Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Outside our Comfort Zone

 "Solo" - we enjoy the woods, write about our experiences, ponder our existence.
 A team building activity - how many nails can you pile on the one sticking up?  Winner was 13!
Rock climbing takes us outside our comfort zone.

    My Schmardies are so lucky - we are an Expeditionary Learning, Outward Bound School.  The pictures above were taking during our "Winter Voyage."  We went overnight to a camp for some winter team building and learning.  You can see that we didn't have a whole lot of snow (February in Colorado!), but some great learning took place anyway.
     Gifted kids generally do pretty well academically.  They know the "answers."  They don't always shine at physical activities, and once they figure that out, they quit trying.  That's their perfectionism at work.
     When our "Discovery" classrooms were placed at our school, it was supposed to be temporary, to fill this school as it grew, waiting while another school was being built.  We were supposed to stay for 3 years, and then move on to the new location.  So our students at first didn't go on the "Voyages."  (Our Adventure Ed overnight trips are called Voyages.)  But many of them had siblings who were not in the Discovery classrooms, and they did go on the Voyages.  Soon our students were wanting to go too.  Our 5/6 Discovery teacher and I got together to compare notes.  We liked this school!  It was challenging our gifted students in a way that a "regular" curriculum could not.  The Adventure Ed piece not only includes Voyages, but also rock climbing in the gym, and survival studies and techniques, among other things.  Our students did the rock climbing during PE, and what we noticed were students going outside their comfort zone.  One day the first year I heard one of my students say, "My goal was to get to the top of the rock wall.  At first I couldn't do it, but today I did!"  My 5/6 colleague and I kept hearing things like this over and over from our students.  We both had experience with gifted kids, and this was new.  Perseverance is a character trait for our school, and we were seeing it with our students!  In spite of their perfectionism, they were willing to keep trying.  The spirit of the school promotes personal best over competition.  And our students were thriving.
     We put it to our Administration, and then our SAC (School Advisory) committee.  Could we stay?  Could we have a home here?  We really felt like we belonged.  That was new too - in my previous experiences, we were considered an oddity, something to be "put up with," or at worst, laughed at or scorned.  I often heard from other teachers that I had the easiest job, because my kids were smart.  But that wasn't happening here!  The school motto is, "We are Crew, not passengers."  We were definitely part of the crew!  SAC agreed with us, and had to put on a presentation for the district.  The district officials were amazed.  Generally schools were happy to pass the gifted kids on, for a variety of reasons.  In fact, our 6th graders had been at 3 different sites in just a few years!    It was unprecedented, but the district approved it.  And here we are, 5 years later.  Still growing (including me!)  Still thriving.  Always Crew.  Happy to be outside our comfort zone.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

That Ugly Word, "Boring!"

     I hate that word, boring.  When I taught regular ed, I always cringed when families explained their child's behavior by telling me the child was bored.  I took it as a personal blow, like I wasn't doing my job.  I realized how silly that was when I had to call a parent in for his son's behavior.  He immediately started with the "B" word.  (His son was a very bright first grader).  But the behaviors were happening when we lined up!  So I was able to say, "Mr. J., that may very well be, but C. needs to keep his hands to himself when we are lining up!"  Mr. J. got it.  He never brought the "B word up again.  
     Below is a quote from Dr. Sylvia Rimm, a Child Psychologist who specializes in need of gifted children:  

     10. "The word “boring” can be a descriptor of a variety of problems, including lack of challenge, fear of challenge, insecurity that others are doing better, thoughts that their teacher doesn’t likes them, or half a dozen other problems."

     This comes from a Duke Digest where Dr. Rimm discusses how we should listen to what gifted children DON'T say.  The URL is below and was Tweeted by Byrdseed Gifted:
  (Thanks for the Blog idea!)  

     I was glad to read this.  Ironically, now that I teach only gifted kids, the "B" word comes up way less often.  But occasionally I have a student, especially at the beginning of the year, who complains of being bored to his or her family.  It usually turns out to be bravado, the 'ole syndrome of feeling inadequate and knowing that using that dreaded word "Bored" will get the families' attention.  And it really does!  The family usually thinks, WOW, my child is in Gifted and STILL bored!  Now what do we do!!!!  And what they do is come to me, of course.  This is a good thing, as I can show them what the problem might be - whether it's math or reading.  It's almost always not really a problem - it's the student's worry that they aren't matching up to their peers.  
     Another quote from Dr. Rimm's article states, "In order for gifted children to build the resilience required for leading fulfilling adult lives, they will have to learn to cope with some less successful experiences. Because they have often been extraordinarily successful, coping will not always be easy for them. Parents and teachers who listen to what children say, as well as to what they give clues about but avoid saying, are better able to guide and support them as they develop confidence and resilience."  

     If you're the parent of a gifted student, don't always believe the "B" word.  Do some detective work.  I find that almost all of my students lead such a rich "inner life" and love to read so much, that they really don't get bored.  Something else is at work.  As Dr. Rimm said, we need to listen harder to them.  

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Schmardies Speak!

     It seems I'm only Blogging on Sundays.  Have to fix that.
     Last week I gave my students a quick writing prompt - "What is different now that you're in Discovery?"  (Discovery is what we call our gifted classes).  I asked them to think about before and after.  Remember, these students are 7 and 8 years old.
     Here are some quotes from their work - I did fix their spelling:
     "You get to do harder things."
     "Discovery is good because it helps people who learn with one side of their brain use both."  (He was saying that he learns with math and science, but now with everything.)
     "I think that it feels good to be in discovery because we get to do work and don't always get everything right."  Wow, I LOVE that one!
     "Being in Discovery means that I have a lot of background knowledge."  (What a great way to think about knowing lots of stuff!)
     "I think Discovery means a class that has no limitation to learning.  It feels like a friendly learning environment."  (Love this kid!)
     "It feels good to be smart."
     "Discovery makes me feel happy because you're with a bunch of smarty pants."  (Smile - I sometimes call them "Schmardies" and sometimes Smarty Pants.)
     "Discovery is fun, and it feels good to know you're part of it, but it gets hard here and there."  (Yes!  I'm doing my job!)
     "It feels like I can understand the people with me a lot better than I did before because we're all gifted - I finally got a best friend."  (Affective needs taken care of - check!)
     "Ever since I've been in Discovery it seems I've been getting much smarter.  I've been learning new techniques on lots of interesting subjects.  I feel much more comfortable in Discovery than in my old elementary school."
     "Discovery has changed my life."
     "Being in Discovery is a privilege that only certain people have."  (And a privilege to teach!)
     "It definitely feels good to be in Discovery.  When I first started, I was a little worried that all the kids would be smarter than me."
     "I felt scared at first now I'm not.  It means a lot to me."
     Several of the kids talked about how scared or worried they were when they began the year.  Some were worried they wouldn't do well, others were worried they wouldn't make friends.  Some said their friends teased them about it.  The beginning of the year with new Discovery students is always hard for all of us.  We not only have to get to know each other, to become "crew," but we have to overcome all their worries, and the fact that they are no longer the only one in the class who knows all the answers.  In the beginning it's really hard to get them to take turns - they are used to their teacher letting them shout everything out, because they were usually the only one who did.  But then we hit that magic two weeks, three weeks, and six weeks, and everything falls in place.
     My final quote is from a Discovery friend who just turned 7.  "It means a lot to me to be in Discovery.  When I was in first grade, things were way too easy.  I also skipped kindergarten.  I mean I went through a lot just to get here.  Sometimes I visit friends from my old school and they tease me about being in Discovery.  All that affects me a lot.  The beginning was hard, but it gets better as the days pass.  Now there is finally something in my life.  It feels much different than regular school."
     They were upset when I called time up - so hopefully I can get them to write more later.  Their voices are eloquent!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why Doesn’t Their Writing Match Their Reading?

      For years I’ve wondered why my gifted students writing skills don’t seem to match their reading skills.  I know that part of it is the fact that their fine motor skills are still developing.  But there seems to be more involved.  To a student, their reading skills are at least a grade level above their chronological age.  This doesn’t apply to their writing skills, which are usually either on grade level, or below.  Of course, there are a few exceptions, but on the whole this has been what I’ve noticed. 
       Everyone is struggling with standardized testing.  And gifted kids don’t always do well with the testing.  Either they overthink it, they just haven’t bought into it, or they have test anxiety due to their perfectionism.  My district is asking why, because our gifted kids don’t always make “AYP,” or Adequate Yearly Progress.  The district feels that we don’t have enough Gifted kids making the top score, “Advanced,” in reading and writing.  Even though my students are great readers, the test has them write out their thinking about reading, and the writing part holds them back.  (Our kids do get lots of Advanced scores in math, for whatever reason). 
       I’ve always played down the test, thinking that it was better they not get anxious about it.  (I still feel this is true).  But there has been more pressure than ever this year to have my students do well.   So I tried some new strategies with my 3rd graders, who have to take the test in the spring.  I had them keep a reading notebook all year.  They had to respond almost daily to what they were reading – sometimes with a prompt, sometimes with whatever they were thinking.  My students did a good job with this, and even if it didn’t help their test scores, I think they got a lot out of it.  Another strategy I really stressed was good handwriting on the test, because “strangers” won’t try to read your messy handwriting, they’ll just give you a low score.  Wow, did that backfire.  My students really took what I said to heart.  And because they were being so careful, several of them didn’t finish the test.  We won’t know their scores until Fall, but I’m pretty sure they won’t be advanced.  AAAAK!  I was frustrated. But when I thought about it, I also had to smile at how endearingly industrious they were.  They worked hard the whole time they were testing, and I can’t find any fault with that!
       I had my “AHA” moment when I was skimming some information about gifted kids.  (Forgive me, I can’t remember exactly where and what I was reading).  It mentioned something about writing and asynchronous development.  Oh my goodness, I could not believe I hadn’t thought of that before!
       I first heard the term asynchronous development when I was taking a graduate course for my gifted endorsement.  It’s such a cool term, and I could connect it right away with my own children, especially my son.  When he was 4 he loved Legos, but couldn’t make what he was envisioning, because of his fine motor skills.  This was very frustrating for him.  And so I’ve always equated it more with things outside of school, as well as social development.  Sometimes I have tunnel vision.  But of course asynchronous development would have a bearing on my student’s writing!  I suppose to the district it will sound like an excuse.  But it’s got me to thinking.  I want to work on this some more, to see if there is a way to help them catch up to themselves.  Interestingly, I’ve also had a student who loved to write, but was below grade level in reading.  Her writing was sometimes difficult to read, because of the spelling, but she knew what it said, and she was very prolific.  By the end of that year she had gained two grade levels in reading, but not in spelling.  I’m confident that will catch up with her too.   
       Asynchronous development!  Yes!  Not an excuse, but certainly a place to begin! 

Sunday, April 3, 2011


          It's Sunday night, and our two-week Spring Break is coming to a close.  It always goes too quickly.  But I'm anxious to start learning with my Schmardies again.  They are young enough to still love school with a capital L.  Many of them (not all, of course!) will tell me break was too long, that they'd rather be in school.  It always energizes me!
         I’m perpetually amazed at how a good break changes me.  I go from being exhausted in mind and body, back to raring to go with lots of new ideas again.  I can look back on frustrating behaviors and administrative problems with fresh eyes.   My lesson plans are ready, I did some cleaning in our classroom, and I feel organized.  I love that! 
This break I learned a lot too.  I started a Twitter account, and am having a great time crafting my PLN (Professional Learning Network).  I’ve even found some other Teachers of Gifted Kids, and am excited about sharing ideas.   I learned about some things I want to try with my students: to map book characters (other uses too!), Skype (which I have done with my daughter, but not at school), Cover It Live, Max My,, which is a “Sticky Note” type of place for younger kids.  I know that’s a lot, and I’ll be grateful if we are able to get good at one or two of them.  But it’s so cool to have new ways to share our learning!
I also started this Blog during break.  It’s been harder to come up with ideas than I thought.  But I’m sure that once I’m back amongst the Schmardies, ideas will start to flow again.  We have a class Blog too – check it out!  It’s at That’s something else we’ll be working more on.  To date we’ve just been chatting with each other, and most of it has been done at home.  I’ve posted a few questions for them to think about and answer.  The students have had a good time posting math problems and jokes for one another.  But I notice that several students are not blogging, for whatever reason.  It’s down to maybe 3 or 4 dedicated bloggers.  We started it about two months ago, and I think it needs refreshing.  This will mean I’ll need to sign up for the computer carts more often so we can blog in class.  I’m thinking it would be fun to blog about books we’re reading, so stay tuned.  One large benefit of blogging with them has been their punctuation skills.  I decided to insist on capitals and periods.   Even Gifted kids have to be reminded a million times.  I have our Kidblog set up so that I have to approve every post and comment.  (This is for safety also).  I don’t post their comments and posts unless they have good punctuation.  At first I felt kind of Scroogeish for doing that, but wow, it’s made a real difference in a couple of our bloggers.  They want to blog so badly, that it’s worth it to them to “do it right.”  By the end of the year hopefully it will just come naturally.
Time to get ready for tomorrow - It's Sunday night, and our two-week Spring Break is coming to a close.