Monthly Archives: July 2012

Hunting for Gifts

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

Some gifted children are easier to identify than others. My middle child is a mathematically talented student. It’s hard to overlook a kindergartner who is multiplying and dividing double digit numbers without having ever been taught to do so. In contrast, my oldest son possesses gifted characteristics that were less obvious to me. He has emotional depth, a vivid imagination and an interest in doing things differently. He is highly creative. My son is smart, yes, but he is not an outlier in any particular academic area.

My gifted antenna failed to properly identify my oldest child because I didn’t know what I was looking for. To further complicate matters, he didn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate these characteristics in the classroom. In retrospect, I realize that I saw evidence of these gifted characteristics but failed to recognize them because I viewed his behavior through the prism of my own upbringing. In short, I was on a hunt for buried treasure with an incomplete map and poor vision.

Like most parents, my husband and I initially approached parenting with the assumption that we would raise our children largely the way we were raised. We both attended public school in the Midwest. While my education was not ideal, I attributed my success to my work ethic and internal drive. My husband felt that his success resulted from his desire to please his demanding parents. So, when my oldest son started daydreaming in class, we assumed that he lacked the drive and work ethic to succeed. We relied on his desire to please us and applied parental pressure. We said that we were going to “put the spurs on.” It was an unpleasant metaphor, but it wasn’t the worse thing I said. At a particularly frustrating moment, I called my son lazy.

It was at this point that we began to question our judgment and reevaluate our strategy for motivating our son. Bullying could not be the answer. Maybe something else was going on in the classroom. We decided to ask him.

My son told us that he retreated into his imagination when the teacher repeated information he already knew. He created a fantasy world with characters and a story line. Other times, he revisited characters from books he read. At one point, he told us that he didn’t read books, he lived in them. He even extended his creativity into mathematics. Once, he experimented with a new way of solving the problems on a math test. Unfortunately, his experiment failed miserably.

My son wasn’t lazy at all. He was building worlds, reliving old worlds and finding new ways to do things. He quietly disengaged as the class moved slowly through the curriculum—although, the teacher thought he was doing fine. Fortunately for him, he only needed to pay partial attention to do well in school. He was learning that that he could succeed while devoting minimal attention to his studies. This was not the work ethic we were hoping for in the classroom.

I learned later that my son’s disengagement was an early indication of underachievement. Every book that I consulted in later years made the same suggestions: address underachievement early with accommodations tailored to the student’s abilities. That is so much easier said than done. Our multiple attempts at advocacy would lead us from the classroom, to the principal’s office, to the Superintendent and then to the School Board. Ultimately, we succeeded, but that’s another story entirely.

When I think back on all of the preconceived notions we had about gifted children and success in the classroom, it’s a miracle that we discovered our son’s gifts. Somehow we found the humility to question our parental judgment, the courage to challenge his teacher’s expectations and the imagination to see what was invisible to us. But what we really needed was our 9-year-old son’s wisdom. Eventually, we discovered his gifts; we just needed gifts of our own to see them.

Have preconceptions of giftedness or success caused you or an educator to miss seeing something important in your child? Please share your experience in the comment section below.

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The Many Faces of Gifted: Megan

By Carole Rosner

Every gifted person has a unique story. The following story is part of a series of posts depicting the many faces of gifted by highlighting gifted children and adults we have found through IEA programs. IEA’s Apprenticeship Program – mentioned in this story – links gifted high school students from across the country with mentors who advance each participant’s skills through the application of knowledge and exposure to real world experiences.


Megan Prichard
IEA Apprentice at CNN in 2000
Consultant, McKinsey & Company, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Twelve years ago, Southern California teenager Megan Prichard spent two weeks of her summer break at CNN in Atlanta, Georgia. She wasn’t in Atlanta on vacation. She was taking part in the Institute for Educational Advancement’s Apprenticeship Program. Megan and seven other outstanding high school students were mentored by experienced CNN personnel in all areas of production, research, writing and editing of videos and on-line stories.

“I created a news clip for live air about an issue relevant to America’s youth,” Megan explained. Because of her experience at CNN, she was asked to create a piece about youth perspectives on politics during the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. “Being at the convention and interviewing political figures about how they would address the issues facing young people was a very empowering experience.”

Megan was interested in the Apprenticeship Program because it gave her a chance to have an internship at a well-known organization like CNN and offered her real world work experience at a young age.

“My Apprenticeship experience greatly expanded the way I thought about the world and my ability to shape it. I realized that, even despite my young age, I could make meaningful contributions on a national scale.”

After graduating from Yale with a degree in Economics, Megan joined a boutique consulting firm that advised large endowments, such as The Gates Foundation and World Wildlife Foundation, about how to donate philanthropic money to maximize social returns.

“In my spare time, I was very interested in entrepreneurship. That fall, I won Yale’s Y2K Business Plan Competition and received seed money to start my own company. After opening and closing, a social networking and city guide website designed to facilitate the moving process, I went to USC Law. While in law school, I worked with the Surfrider Foundation and a transactional law firm that focused on serving start-ups. My final year of USC Law, I wrote a dissertation about corporate governance standards in Brazil. Coincidentally, the professor who supervised the paper’s childhood best friend was a partner at McKinsey São Paulo. I met her while visiting Brazil to do interviews for the dissertation, and she convinced me to join McKinsey.”

Megan currently is an Associate with McKinsey & Company in São Paulo, Brazil. McKinsey is a global management consulting firm that acts as trusted advisers for the world’s leading businesses, governments, and institutions.

“As an Associate with McKinsey, I help clients in a wide variety of industries to solve their most complex business problems. Amongst other engagements, I have helped a heavy industrial client improve its manufacturing operations, created a growth strategy for a pharmaceutical distributor, and helped a client in the transport sector create a post-merger strategy and integrate its operations.”

Megan sums up her IEA Apprenticeship experience by saying, “It’s a great opportunity to challenge yourself and spend a summer learning from industry leaders.”

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Underachievement in Gifted Children

This post is a part of SENG’s National Parenting Gifted Children Week Blog Tour. We encourage you to browse the list of participating blogs to find more posts about parenting gifted children.

You learn that your child is gifted; maybe he or she even mastered up to 50% of the year’s curriculum before school begins (Ross, 1993) (Brulles, et al., 2010). So school should be easy, which means good grades, right? Not necessarily.

One of the greatest frustrations for parents is the assumption that giftedness means performing well in traditional school environments. Gifted children are not intrinsically motivated by good grades; they are more passionate about the acquisition of knowledge than performing rote tasks. This causes a problem when the school structure and grades rely on repetition and memorization.

With budget cuts, growing class sizes, and an emphasis on standardized test scores, it is difficult for educators to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of every student in the classroom. Often, it is the gifted students who are short-changed because they already know much of the material they need to demonstrate on high stakes tests.

Bored, unchallenged students are often a result. Many check out of the learning process, which can lead to underachievement and even academic failure.

Although there are many reasons gifted kids underachieve, the most common are

  • A mismatch between students and their classroom environment
  • Disinterest in content
  • Poor self-concept and fear of failure
  • Learning disabilities
  • Lack of self-regulation and study skills

It is important for underachievement to be spotted early, when possible, and addressed quickly. If your children think that learning and school require little to no effort, they may continue to slack off and may not ever learn to challenge themselves and work to their full potential in higher level thinking (Winner, 1996). If this is a problem your children encounter, it is important that you work with their school and challenge them whenever possible.

Start this process by finding out more. Why exactly is your child bored? A teacher will not be able to make the necessary accommodations without this knowledge. Is it because the class is struggling to understand division, to which several days of class have been devoted, but your child has perfectly understood division for six months and has nothing to do while the teacher continues to explain it? Approach the teacher with this specific challenge and ask for an accommodation to solve the problem.

"You don't have the moral right to hold one child back to make another child feel better." - Stephanie TolanWhen speaking with your child’s teacher, you may have to combat misunderstandings about giftedness and underachievement in gifted children. Be prepared. Bring support to show your child’s gifts (test scores, GATE qualification, assessments, etc.). Many parents also find it helpful to bring research and journal articles to meetings like this to support your concerns and give the teacher the opportunity to learn more. You can also provide the teacher with several potential solutions, including some form of acceleration.

Remember that a good relationship with your child’s teacher or a school administrator is crucial to receiving special accommodations, so do your best to show how this can be a mutually beneficial relationship. Approach the teacher in a positive manner. Acknowledge that the teacher is the expert in education, and you trust his or her expertise there. However, you are the expert on your child, and you can offer the teacher some suggestions on what will be positive or negative situations for your child. Once you’ve discussed the problems, you can try to reach agreements with the teacher on how to mitigate these challenges. Also explain to the teacher that you are available to discuss your child at any time. The better your communication is with the school, the more your child will benefit.

Outside of school, give your child an environment that encourages inquiry and critical thinking. Provide access to supplemental programs geared towards your child’s intellectual ability and pace of learning. The more opportunities you provide for your child to be challenged outside of school, the more you will emphasize that hard work does pay off, even if that isn’t being demonstrated in school. You should also help your child develop communication skills so that he or she can effectively communicate with you and teachers if school is not challenging or engaging enough.

Understanding, spotting, and addressing factors that lead to underachievement early can help your children learn to challenge themselves and work towards their full potential.

What has your experience been in addressing your child’s underachievement or unchallenging work at school? Please share your experiences with us in the comment section below!

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15 Strategies for Managing Your Gifted Child’s Intensities

Help your gifted child achieve balanceEverything that makes your children intellectually intense also makes them emotionally intense. These intensities can be difficult to manage as a parent. Once you understand what intensities are and where they come from, you can start implementing strategies to help your child manage these overexcitabilities.

There are many strategies to help your children manage their intensities. Most importantly, it is crucial to help your children achieve balance. Balance does not mean equal time spent. Gifted children do not need to spend equal time on each school subject or on sports and art, but they do need to be able to achieve balance among these activities. Balance can be achieved through exposure to and participation in a wide variety of school subjects, physical activities, and creative endeavors. Whatever helps them achieve balance among their complex intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs is beneficial.

Here are a few ways to help your child achieve balance and manage intensities:

  1. Encourage a mind-body connection. Yoga is excellent for this.
  2. Implement quiet reflection time for the whole family. Whatever name you need to give it for it to have a positive connotation, a “time-out” is a good thing for everyone in the family to be able to have.
  3. Encourage non-competitive physical activity.
  4. Always remember your child’s answer to the question: “What brings you joy?” Let that guide how you handle situations.
  5. Help your child practice visualizations. Spinning Inward by Maureen Murdock provides good visualization exercises, especially for young children.
  6. Teach and model meditation and relaxation techniques.
  7. Encourage a connection to nature.
  8. Seek opportunities for growth for your child in all areas of Self: intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical.
  9. Encourage your child to develop a range of interests outside of the academic sphere.
  10. Praise your child, but make sure it is specific and sincere. Gifted children can tell meaningless platitudes from sincere compliments, so make the praise as specific as possible. For example, when praising artwork, say things like, “I like the colors you used in that painting.”
  11. Talk about emotions with your child early to develop a common vocabulary. This will help communication when intensities become a problem.
  12. Help your child understand his or her own escalation scale. Know what pushes their buttons and what pushes yours. Gifted children often know very well how to frustrate you. Knowing what pushes your buttons will help you see it coming and be ready for it. Practicing and modeling such self-awareness helps your children, as well.
  13. Keep calm during emotional outbursts. I know this is easier said than done, but it is very important.
  14. When things get out of control, keep it about your child’s emotions, not yours. When the situation is over, you can walk away and reflect on your emotions.
  15. Plan ways for your family to relax, reflect, redirect, and retire.

Every child is different, so some of these strategies may work better than others for your child. These are just a starting place as you begin to understand what helps and what doesn’t.

Implementing some of these strategies to achieve balance and increase communication will help your child manage his or her intensities.

What strategies have best helped your children manage their intensities? Please share with us in the comment section below!

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The Jungle: Encouraging a Growth Mindset

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

When my oldest son was in 5th grade, he told me a story. He was in the jungle, swinging from vine to vine above a swamp infested with crocodiles. The teachers at his school placed the vines an appropriate distance apart, and he was successfully navigating the terrain. I, however, was moving the vines too far apart. He told me that if I kept moving these lifelines, he would fall into the waters below and be devoured by the crocodiles.

At the time he told me this story, I was pressuring him to put more effort into his schoolwork. He was daydreaming in class and making silly mistakes. He turned in papers with multiple misspellings, although he was a very good speller. He didn’t study for quizzes or even look through his text books when he had an open book test. According to the teachers, he was doing “fine.” I knew he was capable of more. If the teachers would not demand more from him, I would.

I “helped” him proofread his papers and check his spelling. I enrolled him in EPGY (Educational Program for Gifted Youth) for math. As he advanced through the program, he became increasingly upset. If he could not answer the questions, he cried. I insisted that he continue. I was making him miserable.

I realize now that his jungle metaphor illustrated a common problem for gifted students: he thought he was smart only if he could master a task easily. He viewed his intellectual ability as something static that he demonstrated by completing tasks quickly and with very little effort. By demanding that he push himself beyond his teachers’ expectations, I was threatening his status as a smart kid. How could he be smart if learning was hard?

My son had a fixed mindset. I learned this at a gifted learning conference in the Bay Area, where I heard Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, speak. According to Ms. Dweck, gifted students with a “fixed mindset” will see their intelligence as fixed at birth. Their goal is to demonstrate their intelligence. They do this by sticking to tasks they do well and avoiding challenges that might threaten their self-image. Since a “fixed mindset” limits their reach, the goal is to acquire a “growth mindset” in which students believe that intelligence can be developed and improved by working hard. Under the “growth mindset,” learning – rather than performance – is the ultimate goal. Failures are temporary setbacks giving the student a chance to learn.

My attempt at encouraging my son to perform at a higher level was clearly threatening his self-image as a smart kid. Luckily, we live near a school that excels at fostering the development of a growth mindset and serves gifted and talented students. We moved our son there in 6th grade. The school celebrates mistakes and focuses on the process of learning rather than the end product. I recall attending a Physics culmination where the students presented rollercoaster designs. Each student began his or her presentation with the many ways in which the initial design failed. For many of the students and parents, this was the most interesting part of the night. Math homework was often too difficult to complete, so the teacher would use class time to solve the problems and give credit for unsuccessful attempts. The right answer was worth one point out of many. The students received narrative evaluations, accompanied by rubrics, instead of grades, so they always had the opportunity to improve and knew where they should focus their efforts. An A+ no longer set the limit to their learning.

I stopped referring to my children as “smart.” They were hard workers and creative thinkers. They were risk takers. They repeatedly surprised me.

The biggest surprise for me is how this story ends. Next year, my son will be going to a university known for its intellectual rigor. He turned down an excellent school close to home in order to attend a school half way across the country for “true intellectuals who don’t mind working hard for their degrees.” At 17, he moved his own vines.

Have you encouraged a growth mindset in your child? What has your experience been? Please share in the comments section below!

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