Category Archives: Message from the Director

Message from the Director: New Normal, Unchanged Mission

Many who are reading this message will have finished their day as a first responder, an essential worker, or a dedicated teacher who is adjusting to online teaching while taking care of young children.  Your commitment to the health and well-being of your communities inspires us and we are grateful.   As we adjust to the new normal of life during a pandemic and alter our behaviors and attitudes to do our part to flatten the curve, we focus on what has not changed. This “Big Pause” cannot blunt the Belin-Blank Center’s dedication to the educators, students, and families we serve.  Nor has it altered our mission of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence.

For educators, most of our summer courses and workshops will proceed as intended; the only exceptions are that we have canceled the AP Teacher Training Institute, and everything else will be online, including the two weeks of Chautauqua.  Chautauqua instructors will use some of the time that would have allowed face-to-face time on campus, scheduling some time to meet via Zoom over the first two days of each class.

The situation is different for our summer 2020 pre-college student programming. Every day since mid-March, we have examined how we might conduct – or simulate – our summer 2020 programs for elementary, middle, and high school students.  After six weeks, we recognized that our commitment and enthusiasm could not overcome the fact that the best way to ensure the safety of hundreds of 2nd through 11th graders as they attend programs on the University of Iowa’s campus was to (a) defer most of our pre-college programs to the summer of 2021 and (b) turn our attention and energy to planning for this coming fall and next spring and summer.  This will be the first summer since 1988 that pre-college students will not be on the UI campus during the summer.  Nevertheless, we remain inspired by our past programming and look forward to the future.

We are working on exciting new possibilities for meeting the needs of bright students, their teachers, and their families during and after the pandemic, and we would appreciate your input.  You can share your thoughts and offer suggestions by filling out this brief survey:

 https://uiowa.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_2gdbgSRnrKXzaaV

The “Big Pause” has not only impacted the summer; it also affected our major spring events. Although we were able to enjoy the Iowa Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) and the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Celebration on the University of Iowa campus in March, the JSHS national event took place virtually, and the national Scholastic Art and Writing Awards celebration will be online, as well.   Young inventors taking part in Invent Iowa submitted their clever inventions online well before the advent of social distancing; however, the State Invention Convention occurred online (and is still available to browse), and so too will the national convention.

Physically, we were able to transition to remote work without too much difficulty.  The Belin-Blank Center’s faculty and staff are all good-natured and their humor has served the Center well during the Pause.  Thanks to the amazing technical skills of the faculty and staff (and a few six-feet-apart computer equipment drop-offs!), we are still meeting as often as ever – if not more – writing our reports and manuscripts, teaching, and always planning for the future.

Psychologically, we have been working assiduously to juggle our personal and professional lives during this time of uncertainty and unpredictability.  In my humble opinion, the “Big Pause” is bringing out the best in an already superb cast of Belin-Blank Center professionals.  Each of us has examined the challenges of remotely working from home.  We have also considered positives, which go well beyond wearing sweatpants or pajamas and having no commute. 

Personally, I find the main positive and the major challenge are the same.  This “Big Pause” has been an opportunity to accept with greater humility that uncertainty and unpredictability have always been in the background and are now in the foreground of our lives.  Uncertainty and unpredictability lead to new and different ways of living and working.  New and different does not mean more or less, or better or worse.  New and different are simply challenges and opportunities, and with humility we can accept their place in our lives.

We hope you and yours are staying safe and well, and we look forward to the day when we can welcome you back to the Belin-Blank Center.  In the meantime, we strive to nurture potential and inspire excellence apart, together.

Message from the Director: At the Edge of Knowledge, What do Students Need?

The needs of gifted students come from their strengths, not their deficits. 

I’m paraphrasing, slightly, what Executive Director of Western Kentucky’s Center for Gifted Studies, Professor Julia Link Roberts, expressed last month during Denver University’s annual Gifted Education Conference.  This simple yet elegant statement captures the essence of the Belin-Blank Center’s model for serving gifted and talented students from grade 2 through college.  Our strength-based model features various systems for discovering domain-specific talent and then developing that talent.  A strength-based model is synonymous with talent development.

Although highly effective, there is one critical group of educators who neither implement nor advocate for a strength-based model in which talents are developed.  The group is comprised of the vast majority of faculty in colleges of education across the country; the same individuals who prepare future teachers and counselors.  

This was the situation decades ago when I was preparing to be a science teacher, and it remains true today.  For example, students with strengths in science reasoning need to be able to do what scientists do – create hypotheses, conduct research, experience success…and fail, and start all over again. It’s the rare science classroom where students with strengths in scientific reasoning have regular opportunities to experience “science” during the school day.  The same is true for individuals with talent in mathematics. 

To some extent, the lack of emphasis on talent development in schools explains the popularity of university-based summer programs among parents and students.  Every summer, tens of thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students across the country take advantage of myriad programs and courses that build on their strengths and nurture the development of their talent.  The Belin-Blank Center’s programs are among these. Our students explore their interests and stretch their intellectual muscles in the Blank Summer Institute, the Perry Research Scholars Institute, the Secondary Student Training Program, Summer Art  Residency,  and Summer Writing Residency and find respite from the lack of challenge during the school year.

Educators who participate in the Belin-Blank Center’s summer professional development can observe talented pre-college students in programming that is uniquely strength-based and talent-development focused.  Our hope is that by observing a strength-based classroom, educators will see the importance of taking this model into their own classrooms during the academic year.  This is one of the most critical lessons from their professional development experience because for every student who attends a summer program in a university setting, there are several others who are equally talented but don’t have this opportunity.

Education doesn’t have to be strengths vs. deficit.  In fact, every program we offer, including outreach programming such as the STEM Excellence program, now in its sixth year of implementation in nine rural schools across Iowa, is an excellent example of a thriving strength-based program that aims to develop the math and science talents of middle-school students.

Our work in twice-exceptionality offers additional evidence that understanding a student’s strengths is as important as understanding their challenges.  Individuals with a diagnosed disability or disorder face challenges (deficits) that can – and must – be addressed. However, this should be done in alignment with developing their strengths.

The strength-based approach is the essence of our collaborative twice-exceptional research agenda with our Iowa Neuroscience Institute partners. This work uses an unprecedented amount of data from our Assessment and Counseling Clinic to better understand the relationship between high ability and challenges in learning, social-emotional development, or behavior. Indeed, understanding the role of cognitive strengths within the context of learning and social-emotional difficulties is a critical aspect of the research we are conducting.  It is only with a sample of twice-exceptional individuals, who have both intellectual strengths and cognitive challenges, that each of these can be controlled for, allowing researchers to examine their effects both independently and combined.

We are looking forward to bringing together researchers, clinicians, educators, and parents to learn about the research on twice-exceptionality at the Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality this July. We invite you to join us in discussing new, unprecedented studies of twice-exceptionality, the future of research in this field, and the possibilities available for collaboration among institutions, gifted education organizations, and talent development centers in order to advance our understanding of this unique population and their strengths and challenges.

The needs of gifted students – and the professionals who are involved in their education – come from strengths not deficits.  Yet, for the foreseeable future, deficit models in education will likely dominate our thinking – and funding.  I recommend that we “lean into” the current deficit model and use it as a platform to reveal the many advantages to including a strength-based approach in gifted education and talent development.  We will continue to share our perspective and research findings, and we hope to see you at one of our events or programs soon.

Message from the Director: Visions for 2020

“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.”  

-Jonathan Swift

With the year 2020 staring us in the face and ushering in a new decade, it’s hard to resist “vision” metaphors.  I’ve always appreciated this quote by Jonathan Swift; in fact, we featured it during the January 2004 opening of the Blank Honors Center, where the Belin-Blank Center is housed.  In retrospect, this quote was a great choice for the occasion, because it characterizes the optimism and collective energy that the Belin-Blank Center’s staff pour into our work for bright students and their teachers. Over the past 16 years, we have enjoyed this wonderful space and created many engaging opportunities, always looking toward the goal of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence. 

Looking forward, opportunities in 2020 abound! Indeed, there is no better time than the shortest days of winter to envision the long, warm days of summer 2020 and the classes being planned for students and teachers. We are pleased to let you know that applications for our student summer programs are now open!

In our planning, we aspire to be as responsive as possible to the needs of our program participants.  For example, for several years, we’ve offered University of Iowa credit to high school students enrolled in the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) and the Scholastic Art and Writing Residencies.  New in 2020, we will offer 1 semester hour of University of Iowa undergraduate credit to students attending the Perry Research Scholars Institute (PRSI).

2020 brings additional changes to our elementary and middle school student programming. Two of our previous programs, Blast and the Junior Scholars Institute, have joined forces to create a new commuter program for 2nd – 8th graders, called the Junior Scholars Academy (JSA)! Through JSA, the full complement of coursework offered in the two former programs will be available to students who live within commuting distance to the Blank Honors Center (on the University of Iowa campus).

Our high school programs have always been residential because that aspect is a very important component of the whole-student experience.  We will maintain a residential component for 7th and 8th graders through the Blank Summer Institute (BSI).  BSI, a signature program for junior high school students, was the original Belin-Blank Center student program.  Co-founders Myron and Jacqueline Blank had phenomenal vision; they saw what was invisible to others, which is that junior high is a critical time for students to have enriching and engaging learning experiences in order to be successful in school.

Educators will also have a new opportunity this summer. In addition to the Chautauqua series, professionals will be able to participate in our inaugural Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality, co-hosted by the Belin-Blank Center and our Iowa Neuroscience Institute colleagues.

A proper December message requires mention of New Year’s resolutions, which are usually intended to help us improve in some way.  Making a resolution requires vision.  Take a peek at our many opportunities available for students and educators seeking improvement through engagement and challenge, especially during the long days of summer when school is not in session.  Such experiences are life-changing and profound in ways often invisible to others. We hope to see you next summer!

May this season of gratitude and giving usher in a bright new year and a decade of promise and inspiration.

Message from the Director: Welcome Home!

Our June newsletter coincides with the start of six weeks of amazing energy and enthusiasm for our myriad pre-college and professional development programs.

Our elementary (Blast) and junior high students (Junior Scholars Institute, Blank Scholars Institute) will be challenged in their areas of interest and strength, digging into an advanced course during the day, all while having fun with other bright kids who share their level of interest and ability. Junior high and high school students also get to experience life on a college campus, living in the residence halls and hanging out with new friends at cultural and recreational activities in the evenings.

Our high school students will experience life-changing opportunities for personal and academic growth. Our summer programs include a behind-the-scenes look at research careers and the ways and places we discover new knowledge on many different topics (Perry Research Scholars Institute); an intensive, highly selective, STEM research experience (Secondary Student Training Program); and art and writing residencies (Summer Art Residency, Summer Writing Residency) here at the University of Iowa, one of the premier arts campuses in the US, also home to the famed Iowa Writers Workshop.

This summer, educators will be making progress toward their TAG endorsements, maintaining their license requirements, or pursuing career advancement through a variety of online and on-site courses and workshops or Iowa Licensure Renewal Units. We will also have the pleasure of spending time with many who join us on campus! Some will be here for the Chautauqua program, which carries the benefit of enabling educators to earn half the credits they need for a TAG endorsement in just two weeks! Others will become qualified to teach Advanced Placement (AP) courses, increasing the number of subject acceleration opportunities for gifted students across the country, at our AP Teacher Training Institute.  Still others have been admitted to the prestigious Belin-Blank Fellowship, which aims to help teachers new to gifted education understand the qualities and needs of gifted individuals so they can better teach and develop the potential of those students.

This month, “welcome” is the most often-used word in my vocabulary, as I meet dozens of students and educators new to the Center.  I greet returning students, families, and educators with a warm “welcome home!” Expressing both of these words — welcome and home — sparked my curiosity about the etymology of each.  That curiosity, in turn, led to a few reflections about the next six weeks of summer programming.

“Welcome” comes from the Old English, wilcuma, “a wished for guest.”  Indeed, we absolutely wish for individuals to join us in our programs. We spend months preparing for them to ensure that they will have an engaging and energizing experience.  We know that for many participants their time on the UI campus in a Belin-Blank Center program offers a pivotal, often life-changing, experience.  We never tire of hearing these stories, and now that we are entering our 31st year of programming, we have heard from people who had that experience 10, 20, or 30 years ago! 

We also “welcome home” past participants and use the word “home” with great warmth.   As a noun, home, comes from the Old English, ham, and implies a “dwelling place.”  That is exactly how we want everyone who attends our programs to feel.  We want them to know that we have created a place that inspires them to reach beyond their current level of performance, where they can inspire others to extend their reach, and assure them that professors, residence advisors, and Center staff are dedicated to their well-being and happiness.   Attaining that goal is an indicator that we truly have welcomed our newest participants and welcomed home those who have returned. 

Here’s to the start of a great summer that concludes in late July!  We would love to welcome you at two very special events at the conclusion of the summer program. 

Even if you can’t join us in person this summer, be sure to connect with us by following along on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our blog. However, if you are joining us this summer, welcome home!

Message from the Director: Springtime Renewal Extends to Gifted Education through Javits Grants

Conducting research focused on gifted education and talent development is central to our mission. The Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute, featuring A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students (2015), is a prime example of how gifted education research assists educators and policy makers in better understanding and developing the talents of bright students. While gifted education research has had many advocates, there were perhaps none whose reach has extended quite as far as Jacob K. Javits.

Q: Who was Jacob K. Javits and what does he have to do with gifted education?

A: In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed the only federal legislation for gifted and talented education. It was named in recognition of its primary advocate, Jacob K. Javits, a long-serving Congressman (R-NY, 1947-1954) and Senator (R-NY, 1957-1981). As the National Associated for Gifted Children explains, the “purpose of the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act is to orchestrate a coordinated program of scientifically based research, demonstration projects, innovative strategies, and similar activities that build and enhance the ability of elementary and secondary schools to meet the special education needs of gifted and talented students.” Javits grants typically focus on students who are traditionally underrepresented in gifted and talented programs, and the Javits Act provides opportunities to better understand best practices in gifted education.

Q: How does the Javits Act fit into current federal legislation for education?

A: Federal legislation for education has existed for more than 50 years (first passed in 1965 as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, ESEA; currently known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, ESSA). Ten years later, special education programs became mandatory with the 1975 passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (re-authorized and re-named the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA, in 1990). The original IDEA legislation was an essential mandate to ensure that every student had the right to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. IDEA protects society’s most vulnerable individuals, which is essential to any society.

Q:  What does ESSA or IDEA have to do with gifted students?

A: Importantly, when the 1990 IDEA was re-authorized in 2004, there was – for the first time – recognition that gifted and talented children may also have diagnosed disabilities or disorders. These students are referred to as “twice-exceptional.” Shortly thereafter, when the 2005 request for proposals for Javits Grants was issued, the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Department of Education submitted a proposal to further investigate a specific group of underrepresented students, those who are twice-exceptional. That proposal was funded, thus launching our work in the area of twice-exceptionality and significantly impacting the field.

Q:  Has the Belin-Blank Center been awarded other Javits grants? 

A: Yes! We were awarded a second Javits grant in the late 1990s to investigate gifted and talented students attending alternative schools. Most recently (2017), the Belin-Blank Center and the UI College of Education were awarded a third Javits grant to explore the effects of a talent development model along with a career intervention program on underrepresented gifted students.

Q:  How much funding is available from the Javits Act?

A:  The short answer is, “not that much.” This is a true statement in absolute terms, as well as relative to other education initiatives. Since 1988, annual funding has varied from $5 million to $12 million, which is about 1 to 2 cents for every $100 spent on education. In 2013, no funding was available and in 2011 and 2012, there were no new awards presented. It is important to know that, even at the modest levels at which monies are allocated, Congress must reauthorize funding for the Javits Act each year.

Every year, the Javits funding is tenuous. However, the impact of Javits awards on participating students, teachers, and schools is far from tenuous. We have experienced the positive impact first hand.

In addition to the Javits demonstration and scale-up grants awarded to states, there is periodic funding for a national gifted and talented center. The original Javits legislation funding in 1988 resulted in the establishment of the National Research Center on Gifted and Talented ([NRC/GT]; 1990-2013), housed on the University of Connecticut campus.  After the funding was re-established in 2013, the National Center for Research on Gifted Education (NCRGE), also on the University of Connecticut campus, was established. Current Javits funding supports the NCRGE, which offers a prolific research agenda. Most recently, researchers presented an impressive study investigating the (mis)alignment of identification for gifted programming and the content of the programming. This NCRGE research project, in addition to three other relevant projects, was reviewed in a recent Education Week article, “4 Ways Schools Help or Hinder Gifted Students,” by Sarah D. Sparks.

There is no shortage of excellent research in the field of gifted education, and we are grateful that the Javits Act has advanced the field in significant ways over the past 31 years. We are also grateful that we have had a role in that advancement. We look forward to continuing to contribute to a broad research agenda and collaborating with teachers to improve programming for gifted students.

Hope springs eternal for continued funding to support this important research!

Message from the Director: Moving the Needle Beyond the Status Quo

For nearly 30 years, my spring semester has begun with the Identification of Giftedness class.  I enjoy the students, the topic, and the opportunity to stay current on the advancements in the broad field of gifted education.  One example of advancement includes the gradual paradigm shift from the generally gifted individual to include a new paradigm of talent development, in which specific talent domains are recognized and developed along a trajectory of novice to excellence and even eminence. A second advancement involves the recognition of twice-exceptionality — that is, high cognitive ability along with a learning disorder or social impairment, such as an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), that impedes realization of the full academic potential of an individual.  Yet, despite advancements over several decades, both the process for identification of students and the programs for delivery of curriculum and services remain largely the same. How do we move the needle beyond the status quo?  An initial step is increasing awareness of the issues. In this first message of 2019, I will review three issues and recommend an approach.  

Issue #1 Defining Giftedness:  Nearly every textbook addresses this very broad topic first, as do I, probably because we have to arrive at the very critical point that giftedness is a social construct and as such, it defies definition.  True, many educators will label students as gifted, but giftedness is not a “state of being” despite the fact that there is a label. We cannot measure talent or giftedness, but we can measure aspects of cognitive development that are associated with giftedness, including verbal reasoning, nonverbal reasoning, processing of information, and short-term memory.  We can also measure aptitude or potential in specific domains of talent such as math, reading, music, and sports, to name just a few.  As well, we can affirm that there are students in every classroom and in every school who, as described in the current federal definition of giftedness:

“give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.”

In class, after we finish the section on the definition vs. non-definition, we move immediately into the areas that relate to the “evidence,” of high achievement, intelligence, creativity, etc. I always start with intelligence – another social construct — and more specifically, cognitive ability, because in most schools the gifted program for elementary students is based on identifying students with high cognitive ability and high achievement.  It is with the words “evidence” and “high,” which imply measurement and comparison or judgment, where we have controversy in the field.  Sometimes that controversy is quiet and simmers just below a surface of collegial cordiality. Other times, vociferous arguments threaten to divide the field.

Issue #2 Use of Tests to Identify Students: One significant area of controversy relates to testing and the use of the tests – intelligence tests in particular – for determining eligibility for programs.  In fact, the words “intelligence,” giftedness,” and “genius,” which are each a social construct, are inextricably intertwined and have been for a century, since Lewis Terman, developer of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, launched in 1921 a longitudinal study that would be published over many decades and volumes.  The first of five volumes of Genetic Studies of Genius appeared in 1926 and the last, by Terman and M.H. Oden, Genetic Studies of Genius: Vol. V.  The Gifted Group at Mid-Life was published in 1959.

But let’s take a step back to the early 1900s when French psychologists Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon completed a commissioned scale, called the Binet-Simon Scales, to help educators differentiate among individuals who needed specialized interventions to be successful in schools.  Shortly thereafter, Lewis Terman, a psychologist at Stanford University, adopted and revised the Binet-Simon Scales for use in the U.S. as the Stanford-Binet Scales. In just a few short years, Terman and his student-turned-colleague, Maud Merrill, co-developed subsequent revisions of the Stanford-Binet.  Around the same time, Leta S. Hollingworth, who reportedly never met Terman, although they shared mutual respect for each other’s work, was conducting her own studies of individuals who achieved exceptional scores on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test.  Hollingworth focused on using the information from the test to develop educational strategies for her students.

Terman is sometimes considered the “father” of gifted education and Hollingworth the “mother.” I prefer to think of them as early pioneers in the field. More important than a moniker signifying their contributions to the origin of a field is the observation that these two pioneers diverged with respect to their basic assumptions, specifically with respect to heritability of intelligence.  Hollingworth recognized that heritability is a factor in cognitive ability; however, she was more interested in the environment and educational needs of individuals with extraordinary intelligence as measured by intelligence tests.  Terman’s focus on genetics, made obvious by the title of his five-volume oeuvre, coupled with some very early-career and philosophical decisions — in particular the unacceptable and offensive promotion of eugenics — has resulted in vilification and consideration that anything related to Terman or his work should be censured. 

Issue #3 Is there a contemporary application of lessons from decades past? Historians, educators, and psychologists have written extensively about Terman’s work, especially as it relates to testing and gifted education.  A 2019 publication in Gifted Child Quarterly, v. 63, 5-21by Russell Warne offers an extremely thoughtful perspective on this question.  The title of Warne’s article, “An Evaluation (and Vindication?) of Lewis Terman: What the Father of Gifted Education Can Teach the 21stCentury,” hints at his comprehensive discussion of the criticisms underlying recent condemnations and offers helpful recommendations for today’s researchers and practitioners.

Recommendations to move the needle from the status quo? A relatively simple change is to broaden our conceptualization of the issues.  Understanding the needs of the “generally gifted” as revealed by an intelligence test should include talent development.  There also must be recognition that cognitive development is often uneven, which is an aspect of twice-exceptionality.  Another change is to be intentional in considering criticisms of Terman and his work. I am particularly sensitive to the valid condemnation that relates to Terman’s early-career promotion of the eugenics movement (he later dissociated from this movement).   There is NO equivocation on my part; any connection to eugenics is NEITHER appropriate NOR desirable.   

Taking advantage of 21st-Century scientific advancements, however, is crucial; the collaborative efforts between the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute includes both a neuroimaging and a genomics component.  As we progress in our nascent Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality research project, we recognize the importance of carefully analyzing our data prior to postulating a particular stance.  Furthermore, we affirm that both the neuroimaging and genetic components of our project are designed to integrate basic science and education. 

The Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality is a big research project, and we are thrilled to announce that we have received a Provost Investment Fund award to develop a better understanding of the neural and genetic mechanisms underlying twice exceptionality. Until now, we have used a singular psychoeducational perspective to prove the concept in educational and clinical settings.  Using a multifocal approach that combines multiple disciplines including psychology, education, genetics, and neuroimaging will help us understand the paradox of twice-exceptionality.  We just might move the status quo needle a little. 

Message from the Director: Reflecting and Looking Ahead

The closing days of the last months of the calendar, along with the waning daylight hours of each day, correspond to the concluding efforts of the fall semester and offer a chance for reflection.  Our efforts led to amazing results in programs and services in 2018.

Belin-Blank Center Staff
Belin-Blank Center Staff

Our annual board meeting and 30th anniversary celebration concluded in October and my message in the previous issue offered an abridged review. 

Belin-Blank Center Advisory Board
Belin-Blank Center Advisory Board

A few weeks after the wonderful 30th anniversary celebration, nearly all of the Belin-Blank Center staff and faculty, along with several graduate students, attended the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Conference in Minneapolis. Over a two and ½-day period, there were 15 different presentations by Center staff and faculty.  Dr. Megan Foley-Nicpon delivered a keynote presentation on twice-exceptionality to a standing-room-only audience of more than 500!  Several other presentations also were standing-room-only, with many conference attendees gathered outside the filled rooms, which seated more than 100 people.  Grounded in the excellence of the Center’s research, service, and programs, we covered professional development of teachers and counselors; twice-exceptionality, including assistive technology for twice-exceptionality, and neuroscience of twice-exceptionality; arts and writing; STEM Excellence; and academic acceleration.  Every single attendee received a hot-off-the-press copy of the new publication, Developing Academic Acceleration Policies:  Whole Grade, Early Entrance, & Single Subject, written by Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, Wendy Behrens, and Susan Assouline, in collaboration with NAGC and CEC-TAG.

Susan Assouline, Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik & Wendy Behrens at NAGC
Susan Assouline, Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik & Wendy Behrens at NAGC

The fall 2018 conference season ended with multiple presentations at the Tennessee State Conference (Dr. Foley-Nicpon) and the Indiana State Conference (Drs. Croft and Assouline).  It is safe to say that between the national and state conferences, including the Iowa Talented and Gifted (ITAG) conference, Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff affected thousands of educators, which harkens back to our mission of empowering the worldwide gifted community.

What is in store for next year? Our programs, services, and research will continue to grow and evolve while we strive to empower the worldwide gifted community.  We will sharpen our focus on the broad and very serious issue of lack of diversity in gifted programs by providing greater emphasis on serving students who are not traditionally identified for programming, whether that be due to cultural, ethnic, economic, gender, or neurodiversity. Stay tuned for updates.

On behalf of my colleagues at the Center, I wish you a good holiday, a happy end to 2018, and a great start to 2019. May it be bright!

Message From the Director: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase VI (2013-2018)

This six-part retrospective has been an opportunity for me to reflect not only on the three-decade history of the Belin-Blank Center, but also on my own professional trajectory in the field of gifted education and talent development, which spans the same time frame. Although no educator can pinpoint the exact date when his or her professional career began (was it during student teaching, when you had the class to yourself for the first time; when you signed your first contract; when you tested – by yourself – your first student; or when your defended your dissertation and the committee members refer to you as Dr.?), there is always a period in which you can look back and say that the journey was finally underway.

For me, that was 1988.  With a newly minted University of Iowa PhD in hand, I headed east to Johns Hopkins University to start my post-doctoral fellowship with Professor Julian Stanley.  Just a few weeks before I left Iowa City, the Iowa State Board of Regents had recognized the establishment of the Connie Belin National Center for Gifted Education.  Today’s readers know that the Belin Center was renamed the Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development.   The expansion of the name (1995) also reflected the expansion of the Center’s services and programs.

In 1990, I applied, and was hired, for the Center’s very first professional position.  I happily joined the small group (one director, one secretary, and a few graduate students) in 1990.  I have been invested in the work of the Center ever since, becoming the Center’s director in December 2012, just as Phase VI commenced.

BBC Staff 1997

The years 2013-2018 were phenomenally productive, the reason being entirely because the Center has a collaborative team of professionals who administer the programs and provide the services.  Every program has been elevated during the past five years and there are many new programs that have started.

Belin-Blank staff 6/2018

Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff

Our oldest programming, for teachers, introduced the Chautauqua Series during the past few summers, infusing a strong sense of community among educators.  Summer student programs now include the Perry Research Scholars Institute for 8th – 10th graders and the Summer Art and Writing Residency Programs for 9th – 11th graders.

The Perry Research Scholars Institute was made possible through an endowment from the Perry Family.  A generous endowment from Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan and her husband, Patrick Scanlan, made possible the Bucksbaum Early Entrance Program that allows selected high school students to skip the last two years of high schools and begin the university as early as 10th grade.

A significant Talent Development Grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation established the STEM Excellence and Leadership Program, an after-school STEM enrichment program, in ten rural districts in Iowa.  The results from that program led to the funding from the National Science Foundation for a deeper investigation of the informal learning environment provided by this program.  The NSF grant was followed by a Javits grant that will allow us to increase the numbers of underrepresented students who are identified for gifted programming and implement a career exploration intervention.

Wallace_Group3.jpgAmong all the growth in programming, we also hosted two Wallace Symposia (2014 and 2018).  The 2014 Symposium was co-hosted with the National Association For Gifted Children in Washington DC and the 2018 was co-hosted with Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins Universities in Baltimore, MD.  We updated A Nation Deceived with a new two-volume publication A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students and developed an online, above-level test for 4th – 6th graders, which can be used in schools and thus allow teachers to benefit from the information available through above-level testing.  We also established a collaboration with the Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI) to further our work with twice-exceptionality.

We celebrated three decades, and especially the past five years of inspiring potential and nurturing excellence, with an open house showcasing our innovative programs and featuring a special presentation by two Iowa Neuroscience Institute (INI) colleagues, Dr. Ted Abel, director of the INI, and Dr. Jake Michaelson, director of the UI Spark site.  The collaboration with INI will greatly enhance our work with twice-exceptionality.

The past five years are a testament to the collaborative spirit exemplified by the staff.  The growth over three decades, from a small group of professionals to a fully- functioning center has been phenomenal.

Hear our story in this special commemorative video.

Director’s Message: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase V (2008-2013)

It’s August and the start of a new school year in the Northern Hemisphere.  As I’ve written before, new beginnings are both energizing and daunting.  The first 20 years of the Belin-Blank Center resulted in several programs, services, and events that brought us to this point.  Much has happened; yet, there is more to do.

This sentiment captures the state of the Center as we entered Phase V (2008 – 2013) of our 30-year anniversary retrospective.

Not every year has a theme, but 2008 did, and The Time is Now seemed perfect as we marked our 20th anniversary.  All of our programs were mature and strong and we were able to add new opportunities, services, and student programs.

In 2008, we hosted the 9th Wallace Research Symposium.  It was extra special that year because we brought in 79 international educators from 44 countries Originally, we believed that we were bringing international educators to the University of Iowa to enhance their experience.  We quickly learned that, although they were very enthusiastic about the opportunity, it was we who benefitted the most through the increased diversity and the broadening of our perspectives.  To this day, we have maintained our connections with these international educators, having most recently visited with a few during the August 2018 European Council for High Ability Conference in Dublin, Ireland.

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A few months later, we welcomed our first group of China Scholars, which expanded a few years later to include students from Hong Kong.  From 2008 – 2017, we welcomed multiple cohorts of high school students from China or Hong Kong, several of whom eventually attended and graduated from the University of Iowa.

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The year 2008 also brought devastating floods to Iowa, and the UI campus, in particular, where more than $1 billion dollars in damages were sustained.  Still, the Center – indeed, the entire university — continued to serve students and educators and to strengthen our research agenda throughout this trying time.

The early part of Phase V, saw additional resources added to the Acceleration Institute, which features two seminal reports on academic acceleration (A Nation Deceived and its follow-up report, A Nation Empowered) , access to the Iowa Acceleration Scale (published in 2009) and a free download of Guidelines for Establishing Academic Acceleration Policies (also published in 2009).  Both publications are scheduled for an update in 2019.

Our student programs took on a new dimension in 2011, when we were invited to be the administrative home for the Junior Science Humanities Symposium (JSHS) and the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP).  In particular, SSTP would become the model for future summer residential pre-college programs that include  UI credit-bearing courses.

In 2012, we co-hosted, with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), a special summit related to policy on academic acceleration.  This was such a successful event that it precipitated additional co-hosting of events. Specifically, we have since co-hosted the Wallace Symposium with NAGC (2014) and with Johns Hopkins and Vanderbilt University (2018).

The final years of Phase V were important transition years with the Center’s founding director, Dr. Nicholas Colangelo, retiring in mid-December 2012.  I was honored to become the second director of the Belin-Blank Center and to continue to build our programs and services with the superb team of professionals who comprise the Center.

Belin-Blank Center Advisory Board Dinner 10/25/2012

Phase VI, the final chapter in this 30-year retrospective, is characterized by additional growth, as always, built upon the foundation established by philanthropists and co-founders, Myron and Jacqueline Blank and David and Connie Belin, and enhanced through the Center’s amazing staff and faculty. Stay tuned for our October newsletter, where I am pleased to be sharing all the recent work we have been doing to move into the next 30 years of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence in talented students.

Message From the Director: How Did We Get From 1988-2018? Phase IV (2003-2008)

Phase IV of this retrospective collection of director’s messages began a mere 15 years ago – halfway into the 30 years we are commemorating – yet the closer we get to “now” the more nostalgic I feel.  This is especially true as I reflect upon this five-year period.

The Belin-Blank Center has always been a part of the College of Education, but our home is in a building named in honor of Myron and Jacqueline Blank, who provided the lead gift for the building.  We had a wonderful ribbon-cutting ceremony in the fall of 2003 and moved into the Blank Honors Center on one of the coldest days in January of 2004.

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It was joy to have Myron Blank participate in this important milestone. Indeed, we honor our founding families each day through our programs and service for young students and their educators.

What an eventful year 2004 was!  In addition to the move into a brand new building, we published the watershed report, A Nation Deceived:  How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, which Time magazine launched with a major story about academic acceleration as the most effective but least used academic intervention.

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The momentum from 2004 resulted in the next several years being similarly active.  However, one of those years, 2005, was also a year of significant loss.  Myron Blank passed away in early 2005.  He and Jacqueline left an indelible imprint on gifted  education through their generosity and vision.

A few months later, Julian Stanley, founder of the Talent Search Model, passed away.  At the 2018 Wallace Research Symposium, we honored Professor Stanley’s legacy.  You can learn more about Dr. Stanley’s seven-decade career and the impact on the center and around the world by watching the video created for the occasion.

The Phase IV years, 2003-2008, flew by with special events for students and teachers.

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By 2008, we were well on our way to Phases V and VI.

Message from the Director: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase III (1998-2003)

The inspirational view of the UI campus from my sixth floor office window lends itself to reflecting on the past while concentrating on the important events scheduled over the next two months.

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Back in spring 1998, we would have been ensconced in preparations for Invent Iowa, one of the Center’s major spring events.

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Young Iowans are still inventing and this year’s convention featured innovations from students across the state.

Then, we were also making preparations for our very first Advisory Board Meeting.

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Now, we are focused on the Center’s 30th anniversary, which we will celebrate during the 2018 Annual Advisory Board Meeting.  (We will have more about commemorating 30 years over the next couple of newsletter messages.)

In 1998, we hosted our 4th Wallace Research Symposium; today, we are counting down the days to the 2018 Symposium at the end of this month.  The 2018 Wallace Symposium honors the legacy of Julian C. Stanley, founder of the Talent Search Model and promises to be an amazing opportunity for all who will be able to participate.  Thanks to an agreement with the University of Iowa’s Division of Continuing Education, we will be video-taping all of the plenary sessions so that we can create a course that will be available to current and future educators.

Other highlights of our Phase III time period included welcoming the first class of our early entrance-to-university program, now the Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy, along with the development and launch of the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA).

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Then, and now, Professional Development is at the core of our programming.  Having grown from just a few courses focused on teacher training in the very early days, to a full-blown professional development program that includes the State of Iowa Talented and Gifted Endorsement and coursework available online, makes our programming accessible around the world.

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The summer of 2003 would be the last summer that we conducted professional development programming or student programming outside of the Blank Honors Center.  Indeed, the year 2003 culminated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the late fall and we moved in to our new home in January 2004.

Our industrious summer program participants created a mural for the protective wall at the Blank Honors Center building site.

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We presented a photo of the mural to Myron Blank, one of our founders, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

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Stay tuned for Phase IV in June!

Message From the Director: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018? Phase II (1993-1998)

I find it uncanny how the latter half (1993-1998) of the center’s first decade forecast the present.  In 1993, we hosted the 2nd H. B. & Jocelyn Wallace Research Symposium, which foretold the 12th Wallace Research Symposium.  By 1993, the Wallace Symposium was established as the premier research conference in gifted education and talent development.  The 2018 Wallace Symposium will be co-hosted by the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and Vanderbilt University Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth.  The specialized topic for the 12th symposium is honoring the legacy of Julian Stanley, founder of the Talent Search Model.  Indeed, it was my training as a postdoctoral scholar with Dr. Stanley that gave me a psychoeducational foundation for bringing the Talent Search Model to the Belin-Blank Center and securing the early funding that allowed us to experiment with applying the Talent Search Model to elementary students.

By 1993, the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS) was in full operation.   The Talent Search Model is one of the most effective systems for discovering students who have high academic potential.  Primarily implemented outside of the school setting, the Belin-Blank Center has pioneered the application of the above-level testing model in schools through our online, above-level test, I-Excel.  These pioneering efforts — over 25 years — have demonstrated that we can broaden the talent pool and serve greater numbers of students who otherwise might not be identified for specialized programming.

The first annual Recognition Ceremony was hosted in 1993.  This ceremony does what it says:  recognizes students and their teacher for outstanding accomplishments earned through Belin-Blank Center programming.  Since the first ceremony, we have invited students to nominate a teacher who had the greatest influence on them.  This is always one of the most meaningful opportunities for students to show their appreciation to their teachers.

Fast-forwarding through the years 1994 – 1998 allows us a glimpse at the following highlights:

  • In 1994, we established the Iowa Talent Project, which was developed to find very talented under-represented students as early as grade 7 and support their academic development through graduation from the University of Iowa. This program continued for two decades.
  • In 1995, the Center’s name officially changed from the Connie Belin National Center for Gifted Education to the Connie Belin and Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. This new name recognized the generosity of Myron and Jacqueline N. Blank and their enduring friendship with co-founders David and Connie Belin, reflected our growing international connections, and expanded our focus by including talent development.
  • 1996 was a year in which we continued to develop our educator and student programs. We also prepared for the hosting of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children Conference, which occurred in August of 1997 in Seattle, WA.
  • Finally, 1998 gave us the 3rd Wallace Research Symposium as well as the beginning stages of planning for the Belin-Blank Center’s National Advisory Board and the National Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering (which would become the Bucksbaum Academy in 2016).

Stay tuned for Phase III in April!

Message From the Director: How Did We Get From 1988 to 2018?

Quite simply, with a lot of dedication and commitment from our generous founders and benefactors, much effort and commitment to excellence from our staff, and belief and trust in the mission – empowering the worldwide gifted community – from students, educators, and families we serve.   Simple but not easy.

In a few days, we will flip over the calendar page from December 2017 to January 2018 and will usher in not only 2018, but the beginning of a yearlong celebration of 30 years of nurturing potential and inspiring excellence at the Belin-Blank Center!  That symbolic flip of the page, especially during the month of December, evokes both nostalgia as we reflect upon the growth of the Center over three decades and wistfulness when we think about what’s coming up in the immediate and how that will shape the next few decades.

For the next year, each director’s message will include an installment of Belin-Blank Center past and a glimpse of Belin-Blank Center present and future.

The early years of the Belin-Blank Center’s past reveal that professional development has always been at the heart of the Center’s programming.  Starting with 17 teachers from Des Moines and West Des Moines, and pre-dating the founding of the Center, the professional development programs have grown to include dozens of courses, workshops, and webinars.  The courses and workshops offer educators the necessary experiences to earn the State of Iowa Endorsement in Gifted Education.

Educators are the heart of the Center and students are our soul.   The programs for students continue to evolve from the first program in 1988, which we hosted for middle-school students.  New opportunities for students in grades 3 – 11 abound.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into Belin-Blank past, and on behalf of the all of the Belin-Blank Center faculty, staff, and students, I wish you a very happy and healthy 2018!

Message from the Director: Fear Gives Way to Admiration, Inspiration, and Gratitude

Fear. My first meeting with David Belin and Myron and Jacqueline Blank occurred nearly 30 years ago, but the memory of that primal emotion remains strong today. Of course, fear is a product of the unknown and, to my knowledge, I had never met a millionaire, let alone a millionaire whose generosity was to lead directly to what would become my life’s work and passion.

The moment I met Myron and Jacqueline Blank, along with their friend and Belin-Blank Center co-founder, David Belin (Belin’s wife, Connie, had been deceased for about a decade), my fear immediately was replaced by admiration. I appreciated their gracious and genuine attention to me and the center’s staff—and their belief in our mission of empowering and serving gifted and talented students, as well as their teachers and families.

The Blanks and Belins were philanthropists who recognized what we could do with their generosity and trusted us to be innovative and groundbreaking, and they conveyed their gratitude for our efforts. Their visionary gift, which created the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, freed us from the constraints of convention, a hallmark of education, and inspired us to develop a trailblazing model for service and program delivery for talented students and their teachers. These innovations led to additional gifts from the original founding families and their descendants—as well as new gifts from other equally generous and gracious philanthropists.

Throughout the past three decades, the Belin-Blank Center has been growing programs and services for students and teachers. Iowans are at the core of our programming, but we serve students from around the country and the world. We’ve been competitive in our efforts for foundation, state, and federal grants, which were made possible because of those initial gifts. The Blank Honors Center never would have been built, and the Belin-Blank Center would not exist, without that initial philanthropy.

I acknowledge our founders every day. Now deceased, their generosity lives on; their gifts to this campus have impacted tens of thousands of young people and their teachers, and they will continue to do so for decades to come. That’s the power of philanthropy. Fear is a useless emotion, but gratitude, manifested through stewardship of the philanthropy, is powerful and can change the world, one student and one teacher at a time.

This story appeared in slightly different form in The Daily Iowan as part of their Voices of Philanthropy Series. Other installments of the series include a piece about philanthropy’s impact on one student, a student philanthropist’s point of view, and how crucial philanthropy is to Hancher Auditorium.

To help support the Belin-Blank Center, please visit our website.

Message from the Director: The Lifelong Process of Becoming

What do you want to be when you grow up?

This was the question asked of my granddaughter on her first day of kindergarten (firefighter and teacher were her responses).  Likely most of us have considered this question at various points throughout our lives.   I certainly have.

Although I have been an educator for four decades (1977-2017), I am grateful that the years have not jaded me.  Each first day of a new school year offers a sense of wonder, anticipation, and optimism, perhaps because I recognize that it is not really about what my granddaughter – or any student or colleague — will be when they grow up; rather, it is about the lifelong process of becoming.   With a new kindergartner in the family, I thought that it would be appropriate to share with you my wishes for her as she engages in the process of becoming. I wish that she would:

  • Find challenge in learning both in and out of school. Learners, and those who teach them, know that challenge represents the optimal learning environment.  There is just enough prior knowledge to build upon in acquiring new knowledge.  The appropriately challenged learner is neither bored nor frustrated, but rather empowered to seek new knowledge and develop further the sense of curiosity with which we are all born.
  • Build resilience to become an empowered learner. Without ever having set foot in a formal school setting, my granddaughter confidently states that her favorite subjects are math, science, and reading. If she wants to be a firefighter and a teacher, those are good subjects to master; however, she will need to recognize that there will be favorite subjects and those that are not favorites.  As well, there will be good days and days that are not as good.  The latter are important so that she can bounce back to enjoy the good days and revel in great days!
  • Develop leadership skills so that she can experience a meaningful life and make a positive impact on society. Sure, that is a tall order for a kindergartner, but it is an important aspect of learning and becoming.  When she enters her fifth decade of a profession, whether it be teaching and/or firefighting or a profession yet unknown, I hope that she will be able to look back and see how her leadership contributed positively to society.
  • Hone a sense of humility so that she will always approach the multitude of opportunities and gifts already bestowed upon her with gratitude, as well as develop an awareness that others do not always have these same opportunities or abilities.

My granddaughter started her formal education this week just as I was commencing my 5th decade as an educator.  I have never lost that sense of excitement on the first day of a new school year, and I hope she – and all of us – never lose it.  Keeping in mind the ideas of challenge, resilience, leadership, and humility may help her – and each of us –in the process of becoming.  Have a great year!

Message from the Director: Summertime is Talent Development Time

Welcome to the Belin-Blank Center’s 29th summer of programs for teachers and students!  While in the midst of serving hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school students, we will deliver TAG courses and workshops to teachers, evaluate clients in the Assessment and Counseling Clinic, and prepare for 2017-2018 fall and spring opportunities.  Dozens of short-term faculty and staff, including program coordinators, teaching assistants, instructors, and residential advisors, assist our permanent staff members in accomplishing our goals for Summer on the Brain.  While many students come from Iowa, we will also welcome students from 28 other states, plus Canada, Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Turkey!

Saying good-bye at the end of each program is always difficult.  However, everyone can stay connected to the Belin-Blank Center through our newsletter and The Window, a new podcast hosted by Director Emeritus, Dr. Nicholas Colangelo.  As described in the article published in The Gazette, The Window aims to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the listeners and break new ground in our thinking about talent development and our educational systems vis-à-vis the talent development process.

Speaking of talent development, we are thrilled to share that the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has introduced a new grant program, the Rural Talent Initiative, and the Belin-Blank Center is one of the six grantees.  In 2014, the Center received a $500,000 Talent Development Award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for its STEM Excellence and Literacy (SEAL) program for students in grades 5 to 7.  It will use its new grant to expand the program to students in grades 8 and 9 in the 10 rural Iowa school districts currently implementing SEAL. More than 1,000 students and their teachers in these districts will receive direct benefits over a two-year period due to this grant.

One thing we’ve found in nearly thirty years of summer programs is that there is always more to learn.  Even on the sleepiest summer days, students of all ages are at the Center learning exciting new things!

Message From the Director: Expression As A High Calling

“To learn to express is probably as high a calling as one can do; because as one expresses, one can bring people together and that’s the great challenge of all of us.”

Interim Director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art and Former U.S Representative James Leach (R-IA)

Indeed. Mr. Leach’s words, shared on March 11th at the Belin-Blank Center’s annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Ceremony, ring true for the Center’s administrators whether they’re creating programs for students or teachers, or hosting special events such as the Scholastic Awards Ceremony, the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, or Invent Iowa. Striving to meet that challenge of “expression” on both a personal and professional level is not only a component of our special events; it is also an important aspect of the Center’s day-to-day operation.  Building community by bringing together talented learners is the common thread in the upcoming summer opportunities.  The programming goals for student and instructor are to attain a higher level of expression relative to the content of the class and the experience of being part of a community of like-minded learners.

In a previous post, I expressed my philosophy concerning transformational leadership and indicated that one of the most important roles we can serve as professionals is to give voice to those who are not in a position to express their voices or have their voices heard.  Two recent articles in peer-reviewed journals represent our efforts to give voice to talented students who are at risk due to economic vulnerability or twice-exceptionality.

The first article, “The effects of a social and talent development intervention for high ability youth with social skill difficulties,” authored by Associate Professor Megan Foley Nicpon and colleagues and published in the High Ability Studies (2017), present the findings of an intervention study with twice-exceptional students (high ability with social skill difficulties).  The social skills intervention itself, video modeling, is quite progressive in terms of interventions.  In addition, the intervention was conducted in a “naturalistic” setting, i.e., during a Belin-Blank Center two-week summer program, which is oriented towards students’ talent development.  Researchers found positive changes in several of the measured variables, including friendship companionship and security. The students in the social skills group, who experienced the video-modeling intervention, increased their willingness to seek help within their friendships compared to the non-intervention comparison group.  To our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate this group intervention with twice-exceptional students, and the preliminary findings support continuing to offer the intervention during our summer programs.

The second article, “Closing the excellence gap: Investigation of an expanded talent search model for student selection into an extracurricular STEM program in rural middle schools,” authored by Susan Assouline, Lori Ihrig, and Duhita Mahatmya and published in Gifted Child Quarterly (2017), reported on an expansion of the traditional Talent Search Model.  The expansion effectively broadened the talent pool of high-achieving students from the typical 3-to-5% to 13%.  The students participated in an extracurricular STEM program that was designed to increase the aspirations and achievements of high-potential students attending under-resourced rural schools.

An op-ed that I co-authored with Harold O. Levy, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, highlighted the importance of providing these types of educational opportunities for rural students. One sentence in the op-ed captures the intersection of expression and voice:

The education gap dividing Americans by income and location is not just profoundly unfair, but a tremendous waste of talent. It means that we fail to benefit from the brainpower of millions of young people who could grow up to be doctors, scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, teachers and fill other important roles. We simply can’t afford this unfairness.

For 29 years, the administrative team at the Belin-Blank Center has worked to develop the talents of students and their teachers.  We strive to form a community of like-minded individuals and close gaps due to disability or economic vulnerability.  It’s all possible when we aren’t afraid to speak up.

Transformational Leadership Matters: One Student, One Teacher at a Time

Individuals in leadership positions, especially those who aspire to transformational leadership, bear much responsibility in their professional and personal lives.  Indeed, to a certain extent, this responsibility transcends the boundaries of personal or professional life.  Entire volumes about leadership exist; however, daily actions require a shorthand for the guiding principles around transformational leadership.  Here are five words that serve as my guiding principles for transformational leadership in the field of gifted and talented education: voice, doors, affirmation, trust, tension.

Voice:  First, we must give voice to those who – for whatever reason – cannot speak for themselves or who are not in a position to have their voices heard.   For example, the psychologist who assesses a child and determines the child has both exceptional intellectual ability and an autism spectrum disorder gives voice to that child through the psychoeducational report and the associated recommendations.  The teachers and counselors who enact those recommendations also give voice to that child.

Above-level testing through the talent search process gives voice to individual children who are high achievers as well as groups of high achieving students.   Having information about a child can be the key to opportunity.

Researchers who seek to better understand the talent development process and the role of education in ensuring the development of talent give voice to professionals and colleagues through their research findings.  The voice is strongest when research is used to develop policy.  This is the only way to promote transformation in education.

Doors:  Professionals, parents, and volunteers have the capacity to open doors.  This capacity is greater than they may think, and the rewards are far-reaching.  New opportunities are a sign of affirmation and trust, and it is our responsibility to find doors for students and colleagues.

Affirmation:  Leadership implies that there is one person who is “leading.”  That has not been my experience.  You cannot lead if you do not have a team of people with whom to collaborate.  Every action of each team member, no matter how small, requires support from the team.

Trust:  Affirmation and trust go hand in hand.  Among the many synonyms for trust are reliance and confidence.  A member of the team has to know that the leader has confidence in the individual and collective creativity of the team.  Likewise, the team members should know that the leader relies on them to put forth their strongest effort.

Tension:  Finally, any action that aims to transform will require effort and energy, which automatically means that there is some level of tension involved.  Effort involves  stress, output, and strength.  One of the most important jobs of a leader is keeping in mind the tensions associated with giving voice, opening doors, offering affirmation, and demonstrating trust.

Leadership means asking challenging questions of others and ourselves.  Who gives voice to your students? Who opens the doors for them?  Do your students know that you trust that they can meet a challenge?  These questions correspond to one of the most pressing issues in our field: finding students with academic talent – especially those who are vulnerable due to disability, culture, or economics – and keeping them engaged in the talent development process.

I hope that you enjoy the current issue of our newsletter, where you will learn about the many ways the Belin-Blank Center staff are opening doors and giving voice to students and educators.

Excerpted from remarks made on February 8, 2017, as part of the Denver University Transformation Leadership Gifted Education Conference.   Professor Norma Lu Hafenstein, Daniel L. Ritchie Endowed Chair in Gifted Education, led the panel that included Dr. Del Siegle, Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews, and Ms. Jacquelin Medina.  In addition to responding to the question asking panelists to interpret the phrase, “transformational leadership matters,” we also responded to a question about the most pressing issues in our field today. 

Message From the Director: It’s Cold Outside

The radio and The Weather Channel are constant reminders that “It’s cold outside.”  However, my colleagues and I are warm inside the Blank Honors Center thanks in large part to the work of the Center conducted on behalf of the students, educators, and families we serve.

The cold weather in Iowa coincides with the end of the calendar year, when it’s typical to reflect upon the previous 12 months.  The dedication of the Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff resulted in several new initiatives, including a board report.  See the colorful and informative 2014-2016 report for a full accounting of the initiatives.

As an added bonus, online readers of the report can meet 12 of the members of the Belin-Blank Center administrative staff through an individual 1-2-minute presentation.  Go to page 14 of the report and click on an administrator’s name to view their video.

Planning for 2017 was also a major aspect of 2016.  This next calendar year will feature several new endeavors in addition to ongoing services and opportunities for students and educators.  Here’s a peek at what we’ve been up to:

  • Extending our reach through a series of podcasts hosted by Belin-Blank Center Director Emeritus Nicholas Colangelo. The first episode of The Window, a podcast about talent development that asks the unanswered questions, will be released in mid-spring.  Keep an eye on our social media for more details.
  • New programming for pre-college students: thanks to generous funding from the Perry Foundation, we established the Perry Research Scholars Institute, a two-week summer program for students in grade eight through ten.
  • Our research agenda continues to grow, and we will be reporting on major findings over the next year.
  • We’re in the midst of creating a new design for our main website.  Look for a cleaner, easier-to-use Belin-Blank Center website in early 2017.
  • We recently opened registration for our 2017 summer programs.

My best wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy 2017, and happy holidays from all of us at the Belin-Blank Center.

Message from the Director: Words Matter

Words matter. No, it’s not the current political discourse that prompts this understated opening to my message; rather the publicity around a recent presentation here on the University of Iowa campus by a newly-minted sociologist invited to guest lecture for a seminar on inequality.

The publicity promoted the following topics: “the nature-nurture debate, social inequality in gifted education programs and experiences of the — so called — gifted students.”

Ironically, the presenter claimed to “not challenge the concept of giftedness in general”; rather, to “disprove key ideas of gifted education scholars…[and] discuss the theoretical frameworks which [sic] question the social category of giftedness.”

The two words that concern me most are “so-called.” Unfortunately, I could not attend this seminar due to a conflict, i.e., work.  Nevertheless, I felt it important to contribute to the dialogue, even if not in that particular forum, because, as a “gifted education scholar,” my work, and that of dozens of colleagues, is being targeted.  I have three points:

First, qualifying the term “gifted” implicitly judges individuals who, through no fault of their own, have academic and social-emotional needs that are not typically met in the regular classroom.  The psychological concept of individual differences forms the theoretical foundation underlying the vast range of research and programs for gifted students.  The Belin-Blank Center is but one of several gifted education centers that address research and programming for gifted students as well as professional development for their teachers.  Formative evaluation of these programs (not judgment) is ongoing and necessary for program improvement.  All university-based centers engage in this evaluation.  Research conducted throughout the world is available in peer-reviewed journals and supports these efforts.

Second, professionals and parents who advocate for gifted students should always search for ways to eliminate geographic and psychological barriers.  Ironically, the very students who are likely to be overlooked for needed accommodations are the ones who would most likely be disadvantaged if the concept of giftedness were questioned and associated programming were eliminated.

Third, discourse around these topics, especially social inequality and conceptualization of giftedness, are welcome and necessary – especially with professionals outside of the fields of education and psychology.  However, honest inquiry is difficult when conclusions have been predetermined and fundamental respect for the needs of the individual are ignored.

Those two words created ire; however, they also forced me to reevaluate my own values.  I concluded that the Center’s commitment to programs and services for gifted and talented students and their educators is unwavering. Therefore, we will continue to look for ways to address the needs of our most vulnerable students (e.g., economically vulnerable or twice-exceptional students).  Furthermore, we always will champion the interventions that promote the development of talent in students and their teachers.   Because how else can we “nurture potential and inspire excellence” so that we make this world a better place?

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Message from the Director: Who Are the Gatekeepers for Talent Development?

That was the question roaming through my thoughts with each opening and closing session of our summer pre-college student programs.  For the nearly 1,000 students who attended one or more of our summer programs, each opening session exudes anticipation as the staff and faculty describe the amazing classes and opportunities awaiting the students.  The closings are similarly fulfilling, yet also different, because students, faculty, and summer program staff have spent an intensive week engaged in learning.  The closing sessions are bursting with energy as the students, teachers, and residential staff share their week-long experiences with each other as well as with parents.  The bonds that are formed during the student programs in the summer are unique.  One of the high school students captured the sentiment:

THANK YOU! I have spent 6 of the last 8 summers at Belin-Blank camps and I am so going to miss them. Thank you for all the opportunities, friends, and experiences you have provided me with. I will forever treasure these summers. Thanks again for everything. I love your programs and what you do here.

I never tire of the thrill of being part of a team of professionals that open the talent development gates to young, highly capable students eagerly seeking ways to develop their talents. I also can’t help but wonder about the bright students whose families and schools don’t know about programs like this and thus miss out on the “opportunities, friends, and experiences … [to] forever treasure.”  How can we make programming accessible to them?  Who are the gatekeepers for these students?

Similarly rewarding is the annual experience of opening the talent development gates to educators pursuing professional development.  Over the summer, 183 teachers enrolled in 249 credit hours.  The Center’s concluding on-campus professional development opportunity, the Belin-Blank Advanced Leadership Institute (B-BALI), was truly an opportunity for all attendees to reflect on their role as gatekeepers for talent development in their respective schools, districts, and states.

B-BALI featured expert presentations by several of the A Nation Empowered authors and all of four of the editors (S. Assouline, N. Colangelo, J. VanTassel-Baska, & A. Lupkowski-Shoplik).  Professor Emerita Joyce VanTassel-Baska’s final keynote presentation, “The Individual and Societal Value of Acceleration:  Research, Practice, and Policy,” was as engaging as it was comprehensive.  Professor VanTassel-Baska wove the three strands of the title into an elegant finale that referred to Julian Stanley’s Talent Search Model as the genesis for the various types of accelerative practices that should be available to high-potential students who are ready to learn more advanced material at a faster pace and at a younger age than typically-developing students.

As Professor VanTassel-Baska’s keynote concluded, I realized that the question about gate-keepers really needs to be not “who are the gatekeepers,” but rather, “Are you a gatekeeper for talent development?”  This is a perfect question for the beginning of a new school year.  Educators, now is your chance to open those talent development gates for your students and to support them walking through the gates to the myriad opportunities for developing their talents.

Although developing the talents of our young people is a lifelong journey, the starting point – the gateway activity – for many who are talented in academics starts with participating in the Belin-Blank Exceptional Student Talent Search (BESTS).  BESTS incorporates the Talent Search Model.  As models go, the Talent Search Model is elegant in its simplicity.  BESTS is a system of above-level testing that produces results designed to inform high-potential students and their parents and teachers how much acceleration and enrichment students need.

Despite its potency, the Talent Search Model is not widely used in schools.  There are multiple reasons for this, not the least of which is that traditionally the process occurred outside of the school setting.  Although this is still true for 7th – 9th graders, the Belin-Blank Center is expanding the model for 4th – 6th graders.  Now, teachers and parents of high-potential 4th – 6th graders can access  above-level testing through BESTS in their schools, which we call BESTS In-School.

Educators, especially the teachers of 4th – 6th graders in gifted and talented programs, can become the champions of talent development by opening the gates through appropriate acceleration and enrichment opportunities in subject-specific areas (math, science, English/language arts).  It can start with BESTS In-School.

We hope this year is the year that educators and parents will partner with us to open the gates and support high-potential students though this robust model of talent development and/or through one of the myriad opportunities offered by the Belin-Blank Center.

Message From the Director: Keeping Time

These two words capture the perennial essence of the Belin-Blank Center’s buzz during the summer weeks and months.  Like a world-renowned orchestra, we’ve been rehearsing our opening number for months.  Like a world-renowned orchestra, we have multiple sections (programs for educators, pre-college students, clinic and assessment services, and research).  And, like a world-renowned orchestra, our professionals are extremely talented artists (administrators) who are trained on a variety of instruments. They are poised and ready to strike the first note as soon as the conductor raises the baton.

Why does the “music” of Belin-Blank Center programming sound so rich and fulfilling?  Because we’ve learned to keep time.  We’ve learned how to balance the benefits of exact timing with the nuances of human expression.   The end result is a polished performance that sounds comfortingly familiar, yet offers a new approach through creatively applying a new tempo, a new instrument, or a new combination of notes.

I hope that educators, parents, and students will experience first-hand the joy of the music we make each summer (and throughout the year!).  If you can’t experience the Belin-Blank Center’s summer in person, tune in to our blog, Twitter feed (@belinblank), or check out photos on our website.  Read our newsletter to stay informed about our newest compositions.

At the end of July, the music softens and the tempo slows, but we never completely stop.  We pause just long enough to take a breath, re-tune our instruments and get ready for our fall performance.

Message from the Director: What’s Wrong With Being Confident?

An appealing refrain plus a catchy tune find their way into our heads and often stick.  This is exactly what happened to me during a recent Zumba class when the refrain, “What’s wrong with being confident” from Demi Lovato’s song “Confident” started. During Zumba, my thoughts are typically absorbed with upcoming Belin-Blank Center programs or events, the director’s message, or a research project.  These thoughts often flit from one to the next and back and forth like a moth in a room with lights on opposite sides of the space.  It’s no big surprise that these simple words, with the subtle, yet profound message, infiltrated my mind.

First I thought about two special events hosted in March.  The month started with the highly successful, Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS), at which 13 high school students confidently presented their research findings to an audience of nearly 200 teachers and students from around Iowa and 5 were selected to attend the National JSHS.  We finished March with the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Recognition Ceremony, where Gold Key, Silver Key, and Honorable Mentions from Iowa were recognized for their creativity.

How wonderful to meet these young, talented, creative, and confident students and – for both programs — to have the support from the national offices of these long-running, prestigious recognition programs.

Everything that we do at the Belin-Blank Center is designed to nurture potential and inspire excellence and thereby support the development of self-confidence. We live up to our tagline through well-established programs and service as well as through new, innovative programming:

“Confidence” is a longish song, one reason it’s good for a Zumba warm up!  My thoughts jumped to a current research project, based upon previous Belin-Blank Center research findings that investigated the differences in the attributions boys make for success in math or science compared to girls.

The answer to the research question “What attributions do gifted boys and girls make for success – and failure—in math and science?” was juxtaposed with Lovato’s words and appealing tune: “What’s wrong with being confident?”

The respondents in the study were asked to choose among ability, effort, luck, or task difficulty as attributions for success and failure. Ability and effort were overwhelmingly the two categories selected (these two attributional choices accounted for 75% or more of the responses for success in math or science). However, the two choices with the highest percentages for ability for both math and science varied significantly for boys and girls: 44% of the boys chose ability as their reason for their success in math and 42.5% made the same choice for their success in science. The next highest choice for boys was effort, 32% and 37%, respectively. Girls’ choices, however, varied significantly from boys: 26% of girls chose ability as the attribution for their success in math and 23% chose ability as their attribution for success in science. Nearly twice as many girls (50%) chose effort as their attribution for success in math and more than twice as many (55%) chose effort as their attribution for success in science.

Attributional research is but one facet of the complex topic known broadly as motivation, an area that is extremely important to our understanding of patterns that could impact, positively or negatively, the performance of students. Attribution theory represents a well-researched cognitive model. However, despite its relevance to our understanding of gifted students, attributional research specifically investigating the beliefs that gifted students have for their academic successes and failures has not been thoroughly researched.  Results from the study mentioned above are much more extensive than reported here; however, they are the foundation for a new investigation of attributional choice regarding success and failure from a current generation of students.

For educators and psychologists to be effective in designing curricular or counseling interventions, it is important to know an individual’s motivational mindset. It is also important for society to recognize these mindsets. As we concluded a decade ago, “We see potential negatives for girls [or boys] who do not accurately recognize their academic abilities. They may be more tentative about undertaking challenges or putting themselves in competitive situations” (Assouline et al., 2006, p. 293).

These findings, along with our new research, lead back to the question: What’s wrong with being confident?

Message from the Director: What’s in a Name?

Everything!

A new baby enters the world and one of the first things we want to know is the name. Not surprisingly, there are entire websites devoted to the meaning of a name. Being a namesake is nothing short of a very big deal!

Therefore, it is no wonder that the Iowa Board of Regents was required to vote on approving the naming of the Belin-Blank Center’s Early Entrance Academy. At the February 24-25, 2016, Board of Regents meeting, we received approval for the naming of the Martin and Melva Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics.

Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan

Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan

As I shared with you in December, Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan and her husband, Patrick Scanlan, have pledged $10 million dollars to the Belin-Blank Center to create the Bucksbaum Academy, which is named after Mary’s parents, Melva and Martin Bucksbaum. The Bucksbaum Academy is unique among early entrance academies for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the integration of the arts and humanities with STEM. Melva Bucksbaum was one of the country’s most important curators of art, a passion she nurtured from a very young age throughout her life. Mary’s father, Martin Bucksbaum, along with his two brothers, pioneered the development of large shopping centers.

Martin and Melva Bucksbaum were close friends of the Belin-Blank Center’s co-founders, Myron and Jacqueline Blank and David and Connie Belin. It is with deep gratitude that I acknowledge the vision and generosity of our co-founders and recognize how their philanthropy inspires our work each and every day. They have all passed away, yet their names live on through the Center and through our work – our professional development, research, programs and services for students, and now, the Bucksbaum Academy.

I thank the families of Martin and Melva Bucksbaum, Myron and Jacqueline Blank, and Connie and David Belin for trusting us to continue to honor their names. Indeed, honoring these names is, and will continue to be, a part of every decision that I make and every action I take with the team of colleagues who make the Center a vibrant organization where we nurture potential and inspire excellence.

Message from the Director: Thanks a Million x 10!!

Question: What is the result of juxtaposing generosity and inspiration with excellence in programming and collaboration?

Answer: Educational leadership and innovation designed to create outstanding educational experiences for some of the world’s most capable high-school-aged students, all supported through an endowed program made possible with a $10 million dollar commitment to the Belin-Blank Center.

 

In the February newsletter, we’ll have additional details regarding the program and the people who inspired philanthropist Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan to create an endowment for this unique and highly specialized program (formal naming subject to Board of Regents, State of Iowa approval). The endowment will include merit scholarships to students admitted to this specialized program and comprehensive programming to support the scholarship recipients.  Learn more at belinblank.org/academy.

This exciting news is an indescribably incredible welcome to 2016.  While the calendar year is just winding down, 2016 has been a major presence at the Belin-Blank Center since August, when we commenced planning for summer. In fact, it’s not too early for professionals and students to think about this coming summer.

At the same time, it’s not too late for parents to register students for spring 2016 opportunities, including above-level testing through BESTS and enrichment experiences through the Weekend Institute for Gifted Students (WINGS). Likewise, professionals have myriad options for spring professional development, including a webinar on twice-exceptionality and several courses offering from one to three semester hours of credit.

An end-of-year edition of a newsletter would not be complete without an acknowledgement of the highlights from the past 12 months and an expression of gratitude to the people responsible for the highlights as well as the every-day activities, which form the foundation of the center’s programming. My thanks to the Belin-Blank Center’s staff of 14 administrators, 5 secretaries, 19 students (including graduate, practicum, and undergraduate students), 2 faculty partners, and 2 resource staff members. Through our collaborations, we made possible the two-volume publication of A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students; summer programming for 743 pre-college students; the installation of the Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan Gallery; the launch of the STEM Excellence and Leadership program for middle-school students; professional development courses and workshops that resulted in 852 credit hours earned by 572 educators; the creation of I-Excel, an online above-level test for advanced 4th-6th grade students; specialized social-skills groups for high-ability students; and at least 15 paper, poster, round-table, special sessions at the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) conference in Phoenix.

Our founders and benefactors continue to inspire our work with the students and professionals we serve. We look forward to continuing this work into the next year! Happy New Year!!

Message from the Director: Overcoming Inertia

Among the many definitions of inertia, I prefer “lack of movement or activity, especially when activity is warranted or needed” [emphasis added]. What does inertia have to do with a center for gifted education and talent development that literally buzzes with intellectualism, innovation, and insight?   Answer: Very little – except we try to avoid inertia by proactively determining when activity is warranted or needed.

Two recent publications have brought home this point.  Tom Clymes’s book, The Boy Who Played with Fusion, tells the story of Taylor Wilson (check out the TED Talks); the book emphasizes what can happen with bright children when parents and educators with an entrepreneurial spirit find ways to match learning experiences with curiosity and intellect.  Taylor Wilson likely would have achieved a nuclear-fusion reaction – but he might not have done it just as he was turning 14 and he might not have been the 32nd person on earth to do so – were it not for Jan and Bob Davidson who created, in 2006, the Davidson Academy on the University of Nevada-Reno campus.  Taylor’s parents enrolled him in this free, public high school when Taylor was 13.  There, he attended classes in the mornings and spent his afternoons in a corner of a physics lab.  And the rest is history.

As I read Clyme’s compelling volume, I was filled with gratitude for my friends and colleagues, Jan and Bob Davidson, who had the remarkable foresight to build an academic institution for the very brightest students and locate the program on a university campus.  Their phenomenal generosity matches their far-reaching vision, which inspires the entire field of gifted educators to find ways to meet the extraordinary needs of outstanding students.

The second publication, hot-off-the-press, is Failing Our Brightest Kids: The Global Challenge of Educating High-Ability Students by Chester E. Finn, Jr., and Brandon L. Wright.  Finn and Wright offer a compelling analysis of American education (institutions such as the Davidson Academy notwithstanding) that challenges anyone who cares about America’s bright, highly-able students to ask questions about the current status of gifted education in the U.S. and around the world.  The next issue of our newsletter will focus more on this volume.  Meanwhile, I ask you: do you care?

If your answer is yes, then I hope you will continue to become informed – with these two books and with the Belin-Blank Center’s new, two-volume publication, A Nation Empowered.  The reason to enroll students in above-level testing and specialized programming, register for professional development, or review the extensive information on our websites is simple enough:  activity is warranted and needed.

Message from the Director: The Belin-Blank Center as Catalyst

Catalysts bring about change through reactions.

All year, the Belin-Blank Center staff and faculty prepare to act as catalysts, promoting and facilitating daily reactions between students and instructors. Why? Talent cannot be developed in a vacuum.

Full development of talent requires committed teachers, engaged students, and a challenging learning atmosphere. The Belin-Blank Center is the catalyst that converts these reagents into life-changing experiences for hundreds of pre-college and professional development participants. We develop talent through our year-round programming; however, the most intensive moments occur over a six-week period from mid-June to the end of July.

What does a Belin-Blank Center catalytic reaction look like? Follow the Belin-Blank Center’s Twitter account for up-to-the minute information about programs or visit our @BBC page to see students and teachers in their classes, to learn the schedule for opening activities, and/or to locate where you can tour (either virtually or in person) the closing activities.

A culminating experience for one of our high school programs, the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP), will be the public open house of the individual research posters (July 24). SSTP is a five-week program for extremely-able high schools students who spend five weeks conducting research with University of Iowa professors. Last year’s posters and abstracts can be viewed here.

July will be a phenomenal month for students and teachers. A couple of highlights from the multitude of professional development opportunities include the Advanced Placement Teacher Training Institute (APTTI), which starts on July 6, when we welcome more than 150 teachers and 12 AP trainers to campus for an intensive week of College Board training for Advanced Placement (AP) Coursework. These dedicated professionals recognize the importance of AP in the lives of their talented students. The positive impacts – academic as well as psychological – are undisputed. The following week, at least 100 educators will participate in the innovative Chautauqua seriesRecognizing that teachers give up several days of their summer to become gifted educators (not just educators of the gifted) is a humbling moment for us.

It’s possible that some of these “reactions” would happen without a catalyst, but why take the chance? Twenty-seven years (and counting) of phenomenally innovative and research-based programming doesn’t just happen…it takes hours, weeks, months, and sometimes years of planning by a wonderfully dedicated and committed staff. In August, I’ll be sharing information about new programming, including an online above-level test that is being piloted with 4th through 6th graders, innovations to the Invent Iowa Program, and a virtual tour of our newly-acquired art in the building. Between now and then, enjoy reading about our activities, and I hope we connect with you through one of our many social media options.

Message from the Director: Spring is Here and Learning Opportunities are in Bloom!

ne-cover-vol-1-fullIt’s no surprise that our big news this month is the publication of A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students. We hosted two very successful public launch events to celebrate the culmination of this multi-year project. The first event occurred in Iowa City. Ten days later, the Belin-Blank Center administrative team and authors from nine of the 18 chapters in Volume 2 met with colleagues and graduate students in Chicago at the annual American Education Research Association Conference. Jonathan Wai, one of the 33 authors for Volume 2 and also a well-known columnist for Psychology Today, posted an interview with the A Nation Empowered editors.

A Nation Empowered is the solution to a pernicious educational paradox: despite robust empirical evidence supporting the powerfully positive impact of acceleration as an academic intervention for bright students, implementation is severely underused in American schools. Addressing this paradox started as a conversation in 2004 with the publication of A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students. Over the past decade, new issues (the Common Core State Standards, twice-exceptionality, a focus on STEM, and professional development for teachers and counselors, to name a few) have emerged. In A Nation Empowered, experts address these new issues and offer significant updates to ongoing topics. What started as a dialogue in the early years of the 21st century has translated into an agenda of commitment and action.

The external validation of our work is very gratifying. We know that over these next few years there will be many students and teachers who benefit from this work and the support available through the Acceleration Institute.

Meanwhile, back at the Blank Honors Center, spring programming for students and professionals is wrapping up. You can view the amazing art and writing submissions from the 2014-2015 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Ceremony or follow the experiences of the five attendees to the National Junior Science Humanities Symposium. Simultaneously, we are deep into the registration process for both students and teachers who will attend one or more of the myriad summer programs and all instructors are finalizing their syllabi and ordering materials. This season of preparation always makes me a bit wistful. I’m thrilled for the life-changing experiences that await hundreds of 2nd through 11th grade students planning to attend one or more of our classes. However, it’s also disheartening to know that many students who need this programming do not participate primarily because they have not been informed about the opportunities.

Increasing opportunities at the school level is one of the main reasons why we are so committed to professional development. It is critical that teachers are aware of the need their students have for advanced programming. We are also committed to working with schools to increase opportunities through programming in the school, whether through specialized programs such as STEM Excellence and Leadership; the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy; or In-School Testing. Stay tuned to learn more about school-based opportunities available next fall!

Message from the Director: Whose Fault Is It?

 

It’s not one person’s fault, but it is everyone’s responsibility.

This was my response to EduTalk radio host Larry Jacobs’s question during a December 2014 interview about A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students. We (Vol. 2 chapter author Dr. Katie McClarty, Mr. Larry Jacobs, and I) were discussing the abundance of evidence supporting the high rate of effectiveness – both short-term and long-term – for the forms of academic intervention broadly known as acceleration and the low rate of implementation when he spontaneously asked: whose fault is it?

My response: it’s no one person’s fault that our brightest students are under-served, which makes it everybody’s responsibility to implement interventions based on evidence.

My response was intended to capture the dedication and commitment of a wonderful team of authors, editors, and contributors who have been working for more than a year on A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students. The wait is almost over! In mid-April, the publication will be out.

Here’s A Nation Empowered by the numbers:

  • 1 original publication: A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students (Colangelo, Assouline, & Gross)
  • 1 team of Belin-Blank Center Staff including administrators, graduate students, and secretaries who pulled together to make this project a reality
  • 1 website: The Acceleration Institute
  • 2 volumes: Volume 1 synthesizes the evidence provided in Volume 2
  • 2 editorial assistants: doctoral students and Belin-Blank Center graduate assistants, Staci Fosenburg and Katherine Schabilion
  • 2 design teams: Benson & Hepker Design and FusionFarm
  • 3 generous gifts that made the publication possible, from Belin-Blank Center Advisory Board members: The Perry Family; The Belin Family; Chuck Peters, CEO of The Gazette Company
  • 4 authors (Nation Empowered, Vol. 1): Susan Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, Joyce VanTassel-Baska, and Mary Sharp
  • 4 editors (Nation Empowered, Vol. 2): Susan Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, Joyce VanTassel-Baska, and Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik
  • 8 new topics in Nation Empowered, Vol. 2
  • 10 chapters in Nation Empowered, Vol. 1
  • 12 vignettes in Nation Empowered Vol. 1
  • 18 chapters in Nation Empowered Vol. 2
  • 20 forms of acceleration defined Nation Empowered, Vol. 2
  • 30 contributors to Volume 2
  • endless: hours writing, formatting, proofing
  • countless: the number of lives affected by meeting the needs of highly able students

Then – and now – we felt a sense of urgency regarding the value of this intervention and the many excuses for not implementing it. This exact situation is captured beautifully by a comment from the parent of a student in a Vol. 1 vignette:

As intimidating and time-consuming as [advocacy on behalf of our son] was, we were more scared to do nothing.

We agree and that’s why we’ve worked so hard to update the conversation that started in September 2004 with A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students by providing new evidence to trump old excuses. Continue to view the progress of the forthcoming publication, scheduled for mid-April 2015, and tune in to EduTalk in late April for another stimulating discussion.

Meanwhile, check out all of the Belin-Blank Center activities for spring and summer. There can be no doubt that gifted students and their teachers have extensive options through the Belin-Blank Center.

Message from the Director: How Do We Know What’s Next?

“…the adjacencies of technology and scientific progress dictate what is invented next.”

From Steven Johnson, author of How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World.

 

It likely will not come as a surprise that practically everything I do outside of the Belin-Blank Center, including leisure reading, seems to circle back to the work I do in the Belin-Blank Center. This was certainly the case while I was reading Steven Johnson’s highly informative new book, How We Got to Now.

Each of the six chapters (“Glass,” “Cold,” “Sound,” “Clean,” “Time,” and “Light”) is packed with useful facts and insights that span millennia and project into the future.   Every topic features multiple advancements that relate, in some cases profoundly, to the Center’s day-to-day work: innovative programming, research, services, and teaching. Hence the saliency of the quote, “…the adjacencies of technology and scientific progress dictate what is invented next.” Choosing just one topic was difficult; however, the final chapter, “Light,” had the most notes and highlighted text, which is why I settled on that chapter as the emphasis for the Director’s message for this issue of the Vision newsletter.

Unsurprisingly, Johnson focused on the light bulb, including the multiple ways in which the light bulb has become the symbol of invention and innovation. The entire discussion is fascinating and informative, starting with a review of the role of the individual experimenter/inventor, then moving into the importance of an interdisciplinary team model that fosters collaborative creativity. The next time you flip a switch, remember that for hundreds of years, the main way that humans brought light into their dark living spaces was via the candle. It was only at the end of the 19th century, after decades of many inventors determining important technical aspects of the light bulb, that Thomas Edison – and his team – through relentless experimentation threw the switch that lit up Pearl Street in New York City.

“The light bulb was the kind of innovation that comes together over decades, in pieces. There was no light bulb moment in the story of the light bulb” (p. 211). “The other key ingredient to Edison’s success lay in the team he had assembled around him … memorably known as the ‘muckers.’ The muckers were strikingly diverse in terms of professional expertise …the diversity of the team turned out to be an essential advantage for Edison…Menlo Park marked the beginning of an organizational form that would come to prominence in the twentieth century: the cross-disciplinary research-and-development lab.” (p. 213)

The astute reader has already anticipated the analogy with the Belin-Blank Center. The programs and services that we provide at the Belin-Blank Center, which you will read about in the various sections of Vision, are the result of 26+ years of bringing together professionals with diverse backgrounds and training that allow us to combine classroom and clinical experience with research and professional development. Every day we learn something new from our colleagues and, thanks to our founders, who were also our benefactors, we have a foundation from which we continue to build programs and services. We also have the space and flexibility to try new approaches that will serve gifted students, their educators, and their families.

The adjacencies of technology, teamwork from a dedicated, multi-talented staff, careful financial planning, and opportunities that arise from private and state funding dictate what happens next at the Center. Stay tuned over the next several months and issues of Vision to learn about:

Message from the Director – Excellence and Literacy: Complement or Paradox?

Readers of this newsletter already know the response – complement. In fact, it makes more sense to consider these terms as points on a continuum of developing excellence and even eminence. That is exactly what we hope to accomplish with the help of a Talent Development Award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation for Iowa STEM Excellence and Literacy (SEAL).

Philosophically, we recognize that excellence and literacy — at times –must be treated as independent goals. We must demonstrate respect for the diverse populations that require a focus on one or the other, while never losing sight of the ways in which literacy and excellence can enhance each other. If we consider literacy and excellence as points on a continuum of performance and achievement, then educational stakeholders, which would be all of us, will not be forced into making choices based upon the false assumption that literacy and excellence represent a dichotomy – especially in STEM.

The concept of a continuum of expertise struck me about a month ago when I had the opportunity to present very briefly to University of Iowa College of Education colleagues, Iowa Department of Education (DOE) officials, and local state legislators concerning the STEM excellence programs of the Belin-Blank Center. There were multiple presentations that morning and several featured the reading literacy program jointly operated by the DOE and the College of Education. During our time together, we also learned about a science writing heuristic being implemented in elementary classrooms across the state. This science writing program has the potential to improve performance across content areas. I was delighted to be part of the entire morning. I especially liked learning that science writing in elementary schools has been formalized because decades ago, in my first professional life as a science teacher, my junior high school students completed lots of writing in my science classes.  I collaborated with the language arts and social studies teachers well before interdisciplinary was in vogue. Fast forward four decades to Belin-Blank Center programming. Our STEM classes for elementary students build upon our research demonstrating that only 1 in 10 very bright students will be challenged in their elementary science class. We are implementing a STEM excellence program for middle-school students that has a proven record of improving achievement and aspirations of students. Our capstone STEM program, the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) program, during which high school students spend five weeks on the University of Iowa campus doing graduate level research with some of the UI’s premier researchers, is the essence of excellence. The five-week SSTP program culminates in a poster fair that epitomizes excellence in STEM literacy.

What’s next in the area of STEM excellence? The Belin-Blank Center administrative staff, along with the College of Education and the UI President’s and Provost’s offices, are working very hard to realize a Belin-Blank STEM academy. Such an academy will be an important addition to the Belin-Blank Center’s programs and, by extension, to the university and state. We are grateful that the College of Education and the University of Iowa have stepped up in support of this effort. The question that remains: will the state of Iowa step up?  Stay tuned for more about the STEM academy, the SEAL program, and other Belin-Blank Center advances in STEM.

In closing, I want to thank the Belin-Blank Center staff for their commitment to ALL of the programming that we provide. Our students, parents, and colleagues are well-served by the many dedicated staff members.

Message from the Director: Talent Development

“By helping our [highly talented] students, we help ourselves, because they hold in their hands not only their own futures but our shared future, as well.”

(p.113) From Richard Rusczyk’s chapter, “Extracurricular Opportunities for Mathematically Gifted Middle School Students” in The Peak in the Middle, Edited by M. Saul, S. G. Assouline, & L. J. Sheffield (2010).

This issue of Vision features the multiple opportunities at the Belin-Blank Center for gifted students– either in the competitions hosted this past spring (Invent Iowa, Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Junior Science Humanities Symposium, or American Regions Mathematics League) or programs for this summer, which will begin on the 16th of June. These opportunities are so much more than a summer activity to keep kids busy! Indeed, they are – often – pivotal to the student’s development of his or her talent area. Schools offer a great deal to our talented students, but it would be impossible for any school – or teacher –to do it all, which is why extracurricular programs are so critical to talent development.

Below, I’ve synthesized three benefits of extracurricular activities for highly capable students from the Rusczyk chapter (see p. 103):

  1. Intensive experiences shared with an outstanding peer group;
  2. Interaction with university-level content experts;
  3. Opportunities for immersion in the specified content domain.

If you will be on the University of Iowa campus on July 25, 2014, from 10 am to noon, I encourage you to stop by the Old Capitol Center for the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) poster session. SSTP is, in many ways, the culminating experience of the Belin-Blank Center’s summer student programs. During this 5-week program, highly talented high school students from all over the country conduct research with UI researchers in their labs. Students earn 3 semester hours of university credit and, for many students, this is the defining moment in an academic career.

And, speaking of defining moments ….even though teachers of gifted and talented students have just packed away the final papers from this past school year, their commitment to their students is not packed away. Professional development for educators has already commenced and it’s always a joy to see teachers on campus and/or to learn about their “ah-ha moments” from their online experiences. New this summer are the two one-week Chautauquas, which will feature three workshops during each week. Having once been a teacher of junior high and high schools students, I know first-hand just how valuable these experiences are for teachers. Indeed, the same three benefits for highly capable students apply to the teachers who take the time to attend a summer professional development class or classes.

Whether you are a student, parent, teacher, or colleague, I know that you join me in wishing all of the Belin-Blank Center professionals the very best this summer as we dedicate ourselves to living up to our tag line: Nurturing Potential…Inspiring Excellence.

 

Message from the Director: Optimism

The 11th Wallace Research and Policy Symposium on Talent Development opened on March 23, 2014, to the theme of Optimism.  The meaning of the Latin root of the word “optimus” is “best” and that is exactly what the Wallace Symposium did!  It brought out the best in the Belin-Blank Center staff, attendees, and presenters.

Since the 1991 inaugural Wallace Symposium, a primary goal has been to build a community of researchers; a secondary goal has been to build a community that brings out the best in the members.  Building community means bringing together individuals from related fields who will share ideas and, through openness and dialogue, create the best community of professionals dedicated to research and policy for talent development.  An attitude of optimism means that there is trust among community members that promotes creation of the best situation possible given the available resources.  With more than 60 featured keynote, invited, and concurrent presentations or posters, and attendees from 10 countries and more than 30 states, all of whom were dedicated to the mission of the Wallace Symposium, how could we miss?

The Wallace Research and Policy Symposium also brought out the best in the entire Belin-Blank Center staff and faculty.  The phenomenal teamwork resulted in a hugely successful event, including the accomplishment of three firsts: the symposium’s first time in DC; first-time emphasis on the integration of two critical components of best practices, research and policy; and the first time that the Belin-Blank Center worked with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) to co-host the symposium during their annual state affiliate advocacy summit.  NAGC president Tracy Cross succinctly framed the benefit of the collaboration in his message to the NAGC membership: “Attendees of the [Wallace] Symposium learned about both the latest research in several areas of talent development, and also how research can inform practices – all with the goal of ensuring members of our community are well-informed about connections between GT programs, services, and pedagogy and developing the high levels of talent we need in the global economy in every student group.”

On a personal note, I was pleased to deliver the concluding keynote, “Ten Years Later: From A Nation Deceived to A Nation Empowered.”  This keynote featured a sneak preview of the forthcoming publication that is an update and revision of the watershed publication, A Nation Deceived.

You, too, can see what we have in mind for A Nation Empowered.

After completion of such a large program, you may be wondering what’s next at the Belin-Blank Center?  We will wrap up Wallace 2014 in the next few weeks and will take a little time to consider our options for Wallace 2016 (including returning to DC).  Meanwhile, we continue to provide the excellent services and programs for students and their educators.  You can learn about the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, which took place on February 27 and 28; the March 29th Weekend Institute for Gifted Students; our Arts Scholastic Award Ceremony, scheduled for April 5; and Invent Iowa, scheduled for April 19.

I’ve always found that the season of spring is the epitome of optimism.  For 25 years, spring has been the time that the Belin-Blank Center puts the finishing touches on preparations for summer and this year is no different.  Summer student program classes, both residential and commuter, are filling up.  The professional development opportunities promise to challenge and encourage educators.  Stay tuned!

Message from the Director: Remembering James Gallagher

Un seul être vous manque et tout est dépeuplé

(One single person is gone and the loss is collective)

Such is the case for professionals in the fields of gifted AND special education, as we acknowledge the passing of Professor James J. Gallagher, a world-renowned leader in both special education and gifted education, who passed away on the 17th of January.  His obituary addresses the highlights of Professor Gallagher’s legacy in special and gifted education and offers a personal and professional lesson in life for all of us.

In 2008, the Belin-Blank Center honored Professor Gallagher as the 4th Julian C. Stanley (JCS) Lecturer at the H.B. and Jocelyn Wallace International Research Symposium on Talent Development.  The 11th Wallace Symposium will take place March 23-25, in Washington, D.C.  Dean Nicholas Colangelo (Director Emeritus of the Belin-Blank Center) will deliver the JCS lecture this year on March 24, and we will honor Professor Gallagher’s legacy at that time.


Professor Gallagher also was a contributor to the watershed publication, A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary in September 2014.  We are very busy preparing the next edition of the publication and hope to reveal additional details of the forthcoming publication at the Wallace Symposium.  We can tell you that the format will be similar (an edited volume that is comprised of updated and new chapters from experts across the field) and an abridged volume that is based upon the chapters in the edited volume.  Both volumes will be available electronically, just as Volume 1 of Nation Deceived is available – at no cost – through the iTunes store.

Speaking of digital resources, we have now published a revision of our Packet of Information for Professionals, which is an extensive resource for professionals and parents of gifted students with a disability (twice-exceptional because they have ADHD, or Specific Learning Disabilities, or Autism Spectrum Disorders).  These materials were originally developed to facilitate the efforts of Belin-Blank faculty and staff who work with twice-exceptional students.  We continue to update the materials so that we can provide the best service possible to all of our students.

Finally, please check out two recent special newsletters from the Belin-Blank Center:  the University Programs Newsletter and the SSTP Newsletter.  Both of these newsletters give you a glimpse into student life at the University of Iowa, and also demonstrate how the Belin-Blank faculty and staff work year round to provide programming for students. To see the smiling faces of those students, click here.

Message from the Director: Research in All of Its Forms

2013 is winding down, and we are gearing up for spring and summer 2014!  We are in the period known as the calm before the storm; nevertheless, a lot will occur before the spring semester begins, and you can read all about it in this issue of Vision.

Support for the Belin-Blank Center’s efforts in the STEM arena seems to be coming from multiple sources.  The December 2013 issue of the American Psychological Association (APA) Monitor (V.44, 1, p. 36-38) featured research conducted by several of our colleagues on the importance of specialized STEM experiences.  As stated on p. 36, “Among the study’s most significant findings: Students are more likely to stick with STEM education when they participate in research in high schools, get ongoing mentoring from STEM professionals, have a strong motivation for problem-solving or have a parent in a STEM field.”  The Belin-Blank Center is proud to support opportunities for these kinds of STEM experiences through the Secondary Student Training Program (SSTP) and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS). We were especially excited to see that the research featured in the Monitor’s article was conducted by our close colleague, Dr. Rena Subotnik, Director of APA’s Center for Gifted Education Policy, and funded by the National Science Foundation.

You can hear Dr. Subotnik and several other featured speakers – Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and Nick Colangelo, UI College of Education dean – at the 11th Wallace Research & Policy Symposium on Talent Development.  In total we will have seven keynote/featured speakers, nine invited presentations, and several dozen concurrent presentations.  The symposium, held in collaboration with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), will be especially practitioner-friendly this year, with single-day registration available as well as special sessions that focus on the interplay of research, policy, and best practice in gifted education.  We encourage you to register early for the symposium so that you can get the early-bird registration discount and be assured a sleeping room in the symposium hotel.

Just as I was putting the finishing touches on my “Director’s Message,” the editorial, “Even Gifted Students Can’t Keep Up” by the New York Times Editorial Board came across my email.  The editorial elevates many of the issues that confront gifted education and gifted students today including the impact of the absence of federal funding and leadership as well as inconsistencies of programming by states. While these are issues familiar to professionals in the field of gifted education, they are not commonly addressed by educators in general as well as the public.

Furthermore, the New York Times editorial specified the importance of special programming and interventions needed by gifted (advanced) students such as online AP classes for rural areas, college-level experiences while still in high school, and early entrance to college. The substance of the editorial aligns well with some of the programs already at the Belin-Blank Center. The Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy was specifically developed to offer AP opportunities to the many rural schools in Iowa. SSTP provides very high-ability high school students with intense and high-level college experiences while they remain in high school. And the National Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering (NAASE) is a successful early entrance program founded on the premise and research support that there are some students in our high schools that have the ability, motivation, and maturity to begin college (in this case, the University of Iowa) early rather than spending senior year symbolically treading water.

The New York Times editorial came just a few days after University of Iowa President Sally Mason presented her strategic initiatives as part of Governor Branstad’s open hearings at the capitol in Des Moines, IA.  As mentioned in the UI Hawkeye Caucus Newsletter, “the UI proposal would launch a STEM residential academy on campus that allows Iowa’s high-ability STEM students to complete their final two years of high school simultaneously in their first two years at the UI. This will allow these high achieving students the opportunity to graduate from the UI two years earlier while giving them a leg up on their future.”

As we wrap up 2013, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that a full year has passed by since I became the director of the Belin-Blank Center.  What a wonderful privilege it is to work with the fantastic Center staff and faculty.  Each and every one of them makes a special contribution to the Center to ensure that the programs for students and teachers are top-notch. I also thank the University of Iowa’s central administration for their enduring support and commitment to the Center, as well as the members of our advisory board.  They are generous in their advice and private giving, and both groups are an inspiration. It was a great 2013 and 2014 holds much promise.  Stay tuned!

Message from the Director: The 4 “D’s” of Working With Highly Able Students

To fulfill our mission of “empowering and serving the gifted education community through exemplary leadership in programs, research, and advocacy,” the Belin-Blank Center relies on a 4-D service delivery model:

  • Discover individuals with high ability in a talent domain;
  • Develop the talent domain;
  • Describe, through research, the characteristics of individuals with high ability;
  • Disseminate, through writing and presentations, the results of our research and services.

Some months, it seems as though the Belin-Blank Center administrative staff and faculty are “disseminating” material on an almost daily basis.  Since the fall semester began, we have offered presentations both near (in the Blank Honors Center and on the UI campus) and far (Columbus, Ohio, at the Ohio Association for Gifted Children Conference).  Just a few days ago, the Belin-Blank Center administrative team disseminated our message at the Iowa Talented and Gifted Conference in Des Moines, and in early November, we’ll give more than a dozen presentations at the National Association for Gifted Children Conference (NAGC) in Indianapolis, IN.  In this issue of Vision, you’ll also read about five upcoming international presentations or workshops (The Netherlands, The Philippine Islands, Portugal, Australia, and India) that will be provided by Drs. Assouline, Croft, or Colangelo.

Of course, there is a lot of buzz, and a great deal of work, associated with the forthcoming Wallace Research and Policy Symposium (March 22-25, 2013).  Registration is now open!

Other “dissemination” products include the Gifted Child Quarterly special issue on twice-exceptionality, guest edited by Associate Professor Megan Foley Nicpon.  Usually a peer-reviewed journal is only accessible to the members of the professional organization; however, through the end of December, NAGC has made the special issue available for free download at http://gcq.sagepub.com/content/current.  In addition to the special issue on twice-exceptionality, NAGC has three new books on the core curriculum and gifted students including A Teacher’s Guide to Using the Common Core State Standards with Mathematically Gifted and Advanced Learners, co-authored by Professors Susan K. Johnsen, Gail R. Ryser, and Susan G. Assouline.

Stay tuned for the iBook release of Volume 1 of A Nation Deceived as well as the second edition of Packet of Information for Professionals (PIP-2), a comprehensive booklet that addresses the complex learning and socialization needs of high-ability students with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a specific learning disorder (SLD), or an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These dissemination products take a great deal of time and energy, but they are well worth the effort because they are so important in fulfilling our mission.  None of this would be possible without the tremendous commitment of the team of professionals – our faculty, administrative and clerical staff, and our undergraduate and graduate students.  I thank our staff for their dedication to serving high-ability students, their families, and the professionals who serve them.

Message from the Director

Washington, DC, here we come!

Sitting in the Wallace Research and Policy hotel in DC, looking out at the Capitol building and the Washington Monument, it’s impossible to not be inspired by the possibilities that await us as we partner with the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) to host the 11th Wallace Research and Policy Symposium, March 22-25.  Registration for the Wallace Research and Policy Conference will open soon, and you can be the first to know when it does.

Be sure to check out the impressive list of speakers, including our headline speaker, Professor Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Senior Editor of The Atlantic.

The director’s message is an opportunity to announce upcoming events and programs, but also to reflect on the past.  All aspects of the Belin-Blank Center programming were absolutely wonderful this summer!  Students and professionals learned, shared, questioned, and contributed in many unique ways.  My profound thanks to the fantastic staff who work tirelessly, year round, to make cutting-edge programming a consistent aspect of the Center’s services.  Review the summer by skimming through our blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.

By design, the highlight event of the summer was our 25th anniversary celebration, which went off without a hitch on July 10.  The memories of that day and evening are all available on the 25th anniversary website – feel free to add your own recollection of your association with the Center.  In particular, the 10-minute video captures the unique nature of the founding of the Center and also demonstrates how dedicated the present staff members are to continuing to refine and re-focus the vision of our founders.

Enjoy the August/September issue of Vision.  Connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on new opportunities and programs as well as on the activities of the Center’s faculty and staff.  May this next school year be filled with good challenges that lead to growth and talent development; we hope the Center will play a part!

Sincerely,

Susan Assouline

Message from the Director

Dr. Susan Assouline

As the director of the Belin-Blank Center, I have the opportunity – and responsibility – to think about big issues confronting the field.  Sometimes, one word truly captures the character of the issue and this time that word is “conflate.”  Conflate has a couple of meanings:  (1) to combine or (2) to treat two or more distinguishable ideas as one, sometimes leading to confusion.   So, what, of late, has the field of gifted education brought together?  The April 2013 (V. 35, Number 2) issue of Roeper Review, one of the field’s main journals, was a special issue that focused on social inequality and gifted education.  Bringing together these two important topics yielded informative and provocative, yet not conflated, readings.  The conflation of ideas appeared in the final article where the topics of social justice and gifted learning disabled students were connected.

The author, B. J. Lovett, “argues that G/LD identification, as currently practiced, actually exacerbates social inequality, rather than attenuating it” (p.137).  Using outdated references, Lovett cites a 1994 argument by Sapon-Shevin that promotes a myth that gifted programs are responsible for existing economic and racial hierarchies.  He proceeds to “extend Sapon-Shevin’s logic to the identification of G/LD students.  Although children from higher economic strata and majority cultures find it easier than other children, on average, to obtain very high scores on tests used for gifted identification…some children from such backgrounds nonetheless obtain average or even below-average scores …. This lack of a guarantee is distressing to parents and schools, especially when the test scores fail to identify students from high-achieving families as being in the same range of achievement …. The G/LD category is available to remedy this situation” (p. 139).

I was particularly sensitive to Lovett’s assertion that gifted students with a learning disability do not “genuinely” deserve gifted programming.  Really?  It is disheartening to see these statements in one of the field’s most important journals.

The article is replete with assumptions and gross over-generalizations, far too numerous to mention, but he concludes this section on sociopolitical consequences of G/LD with the following statement: “In sum, parents and schools can label children who ‘ought’ to be high achievers as G/LD and find any diagnostic test profile to be consistent with this conclusion, regardless of whether the child meets traditional definitions of giftedness (high IQ) or learning disabilities (low academic achievement)” (p.139).

Rather than railing about the unfairness of such statements, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to let you know what the Belin-Blank Center faculty and staff are doing for ALL twice-exceptional kids, including those with a specific learning disability.

The Belin-Blank Center’s twice-exceptional research agenda supports the fundamental principle upon which we operate: twice-exceptional students are “genuinely” deserving of gifted programming.  Our efforts are based on solid, federally-funded research (read abstracts of our findings through the National Institute for Twice-Exceptionality (NITE)).   Our in-house products, including the Packet of Information for Families (PIF) and the Packet of Information for Professionals (PIP) are made possible by private philanthropists, including the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation (JKC).

Eighteen months ago, the JKC Foundation invited the Belin-Blank Center to compete for funding that was designated for scholarships to students who are twice-exceptional.  Our proposal was accepted, and we were invited to submit another proposal this year.   The JKC funding has been particularly helpful in that it also supports professional faculty and staff who are available all day to assist with issues arising as a result of students’ disabilities. We created an online assessment for faculty and staff so that they can check their understanding of twice-exceptionality.  The assessment is followed up with an online booklet that goes into great detail about twice-exceptionality and offers recommendations to make the entire learning experience a positive one.  This online booklet is an updated version of the Packet of Information for Professionals, and it will be available to the public soon.

The opposite of conflate is dissolve.   We will continue to share our research findings and our comprehensive approach to providing gifted programming to twice-exceptional students.  Through this, we hope to dissolve the myth that that gifted students with learning disabilities are not deserving of gifted programming.

Message from the Director

This issue of our electronic newsletter is a preview of the many exciting activities available to students and educators.  We are particularly enthusiastic about our summer program classes and workshops.  Many teachers and students will be on campus for the 25th anniversary celebration on July 10, and will be able to join in the celebration.

We also have several spring events for both students and educators.  We’ve already had one webinar, conducted by Dr. David Lohman, author of the Cognitive Abilities Test.  A second webinar, by Dr. Nicholas Colangelo, Interim Dean and Director Emeritus, is scheduled for April.  Also in April, we have the Arts Scholastic awards ceremony and the statewide Invention Convention, where young inventors showcase their innovations.

The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (JSHS) February 28th/March 1st  is the kick-off for our spring events.  Stay connected to us via Twitter to learn who will be traveling to the national convention.

It’s a wonderful time to be in gifted education – the field is dynamic and vibrant.  In late January, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with members of the executive team for the National Association for Gifted Children.  I’m very pleased to share with you that we are going to partner with NAGC to co-host the 11th Wallace International Research Symposium/Acceleration Summit, March 22-25, 2014, in D.C.  This will be a phenomenal event, where we will be featuring the 10th anniversary of A Nation Deceived.

During that same weekend, I was involved in an intensive writing project with several colleagues from around the country who are producing books on implementing the Common Core State Standards (for math and English/Language Arts) and the Next Generation Science Standards (there will be one book for each of the three content areas) in programs for gifted students.  This project fits beautifully with the multi-pronged approach of the Belin-Blank Center for working with gifted students.

The Belin-Blank Center is a busy and happy place, and it’s an honor be in the position of providing leadership and support to the staff who make all of this happen.

Message from the Director

So much has happened since our last newsletter, as you will see by reading this newsletter.  The Belin-Blank Center, with the support of so many people, continues to thrive and serve Iowa, the nation, and the globe.

The major news since my last message to you is that Professor Susan Assouline, Associate Director of the Belin-Blank Center, has been named the new Director.  Susan has assumed the directorship of the Center as of December 15, 2012; the same day that I was appointed the Interim Dean of the College of Education.

As the founding director of the Center, and now as the dean of the COE, I am extremely happy that the search committee recommended Susan.  She has been a tremendous asset to the Center, and I am confident that under her leadership, the Center will continue to grow and provide excellent leadership in gifted education.  Congratulations, Susan.

I directed the Center for these past 25 years and the several years before we became an official Center.  It has been my honor to carry the legacy of the Belin and Blank families.  I will continue to serve on faculty as the Blank Endowed Chair of Gifted Education, and as the interim dean, I will continue to support and advocate for the Center.

I have been thinking about what to say in my final message that would capture my thoughts.  It  comes down to a very simple, sincere, and elegant statement, thank you.  Thank you for all your support these many years.  Thank you for the opportunity to touch so many lives.  Thank you for the honor of having the title, Director of the Belin-Blank Center.

Nicholas Colangelo
Interim Dean, College of Education
Director Emeritus, Belin-Blank Center

In Memoriam

 Jocelyn Marshall Wallace

October 8, 1928 – October 26, 2012

Jocelyn Marshall Wallace was born in Madras, India, and spent her formative years in India, Arizona, and New York.   Her early life experiences shaped her caring for the environment and her deep compassion for others.  She entered Syracuse University at the age of 15, and so experienced, first-hand, some of the issues facing gifted students in schools and the benefits of acceleration.

Jocelyn, with her husband, H.B. Wallace, had a tremendous impact on the growth and development of the Belin-Blank Center.  Their remarkable generosity and vision made possible the H.B. and Jocelyn Wallace Research Symposium on Gifted Education and Talent Development, the Wallace Assessment and Counseling Clinic, the Wallace Rural Schools Programs, and Jocelyn’s special project–the Belin-Blank Recognition Ceremony.  She was very happy that the Recognition Ceremony became a major event to publicly honor outstanding students, teachers, and schools.

Jocelyn’s presence is everywhere in the Belin-Blank Center, and we will continue to do all the things that honor and recognize her vision and generosity.  I got to know Jocelyn and H.B. very well.  I spent time at their home on several occasions, and Jocelyn spent several days with Kay and me at our home.

Jocelyn was a woman who cared about her family.  She had a wonderful heart.  We will continue to honor her and her family.  We are proud to have her name and her touch on the Belin-Blank Center.

Nicholas Colangelo, Director, The Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development

Myron and Jacqueline Blank Professor of Gifted Education

Message from the Director

Dear Friends of the Belin-Blank Center:

This article announces that Professor Susan Assouline has been named the new Director of the Belin-Blank Center.  Susan is currently Associate Director of the Center and will become Director as of January 1, 2013.  I have been Director of the Center for these past 25 years and I am extremely happy and proud that Susan will lead the Center into a vibrant future.  Best wishes to Susan and to all staff and friends of the Belin-Blank Center.

Nick Colangelo, Director

Message from the Director: “Too Smart to Teach”

In the current narrative about education, one point of consensus is the importance of the teacher.  Eventually, all ideas for improvement revolve around the importance of more skilled teachers.  President Obama has advocated hiring 100,000 new teachers in the areas of math and science.  Frankly, I am not sure how he arrived at the figure of 100,000, and whether that is too many, too few, or about right.  I am an advocate for teachers and education, and the thought of more teachers and a better teacher-student ratio makes my heart soar.

I wish to raise two issues.  First, what is the pool of candidates for these new teachers?  The second issue is the focus (actually lack of focus) on the learning needs of high-ability students in K-12 settings.  A number of recent national reports underscore the current reality that highly-able students show little academic growth and have few opportunities to develop their academic talents in many of today’s schools.  One such report (Loveless, Farkas, & Duffett, 2008) indicates:

  1. Teachers report that struggling students rather than advanced students are schools’ top priority;
  2. Low-achieving students receive dramatically more attention from teachers;
  3. Teachers believe that all students deserve an equal share of attention.

The importance of paying more attention to the needs of high-ability students correlates to having the capacity to meet the more advanced needs of these students.  Thus, the pool of future teachers should include those who come from strong academic backgrounds themselves; these new teachers could identify with the needs of high ability students as well as have the academic abilities to provide high-level and complex instruction.

I am currently a co-investigator in a research study analyzing the top scoring students on the ACT, the nation’s most-used college admissions exam.  My co-investigators are Dr. David Duys, faculty in Counselor Education at the University of Iowa and expert in career development, and Dr. Malik Henfield, faculty in the same Counselor Education program and expert in the needs of gifted African American students. The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-35; a student who scores a 30 or better (overall score) is in the top 5% (approximately) of the nation.  Typically, this level of performance is associated with students who are selected for gifted programs and who are recognized as academically advanced.  David, Malik, and I are documenting trends among these top-scoring students to better understand both their academic and non-academic characteristics.  We have access to the ACT scores for the years 2000, 2005, and 2010.  We hope to continue working with ACT to analyze high scores at 5-year intervals in the future.

In the year 2000, a total of 50,282 students scored in the top 5%; in the year 2005, it was 59,776; and in 2010, a total of 70,993 achieved a score in the top 5%.  For these three testing periods, a total of 181,051 qualified for our study sample—pretty impressive numbers when attempting to determine characteristics and trends.  The one statistic that I want to highlight in this message has to do with the percentage of these high scoring students who indicated an interest in becoming teachers.  In the year 2000, 4.3% selected teaching as their career goal; in 2005 it was 3.9%; and in 2010 it was 2.6%.  (In contrast, interest in careers in sciences, engineering, and healthcare ranged from 13% to slightly over 15%.)

Two things stand out about the statistics regarding interest in teaching.  First, the percentages seem low, and second, the percentages are going down with each 5-year segment.  Earlier in this message, I asked whether the call for 100,000 more teachers was high, low, or about right.  Are the percentages for high-ability students selecting teaching as a future profession high, low, or about right?  Preliminary findings for 2010 suggest that out of the entire population that took the ACT (over 1 million), 6.8% indicated a preference for a career in teaching.  This 6.8% is well over two times the 2.6% of top students who indicated an interest in teaching.  So yes, these percentages not only look low, but also, comparatively, they are low.

We don’t have the information at this point to determine why a career in teaching/education is such a low priority among top academic students.  Perhaps it’s the status, the constant barrage that teachers have experienced these last years, or the pay.  Whatever it is, we need to figure it out and make teaching and education in general much more appealing to our top high school graduates.  We can’t keep talking about the critical importance of teachers and somehow convey the message that if you really are tops academically, “you are too smart to teach.”  If teaching is truly important to the future of the nation, then the profession needs to be made so attractive, so respected, so exciting, that the message to our top students will be “you are too smart not to teach.”

Nicholas Colangelo, Director

Reference

Loveless, T., Farkas, S. & Duffett, A. (2008). High-achieving students in the era of NCLB. Washington, DC:  Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

Message from the Director: International

The term “international” is well suited to the full title of the Belin-Blank Center.  As we embark this semester on our 25th anniversary as a center, it is instructive to recall that when we were designated a center in July of 1988, we served only the state of Iowa. Over the years we became national in scope, and now we are clearly international.

This past July, I presented a keynote address in Jerusalem (Associate Director Susan Assouline also presented a keynote address at the same conference in Jerusalem).  Later in the month, I also gave a keynote presentation in Rio de Janeiro.  I will be presenting in Germany in September.  In October, we will host a group of educators from Russia.  In early  January 2013, Susan will be presenting in Australia and then later  in January I will be presenting in Australia also.

The Belin-Blank Center has provided direct services in one form or another to over 60 countries.  We have student programs with China and Hong Kong and are developing a student program with India.  Our professional development program has served teachers from India, Korea, Russia, and several other countries.  Our staff has provided workshops for educators in India, Chile, and Mexico.

What I have learned in my travels is that the world is clearly seeing the importance of identifying and educating its gifted students.  It is also seeing the importance of preparing its teachers to be effective with such students.  Perhaps what is most striking to me when I am abroad is the respect that is held for the Belin-Blank Center.  We are seen as an advocate and ally whose research and services can advance gifted education in others’ homelands. There is trust that the work of the center has applications globally and that the center and its staff can be looked to for leadership and assistance.

Of course, we at the center also are shaped by the people and cultures of other countries.  We have learned much from our international partners.  I believe strongly that the future of the center and much of the future of gifted education will be influenced by the international community.  This is exciting and energizing, to say the least.  We serve Iowa and the nation even more effectively because we are an international center.

~Nicholas Colangelo

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International Week of the Gifted

Dr. Nicholas ColangeloThere have been exciting changes in gifted education over the past three decades.  I personally think one of the most exciting by far has been the continued growth and energy in the international area.  Giftedness has become a stronger international concept–the pronunciations vary but the concept remains steadfast–identifying and programming for students of exceptional academic and artistic strengths.  Such students are truly a global phenomenon and resource.

The International Week of the Gifted recognizes and celebrates our international ties.  The symbolic kite is appropriate because a kite flies past boundaries and will stay in the air as long as those of us  on the ground do our work.  Let us do our work on behalf of the world’s gifted students and let us keep the “kite” flying across borders.  Nick

Iowa High Schools Recognized in 2012 Iowa AP Index

Dr. Nicholas ColangeloFor the past eight years, the Belin-Blank Center has recognized Iowa’s high schools for creating Advanced Placement (AP) opportunities for high-ability students.  Our vehicle for recognition is the Iowa AP Index, and today we publicly share the results of the 2012 Index.  Once again, it gives me great pleasure to recognize and celebrate Iowa’s high schools for their efforts at providing meaningful and rigorous coursework.
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Resting on laurels . . . .

Dr. Nicholas ColangeloSeveral of us at the Belin-Blank Center were among the 1600 who attended the Iowa Education Summit in Des Moines (July 25-26), called by Governor Terry Branstad.  The Summit could become one of the barometric events for Iowa education like Sputnik was for U.S. education.

The Iowa Education Summit was not a gathering to strut our educational successes.  United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan set the tone with his opening keynote.  His message was straightforward.  Iowa has had a rich tradition of leadership and high performance in education.  No longer!  As he stated, it is not that Iowa has lost ground, but that other states (e.g., Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont) have moved ahead. Secretary Duncan said, “Iowa cannot rest on its laurels.”  This became the theme of the Summit.  Iowa has merely maintained its educational system over the past 20 years, while some states have aggressively tackled their education issues and now, on national comparisons, have passed Iowa.

Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, Chester Finn, Jr. stated during a panel discussion, “Iowa, welcome to the reform party.”  The message by Finn and other panelists was that Iowa has not been dealing with major educational reform.  And now it will be Iowa’s turn to experience just how tough “transformational” reform can be.

David Driscoll, former Commissioner of Education for Massachusetts, addressed the courage and perseverance needed to initiate and maintain effective educational reform.  Massachusetts launched reform in 1993 and now, 18 years later, it is the poster child for educational excellence.  Driscoll made it clear that the road to reform was neither easy nor straight.  He highlighted the difficulties of those early years by revealing that, “I was burned in effigy,” but he offered in an encouraging and humorous way that “it did not hurt.”  Driscoll emphasized that Massachusetts reform leaders recognized the importance of teachers (and administrators) and kept educators involved in the reform process in meaningful ways.

A key issue discussed at the Summit focused on teachers and teacher preparation.  Teacher-bashing has always been useless and it is getting old.  No meaningful reform is going to happen without the acknowledgement of the centrality of the teacher.  Are there poor teachers?  Yes.  Is it really difficult to remove them?  Yes.  Are most teachers effective and willing to improve?  Yes.  Are teachers paid adequately?  No.  Are teachers respected as professionals?  No. Are colleges of education places of excellence?  Yes and no.  Are our outstanding young people encouraged to go into teaching?  No.  Can we greatly improve education as a profession?  Yes.

One of the biggest lies we tell ourselves is “I embrace change.”  My observation is people embrace change they like and which does not upset their balance.  The Summit speakers were clear that Iowa cannot rely on incremental changes if it aspires to educational heights.  Significant change will be threatening to many, but also inspiring to many.  I hope those who are inspired by educational change will prevail.

A draft of a plan or framework for educational change in Iowa will soon come from the Governor’s office.  This plan must be open to genuine debate, and Iowans must be open to discussions regarding issues that have not been part of the Iowa educational experience, such as performance pay for teachers (and administrators), charter schools, alternative routes to teacher certification, year-round schools, statewide exit exams for graduation, entrance and exit from school based on readiness rather than birthdate/calendar years, and required preschool.

A difficulty in thinking about education reform in Iowa is that for many people it is hard to believe that Iowa has a serious education problem.  Recently, a report from ACT indicated that Iowa students scored second highest in the nation on the ACT.  For some, this is evidence that we are manufacturing a crisis in education and this crisis will last only as long as the terms of Governor Branstad and DOE Director Jason Glass.  I disagree.  Iowa can and must improve the level of education for all its students and the level of selection, training and respect for its teachers.

I do think education is the soul of our state and nation.  As Iowans, we should consider what is best for our students and not what is best for unions, associations, politicians, businesses, interest groups, etc.  Students do not have lobbyists.

Nicholas Colangelo, Director

Belin-Blank Center