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Benefits of Online Education for Gifted Students
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Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) Online Education Program for Gifted Students

The field of online education is booming in multiple arenas – gifted education and elsewhere. Enrollment numbers have increased exponentially over the past ten years. With increased demand, the capabilities and range of offerings provided by online programs have grown in similarly rapid fashion.

Less attention, perhaps, has been given to the overall benefits online education provides to gifted students. There are many. Not only do students have access to advanced-level and unique courses that their regular schools may not provide, but the format itself is conducive to gifted learning. Independent learners, those who seek a community of like-minded individuals, students interested in the diversity that comes from participation with others from around the world, and those seeking academic exploration outside the time and assessment constraints of many regular day schools, often find a haven in online learning. Specially tailored learning environments, individualized learning programs, and the freedom to learn at one’s own pace are also frequent characteristics of online learning programs that appeal to the highly capable student.

While the movement from a traditional classroom to an online learning environment can be an awkward shift for some students, highly interactive and engaging curricula can ease this change. Such interaction can enhance the sense of connection that students feel to a learning community. While gifted students often become accustomed to being “the smartest in the class,” and experience a sense of isolation as a result, online gifted courses can bring connections with like-minded individuals invested deeply and earnestly in academic pursuits. Students can find a peer group that is not in their neighborhood.

At Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG), we are pleased to offer our Online Learning Program, which has grown significantly over the past few years. As we are gearing up for another Summer Session, I hope you will consider it as an engaging educational enrichment option for your children and/or students. In addition to advanced, individualized, and interactive course content, summer is a time of fun. Online learning is a fun way to learn, as students can log in and do their work at their convenience, and enjoy learning along with peers from other parts of the country and the world.

All the best,

Kevin Wickersham
Academic Director, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)
kwickersham@giftedstudy.org

 

Passion and Dedication: Key Traits for Teachers of the Gifted
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gifted education teachers gifted students gifted and talented gifted kidsWe know that good programming for gifted learners begins with good curriculum and instruction, which means it also begins with good teachers. These are teachers who understand gifted students, care about them and empathize with their educational needs. Teachers who are most effective in working with gifted students typically exhibit many of the characteristics of their students. They prefer abstract themes and concepts, prefer open and flexible learning venues, and enjoy logic, analysis and rational thought. Nonetheless, the social qualities of the teachers are as important, if not more important, than the intellectual characteristics. Emotional intelligence is as important as knowledge and skill when working with gifted students. For a teacher to implement effective differentiation, he or she will need to be able to view the students as individuals and connect with them on a personal level. They have to be able to understand how gifted and talented students can think, solve problems, be creative, and be able to challenge them in areas of interest to them.

These teachers need also to have self-confidence, enthusiasm, passion for learning in selected fields, and a preference for working with gifted children. They would need to be understanding when gifted students challenge them, correct them or ask questions they have no clue how to answer. They would need to be able to provide “managed risk” environments where perfectionist students can be encouraged to be comfortable with levels of failure that help them to grow.

In our SIG programs, we seek teachers who exhibit such characteristics. We want teachers who are dedicated enough to give students their time during the summer, who are passionate about the fields they teach in the courses we offer, and who love working with high ability and creative young people. If we expect students to develop into lifelong, engaged, enthusiastic, creative learners, then they need to have teachers they can emulate now and surpass later in their personal growth. We hope that all gifted students will have the opportunity to work with such talented teachers and that these talented teachers will have the opportunity to be challenged by these amazing young people.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

Why Gifted Students Need Diversity and Innovation
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summer institute for the gifted students academics innovation academics in gifted educationWhen considering the many aspects of creating effective curriculum and learning environments for learners with gifted and talented potential, diversity is critical. By diversity I mean a wide array of attributes that come from both the learner, the instructors and the curriculum. Some attributes are inherent and some are created.

First, diversity of ideas helps to create freedom of thought, which is so important for innovation to happen.  When students tackle wide-ranging problems that have no single response, working among peers who bring diverse backgrounds and opinions to the problems, then students are forced to break out of the usual response frameworks to deal with potentially opposing viewpoints surrounding those issues. For example, when I have observed a summer class in one of our Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) programs where a global issue was being discussed, the discussion was far richer and stimulating when the group contained members from several countries, than if they were all from the United States. Hearing different opinions regarding a concern can be eye-opening to students who have never had a reason to question conventional wisdom.

Second, diversity of content, as well as of people, provides a rich soup of ideas and possibilities for creative production. As Einstein said, creativity is intelligence having fun. For the mind to have lots of ideas to play with and to make connections among (and therefore have fun), there must be an environment full of interesting ideas, of broad topics and issues to explore, and of innovative fields of human endeavor in which they can apply such material. Creativity, a most valued attribute, requires information to be readily available for students to create something new that is useful, replicable and understandable. As educators and parents, we can do our part to provide an enriched environment that helps to stimulate creative thinking by providing exposure to a wide variety of information, using open-ended thinking situations, and capitalizing on topics that interest our students. This diversity of content is what we do at SIG as we strive to help students develop the convergent and divergent thinking skills so necessary to creative problem solving. Our classes are diverse in topics as well as fields, and students can study a variety of disciplines during their time with us. The courses are also open-ended to allow students time and opportunity to purse topics that are of particular interest to them.

Finally, diversity of strategies is important in exploring academic areas, particularly working both individually and in a group. When students first work individually in thinking creatively about a problem, then bring it to a group format, the end results are more creative than if they had only been considered in a group setting. By working individually, the student is forced to think through a situation on her own, going further than she may have thought before, through encouragement to do so. In a group setting, each member brings a unique set of skills that, when combined, forge an impressive array of capabilities for tackling any problem. The individual knowledge and experiences of each come together to expand the capabilities of the group, resulting in greater innovation. As people approach problems and solutions from different perspectives, their problem-solving processes can help us re-define how we approach our own problems.

Certainly, no one can argue that there are many problems to be resolved in the world and that we should engage our most capable minds in that participation. So when you are planning curriculum for gifted students be sure you make the content, processes, products and contributors as diverse as possible, just like we strive to do at SIG.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

Educating the Whole Gifted Child
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nsgt summer institute for the gifted summer program educating gifted children gifted child gifted education summer campAt Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG), our gifted summer program, the social and emotional components of our programs are as important as the academic and intellectual components of our program—in other words, very important! After all, if one is not happy, self-assured and at peace with who one is, personal fulfillment will remain elusive.

There are many reasons why the social and emotional development of gifted students is critical to include with academic endeavors. The very nature of giftedness states that these young people are different. Their asynchronicity places them on different tracks and different modes from the rest of the population, creating a need for different treatment as students and as individuals. Advanced cognitive strengths and intense sensibilities create experiences for gifted students that are qualitatively different from the norm. Their uniqueness requires modifications in how we teach, parent, and counsel them so that they will develop their maximum potential in a culture that may have ingrained and different expectations from what gifted students need.

One problem gifted students may face is isolation from a peer group. They may feel different from those around them, and not valued for who they are. Adults may value their gifts, but also sometimes subject them to ridicule or try to make them conform to cultural or system standards that do not fit them. Young children may begin to doubt their worth or feel sad, anxious, or angry. Profoundly gifted students rarely have an intellectual peer in their daily interactions, and can experience an even greater level of isolation, frustration, and unhappiness than moderately gifted students.

Another problem can be precocity. Intellectually advanced students may experience boredom in school due to their advance level of knowledge and may cope by engaging in behaviors that are unacceptable to teachers, such as moving ahead, doing other projects of interest, or acting in socially challenging ways.

Perfectionism can be a problem for students who may avoid risk-taking activities and lose out on opportunities to develop their potential, due to fear of failure.

Creative children can be isolated through their uniqueness, as they are increasingly subjected to conformity as they get older and as their friends and teachers do not understand them.

There are many other areas of concerns affecting the emotional development of gifted youth, including gender role expectations, heightened sensitivities about moral and ethical concerns, and intense self-scrutiny.

These are just a few of the reasons why we take the social and emotional components of our programs seriously. At SIG residential programs, through our Counselor groups, we encourage bonding and sharing in our activities and discussions. Friendships happen naturally as a rule, but our counselors and residential staff are great at establishing a positive setting for acceptance and interaction with new peers. In our recreation activities in both day and residential programs, we encourage students to work and play together, share their unique interests, learn more about people from other states and countries, support and encourage each other, and have fun. One of my most favorite things to do at camp is to observe a talent show and see the amazing display of support and appreciation that students give each other.

In our academics, we encourage students to take intellectual risks, to study topics of interest to them within the courses, and to challenge each other with questions and suggestions. We also encourage them to let us know what they like or don’t like in a course and how we can help them meet their needs through our programs. Some are reluctant to speak out at first, but hopefully will have enough trust in our concerns for them to give us that feedback early in their session. Additionally, we strive to help them engage in self-assessment as they create their own objectives and learn to trust their ability to self-critique—a great life skill.

And of course, we highly value creativity and creative thinking. In fact, the theme for our summer staff training is Cosmic Creativity. Creative thinking has always been at the core of what we do and promote at SIG. This theme reminds us that program possibilities are cosmically endless. We want our students and staff to think big, ask monumental questions, pursue endless interests, and have gigantic fun in the process.

We celebrate our student’s differences, appreciate their asynchronicities, and value their contributions at every level. We hope you do too in all the ways that you have the opportunity to work with gifted students. If you have exciting ways that you educate, or parent, the whole gifted child that have worked well for you, do share with us so that we can all learn and celebrate your successes with you.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

The Importance of Summer Learning Opportunities for Gifted Students
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gifted summer programIt’s a beautiful summer-like day here in Connecticut! It makes me think about and look forward to summer learning. I love the possibilities of summer learning — they are limitless — as students are not restricted by core curriculum, time-specific schedules or pre-selected products. It’s a time when students can pursue topics and research that truly interest them. They can contribute to their discovery of what fields of study will likely garner their attention in future career fields. They can also eliminate fields of study that don’t generate that passion through participation in studies that don’t carry the excitement they find elsewhere.

It’s also a time to develop creativity. Creative thinking is something we highly value at our Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) program. We want students to be able to capture ideas, information, and connections among concepts that stimulate them to create new products, solutions, and services that contribute to the progression of knowledge and improve other people’s, as well as their, lives. When we remove the ceilings from their rooms (and brains), they have a view of the limitless universe. When students are allowed to select their topics, their choice of products, their timeframe, and their questions, creativity is bound to occur.

With all this great learning and thinking going on in the summer, we might forget that there are many other great benefits to summer learning in programs such as ours. We find that our alumni report to us that they experienced the benefits of independence and lifelong friendships, as well as academic enrichment and learning beyond the classroom. If you’d like to see more detail on the benefits of summer learning at SIG, we welcome you to view this webinar we made a few years ago.

Regardless of whether your students attend a program like SIG, online or onsite, commuter or residential, or choose to work independently at home, I hope you will encourage participation in fields of study that are not typically provided in schools, encourage thinking that is broad, unique, and creative, and encourage students to have fun with discovering what makes them tick, emotionally as well as intellectually.  Here’s to a summer with bright sun shining over bright minds!

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

The Thrill of Suspense in Gifted Education
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suspense in gifted education - gifted students - giftedness - gifted and talentedEveryone loves suspense. In literature suspense keeps us engaged, especially if the plot has multiple twists and turns, and if we are sympathetic to the characters.  I think suspense one of the things that is so compelling in gifted education. We have the wonderful opportunity to work with students who have the potential to be surprising in how they react to new ideas and who have the options of making wide-ranging twists and turns as they move toward focusing on products, topics, or issues of passionate interest in their lifelong journeys of discovery—much like a suspenseful novel or movie. You’re just not quite sure what will happen, but you know it will be a fun ride.

How fun and exciting it is as educators and parents of gifted children to anticipate how our students will emerge in the long and short terms of their development. What will they do with that newfound realization that some particular field attracts them at a visceral level? What might they do to solve that problem that concerns them immensely? What might they invent that expresses a solution to that gap or missing information that they see in a current scenario?

Remember, to move these suspenseful student plots along, we, as the coaches and facilitators of learning, have the responsibility to generate those questions, those cutting edge topics, those problems that exist both locally and globally, that prompt the student to provide the rest of the story or plot. The suspense of wondering how the stories will progress is exciting and intriguing. Let’s be sure that we do our part in keeping the suspenseful action in motion, both for their interest and for ours. It really is a fun ride!

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

Reforming Education: It’s Personal for Gifted Folks
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reforming gifted education for gifted students blog postWe’ve all known or been that someone. You know, the reformed reformer — the person who quit smoking and is now obnoxiously anti-smoking, or the person who has given up gluten and can’t stop talking about the benefits of such, or the person who has found religion and is now preaching to everyone who will listen. Sometimes we may be annoyed by these newly-found states of bliss thrown in our faces; however, we can’t help but feel happy for them in their conversion ecstasy.

In my line of work, which is gifted education, the best adult conversions I have witnessed have been teachers who have embraced new ways to teach that engage them as much as the students. I have had teachers say to me that once they have gotten over their obstacles, and opened their eyes and minds to exciting and interactive ways to teach, that they could never go back to rote teaching and learning again—much like their students also feel, I would imagine!

Rather than direct instruction with single correct responses and back and forth singsong exchanges between teachers and students, these reformed educators have discovered that it’s is much more fun, fulfilling,  and worthwhile to present students with problems, issues, and concerns that they can grapple with through complex questioning and discovery. They can now ponder and research individualized projects of their interest to manifest new understandings in personal ways through their products. Time flies; teachers and students are motivated and engaged; learning abounds for everyone.

If you are an educator with gifted and talented students in your classes, who hasn’t converted yet, consider how you might transition to the “other side.” What obstacles are you facing that you can overcome? What convincing do you need to lead you to a new type of euphoric teaching? Whose help do you need to get you there? Think about it and make a plan of action. You’ll be glad you did for your sake, as well as for those gifted students who will be very appreciative.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

Visualize to Individualize in the Classroom
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Visualize to Individualize 3.31.16I’ve always felt that athletes have the best gifted programs. Elite athletes have the best coaches, best equipment, best funding, best training techniques, and so on. That’s wonderful for them. We see the outcomes of these programs in amazing human levels of performance across the globe. It’s frustrating that elite thinkers don’t always receive the same kinds of attention. However, one great tip that educators can gain from the field of athletics is the use of visualization. The same techniques that help athletes perform at their best levels of performance, create renewed mental awareness, and imbue a heightened sense of well-being and confidence can be used by educators to help us be better coaches for our gifted students.

One of the challenges teachers face in providing an individualized curriculum is simply the overwhelming hurdle that differentiation can appear to be within a large heterogeneous classroom. How do you consider everyone’s learning needs? How do you manage individualized programs effectively? How do you balance what you are expected to do with what you would like to do? These are not simple questions to resolve, particularly for teachers new to differentiation or to working with gifted children. So let’s begin by visualizing.

You might know of visualization as guided imagery, mental rehearsal, or a variety of other techniques. Basically, though, visualization is the process of creating a mental image or intention of what you want to happen or feel in reality. When you visualize images, you can also sense feeling or sounds as well to keep the image vivid.

As research is finding that both physical and psychological reactions in certain situations can be improved with visualization, educators can use this practice to improve their ability to work effectively with gifted students. When planning a lesson or unit, imagine seeing the students in small groups, working on tasks that interest and engage them. When planning to introduce a new curriculum topic, imagine what students who already grasp that information could be doing to better use their time. When thinking through the evaluation of students, visualize some students producing the unexpected product that surpasses your expectations and then imagine a way to give those students feedback from other experts. When thinking about discussing content, create a mental image of asking in-depth questions, providing time for thinking about the questions, see students asking intriguing questions of you and of each other, and then visualize them challenging each other in thinking through these questions. See yourself feeling comfortable with the pleasant classroom buzz that comes from interested, engaged, and excited discovery learning.

These are just some ideas to help educators gain confidence in their ability to differentiate curriculum and instruction for their gifted and talented students. If you have other ways that you have used visualization practices with your teaching methods, do share with the rest of us. Much like the athletes, if we can visualize it, we can do it.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

Means and Ends in Gifted Education
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Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of Copy of SIG AT EMORY (11)You’ve all heard the saying “The ends justify the means,” meaning that as long as you get where you want in the end, it doesn’t matter how you get there. In gifted education, I think it’s more about the means than the ends, and that those means do matter. In other words, it’s more about processes than products. Sure, you can imagine the end you want and choose various means to get there from your repertoire, but first you have to have a repertoire. So the means justify the ends. You may be looking for a different outcome each time, but if you have high quality processes at your disposal, you’ll never be stuck for a high quality solution.

Gifted students benefit from learning and practicing a wide variety of processes that they can refer to over and over. If you are an educator, think about where you hope your gifted students will end their study— generally with original, thoughtful products that reflect new information that they have integrated in new ways, right? Then think- how will we get there? Will tests on basic core information get us there? Will back and forth short answer questions with students get us there? Not likely.

If we want thoughtful engagement with curriculum we have to model high level thinking, teach students to question, do research, and pursue advanced content that challenges them and fills in their blanks—their missing pieces of information. We have to help them find the intriguing elements in and out of the content that will spur them to undertake further study. We have to pull real and current examples and scenarios from the world on a global scale where this newly gained content has application. By engaging these kinds of processes, which are ultimately more valued and valuable for gifted students, we teach them much more than their prescribed curriculum. We teach them how to be creative life-long learners, with means to whatever ends they desire.

If you have had experiences with gifted students who were more fascinated by the processes of discovery than the outcome, do share your anecdotes with us.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

Gifted Supervisors: Are You Meeting Your Teachers’ Needs?
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g&t supervisors 2Teachers in gifted education programs, and any educational program for that matter, are often at risk of burnout, due to a multiplicity of reasons. One factor that can add to or diminish the stress of teaching gifted students is how the administrator/supervisor understands and supports the teacher. This blog is an update of an activity I created many years ago when I was both a teacher and a supervisor in a gifted program. Working in both worlds gave me a unique perspective, at least I’d like to think. So, I made a list of all the things I felt were important and have included them in this self-analysis activity. If you’d like to take it, react to each statement by marking the appropriate column. If you feel any item does not pertain to you, answer as you believe you would if faced with the situation. G/T refers to gifted and talented. Enjoy!

G&T supervisors

The Globalization of Curriculum
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globalizationThe combination of March winds (we had a very windy day here yesterday)  and the need to provide complex, authentic curriculum for gifted students, coupled with a news story I just read, reminded me about the importance of incorporating global content into our teaching and also reminded me how easy that is to do. Here’s one example to demonstrate this concept.

The title of the news article I found is Offshore Wind Projects in United States See Renewed Interest. It is written by Philip Marcelo, (March 3, 2016) for Associated Press, and demonstrates a simple yet interesting way to teach gifted students about science, technology, energy, geography, sociology, humanities, and anything else you want to add in. What I love about this article is how it seamlessly meshes wind energy (and other energy sources) and their production with US and international businesses and concerns. To understand the news article in total, one would have to understand energy issues, wind farming, governmental roles in energy, associated legal issues, competition in business, and obstacles facing technology and its advancement, at the least. Why this complexity is so great for gifted students is because not only does it force them to think of many high level concepts at once, it also allows them to go off into areas of particular interest or intrigue to them.

If this article were presented as a Problem Based Learning situation in which the students needed to assess the likelihood that establishing a wind farm would be an appropriate goal in their community,  they would first need to understand the science, technology, economics, and weather involved. In the process of gathering the information they would need to have to come to a conclusion to the situation, they also would have the opportunity to study areas of individual interest. One person might be interested in the scientific components, while another might be interested in environmental issues, and yet another might be interested in the legal and financial aspects of such an endeavor. There is something in a lesson like this for everyone, yet all are engaged in the aspects of the curriculum that the facilitator has deemed critical to the student’s curriculum needs for that particular age or grade. Win/win.  Even better, the world begins to benefit from young people’s active participation in global issues and in all of our futures.

What global story in the news today can you use to further your students participation, and therefore engagement, in real life curriculum?

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

 

Faith and Trust in the Process of Gifted Education
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faith and trustOne of the frustrating things about working as an educator in gifted education is that often we don’t get to see the results of efforts we make in facilitating the learning that encourages gifted children to become all that they can be. The big ideas, intriguing questions, and advanced and enriched content we present won’t necessarily manifest in tangible, observable results in the face time we have with those students. Curriculum taught at an advanced or abstract level is not likely to be included on a state proficiency test, a grade level assessment, or even in assigned and behavioral tasks. At best we sometimes only notice that gifted students appear to be happier in themselves and in their school than they were before the intervention.

But, I think it’s important that we have faith and trust in the processes of gifted and talented education. Have faith in the students’ exceptional abilities to take in new ideas, ruminate on possibilities, engage in long-term problem solving, and use whatever spark you provided in some constructive manner weeks, months, or years later. Trust in the process. Don’t let your inability to see, think, or feel the effects of your thoughtful differentiation in the now keep you from implementing these changes. One example I can share from SIG was when an alumna shared with us that she had majored in women’s studies in college as a result of her interest in this field, sparked by taking a class at SIG many years prior in women’s studies. This course exposed her to concepts and content that would not have been a part of her core school curriculum and paid off many years later.

If you’ve had the good fortune to have a student circle back to you to share how your individualized efforts paid off in the long run, please do share with as many people as you can. That sharing will help all of us believe, trust, and have faith as we double our efforts to plant the mental and emotional seeds that nurture our gifted student for their lifetimes.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)