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NAGC 2010 Day 4

As late as I was up Friday night finishing my Day 3 report for y'all, I'm impressed I still managed to not only get up before the sun but also attend a 7:30 a.m. session! Here's the Atlanta sunrise:


1) A huge motivating factor to get up early today and attend the 7:30 session I had chosen ("Organizationally Challenged? How Developing Executive Function Can Help the Gifted") was one of my 6th graders. A couple weeks ago, she confided in me that she had failed a few assignments because even though she had done the homework (and probably well), she had no idea what she had done with it and was therefore unable to turn it in. "Things like that have been happening to me a lot lately. I'm really struggling with organization. Will you help me?" I gave her a few suggestions in the moment and also gave her a couple little things to read, but promised her I would track down more detailed and informative strategies. So I was thrilled to not only find a session on this topic, but also that it was so informative, thought-provoking, and practical. Presenters Ellen Fiedler and Michele Kane began by discussing executive function (things like planning, prioritizing, time management, etc.) and reasons gifted kids can struggle mightily with organization. Some of those (many) reasons include:

* They don't have study skills because they're used to "just knowing"
* They are intuitive problem solvers and so often don't realize the steps (and leaps) their brain has taken
* Homework isn't always relevant for them (they often don't need it for practice or mastery), therefore they place little importance on it
* At least through elementary school, they can often complete long-term projects at the last minute and still earn a good grade
* They rely on their good memories, then life gets more complicated and they don't have other tools in their toolbox
* Organization takes mundane work
* They have so many interests and so much going on that their ability to manage all of that can get out-of-control (and this chaos can really sneak up on them)

What are some strategies teachers and parents can offer to these students?
* Find an organizational system that works for that child
* Make use of available technology
* Color-code - and let the child choose the colors and the categories
* Make use of timers and alarm devices (If your child's school bans cell phones or other hand-held digital media, try a watch with an alarm system built into it)
* Have a regular (such as weekly) backpack clean out session
* Look to history - How did someone who was similar to that child organize his or her life?
* Help them learn about how their brain works
* De-emphasize phrases that exacerbate perfectionism (like "do your best") which for some kids actually contribute to their anxiety about a task - which in turn can mess with their ability to regulate their emotional state regarding the task or situation
* Mental rehearsal and role-playing to help them develop plans of action for potential situations
* Give it a trial run and then re-evaluate (obviously with the child as the key participant in that evaluation) a week or so later
* Try using a mind-mapping or webbing tool, such as FreeMind (Scroll to the Download section at this link to download FreeMind for free. Scroll to the Alternatives section for even more suggestions similar to FreeMind)

2) The opening act for today's keynote was a kid rock band! And they were really good!


3) Carol Dweck of Stanford University offered a highly-thought-provoking keynote today about her research on Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets. I highly recommend the book for further details, but in a nutshell, the terms "fixed" and "growth" describe the level of malleability a person believes is possible regarding his or her own talents and learning abilities. Someone with a fixed mindset is likely to believe s/he must look smart at all times at all costs, that learning should come naturally, and that mistakes are to be hidden and deficits concealed. Someone with a growth mindset is likely to believe in learning for the sake of learning, the value of work ethic, and the importance of capitalizing on mistakes and confronting deficiencies. In all of her research on this topic, she has consistently found that those with a growth mindset show greater learning growth than those with a fixed mindset. She also found that those with a fixed mindset were dramatically more likely to lie and misrepresent their own performance.

Praising intelligence makes kids fragile. She suggested that we (all parents and teachers) praise process traits (such as hard work) rather than person traits (such as intelligence). Praise the strategies and choices the student makes. Praise their effort, struggle, and persistence. Praise actual learning, praise improvement. She suggested incorporating information about mindset into study skills classes. (Increased effectiveness of the study skills taught was found when presented in combination with information about mindsets.) One great tool for helping kids learn about mindsets is Brainology.

A couple things crossed my mind during her presentation... First, while I understand and agree with and am excited by her work, I think those of us in the field of Gifted Education in particular need to point out (to those outside gifted ed) that there's a difference between praising intelligence and acknowledging intelligence. Some will take her work and say, "SEE. We shouldn't be telling these gifted kids they're gifted!" But that's really not the point Carol makes with her work, and it would be a misinterpretation of her work. Acknowledging intelligence ("your learning needs are going to be different from other kids at times, which might require some accommodation") is a very different thing from praising intelligence ("well, aren't you just the smartest little thing ever!") It's a fine distinction, and I think an important one that we need to make sure doesn't get overlooked.

Something else that crossed my mind during her keynote was a question. She showed so much data in her presentation about how developing a growth mindset in a child increases their learning growth rate. She also did a stellar job of demonstrating how and why gifted kids can fall prey to developing fixed mindsets (we praise them for being a smarty pants and they in turn fear being seen as anything but). Many sources of recent research show stagnating learning growth rates among the top 10% of learners in America (here is info about one such study). While some possible reasons for this flatlining have been discussed and probably researched (see the list at the link above for multiple examples), one thing I don't think anyone has researched is the role of fixed mindsets contributing to this stagnation. Given the big push for developing and nurturing self-esteem in the 90's, could flattening learning progress rates for the top 10% in the 2000's be, at least in part, a result of all the "person praise" directed at these same kids in the 90's?

4) I next attended a session by Cindy Sheets on Podcasting. I have students interested in podcasting and have recently contemplated that it's something I could explore creating for professional development purposes. Suggested resources to aid students in creating podcasts were:
GarageBand (Mac sound editor)
Audacity (free download sound editor)
Aviary (web-based, free)
Myna (Aviary's audio editor)

Great places to check out some student podcasts:
Across the Ocean
Digital Divas (which actually was the next session I attended - presented by one of my UConn classmates and her daughter)
Cindy's Students

5) Random chuckle moment of the day - the ribbon on this man's nametag:


6) Spent a little time wandering the Poster Sessions:


There just aren't enough hours in these days! I will have to post Part 2 of Day 4 later, lest this post stretch on for miles. Sleep is also becoming less optional at this point, too...!

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