Thursday, May 10, 2012

Focus: Low Income Learners with Promising Potential

Later this month, I will participate in a Research Summit on 'Low Income, High Ability Learners' hosted by the National Association for Gifted Children in Washington, DC. In a recent communication to me, NAGC President Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, noted that the purpose of the Summit:

"Our overall goal with this summit is to distill and collect recent research as well as successful program and service models for low-income, promising learners so as to craft a future research agenda and recommendations that will further facilitate the development of best practices for the talent development of these learners.  This event and its outcomes will culminate in a white paper for wide distribution"

My role during the day and a half summit will be to serve on a panel and respond to two 'issue framers': Dr. Angela Duckworth and Dr. Frank Worrell on the topic of: "Building a Psychological Identity that Supports Commitment to High Achievement/Psycho-social Skill and Issues with Promising Learners from Poverty." The goal of this panel is to help our audience understand the psycho-social issues that affect the development, learning, and achievement of low-income children.

I am very pleased to have been invited and look forward to engaging with nation's top researchers, scholars and practitioners with a vested interest in the intellectual, academic and psycho-social development of high ability & gifted low income learners.

Among the lead presenters and participants are: Dr. Donna Y. Ford; Dr. Joyce Van Tassel-Baska; Dr. Tracy Cross; Dr. Rena Subnotik, Dr. Carol Horn, Dr. Jonathan Plucker, Dr. Chester Finn, Tiombe Bisa-Kendrick, Dr. Jaime Castellano, Dr. Tamra Stambaugh, Josh Wyner, reps from Duke & Johns Hopkins Talent Search programs, and a host of scholars whose research and programming have been devoted to enhancing educational opportunities for these learners.

I will post a blog in early June to share some of my experiences!! Please continue to share this blogsite! It is generating a great deal of interest and thus, more advocacy for the needs of culturally & linguistically gifted learners.

The Research Summit is being sponsored by a generous grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. For more information about the JKC Foundation and the great work they do for a wide diversity of gifted learners and programs, go to: . The Scholars who are sponsored by the Foundation are exemplary students who represent cultures from across the nation. PLEASE READ their profiles. You will be impressed!!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

"Hidden Gems: Nurturing the gifts of Native American children & youth"

Guest Blogger: Jerry Lassos- Indian Educator from Denver, Colorado

I first met Jerry Lassos at the National Association for Gifted Children convention in 2010, when he attended our Diversity & Equity Committee meeting. I found Jerry to be very committed and passionate about meeting the needs of all culturally diverse gifted learners, especially Indian students who are so often overlooked. His passion and expertise are revealed in this ‘blog’…enjoy~
This school year was amazing for me, a teacher with over 30 years experience.  That experience includes time in the regular classroom, in gifted and talented classrooms, as well as time as a gifted and talented resource consultant.   Most recently I have taught middle school Indian Education classes in Denver Public Schools.  I feel as if I learned so much about what is important and how schools and school districts need to change in order for more students to be successful.    From my own school experience, which is not that different from many of the students I interact with everyday, working successfully with culturally and/or linguistically diverse (CLD) students boils down to four key elements to discover ‘hidden gems’ among them.  
The first essential element is cultural competence/sensitivity training for all teachers who work with CLD students.   The teachers who form relationships with these students understand their unique needs and experiences and judge them less harshly than many of their colleagues. Without first building trust and relationships, many teachers never see the real student, the real person they are working with.  Many of these students will never feel safe enough to reveal their true identities and thus, their true potential.  Establishing relationships and trust is essential and far too many teachers are quick to judge culturally and linguistically diverse students through their own ‘middle-class lenses’.  By not realizing they are actually judging the “Mask” and not seeing the real person, the end result is a failure to connect on a meaningful level.   This is damaging to students’ self-esteem.   By punishing behaviors based on values that conflict with the student’s very struggle for survival in their own socio-economic environments, the relationship gap widens and students feel nudged closer toward exiting systems that don’t value or understand them. 
The second key element is strength-based programming.  Engaging students in their strength areas is essential.  Students need and deserve to be seen and encouraged for their strengths.  Too often culturally and linguistically diverse students find themselves in remedial “catch up” model classes with little opportunity to demonstrate their academic and creative strengths.   “We are Gifted 2” captures the essence of the issue at hand.   The students I work with in Indian Education surprise me daily with their talents and their creativity.  They were understandably mistrustful in the beginning, and to be sure we have our ups and downs, but they have revealed themselves to me and I am grateful for it and appreciate it very much.  They have taught me by helping me understand their realities and what their lives entail…often chaotic events and situations that expose them to hard life lessons at way too young an age. 
The third key element is differentiation.   All students deserve opportunities to have content delivered in a variety of ways and to demonstrate their understanding in a multiple ways.  Recent research shows that up to 80% of American Indian students are visual-spatial learners.  I’m confident that the majority of culturally or linguistically diverse learners also have visual-spatial strengths.  As teachers, most of whom are linear-sequential learners, we need to understand learning styles so that success in school is inclusive in nature and not limited to those whose learning styles match the system.  The mismatch between the linear-sequential learning style of teachers and the visual-spatial learning style of students leads to lack of understanding and frustration at both ends, and again, damage to self-esteem. 
The fourth key element is accessing appropriate resources, including technology to engage students.  For example, in Indian Ed, my students work with video technology.  They are given voice through creating video projects such as “live” school news broadcasts, interviews, and digital storytelling.  Digital storytelling is very powerful in that it connects generations, passes on important lessons, and gives a family a lasting record of their elders.  Our students’ video projects have been shared at the school, locally at the art museum, on the internet, as well as in professional development settings.  The feedback the students receive enhances self-esteem, allows them gain confidence in their abilities, and exposes them to potential career opportunities.
Providing educational equity is a national issue of social justice.  It moves us closer to the goal of true educational equity will address the achievement gap.  As educators, it should be among the highest of our priorities.  Culturally and linguistically diverse learners are an untapped resource in the United States.  Instead of looking abroad for future leaders to fulfill our academic and technological needs, we should be committed to mining the ‘hidden gems’ that are right before our eyes. 
I am a member of the Tongva tribal nation , the original people of Los Angeles.  The Spanish took our people to the San Gabriel Mission, so we are often referred to as Gabrielino.  I much prefer Tongva.  The 1960 award winning book ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins ‘ is about San Nicolas Island, one of the Channel Islands that was Tongva. - Jerry Lassos