Parental Strategies for G/2e Students:
Early identification is the key to life long success:
- Comprehensive identification gives the parent a learning profile of their son/daughter as evidence for the need of accommodations. A WISC V or Stanford-Binet will afford the parent a detailed picture of who your child is in terms of Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning (visual-spatial ability), Fluid Reasoning, Working Memory (often low in 2e children), and Processing Speed (often low in 2e children). NOTE: Look for high level discrepancy scoring within the sub tests for indications of 2e traits, and remember that the FSIQ (Full Scale IQ) may be invalid if those discrepancy scores vary in excess of 1 standard deviation (22+ points).
- The parent will better understand who their child is and how they experience life.
- Waiting can be detrimental to the child, as they grapple with an educational system that may not be equipped to handle their unique gifts and/or needs.
Find the Right Psychologist:
- If you suspect your child is G/2e (early vocabulary, keen curiosity, intense physical reaction to stimuli, advanced cognitive functioning, etc.) you will want to find the appropriate person to assess them.
- Look for a psychologist with experience working with gifted children, and make sure the child is comfortable with that person. For the suspected 2e child, this is of utmost importance as the proctor must know and understand how to assess the paradox that is dual giftedness accompanied by some sort of disability.
Understand Asynchronous Development
- The Brain is Different:
- The G/2e brain develops at a different rate and in a different way than the typical learner. In short, the Sensory Prints (those which take in and store information based on input from the senses such as taste, sight, smell, etc.) are larger and have the capacity to intake more data than the average brain, resulting in a greater ability to experience sensory overload or OE’s (over-excitabilities). In addition, this over-development inhibits Limbic growth (the area of the brain that regulates emotion) resulting in a highly sensitive and intelligent being with a limited capacity to control any emotional reactions to stimuli whether it be positive or negative. This means gifted, and especially 2e, children are more easily susceptible to meltdowns or intense feelings/reactions which they do not have the ability to control. It also means that these same children are susceptible to disorganization, delayed language development, writing, taking tests, showing academic competence and mastery, public speaking, reading, tying shoes, completing schoolwork, turning in to schoolwork, meeting new people, socially appropriate behavior, etc. The good news is that, over time, the Limbic System will catch up to the rest of the brain.
The School Years
Prepare for the Unexpected:
- The life of a G/2e parent can be a trying one, especially when the child enters the school years. In general, schools lack the resources, knowledge, and even empathy, to effectively teach the G/2e child to grow academically, socially, and emotionally. Positive communication with school staff is essential from day one. In addition, find your allies. The gifted resource teacher, a knowledgeable school psychologist, an empathetic social worker, the great teacher, or a trusted administrator can be wonderful allies for your family and may be able to work miracles on the ‘inside’.
- Read, read, read. In the modern era of ‘super information’, there is unprecedented access to materials that will inform you about who your child is and how they learn. On occasion, you may have to be that ‘expert’ resource.
Ask The Right Questions:
- It is essential to find the right learning environment for your child. Too often, G/2e students languish in classrooms that do not meet their developmental needs. Finding the appropriate setting can be the difference between self-actualization or prolonged under-achievement, even existential depression (something I have seen on multiple occasions, especially with 2e children).
- What are the right questions? Try these questions to begin:
- How have you provided a safe and supportive environment for your gifted/2e students in the past? It is here that the potential teacher should chat about using time to build relationships with the student by getting to know them personally (interests, learning styles, dislikes, etc.). They will also refer to the need for flexibility, understanding, providing ‘safe’ spaces for learning (and social/emotional support), as well as pacing, rigor, and curricular approaches conducive to gifted learners. In the course of questioning, it will become evident whether or not the teacher does understand and/or empathize with your child.
- Provide specific scenarios unique to your child and ask how the school/staff can accommodate for their specific needs. Again, without empathy or understanding, the typical response will be short and sweet, or the standardized: ‘We believe all children have unique gifts and work to make sure all are learning’. This is a popular response, and one that is well meaning but is rarely a reality. If a school or teacher cannot be specific, they generally do not have the knowledge, much less an empathetic approach necessary to consistently reach your child.
Understand that Social/Emotional Development is just as Important as Academics:
1. What is your philosophy on the social and emotional development of your students? It is here that you are listening for a response that speaks of a balanced approach to academics and social/emotional development. Any professional working with gifted and especially twice-exceptional children should understand the importance of this balance and be able to articulate why.
2. What particular materials are used to teach these skills? While I believe it is important to have a curricular approach, the types of materials can range from a set curriculum to daily exercises to the use of simulations to teach skills such as self-control, tolerance for ambiguity, conflict response, organization, etc. What is important is that there is an effective procedure in place that is used on a consistent basis.
3. Does the school maintain extra support (counselors, social workers, school psychologist) for the classroom teacher? Are there facilities (safe places) for children that might have a breakdown (many younger g/t and 2e kids experience tough days and sometimes just need a safe zone to reset themselves away from the classroom)? The classroom teacher cannot always deal with every issue that crops up in the classroom, and it is essential, especially within a school for gifted children, to have experienced, professional support for the children.
Ask about the Right Curriculum:
Over the last couple of years, curriculum has, once again, become one of those hot topic buttons. Most recently it is the idea of the Common Core that has seen its share of wide-scale opinions. Unlike many, I am not opposed to the idea of a common core as a standardized approach to what our child need to know and be able to do, yet I do take umbrage with the belief that it is good for all children. That simply is not true. The fact is that our intellectually gifted youth need more, much more. To expect them to be satisfied with the curricular norm is absurd. They have the innate capability to digest enormous quantities of information, the inherent curiosity to learn all aspects of an idea, issue, or topic, and, the need to explore materials at a greater depth using differing perspectives. So why are we preventing them from doing so? Why do so many schools continue to teach a lock and step approach that inhibit its students from exploring interests, gleaning data, or reaching their cognitive potential? The fact is that gifted (and 2e) kids need to sate their natural curiosity to learn. They need to experience the love of acquiring knowledge; not the dread of rote mechanization, or the drone of mundane oration. To borrow a phrase from the Scott’s adman ‘you need to feed their brains’. I understand the pressure many schools and teachers feel to ‘follow the curricular map’, nevertheless, there are ways to do just that and still teach the gifted mind. Strategies such as curricular compacting, use of formative assessment to determine pre-existing knowledge, use of a thematic approach to teaching and learning (our kids love this), and other such strategies can alleviate that pressure and actually move the class closer to the end goal at a quicker pace. One size does not fit all…it never has. Use of the following queries may assist the parent to determine what curriculum is being employed and if it is suitable for the gifted/2e child:
- Could you provide an outline of the grade level expectations/outcomes? Every school has a website or copy of their baseline goals for each grade level. A simple analysis of your child’s current threshold compared to the grade level expectations can give you a basis for what to expect. Remember, the curricular map may not give you a comprehensive outline of all that is taught. It is important to ask follow up questions if you are interested in a more detailed view.
- What avenues are available for students that are beyond the curriculum? Each school should have a detailed plan in place that deals with students that are assessed to be beyond the grade level standards beyond ‘more work’. It is okay to ask about leveled or tiered classrooms, independent investigations, higher-level instruction, and even grade acceleration (full or partial). Too often gifted children are given more work (not better work) or given chores in the classroom to keep them busy. This is not acceptable, as every child deserves to learn at a level that fits its needs.
- Does the school follow a textbook based approach or is the use of supplemental materials common practice? I have yet to witness a dynamic learning environment whose main source of information is the text. Not that use of a text is wrong. It is just very limiting. There exists a vast array of valuable material available for teachers (especially today) to compliment and enhance student learning. To be sure, the text cannot sufficiently accommodate the gifted learner.
The Proper Methodology
Perhaps more vital to the success of the gifted/2e learner than the actual curriculum, is the curricular approach, or, how the teacher instructs her students. A knowledgeable teacher will use whatever tools are necessary to ensure that the students attain maximal growth in the classroom setting. One such tool is the use of formative, or ongoing, assessments. In a classroom that is partially or even fully comprised of gifted or 2e students it is essential to be able keep tabs on their growth through each unit taught. This begins with the use of diagnostic assessments that can determine what a student already knows, what they may partially understand, or if they need to be instructed in all aspects of the unit. As the unit progresses the use of formative assessment becomes valuable in gauging the rate of student growth and understanding. These formative (non-graded) assessments allow the teacher to then plan an instructional path for both the group and the individual. This is known as differentiated instruction. Another strategy to look for is the use of thematic units. Thematic units allow the child to contemplate multiple approaches to the understanding of a larger concept that is tied to one or multiple standards. For example, studying the cause and effect of conflict could be used to learn about America’s involvement in different wars rather than the standard chronological approach.
I also believe that allowing our children to engage in exploring the depth and breadth of study rather than simply ‘covering the curriculum’ can be extremely effective in engrossing students in learning at a high level. In fact, I believe this approach is more effective than grade or subject advancement, given the classroom can accommodate for this strategy.
Other strategies to watch for include appropriate pacing; gifted and 2e children can absorb information at a rapid pace especially in their areas of strength or interest; systematic grouping, learning centers, hands-on instruction, the adherence to essential questions to drive understanding and much more. To be sure, volumes could be written on the numerous teaching strategies that serve to enhance the instruction of both the typical and non-typical learner. These are just a few.
While formulating questions on teaching approaches may seem fairly self-evident I have provided a few poignant questions for those interested:
1. What would you say is the predominant approach to teaching and learning? Look for words and phrases such as holistic instruction, appropriate pacing, flexibility (this a big one), flow of instruction, higher order thinking skills, and of course, well designed differentiated units. A little probing goes far in determining the nature of the classroom.
2. How much staff development does your staff receive on working with gifted and/or twice-exceptional students? Unfortunately, budget cuts and competing agendas have limited staff development at most schools. Learning is a life-long process for students and teachers alike and if the system does not encourage consistent development for the teaching staff you will encounter teachers that do not know or understand the issues surrounding gifted education. Similarly, the effective classroom requires adequate planning time for staff. In most cases, our teachers are asked to teach five or six classes but only one for planning. This is certainly not adequate time to prepare for the complexity of the modern classroom. Regardless, it is not a bad question to ask.
3. Please describe the general flow of the classroom. How does your staff (you) approach a unit from planning to completion? This is a detailed question but remains an important one. While you may not receive a comprehensive answer the school should be able to articulate a general picture of how learning occurs within the classroom.
4. What is your policy on homework? Nothing kills curiosity and a passion for learning as much as busy work and for the most part, that is what homework is. In reality, homework should be limited (allowing for other extra-curricular learning experiences) and a natural extension to what has already been taught.
- Finding the Right College/Work Program: