Report From Edufest
This week finds me at my favorite gifted education conference, Edufest in warm & sunny Boise, Idaho. In part, I love this conference because it affords much greater time for DEPTH of learning. In addition to six outstanding keynotes, the schedule includes what are essentially three "mini classes" where you get to learn from the same presenter on the same topic over four days. As a participant, I appreciate being able to absorb a deeper level of the material. As a presenter, I appreciate being able to cover layers of material that there normally otherwise isn't time to cover. Plus it's a tremendously fun conference, with eager learners and engaging presenters.
A portion of my drive here took me through the jaw-dropping Sawtooth National Forest:
(The spots are cows. Photo by Tamara Fisher.)
And I managed to squeeze in a trip to a nearby ghost town before the conference got rolling Sunday afternoon:
(Silver City, Idaho. Photo by Tamara Fisher.)
Tonight marks the halfway point of this intense experience and I'm already amazed at how much I've learned; how excited I am to take these ideas, resources, and loads of knowledge back with me; and how both exhausting and energizing this week is.
I asked some of my fellow participants and presenters to share some insights with all of you. I posed the following questions:
What do you wish the people back home knew or understood about gifted education and/or gifted students?
What is an "a-ha!" moment you've had here so far this week?
What is something you have learned or gained that you will be taking back with you?
And here are their responses:
"What I wish people back home knew is how learning about and understanding the strategies of gifted ed and characteristics of giftedness broadens your ability to understand and teach ALL kids. It allows you to pick up on behaviors and attitudes in all kids that you maybe otherwise wouldn't notice and understand."
"I've taught with a man for 20 years who teaches mathematics and gameology, and as I watch him present here I'm still in amazement after all this time at how he achieves such depth of understanding for his learners of all ages."
"I wish the folks back home would recognize that gifted children have needs just like every other student, and it's our job to make sure they develop their talents, too."
"I've had a huge a-ha moment. Just a couple weeks ago, someone asked me - a parent of both a gifted learner and a special needs learner - which service I would eliminate due to budget cuts. I said GT because I thought like so many people think that those kids are okay. But now, I've had a turnaround in my view of funding. Now I wouldn't choose to cut GT funding. I wouldn't cut either. I'd find another way. I now see that my gifted son can only go as far as the teacher is going to take him, and without GT he has less of a chance of reaching his potential."
"I wish the people back home understood that gifted kids aren't just in the top 3% of some test. You have them in your classroom. They don't have to be identified to still be gifted and many of them aren't."
"My a-ha moment was when I heard Margo Long say, 'When you find your passion, you no longer work.'"
"While implementing RTI, our school district has forgotten about gifted students. The scripted curriculum we're using is not appropriate for our gifted learners. We need to stop assuming they're okay where they are, because they're not. They need to be learning!"
"I've been pondering this week how to convince my district back home that RTI is for gifted kids, too. My district only sees RTI for special ed."
"I wish my colleagues back home understood that a child can struggle in one area and be gifted in another."
"I'm realizing just how much gifted learners are like special education learners in that they are another population of students that can't be served well by a 'Turn to p. 23' approach. Teaching gifted students requires of a teacher the same things that teaching special education students requires of us: to find out who the child is, what the child needs as a learner, and what we can do and need to do to meet the child where he is."
"My a-ha moment was learning and realizing that evaluation tools are not exact. We shouldn't depend fully on them and we should be open-minded about results."
That last comment was likely in response to this morning's keynote on Identification by Karen Westberg. One thing Karen talked about was Standard Error of Measurement and how "cut-off scores" eliminate some children from receiving gifted education services who actually need the services, and had they taken the test on another day they may very well have qualified.
(Slide by Karen Westberg.)
This slide demonstrates why. Say a test has a standard error of measurement of 6 points and say a child scored 116. In reality, there is statistically a 68% chance that if the child were to take the test again, his score would be somewhere between 110 and 122 (6 points below 116 and 6 points above 116). But 68% certainty still isn't very certain. So increasing the certainty to 95% means adding another 6 points above and below the child's score. Now we can say with 95% certainty that if the child were to take the test again, his score would be in the range of 104-128. That's a sizeable range! And yet in schools everywhere, children scoring 127, 128, 129 (i.e. just below a 130 "cut-off") are being told they don't qualify for receiving gifted education services. But if the standard error of measurement was taken into account (along with other data and information on the child because no single piece should ever be the be-all, end-all of identification for gifted services!), that student may very well need and otherwise qualify for getting those needs met via gifted ed services. As I still remember my undergrad educational statistics professor saying, "You're a band, not a point."
I love how Karen summed it all up:
(Accept it! Slide by Karen Westberg)