Tag Archives: teaching

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.

Springing into Professional Development

In the spring—and it’s looking like spring in Eastern Iowa–a teacher’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … professional learning opportunities in the summer.  Alfred, Lord Tennyson, originated the wording for a different audience, but it’s true that teachers are always looking for better ways to help their students achieve.  The Belin-Blank Center offers professional learning opportunities throughout the spring and the summer to provide educators with more opportunities to understand the unique needs of gifted learners, supporting their social emotional needs and challenging them academically.

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 by registering for undergraduate credit.  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 for endorsement.

This is a list of classes still available this spring:

  • Gender Issues and Giftedness (RCE:4123:0WKA – 1 semester hour), March 23 – April 11. (Dr. Jolene Teske)
  • Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education (EDTL:4066:0EXW – 3 semester hours), offered in an accelerated format from March 23 – May 15 (Dr. Laurie Croft)
  • 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 (0WKA) format.  These classes have no additional technology fees and focus for three weeks on one topic.

Professional Development in 2020

Oprah Winfrey is one of the many notables that have contributed thoughts for the new year, saying, “Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”

At the Belin-Blank Center, we have been getting professional development right for four decades!  We invite you to join us through the gifted-teachers listserv (belinblank.org/listserv), through our Facebook (facebook.com/BelinBlank), and Twitter (@belinblank) accounts, through our blog (belinblank.wordpress.com), and through our professional development opportunities coming up (belinblank.org/educators/courses).  We know that you are committed to understanding the varied needs of gifted/talented children, and learning about ways that parents, teachers, and friends can meet those needs. 

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 for endorsement.

Here is a list of what’s coming up, organized in chronological order. All of these are online and asynchronous. Courses with no instructor listed are facilitated by Dr. Laurie Croft):

  • 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.
  • Practicum in Gifted Education (various start dates for different populations—EDTL:4188:0001 is for full-time students in the College of Education and spans the entire semester; EDTL:4188:0EXW is for educators who want to earn more than one hour of practicum, March 24 – May 9; and EDTL:4188:0WKA is for educators who want to earn the one required hour of practicum, April 14 – May 4.  One ICON site that opens in January.).
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Curriculum Concepts in Gifted Education (EDTL:4066:0EXW – 3 semester hours), offered in an accelerated format from March 23 – May 15.
  • 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 (0WKA) format.  These classes have no additional technology fees and focus for three weeks on one topic.

Questions?  Email educators@belinblank.org.

Belin-Blank Fellowship Program

The new year, 2020, will be the 40th year for The Connie Belin & Jacqueline N. Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education.  This prestigious fellowship program attracts applicants from across the United States and often has at least one participant from another nation. 

The Belin-Blank Fellowship is designed for educators who are NEW to the field of gifted education and have not already had opportunities to learn as much as they want and need to know about the gifted/talented students in their schools and districts. 

Please share details about the Fellowship with colleagues and friends who have an interest in Gifted Education!

Forty years of experience have convinced the Belin-Blank Center that the most effective way to provide meaningful educational experiences to gifted students is to provide a special program for classroom teachers, school counselors and psychologists, and school administrators.  Through an immersive educational journey, educators will develop the skills to better understand and work with gifted students as well as the knowledge and skills to provide leadership for others.

Varying approaches to professional development in gifted education exist, but no program provides the incentives for educators, as well as the intensive individualized approach, offered by this fellowship program.  The Belin-Blank Fellowship Program in Gifted Education makes it possible for a select number of educators, nominated by their schools/districts, to participate in professional development in gifted education.

The Fellowship will take place from June 21 – 26, 2020; the application process begins by January 27 and ends on March 2, 2020

Please visit belinblank.org/fellowship for more details.  Invite those who will serve as effective allies in developing the talents of our gifted learners to apply in late January.  Contact educators@belinblank.org with questions.

Winter Break Opportunity for Professionals and Parents

The fall semester has flown by, and it’s almost 2020!  Happy holidays and we hope you are looking forward to exciting opportunities in the new year.  Goethe has a quote that seems so appropriate for a new year:  Knowing is not enough; we must apply.  Wishing is not enough; we must do.

Over the short winter break (December 30 – January 17, 2020), educators and/or parents can take advantage of one of our most useful classes entitled Current Readings and Research in Gifted Education (EDTL:4085:0WKA)!

As the title suggests, this is your opportunity to read that book you’ve heard about (or at least several chapters of that book, since a one-semester-hour class requires only about 150 – 175 pages of readings).  NAGC has awarded three 2019 book awards:

Scholar
Talent Development as a Framework for Gifted Education: Implications for Best Practices and Applications in Schools (Prufrock Academic Press) by Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Rena F. Subotnik, and Frank C. Worrell

Practitioner
A Teacher’s Guide to Flexible Grouping and Collaborative Learning (Free Spirit Publishing) by Dina Brulles and Karen L. Brown

Parent/Caregiver
Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World (Workman Publishing) by Deborah Reber

If you attended a state conference or the national convention, you might have heard about other materials that would help you better advocate for or meet the needs of your own advanced learner(s).

You can also read research-based articles for this credit; we give you the tips you need to find your own journal articles (and while you are enrolled for credit, you have full access to all the online materials in the University of Iowa libraries!).  We can also help you find the most useful materials on a topic of importance to you (e.g., how to support twice-exceptional learners, or what articles would be most helpful to you for that upcoming professional development session you’re providing at your school later in January).

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 for endorsement.  All will help you better understand important issues in the field.  Billy Wilder, journalist, screenwriter, and filmmaker, is given credit for saying, “Hindsight is always 20 : 20.”  Let’s plan ahead for 2020, identifying and implementing best practices for gifted children.

This I Believe: Abby Wilcox

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.”

To read the other posts in this series, see below:
This I Believe: Nicole Behrend
This I Believe: Marcelina Bixler


This I Believe
by Abby Wilcox
Math Teacher in Ankeny, IA and completing the University of Iowa College of Education MA in Teaching, Leadership, & Cultural Competency

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.

This I Believe: Marcelina Bixler

This is a second 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.”

To read the first post in this series, click here.


This I Believe
by Marcelina Bixler
Proud Harrison Elementary (Davenport, IA) Teacher, also pursuing the University of Iowa College of Education MA in Teaching, Leadership, & Cultural Competency

I believe in believing in your students. I believe as educators we have many roles and responsibilities, we have at school for students of such diverse backgrounds and home life.  The role I believe that connects us to our students, not only in teaching and instructing, is building relationships with our students.

All my life I always knew what I wanted to be a teacher.  My mom would encourage me and say I would make a good teacher as I gave my younger brothers instructions and always made them be my students when I played school.  I think it was a nice way of saying I was a “bossy” sister.  Neither of my parents graduated high school, so they believed in me and supported my dream.  When I was in high school, just to be sure that education was the route I would take after high school, I took a couple of business classes and I was in a co-op class for Business Professionals of America.  I did the books and accounting for a local salon.  I remember one of my teachers asked what I wanted to be, which a teacher had never asked me before in school.  I responded proudly that I wanted to be a teacher.  She smiled and responded that I would make a good secretary and walked away.  I was crushed because as a teenager and student, you want your teachers to believe in you. I was an average student and had to work hard for my grades.  I was a bit crushed and wondered if college and my dream of being a teacher would be attainable.  Because I had a strong support system at home and I believed in myself…I became a teacher.

This is why I believe in believing in students.

Believing in their abilities, believing in their contributions, believing in their dreams, believing that we can get them one step closer and guiding them there. 

I believe in knowing our students’ abilities whether it is a disability to our talented and gifted.  What I don’t believe is that the talented and gifted are getting what they need in a pull out program once or twice a week in just the subjects of math and reading but also incorporating the arts.  We are motivators, encouragers, and believers in our students from the toughest of students to the most talented and gifted.  I believe our responsibility is a great one, but a rewarding one knowing we did our best in providing an education and built a relationship. I choose to believe in believing in students by knowing their abilities, learning styles, and interest so that I can challenge their strengths as well as work on what they need to progress in while building a relationship and providing a culturally responsive classroom.