Develop Non-Cognitive Skills to Assure Students’ Success

I spent five days in Phoenix, AZ at NAGC’s 62nd annual conference. I came back with some innovative new ideas, fresh ways of thinking, and helpful strategies to share with my students and my colleagues.

NAGC-2015-logo-webOne session in particular stands out in my mind. The title was Developing and Assessing Non-Cognitive Skills Among Gifted Learners given by Katrina Weimholt. She is the Program Director for the Civic Education Project at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.

This session stood out from others for me for a few reasons.  First, it was information that I thoroughly resonate with and have been preaching about (although using different words) for years now. Second, it was based on a recent research project titled Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners, that was done at the University of Chicago in 2012. And third, it is information that is applicable in all of our classrooms, at all levels, everywhere.

The most valuable takeaway from the session Developing and Assessing Non-Cognitive Skills Among Gifted Learners was that the research shows that the best indicators of success are not high GPA and high grades. Think about that. The best indicators of success are not GPA and grades! The X factor is non-cognitive skills.  And a very important point is that educators play a crucial role in developing these skills in students.

What are these non-cognitive skills, and how can we develop them in our students, in order to assure their success? These are the five categories of non-cognitive skills:

  1. Academic Behaviors such as attendance, preparedness and organization, doing homework, and studying.
  2. Academic Perseverance such as grit, delayed gratification, self-discipline, and self control.
  3. Academic Mindsets such as feeling like “I belong in this academic community” and “My ability grows with my effort” and “I can succeed at this” and “This work has value for me”.
  4. Learning Strategies such as study skills, metacognitive skills, self-regulated learning, and goal setting.
  5. Social Skills such as interpersonal skills, empathy, cooperation, assertion, and responsibility.

OK, so how do we help develop these skills in our students?

First of all, we have to be aware of these factors and relay the information to our students. If a student is lacking in one or more of these areas, then we need to provide an intervention to get them on track. And then we need to monitor that intervention and see if it is making a difference.

Specifically, what does this look like?

We need to help them develop these “soft skills” by setting up some ground rules in our school, or classroom, to begin with. Is there an honor code that sets the tone for how we work together? If not, create one. Then use team building activities so that students will gain a sense of belonging and promote relationship building with diverse groups in the school community.

Make sure they are interacting and working toward goals together, in a collaborative way. Provide them with support through any transition periods in their lives, such as moving from middle school to high school, or from high school into college.

Make sure the instructional classroom practices include choice and relevance so they will be motivated to work. Then provide ongoing feedback of their work, and provide out of school programs like mentoring and service-learning that help them be a part of the bigger picture.

How do we assess these non-cognitive skills to know that they are working?

We can give them attitude surveys, observe their behaviors, give them a student performance rubric that establishes clear expectations and asks them to self-assess how well they are achieving in each of these five areas.

For example, a rating scale could be determined that uses these benchmarks: beginning, developing, proficient, advanced. Give them examples to demonstrate each rating, such as what it would look like if they achieved a “proficient” status, or an “advanced” status.

As the instructor, you should be keeping notes, using assessments, and recording specific examples of your student’s behavior, as well, in addition to providing them with specific feedback at intervals, to provide them with opportunities to grow. This rubric can be a tool which helps them grow their non-cognitive skills, which will, in turn, help them to be more successful learners.

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Talented and Gifted at Fairview High School Explained

The TAG (Talented and Gifted) program at Fairview High School was the focus of a project called Spotlight. Various school clubs, programs and causes had videos created by the advanced film students in Lanny Boyer’s class. Why a TAG video? With almost 30% of our student population identified as TAG, I felt it was important to highlight the program because there is much misunderstanding about what it is, what it means, and opportunities TAG students have at our high school.


To supplement the six minute video I’ve written longer explanations to these questions I was asked, and answered some other questions that didn’t appear in the video.

Q: What does being TAG mean?

TB: TAG stands for Talented and Gifted. Giftedness is a psychological term. In psychology, there has always been an interest in human potential and range of abilities. Gifted individuals are considered outliers in psychology. They are generally people with an IQ of 130 or above (the average IQ is 100). Or, people who show an outstanding ability in one or more areas. That can be in academics, but it can also be in leadership, creativity, sports, theater, music. It’s important to note that there are many twice exceptional individuals too. That means that they are gifted, but they also have learning disabilities. The most common disabilities in gifted students are ADD, ADHD, and other Learning Disabilities that affect processing of information. It’s also important to mention that just because an individual has the potential for outstanding abilities, they don’t always demonstrate it. We consider this underachievement, meaning not working up to your potential. It doesn’t mean they’re no longer gifted, it just means they aren’t using their gifts and talents at the levels at which they could. Jim Delisle calls these individuals “selective consumers,” he says if you see a student who is underachieving in areas you would like him/her to achieve, look to see where they ARE achieving. It may not be in school-related activities.

Q: How is one identified as TAG in the Boulder Valley School District?

TB: In the educational setting, we don’t give IQ tests. Psychologists are the only ones who can give IQ tests. So, we often have to rely on a different body of evidence. We rely on Ability Tests like the CogAT, the Naglieri, the Ravens, and the Woodcock Johnson. We also rely on Achievement Tests like CMAS, former TCAPs and CSAPs, PSAT, SAT, ACT. And we rely on other data like Teacher Inventories, Parent Inventories, and observation. In BVSD we require that 6 pieces of evidence be compiled in order to make an identification of TAG. We’re looking for scores in the 95th percentile or above, and students who are outstanding in certain areas. So, you can see that it’s not “by chance” that a student becomes identified in BVSD. In the state of CO 8% of the students K-12 are identified as gifted. In BVSD the numbers are closer to 14%. At Fairview, the percentage is close to 30% identified. In Boulder there’s a lot of intelligence in the gene pool, AND there are enriching resources and opportunities in our community that nurture children as they grow. These two factors (nature & nurture) combined create a population that is above average in intelligence.  But giftedness is present in all socio-economic populations and all cultural and ethnic communities.

Q: What’s going on at Fairview that we have over 25% identified?

TB: In addition to being in the midst of an educated population in Boulder, Fairview also open enrolls many students who want to come to our school because of our amazing rigor and opportunities in education, sports, performing arts & visual arts. So, we draw the type of student who is motivated, intelligent, and driven. The students who want to get in to Fairview aren’t scared of working hard. So, this mentality permeates our school climate. It drives students to succeed. It can also ramp up the anxiety levels, which is why Fairview is doing so much to help alleviate student stress. But our high achieving student population sets the pace at Fairview. Knowing that so many students in our school community are students that really require advanced programming in order to learn at their level of ability justifies why we offer so many advanced classes.

Fairview High School TAG Bradley

Q: How is the TAG program unique?

TB: At Fairview we have TAG lunches. This is all about getting gifted students together where they can have a place to be themselves, and to meet other students who think and feel like they do. When we get together it’s to understand all of this better & to do activities that help relieve stress. We also just have fun together, play games, and hang out.

Q: How does TAG at Fairview differ from TAG in Colorado?

TB: TAG differs at Fairview because my focus for our students is, first and foremost, on the social & emotional aspects of giftedness. I don’t run programs or competitions. The focus at Fairview is more about understanding and becoming more aware of how you, and others, feel.  In the gifted population there can be more sensitivity, more intensity, more perfectionism, more stress, and higher expectations and pressure.

Q: Do you find a correlation between TAG students and social challenges?

TB: Just like any student, some TAG students are outgoing, extraverted & comfortable socially, and others are more introverted and uncomfortable in social situations. Research has shown that the higher the IQ in an individual, the more likely they will be introverted. So, students who are on the higher end of the IQ spectrum, might be more withdrawn, by virtue of their introversion. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that students who are academic outliers may be the focus of bullying or resentment in some school populations.  And it may be harder for them to find like minded peers at their school, which would make finding friends, and engaging socially, more challenging. But it is definitely a myth that giftedness = social difficulty.

Q: What do you think the most important thing for people to know about TAG students is?

TB: I think it’s sad that many people feel that it is elitist to say someone is intellectually gifted. If someone has a natural talent for a sport, and they want to climb to the top of their game, the family and the school work together to get the best possible opportunities and coaching for the student. It makes sense, because they have talent and motivation. It’s exciting to see them perform. If, however, a student has a talent for math or history, the parents are often misread as pushing the student if they try to get their child into higher level classes, beyond their classmates. Instead of nurturing their natural academic ability, often these students and parents are told to be patient and not push themselves too hard. Instead of “exciting,” the pathway of these students is often seen as premature coercion. Why the difference? Why can’t society be as happy for the advanced math or history student, as for the varsity athlete? It’s a double standard, and it’s unfair.

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“With So Many Books, Where Do I Start?”
Recommended Reading On Giftedness

I am often asked by both parents and educators, “There are so many books on gifted, where should I start?” Search “books on gifted” on Amazon and you’ll get over 10,000 results. If you’re looking for a good entry point regarding giftedness, these three books always surface to the top of my list.


A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children

Why you should read it: If you are the parent of a gifted child, you owe it to yourself and to your child to become well acquainted with the characteristics of giftedness, as well as other critical realizations to be aware of as you nurture your child. In this book you’ll learn strategies such as effective communication, promoting sibling synergy, implementing useful discipline techniques, how to support your child finding peers, and tips to manage stress and anxiety.
A Parent’s Guide to Gifted ChildrenRaising children, in general, is quite challenging. Raising a gifted child can be more challenging, and raising a twice exceptional child adds even more challenge.

A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children provides the knowledge and vocabulary necessary to allow a parent to feel qualified enough to adequately advocate for their child in school and social situations.

The precursor to this book, Guiding The Gifted Child, was THE handbook regarding parenting gifted kids. It was the book that set me, as the mother of a young gifted child, on my own personal path in the 1990’s.  I felt affirmation as I was reading it. Finally, someone understood what it was like to be in my situation.

The same lead author of Guiding the Gifted Child, Jim Webb, was the lead author of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. It’s a good update of the original classic. Included in the book are chapters on raising twice exceptional children, how to find a school that is the best fit for your child, and how to go about finding professional help, if needed.

A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children
by James T. Webb, Janet L. Gore, Edward R. Amend, Arlene R. DeVries

Living With Intensity

Why you should read it: This book is a gem! It helps us unpack and honor the emotional components of intensity, and offers strategies on managing and living with it. I greatly appreciate the fact that the chapters are written by a variety of different authors who are all highly respected and credible in the field. Their diverse perspectives combine to give us a multi-faceted view of intensity, with all its wondrous and challenging aspects.

Living With IntensityThere are hundreds of words that are used to describe the assorted characteristics of giftedness because there is so much diversity in the gifted population.  There is not a single profile, or cookie-cutter depiction, of giftedness. Jim Webb, respected author and gifted child psychologist, says that of all these numerous words used to describe giftedness, the one trait that ALL gifted individuals have in common is INTENSITY.

Think about gifted children and adults that you know. I am certain that you would agree that they are either inwardly or outwardly intense. Living With Intensity is spot on in explaining what is going on that is causing this intensity. It also shows us how the intensity manifests itself. Starting with explanations about Dabrowski’s “Theory of Positive Disintegration and Overexcitabilities”, we are guided through chapters on how to better understand this intensity, various counseling and clinical applications, why perfectionism is common among the gifted, and how giftedness and intensity are exhibited over the lifespan. “Gifted individuals not only think differently, they feel differently too,” said Linda Silverman.

Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults
edited by Susan Daniels, Michael M. Piechowski

101 Success Secrets For Gifted Kids

Why I would recommend it: I think that most people who work in the field of gifted, or who are raising gifted kids, appreciate knowing about books that offer topics that can be used for meaningful conversation starters.

101 Success Secrets For Gifted KidsThis book can be viewed as a self-help manual for kids themselves, it can be viewed as a resource with which educators can get ideas for GT discussion groups, and it can be used as a helpful aid with which parents can discover relevant topics to chat about with their children.

It is very adaptable, and is generally written for gifted kids aged 8-12. However, I use the 101 success secrets Fonseca lists as a jumping off point for conversations with my high school students. Sometimes less is more, and each point is covered in a page or two. What is valuable is the conversation that results with the kids, so that they can “own” the topics and make it relevant to their lives, whether they’re in elementary, middle, or high school.

101 Success Secrets For Gifted Kids
by Christine Fonseca

See more recommended books about parenting gifted children and social/emotional.

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Recommended Reading On Giftedness

Gifted & Talented Women Who Are Moms

At a time when my life is consumed with reading books, blogs and articles to benefit the gifted students I teach, the article, “The Special Challenges of Highly Intelligent and Talented Women Who are Moms”, by Dr. Belinda Seiger, really struck a chord with me.  This article made me pause for self reflection. How often do you pause for self reflection?

Dr. Seiger’s says “In my private psychotherapy practice and in my personal life, I have known many gifted women who seem to possess what I refer to as the ‘rage to achieve.’ They are constantly driven to learn, to create and to be intellectually productive even while raising young children. What distinguishes these women from their ambitious counterparts is that their motivation is not financial security, accolades or professional visibility; but their love for the process of learning, creating and involvement in a field or arena that holds deep interest and fascination for them. Many of these women face periods of frustration when the demands of family and their need for intellectual immersion collides.”

Giftedness can manifest itself in different ways, and at different times in people’s life. If you will indulge me in taking a walk down memory lane, I’ll describe to you what this looked like for me as I was growing up and what I learned about myself.

I always knew that I was a good student, but I had a highly gifted older brother in whose shadow I always lived. He wasn’t only answering the questions, he was asking them, sometimes to the dismay of others. In 5th grade when his class assignment was to write about a hero, my brother chose Adolph Hitler. Although his teacher tried to explain why Hitler wasn’t a worthy subject to write about, my brother argued that even though he didn’t view Hitler as a personal hero, Hitler was once seen as a hero by millions of people. I was never that confrontational. I would have happily written about John F. Kennedy because that topic wouldn’t have caused any uneasiness and wouldn’t have been questioned. I have always avoided conflict. I believe my brother thrived on it.

My memories of middle school and high school were of people, of feelings, of the way I felt and the way others felt. I would be hard pressed to tell you one thing I learned in one class. But I got my good grades because that’s what I was supposed to do. The thought of being advanced or gifted never crossed my mind because I wasn’t motivated to push myself and I certainly didn’t invite challenge.

In looking back, I realize that I was always tuned in to people’s feelings, and I was always wanting to understand people and help people. I was the person who would smile and say “hi” to the kid who everyone else made fun of. I was the one who tried to have a conversation with the student with epilepsy who was highly medicated and went through his day in a daze, because no one else talked to him. I became the “Ambassador for New Students” to my school. My social life was much more memorable & enjoyable than anything I ever learned academic-wise. I understand all these years later that social/emotional is my calling. It has served me well although it was never highly revered or admired when I was young.

I now know all these years later that my brother was more of a “traditionally gifted” person. He displayed intellectual giftedness. Whereas, my strengths were social and emotional in nature, with a talent for leadership. While my talents in school were much harder to quantify, they became more apparent when I got out of the academic school environment.

As I grew up, got married, and began to have a family, it became very apparent to me that my son was vastly ahead of the developmental chart in What To Expect When You’re Expecting. He was doing things much earlier than predicted in the book. Although I wasn’t a gifted student in the academic world, my talents nurtured me into becoming a gifted parent. I read voraciously, went to gifted conferences, went back to school to get a masters in gifted education, and set about to educate others about giftedness. My intensity manifested itself in learning all that I could about the subject. I superseded all of my own expectations about what I was capable of achieving.

So, back to the article that I mentioned at the beginning. For many parents such as myself who stayed at home with young children, there is a desire and a passion to strive for something beyond just ’round the clock childcare. I found that my talents fervently displayed themselves when I became a mother. The momentum continued when my daughter was born and I expanded my knowledge and understanding of her giftedness, as well.

“Women channel their desire for knowledge in a variety of directions; some embrace motherhood and their children as their new projects with the same intensity that they pursued neuroscience. They pursue all there is to know about every stage and phase of their children’s lives and find fulfillment in doing so,” says Dr. Seiger.

I can absolutely see that this is what I did. My son and his identification became my project. I was insatiable. Being a conflict avoider, I tried as hard as possible to not create dissension along the way. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know.  And the more I knew, the more I wanted to share with others. I am still doing this today through my involvement with gifted at the local, state and national level.

“Suddenly, such women (and men) realize their own capabilities and look back on lives where their gifts may have been overlooked, ignored or misunderstood,” says Dr. Seiger.

This is where I am now. My mission was to raise my children with a multi-focused lens and then to pass what I have learned on to others. According to Goertzel & Goertzel, women more often become eminent later in life, largely due to the fact that they are involved in raising children and their professional lives are often put on hold.

Although not always understood by others, my “rage to achieve” served my children well. I couldn’t be more proud of the people they have become, and I realize that my efforts helped to move them past potential barriers in the education system. Plus, I learned much along the way that now benefits other parents on similar journeys.

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Underachieving or Refusing to Play the Game?

I agree 100% with the article “Gifted Underachievers: Underachieving or Refusing To Play the Game?” I recently had a student tell me that he was not motivated to do anything about his D in a class because, even though he could get a better grade, that would send a message to the teacher that he cared about the class. He had no interest in the required class, and felt that the teacher wasn’t effective at teaching the subject. This student was making a clear statement about how he felt, even though it meant sabotaging himself. It often takes more integrity to let go of the system, than to suck it up and move forward with something a student finds irrelevant, uninteresting, with no meaning. Giving up is something that IS under their control.

When we label a student as an underachiever, the message we are sending is that they are lazy and unmotivated. Often, these same students are very motivated and passionate about something, often unrelated to school. They may be interested in areas that are quite different from what they are getting in school (making musical instruments, synchronized swimming, designing skis, composing music, coding, gaming, etc.) These students are spending great amounts of time and energy engaged in their personal areas of interest… their passion. Jim Delisle prefers to describe these children as “selective consumers”.

We are all about trying to help students find their passions, but if they happen to settle on an area that is not school-specific, are we as supportive? If their areas of interest happen to not be what school values as “highly credible,” or college-significant, those interests are often discounted and regarded as less worthy. I’ve talked to the parents of students who are gifted in music or in art, who are actively trying to discourage their children from pursuing these areas, and trying to get them to shift their energy to math and science classes. This sends a clear message to their child that their natural passions and interests are not valued.

I’m not sure what the answer is. There’s no doubt that school has value on many levels, both academic and social. I do think there needs to be more choice in school, with more meaningful applications of the material learned. For many students, school is just something to endure, and there is no joy of learning involved. If less time were spent on homework and testing, there would be more time for students to spend on things they do love. Instead, many go from enduring the school day, to being bogged down by homework every evening, taking up any free time they may have spent doing something they actually enjoyed. I feel that students must have time to develop their talents and interests beyond school. Doing things we love gives us the energy to do all the other stuff we need to get through.

I highly recommend reading Celi Trépanier’s blog Crushing Tall Poppies.

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Gifted students meet state lawmakers at Colorado Capitol

Today was the 16th Annual CAGT Legislative Day in Denver. This is an event that allows students (grades 8 to 12) the unique opportunity to shadow a state legislator for the day at the Colorado capitol building. There is also an adult component to the day where gifted advocates have an opportunity to learn about current legislative initiatives that affect gifted children in the state.

CAGT Legislative Day 2015We have a great turnout every year – this year 284 students from all parts of the state participated. Through an application process, 117 of them were selected to shadow a legislator. Of the 100 Senators and Representatives, 72 either agreed to take shadows or joined us for a discussion over lunch. Legislative Day is a favorite day for legislators (it’s a mix of Republicans and Democrats) because they love the diverse questions these gifted students ask, such as: the economy around mine reclamation areas, laws about special education, what’s being done about ISIS in Colorado, assessment testing in schools and even a question about how to become a legislator. The legislators truly enjoy being with these students, answering their questions and showing them around the capitol.

It was especially gratifying for me because five IB students from my high school, Fairview HS in Boulder, attended Legislative Day. Four of them are pictured here with me.











I felt honored to give the introduction to the hundreds of attendees to start Legislative Day. Here’s an excerpt of my welcome talk:

“The gifted population is quite significant in Colorado. Over 68,000 students, kindergarten through grade 12, are identified as GT.

The purpose of CAGT is to support all of those 68,000 gifted children and their various exceptional needs. CAGT advocates for appropriate education and funding for them. We do this through partnerships with educators, families, administrators, legislators, and the general public.

Legislative Day is the best opportunity for us to engage with legislators. Plus it gives all of us an opportunity to observe committee hearings. And Legislative Day also allows our legislators the opportunity to hear YOUR thoughts on what YOU want out of education.

GT students are covered by the Exceptional Children’s Education Act (ECEA). This is a statute that was passed by the state legislature that requires all districts to identify and serve gifted students. But there’s very little funding. So it’s been passed into law without appropriate money to make it work as well as it should. For many years, dedicated people have worked behind the scenes, on your behalf, to increase the funding.

Know that just by being here YOU are representing the 68,000 gifted kids in the state of Colorado. You make a difference!”

With all the special interest groups lobbying for increased funding, it’s important to get parents and students interacting with state elected officials at the capitol. It makes the issue of gifted education more real, more visible, and more immediate for the legislators. The lawmakers see that gifted students have educated concerns about the world they are growing up in, express themselves confidently and knowledgeably, and deserve an education that meets their needs.

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Talk less, listen more is key advice for parent group facilitators

One of the things I really enjoy doing is being a nationally sanctioned SENG facilitator trainer. I have trained hundreds of people, from many different districts, in how to run SMPGs: SENG Model Parent Groups. These are structured support groups for parents of gifted children.

SMPGs are led by educators, mental health professionals and parents who have been trained by SENG to facilitate a focused discussion on various topics regarding parenting gifted children. The topics come from the book A Parent’s Guide To Gifted Children and the discussions that ensue are based on the chapters in the book.

I am one of eight trainers in the U.S. that trains people to lead SMPGs in their local school communities. I received my training from Jim Webb and Arlene DeVries in 2003. Since then, I’ve led my own SMPG discussions, along with training others to do the same.

Recently, I co-facilitated, with Sheri Plybon from Plano, TX, a SMPG training in Denver with 20 people from Colorado, Utah, California, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Iowa and Connecticut. Yes, people fly-in for this valuable two-day immersion into gifted support. The goal is to educate and equip these people to go out and organize their own SMPGs in their states.

SENG training group














At the end of this training, I asked participants, “How different do you think your style of group facilitation would be if you had been asked to facilitate a group without this two-day training?” They all said the same thing… they would have talked MUCH more TO the parents. They would have felt they had to TELL parents what they needed to learn instead of LISTENING to what the parents had to share.

One of the key points of training facilitators is communicating to them that “less is more.” Instead of being the expert in the group that the parents rely on, facilitators are trained to orchestrate the parents’ discussion, rather than to make it about themselves giving advice. There is certainly a time and a place to offer suggestions, but facilitators are trained to talk seldomly, and when they do talk to do so very subtly, and to always draw the attention back to the parents.

Another key point in training is to help the parents realize that, as important as school is to the well-being of their children, the parent’s role has a much greater long-term impact on their gifted child than school. The focus is about turning the finger inward toward themselves and asking “What things are going well in my child’s and my relationship that I want to continue to do” and “What things about our relationship could be improved”

SMPG facilitators are trained to listen, model openness and warmth, and encourage participation.

This particular group of people at the recent Denver training session was an amazing gathering of caring, intuitive individuals. They are exactly the type of people that I would want to help guide ME in becoming more aware about effective parenting skills. I am so grateful that these SMPG groups exist to help parents guide their gifted children and to strengthen their relationships. And I’m proud to be a nationally sanctioned SENG facilitator trainer.

You can read more about my SMPG training here.

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Live Purposely Raising Gifted Children

You know, some people just say it as it should be said. Dan Peters is someone I constantly learn from. I admire his wisdom, his attitude, his approachability, and his commitment to helping us all learn. He is a person who is highly regarded and highly sought out. His perspective and his writing just makes me “feel good.”

His recent article Live Purposely in the New Year is exactly the advice we all need to hear at the beginning, middle or end of a year.  Dan gives advice that’s not sugar coated; advice that’s easy to imagine following; and he does it all with a friendly “me too” attitude. It’s a successful formula that Dan uses whether he’s giving a keynote, talking with a small group of people, sitting one on one with a client, or having a casual conversation with friends and colleagues.

When you read Live Purposely in the New Year, think about your own life. I did. I reflected on what’s going well and what I’d like to change. Bring the best of what you have to offer to your life and to the people who share life with you.

• Accept reality
• Make conscious choices
• Live intentionally and purposely

So if we apply Dan Peter’s logic to raising gifted children, we need to 1) Be realistic about the children that are in front of us. While we as parents or educators may want less complicated children, these are the children we have. 2) Let’s face it, gifted kids have unique needs that take time and energy to foster. We need to make conscious decisions and choices based on what our children bring to the table in regards to their interests and their essence. 3) Embrace gifted children for who they are, not who you want them to be. As you do, you will be loving them with intent and purpose.

If we live intentionally, we will have the satisfaction of knowing that we are making realistic decisions, in the moment. Often, that’s the very best that we have to offer to others. Imagine if we all were present as we approached our daily lives and our parenting. It’s a challenge I’m up for.  Are you?

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STEM can push students beyond their comfort zone

Too many kids quit STEM because they don’t think they’re smart

NAGC logoI visited Baltimore for the first time when I attended the 61st annual National Association for Gifted Children convention. With four days of sessions and keynoters, I wanted to share with you my thoughts from the Opening General Session. Keynoter Freeman Hrabowski III, who has been President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) for the past 22 years, really set the tone for the convention. He advises President Obama on educational issues, and was named to the 100 Most Influential People in the World list in 2012 by TIME. His talk was “Engaging and Empowering America’s Students to Succeed in STEM.” The main focus at UMBC is on STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math majors.

Freeman HrabowskiHrabowski is an impassioned speaker. He’s been on 60 Minutes, TED Talks and has many compelling YouTube videos. In his NAGC session, as he does in many of his talks, Hrabowski talked about how his life changed significantly when he was a boy and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. He remembers MLK saying “You must not let anyone define who you are.” And, “The quality of what you do will have an impact on people not even born yet.” Hrabowski said “Of course that was true with the civil rights movement, but it’s also true of other areas in which you will devote yourself.”

Something Hrabowski said that has stayed with me since the NAGC conference and that I find myself repeating to teachers, students, and parents is “The higher the ACTs in high school, the higher the AP and IB course load in high school, and the better the college the student attends, the greater the chances are that he/she will switch out of STEM classes.” It was hard to grasp this concept when he said it because it seems backward. But after thinking on it, I get it. Hrabowski said it’s because when these highly capable students transition into college and gets something below an A in a math or science class, they very often switch their major. It’s common knowledge that students who are used to getting A’s freak out when they are faced with anything below an A, and if this happens in a STEM class they figure that they are not smart enough to continue in that area.

I know that many students believe that smart = easy. Gifted students, in particular, often don’t have to work hard to get an A. So, when a class comes along that really challenges them and requires that they work extremely hard and it still results in a grade below an A, they often back down believing that they aren’t smart enough to continue or it’s just too hard. They encounter the dreaded “fear of failure” that many gifted kids eventually face.

But what if instead they embraced the challenge and thought, “Wow, this is really hard. I’m going to have to really buckle down and use some different strategies to keep up with it.” Very often, the strategies that used to work don”t work anymore. In more challenging circumstances it often takes more hard work, more tutoring, more studying, and more repetition in order to succeed… even if you’re gifted. And that’s something that many students who feel entitled, are not used to doing.

We need to send a message to our gifted students, especially those who pursue STEM college degrees, that they need to stick out the rough parts, power through with hard work, and not give up when the going gets tough.

If they stick it out and work hard, the payoff can be that the class becomes more manageable and the learning is extensive and deeper. We have to remind our students (and their parents) that sometimes a grade less than an A can actually represent more learning than getting an A.

For more, see a related study: STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields from the U.S. Department of Education.

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Highlights from the 2014 Colorado Gifted Conference

I’ve been the Conference Chair for the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented annual CAGT Conference for the past two years. It’s been an amazing experience planning, organizing, and executing our state’s gifted conference – this year with 800 attendees, 5 keynotes and 80 breakout sessions. This year’s conference theme was The Many Faces of Gifted.

Dan Siegel-CAGT conference

There were so many highlights and take-aways to share. Here are just a few:

Dan Siegel-Terry Bradley-CAGTDr. Dan Siegel, in his keynote titled Brainstorm: Discovering the Hidden Power of the Adolescent Brain, talked about the ESSENCE of adolescence. We need to know that teens aren’t crazy, and we shouldn’t be impatient waiting for them to “just grow up” so they will be more like adults.  Changes during adolescence are not something to just get through; they are qualities we actually need to hold on to in order to live a full and meaningful life in adulthood.  We need to harness and model after their ESSENCE. Brain changes during the early teen years set up four qualities of our minds during adolescence: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration.

Siegel’s views have made me regard my students differently. We can benefit from observing teens and the way they go about life. I want to live “more in the moment” as my students do.  What adolescents have going for them that is both a challenge and a gift is actually what adults need in order to maintain vitality in their lives.

“How we navigate the adolescent years has a direct impact on how we’ll live the rest of our lives.”

— Dan Siegel

Two keynotes were by teenagers. Kai Kloefper has created smart firearm technology that allows only the owner of a gun, and people the owner chooses, to fire the gun, thereby potentially saving lives. Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli Roske-Martinez are on a mission to educate and unite youth and adults around environment and climate causes through Earth Guardians.

Kai Kloefper-CAGTKai came to the conference wearing a suit with a briefcase looking very “professional” and business-like. He’s into technology, engineering, invention, innovation.

Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli have long, untamed hair and came to the conference wearing t-shirts and jeans. They performed hip hop and rapped to convey their message. They’re into environmental and social engagement, activism and music.

Earth Guardians-CAGTBoth keynotes were by gifted students who are very diverse in their passions. Both see needs – Kai with controlling gun violence and Xiuhtezcatl and Itzcuauhtli with environmental problems. Both are using their strengths to serve those needs. Neither sees their age as a barrier. Both had the greater good in common…helping the world to be better.

Lisa Van Gemert-CAGTLisa Van Gemert delivered a refreshing take on giftedness in her keynote The Five-Headed Dragon.  Gifted individuals aren’t just regular people with higher intelligence. They have their own sets of “dragons” that present their own unique challenges. Gifted youth face many threats to their well-being, both cognitively and emotionally, that prevent them from achieving their dreams. She faced five of these threats head-on: Stereotype Threat, Imposter Syndrome, Bullying the Bright, Underachievement, and Perfectionism. These threats distort gifted youths’ views of themselves, create hesitancy where boldness is needed, turn victors into victims, deny gifts, and prevent academic risk-taking. Giving educators and parents the tools they need to ward off the five-headed dragon will allow gifted learners to soar to new heights of personal and academic fulfillment.

Lisa told a lot of touching, poignant, personal stories offered suggestions about what we can do to support gifted children. You can explore more on Lisa’s blog Gifted Guru, “Tips and resources for people who like smart.”

Rosina Gallagher-Terry Bradley-CAGTRosina Gallagher’s keynote was The Prism of Giftedness.

The Prism of Giftedness at its base, reveals cognitive ability, from above average to the upper limits of intellectual precocity. The left facet reflects varied learning styles, from acquiring knowledge through tangible media, concrete examples and hands-on experiences, to manipulating complex ideas, predicting consequences and generating multiple solutions in problem solving. The right facet reflects those personality traits such as curiosity, drive, and perseverance that enable individuals to develop their talents, creativity and resilience for caring, satisfying lives, the apex. The rear, sustaining facet, reveals a rich, nurturing environment that varies according to home, school, community experiences and eventual, chosen lifestyle. When the light of lifelong learning is cast upon its angles, the prism radiates the rainbow of talents, cultures, backgrounds and lifestyles that have built our great nation. Through this prism, we can become aware of and nurture the groups that emerge periodically in our midst.

Rosina Gallagher CAGT

Photos by Karen Larsen Photography

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