This month I’m honored to share with you a guest post by my good friend and colleague Shanna Philipson. Shanna is the mother of a 2e child and the author of Meet the Beaker Kids, a fun and informative comic book for anyone trying to understand their sensory systems or the sensory systems of their children and students. Purchase the comic and the corresponding manual here.
It was not one thing, it was a hundred little things. It was a war that was lost through minute attrition — countless small provocations and challenges that never amounted to a full-scale crisis but cumulatively killed me every day, five days a week.
I’m not talking about parenting my 2e kid. I’m talking about teaching.
Why couldn’t I thrive in a job that came so naturally, so passionately from my mind and heart? I taught some of the brightest students in the district but felt utterly empty at the end of each day. How could a person love their work and yet be so unhappy in their work at that same time?
When I walked away from my high school classroom for the last time, I knew it wasn’t because I had failed my students or because I fell out of love with teaching. I walked away because the cumulative sensory, social, and emotional burden of my dynamic, loud, highly regimented work environment was crushing me. Hidden behind all my success was another me desperately trying to escape my environment.
The year after I quit teaching my seven year old daughter began to pull her hair out at school and suffer from migraines. It was then that I began to reflect on the cost of cumulative stimulus on students, too. Like my own challenges in the classroom, it wasn’t ONE thing that was wrong for her; it was a hundred. She couldn’t hold all she was expected to carry all day.
How could I explain this? For those of us who have children with a dual (or triple!) diagnosis, it’s especially easy to get swamped with the jargon of our child’s needs when we try to explain their experience to teachers and family.
What we need is an acknowledgment and a language to describe our — and their — cumulative stimulus experience. We need this because “problem” behavior is rarely the result of a single influence. We all have limits to our tolerance and need for stimulus, and the language of clinical diagnoses, therapies, or interventions just won’t cut it with grandma. Neither will subjective labels like “sensitive” or “emotional” or “intense”. After all, one person’s minute “intense” is another person’s week-long “whoopie!”.
Cumulative capacity is the hidden experience, the secret menu to your neurology. Because it’s never just one thing — it’s usually hundreds of little moments that define your tolerance for Life.
I think of cumulative capacity as an internal beaker. In this visual metaphor, our beakers are all different. The size of the beaker tells me a lot about how much input/stimulus (even the good stuff!) you can handle before you’re full. Are you full in 30 minutes — or a week? The shape of your beaker tells me how you prefer or tolerate your input. If you’re a slim test tube shape, you fill up quickly no matter your size. Or perhaps you’re an Erlenmeyer type! Your enthusiasm can quickly turn into intolerance if you fill too fast. (That’s me!) You may feel like one type of beaker at home, but another in the grocery store.
The point of this is not to offer you more jargon, but to invite you to play with a mental schema that assumes that we can describe our experiences in life — even the good ones, like my joy in teaching — without judging our tolerance for Life. In the context of cumulative capacity, you don’t have to hunt down each offending moment and analyze it. You can recognize when your beaker is telling you “enough”. And you can choose how, when, and with what you wish to fill it.
This month my friend and colleague, Pamela Price, has graciously agreed to guest post for my blog as I finish up the first draft of my book, prepare for my wedding (!), and travel abroad. Thank you, Pamela! I urge you to take the time to explain digital citizenship to your children and students. As they say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Like it or loathe it, online interaction is increasingly a part of how we humans interact. This reality is both a blessing and a curse within the gifted community, especially for young adults and kids.
On the one hand, many gifted individuals—especially deep introverts, people with specialized interests, and homeschool families—find it easier to create and nurture social bonds with the aid of chat rooms, web forums, and social media. Teens frequently take great pleasure from relationships established online with people from all over the world.
On the other hand, the anonymity of virtual spaces can empower users to speak unkindly to one another. Gifted/twice-exceptional (“2e”) folks who are hard-wired to be emotionally sensitive, can find everything from minor potshots (aka “ordinary meanness”) to hate-filled cyber bullying as painful as any playground or classroom social slight. And we mustn’t forget that there are gifted/2e youth who are aggressive by nature and find a way to vent that energy via the Internet.
As with real world social interactions, gifted/2e kids and teens deserve guidance on how to navigate online relationships. They need to learn how to become good digital citizens. Fortunately, there are a number of free resources available for teaching “digital citizenship,” including civilized, polite norms of online behavior (“digital etiquette”).
The first of the following three recommendations is geared for kids specifically. The other two suggestions are for adults; however, mature kids and teens motivated to learn more about the topic may find the material accessible.
Webonauts Internet Academy
This PBS online game, which covers a range of issues from privacy to ethical behavior, is a great starting point. Designed for children ages 8 to 10, it’s also appropriate for younger gifted kids who may be trying out popular websites like Scratch in order to learn coding basics. The site includes tips for parents and educators on how to make the most of the content.
Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum
Designed by Common Sense Media, a non-profit “dedicated to helping kids thrive in a world of media and technology,” these materials can be tweaked for use by homeschoolers and afterschoolers alike.
The curriculum is divided into grade levels, too, which can help you decide gauge where your child should be at in terms of general digital literacy. (It goes without saying that gifted kids, who are prone to asynchronous academic learning, may be “out of step” with their peers. Tweak the plan provided by Commonsense Media as necessary.)
Parents of older children dealing specifically with online aggression will find this resource helpful because it breaks the cyberbullying issue into three parts: the definition, how to prevent it, and when and how to report it. It also has great tips on establishing “house rules” about online use and behavior.
Pamela Price’s second book—on gifted kids and bullying—is due later this summer from GHF Press. As a GHF: Gifted Homeschoolers Forum board member, she is working currently on a pilot project with a PBS affiliate (KLRN San Antonio) and B.A.S.H. called the KLRN Virtual Classroom (#KLRNVirtual). The new initiative, designed to better inform homeschool families about PBS learning resources, is funded generously by the Knight Foundation. You can find Pamela at RedWhiteandGrew.com, Twitter (@RedWhiteandGrew), Pinterest, and Facebook.com/RedWhiteandGrew.
“Fairness does not mean everyone gets the same. Fairness means everyone gets what they need.”
-Rick Riordan, The Red Pyramid
It’s midsummer and I am feeling the back-to-school creep. One Room isn’t exactly a “school” per se, but it is a program where learning happens. It requires curriculum development and planning, and we take summers off. We use the lined paper and mechanical pencils piled high in the newly-restocked seasonal section at Target. The students and their families call it school; that term fits in with their paradigm, and I think it helps them feel a sense of comfortable normalcy in a world that often thinks of them as anything but. And just like a lot of teachers, I have lofty goals and high expectations for the school year.
This year, as my students get older and increasingly individualized in their learning styles and needs, I’d like to polish up and formalize the differentiation at One Room. Differentiation, as you likely know, is about guided academic choice, and it’s something I’ve worked on since I first began teaching in alternative education environments six years ago. With differentiated learning, a child is presented with options so that she may explore a subject in a way that works with her learning style and ability. This equates to different children learning in different ways in the same classroom. Some traditionalists may make the point that this is not fair, and when that happens I direct them to the quote above. Although out of context, it captures the essence of differentiation.
To me, every student getting what they need without comparison or judgment is how heaven will look. It’s an ideal, but a worthy one to which I’m proud to have dedicated my career.
I’ve been lucky that my intuition as an educator has always been valued and my class sizes have been small enough that I could modify my expectations in the moment to reflect what I knew my students to be capable of that day. It’s a dream job for anyone who loves to teach; I have been truly blessed.
My students are older now and capable of higher level work. I want to present to them a more sophisticated differentiation that encourages and reflects the more polished effort my students are making. This year, I want my teaching to say “See!? We are all growing and learning and getting better! Together!”
When I first began six years ago, finding the resources to make this happen would have been nearly impossible. The quality of past resources was not that great, and they were cost-prohibitive for a renegade educator like myself. A couple times I saved my pennies and bought prescribed curriculum. It seemed like a great idea in theory, but putting it into practice was a nightmare! I’d have to take their idea and completely rework it to fit my students’ learning styles. It felt like paying for extra work and exhaustion, which seemed ridiculous. Even the so called “gifted curriculum” was too rigid and mostly geared towards traditionally high-achieving gifted children. Most of the time I’d end up culling resources from the internet and project books. It was fun but I knew that sifting through all the different sources of information was not the best use of my time. At least it was free!
Then I discovered Prufrock Press… They have amazing, affordable, curriculum and reference materials. Right now I’m geeking out on this:
This book, found online here, costs less than twenty dollars and took me about an hour to read. It is full of awesome menu ideas and open-ended prompts that can be tweaked for any subject. Like I said, I’ve been down this road before — putting hope into a book of ideas and techniques that have yet to prove themselves and ending up disappointed and cynical. I’m hopeful still! And I can very easily see a lot of the ideas presented in this book working.
My heart starts to dance when I think of all the time these techniques for differentiation may free up. Time for rest and exercise so I can be more emotionally available for my students. Wish me luck!
If you’re an educator or homeschooler, what efforts have you made towards student differentiation? Have you found any other products that allow for the modifications necessary to meet each learner’s needs? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
As a gifted educator, the past six years I have been called to pay attention to many aspects of my students’ development. My students’ academic and social-emotional developments are of equal value to me. In my experience, one directly informs the other. Over the years I have developed strategies to balance these academic needs while simultaneously attending to social-emotional development. My role is complicated, to say the least. I dedicate countless hours outside of instruction to education planning and behavioral support.
Gifted learners are defined by their asynchrony: one of my seven-year old students may be able to solve calculus problems but be unable to work on more than one per day due to their limited attention span. They may not yet read but can discuss the emotional nuances of Shakespeare. I have found that gifted children thrive in smaller learning environments where there is more ability for differentiated instruction. They alternately require more attention to share and guide their academic excitement and more freedom to pursue their learning interests at their own pace. The resources available online are a huge asset to these learners, both for the quality of content and flexibility in scheduling periods of focus and rest.
My students have outstandingly high needs for autonomy book-ended by very high needs for control. Online learning allows for easy individual differentiation; many academic content areas may come very easily to students, so they are embarrassed and frustrated when confronted with content with which they struggle. They enjoy this challenging work without the pressure of an audience of age-mates who may have more or less ease with the content than they do. My students have a sense of independence during this learning time with academic programs that I know match content to their learning needs, and they control the timing. Everybody wins!
A big part of my job is coaching behavioral learning with the students, such as how to manage peer interactions, while also providing coaching on executive functioning, including how to break complex projects into manageable steps. Students sometimes associate my voice with my interventions to challenge and guide intense behavior, and I do not want that association with behavior management to impede their academic focus. I join my students in watching educational videos, and we discuss the academic content as partners in learning. While I model academic curiosity and respectful collaboration, I also become more available to deal with student behavior.
I look forward to the time when my students fully connect with their intrinsic motivation for learning and discovery. Just as adults often use Internet resources, so will these children. I know I can increase my impact by helping them grow as independent learners. Online learning frees me from the burdens of direct instruction to focus on curriculum planning for project-based learning and the social-emotional development of the children. They are free to continue this work at home, but homework is a topic of a different article.
Here are some examples of online learning tools that I use. I value the free and accessible work of the Khan Academy because the academic explanations are generous and engaging. I particularly enjoy ALEKS for math learning targets and Starfall.com for reading/phonics instruction. ALEKS is a wonderful resource that allows students to work at their own pace, with detailed explanations and easy-to-interpret progress management. Starfall.com is an interactive, visually exciting and fun website for pre-readers to emergent readers. Not to mention most of the content on Starfall.com is available at the attractive price of free!