by Dr. Susan Assouline, Belin-Blank Center Director
“Even when the sky is filled with clouds, the sun still shines above.”
This sentiment strikes me as an apt description of our personal and professional lives during the past year.
We experienced literal clouds with the August 2020 derecho. We saw the figurative dark clouds of social injustice through systemic racism and health and economic disparities. Yet, our university’s campus leadership steered our students, faculty, and staff through the clouds of the past year.
Through it all, they never lost sight of the notion that the sun still shone above.
We discovered not only blue sky beyond the clouds of lockdown but many silver linings.
We stayed connected through Zoom meetings. We stepped up with creativity and resiliency to convert our on-site services and programming to online opportunities. We collaborated to create new, innovative programs and services.
Last April, it seemed daunting to sustain our mission without one of our most visible services: summer student programs. Yet, our team of creative and dedicated professionals committed to providing students the specialized programming for which the Belin-Blank Center is known.
The student programming team re-imagined opportunities for K-12 students, which have been available throughout this past year. To do our part to help end the COVID-19 pandemic, we have moved our signature high-school residential programs online this summer. While a bit different from our traditional on-campus experiences, our team has worked hard to create impactful programming that students will remember for a lifetime.
As soon as they were able, with appropriate safety protocols in place, they resumed in-person assessments and have been conducting these for nearly a year. We have even added new services and hired two new licensed psychologists, Dr. Amanda Berns and Dr. Katie Schabilion.
By being online, the Summit will share crucial research with many more people throughout the world. Because we will record each presentation, a broader group of people will have access to the knowledge for a longer time.
During this year of unprecedented challenges, UI President Bruce Harreld and his leadership team demonstrated excellent governance. The College of Education (our academic home) also offered significant leadership during the pandemic.
President Harreld’s service to the campus and the state gained admiration because he fostered transparency and shared governance. People appreciated his service as a staunch supporter of public universities, recognizing their importance at both a state and national level. President Harreld has served our campus for five years. When he announced last fall that he planned to retire, new clouds of uncertainty about the future appeared on the horizon.
Now those clouds have dissipated.
The University of Iowa expects to announce its 22nd President later today (update). We are looking forward to working with new leadership to move into the future. We also wish President Harreld and his wife, Mary, the best as they embark on this next phase of their lives.
Today, the sky is blue.
Opportunities for students, educators, and families seem unlimited. We know there will be clouds again, but we will find new opportunities to be supportive and collaborative when they appear.
We will remember that there are silver linings and blue sky beyond.
Thank you to Marcy Dann, M.A. for writing this guest post!
Families who have been provided with assessment services at the BBC in the past year may also be interested in a supplemental service that is being offered temporarily at a reduced rate through the Bridges 2e Center, where the motto is “Educating the Exceptional”.
The Suite of Tools™ is an assessment process to discover, organize, analyze and prioritize information for strength-based, talent focused learning. The evidence-based tools that are used have been refined at Bridges Academy, an independent school for the twice exceptional student population. These tools can lead to big changes in motivation and achievement.
The process involves having the child complete My LearningPrint™ and the Quick Personality Indicator (QPI™). A team meeting, moderated by Marcy Dann, is held online with the parents to explore the results of their child’s Belin-Blank Center psychoeducational assessment. The meeting will include an in-depth discussion about the child’s strengths, talents and interests.
Parents will also receive a summary report with a personalized talent plan to supplement a student’s IEP, 504 Plan, folder and/or recent Belin-Blank Center evaluation. The report will include insights into when and how a particular student performs optimally, challenges to address, essential elements for learning, and the environmental conditions conducive to his or her development.
For more information, please contact Dr. Doobay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcy Dann, M.A. is a board-certified educational therapist who has been in clinical practice for over 35 years using a strength-based approach with school aged clients and their families and is a consultant at Bridges Academy, a school for twice-exceptional students in Los Angeles, California. She relies on the parents’ perspectives when listening carefully to the vignettes they share about their child. She recognizes the academic, cognitive, social-emotional, creative and physical issues that must be addressed for students to access the curriculum and to show what they’ve learned in school and at home. Dann is currently collaborating with the Belin-Blank Center Assessment and Counseling Clinic (BBC) by providing strength-based assessments.
Bridging psychology and neuroscience, the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute will collaborate to bring researchers, clinicians, educators, and parents together to address the current state of research on twice-exceptionality. Part of the purpose of this interdisciplinary summit is to form partnerships with other institutions in furthering twice-exceptional research and best practice.
The summit will take place on Monday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 18, 2021. The event will be completely online and feature a variety of keynotes and breakout sessions delving into recent research’s insights into twice-exceptionality. Registrants will have access to the live sessions, as well as recordings of all presentations after the event.
If you currently attend or are employed by the University of Iowa, email us at email@example.com to register for free.
Outside of the UI, standard registration is $145 and non-UI current students may register for $45.
A credit option is available to those who participate in the summit through PSQF:4128:0WKA – Neuroscientific Implications for Gifted Ed: Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (May 20 – June 10). The Belin-Blank Center provides a tuition scholarship equal to 50% of the cost of graduate-level tuition. Whether you choose undergraduate or graduate credit, your tuition for this one semester hour of credit will be $280.). Learn more.
We feature speakers sharing research from several different domains, including neuroscience, genetics, gifted education, special education, psychology, and psychiatry.
Belin-Blank Center – Iowa Neuroscience Institute Presenters
Members of the Belin-Blank Center and Iowa Neuroscience Institute collaborative team look forward to sharing their current work with attendees through presentations and panel discussions.
Edwin G. Abel, Ph.D.
Molecular Mechanisms of Memory Storage
Jake Michaelson, Ph.D.
Genetic Signatures of Twice-Exceptionality
Thomas Nickl-Jockschat, Ph.D.
Disrupted brain growth patterns – a key mechanism underlying autism
Susan G. Assouline, Ph.D., Brandon LeBeau, Ph.D., and Katie Schabilion, Ph.D.
Integration of the Medical Model and Talent Development Model in Understanding 2e Students (Panel)
Dr. Amanda Berns is a Licensed Psychologist who is joining the clinical staff in the Assessment and Counseling Clinic. She attended the University of Iowa while obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Psychology, Education Specialist, and Doctor of Philosophy in School Psychology. Dr. Berns gained experience working in schools, outpatient clinics at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, the local homeless shelter, and children’s homes through the Early Access Autism Resources Team at Grant Wood Area Education Agency. She also completed an iLEND fellowship and externships at Nisonger Center and St. David’s Center.
For two years in graduate school, Dr. Berns held an assistantship providing mentorship to talented and gifted college students at the Belin-Blank Center, as well. Dr. Berns attended a predoctoral internship at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health and a postdoctoral fellowship at The Counseling Center of Nashua. She also worked in public schools as a traveling school psychologist and Autism Consultant, and outpatient settings at Wisconsin Early Autism Project (WEAP).
Besides having a wealth of clinical experience across these settings, Dr. Berns has particular expertise in assessment and intervention services for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In particular, her research background is in the social-emotional experiences of those who are twice-exceptional. She is excited to join the Belin-Blank Center’s Assessment and Counseling Clinic, where she is conducting twice-exceptional evaluations and providing counseling services.
Be sure to check out all of the clinical services we provide in our Assessment and Counseling Clinic. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment or requesting more information, you can do so here!
In January 2020, members of the Belin-Blank Center and the Iowa Neuroscience Institute were eagerly preparing for a summer Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality (2e). We planned to invite researchers, clinicians, and educators to the University of Iowa campus to discuss and advance the field of 2e research. Like many other large gatherings scheduled for this year, the COVID-19 pandemic led our team to reimagine the event as a virtual experience. We are excited to invite you to join us online this spring!
The virtual Summit on the Neuroscience of Twice-Exceptionality will occur May 17-18, 2021, and registration is available now! This event aims to advance research in the area of twice-exceptionality by sparking conversation and collaboration across disciplines. Both days will feature presentations from prominent scholars highlighting the potential for collaboration among neuroscience, gifted education, psychology, and special education. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from experts at the Belin-Blank Center, including Dr. Susan Assouline, Dr. Megan Foley-Nicpon, and Dr. Alissa Doobay, as well as members of the Iowa Neuroscience Institute, including Dr. Jake Michaelson, Dr. Ted Abel, and Dr. Thomas Nickl Jockschat. We’re also proud to welcome Dr. Sally M. Reis from the University of Connecticut, Dr. James Booth from Vanderbilt University, and Dr. Marjorie Solomon from the University of California-Davis. More information about all of our speakers is available on our website.
Everyone is welcome to register. The content will be most relevant for people interested in learning about research developments on the topic of twice-exceptionality, pursuing or informing future research, and applying research findings to better understand and support twice-exceptional individuals. We hope you will join us for this exciting interdisciplinary event!
Have you heard about Let’s Talk 2e! virtual conference? Launching for FREE on August 19-21, this conference (formerly known as “2 Days of 2e”) is for parents of twice exceptional children to learn about:
Strategies to address and relieve stress
Alternative educational placements
Identifying learning styles
Culturally diverse learners
Strategies to address trauma
Giftedness and Autism
Connecting personality and learning styles
Technology tips for your 2e learner
Launching your 2e child
Gain free access for 24 hours and then the option to purchase an ALL ACCESS PASS, which includes speaker gifts for you, audio files, and a live Q/A session with speakers!
Don’t miss our own Drs. Alissa Doobay, Megan Foley-Nipon, and Katie Schabilion’s session, “Twice Exceptionality: The Intersection of Giftedness and Autism” on August 20. And check out the rest of the incredible line-up below.
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.
Q: Who was Jacob K. Javits and what does he have to do with gifted education?
A: In 1988, the U.S. Congress passed theonly 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
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!
A new group has been organized in the I-380 corridor to provide an informational support network to parents and educators of twice-exceptional (2e) learners.
Understood.org has partnered with Amanda Freese to offer monthly meetings that provide information about strength-based advocacy for 2e individuals as well as resources and services related to enrichment academic opportunities and learning and attention challenges.
The group meets on the third Tuesday of each month from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Odd monthly meetings are held in North Liberty and even monthly meetings are held in Cedar Rapids. The April meeting, “Building a 504/IEP Success Binder Workshop,” is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17 at Grant Wood AEA.
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;
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 ANation 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.