Shhhhh

The tranquility of silence.  Do you ever experience it?  As a parent or teacher of gifted kids, you may have difficulty experiencing even a moment of silence. Many gifted kids have a hard time “turning off.”  They talk a lot.  They think a lot.  They share ideas a lot.  You get the picture.  Certainly there are introverted and introspective gifted children, but many of the students I meet are far from that.  Most of them simply don’t know how to turn off.  They are always on full-steam ahead mode with their minds, mouths and bodies.

Don’t get me wrong.  I like energetic, healthy students and I like bright, bubbly students.  But I often find myself telling some students that it’s okay to “do nothing” sometimes.  They give me a blank, incomprehensible stare in return.  What I mean is that some students could benefit from a moment to recharge and reflect.

What exactly are the benefits from a daily enforced quiet time?  The research is pretty compelling to ask students to unplug or unwind for a while.  According to the David Lynch Foundation students who practice meditation twice a day exhibit less stress, less violence, greater happiness and higher creativity.  Even better, tmhome.com suggests that transcendental meditation can increase fluid IQ and show positive gains in academic achievement.  Not to be confused, meditation and quiet time are two different things, but meditation cannot be achieved without first experiencing some quiet in the day.

Quiet time is the first easily enforceable step to receiving the benefits of a relaxed mind and body.  Set aside some time each day to read, create, reflect and unwind.  Use this time to paint, draw, journal, pray, stretch, put together puzzles, or design elaborate fantasy play worlds.  Think about life goals, desires, and plans.  Just be sure to do it alone, consistently, and quietly.

 

Moving to a meditative state takes desire and often, guidance.  Plan positive images and ideas for consideration during this time.  Don’t let negativity rule the thought process.  Start for a short amount of time and build up to a desired length of time.  Reflect about the process and results, too.  Soon the quiet time will become a welcome oasis in the middle of a charged-up hectic life.

Self-Esteem

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASometimes I think we are all on self-esteem overload from the politically correct era of “everyone gets a trophy,” and for some, just the mention of this word starts eyes rolling to the back of the head.  I must admit, I am an eye-roller when this subject comes up and possibly my eyes even glaze over during a discussion about self-esteem.  Mostly because we all have a story – a unique perspective that helps clarify our position.  Here’s my story.

I didn’t always roll my eyes at the thought of getting a trophy for participating and giving my best,  however, I remember long ago when I was in competitive baton twirling  (yes, it was loooong ago), I didn’t often win first place.  I’m a competitive sort but a bit of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none kind of person so coming in first place didn’t happen very often for me (Who am I kidding here?  Actually it never happened).  In these competitions, the first place prize was a trophy and the other awards were medals. Don’t get me wrong, I treasured all my medals but I certainly yearned for a trophy.  After several years of competition, I still hadn’t won a trophy and I was REEEAALLLLY wanting to come in first at something!  Well, it finally happened.  I heard my name over the loudspeaker and was beckoned to the judges table.  I was handed a large sparkly green trophy with a golden majorette on top.  I was thrilled to receive my award until they told me what it was for.  I had been given the trophy because I was the first to send in my entry form for the competition!

I was instantly deflated and scuttled back to my seat.  A trophy without a true accomplishment meant nothing to me.  I wanted to earn a trophy for a job well done, not because of a PR stunt to get other twirly girls to send in their entry checks faster.  That was the moment I became an eye-roller for the everybody gets an award movement, too.  Self-esteem has to come from the knowledge that you have accomplished something and it comes from the notion that others accept and recognize that accomplishment, too.

Self-esteem is the feeling of having personal worth.  It can be enhanced by others but ultimately has to come from within.  It is extremely critical for highly gifted individuals to recognize the importance of self-esteem and to begin to see the societal roadblocks that hinder a gifted person’s feelings of self-worth and value.  For example, when you are at the end of the bell curve intellectually you have few peers to validate your behavior and intellect.  And to make matters worse, gifted kids are often encouraged to fit in with the average in order to get along better. We encourage them to become something that they are not.  The message?  We don’t value who you are.

My suggestions for enhancing self-esteem in gifted students range from the practical to the lofty and from the miniscule to the extreme.  Do any that you can and feel free to add to my list.

  1. Smile and listen to your child.  We all respond to acceptance of our thoughts and ideas.  Consider what your child is saying and find ways to follow-up on ideas and thoughts.
  2. If your child is competitive, find age and ability appropriate opportunities for your child to compete. Try to find true and worthy competition. You don’t want to set your child up for having a false sense of esteem from conquering a paper tiger.   Then, help your child prepare or practice.  Many gifted children don’t know how to study or work for a goal.  Mostly everything they try to do is accomplished without effort, so studying and preparing for a goal may seem foreign to your child.
  3. Practice appropriate socials skills. Confidence grows from knowing what to do in many social settings. Role-play at home and practice in public!
  4. Praise effort not result. We don’t always win but we can learn from the process as well as the product.
  5. Travel and experience different cultures. Build and develop schema.
  6. Give meaningful choices to your child. Having good decision-making skills helps a student realize they have an internal locus of control.
  7. Seek out opportunities for your child to experience being a leader as well as a follower. Both are important roles to be able to fulfill successfully.
  8. Find ways to allow your child to interact with his or her intellectual peers. This cannot be emphasized enough. Special camps, classes, and excursions may be expensive but are a great source of intellectual and social growth for your child.
  9. Volunteer in a variety of settings. Helping others builds your own self-worth.
  10. Ask your child! What does he or she want to accomplish?  What makes your child feel good about herself?  You might be surprised what enhances your child’s self-esteem and you don’t even know it!

We need our gifted students to be confident and competent in order to fulfill their academic potential.  As teachers and parents we cannot neglect this important area of growth and development.  We want our bright children to have the confidence to pursue their dreams but they won’t be able to do this if they lack a foundation of positive self-esteem.

I’m Bored

BoredTeen_bigThink quickly!  Which task would motivate you more to get out of bed in the morning –  a challenging worksheet of algebra problems or free tickets for a trip to Paris?  Pretty obvious choice, isn’t it?  It is easy to see that motivation can be manufactured based upon the perceived outcome or reward.

Low motivation can be a problem for many gifted children (and adults.)  Why is that so?  Some educational research  points to the fact that students are mismatched with their school environment.  Dare I say it?  They are bored.  The outcome or reward for being in school does not match expectations.

Now, I’m not ready to say that boredom is a choice as this poster would suggest, because I have been in some pretty boring situations and let’s just say that thinking happy thoughts of the beach didn’t make me feel better.  youre-not-bored

Nor, as a teacher, am I ready to dump the entire problem on the school system or a particular classroom, however there are times when the right fit just isn’t there.  I agree that it is predominantly the school’s responsibility to provide a challenging and rigorous curriculum but sadly it doesn’t always happen.

In case you haven’t been in a classroom lately, I must report that teachers for the most part are swamped.  Really swamped as in Everglades or Okeefenokee swamped!  On top of the overwhelming classroom responsibilities add administrative overload, demanding parents and some disrespectful kiddos and you can imagine the burden placed on the teacher in your child’s classroom. Suffice it to say the teacher’s motivation to help your child find his or her motivation may be lacking.

Sadly, there aren’t many tickets to Paris in your teacher’s mailbox either. Teacher motivation is another article in and of itself but as you can see, your child probably gets a scant amount of individual attention from the one adult in the classroom. Most gifted children may even get less attention from the teacher because those are the kids who aren’t academically needy.

Squeaky wheels get the grease, as they say, but is that the only way to get a better academic experience for your child?  Do you really want to be known as the complainer or annoying parent who won’t stop badgering to get change?  I would venture to say no.  Try on a new perspective for a moment.  Consider that it doesn’t mean that your school is a bad one if YOU have to supplement a bit or figure out ways to make the education setting more enriching for your child. Why should your parenting stop the minute the yellow bus pulls up outside your door? Who knows your child best? It should be you!

boring classI know you’re busy and I agree that school should be responsible for providing challenging and enriching curriculum, but why let your child languish in school while you point fingers at a system that isn’t working for you?  Instead, do something about it while you can and while your child is still in your care. Earlier is better.  Forming a new attitude and new mindset is easier the earlier you start.

The good news is that there are some things you can do to help your child (or yourself) combat boredom.  First of all, objectively analyze the situation.  Has your child learned to use the “b” word (bored) so that you will leap into action criticizing and demanding change from the teacher, principal, vice-principal, curriculum specialist….seeming everyone involved down the line to the crossing guard and cafeteria lady while your child watches the show?  The “b”word is a powerful word to a child when he or she knows what will ensue if it rolls off the lips.  From one parent to another, I think you are creating a monster when you allow your child to propel you into action by uttering this type of complaint.  I believe there are some types of true boredom that should be addressed and then there are some types of behavioral attention-seeking “boredom” that should also be corrected before they become an even bigger issue.

Academic boredom for the gifted can manifest from many causes. I would like to suggest a few.

  • Has your child covered this material before?
  • Is your child lacking interest in the subject?
  • Is the repetitive nature (practice and drill) of the regular ed classroom frustrating?
  • Does the teacher present the information in a dull or unenthusiastic manner?

Social or Behavioral “boredom” might look like this:

  • Is your child trying to please you, the parent, by acting bored and snobbish?
  • Is the work too hard and your child is embarrassed to admit it?
  • Does your child use being “bored” as an excuse to misbehave?
  • Is your child addicted to video games and everything else lacks the same excitement?
  • Does your child get to do non academic fun or filler activities if he or she complains to the teacher of boredom?

To help your child, try these two tactics.  You can either avoid or evolve.  Try to avoid situations that you know aren’t a good fit for your child.  For example, if you know a particular teacher doesn’t match your child’s learning style, make a case for your child to placed in another room before the school year starts.  Or try to get another teacher for that class if there are choices in high school. Or better yet, take the class online or as dual enrollment.  Do what you must to avoid the situation.  Don’t expect the teacher to change just because you pop in there for a teacher conference and tell him or her that your child is bored.

If your child knows the material, try to exempt the class and take something else.  Try for advanced placement or minimally, request to take the final exam or benchmark test.  There are many online resources available for coursework.  One of them might be a better fit.

smileyIf your child hates practice and drill, then work with the teacher to present some alternatives to the regular classroom.  Your child can probably demonstrate mastery with only a few repetitions. Then, have your child move on to other material, which brings me to the evolve strategy.

 

If you can’t avoid a boring situation, then teach your child strategies to help him or her change or evolve either the situation or change his or her mindset. For example, if your child is learning about rocks and minerals, become knowledgeable about the curriculum.  Gather books about the subject, collect rock samples, go on rock hunts, etc.  Get immersed in the subject.  Then, formally or informally suggest some additional topics for your child to work on or even just to think about when he gets his work done ahead of everyone else.  For example, pose this question.  Can you think of a better method for obtaining “invisible gold” from the ground that protects the environment and doesn’t cost so much?  http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/24/international/24GOLD.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Have students draw a picture or make an invention.  Better yet, have the child contact a mining company to discuss the new ideas.  In time, your child will begin to see boring topics as a gateway to a world that few other students can cognitively obtain. Think of boredom as a launching pad to personally created excitement.  You don’t have to wait for a teacher to keep your child entertained, instead your child is learning self-advocacy and intrinsic motivation – a boredom busting life skill for any age.

smiling

If your student is older, you may want to have him or her try a note taking journal.  When taking notes, include a column or section of ideas to enlarge or evolve the subject.  Look for practical applications or invent ways to build on the idea that no one else has discovered.  Learn ways to follow up on these ideas with experts in the field.

Seek to become entelechial – making something real from potentialities. A great example of entelechy is the late Samantha Smith and her peace trips to Russia in the 1980s as a young child. http://www.samanthasmith.info/  Samantha and her family’s mindset helped her to reach far beyond a “boring” classroom to create an impact that ultimately was global and long lasting. Becoming part of a bigger picture is challenging and not always accessible but the novelty of trying creates a learning experience that is far from boring.

smiling-student1Sometimes, the fix can be as simple as seeing the current situation as a stepping stone to something bigger.  We can’t be entertained all the time, but if we have hope that what we are enduring now will lead us to a brighter future, the event becomes much more tolerable as a means to an end.

I believe the best way to become motivated is through examination and awareness.  What makes your child tick?  I’m not talking about physical or monetary rewards and bribes which can quickly become demotivators.  I mean deep down, what is the core of interest for your child?  Build it.  Develop it.  Nurture it.  When your child is leaping out of bed to do the algebra on the nightstand, you know you have been successful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Related Links

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115928/twitter-shows-epidemic-school-boredom

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/nov/19/science/la-sci-sn-five-kinds-of-boredom-20131119

http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/never_say_bored.htm

Prezi, PowerPoints, and Shadow Puppets

BackgroundI am in graduate school 12 years ago and I’m rushing for a deadline. I was very new to using PowerPoint at that time. In the midst of preparing for a classroom presentation I was stumped about transitioning a few slides when my then second grade daughter breezed into the room and plopped down in the seat next to me and began to work on my PowerPoint. Problem fixed and she skipped away.

That’s what I love about PowerPoint. It is professional enough for an adult and easy enough for a 7 year old. I’m still a big fan of PowerPoint but in the twelve years since I have tried a few new presentation programs. A recent one I have used is Prezi. If you are wondering, Prezi is the Hungarian word for presentation. The original designers of the program are from Hungary. Imagine that!

Prezi is a cloud-based presentation and storytelling program. Here is the link to get you started. http://prezi.com/ If you aren’t familiar with Prezi, it starts with a main page and you zoom into different features of the program with your mouse. But beware. It’s 3D and if you are one of the people who has to close your eyes during an IMAX movie then this style of presentation may cause you some dizziness. (Or if you are bothered by the Disney Soarin’ ride at Epcot, then you may want to stick to PowerPoint.  Yeah, I may be speaking from experience here. Sweaty palms, eyes closed, dizzy, and near panic attack.   Nooooo, not embarrassing at all.)

Here is a sample Prezi about the characteristics of gifted. Have fun with it. Zoom and Soar…. but come back. There is another program to see.  https://prezi.com/yn3nqkwjlssx/understanding-gifted-and-talented-students/

Powtoons http://www.powtoon.com/ is an animated presentation program for business and education. It makes animated presentations – not like cartoons – but with moving graphics. Check this out:
http://www.powtoon.com/show/cNHU45T5N9K/who-are-these-gifted-kids/

Both Prezi and Powtoons have tutorials and options for learning the program. If that fails, ask your seven-year-old because they will probably be able to troubleshoot for you like mine did. Or if ALL else fails, go old school low tech. I sometimes am reminded of the 1964 book by Marshall McLuhan called the Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. This book is where we get the phrase “The Medium is the Message.” He points out that the media is the focus of study, not the content. And, he says that the medium can alter the message we are trying to convey. I couldn’t agree more.

Are we losing the connection between teachers and students with our high tech emphasis? If I want students to connect with my message, how do I know if they have when everything is delivered via computers? I’m missing my feedback mechanisms of facial expressions and responses to questioning when I give up my personal interaction.  Am I not better with a bunch of shadow puppets on the wall to deliver my message if I have to forgo my opportunity interact with my students?

It’s a fine line to walk to enable our gifted students to be competitive with technology without losing the human interaction which they so desperately need. I implore teachers and parents to never forget how valuable they are as the medium. Using presentation programs are a wonderful part of instruction, but they should be used with you, the adult (or presenting student), up front facing the participants interacting and monitoring as the information is delivered. When used in this way, I believe it is a win-win. Students can then learn through an interesting presentation but with a caring adult there to support them. The perfect mix for students to soar!

Craftivities and Printables

2014 jsmWith any look through educational blogs you will find some new terminology – craftivities and printables.  Exciting new teaching methods?  Not really.  Upon closer inspection you will see that craftivities are crafts that are tied to an educational objective and printables are simply worksheets that are ready to be downloaded and printed out.  With the calls for teacher accountability, a stand-alone art project has become a thing of the past.  But for many gifted children,  the need for expression of creativity is still present and lurking underneath the no frills policies of teaching the basics.

So what have educators done to try to continue to meet this need of students?

According to my blog search, we have employed clever semantics to covertly meet the need of the creative child.  Old buzzwords like “art project,”  or  “holiday  craft activity” signals a red flag to many school systems. Apparently craftivity isn’t on the buzzkill  radar yet. Even though some educators are skirting this trend of back to the basics, it is good for the child?  I say yes.  But, what do they gain from gluing together an elf at Christmas or a designing a pot of gold and rainbow in March?  Here’s  why I think it’s a good thing to bring out the glue sticks and construction paper on a regular basis.

First, we as humans have an innate need to make things.  We make lunch, we make the bed, we make friends, we make a living, we make clothes, we make factories, we make a family.  We create and generate objects at all levels from tangible to intangible.  If we stop this process at a young age, I believe we are disrupting a necessary mindset.

Students learn social skills from art projects.  They must share glue, help pass out paper, make a trade for the purple-handled scissors when they got the ugly green ones instead, and finally, make nice comments to the other students as they share their work. All great skills for the eventual workplace of the future.

In Georgia, many gifted students get placed into gifted services with the help of the Torrance Test for Creative Thinking, so it makes sense to  provide activities to foster the skill that helped to place them in my classroom in the first place.  Crafts promote creative thinking, fine motor skills, and apparently vocal skills as my students sing, laugh, and talk loudly as they create.  You might think painting would be a quiet afternoon activity…not so much in my classroom.   Students learn the mundane responsibility of cleaning up after themselves and the high level skill of critical thinking as they judge the merits of their products.

The opposite of the creative outlet of  “craftivities” would seem to be the “printable.”  We don’t often have fond memories of the 50-question practice-and-drill purple ditto sheets from our youth. But, I would like to suggest that worksheets are not the evil cousin of the art project.

studentFor some gifted students, worksheets are a haven of relief in the busyness of the day.  With many elementary students, they face a multitude of teachers throughout the day – classrooms that change for subjects, specials teachers for p.e. and computers. A worksheet can be a constant in the day.  It’s all there in black and white and all you have to do is fill in the answers.  A comfort for some.  Mostly the sheets don’t need much clarification for the gifted so it’s an opportunity for success and independence.  Students get to work at their own pace and then get to jump out of their seats and run to slap the paper loudly on the teacher’s desk for all to see and hear who was the FIRST ONE DONE.  (Um, we’re still working on that gifted classroom social skill.)

For middle and high schoolers, worksheets are a bridge between lecture and project.  A roadmap to help send a student on to independent learning.  They are a useful reference for what the teacher has been (as the students call it) yammering about for the last 30 minutes and they also provide documentation for the teacher for formative assessments.

Do I use crafts and worksheets (craftivities and printables) all day every day.  Absolutely not.  However,  in this day of online everything, I choose not to abandon either of them.  I believe the benefits each provide fit into my larger repertoire of teaching methods. And I believe others support me in this philosphy or else teachers wouldn’t be flying under the radar renaming these longstanding instructional methods.

 

Welcome

I am a public school teacher of the gifted from Peachtree City, GA.   I also teach at the college level and locally for certification courses for educators adding a gifted endorsement.  I enjoy presenting workshops about my views and experiences teaching these amazing kids.  Feel free to leave a comment about a topic of interest to you and your gifted journey.  Thanks for stopping by!

Julie S. Murphy