A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This is How We Homeschool

Teenlet doing physics problems.

Since first grade, the Teenlet has used this spot, right here in the picture, to do his homework. It isn't a desk. It's not a table. This is the floor. There is a little step that goes from our family room up into the kitchen, and he uses the kitchen floor as his "desk." He leans up against the edge of the step with his stomach, which helps to comfort and focus him (it's a sensory stimulation thing). 

This is one of the many reasons we homeschool. Most classrooms would not allow him to work on the floor, but it helps him concentrate (though Ms. Rushing did let him work on the floor in 2nd grade. Once she figured out how much it helped he didn't even have a desk in the classroom). 

The Teenlet is taking two real for-sure classroom classes now, and we'll see how the whole "desk" situation works out for him. This is a step towards the next bigger step, which is in-person college courses. He needs to master the desk-work before he can get there. The college courses he is taking now are going smoothly, so we know that the academic level is appropriate. His high school physics and calculus classes have upped the work-load, and it is getting done (though slowly and not without some frustration at the amount of work they require), so we know he will be able to manage the workload of a rigorous college course. So classroom management skills - figuring out how to get that same sensory input without the step and the floor - will be the next major key to college readiness. 

He's getting so close. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

If School Isn't Doing It, Who Can?

The question often arises, from within groups or from individuals, about students who need additional "gifted" support at school, and how to help them if their school or district won't - or aren't able to - do it. For some it comes down to their child not scoring well on a standardized test, so they don't qualify for programming that does exist. For some, it's a school or district that doesn't offer gifted services. For others (as in our case), the services that are offered are not sufficient for the needs of the child. In any case, you end up feeling very alone as you try to figure out how to help this child rise up to his or her intellectual potential.

I recently had a conversation with a friend which started like this, 
"I believe my friend's 12 year old son may be gifted but is slipping through the cracks. Apparently he is science wiz but is suffering in all other classes. They tested him at school for [the gifted program] and he did not score high enough. I was explaining to her that it sounds to me like he's bored. What's the next step in a situation like this? I've never met the kid but the idea that he may not achieve his full potential because a standardized test meant for his entire school didn't keep his attention keeps me up at night."

My question to my friend in response to this was the topic of this post - "If school isn't doing it, who can?" Many parents aren't able to make the same choice we've made to homeschool, but certainly every parent can enlist the help of others who have interests similar to their child's, to help engage them in the topic on a level they won't get at school. If the child loves science, find a scientist who would mentor the child. If music is her passion, find an adult who also loves music and would be willing to hang out every so often to talk about composers or create music together. If history, who is it who loves history so much they can't help but turn every conversation into a story - and lesson - from the past?

If you don't know any of these people, check again at the school. Teachers and principals know other adults who love their subjects and would love to have a conversation on a completely different level with a student than what they have in their normal course of the classroom day. Churches, synagogues, or other places of worship also are a great source for finding mentoring relationships because they involve so many people with so many interests. If your child is beyond talking elementary-level biology, find a college student or professor with whom she can discuss a level deeper than what she is getting in her 4th grade biology class.

I can't tell you the difference these types of mentorships have made for my son. They've never been formalized, but he has really loved meeting people who know about the same things he knows about - and they want to talk about them! The soccer coach who was a biology major in college, with whom teenlet (then 2nd grade) could discuss photosynthesis while they kicked the ball around; the rock hound at church who would bring the teenlet rocks he found and they would talk about their characteristics together; the biology professor who welcomed us into her college classroom even though teenlet was then only 11; the pyrotechnics expert who showed the teenlet all about fireworks and blowing things up (safely). These have been formative relationships for the teenlet - even though none of them was an official "mentorship," they allowed the teenlet to discover something new about himself and about a field of study in which he was passionately interested.

Those relationships - each in their own way - helped keep him going when he was still in school and not getting the intellectual stimulation he needed otherwise. I am eternally grateful for those people who shared their interests with him and allowed him to be part of it. And I continue to look for those people to inject into my son's life to enrich his learning and his personal growth.

Celebrating Gifted Education Awareness Week in Ireland, 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

Our First Day of School

The way we homeschool, the First Day of School really doesn't mean anything. It's some arbitrary day, set amongst many other similar days, in which you feel with some confidence that we have moved beyond that to this. It's not even grade-level marked, because grade-level means nothing in homeschooling. But it does mark a freshness, a newness that kids all over the world recognize. Except we don't go school shopping and don't have to take insane amounts of school supplies to drop off with the teacher. Instead, we buy books and online course registrations.

I think I've said before that we don't really take summers off, because the teenlet needs to continue learning. Boredom, according to professionals who have worked with him, is his greatest enemy. But this year, the teenlet wasn't completely on board with not getting a summer break. After all, his friends were available more frequently, and he wanted to be available when they were. This is a teenage characteristic, a sign of growth and maturation - the increasing importance of friends over family - and I want to support that maturation, even though they only play video games and that drives me crazy, especially on a nice summer day. It's the common bond they have; I don't want to break it.

So we made a deal - as he finished an online course, we would not start a new one to replace it, with the exception of the Coursera course he wanted to take that went through June and July. This was an experiment for us - this gradual lessening of coursework. And he never really got to zero.

Our experiment was a success. Granted, we had a rather amazing summer, with lots of visitors (international, and more local), with camps, and our family vacation to Alaska. So we didn't have very many days when something unique wasn't happening. He did not have a lot of opportunities for boredom.

And that made for an almost-real "first day of school" this week. I say almost, because he hasn't exactly finished Trigonometry - he still needs to take the final. And he started a new course through Coursera last week, and another new one this week. He will start Calculus later this month, and physics will start in October. Writing will come, too, when I figure out how I want to approach it. So I guess we're on a rolling start.

When most people ask what grade he's in, I say, "Chronologically, he's in 8th grade." Most people don't pursue it further, and that's fine with me. I don't really know how to explain why he's so far advanced in his courses without seeing "that look" in their eyes - that look that says they think I'm either making it up or completely delusional about his ability. So we just stick with 8th grade.

So, I guess you can say that we have moved beyond 7th grade, and entered into 8th. But that isn't really descriptive of anything in his case, except a number that only relates to how long he has spent on this earth and nothing about his experience or what he has learned.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Challenge and Frustration

I'm not a psychologist or expert in education, but over the years I've learned a few things about that razor's edge between challenging my gifted child, and frustrating him. 

100% is not a good sign. I know, we all love to see those perfect scores. But in all honesty, 100% isn't a great thing. In most cases, it means that the material was not challenging enough to cause the student to struggle to answer the questions. Until I got to college, A-grades came easily for me. In high school, I generally studied for tests in the class prior, finished tonight's homework during class, and read maybe a third of the assigned reading (I became really good at skimming). This could be a scathing report on the quality of the education I received, but it was the same in two different school districts, so I think had more to do with a gifted child who was lacking in sufficient challenge. School was easy - until college. College was a shock to me; I had to do all the homework, pay attention to the whole lecture, and read all the assigned readings! Kudos to my professors who recognized that I wasn't stupid or lazy, I just needed to learn some study skills -  and they helped me learn them. Despite a 3.97 GPA in high school, I had never needed them before. Perfect doesn't leave any room for challenge.

I see this in the teenlet as well - he loves to score 100% on a math test or chemistry assignment, after all, who doesn't like to be perfect? But I have to admit that I'm glad he doesn't do it all the time. Because I know that he needs to keep learning, and learning has a challenging edge to it. 

When the tears come or the anxiety rises, the first place I look is at the level of challenge he is facing. The teenlet's weakest subject has always been writing - it's been a real struggle from day one. The physical act of writing is hard, for sure, but even the process of getting ideas down on paper is a struggle. And writing assignments are always where his biggest meltdowns begin, when it all becomes too much and he turns into a puddle of words. He will sit in front of the computer, literally, for 3-4 hours, and have four words on the page. This is after his topic is chosen, research done, ideas are formed, and even an outline written - all that's left to do is turn his ideas into sentences and sentences into paragraphs. We know now that we have to take this process very slowly, break it down into smaller bits, and keep him moving forward. Because it is hard for him. He needs to learn it, but we can't push too hard or he will fall apart and we lose the opportunity to learn something. You see, when something is TOO challenging, learning stops.
PS. As he gets older, he is managing this MUCH better now than he used to, and his writing is coming more fluently and freely - see, learning! But we're taking it SLOWLY.

Keep the learning coming. As you can see, too little or too much challenge is a hindrance to true learning. And, if we know one thing about teenlet, it is that he has to keep learning. But it is a tricky balance to try to keep, to make sure what he's learning is appropriate in content and difficulty.

But it's hard to tell sometimes with the teenlet - if he isn't doing well, is it because he isn't attending to the work (another sign it may be too easy)? Or is it too hard and he can't manage it? 

A while back, I signed the teenlet up for a college-level cryptography course. It sounded really interesting, and he's done a lot of learning about cryptography (think Enigma, secret codes, deciphering, etc), so we both thought it would be awesome. It wasn't. It really was a course on computer security, and it was waaaaaay over his head because he hadn't done anything on a computer except for basic word processing and playing a few games. I was so proud of him when he came to me and told me he didn't want to continue the course. I asked him why, and he said because it was too hard and it was frustrating him because he didn't know any computer coding and that's what they were talking about. So he dropped the course and started learning computer languages so next time he'd be ready. That was wise because he knew that we'd crossed over that line and it was beyond him, and we needed to pull it back. But the coolest part, I thought, was that he started taking action so he could understand what they were talking about in that class - and that's when you know that even though you've hit the edge of his ability, he's still being challenged. It made him think. And get ideas. And see something he needed to know and learn. 

And isn't that what it's all about? 

This post is part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. Please click the picture above to visit the many fantastic posts included in the tour!

Monday, March 18, 2013

We Unschool (well sorta), What's Your SuperPower?

There's lots of talk about unschooling for gifted students, and definitely there is an aspect of unschooling that is ideal for this type of learner. Even with the teenlet, you can see it happen - when something clicks just in the right interest area, when he discovers something he wants to pursue more, when he jumps in and is trying to figure out the answer to a question - that is when unschooling is at its best.

Our version of homeschooling is definitely a hybrid. The teenlet isn't all that self-motivated, so we haven't gone fully unschooling, but he does love to learn and every so often will go off on a tangent that leaves us (his parents) standing agape, utterly startled at his passion. But mostly he just does the minimum amount of work with which he can get away.

There is something about unschooling that just seems so right for this kind of learner. Learning is organic for him - it just happens. If I didn't know better, I might think he was sleeping with textbooks under his pillow and gaining all that knowledge by osmosis. One day he doesn't know something and the next he does. He comes out with completely random and bizarre knowledge and I have no idea from where it came.

These moments remind me of the time, when he was a toddler not even 1-1/2 years old, on an airplane. The elementary-aged kid who was sitting in the seat in front of the then-toddler teenlet had turned around and was entertaining him with funny faces and talking to him. So, as any good parent would do when faced with not having to entertain their child for a few moments, I pulled out my book. I have no idea how it started, but pretty soon I was aware of this older kid saying,
        "so what comes after one?"
        "what comes after two?"
        "after three?"
...and so on all the way to seven.

I had no idea how he'd learned that. None. At all. He'd never watched Sesame Street. I hadn't been playing with flash cards or trying to teach him numbers. I wasn't even sure how he'd been exposed to the idea of numbers. Daddy is a numbers-guy, but I was pretty sure he hadn't started trying to teach him that either. We were both flabbergasted. (And yes, that's a very cool word that I really enjoyed typing right there.) Something in him had learnt that without anyone ever teaching it to him.

He did the same with algebra. In kindergarten. DH asked him to solve a simple, two-digit addition problem. The 5yo teenlet looked at him for a little while, then told him the answer. DH asked how he did it - and the teenlet explained how he had solved for x (without using those terms, of course) - something we'd never taught him. He figured it out on his own. And darn it if the kid isn't STILL doing algebra in his head even though we're far past the level that most people start using calculators to help them with the computations.

So, it's very tempting to let him unschool. He seems to learn more and better that way. But there is still a part of me that wants to be sure he's got most of his basic subjects covered, which won't happen if we let him loose completely. So, we are creating a hybrid system. He's got most of his academic requirements for high school completed, and only has bazillion or so elective credits to work on. So he continues to work on core math and science subjects, but with lots of freedom in his social studies and writing curricula, adding in other subjects of interest (like computer science) as he wants to learn them. And we find that, as he gains more freedom in his learning, he gains more confidence and more motivation as well.

Unschooling Blog Hop
(see the full list at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum)
CedarLife Academy
Chasing Hollyfield
Building Wingspan
Thea Sullivan
Buffalo Mama
Wenda Sheard
Sui Generis
Red, White and Grew
Laughing at Chaos

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Gifted is About the Starting Point

"Mindset is about trajectory, not starting point. Gifted is about the starting point."

I said this the other day on #gtchat when someone referenced Carol Dweck's theory of Mindset. Because I totally believe this is true. Gifted is about wiring, plain and simple. It's where you start out. Your mindset is what you do with it. Dweck's research supports that if you believe that you can change your intelligence level, you will do so. But believing that your intelligence is static will only cause you to lose ground. It's the hard-work theory, and it has a lot of merit. Because if you don't work hard, it really doesn't matter how smart you are. There is someone who may have a lesser IQ but is willing to work - and they will get the job every time. They will win the award. They will earn the research grant. Because excellence takes work.

I don't disagree with that at all.

But now we have Seth Godin, guru of life principles, saying that we're all gifted - all it takes is a little work. And that, my friends, is just not true.

He says,

"Actually, it goes the other way
Wouldn't it be great to be gifted? In fact...
It turns out that choices lead to habits.
Habits become talents.
Talents are labeled gifts.
You're not born this way, you get this way."

No Seth, gifted is born. It's not about being the smartest person in the class, it's about experiencing the world qualitatively differently than most people. Many of our most gifted individuals probably don't even look like they are gifted - they don't look like the high achievers of which you speak.

If you walked into a classroom with the teenlet in it, most likely you would not pick him out as the "gifted" one. You certainly wouldn't look at his work product and say he's gifted - most likely he wouldn't have any work product for you to see. He's not what most people think of when they think of the super-scholar IQ nerd. Yeah, his IQ is high, but "gifted" is his ability to manipulate mass amounts of information to create new ways of seeing things. "Gifted" is the ripples of intensity that turn to waves of emotion at the smallest unsettlement of his world. "Gifted" is the way he paces when he thinks, around and around and around until he stops, and you can see in his eyes that he's solved whatever problem he was working on. "Gifted" is being so aware of the problems in the world that they seem to big to fix, causing an existential crisis of middle age proportions when you're 5. "Gifted" is hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching things that others just pass by. "Gifted" is being able to carry on a college-level conversation on underwater photosynthesis when you're 7 years old, but have emotional meltdowns like a 3 year old. "Gifted" is having adult thoughts, but not having the emotional maturity to deal with them.

Yes, maybe many readers of Godin's blog will rethink their lives and see how they can change their trajectory. I hope it works that way for those who need it.

But don't assume that because your trajectory has changed, that means your starting point was the same. Giftedness is about neurological wiring. It's not about elitism. It's not about being super talented at stuff (although many gifted people are quite talented because of their in-born sensitivities). It's not about grades or eminence or becoming a Nobel Prize winner - these are trajectory.

Mindset is about trajectory, not starting point. Giftedness is about the starting point.

Other responses to Godin's post:
Building Wing Span
Watch Out for Gifted People
Red, White & Grew
Gifted and Talented Ireland
Kate Arms-Roberts
Gifted Resources/Sprite's Site
Laughing at Chaos
Ramblings of a Gifted Teacher
Psychology Today/Creative Synthesis

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Parenting Against Your Nature

I'm generally not a very structured person. I like flexibility; I like change; I like spontaneity. I'm one of those people who wants to wake up every day and go do something new. When I was a child, I rearranged my room at least once a month for the novelty of it. Rules have always been more like suggestions (not laws - I'm a stickler for laws); if I know why the rule was set and those conditions don't apply, why bother? I live in a world with many shades of grey - people and ideas deserve unique consideration according to their circumstances. Grace and love are my guiding principles - I don't judge others harshly (myself, yes - I judge myself VERY harshly), but recognize that everyone is different and it's okay to be that way.

But parenting the teenlet well, means I have to be structured. We set the house rules and never break them. When I say no, he won't ever get a yes out of me (doesn't mean he doesn't try!). When he was younger, even a rearranged room would upset him ("Mommy, you rearranged the furniture! My perfect life is RUINED!" age 3). Oh yes, we've had our moments of "Let's go do X" - and he has learned to adapt and transition in those times quite well. But, even with all of mommy's hugs and reassurances, he still has to learn the lessons of life. And I know that, as much as I'd love to cushion the fall for him, he needs to feel the impact of his decisions. NOW, when they are still small. Because as he gets older, stupid decisions have greater implications. I have to allow him to make his mistakes and learn from them, even when it would be so easy for me to make excuses for late schoolwork, try to patch things up for him with his friends after an argument, or clean up his messes. That would be easier for me, for sure - I hate seeing him suffer through the consequences of his actions. But he needs to learn these things now. It's so easy to fix things in the name of love - but is it really loving to never give him the chance to learn from his mistakes?

It's oppressive to have to parent in a way against which your own nature rebels. It's worse for me than for him. He gets his security blanket of knowing what is expected, and what to expect. I get wrapped up tight and can't breathe. I get stuck in a drudging routine like a car stuck in mud - wheels spinning but can't get traction. Everything slows down. Boredom. Routine. Blah. I have to seek out ways to find newness and refreshment at the same time I am being the hard-nosed, structured parent. He needs that parent, and that parent needs freedom, independence, and flexibility.

As he is getting older, I can let the structure go a little more (whew!). As he learns responsibility, he gets more freedom. And so do I. There are still times when I have to lock-down tight, allowing the teenlet to learn his lessons on his own. But he is learning those lessons, and each time he does the world opens up a little more. For both of us.

I might even rearrange a room.