Friday, December 22, 2017

Gifted education 2017: My top picks for interesting, controversial, and thought-provoking articles from the past year

Here are my top ten 2017 picks for articles reflecting trends and findings related to giftedness. They include opinion pieces and research on gifted education, STEM, psychological factors and work life. There were many great articles to choose from, but these stood out as diverse examples from what this past year had to offer.

Connecting psychology research to gifted education practice

"How do students think and learn? What motivates students? Why are social context, interpersonal relationships, and emotional well-being important to student learning?"

Ability grouping and acceleration can help teachers and school leaders

"Our review of published research results found that most forms of ability grouping and academic acceleration succeed in addressing the needs of advanced learners without harming (and even helping) learning in other students."

High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities

"Preliminary findings strongly support a hyper brain/hyper body association which may have substantial individual and societal implications and warrants further investigation..."

Spatial skills: A neglected dimension of early STEM education

"The importance of spatial skills is often overlooked as a key feature of STEM education. The frequent neglect of spatial development creates an additional barrier to children's STEM learning."

Why educators trained in neuroscience continue to believe in neuromyths

"Researchers found that most of us still believe long-debunked myths such as the left-brained paradigm and learning styles theory. What's more troubling is that having a background in neuroscience doesn't appear to reduce these beliefs..."

The lay of the gifted land

"You can see that gifted across the nation is like the wild west. There is no law controlling entity so many states and districts decide what they will and will not do. Some have a sheriff who keeps the order and makes sure the gifted community is being protected. Others have no one looking out for gifted and so it gets pushed aside."


"Anti-intellectualism and the accompanying disinterest in educational pursuits is a nationwide epidemic and that the number of students who simply do not care about what is being taught has never been higher."

Why female students leave STEM

"Georgetown University researchers explored what drives women who entered a STEM major to switch to something else. Their findings, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, show that the answer is a complex combination of factors..."

Misinterpreting the growth mindset: Why we're doing students a disservice

"She [Carol Dweck] states that a growth mindset is not merely about effort, praise, feeling good, running around saying 'I can', believing everyone is smart, or used to explain why some students are not learning."

Why your IQ strongly influences your success at work

"The researchers reviewed dozens of studies and found that smarter people generally perform better at work...The really surprising bit is that, while being smart is more important the more complicated your job is - think a lawyer or an accountant - it's even meaningful for relatively uncomplicated jobs."

Also, please see my top ten list of Best 2017 articles about music and music education.

Let me know of exceptional articles or blog posts from the past year in the comments section below. (Note: I did not include blogs posts from the many talented writers in the gifted education field, since I would not have had room for all of them!)

Wishing all of you a wonderful holiday and a happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ten great articles in 2017 about musical skills development, music education, and performance

Here are my top ten 2017 picks for great articles about music, the arts, music's effects on child development, and the importance of music in education.

How parents can nurture a lifelong love of the arts
"The arts have the potential to create opportunities for self-reflection and self-expression, but gifted kids often lose interest in the arts the same way they lose interest in school: when teachers do not draw out students' own original, exploratory thinking."

Ten reasons to let your kid major in music
"Following the tough road of a music major will make your daughter more sturdy and flexible than kids who drift through 'safe' degree programs."

Arts standards quietly take hold in 14 states
"As or early this year, 14 states and the Department of Defense Education Activity had either adopted the National Core Arts Standards in their entirety or written new ones based on them. Several more states are expected to follow suit in the coming months."

John Coltrane draws a picture illustrating the mathematics of music
"Thelonious Monk once said: All musicians are subconsciously mathematicians.' Musicians like John Coltrane though have been very much aware of the mathematics of music and consciously applied it to his works."

Where all the school's a stage, and the list of success stories is long
"Performing and visual arts high schools like New World inspire a fierce devotion among students and graduates. It is no wonder. Many serve as springboards to the professional world."

Music interventions and child development: A critical review and further directions
"This paper reviews the latest evidence on the effect of musical interventions on the development of primary school-aged children."

How to become the best in the world at your skills, according to science
"The solution that masters use is "deliberate practice" - a science-backed method that can help you become exceptional at doing what you do best." 

Music performance anxiety: Perceived causes and coping strategies
"Thirty-nine per cent of the musicians had indicators of MPA [music performance anxiety]. The most commonly reported causes were repertoire difficulty (57%), concerns about audience response (52%), and self-pressure (51%)."

Music education, academic achievement and executive functions
"This study examined whether music education was associated with improved performance on measures of academic achievement and executive functions."

There's something missing from STEM learning
"At its best, STEAM removes the limitations of pure orderly thinking and replaces them with wonder, critique, inquiry and innovation."

Here are two articles I wrote, as well:

Your musically gifted child's road to college
"How can you help your child decide about college when music is his passion? What options are available, realistic, and financially sound?"

How to find the right music teacher for your child
"While there are specific qualities seen among excellent music teachers, what is also critical is the teacher's understanding of your child's developmental, emotional, and motivational needs."

Wishing you a "harmonious" and happy New Year! 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Key relationship dilemmas for gifted women

What are some of the challenges, dilemmas and downright hazards that gifted women may face in even seemingly rock-solid marriages or relationships?

With all that brainpower, gifted women might be expected to reason their way out of snafus and predict whatever dangers lie ahead. Yet emotions reign supreme, and logic has little to do with feelings. And giftedness brings specific challenges for women in the course of a long-term relationship.

In a previous post, ten sources of conflicts gifted adults often encounter in relationships were listed. Here are some specific dilemmas that are likely to impact women in relationships:

Competitive feelings

While a competitive drive is not exclusive to gifted people (and sometimes even lacking - see gifted underachievers), constant competition within a relationship can derail connection and intimacy. The drive to excel at school and work can migrate into relationships, and some gifted women believe that they must repeatedly prove their worth in order to gain acceptance. If you always need to be right and win every argument, if you must prove your point every time, if you always feel compelled to outperform your partner's abilities, then a pattern of resentment, distance and bitterness will ensue.

Alternatively, if you completely submerge your competitive feelings for the "good of the relationship," you will be denying an important aspect of yourself. Some gifted women learned to mask their competitive drive as early as middle school to remain popular. As adults, they may hold on to long-held fears that standing out will scare others away. Learning when and how to compete, when to allow yourself shine, when to let go, and when to compromise are essential skills for thriving in a relationship - and living in the real world.

Guilt, ambivalence and shame

Some gifted women choose to be stay-at-home moms, or pursue the "mommy-track" in their careers. Even child-free gifted women may choose a less demanding career path than they (or those around them) had predicted. As a result, some may feel guilt or shame because they have not utilized their abilities to the fullest or feel they have not lived up to their potential. Some gifted women feel like impostors, and harbor suspicions that they were never smart after all. Those with multiple talents may bemoan the road not taken. Working moms often agonize and obsess over time spent away from home, and whether day care will cause irreparable harm - even when their children are flourishing.

Since career decisions are often considered within the constraints of a relationship/marriage (e.g., location, schedules, travel demands), some women feel thwarted or resentful if they abandon their goals - or guilty when they pursue them at a cost to the relationship. Women who forge ahead, and place demands on their partner or spouse (such as relocation, a greater proportion of childcare) may feel guilt and worry that their partner will resent them.

Breadwinner blues

Many women are now the primary breadwinners in their relationships. Some relish this opportunity; others may feel ambivalent. In one study, female breadwinners were interviewed, and although many were ambitious and took pride in their accomplishments, some experienced guilt and resentment about their multiple roles. Gifted women who are more financially successful than their partners/spouses within heterosexual relationships may fear an imbalance that can result in resentment and anger. Rather than welcoming greater financial freedom, some men can feel "disempowered" or even emasculated by their partner's success. Although most relationships can weather this storm (sometimes with the aid of counseling), it can tap into anxiety and ambivalence many gifted women experience about achieving and showcasing their talents.


Perfectionism wreaks havoc on self-esteem, academics and work, as the pursuit of perfection can backfire. It also may interfere with finding and maintaining a healthy relationship. Harsh self-criticism ("I am too unattractive or unsuccessful or unappealing or uninteresting..."), search for the ideal mate ("I won't settle for anything other than the most minor flaws"), and ongoing critique within a relationship can result in unhappiness, conflict, and unsuccessful partnerships. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as "healthy perfectionism." Identifying how overly high expectations, perfectionistic standards and unreasonable criticism interfere with finding joy in relationships is essential.

Overthinking everything

Even if you are not a perfectionist, a tendency to overthink or overanalyze can create problems. Many gifted people overanalyze situations, people, events... sometimes, just about everything. It comes naturally due to their quick, analytical minds. Problems occur when analysis interferes with spontaneous, enthusiastic engagement with life and with those you love. Sometimes overthinking can contribute to perfectionism (see above), excessive scrutiny of minor relationship struggles, or personal flaws. Many overanalyzers pick apart their perceived imperfections, resulting in self-consciousness, body negativity, and low self-esteem. A negative self-concept creates barriers to intimacy, confidence in relationships, and even the capacity to enter fully into a relationship at all.

What is the next step?

With some attention to the above pitfalls, gifted women should be able to use their inherent smarts, sensitivity, and reasoning abilities to overcome potential conflicts that may arise. Some self-exploration and support from friends and family can certainly help. If problems persist, counseling with a licensed mental health professional often can help couples rediscover the joy they once felt toward each other.

Below are more Gifted Challenges blog posts about gifted women and girls

Women, success, and harnessing inherent strength
What keeps women from STEM careers?
Why do smart girls develop eating disorders?
Why do smart women forego success?
Difficult passage: Gifted girls in middle school
Gifted women, gifted girls and mental health
Gifted or pretty: What do parents want for their daughters?
What stops girls from learning math?

Friday, December 1, 2017

When gifted children are not identified as gifted

What happens when gifted children are not identified as gifted?

What is the impact when they realize how much they differ from peers, but can't quite make sense of what it all means?

What transpires when adults witness these children's intellectual and social/emotional differences, but refuse to give voice to what they see right in front of them?

Whether resistance to identification arises from doubts about the evaluation process, philosophical views about giftedness, biases, ignorance, or concerns about the gifted label, gifted children may be labeled (with something) nonetheless. Without an accurate and informative term that conveys an understanding of giftedness, though, they are more vulnerable to incidents of misidentification and misdiagnoses.

An accurate label, a clear explanation, and ongoing guidance about what it means to be gifted will help gifted children adapt. It also conveys essential information, clarity and a framework for understanding giftedness for adults who are teaching and caring for these children.

Yet, there is resistance to this simple concept of identification, and to using the gifted label.

Some propose that gifted children should not be told that they are smart, and imply that conveying information about their abilities is equivalent to praising them for their innate talents. Others claim that "all children are gifted" or that identifying a child as gifted will create a "fixed mindset," or cause an array of psychological problems.

Even when not formally identified, though, gifted children stand out from the crowd and become targets for labeling. Children may taunt them with names such as nerd, geek, or smart-a**, because of social immaturity (i.e., asynchrony) or innate differences or just plain smarts. They may be ostracized or bullied because of their differences unless they learn how to fit in.

Gifted children often present with overexcitabilities, quirks and neuroatypical characteristics that prompt puzzled adults to slap on serious-sounding labels - often with little understanding of how giftedness plays a role. Although this might be well-intentioned, many professionals don't know a lot about giftedness. Sometimes diagnoses like ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and even oppositional-defiant are tossed about with little regard to their impact - or to their accuracy.

If gifted children's behaviors already gain notice (and invite inaccurate labeling), what is the harm in providing an accurate label?

Why not embrace use of an informative, descriptive and accurate label that can aid adults who educate, treat and nurture these children?

Barriers to identification

Resistance to identification may stem from concerns about elitism, equity, upsetting district parents, or opposition to use of the gifted word. Many find the actual gifted word offensive, since it implies having a gift. But whether you use the gifted word or a different one, students' needs still must be addressed. Misconceptions are sometimes based upon personal opinions or biases among educators and parents, or occasional anecdotal reports from gifted adults who claimed that being gifted caused emotional distress. Eager to justify elimination of gifted services, these reports are targeted to suggest that gifted identification might produce long-lasting scars.

Sometimes resistance may result from inadequate training in gifted education. Some educators and other professionals don't understand gifted children's unique learning needs and potential. Gifted students' abilities are conflated with those of high achievers, and their performance is tied to test scores. Their social and emotional traits may be viewed from within a psychiatric framework rather than an understanding of asynchrony, neuroatypical development or overexcitabilities.

Other times, struggling schools are blamed. Some claim that labeling gifted children won't improve their education within a flawed school system, so why bother identifying them anyway. Some researchers highlight the importance of quality education for all, an important and lofty goal, and stress the fluidity of academic growth. As highlighted in a previous post, this view emphasizes academic performance among bright students, but downplays the pace, depth and complexity of learning seen among gifted children.

And yet...
Would school staff refuse to identify (and offer services to) a child with dyslexia  because it might hurt her feelings?
Would a pediatrician refuse to diagnose a medical problem because it might upset the child or parent?
Would a school (get away with) a refusal to evaluate a child with a suspected learning disability because the school had inadequate teaching resources?
Would school administration refuse to implement a highly effective educational strategy for at-risk, low-performing students because other vocal parents don't "believe" these kids have such needs?

Of course, the above situations seem far-fetched. But comparable decisions occur with striking frequency for gifted children and their families. While some might argue that the above examples represent "real problems" and giftedness is an advantage, those who understand the needs of gifted children are well aware of the stressors and potential difficulties that can arise when their education is shortchanged.

Let's put these misconceptions to rest.

As a psychologist, it is clear to me that diagnosis informs intervention. That does not necessarily mean reliance on formal DSM-V categories. But understanding the root cause of one's behaviors is essential to knowing how to help.
If we deny gifted children the same consideration, and refuse to define giftedness, they will be misidentified, misdiagnosed, and may never receive the education, intervention, or services they desperately need.

Whether you call it underidentification, misidentification, or just ignoring the obvious, refusal to identify gifted children creates problems. Here are a few:

1. Misidentification is deceptive.

Gifted children are smart enough to know they are different from their neurotypical peers. No one has to tell them. They realize it on their own. Often there is a defining moment when they recognize that they "get it" in ways their peers may never fully grasp. They learn at a faster pace, and with greater depth and complexity. They are highly sensitive and preoccupied with injustices and existential concerns. Their worries, thoughts and interests are just, well, different.

Telling a gifted child that he is like all the other kids, that his mind works the same way, and that he just needs to try harder to fit in, is dishonest. You might wish it were true. Your child might even want to be "average." But denying the truth won't help you, your child, or anyone else who has to work, teach, play or interact with him. It also leaves your child feeling confused. He knows he is different, and gets feedback about this every day. Yet, the overt messages he receives tell him to ignore and deny his own perceptions. This level of denial is a set-up for self-doubt and the development of distrust toward others.

2. Misidentification compounds emotional struggles

When gifted children realize they are gifted (regardless of whether they are labeled), they initially may feel pride and excitement. But sometimes they experience confusion, embarrassment or even guilt. They may not feel "entitled" to their passion for learning, and feel guilty when they easily complete assignments and their friends struggle. They may feel ashamed about their heightened sensitivities - not understanding why they react so strongly to perceived injustice.

When adults refuse to explain giftedness to gifted children, they deprive them of a context and framework for understanding their intense emotional reactivity, their real differences from peers and how they approach learning. Parents, physicians, and teachers help children understand, for example, what it means to be depressed, to have dyslexia, or to experience overwhelming shyness. Pretending these conditions do not exist would prevent children from understanding what is happening to them, and from access to interventions that help to manage their differences or struggles. Why would we deprive gifted children of the same understanding and intervention?

3. Misidentification perpetuates stereotypes

We all hold conscious and unconscious biases and prejudices. Gifted children's talents invite projections of envy, bitterness, and false beliefs about the nature of their abilities. Some characterize gifted children as privileged rather than acknowledging their learning needs. Many seemingly logical people will fall prey to false beliefs and misunderstandings. How often have you heard the following?

I don't believe in giftedness - all children have the same potential if we just find the right tools to educate and encourage them.

Gifted children are merely bright students who are high achievers, or whose wealthy parents provided enrichment opportunities to help them get ahead.

If we give gifted children extra help, it will deprive other kids of the education they need. It's just not fair.

Refusing to identify gifted children and accurately label their abilities creates a culture of denial about talents and educational needs. If we can't give it a name, we can't adequately address it. Until we recognize that giftedness must be understood and served within the educational system, gifted children's emotional and academic needs will suffer. And they will continue to receive misdiagnoses and inaccurate labels.

Let's give it a name

Misidentification and denial are not the answer. We know that there are intellectual and social/emotional traits that must be addressed when raising, educating and treating gifted children. It is misguided to assume that keeping children in the dark about their giftedness is beneficial. Or that adults should ignore their educational needs. If parents and teachers are concerned that gifted children will not understand or respond appropriately to a gifted label, there are tools for explaining giftedness to them. If teachers lack sufficient training, additional education is available. And parents can continue their efforts to educate other adults among their circle of friends, family and community.

Otherwise, gifted children will continue to be misdiagnosed, overlooked and misunderstood.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education blog hop on The Misdiagnosis Initiative. To read more blogs, click on:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Get your gifted boy through middle school

Middle school - that time warp most of us would like to forget!

But if you have a gifted middle school boy, it is critical to stay attuned to the pitfalls and challenges that might derail his adjustment and safe passage into adolescence.

We know that many boys are not "built" for school - at least for those traditional classrooms where they are expected to sit still and be silent. They don't like school. They roughhouse, squirm in their seats, and want to play. They are typically less socially mature than girls and more likely to express negative emotions such as anger. They also are disciplined more often, are more frequently diagnosed with ADHD and learning disabilities, and are more likely to receive lower grades and drop out of school. Their organizational, verbal and attentional skills lag behind those of their female peers. While brain differences may account for some of these distinctions between the genders, it does not mean that their behaviors are abnormal or problematic - they just don't fit what is expected of them in most schools.

Gurian and Stevens have described how girls and boys learn differently. And while some teachers accommodate these differences, many also feel overwhelmed by "boy energy." Author Jessica Lahey described this dilemma in the classroom:
"While I love teaching boys, many of my colleagues do not, particularly during the hormone-soaked, energetic and distracted middle-and high-school years. Teachers and school administrators lament that boys are too fidgety, too hyperactive, too disruptive, derailing the educational process for everyone while sabotaging their own intellectual development.
Peek into most American classrooms and you will see desks in rows, teachers pleading with students to stay in their seats and refrain from talking to their neighbors. Marks for good behavior are rewarded to the students who are proficient at sitting still for long periods of time. Many boys do not have this skill." 

Why is middle school so difficult? 

Ideally, middle school should usher in a period of self-discovery, personal and academic growth, and identity formation, rather than a time that must be endured. But it is more typically a difficult phase for most students, who struggle with peer pressure, hormonal swings, and ambivalence about their newfound independence from family.

Most gifted middle school children face similar struggles, often compounded by gifted "traits," such as heightened sensitivity, introversion, a preoccupation with fairness and justice, overthinking, perfectionism, asynchronous development, and the emergence of existential depression. These may be coupled with a nagging sense of boredom and disconnection with school - both academically and socially. This perfect storm of personal, social and school-related distress can affect their identity, confidence, motivation, and how they will approach school in the future.

What happens for gifted boys in middle school?

Gifted boys often arrive at middle school with a mixed track record. Some boast a transcript filled with good grades (although this sometimes belies a history of coasting through school and never quite reaching their potential). Others sport a spotty record, marked by underachievement, inattention, boredom, and frustration. Some have endured social isolation or bullying because of their "differences." Still others may have felt relatively confident, but then struggle when confronted with middle school social pressure to "toughen up" and adapt to messages from a sexualized, hyper-masculinized culture.

What are some of the potential pitfalls gifted middle school boys face - and how can you help them?

1. Peer pressure

Gifted girls certainly struggle with peer pressure related to cultural norms and expectations. But gifted boys also feel pressure to adapt to societal views of masculinity and sexuality. Those gifted boys who lack social agility, athletic talent, or strong leadership skills are especially at risk for social isolation, rejection from peers, or bullying. Asynchronous development can complicate matters, particularly when a child is chronologically younger than his age peers due to full-grade acceleration. Those with "nerdy" interests - robotics, chess, science, classical music, theater - can be targets for bullying, or at the very least, exclusion from most social circles.

While some boys feel confident enough to weather these challenges, many mask their abilities, hide their less-than-popular interests, and "dumb themselves down" to fit in. They downplay any appearance of intellectual curiosity, hide their successes from peers, or may actually perform well beneath their abilities to prove that they are just like everyone else.

What you can do:

  • Help your gifted child find a group of like-minded peers, a niche he can belong to, and extra-curricular activities that ignite his passions and introduce him to others with similar interests. The more peers he finds who "get him," the stronger he will feel in the face of mounting pressure from the majority of students at school. 
  • If he is athletic, encourage involvement in sports. They are a great outlet, confidence-booster, and can offset some of the pressure and stereotyping about giftedness that he might encounter at school. 
  • Encourage participation in social activities, but don't force him to attend an event he is not prepared for and that might increase his anxiety, like a school dance. 
  • Provide guidance and suggestions for navigating social demands at school - when he is open to listening. 
  • Advocate for ability grouping or clustering at school, which will improve his in-class experience and allow him to spend time with like-minded peers who "get" his way of thinking.

2. Sensitivity

Gifted children may be emotionally excitable and experience heightened sensitivity.
Some gifted boys are highly sensitive to emotions, others' feelings, sensory input, conflicts, and injustices in the world around them. This sensitivity conflicts with society's template of the rough and tumble boy who can take his nicks and bruises.

The media, society and our culture are guilty of perpetuating these stereotypes. From an early age, boys are persuaded to emulate the strong, silent, rugged images portrayed in film, sports and video games. They learn that "real men" are risk-takers who challenge their bodies, are self-sufficient, never show fear, and don't back down from a fight. Warmth, kindness, creative and artistic expression,  and displays of emotion are unacceptable, and even viewed as effeminate. Mark Greene recently highlighted how empathetic and compassionate men are portrayed as "delicately aware" or "easily hurt." He pointed out that:

"We are very close to pathologizing emotional awareness in men... But emotionally distant men are a product of their environment, not a genetic inevitability. Why emotionally distant men get to be the baseline against which "sensitive men" are judged needs to be reexamined."

As a result of these pervasive messages, sensitive, gifted middle school boys not only learn to mask their intellectual abilities, but their sensitive, emotional nature as well. This "double life" as a tough guy, at a time when emotions, hormonal swings and identity formation are already in an upheaval, can create even more uncertainty and distress. Those who are unwilling or unable to hide their sensitivities resign themselves to potential ridicule and bullying. Sometimes introverted gifted boys are even mislabeled or misdiagnosed because of their social differences.

What you can do: 

  • Provide acceptance and normalize your son's sensitive nature. Help him recognize that although his feelings and reactions may differ from societal stereotypes or what seems to be the norm at school, point out that many boys feel the same way, but also mask their emotions.
  • Encourage him to stand up to peers when necessary, but also select friends who are accepting and supportive. 
  • Help him appreciate that his sensitivity is just one aspect of who he is, that it offers a window into greater understanding of himself and others, and that there are tools for managing these emotions when they get overwhelming.
  • Encourage healthy outlets for his sensitivity, such as creative expression or volunteer work to help those less fortunate. 
  • Support involvement in activities that bolster his strength, provide a healthy balance to his sensitivity, and support his burgeoning sense of masculinity. For example, participation in non-contact sports, involvement in healthy forms of competition such as the debate team, and taking on a leadership role with an extra-curricular activity are all character and strength-building activities.

3. Underachievement

Gifted children can lose their passion for learning, scale back their efforts, coast through school or give up completely at any stage in their academic career. But they seem most at risk for underachievement during middle school. And a much higher percentage of gifted underachievers are boys. While there are many identified triggers and causes of underachievement among the gifted, middle school often provides the perfect storm, as gifted boys conform to peer pressure, become more observant and critical of their education, and respond to an accumulation of apathy and disrespect for a school system that has ignored their needs for years. Some gifted boys who have coasted through elementary school with little effort may become frustrated with the increased academic demands of middle school, or might be surprised to struggle with some assignments for the first time. If they never learned study skills, or previously confronted and rebounded from failure, any academic difficulty may be perceived as an affront to their identity, and some may retreat completely rather than risk trying and failing.

What you can do: 

  • Recognize the signs of underachievement before they escalate. Boredom, apathy, complaints about wasting time at school, disrespect for teachers or the school, and disinterest in learning are clear signs. But it can be more subtle for some children, who are selective consumers (choosing to exert effort only for subjects they enjoy of with teachers they respect), or underachievers under-the-radar (seemingly successful students who are never challenged and fail to reach their potential). 
  • If there are family conflicts or personal traits your child exhibits (e.g., perfectionism) that are contributing to the inertia, these need to be addressed. 
  • Many of the triggers may be entrenched in the social and academic culture at school. You can help your child by encouraging him to find his passions, identify what is meaningful - even in a class he does not enjoy. Help him retain his intrinsic love of learning through involvement in extra-curricular activities that he enjoys. 
  • Advocate early and often. Addressing underachievement before it becomes a habitual pattern is the best strategy.  Gifted children learn best alongside like-minded peers and in an atmosphere where they can express their curiosity and creativity. While some parents opt for homeschooling or private education, public schools are the available choice for the majority of families. Advocate for acceleration, ability grouping, clustering or other accommodations that may spark his interest.

4. Identity formation and existential depression 

The middle school years hasten a burgeoning drive toward identity formation, often seen as a primary task of adolescence. While some young teens manage their new sense of self by readily adapting to social norms or identifying with pop idols, gifted children are often more discriminating (and some might say, cynical), and tend to question everything. They challenge their family's beliefs, the school culture, political and social norms, and even their own previous views. Many abandon their family's religious affiliations, and question life's meaning.

Along with this newfound independence and exploration of values, some gifted children become apathetic, disillusioned and plunge into an existential depression. James Webb has noted how gifted children's idealism and intellectual abilities predispose them to this awareness:
"The gifted become depressed particularly because their high intellect allows them to contemplate the cosmos and their very small place within it."
Gifted boys, in particular, may feel torn between an adherence to traditional male values and their sensitivity to the world around them. Any form of hypocrisy, unfairness, or deception is almost impossible for them to tolerate. When this occurs at school, they may feel despair, and lose all investment in participation.

What you can do:

  • Gifted boys may struggle in silence, particularly if they adhere to social norms regarding masculine expression of emotion. However, if you sense that your child is depressed, apathetic, or struggling to assert his sense of self in the face of peer pressure, encourage him to speak with you. 
  • If he is angry or distressed about what he perceives as inequity or hypocrisy at school, allow him to express his concerns - without minimizing or escalating his views (e.g., avoid comments, such as "yeah, those teachers are all incompetent."). Suggest healthy outlets for his anger, such as participation in volunteer activities.
  • If he feels isolated because he wants to retain his true identify and avoid conforming to social pressure, help him find niche or extra-curricular interests where he can spend time with like-minded peers. 
  • Let him know that you are there for him as he traverses this phase of exploration and discovery, and that sometimes, people feel depressed before they bounce back. If his depression persists, though, it is often essential to seek therapy with a licensed mental health professional.


Of course, parenting a middle school child can be stressful as well. Boys, in particular, tend to retreat, spend time in their rooms, and are reluctant to communicate about their thoughts and feelings. Boisterous, loving, expressive little boys turn into sullen young teens, and after the initial shock, parents are left to grieve this loss. But gifted boys - all boys - still need their parents' involvement, even when they are dismissive and try to push parents away. Keep a watchful eye, remain enthusiastic and involved, and provide your empathy and support when your son offers that rare opening for conversation. He doesn't want you to see his vulnerability, but will be grateful and feel comforted to know that you are always there for him. And get support for yourself when you need it. Family, friends, and even local gifted advocacy parent groups can be a great resource as you weather this challenging time along with your child.

The following are additional blog posts that target middle school and gifted students:

Caught in the middle: How to help gifted children survive the middle school years

Difficult passage: Gifted girls in middle school

Ability grouping works - and is essential in middle school and beyond

How school policy affects gifted children's friendships (and what you can do about it)

What was the best class your gifted child had in school?

When does therapy benefit gifted adolescents?

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Blog Hop on Ages and Stages of Giftedness. To see more blogs in the hop, click  on:

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Sunday, October 1, 2017

Ignite creative fire in your gifted child

Most toddlers and preschool-aged children are creative and passionate about their play. They become engrossed in what they love, and learning is fun. But once they adjust to the structure of school, some lose their creative passion, and focus, instead, on grades and performance.

Gifted children, in particular, thrive when given free rein to express their creative interests. Intrinsically motivated and intellectually curious, when comfortable expressing their creative ideas and inspirations, they engage fully in school. When these instincts are thwarted by too many rules, boredom in the classroom, or an emphasis on outcome and performance, they may comply, but their creative drive is sacrificed.

In a recent commentary, "Educators should steal Google's secrets about creativity," author Matt Presser raised the bar for schools. He highlighted how Google's policy of allowing engineers to spend 20% of their time on projects that interest them can be an example for educators to follow.
"The traditional method of mass education starts with a curriculum and fits it to students's needs. Too often, students' interests exist separately from school, and they complete assignments for their teacher's eyes only. Personal passion is too often missing from our classrooms.
As teachers, we should approach education the other way around: by starting with our students and then shaping a curriculum around them. When we give our students real responsibility to tackle problems connected to their interests, they flourish."

Researcher Beth Hennessey also emphasized intrinsic motivation as an essential component of creativity among gifted children, and pointed out how the school environment can sap this drive. She noted:
"In their present form, the majority of American classrooms, from preschools through high schools and colleges, are fraught with killers of intrinsic interest and creativity. Nowhere is this situation more dire than in the gifted and talented classroom or "pull-out" program where the promotion of students' intrinsic motivation and creativity of performance must be top priority."

More recently, researchers Gotlieb and colleagues have emphasized the importance of social-emotional imagination and creativity. They point out that most school culture is not geared toward creativity:
"There is a fundamental tension between the expression of creativity, which requires breaking consensus to push forth new ideas, and organizational culture (whether corporate or school based), which values individuals who conform to the group. We argue for a need to shift the school culture to accommodate creative expression."

If your child is in a school that encourages creative expression and intrinsic motivation, you are fortunate, If not, you have your job cut out for you, as you wade through the maze of advocating for changes. But you still can foster an environment of creativity in the home. 

Here are some tips for encouraging your child's creativity:

1. Process, not product

Emphasize the activity, not the outcome. Encourage your child to focus on what engrosses her, sparks her interest, ignites her curiosity. Help her see that creativity tends to follow a zigzag path: Role model that you are willing to try new things, and take on challenges that are difficult and require learning from scratch. Children follow their parents' lead, and in fact, a recent study found that even one-year-old children of creative parents show evidence of greater creativity. Get messy; get confused; lose your way; find a new path; discover great possibilities.

2. Shake up routine

Children need routines and traditions for structure and a sense of safety. But they also thrive when there is flexibility and creative divergence from these routines. Take a different route to the store. Eat breakfast food for dinner. Camp out in your backyard. Trying something different not only sheds light on new perspectives, but also demonstrates flexibility and creative thinking for your children. They also benefit from plenty of unstructured, unplanned, open-ended time where they must rely on their imagination.

3. Innovative problem-solving

Remind your child that creativity can occur anywhere by supporting the concept of creative and innovative problem-solving. Teach your child to brainstorm, by coming up with as many ideas as possible to approach a given problem. The more outlandish and creative, the better. Then, encourage him to narrow down and eliminate some of the options, based on how effectively he might solve the problem. Helping your child find new and different approaches to solving problems or formulating ideas encourages creative thinking along with a sense of accomplishment.

4. Any activity can be creative

Creativity is much more than art, music, poetry and dance. Sure, these activities and classes might be fun and inspirational for some children, but fall flat for others. When children have little artistic inclination, they sometimes falsely assume they are not creative. We must remind them that ANY activity, school subject or career can be creative - it depends upon their approach, perspective-taking, an innovative outlook, and openness to new ideas. You can reinforce this by encouraging creative approaches to even routine tasks. This could involve anything from folding laundry to organizing toys differently. This helps your child see that creativity can occur anywhere, in any situation, and at any time.

5. Banish perfectionism

Perfectionistic thinking can stop creativity cold in its tracks. Just try to draw a picture if you expect perfection. Either you will be paralyzed before you even start, or give up quickly along the way. Torn art projects, smashed Lego structures, and instruments stashed away in closets often result from unmet high expectations. Help your child focus on short-term goals and what she enjoys and is learning from the process of exploration and creativity. Keeping a portfolio that demonstrates her progress and growth over time can help when frustration builds. And of course, comment on the process of discovery rather than the outcome.

6. Support the traits that support creativity

There have been many accounts of personality characteristics associated with creativity (e.g., see Clark). Researchers Furst and colleagues have categorized three overriding "traits" common among creative individuals. These include plasticity (an openness to experience and exploration), divergence (non-conformity and impulsivity), and convergence (conscientiousness and precision). It would seem that plasticity and divergence are necessary for initiating creative ideas, but convergence is needed to narrow down and follow through on them. This theory suggests a complex range of skills that are required to initiate and complete a creative project. 

While you can't force creativity, you certainly can encourage openness to experience, a fearless drive to explore and try new things, some non-conformity and a healthy questioning of norms and values. Support for disciplined focus, follow-though and conscientious behavior is also important. This fits with research on the role of practice for those who achieve success in creative arts fields. Creative and artistic talent is a start, but disciplined practice is necessary for success and satisfaction in these fields of study.

7. Encourage reflection

Ask your child to reflect upon questions that arise and generate ideas and solutions - before you rush in to help. If he struggles, you can brainstorm with him and model how to explore and expand upon ideas. Eliminate phrases from the household such as: "this is the way we always do it," or "there is only one right answer." Even if you disagree with his solution, you will have encouraged greater self-awareness and exploration. Gotlieb and colleagues also emphasize the importance of reflection for building creativity among adolescents:
"Rather than expecting students to be constantly externally focused, we need to capitalize on the contributions of their internal reflective processes. Teachers, parents, and caring adults can do so by facilitating conversations in which students contemplate their long-term goals and steps involved in achieving them."

8. Fight for change at school

Yes, advocacy can be tiresome. You may have tried before, and perhaps hit a brick wall. But encouraging creative exploration will benefit every child in the classroom, not just gifted students. Hennessey aptly noted that "students' own intrinsic interest, curiosity, and excitement about learning must not take a back seat to concerns about grades or the need to outperform one's peers." She emphasized the importance of allowing students to feel in control of their learning, to become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and to avoid succumbing to extrinsic incentives within the system.

Help your child discover the joy of creativity!

While not every creative child is intellectually gifted, it is likely that those identified as gifted have creative potential. Although some might disagree, it would seem that unless rigid standards, perfectionism, or a drive for extrinsic rewards have robbed them of their intrinsic motivation, most gifted children possess this creative potential. They are deep, inquisitive thinkers, question everything, think "outside the box" and see a range of possibilities in most situations. They are often highly sensitive and have a profound sense of fairness and justice. They can size up other people and most situations quickly and accurately. Let's give them the freedom to explore and expand upon their creative nature at home, and insist on opportunities for creative expression within the schools.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Creativity and Productivity. To see more blogs in the hop, click on:

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Social-emotional learning and the gifted child

A panel of academic researchers recently released a statement (also summarized in an Education Week article) emphasizing the importance of social-emotional learning. Of interest, these researchers identified several essential components necessary for optimal learning:

"Students who have a sense of belonging and purpose, who can work well with classmates and peers to solve problems, who can plan and set goals, and who can persevere through challenges - in addition to being literate, numerate, and versed in scientific concepts and ideas - are more likely to maximize their opportunities and reach their potential."

Few would argue with these critical elements. Most parents, teachers and administrators would readily agree that students benefit from these conditions. While there is clearly more to social-emotional competency, such as frustration tolerance, executive functioning skills, and ability to read social cues, those are more specific to the individual student. The components listed above outline general policies and conditions that could - should - apply to all classroom settings.

So how does this relate to the gifted child?

As much as all children may benefit from an emphasis on the social-emotional learning components listed above, it is likely that without attention to gifted children's specific needs, gifted children will be left behind.

Let's look at the conditions listed in the above statement:

1.  A sense of belonging and purpose

Gifted children thrive when surrounded by like-minded peers, where they are challenged, can compete and collaborate with students of similar intellectual abilities, and where they do not feel compelled to mask their talents to fit in or, in some situations, to escape bullying. They are less likely to lapse into underachievement if they feel a meaningful connection to their school, and are best challenged when they can direct their efforts toward a goal that has meaning and a sense of purpose.

Unfortunately, most gifted children rarely encounter these opportunities in a typical heterogeneous classroom setting. Since ability grouping is viewed unfavorably by many school districts, gifted children rarely experience the sense of belonging and connection. Instead, many feel misunderstood, awkward, and isolated.

2. Work well with classmates and peers to solve problems

Gifted children may have difficulty working cooperatively with students in heterogeneously grouped classrooms. They often learn at a faster pace, and with more depth and intensity. Yet, many are expected to patiently work in groups or sit back and wait until others catch up. Not surprisingly, most will become frustrated, impatient, bored and apathetic. If they vocalize their frustration, they may be viewed as arrogant or insensitive; if they silence themselves, they learn that their academic needs must take a back seat to those of other students. They also may feel pressured to complete most of the group work for other students, who rely on their talents, but resent them for it. And they are deprived of learning to problem-solve with peers who can work with them on a similar intellectual level.

3. Plan and set goals

Many gifted students never learn self-regulation skills, such as goal-setting, planning, time management, and study skills. They coast through school, so skills-building seems unnecessary. As a result, they are deprived of important learning opportunities and remain unprepared for more challenging work in higher education or career. Baker and colleagues highlighted the problems gifted students encounter when they are denied an opportunity to learn these important life skills, and how this can lead to underachievement:

"From an academic skills perspective, later elementary and middle school may present specialized demands (such as time management, study skills, systematic problem solving rather than rote memorization, etc.) that are underdeveloped among students who have been unchallenged and have experienced seemingly effortless academic success in the early elementary grades."

Lack of self-regulation skills become noticeable when gifted students face an obstacle - typically when they finally confront challenging work in higher education or a career. Many feel overwhelmed, as they are blindsided by their lack of preparation.

4. Persevere through challenges 

Much has been written about the importance of grit, resilience, and learning from failure. When academics come easily and require little effort, gifted children are denied an opportunity to develop a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility, the strength to cope with failure experiences, the ability to surmount obstacles, and the self-worth that comes from real accomplishments. Gifted children who are rarely challenged may become risk-averse, afraid to move beyond their comfort zone, and view themselves as "impostors" who are not deserving of their accomplishments. While there is some unnecessary debate about the grit-talent dichotomy, gifted children clearly deserve an education where they are challenged, encouraged to reach their potential, and held to a higher standard.

Some gifted children become underachievers and stop pushing themselves altogether. They may become "classic underachievers" who give up on school completely, "selective consumers" who only apply themselves when they enjoy the topic or like their teacher, or "gifted underachievers under-the-radar," who often achieve good grades, but coast through school and fail to reach their potential. These underachievers not only lose out on learning in school, but fail to develop the resiliency and drive to persevere that will help them in future endeavors.

Let's insist on accommodations for gifted children that enhance their social-emotional and academic learning.

It is not surprising that many gifted students do not feel they can "breathe" until they leave for college, when they are finally challenged, are surrounded by like-minded peers, and where intellectual curiosity is appreciated. It is a waste of time and potential to let these children languish bored and frustrated for years in traditional classroom settings. They deserve the same social-emotional learning - and academic challenges - as all students. It is time to insist on ability grouping, clustering, and intensive, advanced, and accelerated instruction for all gifted students. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Are you too much of a critic?

Gifted people can be amazingly sharp. They see alternate solutions, diverging paths, and multiple options in any situation. They understand the big picture, and can parse through an array of mind-numbing details.

Many gifted people view their critical analytic skills as an asset. And these skills can be exceptionally useful at times. Critical analysis and detailed focus come in handy in everything from editing to computer coding to party planning to woodworking. A knowledge of arcane historical facts and niche interests can be entertaining as well as surprisingly useful. And many a career was forged on an employee's depth of knowledge and mastery of facts.

Then what are the drawbacks?

Critical analysis requires complexity, creativity and flexibility. Understanding grows exponentially. This differs from overthinking, overanalyzing, and endless critiquing. Sometimes an intensive focus on details and finding flaws can obscure the big picture, rendering it meaningless. Minor problems loom large. Chronic dissatisfaction and perfectionism wreak havoc.

Do any of these situations sound familiar?

  • Unable to enjoy a feel-good, uplifting film because of critiquing the cinematography/editing/dialogue, etc.

  • Obsessing about perceived personal inadequacies

  • Late handing in work, papers or projects because of needing to perfect them

  • Irritated by minor flaws in any new situation - a new apartment, a vacation rental, a restaurant, a classroom

  • Unable to enjoy artistic events - art show, concerts, dance, theatre - without scrutinizing the flaws in presentation or performance

  • Engage in "friendly" debate with friends and family, sparring about facts related to current events, politics or any area of accumulated knowledge

  • Set high standards for friendships and relationships, often having difficulty finding friends you can respect and trust

  • Annoying others by correcting their grammar or facts mid-sentence

  • Accused of being stubborn, opinionated, competitive by those who know you well

  • Define some of your self-worth on your critical analytic skills and accomplishments

If any of the above seem familiar, you may recognize the drawbacks that accompany too much critiquing. It not only interferes with relationships (since most people don't really appreciate your criticism), but also creates inner turmoil, causes restlessness and dissatisfaction, thwarts pleasure, and perpetuates a never-ending scrutiny of perceived personal flaws.

What causes this critical sensitivity? 

1. Gifted people have active minds. They size up most situations quickly and with remarkable depth, complexity and detail. This often leads to seeing both the endless possibilities and every flaw in any project, situation, place, person and endeavor. It is easy to be critical because it comes naturally. Gifted people derive pleasure and a sense of accomplishment from this depth of analysis and detailed focus. They thrive when they get to immerse themselves in a beloved interest. Finding solutions, glitches, errors, and obscure facts is satisfying. The challenge for the gifted involves placing their critical analytic ability into perspective, and not allowing every flaw to obscure the big picture.

2. Gifted children and teens are often praised for their accomplishments, detailed focus and encyclopedic knowledge. As a result, their sense of self may become tied to their abilities and success. It becomes part of their identity. Even as adults, the capacity to scrutinize, criticize and acquire knowledge may remain a source of pride and recognition. If they loosen the reigns and are less thorough or critical, it may feel as if they are giving up an important aspect of themselves. Gifted people need to appreciate that their self-worth is not based on their accomplishments, and that they can relinquish or censor their tendency to criticize when it is unnecessary or creates a problem.

3. Some gifted people have perfectionistic traits. They feel driven to always succeed and reach the top. Their self-esteem is tied to their accomplishments, recognition from others, and the ability to prove their worth through performance, projects, tests, and even winning points in day-to-day discussions. They may feel compelled to become experts in whatever area they are studying or pursuing. This can range from a mastery of political minutia to authority in a niche topic to acquiring the best chocolate chip cookie recipes. They push themselves relentlessly to keep up with information, feel despair when they don't achieve their goals, and may alienate others with their competitive drive and need to prove their self-worth. There is a clear difference between striving for excellence and perfectionism. When perfectionism takes hold, counseling with a licensed mental health professional may be necessary.

4. Despite their talents and abilities, some gifted children have a rough time. They feel insecure, have difficulty finding peers who "get them," and sometimes are bullied. Those with asynchronous development may lack the social maturity to keep up with their same-aged peers, and may suffer from social anxiety. As a result, some may retreat from social activities unless assured of acceptance. They may become cynical, critical of others, and bitter about how they have been treated. While their anger and hurt may be justified, developing a critical stance toward the world only fuels further bitterness and isolation. Defensive behaviors such as frequently criticizing others for minor flaws or overly scrutinizing their own work or performance will only increase their distress. In these circumstances, it is especially helpful to seek guidance from a licensed mental health professional to address the long-standing anger and suffering that has led to self-defeating behaviors.

What can you do?

1. Recognize the difference between a healthy capacity to scrutinize and acquire knowledge, and when critiquing is defensive in nature. Pay attention to whether such a critical focus brings you closer to others and enhances your life, or if it alienates you, creates tension in relationships, or causes problems in school or work.

2. Pay attention to whether your critical analytic focus is truly based on a love of in-depth analysis and scrutiny, or results from internal pressure to achieve certain standards. Is it something that you enjoy and benefit from, or an automatic reaction that you just cannot shake? Is your identity entangled in your role as "the critic/sleuth/perfectionist/analyst?" Do you wonder what it would be like to enjoy a film, vacation, dinner party, or even a quick visit with a friend without finding flaws? 

3. Notice how being a critic enhances or hurts your self-esteem. Is it a positive part of your identity, or does it make you feel worse about yourself? Are you constantly scrutinizing perceived personal flaws and obsessively reviewing interactions where you worry that you said the wrong thing? Do you obsess about what to wear, what to say, and what others think about you? The popularized term "inner critic" characterizes the torment many feel when they continually berate themselves.

4. Have you received feedback that you are too critical, competitive or focused on winning? Does proving a point or surpassing your friend in a challenge mean more than the quality of your relationship? It is not essential to win every game, always get the last word, or come out on top in every situation. And unless you want to completely alienate a friend, you don't need to point out their faulty thinking, poor grammar, or incorrect grasp of facts. It is helpful to keep in mind the following questions before you make a comment: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

5. Recognize that your quick mind and capacity to think deeply provide many opportunities for enhanced learning and a rich mental life. While it can be tremendously fulfilling and enhance your academic and work endeavors, pay attention to when it crosses the line and becomes hurtful to you or others. If you struggle with perfectionism, obsessive worrying, low self-esteem, bitterness, defensiveness, or cynicism; if you have alienated others; if you have difficulty finding satisfaction in work, love, and leisure; it may be time to find help through the guidance from a licensed mental health professional.

It is never too late to stop being so critical of yourself...or others.