Education Opinion

National Gifted Education Convention, Day 3

By Tamara Fisher — November 17, 2012 10 min read
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Watching Temple Grandin give a presentation is a great way to begin the day!

During the keynote time slot this morning, we were all faced with the difficult decision of choosing between Renzulli, Gardner, and Sternberg... or Temple Grandin. I heard from many people today that they, too, struggled with these two appealing choices. I opted to see Temple since I knew I’d never hear the end of it from my students if I showed up at school next week having had the chance to see her but opting for something else. I know my students would’ve loved to have been in the room with me today to see her in action!

For part of her talk, Temple expressed her belief that we need teams of people working together because we need the various perspectives that people with different views and talents bring to the table. She also emphasized that verbal language isn’t the only way of thinking. Some people think in pictures, others think in patterns, others think with an auditory strength. Some think associatively, some think linearly. Some think bottom up, some think top down, some think specific to general, others think general to specific. People don’t want to accept that there’s different ways of thinking, she said. We need to get people of different types of thinking working together.

She encouraged us to build up children’s strengths and passions into a possible career - and pointed out that, particularly for children with disabilities, it will be their strengths that create a positive future for them.

Some of my favorite gems from Temple this morning:

“Wouldn’t it be stupid for a dyslexic kid to flunk out of school because you wouldn’t [fill in the blank with an accommodation] so he could read it better?”

“What’s really the problem?” [Is it within the child, or is it a flaw in the curriculum or the teacher’s presentation of the curriculum?]

“I think I’m doing pretty good for a student they thought was mentally retarded.” Indeed, Temple, indeed!

A member of the audience asked Temple, “What did you play as a child?” Her answer? She would make birds and kites and planes and attach them to her trike and try to fly them behind her as she pedaled away.

Temple’s animation, sense of humor, stream of consciousness, and expressiveness contributed to why she was so engaging to watch. Here are a few photos to demonstrate. (I promise she smiled, too, but I never could catch it with my camera.)

The next session I attended was “What Administrators Taught Us About Making the Case for Gifted Education: A Report from the NAGC Administrator Task Force” with Ann Robinson, Ginny Burney, Jacquelin Medina, Debbie Blow, and Buck Greene.

The Task Force was a charge created by former NAGC President Ann Robinson to assist NAGC in engaging school leaders about awareness and meeting gifted learners’ needs, to provide direct feedback from administrators to NAGC on publications and messaging, and to improve NAGC’s services available to administrators. The Task Force consisted of superintendents and principals, gifted specialists and coordinators, and researchers. One key question they examined was, essentially, “What are the criteria for a resource that a veryvery busy administrator would access and utilize?”

The presenters were some of the members of the Task Force. A key point to their message was that we need to learn how to be our own best PR consultants. Administrators are already busy and they may not be required or accountable to provide services. But, they are responsible for promoting quality learning and instruction, college and career readiness. Think about what they’re saying and find a point to connect with. Have your “elevator speech” ready for when opportunity knocks. Administrators are looking to hear about what affects them and the students in their schools. They want to know how gifted ed can help everybody (such as through extended learning opportunities).

Be helpful to them and begin a dialogue. Put it in a framework of best practice. They don’t have time to become the experts. Provide them what they need to know. You be the expert for them to rely on. (It’s about dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, and building relationships.) Since administrators have (generally speaking) not come to us for information or help, we need to go about advocacy a different way. How are we communicating to administrators? Are we embedded in what goes out to them? No. We need to go where they are.

To most effectively communicate with busy administrators, be concise, be focused, be compatible with other school initiatives,
be accessible online, be credible, be equitable, be accountable for student growth.

It all reminds me of one of my favorite quotations: “The fool persuades me with his reasons; the wise man persuades me with my own.” ~ Aristotle ~

In a few weeks, NAGC’s Administrator Tool Kit will be available at the NAGC site containing this (and much more!) information.

Note to self: Show up extra early to sessions so I don’t end up sitting on the floor again!

Over lunch, I popped into the Exhibit Hall and found this little gem, a book called “Beautiful Oops!” at the Once Upon a Mind booth. This creatively-presented little book offers fun insights for our young perfectionists. The good folks at Once Upon a Mind, by the way, offer librarian-type services (doing the legwork of seeking tailored resources) to teachers and parents.

Next, I wanted to learn about “Sensory Sensitivities: The Yoke of Being Gifted” with presenter Angela Housand. She talked about sensory processing sensitivities of the gifted and how they respond to stimuli with greater central nervous system responsiveness, involuntary motion, and emotional reactions. And research shows there is a connection between anxiety and sensory sensitivity. We know the gifted have a qualitatively different experience of the world, and one piece of evidence is they score statistically significantly higher on scales of sensitivity.

What can we do to support those that have heightened anxiety?
* Avoid comparisons between students/siblings
* Support autonomy through individualized learning opportunities, encourage them to pursue their own interests, highlight uniqueness without comparison
* Provide choice and opportunity
* Give them opportunities to fail and focus on the arising learning opportunity
* Breathe: explicitly teach and practice breathing techniques. (FYI - Breathing through the mouth sends signals to the brain that something is wrong with the body, which increases anxiety, so teach them to breathe in through the nose.)
* Mindfulness - the practice of being present

When you have the tools on hand, you can manage it. When you have a calm mind, you actually increase performance and well-being.

What to do for heightened sensitivities:
* Habituate (For example, let the child pushed over by the gym buzzer push the button that controls it to begin the process of getting accustomed to the surprising loud noise by first being in control of it. This was Temple’s idea this morning that she connected back to.)
* Minimize offensive external stimuli
* Avoid perfume and fragrant lotion
* Use rugs and fabric wall art to reduce noise
* Adjust furniture to minimize exposure to sharp edges. Sharp edges activate the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that registers threat.
* Minimize visual overload
* Paint rooms a blue hue (this lowers blood pressure by 9%, apparently!)
* Provide a cohesive color palate
* Utilize variations in lighting
* Use natural materials
* Provide privacy spaces and opportunities for privacy - retreat, reflection, relaxation. This enables those with sensory overload to be able to escape to a separate place when over-stimulated.
* Technology in their hands - gives them some control
* Minimize how much hangs from the ceiling. Ceiling height is ranked among the top 3 architectural details that influence psychological well-being.

(I know there are definitely spaces and places, rooms and buildings that I feel more at ease. This is one reason my house is oddly-shaped. I feel more “myself” in rooms with an angle.)

I have ear protection (the “muffs” that people wear when mowing the lawn or shooting at the range) available for my students to put on when they feel overwhelmed by the auditory stimuli in our or a neighboring space. (At one school, I work with my students in the lobby of the gym, so the noise from P.E. classes is unavoidable.) It’s a tool for their “toolbox” of coping strategies that I’ve provided and they take advantage of when they need to. I also teach them they can pull off a strip of toilet paper and hang it over the sensor on the automatic flusher device, then pull of the paper to flush when they are ready for the toilet to flush. (We discovered that one of my students, back when he was in Kindergarten, wasn’t going to the bathroom the entire school day. Turns out he was terrified by and overwhelmed by the loudness and unpredictability of the automatic flushers.)

Suggested resources:
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine Aron
‘Mellow Out’ They Say. If I Only Could. Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright by Michael Piechowski
Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski
The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity by Lisa Rivero
Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted

One thing I loved about this presentation was the in-depth analysis of something those of us in the trenches have been noticing for a long time, as well as the vein of seeing the sensitivities in context and recognizing that while they may bring challenges, they also come with benefits.

This year’s Legacy Series interview, hosted by the Conceptual Foundations Network with support and collaboration of the Curriculum Studies Network, was with Dr. Sandra Kaplan of California. Her work has influenced teachers around the country, helping them implement high-level thinking and questioning for their teachers. Here are a selection of highlights from the interview:

* She spoke of the teachers she had who inspired her and modeled great curriculum. She talked about her accidental path to education (had intended to become a pediatrician).
* She said teacher education needs thinkers not doers, those who can see children for who they are and help them understand who they are.
* Grouping isn’t the real issue, it’s matching needs. What kind of assessment can we do through performance? Gifted children are as much a heterogeneous group as any other group of children.
* If you want to make a difference, you need to think about your own contribution and be your own person, not re-create what’s out there (advice to young Sandra from Harry Passow). Other influences on her have been Abraham Tannenbaum, Joe Renzulli, Dorothy Sisk, Jim Gallagher, Jean Delp, May Sago, Ruth Martinson. (I don’t know if I spelled those last three correctly - or even if I heard the names correctly. Feel free to give corrections in the comments section if you know who she was referring to.)
* When asked, “What motivates you and challenges you about the field?” she said, “The more classrooms I sit in the more agitated and motivated I become.”
* “If you really believe in gifted ed and the children we’re serving, there can never be one single curriculum.” Curricular structures are like people. Just as you can never have just one friend, you need more than one curriculum.
* Talent vs. serendipity? While we have control over all sorts of things, we need to make sure we give them (kids and teachers!) opportunities for serendipitous experiences.
* Academic prejudice (“it’s too hard for them”) - This is just as detrimental as any other type of prejudice.
* “We need to talk about teacher readiness in the same way we talk about student readiness.”
* “I would like to see more of kids talking to teachers as consumers.” We shouldn’t deny the voices of children in our efforts to come to understand what they need as learners.

I capped the evening off at Speed Geeking, an event hosted by the Computers and Technology Network. The following people each gave a four minute presentation about as many digital tools as they wanted to squeeze in. Some new resources I learned about are listed below.

Class Dojo Easy way to keep track of data on your class
AirServer Connect multiple devices to the projected screen
TED-Ed The “Schoolhouse Rock” of the present and future
American Association of School Librarians - Best Websites for Teaching and Learning
LearnItIn5 How-to videos about technology for the classroom - all 5 minutes or less
inform7 Interactive software that lets students write interactive fiction
ViewPure Show YouTube videos without the unpredictable thumbnails along the side
Socrative Class engagement software

(*all photo credits: Tamara Fisher*)

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.