You may be wondering why we did not have school on Wednesday. I’m happy to share that it was for an incredible educational experience! We were very fortunate to welcome Dr. Susan Baum and Hank Nicols to campus for a three-day professional development workshop. Dr. Baum is the co-director of the International Center for Talent Development and a national leader in the field of gifted and twice-exceptional education. She has served as a professor, international consultant and has published several books. Mr. Nicols also works at the International Center for Talent Development and focuses on differentiated instruction, emotional intelligence, and stress and time management. Dr. Baum and Mr. Nicols worked with K-12 faculty on Wednesday, conducted model lessons with K-8 students on Thursday and spent time with the high school on Friday.
Why Professional Development on Gifted Education?
Many people in our community incorrectly believe that Assets School is only for students with language-based learning differences. However, our mission is clear that we serve “gifted and/or dyslexic children.” While we all know each of our students bring tremendous gifts and talents, a sizable percentage of our student body is classified as either gifted or twice-exceptional (2e), which is a term used to characterize gifted students who are exceptional because of both their strengths and difficulties. Twice-exceptional students might have supreme talent but also possess a weakness in reading, writing, spelling, organization, or some other skill that doesn’t allow them to easily demonstrate their true intelligence in traditional educational settings. Dr. Megan Foley Nicpon sums up the challenge these 2e students face when she wrote that they are, “the most misjudged, misunderstood, and neglected segment of the student population.” Needless to say, I was very excited to learn with and from Dr. Baum and Mr. Nicols.
On Wednesday, we learned about the Baum and Nicols Personality Prototype Model. If you want to take the adult version of this test, you can find it here. Then, you can learn what your results mean by reading this article. The main takeaway for me was that even though we each possess all four of the personality styles, and will use different styles in different situations, we usually have preferences. These preferences comprise our personality profile. This is informative to us as educators because it’s another tool to help us think about what our students’ needs are and what supports we can offer. It helps us think about how we might differentiate our instructional practice, assessment methods, and classroom environment. We do this because we want to try and allow students to spend as much time as possible in environments and with tasks that align to their strengths. By doing this, we allow students to feel confident and demonstrate their best true selves.
On Thursday, we were treated to Dr. Baum and Mr. Nicols teaching four lessons with our K-8 students. They led lessons on: (1) Moving to Write; (2) Building Geodesic Domes: The All Important Triangle; (3) Building Towers To Initiate a Unit on the Physics of Structure or Using Divergent Thinking to Generate Ideas for Inventions; and (4) Using Moral Dilemmas to Write Persuasive Essays or Perspective Writing. The students had a blast with these creative lessons that encouraged them to be innovative thinkers. You’ll notice from the photos that the lessons also incorporated foundational elements of the Assets program – multi-sensory, experiential, collaboration, and problem-based. A highlight for me was watching two Grade 5/6 classrooms build paper structures that needed to hold encyclopedias. They were only allowed 20 pieces of paper and 36 inches of tape. It wasn’t a competition but the design that held the most held a whopping 21 books! Books were added one-at-a-time so you can imagine the rising excitement and astonishment as the students achieved 5 books….then 10….then 20…… There was a celebratory roar when it finally collapsed. Incredible!
Advice for Parents
During our time with Dr. Baum, one of our teachers asked if she had any advice for parents of 2e children. I loved her answer. She reminded us that we always need to start with what the child does well. She then advised parents to focus on developing talents. She said it was the parents’ job to, “be the opportunity-makers and supporter for their kids.” Parents can focus on this role because the school is generally serving as expert in the areas that the the child struggles with. I’d like to think Assets also helps parents develop their child’s talent and find rich opportunities for them but Dr. Baum’s main point is well taken. We collectively need to embrace a “strengths-based” approach with our kids, as opposed to a deficit-based one. This means we emphasize his strengths over his deficits because we remember that his talents and interests will be what helps him build resiliency and self-efficacy.
I think the strength-based approach is beneficial for all children but it’s particularly salient for our children with learning differences. Many of our students have experienced a great deal of struggle and frustration in their educational lives. Because of this, it’s incumbent on the adults in these childrens’ lives to identify and support what Drs. Robert Brooks and Samuel Goldstein have termed, islands of competence. This metaphor comes from the idea that our students have often spent much of their time in an ocean of inadequacy (i.e. settings that don’t understanding and honor their learning needs); therefore, we must find islands of competence – areas where children have current or potential strengths and that can serve as sources of pride and accomplishment. When I wrote about Assets’ Enrichment Program several weeks ago, I didn’t use these terms, but the concept was at the heart of my message. One of our pressing goals is to help students find the stages, fields, classrooms and studios in their lives where they are capable learners and can shine!
We will devote future blog space to discuss more specifically the type of educational program that gifted and 2e students need to be successful. If you are looking for helpful resources, I would suggest the 2e Newsletter. I look forward to continuing this conversation!