by Richard Cash, Ed.D., Free Spirit Publishing author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century
Okay, I admit it: I’m a conference junkie. Well, actually, I’m a National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) conference junkie. My first NAGC conference was in 1999, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was a newly hired coordinator of gifted education with little exposure to or experience in the world of gifted education outside my home state. I couldn’t believe I was going to see and hear from all those experts and famous people that I had read and heard about throughout my master’s degree work.
I arrived in Albuquerque in total awe of what I was about to encounter. After the first day of an overwhelming amount of information, I decided to relax with an adult beverage at the hotel bar. A gentleman sitting next to me struck up a conversation about the conference. I proceeded to tell him my admiration for all the famous people I was getting to hear from and about.
We chatted for about fifteen minutes about the field of gifted education and the excitement around the NAGC conference. As we were parting, I introduced myself to the gentleman and asked his name. He said, “Nice to meet you, I’m Joe Renzulli.” You could have knocked me over with a feather! From that point on, whenever I run into Dr. Renzulli (Joe), he greets me with a smile and always an affirming “Hey, Richard, great to see you again.”
As I write this blog, I’m sitting on my flight home from the 59th Annual NAGC Convention that was held in Denver, Colorado, November 15–18. I’m reflecting back on the outstanding time I had learning and (re)connecting with all the great people in gifted education. I’d like to share with you some of the highlights from this conference.
Voices of Leadership: A Range of Perspectives from the Field
Last year, I was honored with the award for early leadership in gifted education. As last year’s award winner, I was asked to sit on a panel of leaders in gifted education. Serving with me on the panel: Dr. Joy Davis, University of Louisiana, Lafayette; Dr. Jean Peterson, Purdue University; Dr. Mary Ruth Coleman, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Dr. Scott Hunsaker, Utah State University. The panel was moderated by Dr. George Betts, Northern Colorado University, Greeley. We were asked a range of questions about everything from our leadership styles to the most pressing issues in the field today.
What resonated with me was a statement made by Dr. Davis about the need for courage as a leader in gifted education. In many places, the needs of gifted students are not being addressed, most specifically the gifted students of color and from poverty who are significantly underrepresented in gifted and advanced programs. As leaders we need to have the courage to stand up for what we believe to be the best practices and programs for gifted students. We also must not be content with the status quo of under-serving gifted students of color and from poverty. It takes courage to test the boundaries in what Dr. Hunsaker calls the “quiet rebellion” against “phantom policies and practices.” These are policies and procedures that we say exist in gifted education but in reality do not.
As a panel, we encouraged present and future leaders to be knowledgeable about effective evidence-based practices that meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of our gifted students. Then, we must communicate these needs, take risks to lead where many often fear to tread, and persist to create the best options for all of our students, particularly the gifted.
Secondary Programming for Gifted Students: Using What You Have
During the preconference workshop day, I presented a half-day session to assist GT coordinators, directors, and program managers in building defensible programs for gifted secondary students. Using work from a forthcoming book I coauthored with Dr. Diane Heacox (more about that in a bit), I explained to the audience the three critical dimensions of a solid secondary gifted program.
The cognitive dimension addresses the academic needs of gifted students. Advanced programming, whether honors courses, AP, IB, or early college options, must include an accelerated pace, sophisticated thinking, and deep content knowledge and production. An accelerated pace does not mean the teacher talks faster to cover more material; rather, the teacher compacts factual level materials so that students engage more in the conceptual domains of the content. Sophisticated thinking entails using higher levels of thinking in more complex ways, and more often. Finally, depth of content and production requires students to work within the discipline as scholars. In advanced study, students are expected to be active disciplinarians developing new ideas and creating new knowledge.
The personal dimension involves nurturing the emotional health of our students. Self-awareness is critical for gifted students. We must teach them to understand themselves as gifted and explore ways they can give back to the world around them. Through service learning, volunteering, and social justice activities, we develop our students’ sense of empathy, connectedness, and compassion.
The social dimension helps develop within our gifted students the abilities to communicate and collaborate with others. Often, gifted students will lack the skills to work in groups and listen to and appreciate others’ ideas and ways of doing. The social dimension of advanced programming should teach group skills, such as listening, negotiating, turn-taking, and cooperation.
Bring It On! Addressing the Issues of Differentiation for the Gifted
On the second day of the conference, I presented in collaboration with Carolyn Coil, Patti Drapeau, and Dr. Diane Heacox in addressing critical issues in differentiating for the gifted. We each spent a brief amount of time outlining our topic area, and then offered participants the choice of one of our four topics for deeper investigation.
Carolyn spoke on the management of grouping practices within the general and gifted classroom. Patti shared ideas about developing deep and complex curriculum that is differentiated for gifted learners. Diane defined the three types of underachieving gifted learners. My topic was motivating gifted students to become more autonomous in their learning.
We each offered practical strategies that can effectively work for the gifted, whether in a general classroom or one that is specific to gifted students. As I mentioned earlier, Diane Heacox and I have just completed our manuscript on differentiating for the gifted. In our new book (Free Spirit Publishing, Fall 2013), you will find many of these strategies along with many more! I am confident you will find it informative and highly useful.
Big Names, Big Ideas
Throughout this year’s NAGC conference, I interacted with and learned from many of the “big names” in gifted education. I learned from Drs. Joe Renzulli, Robert Sternberg, and Howard Gardner that we all have learning preferences and the various ways to address those needs. As Joe stated, “we are all victims of and beneficiaries of our experiences.” We must ensure that the experiences we create for our students are rich, engaging, stimulating, and challenging.
I listened to the profound Temple Grandin describe her life as a person living with and succeeding with autism. She discussed four different types of thinkers:
- Photo realistic visual thinkers who work best using highly realistic visuals
- Pattern thinkers who learn best through music and math
- Verbal thinkers who learn best through discussion and speech
- Auditory thinkers who learn best through listening and reflecting
As with all of the NAGC conventions I’ve attended, I returned home armed with new ideas, new challenges to my ways of thinking about teaching and learning, and many new friends. This is not only a conference for learning; it is also a conference for networking. Every evening after the last sessions, attendees gather in the conference hotel lobby bar to share ideas, reconnect with colleagues, and form new partnerships. I met and conferred with people from all over the United States and abroad. We shared a common passion for working toward meeting the needs of gifted learners.
I share these highlights with you in hopes that you will join me at next year’s NAGC convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, November 6-10, 2013. You won’t be disappointed.
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Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom by Diane Heacox, Ed.D.
The Way I See It: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s by Temple Grandin, Ph.D.
Complex Societal Issues Reflected in Gifted & Talented Education Discussions, Free Spirit Publishing Blog, June 28, 2012