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)

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