Education Opinion

NAGC 2011 Day 1

By Tamara Fisher — November 02, 2011 6 min read
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And it’s that time of year again! :o)

The national gifted education conference kicked off today here in New Orleans with a day of “Gifted Education Essentials” sessions, including a full-group session this morning with Susan Johnsen offering a wealth of information and insights on the still-relatively-new Pre-K to Grade 12 Gifted Programming Standards. Newest this year in that regard is an extensive handbook created by NAGC as an in-depth guide to assist schools and districts in their implementation of the standards. (It’s so new, as a matter of fact, that I can’t find it listed on their website yet in order to offer you a link. When I find it, I’ll pass it on.) Time was also provided this morning for us to discuss and share how we are already using/implementing the standards, plus any obstacles we’re encountering in that regard. On one hand, it’s good to hear one is not alone in these situations. On the other hand, it’s sad to learn we’re all dealing with the same challenges in our schools, districts, and states.

The afternoon session that I scheduled into today was “Understanding & Addressing the Needs of Young Gifted Children,” presented by Richard Cash, Director of Gifted & Talented Services for the Bloomington, MN, school district. You can check out his full PowerPoint yourself at this link. Among the many, many things he talked about today regarding young gifted learners were the following:
* The importance of self-regulation in school for all kids, and in particular for gifted kids because in order to develop their giftedness and potential they will need to learn/know how to self-regulate the less-comfortable aspects of pursuit that don’t go as swimmingly well as all the “easy” stuff does for them.
* Brain research is showing biological neural differences in the brains of gifted children, including a pre-frontal cortex that is a more efficient neural processor and has more activity as compared to the brains of their same-age average peers. To those of us in the field, this makes sense because we’ve all had a parent of a gifted child say to us, “My child can’t/won’t sleep” - and we know that it’s because the kid can’t get his brain to turn off. Apparently there is also research showing their brains have a greater number of neural cells, which means more synaptic connections and therefore expanded potential for higher-level thinking. (Geake & Dodson, 2005)
* One benefit of early identification and receipt of gifted services for the young gifted is early time together with intellectual peers - which quickens the timeframe in which these children get over the “big fish in a little pond” sense of themselves and realize, rather, that there are other highly intelligent kids out there, too (they’re not alone), and that some of them are smarter than they are. (Much healthier to learn all this at a young age than it is when older!)
* Another benefit of early identification and receipt of gifted services for the young gifted is development of coping skills. Without gifted programming, and without those interactions with intellectual peers who can challenge them, they are far less likely to learn in a regular setting the toolbox of skills that will help them deal with challenges, frustration, and struggle. (Again - Much healthier to learn those coping skills at a young age by confronting those challenges early on than it is when older!) (This assists with the development of self-regulation.)
* The importance of academic rigor EARLY to prevent misdiagnosis of ADHD, ADD, EBD, etc. Some kids will exhibit those type of behaviors when the problem is actually an inappropriate curriculum, not an underlying disorder. When EARLY rigor is provided, they are far less likely to express their lack of stimulation by exhibiting those ADHD/ADD/EBD-like behaviors.
And these gems:
* “It’s an opportunity gap, not an achievement gap.”
* “These children have a barrel’s worth of space but are only getting a cup’s worth of fill.”
* A resource mentioned by another attendee in this session: “Learning to Be a Durable Person,” activities to develop social and emotional understanding in K-5 gifted learners. (Published by Prufrock Press.)

The afternoon was topped off by a “Leadership and Life Lessons from the Field” panel session featuring Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Karen Rogers, Julia Link Roberts, Tom Hébert, and George Betts (and moderated by Del Siegle).

(I wish I had a little more control over the spacing and formatting when I upload images here. Sorry for the funky spacing. I know it doesn’t make sense.)

Moderator Del Siegle takes a moment to indulge his other interest, photography.
I loved Del’s questions for the panel and it was a thoroughly enjoyable couple hours to hear each of them reflect on their various and extensive experiences in (gifted) education.

Most of the panelists referred to an experience early in their teaching careers where they found themselves thinking, “Who ARE these kids? I want to learn more about them.”

Julia: Broaden your influence. Each of us must take our passion for gifted education beyond the walls of our own classrooms and schools. That may be where our influence begins, but at some point we must move beyond that in order to have any hope of bigger change for these students.

Between questions 2 and 3, the session took a fascinating turn along the lines of Newton’s quotation, “If I have seen farther, it has been by standing on the shoulders of giants.” George reflected on all those who had helped him get a start in the field (relaying a funny story involving John Feldhusen), and commented that in regards to leadership he now finds himself thinking, “What can I do for those who come after me? Allow opportunities for them to find their own path.” Karen offered suggestions of six categories of leaders in the field of gifted education. (Forgive me, I didn’t get all the names she put into each category written down...)
* The Great Thinkers (Tannenbaum, Passow, V. Ward)
* The Great Doers (Renzulli, Reis, Feldhusen)
* The Great Researchers (Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius, Torrance, Stanley, Lohman)
* The Great Writers (Gallagher, van Tassel-Baska, Gross)
* The Great Communicators (Delisle, Silverman, Kaufmann, Rimm)
* The Subtle Generators (N. Robinson, Kaplan, Siegle)
And I found myself reflecting on all the incredible shoulders I’ve been blessed to stand on in this field (Jann, Del, Joe, Sally, Sally, Susan, Tom, Bonnie, Marcia, Karen, Karen, George, Bertie, Rachel, Jim, Scott, Felicia, Julia, Maureen, Pat, ... thank you...)

George: It starts with unconditional positive regard.

Question #5 was skipped because they all had essentially covered it (“who influenced you”). I wasn’t quick enough on my trigger.

Julia: Be strategic in your advocacy.
Tom: Be sure to secure your mask before assisting others. (i.e. Take care of yourself in order to be of benefit to the kids.)
George: Nothing - Each lesson learned along the way has simply been a part of the journey.

Most of the panelists talked about having “passed it on” to their students (K-12 and post-secondary) in various forms.

I neglected to write their responses to this question down, but I do remember that Del said his most recent books have been “Clifford the Big Red Dog” ones. ;o)

This was an interesting one, with responses reflecting their varied perspectives and experiences. Their insights on this question ranged from “absorbed into general education” to “becoming more differentiated in self-contained models” to “imagine how advancing technology will continue to bring changes that will educationally benefit these learners” to “we need to make sure we stay a part of the conversation and communicate why these learners need unique services.”

George: I think I can, I think I can.
Karen: Be your own best you.
Julia: Define your goal and articulate it well.
Joyce: Find a mentor.

I concluded my day by having something for dinner that I’d never eaten before: fried alligator! (Somewhere out west my parents and sister are gasping...!)

Most of these are not menu items we have in Montana!

Check back tomorrow for a report on Day 2!

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.