A Student’s Cartoon Shows How Gifted Kids Can Fit Together

Alex, one of my former high school students, sent me this piece she designed for a graphic memoir writing course in college. It describes how it felt to be her in school, and how she came to find herself through the acceptance of others in the TAG (Talented and Gifted) Lunch Group.

I’ve been told many times over the years that the TAG Discussion Group has helped students meet others like themselves. For many students it’s the link that keeps them connected in school. Some students have told me they never had a friend until they met people in our group.

Over the past thirteen years, I have had the pleasure of facilitating these groups, which focus on the affective aspects of giftedness. These are places where gifted kids get together to talk about issues they have in common and how life looks and feels through the lens of giftedness. Groups like this are facilitated by adult leaders who are knowledgeable about giftedness.

Certainly, the most crucial school-based support for gifted students is an appropriate educational fit that differentiates instruction for students’ abilities and needs. This promotes a student’s academic development. Also crucial are discussion groups as a school-based intervention for gifted students. Discussion groups promote a student’s affective development. If we truly want our students to become well balanced, we need to offer both appropriate academic opportunities for growth and social and emotional opportunities for growth.

Why do gifted students need their own discussion group? According to Linda Silverman, “Gifted people not only think differently, they feel differently, too.” A discussion group with others who share similar characteristics such as intensity, sensitivity, heightened moral and ethical codes of behavior and the ability to process feelings more thoroughly and deeply, allow the students the opportunity to express themselves as they truly are. If nurtured properly, a level of trust and respect surfaces which encourages the facilitation of purposeful self-exploration and meaningful discussions.

Having a discussion with a grouping of gifted students allows for conversation that is at a different level of being and perceiving. Because gifted children think and feel differently, they benefit most from conversing with others who think and feel similarly.

Also valuable in these TAG Lunch Groups are the well-placed use of story books, which deftly describe characters in social and personal situations that students can relate to… even high school students.

Story books take adolescents and teens back to a time when life was easier, and less stressful. They describe the feelings they currently have, through the use of characters, which allows them to process their feelings by externalizing them.

Discussion groups give students the chance to explore self-discovery in a safe, trusting environment. I have this saying on my web site “It’s easier to build children than to repair adults.” The anonymous quote is why I so firmly believe in the value of discussion groups for gifted kids.

Thank you, Alex, for sending me your cartoon which so beautifully explains how it feels to be you. Just like story books, it is often easier to understand others when we strip away the pretense and focus on the simplicity of what is authentic.

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The Importance of Time Spent Outdoors

When I attended the 2017 Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented conference in Loveland, Colorado, I went to a session that changed the way I think. It was “Connecting the Gifted Mind to Nature” by Scott Major, a middle school counselor in Evergreen, Colorado. I feel compelled to share with you what I learned from this session.

Major started his session by having us share a favorite memory of being outside during childhood. He then asked us to express some of the ways that experience made us feel when we were children. The feelings people shared included “adventuresome, free, happy, content, awed, independent.” He explained that we have an innate sense of wanting to be connected to outdoors, yet the average person spends 90% of their time indoors. Further disconnecting from nature, 92% of teens go online daily, and 24% of teens admit to being online almost all of the time.

Historically, play time outside has changed drastically since the 1970s. The radius of activity has decreased by 90%, meaning kids are only allowed to venture out much closer to home. Parents will tell their kids to go outside and play, but parents want to make sure their children can still be easily seen. We want kids to stay close, for safety reasons that weren’t as much on our radar 50 or even 20 years ago. But this shrinking play radius has resulted in our society having a “Nature Deficit Disorder”, says Major.

Aside from just getting fresh air, there are many benefits of time spent outdoors (for both children and adults), including:

  • improved physical health
  • improved memory, attention, concentration, impulse inhibition, and mood
  • improved social skills, empathy, and affiliation with free play
  • improved self perception

When we think about Overexcitabilities (OEs) and the gifted, Major asked us to consider how each of the OEs can be nurtured and satisfied in nature:

  • psychomotor: moving around
  • sensual: seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, tasting
  • intellectual: curiosity and wonder
  • imaginational: play and exploration
  • emotional: mood adjustment and comfort

In putting it all together, Major said that we need to provide more opportunities for our students to engage in the world around them. As a direct result of connecting with nature, students will be more likely to have the desire to protect nature, and to be concerned about our natural resources. This concern and awareness can then lead to the desire to educate others in conservation efforts. Conversely, if one rarely engages with nature, there will be less incentive to protect it.

Creative ways to get student outdoors

Major had suggestions for getting students outside, including a Goosechase app, which allows users to create a scavenger hunt online (such as “find something fuzzy, red, shop, beautiful”, etc.). Students can work on taking pictures in their own time, even from home. It also allows students to create a slideshow of all of their submissions that can then be shown in class. Another suggestion was to go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt at school. I couldn’t wait to get back to my high school seniors and do this the following week.

I decided to do an A to Z Scavenger Hunt. First, I divided my class of students into teams. I pre-selected the teams so they could be with classmates that they wouldn’t typically hang out with. I remembered Major saying that when you’re outside, the social and cultural dividing lines that separate students and groups of students into sub-groups in school tend to be lifted. Nature is so much bigger than we are. Nature helps break down barriers.

We went outside and the students spent time walking around the school and neighboring fields. Surprisingly, all of the teams brought back sheets that were filled with entirely different findings. Everybody saw something different because they were really looking. They were very creative with their answers. For instance, for the letter C, there was “Christmas tree”, “cottonwood”, “crazy fun”, “carbon”, “ chlorophyl”, “cirrus clouds”, and “clover.” This Nature Scavenger Hunt became a form of active meditation when the students were mindful about being in the present, feeling connected. Overall, it was a very successful activity, and they really liked being outside instead of in a classroom.

What’s going on outside of your classroom?

If you are an educator, think about your classroom situation. What could you do with your students outside? Teach a class on the grass? Take a walk and have them talk with a partner about a particular topic you’re discussing in class? Walk down to a nearby park and do a Scavenger Hunt? Throw frisbees or balls and bring snacks for a treat? Take a walk around the school property and talk with a student who is troubled in some way, as opposed to sitting in an office under fluorescent lights? Don’t use “chilly weather” or “it’s windy” as an excuse. We should all make an attempt to get outside, no matter the season.

I, personally, will make an effort to get students outside more. I have a brand new perspective on the benefits of providing opportunities for students to connect with nature. And not only do they benefit from being outside, I do, too!

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Giftedness Does Not Discriminate

I applaud Celi Trepanier’s blog, Gifted Children: Culturally, Ethnically, Racially and Socially Diverse. She states that “too many students from families of a lower socioeconomic status, as well as students from culturally, ethnically and racially diverse groups are often disregarded for gifted identification likely because of beliefs in unfortunate myths and a prevalence of incorrect information about what giftedness is and what giftedness can look like in the classroom.”

Trepanier talks about two disturbing myths associated with gifted children from diverse backgrounds.

I’d like to address these two myths as they relate to a former student of mine, Juliet, who grew up in the slums of Uganda.

Myth: Gifted students come only from specific races, and from middle and upper class families.
Truth: Gifted students come from all walks of life.

Juliet: “My mom died of AIDS when I was 5. I lived on the streets, eating garbage, and sleeping in the warm trash heaps at night. I was left to stand on my own two feet to figure out the world.”

Juliet’s school in Uganda

Juliet: “I wanted nothing more than to go to school. One day, I followed a child to school, and because I wasn’t a student I had to stay on the other side of the gate. I was amazed to be this close to something I wanted so badly. I wanted someone to teach me how to hold my pencil, tell me that I had potential and that they saw something in me.”

Through luck and kindness, an American woman ended up sponsoring Juliet’s education. Then in 2012, that same woman ended up adopting her and bringing her to Colorado when Juliet was fourteen. But the characteristics that defined Juliet’s intelligence were already in place long before she became a part of the American school system.

Juliet (front center) in her Uganda classroom.

Myth: Giftedness – It’s made, not inborn.
Truth: Giftedness – It’s inborn, not made.

Juliet: “On the third day of my first year of school, the principal asked each one of us what we wanted to be. I told him, “I want to be a lawyer” because I wanted to stand up for those who couldn’t fight their own battles; I wanted to give a voice to those who didn’t have one.”

“At age 11 I was finally able to read and write. I was an outstanding student scoring in the top of my classes. I didn’t want to learn English until I had to. I was very stubborn. I had to learn English in 2010 so I could talk with my parents. English was my fifth language. In 2012 I was allowed to emigrate to the U.S.”

I was fortunate to meet Juliet her freshman year in high school, a year after she arrived in the United States. The difference in cultures, the weather and the education system posed a challenge for her. But her desire to be successful was incredibly strong.

She graduated a semester early from high school with a 3.8 GPA, and spent a few months in France immersing herself in the French language and culture. She interned at a law firm this summer and still has the desire to be the “someone” that helps other less-fortunate students succeed. She is currently attending college in Colorado.

I understand, more than ever, why it’s critical to view multiple pieces of evidence that might contribute to GT identification, particularly with students in underrepresented populations. Juliet’s intensive work ethic, her ability to learn new material and languages so rapidly, the high expectations she had for her performance, and her determination to be resilient, successful, and make a difference were all credible markers of her intelligence.

It’s important to note that standardized testing was not an area of strength for Juliet, as intelligent as she is. Our school systems should never rely solely on standardized assessments as proof of giftedness. Similarly, standardized testing cannot be a factor that refutes GT identification, if there are other criteria that soundly demonstrate the presence of GT characteristics. This is especially true for students in underrepresented populations, who may not have had the benefits of preparation, training, and cultural immersion that allow them to successfully perform on these assessments.

Many of us in the GT field agree that “giftedness is something you are, not something you do.” Juliet’s raw intelligence and natural curiosity and determination were apparent from our first meeting. She was admittedly very stubborn and said she didn’t like to follow rules. I inwardly smiled when she insisted that she was going to tell her science teacher that she was going to redo a test that she did not do well on. She didn’t just wish she could redo it, she insisted that she be given another chance. She was given another chance.

Juliet: “I want to help other kids navigate the world through education; teach girls that there is more than just getting married, doing chores, and staying home. I want them to have the power of education and decide their futures; to know you can be a woman and still be powerful because knowledge is power.”

Juliet valued friends in high school that respected the fact that she did not ever want to miss class. Education was seen as a privilege that you do not squander.

Juliet in high school in Boulder, Colorado

A final comment from Juliet: “I know that I do not fully understand what giftedness means but here is what I do know: we students of color sometimes have trouble showing our gifts because kids like me have moved from other countries and are merging into this education system. Sometimes we do need help and a lot of it.

My teacher in Africa used to say that you can’t drown when you scream help because everybody will jump in to help you. I find this to be a true statement because most of the time kids are afraid to admit they want help. We are afraid that others will think of us as stupid or not good enough so we just end up not even asking and we drown but not because we aren’t good at something or smart, but because we are in the culture where you get shamed for even asking for help. I feel like sometimes teachers should reach out to students like us, because all we need sometimes is a person to believe in us and stand with us.”

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Moments In Our Life When Everything Changes

Here is an activity for teachers to do with graduating high school students, or for parents of students who are graduating high school. Talk about “There are Moments In Our Life When Everything Changes” (below). This might help put this life transition into context of other life transitions they’ve experienced.

If you are working with a classroom of seniors, you can also have the students do this Strength-Based Affirmation activity afterward: hand each student a piece of construction paper and have them write their name in the middle. The students are to keep passing their papers to the right, and write a thoughtful positive comment on each of their classmates papers. Keep passing until each student and teacher has written on everyone’s paper. Have each person leave with a pageful of affirmations to keep as a cherished memory. This is not unlike writing in a school yearbook except with direction, meaning and positive intent.

There Are Moments In Our Life When Everything Changes

Remember when you were in elementary school or middle school and you had your first sleep over away from your parents? Life was different after that. The world became a little bit bigger.

Remember when you first rode a two wheeler bike? Life was different after that. At some point you realized that you could go farther from your home on your own than you had ever ridden before. The world became little bit bigger.

Remember when you first had a crush on a special someone? Life was different after that. Those feelings were real and you were spending time thinking of someone other than yourself. The world opened up new possibilities and became a little bit bigger.

Remember when it was the day before your first day of high school? Figuring out what you were going to wear? Thinking about finding your way around? Life was different after that. You got there and a whole new world of teachers, students, activities, ideas and opportunities opened up. You had more choices to make – and your world became a little bit bigger.

Remember when you got your driver’s license? Life was different after that. Instead of riding your bike or waiting for a bus, all of a sudden you had the option to drive off in any direction and even end up in a different city if you felt like it. The boundaries became limitless and the world became so much bigger.

There are moments in our lives when everything changes. Now, you are at the end of your senior year and getting ready to graduate. In the years after you graduate your life will, again, go through changes and become different. It will be different because YOU will be different.

How will you change? You will be doing things you’ve never done before. You will be seeing things you’ve never seen before. You will be experiencing things you’ve never experienced before. You will be meeting people you’ve never met before. You will be imagining things you’ve never imagined before. And you will be tempted by things you’ve never been tempted by before. These changes present exciting opportunities and new challenges.

You will still have supporters in your life: your parents, family, friends, teachers. And you’ll make new supporters as you meet new people. And you will still have yourself. Believe that you are enough. Be prepared to gracefully adapt to life’s twists and turns. Life will be different when you are faced with unforeseen obstacles or detours, but you can never be truly lost or permanently stuck when you lean on your own internal wisdom, and the people who have provided firm foundations for your life.

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Movie Review: Gifted Is About Finding the Right Balance

I saw the new movie Gifted and was surprised at how well I liked it. From the previews it was hard to tell if this movie would be an accurate portrayal of giftedness. I thought it would be an unrealistic cliche of a genius kid; a cute, family-friendly flick found on cable TV. Not so. I found myself frequently nodding in agreement at how true the characters and feelings were. A lot of us teared up because we’ve experienced similar situations in real life.

Gifted is a scripted drama, not a documentary. Mary (McKenna Grace) is a 7-year old prodigy. She is being raised by her single uncle, Frank (Chris Evans). Her grandmother (Lindsay Duncan) threatens to separate them so she can send Mary to a prestigious private gifted school in a different town because she believes Mary’s intelligence to be “one in a billion”.

Being a prodigy, Mary is an extreme version of giftedness.  Still, the messages are loud and clear about asynchrony and the need for a uniquely balanced and accepting environment.

Many themes and dynamics depicted in Gifted are realistic for gifted children, their families, and their schools. Here are a few:

Asynchrony – “People my age are boring,” said Mary. She relates better to adults than to kids. Mary is homeschooled before attending a public elementary school. After a lot of trial and error, in the last scene Mary is in college physics class, wearing her Brownie uniform, and is afterward dropped off at the playground to be with her age-classmates. This was the best balance for her. Her extreme asynchrony requires that she be in various ability and interest groupings in order to have all of her academic and social needs met.

Intellectual Overexcitabilities – Mary is hyper-focused on math, her area of passion, and tries to get as much as possible out of it, with the constant need to know more. At one point Frank drags her outside to play when she can’t stop working on math equations.

Emotional Overexcitabilities – Mary has intensified feelings of fairness and trust and acts on her convictions even when it isn’t the acceptable or easy thing to do. She fights with a child who bullies another child on the bus, and she corrects adults when she feels wronged.

Expectations – Mary is told by one adult to “try being a kid.” Another adult says they should “dumb her down to a decent human being.” This movie made me think about what our responsibility is to gifted kids. Is it to nurture their potential to the fullest or to provide a “typical” childhood? And, at what cost? Is it realistically possible for both to happen at once? Anyone who has raised a gifted child knows the complexity this causes.

Gifted shows how various family members and educators have differences of opinion about what Mary needs. For when a child is identified as gifted it impacts everyone in their world, not just the student. It is a label that carries a lot of weight and affects a lot of people. Frank’s biggest fear raising Mary was that he’d “mess it up.” How many of us as parents of gifted kids have struggled with the same fear?

In deciding who she wants to raise her, Mary says to her uncle, “You wanted me before I was smart”. Gifted kids are complex individuals who need to be loved and accepted for who they are and not for what they can do. If our goal is to have a happy child, then as parents we might be charged with piecing together different opportunities in order to find the right balance. Their happiness will be the best indicator of whether or not we got the balance right.

A final note. Being gifted isn’t only about academics and grades. Actress McKenna Grace is a gifted young actress who does a brilliant job playing Mary.

I rate Gifted 4 out of 5 stars. I’ll be seeing it again. If you’re raising a gifted child or work with gifted students you should see this movie.

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Supporting Transgender Students and Their Families

Recently, the Superintendent of the Boulder Valley School District, my employer, sent out a memo affirming the School Board’s support for transgender students. This was a reaction from President Trump rescinding protections for them, and not allowing them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. The memo confirmed that the school district’s position is to continue the present practices of supporting these students and their families.

Since I write about gifted on this web site, I want to point out that I have observed that transgender and gifted have something in common. It has been my experience over the years that a large percentage of transgender and gender fluid students at my high school are also gifted students. They have unique social and emotional needs.

I am proud to work in a district and in a high school that understands that we need to support students for what they bring to the learning environment, and not have it be regulated by the sex on their birth certificate. ALL students have the right to a safe learning environment while they are in our school.

The BVSD Superintendent’s letter is below followed by my supportive reply of gratitude.

Dear BVSD Parents, Guardians and Staff
On Wednesday, February 22, President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students allowing them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity; it is a retraction of guidance provided by President Obama last summer.

Boulder Valley School District will maintain our present practice supporting transgender students and their families as we have in the past. Our position is consistent with the district’s equity values and our district mission and vision. Our guidelines supporting students and staff who are transgender may be found in the Policies section of the district website at bvsd.org/policies/Policies/AC-E3.pdf.

We appreciate that Colorado state law also forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in public places — including schools. Colorado Chalkbeat published an informative article about this on Wednesday.

BVSD remains committed to providing a safe learning environment for all students.

Dr. Bruce K. Messinger

Hello Dr. Messinger,
I want to thank BVSD for upholding principles and reason and maintaining BVSD’s present practice of supporting transgender students and families.

As the TAG Advisor at Fairview High School for the past eleven years, I have become close to many of our transgender students. Many transgender students are also identified as gifted. I’m not sure of the correlation, if any, but it does seem rather high. I’ve had the privilege of becoming a trusted adult to many of them as they try to understand themselves and fit into the school system and into the world in general.

Regarding allowing them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, I feel it is a practice that helps preserve their dignity. It’s hard enough to be a teenager, much less to stand out in a way that’s often not accepted. Most teens simply want support in being who they are.

One of Fairview’s graduated transgender students, while a student at CU Boulder, committed suicide recently. This student was incredibly talented, loving, sensitive, and kind. Their needs were unconditionally accommodated both at Fairview and at CU. However, their family situation was extremely contentious. There’s only so much schools can do to overcome the feeling a student has of being raised feeling like they’ve shamed and disappointed their family. I will always be proud of Fairview and CU for accepting, accommodating, and supporting this incredible person. I know that as communities that accept gender diversity, Fairview and CU provided this student with solace, understanding, and some happiness. The sadness and senselessness of their death was a huge loss for so many of us.

Dr. Messigner, thank you for understanding the bigger picture. Our students are trying to figure themselves out, and understand others as they go through life and, at the same time, so many of our students are reeling from political uncertainties in our world. Add to this the fact that we are responsible for giving young people a quality education.

People don’t thrive cognitively unless their affective (social and emotional) needs are being met. I can think of nothing more important than for BVSD to continue to provide a place that maintains practices that preserve our students’ dignity as humans for the short amount of time that they are in our charge. Only then can they be in a mindset that is open to what we are providing them in the classroom.

Terry Bradley, MA
Gifted & Talented Advisor
Fairview High School

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Keep Calm and Believe You Can Do It

I recently gave a “Pep Talk” to 75 high school second semester juniors. These students have self-selected into the most rigorous program our school offers, the IB Diploma. At our high school, this is a program that any junior can enter – they don’t have to be invited or test in, as is the case at most other high schools’ IB Diploma programs. However, as a result of it’s rigor and demands, only a small percentage of our juniors opt in.

When students step up to take on the most challenging programs or activities a school offers, it’s important to remember that they need our continued support along the way. Even though they are capable and motivated, we still need to provide them with adult wisdom and guidance. Just because they’re smart doesn’t mean school will always be easy for them, and for many that’s a sobering realization. They’ll have ups and downs, no matter how smart they are, or how devoted they seem to a given path. Validating how they’re feeling, and giving them tips on how to be successful, helps to keep them motivated and confident.

Written below is what I said to these high school students.  Maybe you can modify it to be useful to you in some way, as you encourage students facing stress and challenge in your own school.

You are here. Everything you’ve done in your life so far, has led you here. To this IB Diploma program. To this room. Your curious nature as you were growing up, your interest in knowing and in learning about the world around you, your desire to be engaged in life and not just sit on the sidelines, your ability to work hard and learn from your successes and your failures, the affirmations and guidance you received from parents, teachers, and friends along the way, your own belief in your own capabilities. Also, whether you grew up in Boulder, transferred schools, or moved to this area from somewhere else. All these things have led you to this room. To the Diploma.

Some of you are excited, some are worried, some are overwhelmed, some are scared to death, and some are relieved to finally get to this level in high school. But make a firm commitment to believe in yourself and what you are capable of doing. Because you made it here. To this room.

So, this is your life. This is what you signed up for. What are some of the things you’ll experience in the process of doing the Diploma? And, what are some of the things that will help you be successful in it?

Right now you have your eyes on the prize… the coveted IB Diploma. But is it worth it to you to do what it will take to get you there? And do you have the right mindset to get you there? You need to want it, and you need to believe you can get there.

So what will you do when some days (or, many days) you won’t have the energy or confidence to do what’s expected of you? Your internal dialogue has a huge influence on whether you can do it or not. Some days you’re literally not going to “feel” it. You’ll have those conversations in your head, “It’s too hard.” “I can’t do this” “What was I thinking?” “Why even try?” “I’m not cut out for this. ”We need to talk to our Selves, instead of letting our Selves talk to us. Most of our unhappiness in life happens because we are still letting our Self talk negatively to us.

This Self of ours has got to be handled. Remind your Self of what you know, instead of allowing it to drag you down and handle you. This isn’t about blind faith and false pretenses. When you start to doubt yourself, think back to times you were able to succeed.

Have faith in yourself. It’s important that you keep telling yourself you can do it, even when you’re in doubt. When you start to doubt yourself, think about all the times you worked really hard and it paid off. And how good that felt.

Think about how you felt when you were told all about the requirements of the Extended Essay. What was some of the negative self-talk you experienced? What was some of the positive self-talk?

And, are you a person that goes through scenarios in your mind over something totally fictional that have no bearing on your real life? You blow something up and imagine the worst-case scenario? How you’ll fail this test and then fail the class and then not get the Diploma, not get into the college of your choice, not have a good career, and be a failure in life? The fear of being mediocre is a very real fear for many of you.

We all have baggage. What baggage are you carrying with you coming in to the Diploma program? Most of you learned that you’re not the only one struggling with baggage and negative self talk. But in order to reach the finish line, you’ll have to let some of it go. It will weigh you down and cause you to fail or to quit.

It’s also important to be in full acknowledgement of what you’re feeling. “I’m scared, but I’m still going through with this”, or, “I’m overwhelmed but I’m still going through with this.” The bad feelings will lose their power over you if you acknowledge how you’re feeling, and the negative feelings won’t sneak up on you and sabotage your efforts because you’re acknowledging them first. Putting it out there keeps you honest with yourself, while you also give yourself a pep talk. Stay the course, realize that you’re capable of what you have to do (because you made it to this room, didn’t you?), and eventually you’ll feel it was worth it.

There’s something about building community with your fellow students that completes the enjoyment. The process of getting the Diploma can be more gratifying if you’re not going it alone. Don’t just have your eye on the piece of paper at the end of your senior year. Know that there’s a wealth of value and learning in the process itself. There is much to look forward to right here, right now. Not just off in the future. It’s hard to believe, but this is going to pass quickly. So build friendships, help each other, support each other, be good to yourself, ask for help when you need it.

Things that feel impossible will become possible if you get support along the way. Some of you will struggle more than others. Some of you will sink into despair, some will be dismayed, and your stamina will be tested many times. But remind yourself that you’re not in this alone, and others are feeling like you are.

The teachers in the Program, also want to help you accomplish your goals in getting the Diploma. And although the value of the assignments and projects may be hard to understand at times, trust them to know this is the best way to get you there. You may not understand it now, but it will make more sense in the end. And everyone will take care of you if you trust, and if you ask for help along the way. So if your “boat” is taking on water and you’re sinking, please seek help, support. Many of you said that you had someone in the building that you could talk to. For the rest of you, I hope you’ll consider ME to be that someone.

And after you get to the other side, and you’re in college, you’ll look back and actually thank the program for what it taught you. Just like your life up to this point… There have been ups and downs all along, and they all led you to where you ended up, here, to a coveted place.

So, take small steps forward, keep your eye on the finish line, and let us help you on this journey. Today is not the day to quit. Maybe you will wonder about that again tomorrow, or at some other point down the line. Try to take it one day at a time, and every day you stay in the program, you’re one day closer to the finish line.

And remember. You are here. Right now. And what you’re going to think about and do once you leave this room is the rest of your high school experience. Get excited about that! You don’t need the Diploma to have a good rest of your life. But I do think that most of you would regret it if you didn’t at least go for it, and give it your best shot.

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Keep One Ear Out

Amanda. I learned so much from her about Imaginational Overexcitabilites during her four years in high school.

Amanda showed up in my office as a freshman with her jet black hair hanging in messy shards over her glasses. As the high school’s Gifted & Talented Coordinator I understood that something was drawing her into my office, I just didn’t know what. So I asked questions and I listened.


I learned, first of all, that her life was fueled by music. Loud music. Music that was heavy and deep. Music that resonated with the complex emotions of her feelings.

I also learned that she was a perfectionistic artist. Her pencil drawings could have come to life they were so real. I was awe struck. But her drawings were rarely good enough for her. The anime characters she created were more than art to her. When her friends weren’t there to hang out with, her anime characters would “come to life and walk with her to class.”

When Amanda first told me this I was both worried and fascinated. I explained Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities to her since I felt she was exhibiting them. But, knowing that mental illness can also affect someone’s reality, I consulted with a psychologist friend to determine whether or not I should be concerned about Amanda. The psychologist recommended I ask Amanda, “Do these anime characters ever tell you what to do?” I did and she responded, “Mrs. Bradley, they are a figment of my imagination, so no, they don’t tell me what to do. I am in control of them, not the other way around.” I was less concerned.

Amanda’s ability to lose herself in her imagination was her salvation, and ultimately her demise. She had been out of high school for a few years when she was walking to her job along the railroad tracks near her home, as she had been doing for months, and listening to music wearing noise cancellation headphones. She didn’t hear or see the train coming behind her. The headphones blocked out the blaring train whistle. And the train couldn’t stop.

If I had known how her life would end, what would I have said differently to her all those years ago? Have I learned anything from Amanda about Imaginational Overexcitabilities that will help me enlighten other gifted students about their own inventiveness in this area?

First of all, I will celebrate their remarkable abilities to utilize their incredible and creative imaginations. Then, I will caution them that while the temptation to live in an alternative universe of imagery and invention may be strong, not to lose themselves to the extent that they shut out reality entirely. Keep one ear out. Let’s keep our loved ones safe by cautioning them to be wary of becoming all-consumed in a world of fantasy.

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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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