Musings on Gifted Education, Language Arts, and Life
a canvas for recording ideas and reflections
So much of learning is about reflection. If you were to walk in my classroom any day, you would find at least one instance of me asking my students to reflect.
How did ____ make you feel?
Did you try your best?
What could you improve next time?
How would you rate your learning today?
How have you grown this week?
What choices did you make that led you to this situation?
How could you have said that in a more _____ way?
How could we make this lesson or activity better for next time?
When I reflect, it is more informal. I do not often sit down and write answers to these questions or turn and talk to my neighbor about what I’ve done and what I plan to do.
I know the value of thinking through things, synthesizing what I’ve learned, and planning next steps. I am majoring in Ed Psych, after all – I get that these are good for my brain and that there is a wealth of research to back up the practices.
My issue with reflection isn’t that I don’t understand the pedagogy. It’s just what always bubbles up when one of grad school assignments asks me to reflect - on EVERYTHING I have learned in the program - or when I am preparing for my end of year conference with my administrator. I always sit, staring at my computer screen or notebook, and think nothing. I freeze. I’m “not inspired,” as I just told my husband. When there is a grade (or TTESS rating) associated with my reflection on all that I’ve learned, my brain shuts down. I immediately resort to thinking a variety of negative things, none of which are true.
I guess I should follow what I tell my students each day and solve my problem.
Step 1: Identify the issue
Well, I know I have learned an incredible amount of information over the last year, but I can’t think of anything to write. How do I attack it? How do I break it down? The cute graphic organizer I made in my procrastination is not helping.
Step 2: But, really, what is the issue?
My perfectionism and self-doubt coming out, probably (always). Like so many of my students, when I know that I will be evaluated on the product I am creating, I suffer from thinking whatever I do won’t be good enough. What if what I say I’ve learned isn’t enough? Have I really mastered that competency? What if my professor thinks that assignment fits with that standard more? Will they read this and doubt that I’ve learned anything at all?
Step 3: What are you going to do about it?
I’ll start by going on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook… I’ll come back and re-read the assignment to decide I don’t even understand the instructions. I will complain to my husband who will try his hardest to encourage me, only to brush it off because my brain is only full of negative right now.
I’ll try again, get organized, and quit. I’ll open a doc to write a blog post about my struggles.
Then, when I am done avoiding my problem, I will decide that I have to get over it and get inspired. I know the root of my issue, which means I can overcome it.
I have learned. I am capable. I am qualified. I can do this.
How many of my students suffer with this same roadblock when asked to write a reflection or to do anything they know will be graded? I’ve watched students sit and stare at a paper for 30 minutes rather than write about anything. We all have different fears, but many of those in the educational setting are about not being good enough. Some, like mine and many of my gifted students, set the “good enough” level at perfection. Some, like many of my ELLs, set the “good enough” level at those of their native-speaking peers. Some, like many of my LD students, set the “good enough” level at the grade-level expectation. We are all craving good enough. How do we create a culture in our classrooms so our students believe that everything they do is not only “good enough,” it is great? How do we instill confidence in their opinions and reflections? How do we help them when they do get stuck?
We can ask our students questions to prompt their thinking, as I did above. We can help them find the issue so they can get through it, around it, or over it.
We can also do what we ask of our students so we can feel the pressure we are placing upon them and understand what they might feel when tackling an assignment. We need to do our best to calm any anxiety by having the expectation that we speak positively and constructively and that we are accepting of each other. We must teach our students that all opinions are valid, even those that are different from our own. We must focus on student growth so they will see the same.
It comes down to relationships and environment. In order to learn, we must feel safe enough to take risks. How do you create this environment for your students? For yourself?
I love going to conferences. I like learning new things, hearing different perspectives, being challenged, taking notes, meeting new people, and feeling inspired. Thankfully, my husband likes these things as much as I do and agreed to spend the money for me to attend the TAGT Gifted Plus conference in San Antonio a few weeks ago. He even traveled with me (and drove for 10+ hours!) so we could visit a new city together.
The conference consisted of the Summit, an optional extra day, on Thursday and two days of keynotes and breakout sessions on Friday and Saturday. The venue was gorgeous, snacks and refreshments were provided, there were happy hours, and the vendors were useful and respectful. Each session I attended was worth the drive and the cost – I was not disappointed! I would love to go through my 11 pages of notes here, but that would be boring and entirely more than anyone would care to read. Instead, I will highlight a few things that impacted me the most.
My greatest realizations came from Susan Baum, the speaker for the Summit. She is an author, researcher, consultant, and director at Bridges Academy, a school for twice exceptional students in California. She spoke about her time at Bridges, her students, and all that she has learned through her years in gifted education.
She coined twice exceptional students as being “green.” We often see our 2e students as two parts (blue and yellow). We see their exceptionality as one part and their giftedness as another. Maybe equal, maybe not. Her argument is that 2e students are not blue and yellow separately; they are green because their blue and yellow are overlapping and coexisting. The exceptionality and giftedness sometimes mask each other, intensify the other, or work together. The student, parent, and educator has to understand both sides and how they work together. Dr. Baum said, “When you don’t know who you are, everything is threatening.” How can we help the student understand all pieces (and the whole) of who they are? What do we need to do as educators to make sure we are seeing who students are and who they want to be?
How can we provide students with talent development opportunities and focus on their strengths rather than their perceived weaknesses? How can we work with them and for them, to grow them, rather than punishing and arguing and "fixing"?
Of course, Dr. Baum was only day 1 of 3 of the conference. Stephen Smith, of NASA (!), was the keynote speaker on Thursday. He is incredibly engaging, hilarious, and motivating. His story is incredible – I’m talking goosebumps and chills and almost tears. His message is that everyone has a story. We need to use our stories and our students’ real stories to connect. This is a message we have heard again and again; it’s almost becoming a buzzword (buzzphrase?) in education. But, Stephen’s presentation got to me more than anything else I have heard about us each having stories. Maybe because his own story is so emotional, but I think even more because he gave us actionable steps to take to learn about and include our students’ stories. He didn't just tell us what to think, he told us how we could implement his teaching. (This is what makes conference speakers effective!)
Be genuinely interested in learning about each of your students. Ask questions. You can do this one-on-one as they enter the classroom or as you are walking around. You could do this as a journal prompt and then read the students' responses. But listen. Read. Respond. Engage in the conversation. Once you have had the conversations, use the information you collect! You are collecting data from your students and you have to use it. Understand who they are and what their story is to know how to teach them to reach their potentials.
Looking forward to this school year, I’m thinking about how I can implement what I learned from Dr. Baum and Stephen Smith’s stories. How can I see my students as green and not blue vs. yellow? How can I actually hear their stories and understand who they are? What connections can I make? How can I share my own story so my students understand me?
*TAGT is the Texas Association for Gifted and Talented and if you haven’t yet heard of it, you are missing out! They are based in Texas and do wonderful work for GT education in our state, but their website and their conferences provide a wealth of resources for anybody – you do not have to be located in our great state.
Here I am. Officially doing this.
I have had the idea of starting a blog for a while. Whenever I got excited about actually starting, I would convince myself that I had nothing to say or contribute, that all of my ideas have been expressed by others before, and that I generally was not good enough.
Of course, all of these ideas are wrong. Why have they been stuck in my head for years? I'm not sure, but I am trying to shift my mindset.
How can I ask my students to write and to be vulnerable if I am not willing to do the same? (I can't.) Vulnerability is hard. Writing is hard. But I am capable and I can do hard things.*
So, I am here. Ready to share! My writing will focus on the curious world of Gifted and Talented Education - what I learn, what I teach, what I wonder. It's time to let some of these incubating ideas come to fruition.
*One of my favorite truths I learned from Melissa Hartwig, co-founder of the Whole30.