Inspiring Middle School Minds: Gifted, Creative, and Challenging

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Teaching adolescents can be quite challenging. Dr. Willis, a neurologist and teacher, explains the inner workings of the adolescent brain. She uses the findings of brain research in her classroom to explain how parents and teachers can trigger untapped motivation in students. Middle school education has often been a "black hole" for gifted students, but the advice and information in this book will help parents and teachers design positive and rewarding learning experiences for them.
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Editorial Reviews

Jackie Drummer
"Using the most current brain research, Dr. Willis shows how best practice strategies in gifted education can ignite, sustain, and revitalize gifted learners. The beauty of this book is that it provides clear and understandable research, and links it to specific strategies, including lesson plans for educators, links to social and emotional research, and ideas for extending the learning at home and beyond for parents of gifted adolescents... Dr. Willis' book is the 'real deal.' Her ideas are practical and inspirational, and undoubtedly will help parents and educators of gifted teenagers age gracefully during this period of rapid change!"--(Jackie Drummer, President, WI Association for Talented and Gifted)
Midwest Book Review
The onset of puberty offers much opportunity for mental growth as well as other types. Inspiring Middle School Minds: Gifted, Creative, & Challenging is a guide for middle school educators who want to give their students the boosts they need to spur creativity in this critical developmental stage. There are specific challenges one faces with middle school students, and Judy Willis hopes to prepare educators the best she can. Inspiring Middle School Minds is a highly recommended read for middle school teachers and administrators.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780910707930
  • Publisher: Great Potential Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/28/2009
  • Pages: 326
  • Sales rank: 477,134
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Reversing the Decline in Gifted Middle School Education

This is a time of crisis for our education system, yet few are sounding the alarm. International studies repeatedly document that the achievements of the most able students in the United States are far behind those of other industrialized nations-a big problem as the world depends increasingly on technology and globalization. This gap between American students and others is most notable for students performing at the highest levels of gifted ability, with about half of our top 1% of intellectually gifted students underachieving academically.2 In addition, fewer and fewer students who score highest on college admission assessments are selecting careers in mathematics or science, resulting in potential scarcity in these essential fields. This is a frightening loss of resources.

In parallel fashion, funding for gifted education and support for teacher instruction in gifted education has dropped relative to the allocation of funds to bring up the lowest student scores. Although the extra time and money funneled into projects such as the repetitive drill of phonics-heavy reading instruction may result in higher standardized test scores, it is at the expense of higher cognitive functioning like reasoning and abstraction. Students taught this way do not learn to think critically and reason creatively.

Approximately 30 states have a mandate to serve gifted children (although accountability varies from state to state); the remaining states have permissive legislation, meaning that schools are allowed to have services for the gifted. The state of gifted education nationwide is exemplified in the 2006 reportby the Ohio Association for Gifted Children, titled The State of Gifted Education in Ohio, which notes that although gifted children have been identified in Ohio since 1984, the law does not require districts to provide adequate educational opportunities for these students. As is true in many states, the 2006 report illustrates the problem of policymakers often mistakenly believing that the needs of gifted students can be ignored because these students will "get it on their own" and that gifted education is somehow "elitist."

In contrast, research repeatedly documents the need for gifted students to be provided with challenging work at a brisk pace with instruction from teachers who understand the needs of these students. Without appropriate services, gifted students regress to the mean, and the top 20% of student populations make the least amount of academic growth. In fact, further disturbing research shows an increase in the drop-out rates of gifted students. One Ohio district study reported that 40% of the drop-out population were identified
gifted students.

Middle School: The "Black Hole" of Education?
While elementary schools generally have at least some gifted services, and most high schools have a variety of advanced courses and other academic options for gifted students, middle schools in America typically have little rigor or academic challenge for gifted children. Since the late 1970s, middle school years have been considered primarily a time for social development. In preadolescence and adolescence, children's hormones begin raging, and middle schools focus on enhancing children's social adjustment and self-esteem, with a reduced emphasis on academics.

At education conferences these days, I seldom see sessions designed specifically for middle school-whether for gifted or regular students. It's as if middle school doesn't matter. No broad trend or "movement" exists to improve middle school education, to make it a stepping stone to higher academic challenge in high school, or to help students explore possible future careers. I am generalizing, of course, and some will take offense, but this is my experience as an educator who travels frequently to other parts of the country.

I hope that this book will prompt rethinking as a result of new understandings about the brain development of middle school students, what these students need to be motivated, and how to maximize their learning. But first, let's look at what it's like to be in middle
school today.

Problems in Middle School Gifted Education
Schools have changed in recent years. There is less individualization and more emphasis on teaching to the test so that schools can achieve a high rating for having all of their students meet the minimal grade-level standards. Yet educators remain dissatisfied with the quality of such education.

Public school teachers are almost twice as likely as other parents to choose private schools for their own gifted middle school students. I, too, after consultations with school specialists and administrators, decided to send my gifted daughter, Alani, to a private middle school. It was the right decision; she was able to thrive through individualized and appropriately challenging instruction, with social and cultural experiences suited to her gifts and talents.

My daughter's story is not unlike that of many gifted middle school students. Although Alani scored an IQ of 144 and math state achievement scores of 98%, she achieved only a mediocre score on the one and only test used for entry to the gifted program in our district. Moreover, as I investigated, I found that the gifted program no longer consisted of increased cognitive challenge and enrichment. Instead, it, too, had fallen to the pressures of standardized testing, reduced priority, and decreased funding. For the most part, it consisted of classes with a larger volume of information taught at a faster pace, but with little opportunity for greater cognitive or creative processing.

In the private middle school that my husband and I selected for Alani, our daughter became motivated by choice, interest, in-depth thinking, cross-curricular projects, and open-ended class discussions that were student- (rather than teacher- or curriculum-) centered. She was stimulated academically and received opportunities to develop her artistic ability. Once her abilities were nurtured and solidly in place, she made a successful transition to the public high school, where she participated in a specialized Visual and Arts Academy that used cross-curricular themes to connect academic courses with artistic talents. This discovery and nurturing of her gifts, as well as the development of her areas of academic challenge, helped our daughter ultimately become a motivated, engaged University of California student.

What I am highlighting is that in public schools, the individual needs of gifted students are under recognized and underdeveloped in the financial quest of getting all students to meet minimum standards. In my experience, teachers are generally not the problem. I have worked with teachers both as a physician (I needed their input when treating students who were patients) and also as a teacher. I am continually impressed by the dedication and professionalism of my colleagues in education.

Instead, the problem appears to be a lack of education and training. Preservice programs for classroom teachers and administrators seldom include any instruction on the needs of gifted students. Much of the current problem is funding. The 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal legislation resulted in public school funding being directly linked to performance on rote memory-based standardized tests. Low performance is severely penalized, while high-end success is minimally rewarded. Severe financial sanctions and school closures can be the consequences for schools that fail to bring all children up to minimum proficiency. In contrast, there are no penalties for failing to advance gifted students who already meet and exceed the standards. Thus, the pressure is on teachers to direct instruction to the lower one-third of the class and to neglect the gifted students. In particular, gifted middle school students are increasingly underchallenged and left without individualization in schools that are struggling to bring the lowest quartile up to test-passing level.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction xvii

One Size Does Not Fit All xviii

Middle School Years xx

Rekindling Lost Enthusiasm xxi

Keeping Alive Children's Natural Enthusiasm to Learn xxii

All Students Have Talents that Can Be Developed xxiv

Summary xxvi

Chapter 1 Reversing the Decline in Gifted Middle School Education 1

Middle School: The "Black Hole" of Education? 2

Problems in Middle School Gifted Education 3

Legislative and Policy Remedies 4

Identification of Gifted Students 6

IQ and Giftedness 7

Problems with Global IQ 7

Other Problems with IQ Tests 8

Gifted or Talented beyond IQ Tests 9

Unique Testing Problems for Adolescents 10

Achievement Tests 11

De-Stressing Testing Situations 11

Conclusion 12

Chapter 2 Teaching and Parenting Gifted Adolescents 15

Characteristics of Gifted Children 16

Asynchrony 17

A Lack of Training for Teachers 18

Working with the System 19

Goals for Middle Schools 19

Characteristics of Influential Teachers of Gifted Middle School Students 21

Challenges of Teaching Gifted Adolescents 23

Kidwatching 24

Matching Teachers to Students 25

Parenting Middle School Students 26

Renew the Joy of Learning through Out-of-School Experiences 27

Out-of-the-Classroom Opportunities 28

Personal, Goal-Centered Motivation 28

Building Interest 29

Emotion-Powered Learning 29

Communication Skills and Confidence 30

Higher-Level Thinking 30

Living History 30

Geography 31

Current Events 31

Novelty and Humor 31

Math Skills 31

Visualization 32

Priming 32

Recognize Progress 32

Use Feedback 33

Play Together 33

Emotional Support 33

Showing Trust Builds Confidence and Competence 36


Chapter 3 The Neurology of Adolescence 39

Brain-Based Research 39

Does the Research Prove, or Merely Suggest? 40

The Adolescent Growth Spurt-It's Also in Their Brains 42

Plasticity and Pruning 44

Plasticity Research 45

Pruning 46

Adolescent Pruning 47

Gifted Children's Delayed Frontal Pruning 48

Five Major Brain Parts for Adolescents 51

Corpus Callosum 51

Prefrontal Cortex 52

Basal Ganglia 52

Amygdala 53

Cerebellum 53

Looking into Gifted Brains 54

Even Faster than Neuroimaging 58

Is Brain Development All Due to Environment? 59

The Future of Brain Mapping 60

Conclusion 61

Chapter 4 Helping Students Overcome Barriers to Learning: Using Our Brains 63

The Brain's Information Filters: RAS and Amygdala 63

Reticular Activating System (RAS) 64

Amygdala 66

The Amygdala in Adolescent Brains 69

Dopamine-Pleasure System 70

Dopamine and Anticipated Pleasure 72

Risk, Reward, and Dopamine 73

Stress Hormones 75

Syn-naps to Avoid Neurotransmitter Depletion 77

Connecting Neuro-Knowledge to Classroom Strategies 79

Lower the Affective Filter and Raise the Resonance 80

The Stress of Being Gifted 81

Providing Gifted Students with Emotional Support 83

Stress-Busting, Brain-Building Classroom Strategies 84

Active Listening 84

Build on What They Know 84

Encourage Participation, Not Perfection 85

Private Response 86

Keep Students Engaged 86

Strategies to Promote the Dopamine-Pleasure-Attentive

State in Gifted Students 87

Make the Information Relevant 87

Offer Choice and Variety 87

Provide Levels of Learning 88

Predict for Success 89

Stimulate Curiosity 90

Offer Chances to Express Creativity 91

Acknowledge Success without Stress 92

What Parents Can Do to Help 92

Bibliotherapy 93

Role Playing 94

Teach Them to Do It on Their Own 95

Reduce Comparisons and Praise Specifically 95

Lessons Learned 96

Conclusion 97

Chapter 5 Memory-Building to Enhance Learning 99

Types of Memory 100

Semantic Memory 100

Emotional or Event Memory 101

Working Memory 104

Maintaining Long-Term Memories 107

The Efficiency of Memory Consolidation 109

Patterning 110

Analogies to Build Patterns 114

Patterning Activity to Build Scientific Vocabulary 114

Multisensory Input 116

Research-Based Strategies for Memory Retention 118

Moves to Increase Memory Retrieval 119

Executive Functions to Manipulate Information 121

Visualizations for Mental Manipulation 123

Personalizing 124

Example of Personalization: Discussing Ethical Dilemmas 124

Teachable Moments 125

Teachable Moments in the Ethics of Algebra: Classroom Example 128

Parents Can Help Children Personalize Academic Studies 129

Start with the Interesting Stuff 130

Take It Outside 130

Delve into Debate 131

Q & A 131

Compare and Contrast 131

Sleep Tight, Dendrites Ignite 132

Deep Sleep Grows Dendrites for Permanent Memory 132

Middle School Years and Sleep 134

Conclusion 135

Chapter 6 Structuring Instructional Opportunities for Gifted Students 137

Developmentally Planned Lessons 137

Homogeneous vs. Heterogeneous 138

Homogeneous Groupings for Gifted Children's Social and Emotional Needs 140

Program Alternatives 141

Ability Grouping 142

Gifted Student Groupings 143

Mixed Ability Groupings 144

Enhancing Gifted Learning through Positive Social Interaction 145

Challenging Cooperative Work for Gifted Students 147

Sample Cooperative Project for Gifted Middle Schoolers: Math through Paleontology 148

Classroom Community-Building to Liberate Gifted Students 149

Community-Building Strategies 150

Maintaining Class Community 151

Conclusion 153

Chapter 7 Customizing Challenges for Gifts 155

Individualization of Instruction 156

Individual Intelligences and Learning Styles 156

Linguistic Intelligence 157

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence 158

Visual-Spatial Intelligence 158

Musical-Rhythmic Intelligence 158

Tactile-Kinesthetic Intelligence 159

Interpersonal Intelligence 159

Intrapersonal Intelligence 159

Naturalist Intelligence 159

New Trends among the Intelligences 160

The Larger and Overlapping Categories 160

Sequential or Analytical Learners 161

Global Learners 161

Exploratory Learners 162

Learning Style-Compatible Teaching 162

Individualized Meaning 163

Differentiating Instruction 164

Guided Choice 165

Example of Choice in Learning 167

Too Much Choice? 169

Homework 170

Parent-to-Teacher Homework Feedback 171

Journaling and Logs 172

Learning Logs 173

Literature Logs 174

Graphic Organizers 175

Venn Diagrams 175

Timelines or Chains of Events 175

Cause/Effect Visual Organizers 175

Webs or Map Organizers 176

Metacognition, or Thinking about Thinking 176

Metacognition for Comprehension 178

Metacognition to Build Lifelong Strategies 179

Marshmallows and Goal-Directed Learning 181

Strategies to Build Goal-Directed Behavior 182

Individualized Goal Setting 183

Rubrics 184

Planning Rubrics to Enhance Gifted Learning 185

Keeping Students on Track with Rubrics 186

What to Include in Rubrics 187

Rubrics with Challenge Options 188

Conclusion 191

Chapter 8 Enriching Units of Study for Gifted Learners 193

Cognitive Atrophy or Enhancement? 193

Creating Enriched Classroom Environments 194

Use Interests to Unwrap Gifts 197

Open Big to Stimulate Learning 199

Offer Appropriate Challenge 200

Strategies to Promote Gifted Students to Challenge Themselves 201

Activities to Increase Challenge for Gifted Students 202

Note-Taking/Note-Making Strategy 202

Ethnography Activity 203

Inspire Motivation 204

Motivation and Feedback 205

Student-Centered Lessons and Open-Ended, Student-Centered Discussions 209

Guidelines for Open-Ended, Student-Centered Discussions 209

Student-Centered Discussion Topic: Discriminating Fact from Opinion 210

Discussions and Inquiry at Home 211

Turning Assessments into Learning Opportunities 213

Plan Assessments from the Start 214

Pre-Assessments 214

Make Assessment Expectations Clear 215

Spot Errors in Comprehension with Daily Individual Assessments 216

Testing Problems 217

Conclusion 218

Chapter 9 Extending Classroom Learning to Enhance Gifts 219

Extension Activities to Engage Gifted Students 220

Learning Contracts 221

Slowing Down Instead of Speeding Up 222

Extensions, Not Add-ons 222

Planning Independent Learning Extensions 224

In-Class Lesson Extensions 225

Mathematics 227

Language Arts 229

Science 232

History 233

Pairing Gifted Students for Lesson Extensions 236

Small Group Extensions 237

History Example: Lincoln-Douglas Debate 237

Out-of-Class Extensions 238

Mentoring 238

Competitions 239

Video Game Extensions 239

Cross-Curricular Investigations as Extension Activities 240

Cross-Curricular Study and Parent Participation 241

Conclusion 243

Concluding Thoughts 245

Appendix Sample Activities for Enrichment and Extension 249

Glossary 263

Endnotes 271

References 281

Index 293

About the Author 305

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