Wednesday, March 9, 2016

25 signs your gifted child is misunderstood at school

Most of us have been through it. That sinking feeling when your gifted child becomes bored, unmotivated or miserable in school. That uncertainty over how much to intervene, when to advocate, and whether to approach the school or risk alienating teachers when you ask for something more.

This is not meant as a rant against teachers. They have a demanding and often thankless job. I have worked with many children who have received a remarkable education. And my own kids were fortunate to have crossed paths with many wonderful teachers throughout their school years.

And yet...

There are some teachers who don't understand giftedness, do not have the time or energy to address these students' needs, or refuse to provide gifted services as a result of school policy, pressure from other parents, misconceptions, lack of training, or misguided opinions unsupported by actual evidence or research.

Below are 25 signs your gifted child is misunderstood at school. These are evident when your child is...

1. expected to succeed just because she is gifted, without requiring additional instruction or resources beyond what is taught in the regular classroom

2. perceived as demanding just because he is curious, questions rules, and has strong opinions

3. not permitted to accelerate by subject or grade

4. not grouped with peers who possess similar abilities because administrators or other parents perceive this as elitist or exclusionary

5. allowed to read a novel during class because there are no challenging classroom activities

6. punished for reading a novel during class when there are no challenging classroom activities

7. required to "tutor" other students, resulting in alienation from peers, and possible teasing and bullying

8. singled out and recognized for being "so smart," resulting in alienation from peers, and possible teasing and bullying

9. blamed for her underachievement, even when it springs from chronic boredom and frustration with school

10. criticized when his social maturity lags behind his intellect

11. slapped with a label such as ADHD, "on the spectrum," or oppositional, without the qualifications to diagnose or an actual evaluation confirming it

12. told to wait and wait and wait... until the other students catch up

13. grouped with less able peers on group projects, with the expectation that she will help the other students with the assignment

14. forced to participate in so-called gifted "enrichment" activities that are neither relevant nor meaningful to him (e.g., trips to museums, musicals), since these somehow fulfill the school's "requirements" for having a gifted program

15. expected to take all honors and AP classes in high school, regardless of her interest in specific subjects

16. chastised for expressing enthusiasm over an accomplishment (e.g., "hey, I solved this math problem!") since it "might make other students feel bad"

17. overlooked when it is time for awards, especially if she has subject accelerated, as teachers "forget" to consider her during awards nominations

18. expected to believe that mixed ability classrooms are truly beneficial even when he clearly senses the fallacy of that argument

19. told that her educational needs are not as important as those of struggling or less able students

20. routinely given A's, even when the grade is achieved with little effort

21. never given an opportunity to work hard at school, develop study skills, strategic planning abilities, or learn from failure experiences

22. offered "extra" homework, assignments and worksheets to supplement the regular classwork

23. chastised for not acting as smart as he should, given his intellectual abilities

24. not given the necessary information for searching and applying for specific colleges that might truly challenge and inspire her

25. expected to fit in with all children his age, even though his advanced intellect, heightened sensitivities, overexcitabilities, attunement to social justice issues, and possible asynchronous development make it difficult

Sound familiar?

What can you do when many of the above inevitably occur?

  • First, tune in to what your child needs most and identify what is necessary in each situation. Sometimes, this means contacting the school and intervening with teachers and administrators. Other times, it is better to step back, since involvement might create more problems, upset your child, or result in backlash. This is especially true for older children. Sometimes offering your child emotional support, coping strategies, ideas for self-advocacy, and resources outside of school may be the most effective approach.

  • Get involved with advocacy on a macro level. Often, working on changing the structure of how gifted education is delivered will help both your child and the lives of many other children. Join local and state gifted organizations, enlist other parents of gifted children to develop advocacy goals, form a parent group, and learn as much as possible from sites such as Hoagies Gifted, NAGC, SENG and Davidson's Forums.

  • Make changes if necessary. If your child is distressed, miserable or languishing in an educational system that cannot meet his or her needs, get help. If it is financially possible, some parents find alternative options, such as private schools, cyber schools, charter schools or homeschooling. If affordable, find activities outside of school that are meaningful and challenging. If your child is anxious, depressed, or acting out, consider therapy. What is most important is staying attuned to your child's needs, and deciding when to intervene.

What signs can you add to the list above? And what have you done to help your child? Let us know in the comments section below!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What keeps women from STEM careers?

Women are consistently underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, despite efforts to encourage and recruit them. For example, Jensen and Nutt reported that while 74% of middle school girls were interested in STEM subjects, only .3% eventually majored in computer science. Studies have found that only 18% of computer science graduates and 12% of engineers are women.

What stops girls and young women from pursuing math and science interests in high school, college and in their careers?

1. Widespread gender bias in both educational settings and the workforce. This includes overt, subtle and unconscious bias from teachers, peers, professors and employers regarding women's abilities in math or science. Women may be seen as less capable, less committed to their careers (especially once they have children), and they are expected to prove themselves repeatedly to gain respect. Women may be perceived as hard workers, but not as bright as men, who are viewed as "more innately brilliant." They also are held to a higher standard.

2. Assumptions about math anxiety. Due to their heightened sensitivity, girls are affected by both their teacher's and their mother's anxiety about math. They may believe others' negative views about their abilities, and develop anxiety about math that is inconsistent with their actual performance, yet still holds them back.

3. Less practice with toys and games that improve spatial skills. Most girls do not gravitate toward activities requiring spatial abilities to the same degree as boys, giving boys an edge with these skills as they mature. A recent article suggested that girls would benefit from a greater emphasis on developing spatial abilities starting in childhood. Since the 1980's, boys have spent more time playing computer games, and this corresponds with a dramatic decrease in the number of women entering the computer science field. The Maker Movement is an attempt to counteract this trend and stimulate interest in technology among girls.

4. Lack of confidence in their own abilities. Girls lose confidence in their math and science capabilities starting at a young age, avoid taking more difficult math courses, and often view boys as "smarter," especially in math. One study found that 60% of 12-year-old girls assumed STEM subjects would be too difficult for them. And feeling confident and being "recognized" for one's math abilities has been associated with choosing a career in math or science. Kay and Shipman described how women often attribute their success to luck or effort, and any failure to lack of ability or an internal flaw. They also consistently underestimate their performance, and expect perfection before they promote themselves in the workforce.

What are some other roadblocks?

Given these barriers, it is remarkable how many women actually remain on track for a career in STEM. And addressing these difficulties is critical to closing the gender gap. But are there other factors that also contribute to these roadblocks?

One intriguing possibility was proposed by Rosenbloom and colleagues. They identified interests and preferences - not confidence or math ability - as reasons why fewer women pursue STEM, reporting that this accounted for 83% of the gender differences in choosing IT as a career. Women in their study were identified as less concerned with inanimate systems, and more interested in working with plants, animals or people.

In another article, Pinker claimed that women make an active decision to turn down STEM career options. She critiqued the AAUW findings regarding the limited number of women in STEM careers, and commented that:

"Starting from the assumption that anything predominantly "male" is the desirable standard, the AAUW report never questions why women should choose technical fields over other disciplines, except to echo the sixties era notion that any ratio that tilts towards male must reflect something worth having."

Pinker also suggested that women differ from men, as they may be less willing to sacrifice their personal interests for salary or tolerate the frequently required job relocations, and may want to focus on people and the arts rather than objects. She noted that the AAUW report:

"...rarely questions how many women are actually that keen to sign on to all aspects of male-typical STEM careers; to wit, frequent moves, prioritizing salary and promotions over personal happiness, or sacrificing one's deep interests in other fields, say in history, human development, or public policy - all in order to fix, sell or distribute widgets..."
Ultimately, everyone must choose a career path, and this may mean sacrificing some of these "deep interests" for one that pays the bills. However, Pinker raises some key points that are relevant to gifted women who work best when intrinsically motivated, long to feel passionate about their work and seek meaning in what they do.

Gifted girls and STEM

Gifted girls are attuned to a deep sense of fairness and social justice starting from an early age. As women, they often thrive in a collaborative, supportive environment. Friendly, as opposed to cut-throat, competition is enlivening, and knowing their efforts are in service of some greater good fulfills a sense of mission and meaning. If they are going to "fix, sell or distribute widgets," those widgets ought to be developed through a collaborative team effort, designed with an intense creative focus, and serve a useful and worthy cause.

Another study supports this perspective, and points to the importance of enlisting girls' sense of purpose and desire to effect meaningful change:
"Girls want to change the world. 
Eighty-eight percent say they want to make a difference with their lives, and 90 percent express a desire to help people, according to the Girl Scouts' 'Generation STEM' research. Girls have traditionally achieved this goal through people-oriented careers rather than through applying technology and scientific expertise to change the way things are done. 
However, if more girls learn that STEM careers open up new avenues to help and serve, more girls will choose STEM."

Finding meaning and connection 

Women have a relational need for connection. This concept has been highlighted through the work of Jordan and colleagues. They have proposed that people grow through and toward relationships, and women develop a sense of self-in-relation to others. How women relate to others is essential to who they are and how they feel about themselves.

This fundamental relational element may have been overlooked in the frenzy to engage girls' interest in robotics, coding and the lab. While it is essential to address the widespread gender bias in STEM fields, the unfair and inaccurate assumptions about girls' math abilities, and the low self-esteem that can impede girls' efforts, it is just as critical to engage this relational, collaborative, and altruistic component of many girls' sense of self. Otherwise, working with systems, numbers and objects may seem too isolated, abstract, and devoid of meaning to warrant their efforts. And gifted girls with multipotentialities and an array of choices may readily dismiss the path toward a STEM career unless they view it as potentially fulfilling and meaningful. Parents and educators must consider this necessary component of girls' identity if they wish to encourage their involvement in math and science fields.

In addition to my work with gifted individuals, I have specialized in women's issues and eating disorders for over 30 years. This blog post is one in a series about gifted girls and women.

Other posts about gifted girls and women include:

This blog is part of the Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on March Mathness. To see more blogs in the hop, click on the following link: