Education Opinion

Edufest - Days 1, 2, and 3

By Tamara Fisher — July 29, 2009 6 min read
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Greetings, all! This week finds me at one of my favorite places, Edufest in Boise, Idaho. It’s a Gifted Education conference that takes place the last week of July each year. It’s intense, in-depth, inspiring, interesting, jam-packed, fun, eye-opening, and energizing. (Edufest is patterned after Confratute, which takes place in Storrs, Connecticut, each summer, so those of you who live in the East could consider it an option if Idaho is a bit of a stretch for you.)

Essentially, the conference schedule is structured such that instead of attending each session for an hour(-ish) and then moving on to something else (and therefore never being able to delve much deeper into a topic in a conference setting), you instead attend strands, which last all week and are pretty much mini-classes on a given topic. Each day for three 1-1/2 hour time slots, you attend a presentation by the same presenter on the same topic, so you have the opportunity to learn in much greater depth. (Of course, this also contributes to the conference’s intensity, but everyone seems to thrive on that!) If you scroll down at the Edufest link, you can click to access a list and description of this year’s strands. For example, one of the strands I’m attending this year is about “leading and implementing differentiated instruction.” Aimed at GT specialists, principals, curriculum directors, etc., we are learning in this strand various strategies for teaching the teachers in our districts about DI, plus strategies for helping our districts/systems implement it. My next strand is actually one I’m teaching (together with my co-author, Karen Isaacson) on “parent/teacher collaboration.” We are discussing with the participants various strategies for building positive communication and relationships between the parents and teachers of gifted kids. For the other strand I’m attending, I am learning about “unleashing the power of technology for the gifted - making creative and critical thinking connections.” I’m excited to share with my students all of the great new technology resources I’ve learned about! For example, my little musicians will love learning about Audacity, a free cross-platform sound editor.

In addition to the strands, there are also five keynotes and three “special topics” (i.e. one-time-only) sessions.

I was curious what everyone else was getting out of their experience here this week, so I went around to some tables at dinner and surveyed a variety of the attendees. (I told all of them the purpose for my question and that their responses would be anonymous). The question I posed was, “What is something that you have learned here at Edufest this week that you think everyone else ‘out there’ needs to know?” These responses come from conference attendees who are parents of gifted children, regular classroom teachers, gifted specialists, counselors, administrators, and experts in the field (presenters here) who are nationally (and some internationally) known for their work in Gifted Education. For some of those who answered my question, this is the first Gifted Education conference they have ever attended and for many of those first-timers, this is also their first exposure to learning about gifted students. Others whom I interviewed are ‘old-timers’ well-versed in knowledge, strategies, and research regarding gifted students. (And, of course, every portion of the spectrum in-between.)

“I have learned how to go back to my district and be an advocate while being low-key. We have a lot of kids who aren’t identified because they aren’t the ‘perfect’ gifted kid, and I’ve learned strategies to advocate for them without being pushy.”

“I have come to the realization that we need to identify kids based on need of services. Label the services, not the child.”

“I don’t think we in Gifted Education are reaching enough parents. I’m learning it is just as important to educate the parents of gifted kids [about giftedness] as it is to educate the kids. We have to work with the whole family to be effective for the child.”

“We never learn enough. Gifted Education is a pursuit of the heart, a family. We get re-charged here. There’s something inspirational every day and it gives you reason to keep fighting the fight.”

(regarding the twice exceptional)

“People still continue to want to ‘fix’ someone. It’s hard to go through the paradigm shift of switching to focusing on strengths and what the kids CAN do. We’re still married to the method. If we’re going to change things [for 2e kids], we need to focus on the big ideas and not get bogged down in old methods. But adherence to old methods is strong.”

“I’ve learned about acceleration. Those myths are myths! [i.e. ‘It will stunt them socially’ etc.] Stop making it all about you the teacher. It’s all about what’s best for the student!

“Community amongst like-minded souls will provide emotional support to teachers as they continue to work on behalf of bright kids.”

“I’ve learned the importance of giving them the chance to just be creative and come up with their own path in their process/project. You’ll often be surprised what they come up with. We don’t need to give them every little detail or requirement!”

“This week, I have learned the importance of asking questions and giving them time to formulate answers. Don’t be afraid of the silence while the kids work their answers out. If we’re going to develop inquiry skills, we need to let them complete the whole process.”

“I’ve been struck that giftedness exists everywhere. I’ve been intrigued to be in another part of the country this week and hear about the same issues that I hear about everywhere else. There’s also a lot of passion and caring here, and it’s neat to see that teachers everywhere care about their students. Coming here is like being on the Island of Misfit Toys (from the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer classic). You come here and fit in, even if you don’t fit in where you come from. HERE I feel normal. I’m realizing there are a lot of people out there who are just like me.”

“The most important thing I learned is that there is an instrument out there [the Iowa Acceleration Scale] that is designed to help us determine which kids need to be accelerated.”

“The pedagogy and the things we learn in Gifted Education may benefit all kids and may therefore allow us to prevent doing harm to students who do not fit our vision of the ideal student.”

“People have a lot of questions about identification - GT coordinators, principals, teachers, everyone. It’s their big concern and I’m thinking there needs to be more training on that topic. Identification is a broad and complex issue.”

“I learned about EtherPad!”

(work together in real time on the same document)

“I’ve learned this week that there are a frightening number of underidentified and unidentified gifted children, particularly children of color. That’s unacceptable! I hope with more seminars like this we can change that.”

“It’s helpful to talk to other educators to affirm things that you know and to explore ideas that might have validity. There’s benefit in a sounding board to help you formulate your ideas.”

“I think the way we teach needs to be re-evaluated in total. What’s good for the gifted and talented (in terms of teaching strategies) is often good for all kids, just like what’s good for kids in special education (again - teaching strategies) is often good for all kids.”

“I’m realizing the profound importance of a continuum of professional development in Gifted Education at all levels, from those new to Gifted Education to those who are advanced in their knowledge of giftedness.”

“I’ve learned to be open-minded about differentiation because there are kids who really ARE in a different place.”

What methods do you utilize for learning about giftedness, gifted students, and Gifted Education? Books? Websites? Conferences? Research journals? Webinars? Magazines? Asking your school’s gifted specialist? -- Are you not even sure where to begin?

And I pose the same original question to you: What have you learned recently (about giftedness, gifted students, Gifted Education) that you think everyone else “out there” needs to know?

The opinions expressed in Unwrapping the Gifted are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.