Sunday, August 11, 2013

Let the Projects Begin!

This year I decided to add a research project to our homeschooling plans. I wasn't sure exactly how it would go, my kids are still a bit young. All I can say is "wow"! My daughter decided to do a report about cats. I had in my mind it would take her at least a month to work on her report, it took her 2 days! I think this is because she really wanted a venue where she really got to talk about everything she knew about cats! Everyone that deals with gifted children understands that are deep wells of information. When they have a passion, there is no limit to what they can consume regarding that topic. However, when do they get to "let it all out", where is their forum to share with others their proficient synthesis of all that information? It is now official, we are hooked on projects!
My eldest is doing his report on ferrets (his passion). Since he is older (3rd grade), I have added a few required elements to his report. One of those is to get out there and interview some real individuals that know a thing or two about ferrets. His first stop will be to a local pet store where he has an appointment to speak with their "ferret specialist", she has even told him she will take some of the ferrets out of the cage and allow him to play with them (thanks, because we are NOT ready for a pet in our house). Teaching him that books are great, but some face time with a real life professional that can discuss things with you is a life lesson I really want to instill in him. He has been reading books, I have been reading books to him, and he has been listening to audio books - he is consuming this project. He has even been working diligently on his report cover.
It actually feels good to see Gardner's Multiple Intelligences in action. As my kids are delving into their projects, I am seeing them embrace the experience as something beyond "book work". They see a purpose behind what they are doing, and it excites them.
The "other half" of the Wonder Twins (as they like to call themselves) is still deciding on his topic. He is having trouble deciding on pigs or puppies as his theme. I am letting him take his time as I see a driving force for success and engagement is passion and interest in the topic being studied. There is no rush, he is only in the First grade - there is plenty of time.
A final aspect that I see as important with projects is a final outlet, a grand ending, a point and a purpose behind the whole event. For my daughter, she made her Youtube debut by giving her report on camera ( it made her feel accomplished. She was excited to get a chance to the "the world" the efforts of her work. Sure, it has less than 100 views (and most of those are probably family members), but it wasn't about going viral, but giving her a forum.  I decided to give each child a choice in their final forum for every project they complete. It might be a Youtube video, a presentation to Grandma and Grandpa, or presented at a local college (something they have planned for chemistry projects they are working on). The point is for them to share their work, an aspect that I sometimes see missing from project based assignments.
It has been quite a fun experience thus far!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Twice Exceptional

I know a lot of people hate labels, but it works for me when I can name things. Anyone looking at my education plans for my kids will notice a big dichotomy - my kids seem to do lots of things above grade level and also have a lot of therapy. The educational "label" for that is Twice Exceptional. All three of my kids are highly/profoundly gifted - they have IQ's in the roughly 98th percentile, but they also have learning disabilities. This is one reason a traditional education environment would never work for them.

There are many people that think IQ doesn't matter, and it doesn't when it comes to most adults. However, understanding that a child is "gifted" - a term I dislike, but a label that is helpful in understanding the educational needs of a child, answers a lot of questions. For instance, normal development requires a child to experience seven repetitions of information before they have acquired new information. For a gifted child, only one to two repetitions are needed. As you can see, this makes a traditional classroom setting torture for a gifted child. Yes, they really do "get it" after they heard it the first time. Imagine sitting in a meeting and having to listen to a speaker drone on and on and on about a topic you mastered four hours ago. Now, imagine having to go to the meeting eight hours a day, five days a week, 9 months out of the year - and then have to come back and do it again for a total of 12 years. At the same time, most teachers hate having truly gifted children in the classroom. Gifted children account for approximately 10% of the population, and only 3% of gifted children are profoundly gifted (about 10% are highly gifted). Who wants to do lesson planning for a child that already knows everything that is supposed to be learned in that grade level (as well as one to two grade levels beyond that) the first day of class? What are you going to do with this kid? What happens in many classrooms is those kids are used as unpaid teacher's aid, being assigned to help struggling students. This is unfair to everyone involved. First, students should be in school to learn and if a gifted child is not allowed to learn anything new, why should they be in school. Secondly, struggling students should be taught by a teacher, if a 7 year old could truly be an effective teacher in a 2nd grade classroom - what are all those colleges of education for? Some parents of gifted children choose grade skipping as an option, but this isn't always an ideal situation. With things like Common Core Curriculum, even what is taught 2 - 3 grade levels above a gifted child may already be mastered. Secondly, grade skipping can make a gifted child an easy target for bullies; they may understand the academic content, but don't have the life experience or "street smarts" to make it in a room with kids 2, 3, or more years above them. This is one of the reasons half of all profoundly gifted children are home schooled.

Another layer of gifted is that many gifted children also have learning disabilities. This is a situation I have never met a teacher that was trained to deal with. For instance, my eldest went to a private Kindergarten. He was grade skipped into Kindergarten (a one year grade skip) and was still labeled one of the better readers in the class. However, he was also dyslexic. How do you teach one of the best readers in the class how to read? Most teachers aren't trained to spot gifted guessers. My son could memorize an entire book page by page - ask him to read any page in the book and he did it flawless - by memory. Gifted dyslexics also read by "gist", once they figure out the overall theme and where the book is going, they pretty much have it covered. For instance, I am a gifted dyslexic and I can conquer a 300 page book in a matter of hours. I don't read word for word, I take in entire paragraphs - literally. I may read 5% of the words in a paragraph, but I can tell you exactly what the paragraph was about, answer questions about the concept, and even accurately teach the concept to others - just don't ask me about obscure details - like what the color of the main character's hat was. I am sure that information was in the text, but my brain never processed it. My eldest reads above grade level, but he is dyslexic and sense he doesn't qualify for services (because in most states you aren't diagnosed with dyslexia unless you read below grade level), we have to tackle the issue ourselves.

My kids, like many gifted children, also deal with sensory issues, labeled "sensory processing disorder". It isn't that their senses don't work, they just work overtime. This creates sensory overload to an extraordinary scale. For instance, my kids hear literally "off the charts", meaning their hearing is more sensitive than what most hearing tests can measure. Because they hear in levels confined to animals, not humans, in order to function they have learned to actively tune things out. Unfortunately, they can overcompensate and tune out too much information - causing them to miss when people are calling their name, or miss the nuance of phonics. So, what looks like a hearing problem is actual a hearing super ability that must be trained, not fixed. Profoundly gifted children learn through all their senses well beyond the baby stage. We understand babies learn vast amount of information through taste and touch, but most people switch to learning based on hearing and sight as they get older. Not profoundly gifted children, they continue to take in vast amounts of information through their senses. However, they are pushed into a world with a ton more sensory input than what a baby would be pushed in to. We know not to take babies some places because it would be "too much", what happens to a 7 year old that continues to take in and process through every sense, all the information around them? What happens tends to be sensory overload - with meltdowns most people consider "inappropriate" for their age. This is why gifted children tend to be misdiagnosed with things like ADD/ADHD. They melt down, a LOT, when they are overwhelmed. However, they can be overwhelmed in most environments because we live in a sensory rich environment. Take for instance a traditional school. Even though there are walls (sometimes) and doors separating classrooms - sensory rich gifted children can literally hear through those walls. How frustrating would it be to hear conversations going on not only in your classroom, but the classrooms on either side of you - in addition to not only hearing your teacher lecture, but the teachers on both sides of the classroom. You also smell everyone's lunch box in your class, perfume, shampoo, soap residue, scented lotion, and anything else with the faintest smell? Then there is touch - you feel your socks, the tag on the back of your neck, your shoes feel tight, your jeans feel stiff and itchy. Not to mention the touching that happens by accident, an innocent bump feels like a push, a friendly pat on the back feels like a punch - you never quite know if people are trying to hurt you on purpose or not. I won't go in to taste - but you get the idea. These children aren't "broken", in fact, this might be the way man was really intended to work - experiencing the world fully. If we all took in our surroundings with all of our senses, the world would be a much more calm, quiet, and gentle place. Most profoundly gifted children have food sensitivities to the poisons that have been introduced into our food supply - food coloring, HFCS, excessive gluten - their bodies know when they are being poisoned. If we were all that sensitive, Monsanto would never have been about to run rugged over our food supply.

2E children are often mislabeled simply because people are so afraid of the gifted label. Gifted is often identified by an IQ test, but that isn't the only way. However, it is clear gifted children, especially profoundly gifted children are different. A child 2 - 3 standard deviations above the "average" child is just as different than a child 2 - 3 standard deviations below. There is plenty of empathy for mentally challenged children - we create environments that take in account their needs; I have yet to see a "calm and quiet" area of a playground designed for profoundly gifted children.

I talk a lot about gifted children, mainly because most people don't. The is often the cry of "all children are gifted" - oh really? So do you also decline birthday party invitations because you know the lights, sounds, and smells will be too much for your child? Do you purchase thousands of dollars in books and other educational materials because your child learns at such a fast pace they go through entire grade levels within weeks (my 5 year old daughter finished an entire K and an entire 1st grade math program specifically for gifted children in 8 weeks - 2 years worth of math learned in 8 weeks time). Do you spend time cutting the tags off of clothing, schedule playdates one or two children at a time, worry about the emotional sensitivity? Oh yes, the emotional sensitivity. I didn't even start to discuss that one. The strong sense of justice, the wondering about the universe, the understanding of how deeply it hurts when people are cruel, the internalizing of pain, hurt, and despair that leads to much higher levels of depression and even suicide. I remember weeping bitterly at the story of a young, profoundly gifted black teenager in NY. She was such an amazing writer, her poems and stories were so absolutely deep and profound, she was wise beyond her years. But she was still just 14, she didn't yet have the life skills necessary to deal with the cruelty of the world - so she jumped. She jumped to her death by leaping from the 4th story of an abandoned building. Smart enough to know just how high to go to ensure she would die. That is the deep, dark secret of gifted children - they know. They know just how filled with lies much of the story they are taught. They understand what it means to "colonize" a country, the know what the Spanish did to the native inhabitants of the "New World", they know the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the rebel states, and most importantly - the know life isn't fair. They know life is never going to be fair. Many people home school their gifted children so we can teach them, in the most gentle environment possible, how to deal with an unfair world. How to find joy in pain, how to create your own happy, how to make the pain external instead of internal, how to hit a wall instead beating themselves up in their mind, how to kick a bully's ass instead of feeling like they themselves are less then worthy of dignity and respect. The world has no love for gifted children; well world - screw you!

Oh yea, back to 2E. My kids are 2E and Twice Exceptional is a great way to describe them. This means I must be twice exceptional in meeting their educational needs. Often joke about the meme of female = Iron Man. In many ways, it isn't a joke. I often do need the money, humor, and genius of Tony Stark to meet their needs. But, it's all good, because I am, in fact - Iron Man - (female; fe = iron, male = man)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Review of the EasyRead Reading System

EasyRead ( is a system designed to teach people between the ages of 4 and 94 to read. The computer based system includes many things that allow it to be a great fit for my twins who are gifted, but also dyslexic with some sensory issues. The program starts with the use of characters that remind the user of the sound that specific letters make (including separate characters for the different vowel sounds).
The things that make the program fun is that each session is short (15 minutes at the most), with the use of games sprinkled throughout. However, the games are really creative. For instance, in one game the student is a fighter pilot and must read the word to know what target to shoot – pretty big motivation to read the words correctly! Another aspect of the program is the rewards. As students complete various sessions, they get a code word. When they enter the code word into the designated area, a prize is placed in the mail. It is quite fun to get mail and each prize comes with a nice letter for the student. There are also 3 levels of achievement built into the system with certificates they earn as they achieve the levels.
Helping is good. Yes, this program has a built in premise that the parent should help the child with the program. This is in direct contrast to many programs where you feel as if you are “cheating” if you help your child with the answers, not in Easyread. Of course you don’t give them the answers, but slowly going through the pronunciations, encouraging your child to look at the characters, walking your child through the multiple choices options – not just allowed, but encouraged. Even though the program is computer based, it isn’t a “place child in front, now walk away” sort of program. This is a program in which you are actively involved in the learning process with your child, a definite plus from my standpoint.
Another thing that impresses me the most is the frequent contact with the parent built into the system. In addition to messages within the system giving me tasks to do with the kids, there are also phone consultations and short training videos to watch. There is also a training guide and downloads for flashcards and other things that may be of interest. They also help give you an understanding of how progress should be made. You get a reasonable timeline for when your child should be able to take what they are learning in the system, and apply it to reading books in general. Everyone’s expectations are managed.
Now, here is the absolute most impressive part of the system – an understanding of visual issues that often affect reading. I am a curriculum junkie and have some experience with almost every reading program out there – this is the only one to begin with an assessment for visual tracking! Both of my twins have vision issues that require vision therapy – the employees at Easy Read were able to have a conversation about that and also asked for progress reports so we could see how their vision therapy was affecting their progress within the program. However, for children with less severe issues they have advice for small games that can be done at home with a parent to improve visual tracking and eye coordination.  This aspect alone makes the program worth the money. I mean, I have never seen a reading program not only acknowledge vision development issues, but also integrate improving visual tracking into to reading program – score, goal, win.
While I am all for singing the praises of this program, there are some things I think could affect the ability of the program to work for other families. The first is the cost, approximately $1,200 for the first child, and $450 for each additional child. Yes, you read that right. Payments can be spread out monthly over a 10 month period. I know, the cost is high and probably a deal breaker for many families. However, for us the cost was worth it. This program for us is actually cheaper than the $150 per hour we would need to pay a tutor that was skilled in working with dyslexic children. Also, the program has all the aspects I would have to create if I wanted to do the intervention myself – which would be much more time consuming than the 15 minutes each of my kids spend on the program. At the same time, it is still a lot of money.
The second thing that might be an issue for parents is that the program is UK based, so your child we be getting a some aspects of British English. While British and US English are roughly 98% the same, they are still around 2% different. If that difference is going to be an issue for you or your children – consider that in your evaluation.
A final concern that might be an issue is the voice of narrator. Now, I love his voice and the kids haven’t had any issues at all – but he does have a kind of nasal based pattern of speech (think Seinfeld with a British accent). Every once in a while I will repeat what he says to ensure my kids heard him correctly, but he does go through great effort to pronounce sounds so they can be easily understood.  I do understand that some voice patterns can be annoying to others, and this could be one of them.
Overall, this program is a 10 out of 10 for us. In fact, I had signed up only one twin, but enrolled the other just a few days later after learning the program a bit more. The program is solid, thorough, but incredibly fun for the kids. I like that the fact that there is encouragement throughout the program, with kind words, prizes, and even real certificates of achievement as the student goes through the program.  While the program isn’t cheap, I can say that I feel we are getting what we pay for.