“Those All Important Executive Skills, Where Are They?”

It seems to me, the more I learn, the bigger thirst for knowledge I have. As I begin my Master’s studies this year, focusing on a more in-depth look at educational psychology through the lens of giftedness, I know that I will have to find a balance between home, my teaching job, and my studies. The days will be even longer and it will be even more important to manage deadlines, keep to schedules and routines, while still making time for rest and recharging. As I go to bed exhausted each night, I know I will wake up with a running list in my head of all that needs to get done, ready to face a new day with new challenges.

It has taken time to develop the skills I need to juggle all that I do: being a teacher, running a household, blogging, and now being a student again. Our children and students need to understand that these skills, so important to organizing your life, reaching your goals, and getting things done, don’t arrive overnight. Many of these executive skills are developed in school and while managing schoolwork expectations.

In pondering this, I came across a recent article in a special preconference issue of Tempo, the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented journal, that discusses the acquiring of executive skills when learning. Drs. Eleonoor van Gerven notes in “Preventing and Overcoming Underachievement in Gifted Primary School Students” that not every gifted student has well-developed executive skills. She suggests that the development of executive functions “are being hindered” in some circumstances where the gifted student:

  • is not challenged to develop more complex thinking skills
  • is allowed to withdraw from experiences that aren’t “fun”
  • is not required to reach or stretch, limiting or negating any true learning

(paraphrasing is mine)

In the learning environment, it is important to create a balance between what a student is capable of learning, the level of content offered (offering a “stretch”), and the necessary support to help them be successful. They need opportunities to develop their ability to:

  • Sustain attention to the task
  • Flexibly shift attention from one thing to another productively
  • Store new knowledge and connect it to previously acquired information
  • Plan and prioritize
  • Organize and manage time
  • Persist towards a goal

These abilities are needed for more complex mental work, so providing activities and learning environments where these abilities are called upon more often gives the gifted student continuous opportunities to hone these skills across time.

As students follow their own passions and interests, it is as important to help them learn how to manage that pursuit to help them be successful and enjoy the journey!

(references to Tempo, Volume 38, Issue 3, 2017)

Please note: for those of you in the Texas area, it looks like Drs. Van Gerven will be at TAGT in Fort Worth this year.

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“Wait! But that means…!” When Gifted Kids Make the Connection

I think a visit to the land of the positive side of being gifted is in order. As both a teacher and a mother, I love working and being around these children. I have many stories about those “ah-ha!” moments, that for a gifted child, are so very thrilling.

This ah-ha exclamation is heard often when gifted children get excited about a sudden connection they have made. It is usually blurted out loudly and can be followed by, “I know the answer!” with possibly a raised hand which is waving wildly and most assuredly a bouncing in the seat. That is, if they can keep their seat in their excitement to share what they just discovered. In the classroom, this might not typically be welcome. Teachers work hard to manage classroom behavior since they have so many students and so little time to cover material before the next period, activity, or subject area. Much time initially is spent setting expectations for what is allowed with the intent to have a safe, welcoming, productive space for all students. Blurting out and interrupting are not usually encouraged. This is not to say that all teachers frown on this, but it can be seen as an unnecessary disruption during a lesson.

Personally, I welcome the controlled chaos because I understand this is how these students think. They move fastest when they are bouncing ideas off of each other and this can seem like things are out of control. The joy on their face because they. just. learned. something. is a beautiful thing. Let me say that again. They just learned something. It is amazing! Do you see it too? They need to tell everyone!

To these students, knowledge is everything. They live and breathe it and find joy in the acquiring of it. Many times these children are so far ahead of their peers in class that they have had to come to terms with the fact that school in many ways can be quite boring. It is no wonder that their excitement bubbles over when they figure out something new.

Teaching with the intent to challenge a room full of students who may know varying amounts of your accelerated subject is exciting and requires an enormous ability to think on your feet and be flexible. Seeing their excitement when they are learning something new and contrarily watching the struggle for that knowledge is very fulfilling. Having them thank you for the challenging lesson or for the fact that they finally learned something is alternately satisfying and a little sad at the same time. I will write later about giftedness in school and the challenges that brings.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Please feel free to comment above!

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Intensities of Thought and Emotion

I am continually amazed and daunted by the intensities exhibited by my students and my children. These include: a hyper-focus ability, an extended attention span and bursts of energy to sustain the previous two. An extreme intellect (usually coupled with a lightning wit) is also part of the package. These are just some attributes of the mostly positive side of giftedness. The more challenging side to giftedness can include explosions of emotion and intensity that often stem from: a fear of failure, problems due to a tendency to perfectionism, and a frustration of always feeling an imposter or being misunderstood.

Christine Fonseca, an author of multiple books on what it means to be gifted, talks about what she calls “external and internal explosions” in her book, “Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students, Helping Kids Cope With Explosive Feelings”. The external outbursts and reactions are easy to see and can be very disruptive. Teachers or parents try to determine the cause and soothe the child, but it is not always easy. Internal explosions, however, are all but invisible. They can manifest as a withdrawal from friends or a particular situation, or a sadness that causes them to isolate themselves. Parenting or teaching these unique children requires patience, love, and understanding. It really can be hard to help them navigate these feelings that are so strong and can seem to come up so suddenly.

Fonseca’s book includes practical examples of how to navigate through these outbursts and help children learn what triggers them and learn strategies to avoid them altogether.  I find myself wishing I had known about these strategies sooner with my own children. Traditional parenting strategies do not always work with gifted children. Their emotions are too intense at times. They can be quick to size up a situation and determine the reasons they won’t like it, can’t do it, will fail at it, etc. all in a split second and they may shut down or have an outburst. This can look like an explosion of feelings, a refusal to comply, or a making light of it as if they don’t care, when they absolutely do. All of these are tied as much to their intellectual intensity as they are to their emotional intensity.

Fonseca also says, “Giftedness…is so much more than simply learning things at a fast rate. It impacts the way in which the child interacts with his world. It is as much a part of his makeup as his physical body.” I love that. It really does speak to the fact that we are talking about giftedness affecting the whole of who that child is, not just academically in the classroom. Working with and living with gifted children, it is easy to see this is true. Though each child is unique and comes with their own unique package of intensities, this affects how they see and move through their environments.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Please feel free to comment above!

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What Is Giftedness?

If you found your way to my blog, chances are you have already heard about the term gifted. You may be a parent or a teacher of gifted children. Perhaps you wonder if you are gifted or you have been told that you are. Maybe you think all children are gifted and we shouldn’t use that term at all. I would like to explain the term and how it is currently used in order to move on to discussing it and those that are gifted in all their complexities.

The term has been around for many years and has been used to describe children or adults that learn at a much faster rate and make connections quickly when learning, including grasping abstract ideas and concepts developmentally early, both of which can cause them to be 1-4 years ahead of their age peers. Additionally, the term gifted is used in the field of education as a way to identify those students who are, or have a high potential for being, advanced academically, creatively, or intellectually. Programs specifically designed for these students can be designated by different acronyms such as GT or GATE (gifted and talented), TAG (talented and gifted) or others. Whatever the name, these enrichment programs strive to address the academic or creative needs of this group.

Experts in the field believe that being gifted is more than just being able to learn at an accelerated rate. Gifted children do have the ability to make connections quicker than their age peers, grasp the abstract very early, and tend to be divergent, non-linear thinkers. But the more complete answer of “what is giftedness?” would have to include the emotional and intellectual intensities that come along with being gifted. These intensities can make these children a challenge to teach and to parent. Some of the characteristics that make them gifted can also isolate them socially, making them feel like outsiders.

I will discuss both of sides of being gifted in this blog as they relate to my experience as a teacher of gifted students and a mother of gifted children. My continued study of the topic has informed and deepened my understanding of the unique needs and capabilities of gifted children and adults.

If your child has been identified for a gifted program, it can be very helpful to learn more about giftedness. Whatever measure may have been used to select your child for an enrichment or accelerated program, understanding their needs and potential with regards to their giftedness is very important.

There are many good sources for information about giftedness. Both the National Association for Gifted Children and S.E.N.G. Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted are a good place to start.

National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) – http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources-parents

Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) – http://sengifted.org/about-seng/

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Please feel free to comment!

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