Doing well in school vs. being smart
As I’ve written before, I wholly understand why parents would choose to home school their extremely intelligent children.
Unfortunately, by high school, students are bombarded with standardized tests that require test taking skills much more then deeper understandings. If you have a child who loves to read and has naturally good reading comprehension, some of the verbal tests will come naturally. In truth though, so much of these tests, like the SAT are about strategy and time management. The trend to have students labelled as learning disabled to receive more time on the tests is growing in leaps and bounds. All students would perform better if they did not need to look at the clock.
Another situation where real learning is reduced to test prep is the AP classes. Instead of taking fascinating topics and getting students excited about them, teachers are encouraged to teach only the topics that are on the exams. Often after the tests, teachers use the last month of school to introduce readings and ideas they feel are interesting and valuable.
As American colleges are becoming more internationally representative and American students are being encouraged to apply to a greater number of schools, the need to quantify a student’s ability becomes even more critical to the admissions process.
Parents and educators need to help students navigate this dichotomy between being smart and being a really good test taker. As most really smart students will tell you, test prep is boring. I believe highly capable teenagers are becoming discouraged by this system.
Last week I was poking around an antique store when a grandmother arrived with her four year old granddaughter. While the grandmother scanned the open shelves of highly breakable pieces of china, she chided her granddaughter each time she tried to touch something. It was nonstop negative reinforcement. I was frustrated at not finding the right words to explain to the grandmother that this lovely little child was interested in her surroundings AND had not been given any suitable activity to replace touching expensive antiques.
I approached the cash register a few steps behind them. To my amazement, the young man at the cashier had found the magic phrase to change the tone of the grandmother and the entire experience for the child. He simply praised the child for being interested! The grandmother’s entire disposition changed and the child seemed to lighted up too.
I complimented this young man on his quick thinking. He told me he hadn’t even realized what he had accomplished.
Anyway, it may be too obvious a point, but children who are encouraged to explore their environments and praised for it are better students and ultimately more successful. When adults set high standards for students they perform better and when low standards are set, students fail.
I know I am going to try to break the cycle of negative reinforcement whenever possible.
Can you have too many activities?
Each year when we reach the point when finals are around the corner and music school has juries and the school newspaper has a deadline and the orchestra has a performance to prepare for and summer programs have complicated applications due, I do feel like maybe my children are over booked. But, that thought is fleeting, because in reality, each of their extracurricular activities is wonderful and worthwhile. And, most importantly, chosen by my children.
If you have smart, interested children, you want to have an endless supply of interesting opportunities and then let them decide what feels right. Some perfectly capable students can’t stand practicing an instrument for the amount of time that true mastery takes, but this can only be determined if they are permitted to choose their instrument. Some students love sports, others just don’t see the point.
Something you can never have too much of is books. We use an online dealer for used books and belong to a number of libraries. We also subscribe to Atlantic, the New York, the Economist, Popular science, Smithsonian, and the New York Times, so there is always something to read around here.
Once we get through finals, we’ll be back to enjoying our children’s busy schedules!
Gifted students and suicide
Over the weekend, the New York Times posted an obituary for a young, computer genius. After two years of battling allegations of making too many academic papers accessible on the web, he seems to have given up on his life. He had enormous academic and financial success having attended Harvard and been one of the architects of RSS. I believe many young people within the techy world are mourning his loss.
At the beginning of the week, WNYC played an incredibly disturbing story of how young women are labelled sluts and ostracized on the web using popular social media sites. I am not a fan of social media sites. I believe teenagers make silly mistakes and for past generations these mistakes can be lived through because they can be forgotten. Today, if something is posted to a social media site, it usually can’t be erased. Professional expungers are making lots of money trying to clean up the online presence of high school and college students. I have been told, the best they can do is move embarrassing material to farther back in a google search.
Please think about what you allow your own children to participate in online and have these important conversations with them. We need to remind young people that there will come a brighter day.
The overly active mind
One of the most common character traits of gifted students is their inability to shut their brains off. This thirst for knowledge is endearing, unless of course, it’s 11pm and you are their parent!
Gifted students are often very visual thinkers and as their mind race so do images from the day. The best advice I received holds true for all children. Bed time should be at the same time each night and along with personal hygiene, should also include some relaxing rituals. Many parents read to their children before bed. Television and computer games are probably some of the worst activities to engage a child in before asking them to try to go to sleep.
For the adolescent with the over active mind, what works? So much of their homework and socialization occurs on the computer. Should we ban caffeine from the really smart kids?
Since gifted adolescents generally love to read, they should save a half hour before going to bed to read something for pleasure. Even good students worry about the ever increasing work load in high school. The never ending discussion of college applications during high school has taken most of the fun out of activities for teens.
I remember a wonderful relaxation class I took in college. In a dimly lit room we were told to think of a beautiful vista and let that image override our stressful thoughts. It worked for a few minutes!
Any good suggestions to help teenagers get to sleep?
Shouldn’t your smart student LOVE school?
This week marks the start of a new school year for many students and unfortunately I have heard from many parents and children how they dread tyranny of homework. Sadly, homework represents an arduous activity for many families. Gifted students probably hate homework more then average students. It does not give them a chance to shine or pursue a subject deeply. As one teenager told me, it keeps him from all the reading he wants to do. By high school motivated students want to get all their homework done. They would hate for their good grades to suffer just because they felt lazy.
In many so called “gifted” elementary schools, homework is piled on. Gifted programs really represent the students who’s parents are invested in their child’s education and will do anything to keep them up to speed. Often parents hire tutors to work on homework with their children. Tutoring centers have sprung up throughout the city. Do teachers realize how many of their students are getting outside coaching?
Why can’t homework be more focused? I guess I think more teachers should offer pretests that allow students to prove they know content and opt out of rote work for independent projects of their own choosing.
I only discovered recently that there is a campaign to reduce the amount of homework children receive. I recommend all parents attend PTA meetings and voice their concerns if their children are either spending hours a night or are visibly stressed by homework.
Also, help your students manage their time. The most busy students I know get their homework done in the least amount of time. It appears that the opportunity to pursue outside activities is a great motivator. Obviously, homework will take much more time if your child is constantly instant messaging their friends.
Lastly, a great book is The Organized Student by Donna Goldberg. It really focuses on helping students create conditions that are conducive to getting their work done.
Homework is just one aspect of a gifted student’s academic life that often feels like a bad fit.
When gifted students find their people
Gifted education experts frequently advocate for parents and teachers to help students gain access to the field that interests them. There are many reasons for this and many intentional and unintentional benefits.
When a smart student is permitted to pursue a topic of their own choosing, they will work much harder then if it is a topic imposed upon them. They will spend more time and effort on the final product. Ultimately, this may help the student find a major in college and a career that fits their abilities.
Outside of school, allowing students to pursue an area they love and finding opportunities for them to be with real experts can produce many positives. All too often, parents think their own children are advanced beyond their years, only for the child’s bubble to be burst when they are matched with equally capable peers. Gifted students need gifted peers and gifted teachers. When adults are not as well versed in a field the student becomes disheartened and that sometimes turns to surly.
Recently, I spent the weekend at the country’s leading theatre camp. For three weeks students come from around the world to study and produce a play at a professional level. What I saw was happy teens having real conversations with each other and eager to show their parents around.
Another teen I know is off sailing a schooner with 8 other high school students. His interest in the sea shows no limit and to be off on an adventure on a historic sailing ship is something he has dreamt about for six years.
In both of these situations, the students are finding friends EASILY! It is not always easy for truly gifted teens to find like minded peers. I believe that friendships made during adolescence are the most stabilizing force for gifted students. They sorely need to be with age mates who get where they are coming from.
I implore parents to sacrifice other parts of their lives to be able to afford to send their children to the best programs available. A happy teenager is much less likely to become involved in dangerous activities. And, as their parent, you will enjoy them more!
This week I have been reading the progress reports on many New York City public schools. One of the questions asked of students is whether teachers yell at students often in their school. Although I have yet to visit a New York City public school that does not allow staff members to raise their voices when they address groups of students, the person that created the questionnaire appears to be aiming for a better school atmosphere. Lunch ladies are notorious yellers!
What does this have to do with gifted students’ quality of life? Well, a great deal. Smart students don’t want to be screamed at. A certain percentage of highly gifted students have an intense sense of right and wrong and they feel personally responsible for their classes’ behavior. This Spring I met a delightful kindergartner in a citywide gifted program who broke into tears each time her class was yelled at for not walking through the hallways silently. I am not a fan of asking children to communicate well with each other and then expecting them to behave like they are in a high security prison. I think students will learn more about how to respect others and modulate their voices appropriately if given a chance to converse while waiting for their teachers on line, but that is side bar rant!
This week a teenager I know left his science program in great distress. The head of the program had gathered up all the students and yelled at them about their work ethic being an embarrassment. They were told that if they did not have perfect attendance in the coming year, they would be thrown out of the program. The teenager panicked when he thought about his other commitments during the school year. He would not be able to attend every Friday meeting. He’d have newspaper or a concert rehearsal a number of times in the Spring. He did not want to let this beloved director down, so he decided to quit before being asked to leave. This student happens to have a profoundly high iq and exceedingly high work standards for himself. His mother heard his news and was devastated. It had taken eleven years for him to finally be working side by side with phd level scientists. She tried to access whether the director was really directing her wrath at this particular student. At my insistence, the parent called the director and discovered that even if her son would have scheduling conflicts in the future, the director would not allow him to even consider leaving the program. She laughingly said, ” I will reject his resignation”. I truly believe that this is the personality of our greatest leaders for social justice. These are people who do not need peers to define what is right for them.
Another child I know called home from theatre camp after her first dress rehearsal crying that the director had told all the performers that she was very disappointed with them. The parent tried to access whether this criticism was really directed at her child. She assured her child that doing the best she could was all anyone could ask. At twelve, this girl is performing with professionals. The logic for a director to yell at her cast the day before a show is lost on me.
In each of these situations, highly capable students have intense feelings of guilt and responsibility for other’s actions. It is so important for parents to really know when their child is telling the truth. Parents should also be keenly aware of teacher’s punishment styles. If the whole class is paying the price for a few poorly behaved students, it can be very emotionally disturbing to a gifted student.
Sometimes, I do suggest parents consider applying their gifted child to smaller, kinder private schools in New York City. Rarely have I visited a private school where teachers are permitted to address behavior issues by screaming at or punishing their entire class. More often, children are treated as individuals.
Also, a child with an intense sense of right and wrong must start to be exposed to the truth that sometimes adults make mistakes. It is only through dialogue that we can help gifted students sort through the conflicting events that bombard them and help them to make good choices on their own.
I started this blog in response to finding quite a few parents of gifted children turning to home schooling to meet their child’s needs.
Now, I want to expand this blog to discuss all types of educational experiences for gifted students.
Last week I attended a wonderful lecture at Rockefeller University about increasing a child’s intelligence. Although the audience was a mostly affluent group and their questions were all geared to the private school world, the speaker was mostly concerned with lower income students not getting the same opportunities and hence scoring lower on intelligence tests. One of the factors that impedes students success is stress. This made me think about why I hate classrooms where teachers are mean. Many teachers yell. Many teachers threaten. I was recently a guest in a first grade gifted classroom where one little boy sat without a snack. When I questioned where his snack was, he told me he was too afraid to ask the teacher if he could get it out of his backpack. He had forgotten during the morning ritual of unpacking. Think of how much brighter his day would be if he was not AFRAID of his teacher??
I think structure and routine are necessary for young children. As parents we all know a regular bedtime and routine makes for an easier transition (and a child with better sleep patterns), but I also think gifted students need flexibility to become better problem solvers. It is too easy to create highly neurotic, rigid students. When there is a change in schedule, both parents and teachers should offer rational explanations.
This week is the start of the state wide standardized tests in New York. To my great disappointment, all gifted programs I had access to had weeks and weeks of test prep take over their regular curriculum. I think test prep is torture for a gifted student. I think schools should administer diagnostic tests, and design student specific tutoring for areas identified as challenging.
Lastly, there was a nightline story last Friday about all the tutoring that goes on for the OLSAT exam to obtain admissions into a gifted kindergarten program. All of this proves the test is not valid. The original intent of intelligence tests was to create a test you could not study for. The DOE seems unwilling to admit how unfair and biased this test has become.
On line classes: the good, the bad, the ugly!
I do think the internet does offer a wider world for all of us. I had high hopes for online classes. I must tell you, with my own children currently enrolled in a total of 4 classes, I am not as pleased with these programs as I had hoped.
The John’s Hopkins Center for Talented Youth has offered online classes for a number of years. Since a student has to test in order to qualify for the privilege to enroll in these very expensive classes, one would assume they are great. They are not. After applying, testing and paying for classes, we then discovered the fine print that described how most classes do not run well on Apple computers. What? CTY does not realize that most students use Apple computers. As it turns out, the classes appear to have been created a number of years ago. The Biology class has ancient graphics with a robotic voice. This is like an audio portion being added to a boring text book.
There are “instructors” that send you little emails in response to your quiz scores. This is not the “relationship” I expected. I now suspect that these on line classes are money makers for the Center for Talented Youth.
A more positive on line experience is being found on Thinkwell. There, for a fraction of the cost, students get lots of little videos of a perky math professor from Williams College. He is so charming that my students are captivated. Students can work at their own speed, take the quiz before the lecture if they think they already know the subject matter and get feedback on each question. I highly recommend thinkwell.
Lastly, the language programs available through Power Glide appear to be really good and inexpensive. Students can move at their own pace. Here, there are no instructors, real or imaginary. For more money, you can have teacher commentary. The material is so varied with games and videos about different cultures, that it probably would appeal to a wide group of students.
I am finding that my students need me to occasionally sit with them when they reach a point of frustration. They are then able to move on with the syllabus. Certainly these on line classes are an improvement over workbooks, but it is a field that needs more development.
While driving through the state of Pennsylvania, I heard an ad on the radio offering the state run on line school. It really sounded as though this is what they are advocating to meet the needs of the gifted student. It is a money saver for the state.
Tell me what classes your children have liked?