Posted in Equity & Gifted

Paideia Seminars, Gifted Service for All Children: Part 1

paideia1 copyA couple of weeks ago, I had a pleasure of sharing with our district’s GPAC (Gifted Program Advisory Council) about how the Paideia seminars are implemented as a gifted provision for all children.* It was an opportunity to share with the stakeholders what a continuum of rigorous literacy instruction for all children looks like in middle school.

I can say with certainty that implementing Paideia seminars has been a gradual yet impactful literacy instruction that addresses the needs of all learners regardless of their labels. The beauty of this particular gifted service is that it is an authentic instructional tapestry woven by classroom teachers’ expertise on literacy and their knowledge of students’ learning profiles. 

Through ongoing modeling and co-leading with classroom teachers for the past year and a half, we see that seminar helps us face our own implicit biases buried underneath our practices and create entry points for us to enlarge our gifted pool among all children. The text-based, value-driven and open-ended discussions seminar offers have allowed students to personalize their own learning paths through a goal-setting exercise before and after each seminar.

Here’s our observation on how Paideia seminars’ literacy instruction bridges the opportunity gap in classrooms:

 

  • What all children need is a chair, a nameplate, the text, and their body. Seminar eliminates the need for executive function skills to access contents and concepts. It frees students from the daily hurdles of do’s and don’ts of organizational skills.

 

  • Sitting in a large circle removes “the caste system” of who’s who among children. There’s no need for the predictable seating chart:   unspoken yet palpable walls come down between compliant and non-compliant children, between gifted and non-gifted children, between Whites and Black students. 

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  • The seminar facilitator sits on the same eye level with the students as a way to remove barriers between adult and children. It affirms and honors young people as professionals whose ideas are and thoughts can be expressed through the prism of their personalities and experiences. 

 

  • Students do not raise their hands for a teacher to affirm their spaces but they enter into a dialogic system mirroring the cultural roots of call and response. This ritualistic approach to instruction relinquishes teacher control. Facilitators also do not affirm, deny, or acknowledge one opinion over another but lead the discussions based on what students bring to the table.

 

  • A text for discussions can be a work of art, a map, a chart, or a photograph that has multiple viewpoints. Any artifact that is rich in ideas that are ambiguous invite culturally sustainable discussions where Black and brown students, English Learners, and other students who have different learning styles become collaborators and meaning-makers of ideas, concepts, or content. 

 

  • As the seminar is led for multiple days by students themselves, it brings out those students who would not normally engage in listening and talking. It provides introverts talking space and allows extroverts to lose themselves in listening to others throughout multiple days of seminar discussions.

 

  • Students personalize their learning goals at the beginning and end of the seminar discussion each day to reflect and become better readers, speakers, listeners, and thinkers.

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* Since 2017, Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools’ Gifted Education Department has partnered with the Paideia Institute to add rigor in literacy for gifted services in regular classrooms.

 

References

Adler, M. The paideia proposal: educational manifesto.
Billings, L. & Roberts, T. (2012). Think like a seminar. Educational Leadership70(4), 68–72.                                        

Kirkland, D. (2011). Listening to echoes: teaching young black men literacy and the distraction of ELA standards. Language Arts88(5), 373–380.  

Posted in Equity & Gifted

Disrupting Deficit Narratives on Gifted Children of Diverse Backgrounds

 

Screen Shot 2018-06-28 at 2.49.44 PMSo many adults have mystified gifted and talented children who don’t fit the profile norms of average children. It is easy to make quick and generalized remarks about gifted children in the era of mass production of compliance and mediocrity taken root since the Industrial Revolution.  It is even more common for many adults to make deficit-laden remarks of gifted children who are Black & brown, poor, multi-lingual, or Twice-Exceptional. I breathe, smell, and eat them every day.

We can do a better job of proactively disrupting the deficit-driven language used to describe gifted children from diverse backgrounds.

Goings and Ford (2018) found out that even the research done by various scholars of gifted & talented programs for the past decade didn’t reach that far to change the deficit narrative. Instead of dedicating their research on what the children’s experiences with the gifted program were like and examining how the school system can shift to develop their potential, most of them focused on what these gifted children lacked and how to “lift them up” to fit what was inequitable and inaccessible in the first place.

Here are some practical ways I have tried to start disrupting the deficit-narrative embedded in my community:

Find out….

  • who the faces of gifted children from diverse backgrounds are in school and community. Who are the faces of underrepresented gifted children in your school or district? They can be students of color, poverty, learning disabilities, and multilingual. Reach out to specialists or coordinator of advanced programs and gifted services for more information
  • the ways in which gifted students from diverse background experience gifted services in your school. What kind of gifted services are they receiving? How are they served? What acceleration, enrichment opportunities, or after-school activities are they involved? How can you help as a stakeholder?
  • how you can attend public meetings, parent-conferences, open houses, and other events to advocate for them
  • affinity groups or organizations for mentor or apprenticeship support
  • work with school administration, counselors, or psychologists to refer students to screen and identify them for gifted services
  • more about scholars of gifted and talented children who are equity-driven and follow them on Twitter. Listen to what they have to say and what research they do:            @davis_joy, @donnayford@JonathanPlucker, @JosephRenzulli @RamonGoings  @realScottPeters

 

Reference

Addressing Excellence Gaps in K – 12 Education
Image resources
Investigating the Intersection of Poverty and Race in Gifted Education Journals: A 15-Year Analysis

Posted in Gifted Education

Saving Our Boys

JF2I grew up with a brother who struggled with mental illness.

My parents must have looked at the boy and thought something was wrong. He wet his pants in his third-grade classroom or hesitated to mix in with other shirtless boys who didn’t mind getting their shoes muddied from outdoor activities.

As a talented and sensitive artist, my brother did not cope well with the conflicting parenting styles; while our father harnessed him with reigns and latches to man him up, our mother hovered around him to compensate for what she thought he didn’t get from her husband.

By the time I was born seven years later, my brother saw my presence as a reflection of his own incompetence and an emblem of shame. I was my parents’ hope of what he could have been. At a young age, I witnessed his unmasked agony, which was raw and wild, often manifesting itself in verbal and emotional violence against me.

Looking back, his world of what it meant to be a man was a collage of parental obsession, a false sense of masculinity, and overprotection. An already a sensitive child who loved simple things in life, my parents’ norms and pressure drove him to run after the things he abhorred: power, success, and masculinity.

 Parents must invite their sons to be sad, afraid, hurt, silly and affectionate, and must embrace them as often as they snuggle their daughters. Sweet boys learn early on that they can defend themselves against loneliness by reaching out and asking for support rather than turning into people who, literally, grab for power.   

-Faith Salie @TIMES “How to Raise a Sweet Son in the Era of Angry Men” 

In his early 50’s, he is still searching for the boyhood he never had nor will ever know.

Before Father passed away, I remember how he summoned his courage to tell me that, as a father, he had so much anxiety about raising a son who seemed aloof, distant, and fragile. He didn’t know how to instruct him as he himself was raised by a father who always expected his to be “the man”.

I am not sure how to navigate this field of boyhood, becoming a man, or even how to listen to them.

Perhaps there’s nothing I can do to help the parents and the boys who struggle. Maybe “help” is not a right word to use here. Perhaps that’s the point. They don’t need my help. I just have to listen and know that they struggle to come to terms with their spaces.

 

 

Posted in Self Care

Middle School Gifted Specialists: The Lone Wolves

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 10.42.48 AMFor all middle school educators who are itinerant, half-time, or split among multiple schools, welcome aboard! 

As a solo practitioner in the field of Gifted Education in two middle schools, my journey has been full of both wonder and loneliness: First, gifted population I serve is a bundle of hormonal joyride whose parents grabble with the changes their children experience each day. The beginning of autonomy, their flight towards independence, and multiple aspects of interdependence to their peers are a road less traveled for the adults around them. Giftedness, for the teens, has more to do with existential musings than completing an extra set of quadratic equations and engaging in tiered tasks: struggling with locating motivation, discovering truths, developing perspectives for world problems, and asking themselves, why me, and where am I going are the types of learning they desire. (Read more about Claudia Wallis’s “The Benefits of Helping Teens Identify Their Purposes in Life”

Secondly, Middleville, particularly for the rising 6th graders, isn’t an easy place to be. The children are pushed into a structured environment to adjust to four to five different core content teachers who have different expectations regardless of students’ personal journey. Unless the content and curriculum are specifically designed to target their existential struggles, these children are situated to “catch up” with what each teacher demands of them. In a district where 30 % of the student population is identified gifted, my job as half-time Gifted Specialists in two middle schools is nothing but nominal and superficial through the lens of community stakeholders.

My counterpart and I serve a total of more or less 1000 gifted identified students while participating instructional teams,  coaching and mentoring teachers who need help with differentiation for gifted learners, and attending parent-teacher conferences, 504 and IEP meetings for those who are diagnosed with both gifted and learning disabilities. That’s not all. Every year, we have teachers sign Differentiation Education Plan (DEP) a.k.a. IEP(Individual Education Plan) in other districts and make sure to have those strategies in place for gifted students in mixed-ability classrooms. Depending on what administrative and instructional hats we wear in school buildings, some jobs get done, but most don’t get done because it is not possible to hold 1000 students accountable. 

To the lone wolves out there,  I, too, have howled and moaned at the full moon. Meanwhile, I have told myself that I will not give up the fight yet. In the midst of my inefficiency, I have discovered some gems on how to survive being itinerant.

  • Waiting is the highest virtue: Work with mature and confident teachers who will welcome you to their classrooms to work with their students.  After a year or two, you will see some teachers approaching you to take their teaching to the next level. You will end up working with some of the best teachers in each school building. There are always 1 or 2 teachers whose teaching methods are rooted in who they are.  As Tamara has shared on her blog, we understand that for some strange reason, others find you repulsive and cocky because of what you represent. Waiting makes a difference.
  • Find a mentor for personal growth: Since the nature of your job is closely tied to the misconceptions and myths your colleagues may have about what you do and who you serve, your presence may steer some teachers away from you. Since you are the only resource person in the building for the high-ability or high-potential students, others will probably measure you up from different lens depending on their past experiences working with the gifted population in their classrooms. Teachers work closely with interventionists who are experts for middle and bottom down, and assume that intermediate to top students are “fine on their own”. 
  • Keep a journal to reflect your daily engagement. What I also suggest is that you carry a notebook for journaling. Why? Instead of writing down your schedule that doesn’t exist, reflect on your practices, interaction, and other ideas that come to your mind. Don’t get caught up worrying about fitting Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 10.34.40 AMyourself into a Professional Learning Community or instructional teams. At this point, cherish and honor the few teachers you have worked with and celebrate the students who you have reached out and have grown.
  • Be a proactive listener for the parents of the children you serve:  Develop listening skills. We live in a culture of expressions and opinions, and who we need are the listeners. Some parents want to have their voices heard, but from grading papers and handling behavioral issues in class, teachers can’t make the time for the parents who need more for their children. Before the parents leave a voicemail on their teachers’ desks, schedule conferences with the parents who are doing well and also with those who aren’t doing well. Bring some coffee, sit down, and spend time getting to know the parents, so that you gain insight into their lives, pattern, and learning styles. Be a listener.  With parents’ permission, share some insight about their children with the teachers.

 

Questions for you:

Do you feel like a lone wolf in your professional learning community? In your school? How do you cope with incompetency, inefficiency, or loneliness?

Image source

Posted in Gifted Education

Parents, Our Strongest Allies

Building a strong relationship with middle school parents isn’t on the priority list for many educators. Considering North Carolina’s teacher pay is ranked #35 in the nation,  who would want to carve out extra hours calling parents to introduce themselves and give positive feedback for every child? For that matter,  most conferences for the gifted children have been done around angry parents, Individual Education Plan(IEP), behavioral issues, or failing grades. What we end up doing is we keep empathy out and use hard data to justify that we are doing the best we can to do our job as educators.

And I’m tired of this fight of advocating for the children and parents of the gifted.

We as teachers forget that parents are not our foes. Parents don’t get to hear much about how gifted services are delivered in classrooms because most of my time is spent on managing neglect and lack of differentiation in classrooms. They want to know more but by the time they want to know more, it’s around the mid-year. The phones start ringing at both ends of school and home when something goes wrong.

As these children enter into the season of autonomy and communities of their own, parents and teachers are the ones to closely communicate with each other to hold our children accountable. It’s a must for adults to communicate to each other. 

So here’s my suggestion. First, I start early. Pick out a week to call the parents after school to introduce myself. There are many ways to introduce ourselves through digital means, but nothing is as productive and meaningful as phone calls or personalized emails. What this does is it opens doors for transparency and communications. 100 students is a lot to email but when we think about it, spending 1 week to make phone calls and emails isn’t too bad to set the tone for the entire year.

Secondly, listening to parents’ concern, struggles, and celebration is like gathering data on their children’s lives and all other areas I cannot otherwise observe in their classrooms. Through the mouths and eyes of the parents, I have access to their children’s private lives. Parents, too, need teacher support.

Thirdly, find ways to engage our parents as part of our classroom culture. Often times, they will have access to community resources that they bring to enrich our experiences.

In my tiny quarter in the 7th grade hallway,  I delight in engaging with the parents who care about their children. Our conversation ranges from what to do for their new-to-district child to how the child is doing in their classes. Surprisingly, I hear so much positive feedback on how our teachers are doing a great job recognizing the needs of their children. I don’t think we allow our parents to speak the truth about their children.

Parents are not aliens; they are our allies.