge in new ways can be just as exciting and fulfilling.  Above all, remember to communicate and partner with your gifted child.  

Whatever the setting, school will resume in the fall, and every gifted learner across the state of Colorado will have a new Advanced Learning Plan laying out their social emotional/affective and academic goals for the school year.  Keep in mind, these goals will need to be flexible given the uncertainty we are all facing.  This is a natural place to solidify a positive partnership between student, family, and school staff to support your gifted learner.  Being engaged in this process and supporting your gifted child through it makes the Advanced Learning Plan come alive for all.   

Families are challenged with so many things right now.  We are hoping that each of you continue to have a growth mindset about learning and the challenges and adjustments inherent during these times.

Sincerely,

Diana Caldeira-President, Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented

Dr. Colleen Urlik-President Elect, Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented

Please access the following websites for further supports


   Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented (CAGT)

   Connect to our website for CAGT conference information and our Family Institute updates.There will be special emphasis on virtual learning and affective supports.


   Colorado Department of Education (CDE) Planning for 2020-2021

      Guiding Principles to Support Gifted Learners at Home


   Gifted Education State Advisory Committee (GESAC)

      Student Bill of Rights

      Parent Bill of Rights


   Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG)


   My Future...What Now? Teens talk about moving forward in our challenging times with Dr. Jim Delisle


CAGT2020 logo v1
CAGT Conference 2020
Through Their Eyes: A Wider Lens of Gifted

We are currently putting together quality programming for our 43rd annual CAGT Conference, which will be October 18-20, 2020. While we're still figuring out whether we'll be offering a traditional in-person conference, a virtual conference, or a hybrid of the two, you can expect top-notch presenters and an amazing experience!

Call for Proposals
We want YOU to present with us at Conference this year!
Please consider sharing your knowledge and expertise about our gifted children and their unique needs at our conference, which offers more than 80 presentations from experts in the field of gifted education and has an annual attendance of over 800 educators, administrators, parents and community members. 
Submit your proposal(s) here. The deadline is June 28th.


Conference Registration
Also, don't forget that if you have left over money or want to use this year's budget, Conference Registration is open. We will be having Conference in the fall (one way or another)! 
Register here.

If you just want to know about all things Conference, including awards that are still accepting nominations, exhibiting, or becoming a sponsor, check out our website here.

Disease, Race Riots and the Importance of Action for the Gifted & Twice Exceptional

by Julie Skolnick, M.A., J.D. (CAGT Conference 2019 keynote speaker)
originally published June 2, 2020, www.withunderstandingcomescalm.com

My daughter literally took to the streets. It wasn’t how she originally wanted to, in the face of Covid-19 risks, we had to deny her permission to join the D.C. protests. But she and her friends found a way to spread the word and feel some sort of accomplishment while they witnessed the world turn upside-down.

Characteristic traits of gifted and 2e people include their strong belief in right versus wrong, and their compulsory need to identify and solve the world’s problems. So, what can they do now with a pandemic that stumps medical experts, and race riots in an unprecedented political atmosphere in the United States? How can they respond? An impossible dichotomy exists of the intense need to do something and obligatory social distancing. For empaths, helplessness leads to hopelessness. The only path forward is through education, communication and involvement.

Our daughter approached us nearly in tears asking to attend the peaceful protests in D.C. She is a fearless advocate and always has been for several causes. Rounding up friends or even going by herself when no one can accompany her, if there is a cause, she has an opinion and a plan. Gifted and 2e people need expression for their passions and causes. Of utmost importance right now, when we are socially isolated, is to find safe ways to effectuate change and feel as though you can do something.

My daughter and her friends have launched a “chalk campaign” creating protest art on our local streets – sending messages of resistance, hope and remembrance. Sometimes they draw a fist or write “Black Lives Matter” or “Rest in Power.” Sometimes they urge the reader to remember, listing names of victims. While it isn’t their first choice for how to protest, they found a creative way to amplify their voices and spread the word.

With an upsurge in violence at formerly peaceful protests, where danger is inherent not only because of clashing sides, but because of the silent and invisible coronavirus, our twice exceptional kids are feeling exceptionally sidelined and compromised. An ongoing seemingly systematic inability to cause change, counter to the utter need to bring meaning to the world, gifted and twice exceptional kids are set up for existential angst. And here it is; brutality and confusion, mistrust and fear. It seems there is always fear. These two impossible situations; an unprecedented disease and all of its fallout juxtaposed with a cause worth fighting for – each affecting the other in a way that stymies the empath and threatens to silence the advocate.

All the world’s pent up emotion and frustrations from the past four months are bubbling up. Patience is gone, fatigue is rampant, and emotion is at an all-time high. We mourn the loss of life, economic loss, the loss of ventures, and change to pretty much everything we’ve ever known it. We mourn the loss of interaction and freedom but worst of all, I think, we mourn the loss of expression – shutting ourselves away and the unexpected consequence of shutting us up. This is not “the new normal,” it’s the “always abnormal.” Every day, just when we think it can’t get worse, something shocking occurs. This is why, with no end in sight, it is necessary to find creative opportunities and alternate ways to communicate feelings and fears.

Knowing your gifted or 2e child’s profile, approach the subject of all the world’s woes. We cannot ignore what’s going on. If nothing else, your gifted or 2e empath feels the intensity and pressure pervading the world right now. Ask how they are feeling and ask what they are thinking about. Ask what confuses them and discuss what they think should happen. Wonder with them how to make change and brainstorm ideas for sharing your voices. If anyone can think of creative ways to address what’s happening in our world, it’s gifted and 2e kids. Start posting on social media and sharing in emails how you approach these issues with your kids and share their suggestions. Help your kids understand the un-understandable. This is our world and they need the words to express themselves and ask questions and ultimately hold adults accountable. We want the next generation to not be afraid to raise their voices and demand being heard. They must find a way to do this in order to save themselves and the rest of us.


How to Make Distance Learning Engaging

by Lisa Van Gemert, M.Ed.T. (CAGT Conference 2019 keynote speaker)
originally published May 2020, www.giftedguru.com

We can make distance learning more engaging for learners. I know this is true because I’ve been engaging hundreds of students simultaneously in distance learning, and I’m going to tell you all of my secrets. The key to engaging students in distance learning is energy. You know how they say the camera adds ten pounds? It also cuts your energy in half. Just like an actor on stage, you need to bring big energy to distance learning. This is true for video, but it’s true for digital distance learning as well. Let me show you how I bring big energy, the tools and tech I use, how I have students begging to have class on the weekend (!), and how you can do it, too.


Engaging Students in Online Instruction

I’ve got six specific tips for how I keep students engaged in distance learning that you can implement yourself.


1. Energy

First, as I said before, you’ve got to up the energy. There’s no way around it, and there’s no substitute for it. You have to bring the energy. So if you get to schedule a time for it, schedule a time that works for you. If you’re recording, record when your energy is highest, even if it’s 2am. If you don’t get to choose the time, make sure you’ve had a snack! Think about how much energy you need for face-to-face and double it. It may feel a little over-the-top to you, but it works.


2. Use an avatar when you’re recording

If you are recording and can’t see your students, put something in front of you that you can pretend is a person – a stuffed animal, a picture of your favorite student (not that you have one) and speak to that. Otherwise, it feels like you’re speaking to the great void of voids. It’s very difficult to do that, so you need to fake yourself out. A picture can help. Once you get used to it, you won’t need this anymore, but it’s a great technique to get you used to speaking to a camera as if it were a real person.


3. Ask questions. Ask a lot of good questions.

Ask questions every five – seven minutes, more if the kids are younger. And ask really good questions. Teachers, the questions are where it’s at. When Ian Byrd and I wrote our Depth and Complexity book, we spent hours upon hours on developing great questions and analyzing them for how strong they were. Ask a lot of questions, and make them questions that get students thinking. This is important because of reason number one above – distance learning sucks energy, and it sucks energy out of the questions, too. A question that would work fine in a classroom can fall flat in a distance learning environment. You can make small adjustments to questions that quickly raise the engagement level. For example, instead of asking, “Why do you think this character did this?”, you could ask, “Would you be more mad if your friend did that or your teacher did that?” or even, “When have you done something like this character did, but it turned out very differently?”


4. Stand up.

Have students stand up as often as you can. Even in digital learning, include it in the directions. Of course this is especially true for younger students, but it’s true of our older students, too. We need to not be sitting for long periods of time. You can build this right into the content.

   “Stand up if you think the answer is an even number.”

   “Stand up if you think the character should have chosen x instead.”

   “Stand up if you think an escarpment is very similar to a mesa.”

You get the idea. I use a practice cube that I toss to get kids moving. I can toss it right in my kitchen or office or wherever I’m streaming or recording from, and the students can respond. I’ve written all about the practice cube (and included a printable), so you can read more about that if you’re interested.


5. Use props and puppets.

I use loads and loads of props. I gather them on sale, and over time I’ve accumulated a wide array. I use loads and loads of puppets, too.


6. Use the chat and call them by name.

When I am in a live online class (meaning students are in there with me, not just viewing a video I made later), I leverage the chat feature. If you’re not allowed to use chat, then stay tuned for the way I’d handle that. In this screenshot, you can see the question I’m asking students. On the right, you can see their responses to a previous question. There’s a little delay in livestreaming, which takes some getting used to. What I want you to notice is the quality of their answers. The question they’re responding to is if a character in the story should be held accountable for his racist views because he was a product of his times. I take their answers and run with them. Use their answers to ask more questions, push back against their ideas, and give you insight into what really gets them fired up. If you can’t use chat, you can still use their work to engage in a similar way. In the example below, I took a comment a student made and highlighted it for all to see. I’ve found that students love to see their work featured, even little comments like this, and they will make better, stronger comments in order to try to get featured. It raises the level of discourse overall. I also highlight students’ formal responses in their writing or other work. I point out what was well done and why it was effective. I also add suggestions for strengthening it. You can see in the screenshot below how supportive kids are of other students, and that the author voluntarily revealed who she was (I don’t tell, but I let them say if they want to). 


(click here to read more online learning tips from Lisa Van Gemert)

 

Stop Scapegoating Gifted Students for Inequality: The Faulty Logic Behind Intensifying Attacks on Gifted Education 

by James Delisle, Ph.D. (CAGT Conference 2019 keynote speaker)
originally published November 6, 2019, www.edweek.org

When I began teaching children with cognitive difficulties more than 40 years ago, it seemed that everyone I met had something positive to say about me or my job selection: "You must have infinite patience." "We need more teachers willing to work with students who learn differently." "I could never do such a demanding job."


Several years later, after having worked with a 5th grader who had both learning challenges and an incredibly sharp intellect, I changed my career focus to the other end of the special education continuum: I became a teacher of gifted children. Never before had I worked with such a complex child—one who both excelled academically while simultaneously facing definite learning and behavioral issues. I figured if one child like this existed, others did, too. I wanted to help these types of kids.


I thought that my work with gifted kids would be considered as valuable as my work with children with cognitive difficulties. However, that's when the laudatory comments stopped and vocal criticisms took the place of the close-to-sainthood comments I had received earlier in my career: "We should spend our scarce education dollars on kids who really need it, not gifted kids." "Gifted kids don't need you half as much as those who struggle to learn." "Why are you teaching kids who already have it made in school?"

 

It all seemed so odd to me, as common sense would dictate that whichever extreme of the intellectual bell curve children fell on, they would have unique learning needs not experienced by so-called "average students."

 

Of course, I experienced this logical schism more than four decades ago, so things would certainly be different today, in 2019. And they are. The schism is worse. Today's gifted children and their special education programs are blamed for many of society's ills—educational inequality, racial and economic divisions, and the promotion of elitism among the parents whose children have been identified as gifted. I'm not exactly sure why this schism has gotten bigger instead of smaller, but it might have something to do with our collective American discomfort in labeling some kids more intellectually capable than others. And, as a result, gifted kids have become the educational scapegoats for detractors seeking to blame them for simply being themselves.

 

The most recent salvo into this educational firestorm is the recommendation of the New York City School Diversity Advisory Group, a commission appointed by Mayor Bill DeBlasio, to eliminate most gifted programs in the city and blend the most intellectually capable children into general education classes where the 1st, 4th, or 10th grade teachers will (in theory) be able to meet gifted students' advanced academic needs.

 

Proponents of this plan consider the high percentage of White and Asian children in the New York City gifted programs and schools to be de facto evidence of the above-mentioned -isms: racism, classism, and elitism. But, instead of seeing the racial and economic imbalance in gifted programs as a cry to expand methods of identifying giftedness in populations of children who are underserved by them, the solution is to toss out what works for some children because it doesn't work for all children.

 

Eliminating gifted programs, in the New York City schools or anywhere else, would be a capitulation to simplistic thinking that denies a blatant reality: that gifted children, like any other children with atypical leaning needs, require an education that embraces their needs, not ignores them.

 

Using this same faulty logic, I have to wonder if the New York City schools should consider eliminating classes and programs for those with developmental delays, as children of color and students from poverty are generally overrepresented in such options. How about varsity basketball teams, as they tend to be underrepresented by short people and those who can't run fast? Or theatre and music programs where auditions are required, as these auditions tend to eliminate those who can't memorize a script or sing like a songbird?

 

My hunch is that lawsuits would surely follow attempts to eliminate programs for children with learning challenges. And, woe to the public school that promotes an "everyone can be on the varsity team" approach to athletics, as game attendance would surely drop without some baseline standard of performance as a prerequisite for becoming a point guard. When common-sense standards are set to match the expectations of performance in either academic or extracurricular endeavors, we are not practicing discrimination. Instead, we are recognizing that different kids have different levels of gifts and talents, plain and simple.

 

I have taught and counseled thousands of gifted children and teens. Each of these kids had a parent or other caregiver who wanted nothing more than what every other parent or caregiver wants for their own children: the chance to shine in their own light and to have their intellectual and other learning needs appreciated, respected, and addressed.

 

Gifted children have always been in our schools—and they always shall be. Denying them educational equity while offering it to every other child with a learning difference is the ultimate example of misplaced bias. By seeking to eliminate gifted programs entirely, New York City schools and any other jurisdiction inclined to follow their lead would be well-advised to consider that the true meaning of equity is rooted in fairness and justice. Applying this understanding of equity universally in schools, not by whim, serves all of our students well, including those who are gifted.

What We're Getting Wrong About Gifted Education: We're Leaving Out a Large Swath of Students with High Potential

by Joseph Renzulli, Ed.D. 
originally published November 11, 2019, www.edweek.org

Hardly a week goes by without another news item about a school district's attempt to deal with the problem of the underrepresentation of low-income students and children of color in gifted education programs. Suggestions for addressing the problem typically include the use of screening tests for all students, test norms that are scaled to local demographics, and non-verbal tests that use pictures or figures rather than words. While these recommendations may have value in providing a broader look at the development of gifted behaviors, they still rely on test-score comparisons among groups and thus fail to take into consideration the important distinction between high-achieving (or lesson-learning) giftedness and creative or productive giftedness.

 

How we use the word "gifted" itself points to an underlying problem in the field. Once it is deprived of the aura that surrounds its use, what does the term "gifted" convey practically? The word is often used either to refer to a fixed state of being ("She is gifted") or to high potential in a particular area of human performance, usually in comparison to a set criterion or group ("He is a gifted writer for his age"). These two different interpretations of the term "gifted" raise what might be the most important questions: Is one born gifted, or are gifted behaviors developmental? And, can we develop these behaviors in larger numbers of students than those who are the highest scorers on cognitive ability or academic achievement tests?

 

Treating giftedness as an in-born trait that can be identified by test scores has resulted in severe underrepresentation of high-potential children from low-income families and students of color in gifted education programs, because these groups have traditionally scored lower on standardized tests than the middle class and white populations.

 

This approach also leaves out any student who is not the best lesson-learner of traditional standards-driven curricula but may be highly creative, think differently and pursue tasks with fresh approaches, communicate in different expression styles, or have highly specialized talents, interests, imaginations, or motivations. These individual differences are seldom considered in traditional gifted program identification procedures even when using universal screening and scaling results to local norms.

 

This failure to fix gifted education's underrepresentation problem can be best understood by recognizing the difference between two competing types of assessment used to identify students for special programs and services.

 

The first type is assessment of learning—anything that tells us what students already know and how they have performed in school when compared with others. In this context it reflects the student's family background, neighborhood demographics, early life experiences, and the quality of his or her previous school experience.

 

The second type is assessment for learning, which takes into account the characteristics of the learner that provide the best direction for special opportunities, resources, and encouragement. These characteristics include curiosity, interests, learning styles, expression styles, enjoyment, and high-engagement learning in particular topics. Equally important are co-cognitive skills such as collaboration, empathy, creativity, planning, self-regulation, and other executive functions skills. These so-called "soft skills" are not as easily quantified as reading and math test scores, but they can be recognized by teacher observations, rating scales, and how students react in performance-based assessment situations.

 

In an urban district in Connecticut where I was working, for example, one student was low performing according to his state achievement test scores. However, he had a curious fascination with anything related to mechanics and electricity. After examining his strength-based profile, his teacher encouraged him to work on a project for the state Invention Convention competition.

 

The student won his division at the state competition by developing a dog bowl that sets off a flashing light when the water level drops below a given weight and went on to compete in the national Invention Convention competition. All of the background reading, experimentation, data gathering, and presentation skills that he used are the kinds of gifted behaviors that I refer to as creative and productive giftedness. This type of giftedness occurs when the young person thinks, feels, and does like the practicing professional, even if at a more junior level than adult scientists, writers, and filmmakers.

 

And these are exactly the kinds of skills that present-day employers are seeking in the rapidly changing job market where creativity, innovation, and task commitment are more valuable than just getting a high score on standardized tests. History is replete with men and women who were not superstars in school but who made notable contributions to their respective areas of interest and strengths when given opportunities and support.

 

Today's emphasis on big data, test scores, and comparisons among groups fails to drill down on what we need to know to make the best decisions for an individual child. Although metric-based scores and norms inform us about the distribution of traditionally measured academic abilities of groups, they do not zero in on individuals' co-cognitive strengths that are so important for decision making about supplementary services.

 

These strengths should be a starting point for deciding who gets considered for advanced learning and creative opportunities in particular academic domains and topical strength areas. We can achieve greater equity in gifted education programs for underrepresented populations by replacing approaches to identification rooted in an understanding of "gifted" as a state of being and concentrating instead on developing gifted behaviors in individual students' interests, talents, motivations, and executive function skills in singular areas where there is performance-based evidence of high potential.

 

Educators must recognize that America's talent pool is changing. If scholars and educators are to remain true to the purpose of producing the next generation of leaders, scholars, artists, and creative innovators, then they must explore ways of going beyond traditional metrics and norms.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thank you for reading The Kaleidoscope
Goggles image (top) from Unsplash by Malcolm Lightbody
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