Monday, May 14, 2012

Parents of Gifted: 1. Facilitate learning at home

“10 Ways parents can support their gifted teen at high school” (continued).

“I’ve got no homework! / I’ve done it already”;
“I have a huge assignment due tomorrow and I don’t know where to start”;
“This is too hard”;
“I don’t have time – I have too much else to do”;
“She never explained it to us”;
“This is dumb – I’m not doing it!”;
“I’ve lost the instructions /I don’t know what I’m supposed to do”;
“I only got a C for that assignment you helped me with! I told you that teacher doesn’t like me!”;

It is sometimes difficult for parents to know the best direction to take when their gifted teen dishes out comments like these, especially when both parties are stressed.  Raising any teen is a haphazard mix of joy and parental angst. Raising a gifted teen can be a tip-toe through a mine field of daffodils, daisies and cactii.  Some of my ten recommendations may seem at first glance to contradict each other, but it is a matter of hearty dollops of adult wisdom, love, balance, and more love! This article expands upon #1: Facilitate learning at home.

Even if your teen is achieving good marks and teacher feedback is positive, as a parent you are more likely to know what is simmering along under the apparently smooth surface your teen is presenting at school. Where your teen is underachieving, the reasons may be complex and varied, especially if they are twice exceptional, or 2e (gifted with a learning barrier), Because reasons some gifted students are twice exceptional are very diverse, this article won’t address the various ways 2e can be supported at home, but it will lay out suggestions that are practical for all gifted students.

Facilitate: make possible / smooth the progress of (versus doing it for them!) 

Let’s look at some practicalities:

Does your teen have an appropriate area in the home for homework and study?  Many families do not have the luxury of one bedroom per child. However, a quiet space free of television and sibling distraction, makes a difference.   Can you establish a ‘no go’ zone at specific times, that siblings must respect?  Is there adequate working space at a table or desk? Are there places to store texts, folders and the like?  The increasing use of intranet in schools is slowly reducing the storage problem, but this brings up new issues of access time to the internet. Not all students have home access to the internet.  As a way around this problem many schools now offer ‘homework’ classes after school with computer access.  Have you checked out these possibilities at your high school? What about the local library?

Support a study / homework schedule.   Many gifted teens are into everything – music, sport, part-time jobs – and because of their passions and high ability are often in great demand from many teachers in both curricula and extra-curricula[1] areas.  Help your teen plan a work /play schedule and look for ways to support this where you can.  Maybe it involves some carpooling around events or making sure that other siblings respect that work space area at particular times of the day. 

Help them learn time management skills. This doesn’t come naturally to any teen, let alone adults!   Don’t expect strategies to be adopted after one discussion and consistently followed through!  However, if you wait until a ‘disaster’ occurs, such as the stress and panic caused by an in-depth assignment being left to the last minute, you will have a proven instance of why time management skills matter.  Resist the urge to write an excuse note to the teacher.  This is a classic opportunity for your teen to learn through consequences.  Pick them up and support them when they falter in this instance, even if it means making them hot drinks in the wee small hours of the morning as they finish the work you have just discovered they were given three weeks ago.  Help them see the lesson in it later, after missed sleep has been caught up on.  They are more likely to ‘buy in’ to a solution when they can see the benefits of avoiding a repeat occurrence.

It is also likely that your teen is being taught time management strategies for assignments at school, (I’d love a dollar for every time I stressed particular time management strategies in the classroom!) but up until now (s)he has been able to coast through without too much trouble so hasn’t seen the need to apply them.  Life in a high school is different from primary school.  The wide range of subjects and their requirements coupled with extra-curricula activities make far more demands upon the teen as they begin to stretch into adulthood.  There are numerous self- help books available on time management skills.  How are your time management skills? What messages do you model? Take opportunities to share those you have learned, and why they are important to you as an adult.  Even better, admit to those that you aren’t so good at, and agree to work on adopting a strategy or two together.

Similarly, Study Skills take on a new importance. It is far less likely that your gifted teen can coast through examinations by pulling answers off the top of his/her head.  Rote learning is actually needed unless your gifted teen has been blessed with perfect recall.  Most haven’t. Quite often gifted teens are surprised by a comparatively ‘average’ grade in their first year of high school.  Their confidence takes a knock, and they may even believe they have lost their ‘smarts’.  Not so.  They have simply had a wakeup call.  This may be the first time they have been exposed to the idea that an examination can be challenging and that as Edison said “genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration”.  Don’t let them lose the opportunity to learn from this valuable life lesson with excuses.  Help them to understand they are now entering a far more adult world of learning.  There is no replacement for hard work. That’s life – get on with it – oh, and enjoy the challenges that it poses! There is far more satisfaction to be had from meeting a challenge than from succeeding at something that was easy.  Help your gifted teen get ‘high’ on the joy of mastering something difficult.  It’s something they’ll want to experience again and again.  Not coincidentally, that striving to master is the stuff that champions are made of.

Study skills range from skills such how to correctly structure a paragraph and an essay, to how to best to learn for examinations, using techniques like mnemonics[2], mind mapping, webbing, and revision, revision, revision! It also includes examination techniques, e.g. how to successfully complete a paper with a specific time, things to avoid, and ways to successfully answer questions. I am sure that all high school teachers coach their students in such techniques as are appropriate for their subject.  Teachers want their students to be successful.  It makes them look good! A wise teen pays attention, and adopts such strategies.  (You don’t need to know them!  It is your teen’s responsibility to learn and master.)  Your school periodically may offer courses in study skills – make sure you know about them, and encourage your teen to attend. 

Clutter-management skills are also excellent life skills that will help your teen to better manage himself and his environment. Clutter can range from the physical: too much stuff that is disorganized and hard to find, to conceptual:  too much information - unable to 'see the forest from the trees'. Help your teen see the benefits of creating systems to manage their physical clutter, and to use the skills taught to them in mindmapping and webbing to make sense of conceptual ideas and information. 

Those teen remarks at the beginning of this article?  You’ve probably heard all of them more than once.  You need your ‘parent filter’ on when listening to them.  Some may be valid – others are most probably not.  Your choice:  do you intervene or not?

Gifted kids are as clever as a cartload of monkeys! We love them to bits, but they are masters of manipulation and know exactly which of your buttons to press.  (Ever noticed how, when they want something they know you’ll say ‘no’ to, they’ll wait until the middle of a very important phone call to ask for your permission?).  As the responsible adult in the household, parents often feel obliged to respond to apparent cries for help by stepping in and ‘fixing’ things.  This is a natural response, but not usually the best one. When we step in and rescue we are giving a message that we don’t believe our teen can manage this themselves. We give them an easy ‘out’, and while it might clear the air for a short time, it won’t address the problem.

Encourage your gifted teen to self–advocate.  You cannot be at their elbow through life.  This is a skill gifted learners really need.  If the work really is too easy, (and sometimes it is, but sometimes it’s an excuse), encourage your teen to ask for extension work, or for suggestions for extra reading around the topic. When they don’t understand the instructions, they need to be the ones asking for clarification.  Maybe they weren’t listening.  Or maybe they were, but they are over-anxious about ‘getting it right’ and so they are procrastinating.  Give them the courage and confidence to tackle these issues on their own by trusting (out loud) that they can manage it. By all means have a discussion about ways in which they might choose to handle it, then leave it to them.  If self-advocating it doesn’t work, get them to think about the way they approached it, the tone they used, and even the time they asked the teacher for help.  (A question at the very end of a lesson is not likely to elicit a helpful response.  Teachers are human too!).

Parents and Caregivers can foster and support their teen to become an autonomous learner.  It’s about being there to pick up the pieces when things fall apart, but it’s also about empowerment: helping them to develop life skills that will make them successful adults – not solving the problem for them. 

© Sonia White, Author, Teacher, Gifted Education Consultant (2012),  

This article is part of a series on how parents can help their gifted teens get the best out of their high school years. 
To read other articles on this topic click on the links:

[1] Extra-curricular:  activities that are part of school life that students can participate in, but which are not part of the school curriculum (e.g. debating clubs, choir, school productions).

[2] Mnemonic: a device such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something. (Wikipedia)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Defining Moment - James Delisle's response to the NAGC's definition of Giftedness

To me, this article from James Delisle on a specific definition of giftedness  reinforces the reasons why, in New Zealand, we ask schools and communities to develop their own definitions of giftedness, specific to their cultural perspectives and advise that they include the word 'potential' as well as achievement (giftedness is a matter of kind, degree, and is a developmental process).  However,  continuing discussion around differing perspectives is healthy and can serve to clarify and enhance our understanding.

Well worth a read:   A Defining Moment | Hoagies' Gifted:

I'm adding a comment that I wrote about this on another website:

In New Zealand we focus upon schools and communities establishing their own (informed) definition of giftedness and talent.  Why?  Because we are a bi-cultural society firstly, and then also, a multi-cultural society.  Giftedness has differing cultural perspectives. To inflict a 'white middle-class' definition upon all 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

10 Ways to Help Your Gifted Teen Get the Best out of Secondary School

Frequently we hear about what schools and teachers need to do for gifted teens, but  education is a three-way partnership!  When the student, the school and home all combine to work towards the best educational outcomes for the student, real success occurs.  In my last blog I talked about the difference between 'successful' achieving students and autonomous learners.  For gifted learners to become autonomous learners, the student's personal growth requires some specific support.

Parents / caregivers can do a lot to make sure their gifted teen gets the most out of secondary school or high school.  This article summarizes 10 ways they can do this.  (Keep following future blogs for further elaboration).

  1. Facilitate learning at home
Facilitate = Make possible / smooth the progress of (versus doing it for them!) 

  1. Make sure they know you love them ‘Warts and All’!   
Gifted often feel pressured by others to achieve highly in everything... it’s simply not humanly possible!

  1. Promote Sensible Risk-taking
Creativity is a cornerstone of all learning. A huge component in creativity is ‘risk-taking’ – risking being wrong, less than perfect, not being successful immediately. 

  1. Teach them to prioritise. 
Stress can often be part and parcel of giftedness as gifted can try to do everything to perfection level.

  1. Have High Expectations 
A home does not have to be a wealthy home for gifted individuals to thrive!

  1.  Life Balance 
Understand that intense concentration has a resulting need of relaxation.

  1. Promote self-confidence versus arrogance  
Understand that giftedness of itself is not something to be proud of, BUT... how a person uses their gifts and talents can be something to be proud of...

  1. Why Gifted Teens should be Sponges not Spongers!
Feeding the soul as well as the intellect becomes an important life balance issue through the teen years. If the focus is purely upon intellectual development these teens are often left asking themselves what it’s all for, because pondering these sorts of existential questions is a part of who they are. 

  1. Understand Multi-potentiality
Gifted individuals often are confused by the number of things that they could do in life and find career selection a daunting.  It is important that they make the most of the curricular and extra-curricula opportunities that secondary school offers.

  1. When Things Get Heated!
High verbal ability can sometimes make for fiery discussions, especially when teenagers are trying to spread their wings and become independent. Family structure and rules are still very important.
Sonia White is a parent, teacher, author, teacher educator and gifted education consultant.  She has many years of experience working with gifted learners of all ages.
To receive links for future articles on this topic, you can subscribe to Sonia's blog by email, RSS feed, or as a member of Blogspot. 
Follow Sonia on Twitter: @SoniaWhite_  or Facebook: Sonia White Gifted Education    

© Sonia White, Author, Teacher, Gifted Education Consultant (2012),  

Monday, May 7, 2012

‘Successful’ Gifted Learners versus Autonomous Learners

Successful. It’s a word fraught with many interpretations.  To some it means wealth. To others it may mean quality of life, or meaningful employment or raising a child.  In education, parents might consider that a high achieving student is a successful one.  However, in their conclusions derived from their research, Betts’ and Neihart’s [1] would argue that it is not an achieving gifted learner that we should be helping to develop, but rather an autonomous learner.

If we look at the behavioural characteristics that an individual student might display, we get a clearer picture of the difference between the ‘successful’ or achieving learner and the ‘autonomous’ learner.

By Betts’ and Neihart’s definition, quite a number of our ‘achieving’ gifted learners in schools are actually ‘not there yet’ and are likely to underachieve.   ‘Achieving’ students work to please parents and teachers (they are extrinsically motivated rather than intrinsically motivated). They are accepting and conforming, well-liked by teachers and parents and they get good grades.  But they are complacent, & too easily satisfied.  They do not go beyond the syllabus. They work to prescribed texts and learning activities but do not ‘dive deeper’ to enhance their learning.  They consume knowledge, but do not generate new ideas or perspectives.  They avoid risks and choose ‘safe’ learning activities that they know can get them good marks.  They are most likely to be underachieving as they do not challenge or push themselves to ‘go beyond’.

On the other hand, let’s take a look at some of the types of characteristics that we might have those same students aspire to.

Autonomous learners are self-confident and self-accepting.  They hold an optimistic view of the world, and are intrinsically motivated to achieve in their chosen fields.  They may not be your Honours students, but they are assertive, and have goals and action plans and can work independently.  They set SMART goals.  They know what they want and what they need to do to achieve it. They are ambitious and excited about their choices and options.  They follow through and complete things. They understand that ability increases with the amount of effort and skill development that they put into a specific area and follow strong areas of passion.   They are creative, will stand up for their convictions, and take sensible risks. They are willing to fail and learn from it.   They dive deeper and read and research beyond the syllabus in their quest for knowledge.  They create new understandings and new knowledge and perspectives from their learning.  Autonomous learners are tolerant and respectful of others. Parents see them as capable and responsible.

In my experience, only a very few people have these qualities as children or teens.  Some adults never acquire them!

However, that doesn’t mean that as parents and educators we should not aspire to supporting the development of such characteristics.  We are all the product of our environment. We know the impact that parents and teachers have upon the development of our youth. As models we need to mirror these qualities, support the thirst for knowledge beyond the curriculum, encourage sensible risk-taking,lessen the reliance on grades for parental approval and reward, and instead focus the approval on the types of behaviours we’d like to see emerging.

Note: The descriptors above are adapted from Betts and Neihart (2010) ‘Profiles of Gifted Learners’, available here.

As a lead-in to Gifted Awareness Week, (18th - 24th June), the next several blogs will  focus upon ways in which parents can support their gifted teen at high school.

© Sonia White, Author, Teacher, Gifted Education Consultant (2012),  

This article is the introduction to a series on how parents can help their gifted teens get the best out of their high school years. 
To read other current articles on this topic click on the links:

[1] Betts & Neihart (2010).

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