Education Opinion

NAGC 2011 Day 2

By Tamara Fisher — November 04, 2011 9 min read
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Oh, where to even begin...! These days are long and intense and so full of information! As much as I will write here tonight, it will only be the tip of the iceberg.

The morning began with a “State of the Nation” message from NAGC Executive Director Nancy Green and NAGC President Paula Olszewski-Kubilius (one of these days I will learn how to spell her name rather than just copy/pasting it from the NAGC website...!) The “State of the Nation” report is a biannual survey of states that seeks information about their policies, programs, funding, and personnel for gifted education. The federal government doesn’t perform this task, so NAGC’s survey is the only national data collection of this type of information about the “state” of gifted education in America. (I would like to post a link to it for you, but currently their website is still showing the last biannual report.) Forty-three of the fifty states responded to the survey. The four over-arching conclusions from the survey are:
* Lack of accountability for schools and districts to reach these students, even when mandates are in place.
* Limited support for these students (with WIDE disparities in types and availability of services)
* Teachers are unprepared to meet the needs of these students (for example, only 6 states require training about gifted students for pre-service teachers)
* A patchwork collection of services (meaning in most places it is left up to the district, which often means in practice that little to nothing is happening)

Random tidbits revealed by the survey:
* In 36 states, teachers are never required to get ANY training about gifted learners.
* For those who teach gifted learners, in 24 states there is no requirement for special credentials or certification. In those states, you technically don’t have to know ANYTHING about these unique students and yet you could still be hired to teach them. (It is apparently elsewhere as it is in Montana - they’re happy if you’re breathing and willing to fill the position for a year before, as many do, transitioning into a “regular” position.) (Do we hire basketball coaches who don’t know anything about basketball? Do we hire Special Education teachers who don’t know anything about learners who struggle? Do we hire science teachers with no special training in science education? Good grief.)
* The amount of funding that states provide for gifted education ranges from $0 (somewhat common) to a very rare $300 million.
* Ten states specifically DO NOT ALLOW early entrance to Kindergarten for children who would qualify for and need that option. (And only 7 states specifically DO allow it - meaning it’s left up to the schools everywhere else, which leaves the option’s availability open to misinformed misperceptions.)
* In more than half of our states, teachers working specifically with gifted learners are not required to seek or receive annual professional development about gifted learners. (But don’t you want your doctor receiving annual training in her area of specialty?)

It’s all a bit depressing, but as Paula said this morning, “We don’t have the luxury of being discouraged. The kids need us to be alarmed, not discouraged.” So what do we do to improve the state of our nation for our gifted learners? Share this information. Utilize the tools in the Advocacy Toolkit. Join NAGC’s Legislative Action Network. Talk with stakeholders about the importance of casting a wide identification net across a K-12 open window. Create school climates that celebrate academic excellence.

(At some point, the PowerPoint for the presentation will be available here.)

For the half-day “Gifted Education Applications in the Classroom” sessions this morning and this afternoon, I was scheduled into two on Response to Intervention. The first was by George Betts and Robin Carey. Among my many take-aways from this session were the following questions, thoughts, ideas:
* What does the child need, and how can we give it to him when he needs it?
* How does the child respond to the intervention? And how do we then respond to her response?
* Implementing learner-based curriculum and instruction (it’s about what the student needs and is ready for, not what the teacher wants to do).
* This book was highly recommended by someone sitting at the same table as me: “The NEW RtI: Response to Intelligence”
* And my biggest A-HA from the morning was regarding the Core or Level I tier. (In Colorado, where George and Robin are from, they call it the Universal Level.) For our struggling learners, Level I is where we find out what they can’t do - and then provide the intervention to help them learn it. For our gifted learners, here’s an additional way to think of that level: It’s where we find out what they ALREADY know/can do - and then provide the intervention to help them move beyond that.

(At some point, the PowerPoint for this presentation will be posted here.)

Over lunch, I enjoyed chatting with Lauri Kirsch from Florida and Ken Dickson, the gentle giant, from Maryland, plus I met Jaime Castellano from the Navajo Reservation in Arizona and we shared stories about our experiences working with gifted Native youth. That’s a big part of what coming to this convention is all about for me - getting to meet and interact with so many interesting people who do what I do elsewhere. Whether formally or informally, there’s always so much to learn from one another :o)

The afternoon session on RTI that I attended was presented by Stuart Omdal, Daphne Pereles, and Lois Baldwin. Here are my summary points:
* Quotes from Daphne: “It [RTI] is about building a responsive system.” “We don’t trust that when we say ‘all’ we mean ‘all.’” When implementing RTI - “You’re never done. It’s a continuous improvement process.” And RTI “is about changing our broken education system.” (here! here!)
* The six-legged table of principles for RTI implementation: 1) All students can and have the right to learn. 2) Early Intervention - for gifted learners - is key to reaching/catching them BEFORE they start to underachieve. 3) Tiered Interventions - a multi-tiered system of supports. It’s interventions and services in tiers, not kids in tiers. 4) Use of Data should guide what we do for kids. 5) Collaboration creates shared ownership for student success. 6) Family Partnerships - “You get in the mud together.”

My biggest A-HA from this session came to me when they were talking about the problem with the former special education “discrepancy model” for identification for services because it was a “wait to fail” model (i.e. some kids had to slip far enough for a discrepancy to appear before identification/services/interventions could be tried on that learner). Now with RTI, EARLY INTERVENTION means we can try these supports early on and see how the learner responds. Well, that got me thinking. With the (former) delayed identification and delayed intervention special education model, kids had to (essentially) “fail” first before they could get what they needed as learners. They had to wait to GROW. And that’s exactly what happens in gifted education when we delay the identification process and subsequent interventions (and that’s what they are - interventions) until (typically) 3rd grade. We’re making the kids “wait to GROW.” And I don’t think that’s right, either!

At the end of this session, Karen Rogers from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota announced that UST is the first university to offer graduate certification specifically in “Twice Exceptional Education.” It will be an online, 18-credit, 6-course program designed to “prepare educators to identify, provide services for, and develop/administer programs for children with dual exceptionalities.” Interested? I imagine many of you are ;o) Visit this link to learn more and to apply!

Here’s a link to Colorado’s RTI page.

The PowerPoint for this session will at some point be posted here.

Next came the BIG MOMENT.... the opening keynote with Bill Nye the Science Guy! The scene totally cracked me up: A giant room packed with 3,000 teachers, all with their cell phones and digital cameras whipped out to capture whatever they could of the science guy to take back and show their students. (At least, that’s why I was doing it, and I imagine it’s why nearly everyone else was, too. I promised my students I would get as much video as I could of his speech, for as long as my 16 GB SD card had space and my battery had life.) At one point, I had to wonder, what other group of ADULTS besides teachers would get this excited about a kids’ geek science TV star?! The whole room was thoroughly star-struck. The most hilarious moment (and there were many!) came at the very end when he finished and the room of a few thousand teachers gave him an instantaneous standing ovation. He was so stunned that he whipped out HIS cell phone camera to take a picture of US!

He told us fascinating stories about his dad (who had a sundial obsession and apparently - if I understood correctly - invented the sandial) and his mom (who was a codebreaker for the military during WWII); he encouraged us to nurture curiosity in our students and to make sure they ponder BIG questions like, “Are we alone in the universe?” and “Where did we come from?"; and he got me thinking when he referenced that ol’ saying about how the bumblebee defies the laws of aerodynamics. He said his A-HA moment when pondering that was that “the problem is not the bee, it’s the theory.” (ie. It’s the theory that doesn’t fit, not the bee.) The bee is our students. The problem is not the gifted child who defies the “laws” of education, it’s the other way around: the laws and theories don’t (always) fit the child.

Honestly, I’m sure I could’ve had many more take-aways for you on this keynote, but I was 100% in the moment and my hands were busy videoing rather than taking notes. My students will be excited to learn I got some great video clips, though!

At the opening of the Exhibit Hall, I took a picture for you of the new handbook that I mentioned last night which is a guide for implementation of the new gifted education standards:

The evening concluded with an awards ceremony for many distinguished and inspiring individuals. Here are a few:

And the ceremony included some phenomenal student talent, including this choir (click to listen):

[Never mind... I couldn’t figure out how to upload a video file. Suffice to say, the Caddo Magnet High School A Cappella Vocal Band was superb!]

Some of you asked me today (after reading that I had tried alligator for dinner last night) what sort of exotic cuisine I was going to try this evening. Well, ...

No adventurous opportunities presented themselves, and after the awards ceremony concluded, there were only a few hours left in the day and I needed to get writing... Perhaps tomorrow. Check back for a report on Day 3!

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.