This post is based on a presentation recently given at a Gilbert Supporters of the Gifted Guest Lecture by Stephanie Newitt.
This presentation covers:
- Identification and articulation of the needs of gifted children
- Informal Surveys
- Understanding Student Objective scores
- Understanding Gifted Child Development
- The Parent Check-list:
- Formulating appropriate investigative questions
- The Common Myths of Gifted Education
- How to involve your child in the final decision
- Parent supports for transitions
About 6 years ago, in 2009, when my oldest son was finishing 5th grade, I was informed that the ALP teacher at our neighborhood school would not be returning the following year. I asked questions and learned that the teacher who was hired to teach ALP for the next school year had never taught ALP before and was coming from a 2nd grade classroom. In my mind ALP would not, in the true sense, be offered at our neighborhood school for my son’s 6th grade year. I felt dumbfounded and dismayed.
What were my options? I was concerned about how well my son would handle a transition to a new school, so I decided we would stay put and I would talk to the principal about my son’s needs. There is a common myth out there that says “Gifted kids don’t need help, they’ll do fine on their own” and from personal experience I knew this was not true. Gifted kids have their own difficulties. After speaking with the principal about my son’s struggles, she said, “Oh, yes, we have a program for that.” This was a red flag to me. This, along with the fact that someone I considered unqualified had been hired to teach and prepare gifted 6th graders for junior high, indicated to me that my principal did not understand the needs of gifted students. What was I to do? What would you do? We had attended this neighborhood school since our move to Gilbert, eight years prior. My two oldest daughters had completed the 6th grade there. We knew school staff. Though I felt frustrated, it came down to asking myself this question – would my son thrive or would he wither if we stayed? My gut said he would wither and therefore be unprepared for junior high. I began my arduous journey of exploring different schools.
Since I didn’t really know what I was looking for, I did my investigations without my son. I didn’t want him exposed to my back-and-forth in my decision making process. I checked out a near-by charter school, participating in a tour with the principal. “How do you serve gifted students?” I asked. “We treat all students as gifted,” she replied. I waited for a “however, those who are identified as gifted ..." but that part of the sentence never came. They did not formally identify students as gifted at the charter school and while I truly believe that all children have gifts and talents to develop, I also know that those who are identified as gifted have complex emotional intensities, perfectionism issues, etc. that require a trained and understanding teacher. The charter school did not have teachers trained to meet those needs.
I checked out a neighboring district. I felt they were welcoming and their staff appropriately trained … however, I felt that my son, who can struggle with transitions, would wither socially with this different environment – the campus was set up differently, specials were handled differently, etc. I decided to trek back to GPS to find some familiarity.
We live on the west side of Gilbert. On the east side of GPS I found an elementary school that had teachers we already knew from having crossed paths in previous years. I met with the principal … she understood gifted children. I visited with the ALP teacher, who had taught ALP for years. He said to me, “Mrs. Newitt, if your son is thinking up here but producing down here, please let me have him.” NO ONE had ever said that to me before. I felt he truly understood gifted children. I continued my exploration of the campus. The campus was of similar design to our neighborhood school and regarding specials, being a GPS school, they were conducted in the familiar GPS way. Prior to the start of school I was able to bring both my sons to the school and let them see the campus and classrooms. We discussed their thoughts and feelings. We had found our match. We applied for open enrollment for both my 6th grade son and my 1st grade son. Both were accepted. In my son’s 6th grade year he experienced true growth – not only academically, but emotionally and socially as well. Looking back we have no regrets regarding his 6th grade year.
From this and other experiences over the years, I have learned that it is helpful to be able to articulate the needs of my gifted child so that I can put words to my impressions and gut feelings.
Identification and articulation of the needs of gifted children
In this section we will cover these helps:
- Strengths vs. Challenges of the Gifted
- Emotional Intensities of the Gifted
- Student Objective Scores
- Child Development
Gilbert Supporters of the Gifted has created three Informal and Educational Surveys for you to use as tools in articulating your gifted child’s needs and characteristics, as seen in this graphic.
You are invited to visit the Gilbert Supportersof the Gifted website, print out the surveys and mark them based on your observations of your child.
|Review the Informal Survey "Strengths and Possible Challenges of the Gifted" and consider the question above.|
Understanding Student Objective Scores
It is helpful to understand your child’s objective percentile scores that were used for gifted identification. Where does your child fall on the bell curve?
The Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) is the test that Gilbert Public Schools uses, though Gilbert Public Schools will accept scores from ANY of the state approved tests (for the list of state approved tests, go to this link and scroll to the bottom). Regarding the CogAT, it is helpful to understand that –
- For some children the CogAT is not a good match
- The CogAT can be termed as a “snapshot” of a child’s abilities, but does not provide in depth information. For example, if a score comes back as the 99th percentile, the CogAT does not have the means to break it down to show if it is 99.9th or 99.99th, etc. Again, where does your child fall on the bell curve and what programs are available for such a child?
- As deemed by the makers of the CogAT, a child can only take the CogAT once every 12 months, otherwise the scores are dismissible.
If you are wondering about outside testing possibilities and if your child’s school placement would benefit from such, visit our website for more tips on the topic of gifted testing.
Understanding Gifted Child Development
While we are collecting information about our child, this is to include child development milestones. It is helpful to be aware of the fact that gifted children experience child development that is out of synch with their same age peers. This is called asynchronous development and is a hallmark of giftedness.
In the diagrams below, consider the outer ring representing the chronological or physical age of the child. In typical children development is at or about at grade level, with typical developmental milestones being reached within the expected ranges. Gifted children usually develop at an uneven rate. Consider the contrasting diagrams below.
For more information on Asynchronous development, visit our October 6, 2014 blog post - "Seeing the Forest for the Trees"
The Parent Check-list
Now that you are better able to articulate your gifted child's needs ...
- Determine your values. What is important to you?
- Write the corresponding question
- Decide who to ask – principal, teacher, other parents in the program
- Collect your answers
- Narrow your choices down to two or three school sites
- Share your final choices with your child and invite her to participate in the final selection process
Here is a sample Values and Questions spreadsheet for you to reference -
As you are asking your questions, if you receive answers from the list of Common Gifted Education Myths, then consider a red flag of warning to be raised. Become familiar with these myths so that they are easily recognized.
How to Involve Your Child in the Decision
From my first story, we will fast forward to 2013. An opportunity came to change schools for my youngest son. This time, we knew our choices were to stay in his neighborhood school or change to a specific school where additional gifted services would be offered. We did not make this change lightly, especially since this opportunity came to us three weeks after the school year had started. Since there were only two schools we were considering, I involved my son in the decision making process from the beginning. He greatly appreciated that the decision was not his alone and he appreciated being involved in the process. We visited the school we were considering. We met the teacher. He saw he had a friend in the class who showed him where the students lined up for the bus after school. We gathered our information and then at home, together we made a list of pros and cons for each of the two schools.
|The Pro vs. Con worksheet allowed us to look at the situation with our heads, with logic and practicality.|
We also knew that emotions were very much a part of this decision making process and that's when the inspiration came. We created a Bubble Map to explore the emotional factors of changing to the new school. I first wrote every PRO and CON from the PRO/CON list for the new school in bubbles on the page.
Then I asked my son to use a Feelings Chart to help him identify the feeling he felt as I read each statement in the bubbles.
I wrote his feeling label next to the appropriate bubble. At this point he needed a break. It can be emotionally exhausting to discover and honestly express feelings.
An hour or so later, I called him back to the kitchen table. He was ready to continue our discussion. I read the emotional labels he had given and I asked him to tell me if it was a positive, neutral or a negative feeling. I hi-lighted the feelings according to the colors in the key I had made at the bottom of the bubble map. We then tallied each emotion grouping. Even though there were four times more positive emotions than negative emotions, the negative emotions felt very heavy to my son. I then asked him, regarding each negative feeling, if it was permanant or if it could change. For three out of the four negative emotions, he realized strategies in which the situation could change and therefore the emotion could become positive. We re-labeled with the "positive" color.
The last one he did not know how to deal with - "I will miss my friends." I ached for him. I had gone through a few moves and changes in my life. I felt he would feel more empowered if he came to his own conclusions ... so I told him a story. I told him how I had been able to keep in touch with my friends after one of my moves. He jumped up, finally with a smile on his face. "I could write each of my friends a letter and give them your email and our phone number!" He had a smile on his face. He felt hope. He ran to the computer to start typing his letters.
My son printed his letters and gave them to his friends the next day.
This was our final bubble sheet. There are more details to this story which I wrote up in an earlier blog article in March 2014.
Parent Supports for Transitions - Looking Back, Looking Forward
Looking Back. If you have been involved on the campus you are leaving, you have felt a part of a community. You may be concerned about the hole you will leave. If so, consider making a list of helps and tips you can leave behind in order to help provide continued support. This may include -
- Create a timeline and list of procedures to pass along. Include your contact information in case there are any questions.
- Offer to be a “shadow leader,” meeting occasionally with new leaders from the campus to be a consultant
Looking Forward. Realize that you have the opportunity to enlarge your sense of community on the new campus. As you stay in touch with friends, you can also increase your sense of community as you -
- Connect with other parents at the new school through school activities and volunteer opportunites
- Connect with other parents in your child's new program
- Connect with the GPS Gifted Education Parent Council representative on your new campus
- Subscribe to www.gilbertgifted.blogspot.com
- Visit and bookmark www.gilbertgifted.org - watch the calendar of events
- Like and follow “Gilbert Gifted” on Facebook
The purpose of this presentation and this post is to help parents feel empowered in the decisions they are facing. Every child is different. Every gifted child is different. As parents we can gather information and lead by example. We can guide our children in making weightier decisions with both our heads and our hearts. As we do this, we will be more likely to find a program that fits our child's genuine needs.
*If you would like to become familiar with the funding history of gifted education in Arizona, you are invited to read the February 1, 2015, blog post - Gifted Education Funding in Arizona.