Sunday, April 24, 2016

What Is Your Potential?

Potential.  We use that word a lot.  Many students, particularly gifted students, have a great deal of potential.  But what does the word potential actually mean?  According to dictionary.com, here is the definition of potential:
  • possible, as opposed to actual.               
  • capable of being or becoming.
  • a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.
So, when you think about it, what is potential actually worth?  It's not real; it's just possible.  It's not real; it's just a capability.  It's not real; it's latent.  So what is it worth?  Basically nothing.  Nothing until we come along.  

Yes, we.  Who are we?  We are the parents, the teachers, the people who love these gifted students.  And if you've been around for long at all, you can think of at least one, and probably several, students who have failed.  Who did not meet their potential.  Who maybe even quit school.  Or worse.  I believe that we as parents and teachers often fail these amazing kiddos.  Please don't think I am being critical.  At least not any more than I am critical of myself.  We do the best we can.  And as Maya Angelou graciously stated, "Now that I know better, I do better."  One thing I try to do on a continuous basis is to improve.  To just take one step in front of the other, moving closer toward being better.  Not better than you, not better than anyone else, but better than I was yesterday.  

And that moves me on to the next portion of my post: OUR potential.  As teachers and parents of these smarty pants, what are we doing to help them reach their potential?  Each gifted child is unique and different, so they don't all have the same wants and needs.  I learned this firsthand from my own family.  One of my children is self-motivated and has always done her best in her schoolwork and has been driven to succeed.  She has other dreams and goals as well, and she works to create plans and successes so that she can achieve what she wants.  Then, there's the other child.  He is brilliant.  And creative.  And wants what he wants.  But only if it's what he wants.  So, yeah, not exactly self-motivated to excel at school.  Unless he wants to.  Unless his interest is piqued.  Do these kids have different needs?  Yep.

If we want to help our beloved students to reach their potential, we need to help ourselves to reach our potential!  Ugh!  So I have to grow, too?  Can't I just do things the way I have always done them?  Well, sure you can.  But if our goal is to help these smarties to reach their potential, we are going to have to make some improvements.

One of the things I am most excited about in education is the idea of the growth mindset.  If you haven't heard of this, do some research on Carol Dweck.  The concept of the growth mindset may not have been geared toward gifted education and gifted students, but I believe that the growth mindset is perfect for gifted kiddos.  Basically, the growth mindset focuses on the idea that we are able to become more intelligent, more creative, more of a leader through hard work and challenges.  On the flip side, the fixed mindset believes that whatever you are born with is what you have and all you will have.  I love the idea of pushing these gifted kids to build their brains to be stronger and more resilient.

If you need a good place to start with this idea, check out the videos on Class Dojo.  I love Class Dojo, and now they are delving into the growth mindset movement.  They have two series of videos that introduce and explain this way of learning.  They are so cute and so fun!  Even my 6th graders like them!  Another player in the growth mindset movement is Whole Brain Teaching. If you haven't checked them out, you certainy need to.  Whole Brain Teachers often use a "Super Improver" wall whereby students are able to set goals (with or without teacher help) and then move up the Super Improver board as they improve their skills.  Goals and skill improvement plans can be private and differentiated for each student.  I had planned to incorporate this more into my class this year, but failed miserably since I changed schools and the year was a bit crazy.  I am definitely using this next year, complete with badges that the kids can earn.  I want to make it a HUGE deal when they move up the board.

And I realize that I am all over the place right now, but I am also considering starting the National Board Certification process.  Eeeek!  I am pretty nervous about this!

Let me know how you focus on your kiddos' growth!

Carol Ann



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Are Your Students' Projects POINTLESS?

As most of you know, I teach gifted students (3rd-5th) through a pull-out program by grade level while also teaching whole-group enrichment classes grades K-4.  I also have small groups of high achievers (not identified as gifted--yet) whom I meet with as well.  I love what I do even though my time with each group is so limited.  This limited time makes it difficult to get everything done, which I'm sure is a problem for EVERY teacher, no matter what they teach.  Because of this limited time, many of our projects are completed outside of class.  So projects are assigned, usually by a choice board, deadlines are given, we discuss ideas, and the students return with their projects ready to present.  Yippee, right?

Wrong.  Or at least sometimes wrong.  Sometimes my students create these projects, and I can't figure out the point.  Like, what are you trying to say?  For example, my 3rd grade gifted students read an amazing book this fall, The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester. Incredible book.  The students loved it.  It is filled with jaw-dropping twists and turns, good versus evil, etc.  But when my kiddos presented their projects, some of them were just.... meh.  Now some of them were really good, but others... not so much.  So this year when it came time to begin our projects, I had a plan.  Well, I had a plannER.  Let me show you.

What I created is a graphic organizer to help students gather their thoughts and plan their project.  Many times I think that students just want to create something pretty, but they don't think about the actual learning that they are supposed to be demonstrating.  Although this organizer is detailed and there are lots of spaces to fill, I think this can be a valuable tool to help students achieve.  I used this with my 3rd grade gifted students, and they didn't like it.  I laughed!  Of course they didn't; it meant they had to think more! But for the ones who actually thought about their plans and filled out the organizer, this planner really helped them to produce better work.  I was so proud of them!

You can click on the link below to download your own copy for free!  Please leave feedback if you like it!


I would love to hear your comments, suggestions, and any ideas you have for helping students create amazing projects!  Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Project Procrastination: Are You Paralyzed by Fear?

Are you a procrastinator?  Do you tell yourself that you "work best under pressure"?  Maybe you're "thinking about" your project or your lesson plans or doing the laundry...Welp, I am a procrastinator.  A bad one.  I have lots and lots and lots and lots of ideas.  And I want to share them with you.  So why haven't I?  Hmmm.... must  be that pesky procrastination problem.

But let me 'fess up.  When I first started this blog, I was SO excited!  I couldn't go to sleep at night because I was just so pumped up to be embarking on this journey!  So why the procrastination?  I think of myself as a confident person, and I really feel--or think I feel--like I can do just about anything I set my mind to.  So, why haven't I?

Fear.

When I started the blog, I couldn't wait to use this forum for many purposes:  to help teachers with those brainiacs who need to be pushed to excellence and past, to advocate for the needs of gifted students, and last but not least, to supplement my income.  This girl seriously needs a swimming pool.  And a new car. Ha!  Wouldn't that be amazing?!  So, what happened?  Well, lemme tell ya...

Sometimes I need a new filter.  Or even a filter AT ALL!  Anybody with me?  I just get all upset and emotional and excited over all the needs that these students have.  And I don't always take the time to really think things over.  So right after I started the blog, I ranted and vented about my daughter's experience at school.  And that went over really well...  Let's just say I got to visit the superintendent's office over it.  Not exactly my idea of a good time.

So here comes the paralyzing fear.  That negative response has been so hard to get over, so hard to get past.  And every time I have ideas or start to post something or create a product, fear takes over.  Will people like it?  Is it good enough to share?  Will this somehow get me into trouble?  But after much disappointment in myself and a meaningful moment in church, I am realizing that I am addicted to this procrastination thing.  So I am coming out fighting.

Help, prayers, and support would certainly be appreciated!

Love to all, Carol Ann

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Project: Organization

Okay, okay, so it's summer.  But some of us (the ones NOT born organized) have to start early planning for next year.  One of my serious weaknesses is organization, or the lack of it.  So as I go through this significantly stressful journey over the next several weeks, PLEASE feel free to add your tips and hints.

As the GT Specialist at my school, I am responsible for seeing lots of different groups of kids each week.  It can get confusing keeping up with which class is supposed to be doing which activity.  And with three of the groups--my identified 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders--I have to do formal assessments, projects, even report cards.  Seeing so many groups--from kindergartners to 5th graders--every day and every week can be a bit exhausting.  But it is super fun getting to spend time and get to know all these different kiddos, about 500 per week!

So, after 6 years in this particular job, I think it's time to get organized!

First step:  I went to school this morning to evaluate the situation.  Oh, my.  It was bad.  I wish I had taken some pictures so I could show you, but it's probably better that you just use your imagination. :)  We have to completely take down our classrooms--everything off the walls, everything packed up and packed away, nothing left out.  I do have a large blue cabinet that I usually shove lots of stuff into, so I started there.  I went through several boxes and threw quite a bit of stuff.  Then I had to start thinking about how I wanted procedures to work in my classroom.  How do you handle student work?  Do the kids have a certain place where they ALWAYS turn in their assignments?  Last year, I used flat bins that were just a bit larger than a piece of paper.  This year, though, I think I am going to find a more convenient location for those and add the clothespin trick to the mix.  Do you know the clothespin trick? I saw it on Pinterest (of course), and one of my co-workers uses it.  You just have a clothespin for each student, and the clothespin is pinned to the sides of the "turn-in bin".  Then students just pin it on their work as they turn it in.  That way, you know who hasn't turned in their work.  You also know who those "no-name papers" belong to.  My co-worker plans to use student numbers on hers, but I am going to use student names and maybe numbers, too.  For my GT classes, I have those students for up to three years. I thought it would be fun to let the kids decorate theirs how they want (and have their name and number on the back).  I think they would love that!  And I can use them year after year with only 3rd graders and new students creating new ones.  How do you keep up with who's turned in their assignments?

Please, please, please share your organizational successes with me!  I'm sure I'm not the only one who needs help!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Top 5 Ways to Keep Your Gifted Child Busy This Summer

Whether you are a teacher of gifted children or the parent of one (or <<gasp>>, more than one!), you know that it takes talent to keep gifted kids busy--and out of your hair--during the summer months.  Here is a compilation of ideas for keeping your smarty-pants smartly engaged:

1.  Whether the gifted child is six or sixteen, one thing can probably engage them all:  ART.  Introduce your child to many different forms of visual art--paint, pastels, chalk, collages, mosaics, clay.  Use whatever you can find.  It doesn't have to be expensive; just use leftover magazines and make collages.  Or dig out paints and copy paper.  Or break old plates and use the pieces for mosaics.  I have even cut out little squares of construction paper to make mosaic patterns.  Most importantly, let them take the lead.  Don't let them just copy what you are doing.  

2.  If you have a tech nerd, photography might be an interesting choice for a summer activity.  It might even grow into a life-long love.  Depending on the age of the child, photography could include taking a digital camera outside to snag some shots of the neighbors' new petunias or it could be a self-taught tutorial in Photoshop.  Most of us have a digital camera of some type that we could allow our kids to use, but even brand-new ones are inexpensive for a beginner model.  Possibly giving your child an "assignment" would be better; for example, having them create scrapbook pages digitally via Shutterfly.  All of these ideas could give your smarty a chance to be creative.

3.  One question that drives me nuts basically everyday is this one--"What's for dinner?"  Well, heck, I don't know!  Why not put these kids to work?  Again, depending on their ages, this could involve just helping with recipes to planning and producing dinner for a week!  Wouldn't that be wonderful? :)  But, in reality, cooking can teach kids many different skills, from math (measurements, fractions, multiplication) to science (how heat or cold can change liquids to solids and back) to creativity (hmmm, we have hamburger meat and asparagus.  What can we make?) to the basic skill of feeding oneself.  And it's fun!  If you want to be really creative, let them help with food presentation.  They could decorate the plates with a sauce the way chefs do in fancy restaurants.

4.  I've been hearing all this information lately about the additives and harmful ingredients in the food that we purchase in the grocery store.  Why not grow your own food, free of all these cooties?  Let the whole family choose some of the veggies to grow.  Maybe your son could be in charge of the watering schedule, or your daughter could make sure that the weeds had been pulled.  Even if you don't have room for a real garden, you could always plant an herb garden in the window.  Kids could help add the herbs to their favorite dishes!        If it were my garden, I would absolutely have to have those cute little garden stakes labeled with the appropriate veggie so that everyone would know what goodies lie in store for us!

5.  If your little brainiac has an entrepreneurial spirit, summer could be the perfect time for him to start his own business.  Kids of practically every age are capable of producing some type of product or service that is valuable to others.  Many gifted kids are also inspired by the problems of the world.  Your child might want to start a business to benefit the local animal shelter or to help kids with cancer.  Helping others can be a powerful motivator for our gifted kids.  But even if your child only wants to add more "Miss Me" jeans to her closet, starting a business can be an important teacher for her.  It will teach her about profit margins, costs of producing a product, advertising, and it will definitely challenge her creativity, math skills, problem-solving, and perseverance!

Hopefully this list has given you a few ideas for keeping your child's brain and imagination engaged this summer.  I know there are lots more ideas out there.  Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

Friday, March 8, 2013

With Liberty and Assessment for All...

Well, it's assessment season.  At least the standardized variety.  What do you think about assessments?  It seems like right now we all detest assessments.  It seems like every week we are giving some type of mandatory standardized test.  Right now in our school district, we are giving the D2SC.  And that just seems like a practice test for the biggie around here--benchmark testing and the ITBS.

For the past couple of days, I've been off work for recuperating from oral surgery.  Today, I participated in a webinar about assessment, given by Carolyn Coil.  Have you heard of her?  She is an amazing author who strives to help all of us with differentiation.  Differentiation is so necessary for the growth of all students, but it is sooooo much work, right?  Ms. Coil has written several books on easy differentiation for students, both high and low ability.  As I watched the webinar, I knew that I wanted to review the high points for you.

One of the pillars of true differentiation is in assessing our students.  The first step is the pre-test.  In my opinion, this is the most important place to start.  There are several ways to easily do this, either formally or informally.  Formally, you can do several different assessments in order to see individually where your students are in their learning readiness.  Are they ready to learn?  Do they need some remediation before beginning something new?  Or do they already know everything you are about to teach??  Yikes!  You probably already realize that several of your students DO already know.  How do you know for sure?

I want to share some of her ideas that really seem simple.  Ya ready?  Here we go:


  • Give your final exam on a topic as a pre-assessment.  This would be a fairly simple method of pre-testing, particularly since you probably already have a test created for that purpose.
  • Have students fill out a web or concept map.  This is a super-simple idea.  Use a pre-printed concept map with nothing filled out except the topic written in the center.  They can even create their own web, if you like.  This will give you great information on your students' knowledge level!
  • I thought this one was interesting, and so easy!  In math, normally the last few problems on an assignment are the most difficult.  So, as a pre-test, have students complete the last 3-5 problems.  If they get them all right (prior to any instruction) why in the world would they have to do the easier one?  That would be such a motivator for them!  
Over the next week or two, I'll be giving some ideas for how to use the information you've gathered on student knowledge and skills.  Let's work together to make teaching easier and better for us AND our students!  Please share your ideas as well!

Be sure to check out Carolyn Coil's resources at www.piecesoflearning.com. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Does TEAMWORK make YOUR team work?

In the morning, I will leave with most of my co-workers and administrators to "retreat" together for a couple of days.  While I don't have an agenda of the upcoming events, I am assuming that we are gathering together to learn and to bond.  What kind of activities will help us to do that?  What kind of team-building "lessons" would be best to help us be more of a community?

I have to admit:  I am a little apprehensive about the trip.  I'm not sure about the sleeping arrangements, the bathroom situation, or the activities.  I wish that I had some sort of agenda, had some sort of idea what we are going to be doing, where I am going to be sleeping.  This apprehension makes me wonder how our kiddos feel when they come into our classrooms.  Are THEY nervous as well?  What are we doing to make them feel less apprehensive, less nervous, more at home?

I am a GT Specialist, so I don't have the same students all day.  I have kids in and out all day, all week.  So my procedures most likely differ greatly from the ones that grade-level teachers have.  I greet the students every day as they walk into my room and again as we begin our time together.  I wonder, though, if they are nervous about what we are going to do.  I work to make my classroom pretty, neat, engaging, and interesting.  Does that make them feel more welcome?

One thing that I do as some of our "first week" activities include making puppets of themselves to introduce themselves to the class.  I hope that this works as a first-step toward building community within the classroom.  I enjoy letting them share with one another and learning about each other.  It also helps me to learn more about each student.  What kinds of community building activities do you enjoy in your classroom?  Share your great ideas with all of us!!

Love, Carol Ann