Fall often signals homecoming, which the Belin-Blank Center experienced in full swing this past month. At our annual advisory board meeting, we welcomed “old” board members, some of whom have served on the advisory board since its inception in 1999, and “new” members, some of whom are alumni of our programs. Everyone on the board enjoys one or more connections to the Belin-Blank Center, and everyone truly loves coming home.
As with all homecomings, feelings are mixed. Reminiscing about our co-founders and our legacy evokes nostalgia and pride for the work we do and the impact we have on students and educators. There is also great excitement for new initiatives and updates. One of the most significant updates concerns our website, designed to help you feel at home wherever you are!
The Belin-Blank Center is home for students who show a deep curiosity, a love of learning, or a particular talent in an area.
A parent recently told us about her child’s teacher, who confidently stated, “Well, you know the research tells us that it’s a really bad idea for kids to start kindergarten early.” Another parent said that the climate at his children’s school is unsupportive of acceleration. When approached about the possibility of subject acceleration or grade acceleration, the principal simply said, “Kids who accelerate don’t fit in.”
Those of us who have read (and done some of) the research want to jump into those conversations with both feet, summarize 70 years of research, and demand accelerative opportunities for the children. This isn’t necessarily the best approach. Being an advocate for our children might mean introducing information slowly or finding ways to inform educators other than forcefully giving them a list of the “Top Ten Reasons My Child Should be Allowed to Accelerate.”
One important thing to mention up front is that, in general,
educators simply are uninformed about acceleration. Believe it or not, even in
graduate programs in gifted education, students don’t necessarily learn about the
research and tools for acceleration, let alone how to practice acceleration in
schools. Regular education teachers and administrators spend very little time
in their undergraduate courses learning about gifted students, and even less
time studying acceleration. All of this means that you, the parent, might be
better informed than the educator sitting in front of you. It also means that
the educator sitting in front of you might, with every good intention, believe that
certain myths about acceleration are true.
Get ready. You might have to learn the information on your own, and you might be the one teaching your teachers and administrators about acceleration. Fear not! There are lots of tools to help you with this:
Learn the facts. Research tells us that acceleration is often the most appropriate avenue for helping academically talented students find a match between their abilities and the curriculum available at their school. The Belin-Blank Center’s Acceleration Institute gathers the important research and information about acceleration in one place. Research articles, practical advice, video stories – it’s all there. Other great places to find information include the Hoagies Gifted website and the Davidson Institute website.
Share what you have learned. Volume 1 of A Nation Empowered and Volume 1 of A Nation Deceived are both very approachable resources that a busy administrator or teacher can read quickly. You can download both of those documents for free from the websites linked above. If you want even more information about the research, read Volume 2 of A Nation Empowered.
Be reassured that there are objective tools that can help us know when it is appropriate to accelerate a student. You don’t have to make the decision about a grade skip or subject acceleration based on a “gut feeling.” The Iowa Acceleration Scale was designed to help families and educators work together to gather information, discuss important factors, and make an informed decision about a grade skip. Above-level testing is the essential tool for making decisions about subject acceleration.
Advocacy might also mean helping to write policy for your school or district. First, a caution: Policy work takes a long time. If you are trying to solve a problem for your child, focus on your child and the issues that are pertinent to your child. Don’t try to solve everything for everyone. Leave the policy for another day. However, if you are in a position to help make things better for future students, this might be the time to have those policy discussions. The Belin-Blank Center and the National Association for Gifted Children produced a helpful document last year on Developing Academic Acceleration Policies. This should help you get started on writing defensible policies for acceleration.
OK. It may seem like a lot but have courage. You have the tools, you have the information, and you can be an effective advocate for your child’s acceleration. Go for it!
This is another example of an assignment completed for the Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education class, based on “This I Believe,” an organization that builds on essays published by National Public Radio, and the thoughts captured during a radio show in the 1950s hosted by Edward R. Morrow. From their Website: Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists, and secretaries—anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. These essayists’ words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and racial division.
In reviving This I Believe, executive producer Dan Gediman said, “The goal is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, the hope is to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own.”
I believe all students deserve to feel like they are cared for and respected while they are learning to their highest potential. Students deserve to come to school each day knowing the people in the school believe they are capable of succeeding in academics and in life, in general. I believe educators should show up to work every day with a fire ignited inside them for their plan to help make the world a better place by educating the future within their classrooms. Growing up, my dad was my principal from K-6th grade. For this reason, I don’t think anything will ever feel more significant to me as an educator than striving to make students feel like school is a second home to them where they are cared for and appreciated.
Education is the foundation for future success, and it is
important for educators to provide the best curriculum for the students who
enter their buildings. Parents and guardians trust educators to provide what it
best for their children, and we need to do that by being flexible and attentive
to the needs of the individual students in our classrooms.
Although the needs of the gifted are tremendous, my hope is to continue to push students within the classroom so that all individuals believe they are gifted and capable of reaching goals they never imagined possible. The passion for education and learning is something educators and high-ability students should be proud of sharing with others around them. It is important to take this passion and energy and turn it into motivation for challenging tasks to create resilient, life-long learners. I definitely want all students to continue to feel like they are capable learners, but I also want to challenge my high-ability students. I want them to reach the point where parts of school are challenging to them now because they shouldn’t have to wait until later in their academic careers to face academic challenges. They need to be prepared for success beyond high school by facing challenges head on with the support of teachers. School shouldn’t be wasted time. It should be challenging and spark new ideas every single day. A child should never end a day of school feeling like they didn’t learn anything.
It can sometimes be hard or feel overwhelming for
teachers to meet the needs of everyone in their classrooms, but it is important
for teachers to lean on each other for support and build a foundation of
educators who strive to empower. There will always be controversial topics
about what is the right or wrong thing to do or teach students who are talented
and gifted, but teachers need to trust in the abilities of their students and
always support them as they grow and develop into world changers.
My role as a teacher of all students, including those
labeled gifted and those not, will be to spread my passion and desire to be a
lifelong learner onto others in the hopes that my excitement lights a spark
within them to go and change the world someday.
Neil Gaiman, listed as one of the top ten living post-modern
writers, is quoted as saying, “I hope that in this year to come, you make
mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying
new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing
your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly,
you’re doing something.”
Professional learning is one of the things that educators are always doing, independently, with their professional learning communities, and with the Belin-Blank Center! We invite you to join us through the gifted-teachers listserv (belinblank.org/listserv), through our Facebook account (facebook.com/belinblank), through our blog (belinblank.wordpress.com), and through our professional development opportunities coming up (belinblank.org/educators/courses). The varied classes we plan throughout the year provide you with tools to better support the needs of gifted and talented learners.
To participate in our classes,
you must register with Distance
and Online Education as a non-degree seeking student; for the State of Iowa
Endorsement in Talented and Gifted Education, you may register as either a
graduate or undergraduate student, regardless of your professional status; if
you won’t benefit in other ways from the graduate credit, you can save tuition
dollars. Once you have your HawkID and
password, you can follow the directions to register for the courses that
interest you the most; follow belinblank.org/educators/reg. All of our classes fulfill strands required
Here is a list of what’s coming
up; all of these are online and asynchronous. Some Spring classes have not been
added to the schedule yet (courses with no instructor listed are facilitated by
Dr. Laurie Croft):
Topics: Competitions for Elementary and Secondary Gifted Students (EDTL:4096:0WKB – 1 semester hour), final fall class, November 12 – December 4. (Dr. Jenelle Miller)
Current Readings & Research in Gifted Education (EDTL:4085:0WKA – 1 semester hour), winter session class shaped to your needs, December 30, 2019 – January 17, 2020.
Program Models in Gifted Education (EDTL:4199:0EXA – 3 semester hours), first spring class offered in an accelerated format from January 21 – March 14.
Identification of Students for Gifted Programs (PSQF:4121:0EXW – 3 semester hours), offered in an accelerated format from January 28 – March 27. (Dr. Susan Assouline)
Administration and Policy in Gifted Education (EPLS:4110:0EXW – 2 semester hours), offered from February 4 – May 1. (Dr. Randy Lange)
Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education (EDTL:4022:0WKA – 3 semester hours), offered in an accelerated format from March 23 – May 15.
Math Programming for High Ability Students (EDTL:4067:0EXW – 1 semester hour), February 26 – March 24. (Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik)
Gender Issues and Giftedness (RCE:4123:0WKA – 1 semester hour), March 23 – April 11. (Dr. Jolene Teske)
Differentiated Instruction for the Gifted (EDTL:4025:0WKA – 1 semester hour), April 13 – May 1. (Debra “Debbie” Judge)
The one-semester-hour classes included in the list above are offered in the three-week workshop format. These classes have no additional technology fees and focus on one topic over three weeks.
The practicum experience required for the Talented and
Gifted Endorsement is available every semester.
The Belin-Blank Center frequently recommends above-level testing for academically talented students because it gives students the opportunity to “show what they can do” and demonstrate their abilities on a test that was developed for older students. This is a common-sense approach to discovering academically talented students. These students have already performed very well on grade-level tests, and they need a greater challenge to demonstrate their aptitudes fully.
Using a grade-level achievement test to measure the aptitudes of an academically talented student is somewhat like using a 3-foot yardstick to measure a person who is 5 feet tall. The grade-level test “yardstick” isn’t long enough to measure the student’s aptitude accurately. By giving a student a test that was developed for older students (an above-level test), we are making our “yardstick” longer and helping to learn more precise information about the student’s capabilities.
The ACT, the test that many students take in 11th or 12th grade as part of the college admissions process, has also been used since the 1980s to discover younger students who are ready for greater academic challenges. We recommend that 7th-9th grade students who have already performed very well on grade-level achievement tests (such as the Iowa Assessments) be encouraged to take the ACT. They can take this test through any one of the university-based talent searches, including the one offered by the Belin-Blank Center.
What can you do with the information? Scores on the ACT can be used to qualify students for a wide variety of academic programs, including programs offered by the Belin-Blank Center. An important opportunity that selected students might also consider is early entrance to college. The Belin-Blank Center hosts the Bucksbaum Academy, which is an early entrance to college program for students who have completed 10th or 11th grade.
Even if your academically talented 7th-9th grade students aren’t thinking about early entrance to college, we still encourage them to take the ACT. Taking this test at a young age provides bright students with many advantages: (1) more information about their aptitudes, (2) opportunities to qualify for a variety of summer and school-year programs, (3) the chance to try out a fun challenge, and (4) for students earning outstanding scores, the opportunity to be recognized in a formal recognition ceremony at the University of Iowa.
November 4th is the next regular deadline to register without a late fee; we encourage you to act today! Students can register here, and teachers can download a letter to send to families here.
The Belin-Blank Center has asked Gerald Aungst, Curiosity Engineer (@GeraldAungst, www.geraldaungst.com), to teach pre-service and practicing teachers about Gifted & General Education Collaboration (course number EDTL:4153:0WKA), from October 8 through October 28.
Referring to the class, he noted, “gifted learners aren’t gifted only when they are in their gifted education classes; it is critical for gifted teachers and general education teachers to work together. This collaboration can be challenging due to conflicting goals, competing schedules, or incompatible philosophies. Learn strategies for making it work despite the complications.”
Online classes have research support for benefits including “time for deeper reflection and the elimination of traditional professional development’s social and physical boundaries” (Edinger, 2017, p. 301). Edinger cites Little and Housand (2011), who found that educators wanting to better serve gifted learners can benefit from online teacher professional development (oTPD) “since these small groups of teachers are separated from one another by distance, but can make professional connections to each other in an online environment” (p. 301).
This one-semester-hour asynchronous class is offered through
Distance and Online Education at the University of Iowa; participants must register
as Distance Education Nondegree-Seeking students (no cost for
registration). Classes offered in this
focused workshop format have the same tuition for in- and out-of-state students,
and they have no extra fees. Tuition is
currently $560 for graduate students per hour and $337 for undergraduate
students per hour. Anyone may register
as an undergraduate through Distance and Online Education; undergraduate credit
is accepted by the State of Iowa for the endorsement (you should always check
with your own district if you want to apply the credit for other