Category Archives: Professional Development

Sharing the Secret to Understanding High-Ability Students’ Academic Needs

Infographic above-level testingWe have called above-level testing “the best-kept secret in gifted education.” What do we mean by that? Above-level testing, which is a way of helping us more accurately measure a student’s aptitudes, is under-utilized in gifted education. Imagine you are working with two students, Jessica and Mary. Both of them have scored at the 99th percentile on the mathematics subtest of the Iowa Assessments when compared to other 5th graders. They are both strong in math, but how do we know the extent of their skills?  What should they learn next?  Psychologists say that the students have “hit the ceiling of the test” because they got everything (or almost everything) right on the grade-level test. What we need is a harder test that would more accurately measure their talents and help us to tailor instruction to their specific needs.

Enter an above-level test. Rather than creating a special test for these students, we give them I-Excel, which contains 8th grade content.  Jessica scores at the 85th percentile when compared to 8th graders, and Mary scores at the 20th percentile when compared to 8th graders.  This indicates that Jessica is ready for much more challenge (likely accelerative opportunities) in math than Mary, even though both students have shown they are very good at math compared to typical students in their 5th grade regular classroom.

We’ll dive into this concept in more detail in the webinar and the (optional) online class that follows it. Learn how you can apply the process of above-level testing so you can learn more about your students’ aptitudes and to think about the types of programming accommodations they need. Above-level testing is key to helping us tailor educational programs for gifted students. It helps us to understand the students need for challenge in specific subject areas and to act on the information appropriately.

The webinar will be held on January 9, 2018 from 4:30-6:00 p.m. Central time. Register for the webinar here.  Registration is for one computer, and one registration may be shared by multiple participants. We encourage schools, districts, and even AEAs to register to allow as many participants as possible access to this Webinar. Can’t make the live webinar? Don’t worry. You can still register for the event and a link to the recording will be emailed to you when it’s available.  Cost: $45 for registration for either the Webinar or the link to watch it after the Webinar; $55 for registration for BOTH the Webinar and the link.

After the webinar, you may also take a one-semester-hour class on the topic. Registration information for that class is available here. The class meets online from January 16-February 5, 2018.

Credit for the NAGC Conference, Best Practices in Differentiation, and More

The Belin-Blank Center still has upcoming professional learning opportunities this fall!

If you attend the National Association for Gifted Children Conference this year in Charlotte, North Carolina (November 9 – 12), the Belin-Blank Center is offering Leadership in Gifted Education: NAGC 2017 for either one or two semester hours of credit; this workshop is offered from November 16 – December 8.  The Center provides an automatic 50% tuition scholarship, applied to the cost of graduate tuition, for those participating in this conference credit.

Our final one-hour workshop this fall is Differentiated Instruction for the Gifted, beginning on November 13 and ending on December 5.  Be sure to share the availability of this workshop with teachers who would benefit from information focused on best practices in differentiating for high-ability learners.

Educators completing their endorsements still have time to sign up for the practicum experience beginning on November 6.

Please visit the in November to see what professional learning opportunities are available this spring; if you have a topic that you would like to see offered, please contact Dr. Laurie Croft at either or  319-335-6148.  And for some of the best informal professional learning in the field today, please join our gifted-teachers listserv.  To subscribe to the list, send an email to LISTSERV@LIST.UIOWA.EDU and, in the text of your message (not the subject line), write: SUBSCRIBE GIFTED-TEACHERS First-Name Last-Name.  You can also join our new Gifted Education and Talent Development Ning, designed to extend the topics discussed on the listserv, for another tool to facilitate professional development in gifted education.

An Exciting Javits-Funded New Project

We are thrilled to announce that we have received a Javits grant!  The joint project – by co-PIs Professors Susan Assouline, Saba Ali, and Megan Foley-Nicpon, and methodologist Dr. Duhita Mahatmya – consists of a five-year, $2.1 million plan to increase educators’ capacity to identify and provide talented and gifted programming to underrepresented students in Iowa.  Dr. Ali, Associate Dean for Research in the University of Iowa College of Education, and Drs. Assouline, Foley Nicpon, Mahatmya, of the Belin-Blank Center, will use a career intervention Dr. Ali developed, along with I-Excel, a Belin-Blank Center online above-level assessment, to further the goals of this project.

We are fortunate to bring talent and career development opportunities to students with disabilities and students of color living in rural Iowa communities…I look forward to the difference we will make for many students who otherwise would never have been seen or heard.

– Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon

The title of the effort is the “Culturally Responsive Talent Identification and Career Exploration (TICE).”  According to the project abstract, “[u]nderrepresented students, especially students from economically  disadvantaged backgrounds, students of color, rural students, and students with disabilities, are at risk of being overlooked for participation in talented and gifted programs. Project personnel will integrate an expanded talent development model…and a career intervention program…to maximize the identification and development of underrepresented talented and gifted students.”  The Iowa Online AP Academy (IOAPA) will also contribute to this project, broadening the courses available to these students by offering online coursework in the schools.  We look forward to this opportunity to use the experience and knowledge of the Belin-Blank Center and the College of Education from the last several decades to impact bright students who are so often overlooked.


Gifted Education and Talent Development Ning

In 2008, Adam Penenberg described a Ning as a collection of free social networks, “growing automagically.”  Educational Technology and Mobile Learning wrote in 2012 that Nings provided “great social networking for educators…where they can meet up with other like-minded teachers,” listing some popular educational Nings about a variety of educational topics.  Educational Networking has provided a much more extensive list of opportunities online, including Nings, among all kinds of resources (from “Buddy Press” to “Vocational”).

Since 2003, the Belin-Blank Center has hosted one of the largest and most active listservs for advocates for gifted students (including teachers, administrators, parents, and university faculty, with subscribers from Iowa, from all around the United States, and from a variety of other nations) and for best practices in the development of their talents.  The Gifted-Teachers listserv has attracted over 1,100 subscribers, and it provides members with peers who can respond to questions, both on the list and directly to the email of those who ask questions.  While many teachers of the gifted have few “true peers” in their buildings to talk about topics important to gifted, the listserv offers a community—and “just-in-time” learning when a teacher hopes to find an answer as quickly as possible.  Now, to complement the listserv, the Center has created a Gifted Education and Talent Development Ning, hoping to provide a resource for many of the questions that appear on the listserv and extend the learning opportunities.

The Ning is a free resource for those interested in gifted/talented education, and we welcome your participation, your additions to the site, and your recommendations to make it as helpful as possible.  Please visit  In the top right-hand corner, notice the link to Sign Up.  You’ll be asked to create a new account linked to your email address.  After you have created your new account, you’ll be able to Sign In and take advantage of professional learning with no walls or time constraints.

Professional Learning Opportunities for Teachers

Aug17_PDDear Colleagues,

I wanted to be sure you are aware of upcoming professional learning opportunities!

The day before the Iowa Talented and Gifted Association Conference (October 15), Dr. Susan Assouline will provide a pre-conference session about academic acceleration, and the Iowa Acceleration Scale.  You can register here:

If you would like to earn credit at the conference itself (instead of OR in addition to the pre-conference credit),

Please let me know if you have questions about these opportunities! As well, if you live in a different state and would like to discuss similar options for your own state conference, let me know.  If you have the chance to attend the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) convention in Charlotte, NC, this November, you can earn either one or two hours of credit there, as well (

I look forward to seeing you at ITAG!

Laurie Croft

Professional Learning Opportunities in the Fall

Some say professional development, some say professional learning…I just know that many of the teachers who work with gifted students are lifelong learners, looking for new opportunities whenever and wherever they can find them.  I know that these teachers continue to learn from their students—sometimes learning that an old strategy isn’t working as well as it used to, and wondering what new tools they can add to their professional toolkits.

The Belin-Blank Center is providing multiple options this fall; most can be found at, following the link to Schedule.  As always, the semester includes three-semester-hour classes such as the Introduction to Educating Gifted Students and Psychology of Giftedness. An eight-week version of the Introduction to Educating Gifted Students is scheduled from October 16 – December 15, if you prefer an accelerated pace.

Workshops, which typically last for three weeks, begin on September 5 with Topics in Teaching and Learning: Perfectionism and High-Ability Learners. A second topics class, Writing for High-Ability Learners, is scheduled from October 23 – November 10.

The Iowa Talented and Gifted Association Conference is a logical place to offer academic credit, and the Center usually offers TWO different opportunities.  For experienced teachers who can benefit from the credit option, Leadership in Gifted Education: ITAG 2017 begins on October 23 (you can even register by filling in a paper form at the conference) and concludes on November 10.  Participants can choose between either one or two credit hours.  For the first time, we also plan to offer one Iowa Licensure Renewal Unit for participation in the conference.  For teachers NEW to gifted education, we offer a two-semester-hour option that we call TAG: You’re It; building on what you learn at the conference, the class will provide content that can most help with the first year or two in gifted education.

As well, this year we’ll have a special opportunity for a THIRD credit option associated with the conference: Dr. Susan Assouline will be offering a pre-conference workshop about academic acceleration, including better understanding of the Iowa Acceleration Scale, and how it can help you determine whether a student is a good candidate for whole-grade acceleration (grade-skipping).  The Center will offer a one-semester-hour class that will build on the pre-conference session with choices of readings and emphasizing what individuals most need from the academic credit.  One Iowa Licensure Renewal Unit will be available, as well.

Finally, if you attend the National Association for Gifted Children Conference this year in Charlotte, North Carolina (November 9 – 12), the Belin-Blank Center is offering Leadership in Gifted Education: NAGC 2017 for either one or two semester hours of credit; this workshop is offered from November 16 – December 8.

Please check back often to see what professional learning opportunities are available; if you have a topic that you would like to see offered, please contact Dr. Laurie Croft at either or  319-335-6148.  And for some of the best informal professional learning in the field today, please join our gifted-teachers listserv.  To subscribe to the list, send an email to LISTSERV@LIST.UIOWA.EDU and, in the text of your message (not the subject line), write: SUBSCRIBE GIFTED-TEACHERS First-Name Last-Name.


Wallace Research Symposium

Wallace postcard 2017Registration is open for the Wallace Research Symposium on Talent Development, to be held April 29-May 1, 2018 at the Mt. Washington Conference Center, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.  The Wallace Research Symposium is the premiere scholarly conference for the latest research findings in gifted education and talent development.  The call for papers is open until September 15th.

Featured speakers include:

  • Susan Assouline
  • Camilla Benbow
  • Linda Brody
  • Nicholas Colangelo
  • Elaine Hansen
  • David Lubinski
  • Matt Makel
  • Besty McCoach
  • Paula Olszewski-Kubilius
  • Jonathan Plucker
  • Sally Reis
  • Joseph Renzulli
  • Ann Robinson
  • Nancy Robinson
  • Robert Root-Bernstein
  • Michele Root-Bernstein
  • Del Siegle
  • Amy Shelton
  • Rena Subotnik
  • Joyce VanTassel-Baska
  • Frank Worrell

The Wallace Research Symposium for Talent Development is co-hosted by the University of Iowa Belin-Blank Center, the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, and the Vanderbilt University Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth. For more information, please visit For questions, please contact