Sunday, August 25, 2013

Helping Native American Visual-Spatial Gifted Students ‘Leap Ahead’

The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic "right-brain" thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't. - Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future

What a privilege to again be invited to write for 'We Are Gifted 2' on the topic of Native American education.  It was an honor and nice surprise to see excerpts from my last blog in NAGC’s Teaching for High Potential.  I am very grateful to Joy Davis for her dedication, encouragement, and support.

Much of what we advocate for is based on what we have learned from Native students, families, and members of the Native community.  I referred to students as “hidden gems” in the previous article and we wholeheartedly believe in them.   Many of the strategies and practices we have implemented are based on our own core beliefs and inspired by the White House Initiative on American Indian Education.

The White House Initiative on American Indian Education has laid a solid foundation for significant progress to be made across the country in tribal school settings as well as urban settings.  Director William Mendoza and others have met with tribal and education leaders throughout Indian Country to gather input and to share the goals of the initiative.  After attending a Tribal Leaders Roundtable session in Rapid City, Steven Haas and I feel helping educators understand Native students’ visual-spatial strengths is a very important component of that progress.

At the recent Wyoming Indian Education Conference at Central Wyoming College, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell were on a panel together along with local education community and tribal government representatives.  This was as an historic event and an initial indication that the two departments will be working together for the betterment of American Indians. 

The secretaries spoke of their commitment to American Indian education and expressed their concern as to how the sequester has affected funding.  Community members expressed their appreciation for the secretaries’ attendance but asked specific questions as to what they can expect in the future from the collaboration between the two departments.  Many left the one hour panel discussion with sense of hope but also with a wait and see impression based on what they heard. The White House Initiative cites the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which states we need to “teach and address the needs of students with different learning styles.”  

As the keynote speakers for the Wyoming Indian Education Conference, Steven Haas and I of Indigenous Students Leap Ahead! (ISLA), made the point that when Native students’ strengths are understood and nurtured, they will be better prepared for the future. Established under Dr. Linda Silverman’s Gifted Development Center and the leadership of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, Indigenous Students Leap Ahead! (ISLA) is our effort to advocate for strength-based programming.  Combined with 21st Century technologies these students can not only achieve, they can build the confidence and self-esteem that will prepare them to compete for high tech positions in the future.

According to Gifted Development Center research, approximately 65% of mainstream students have Visual-Spatial strengths.  Close to 80% of Native American students have Visual-Spatial strengths.  Awareness and insight for educators into understanding the needs of Visual-Spatial learners is essential.   Realization of the importance of including practices and strategies designed to enhance opportunities for Visual-Spatial students is important for mainstream students, but especially for the future of Native students.

Education as a whole, but Native education in particular, needs to reject deficit-model programming and offer opportunities that will help students “leapfrog” ahead.  ISLA believes these students are uniquely suited to become leaders and innovators for the 21st Century. 

Guest blogger, Jerry Lassos is a recently retired educator, American Indian resource specialist, member of the Tongva nation.  Jerry and his colleague, Steven Haas are currently working with Fremont District 38 and are reaching out to several schools on the Wind River Reservation to involve their students in ISLA. Jerry wrote a blog for WeAreGifted2 last year. I am always pleased to connect with Jerry and I sincerely believe that the field of gifted education has much to learn from his commitment to developing the gifts of Indigenous students across the nation.

Recommended Reading:
Fixico, D. (2003) The  American Indian Mind in a Linear World: American Indian Education and Traditional Knowledge

Pink, D. (2006)  A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future

Silverman, L. (2002) Upside Down Brilliance: the Visual-Spatial Learner

Monday, August 19, 2013

Top 10 Advocacy Tips for Parents of Black & Hispanic Gifted Students

{Pt 1 in Series of 6 ‘Going Back to School Empowered’ articles}

School districts nationwide are being challenged by scholars, families, educators to do a better job of including more students of culturally diverse backgrounds in gifted education services. Your role as an advocate for your child is critical. School districts will become  more responsive when parents speak up and stand up for their children’s rights.  

If you believe your child/teen has high potential/ is gifted as demonstrated by their unique responses to the world around them, school performance, exceptional gifts as demonstrated in community or church related events, arts activities, test scores or school grades and they have NOT been considered for the school district advanced learner or gifted education program services, use the following ten advocacy strategies to  help get your child noticed, identified, and served in gifted education or advanced classes.

Resources at the end of this list will also provide additional support for your advocacy:

1-      If you would like to have your child evaluated/tested for the gifted program, at the beginning of the school year, check the district’s website, gifted education section for the evaluation timeframe. Check specifically for dates that schools are collecting/soliciting referrals or nominations from parents/family members.  If the school does not list this information online, call the district office, ask to speak to the Gifted Education Specialist/Coordinator for more information (Bright Talented & Black provides information on testing and evaluation procedures used in gifted programs nationwide).

2- If you believe that your child needs additional academic challenge based on their experience the prior year, make an appointment early in the year to speak to your child’s homeroom teacher or content area teacher to ask how the school intends to challenge your child and what services are available (Books listed below & facebook pages have information on special program services for gifted students).

3- Keep a diary/scrapbook/electronic journal to collect artifacts and samples that demonstrate your child’s unique performances/work production over time. Share this journal with school personnel. Include letters from community members, out of school teachers/instructors that describe your child’s behavior and exceptional gifts & talents.

4- Attend all parent-teacher conferences, make sure you ask at least three questions during the Q& A time during group meetings. Show up at school often within district guidelines of course. (In research studies, high achieving African American & Hispanic students note that their parents were ‘always at school’, helping, talking with teachers, seeking out information).  

5- Ask school about intellectual and problem solving competitions (Destination Imagination; MathCounts; Math Olympiad; Olympics of the Mind; Chess; National Society of Black Engineers programs, etc). Offer to coach, share information with other parents of culturally diverse students. Far too often, these programs exist but are segregated and limited to students whose parents are better informed or have available funds to pay extra fees.

6- Volunteer to serve on the district Gifted Education Advisory Council or school based advisory council.

7- Find out more about how your state supports gifted students by reading the ‘STATE of the STATES report’ published by the National Association for Gifted Children. (Reports are available at a minimal cost via

8- Be patient with the evaluation/referral/nomination/evaluation process, however, if you sense inconsistencies or inequities, keep notes, and make an appointment with school district coordinator/principal or other personnel to discuss your concerns.

9- If your child is already identified and served in the gifted program, monitor instruction  to ensure that-
a.  materials are ‘culturally responsive’ and challenging, and
b.  your child is not singled out as ‘the only culturally different’ child in the program. If this is the case, ask district personnel what is being done to improve services for more students. (see Recruiting and Retaining Culturally Different Students for more information)

10-Always remember, you know your child best, you are their first teacher and they will count on you more than any teacher to ensure that their intellectual, psycho-social, and academic needs are met and to come to their defense when others simply don’t believe in their potential. Please, don’t let them down.

Below are other helpful resources. If you would like to share more, please write in the comment space below or send me an email. My best to all of our gifted students for a school year filled with challenge and positive, productive opportunities!!



Bright, Talented & Black: A guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners by Joy Lawson Davis

Retaining & Recruiting Culturally Different Students in Gifted Education by Donna Y. Ford 

African American Students in Urban Schools: Critical Issues & Solutions for Achievement by James L. Moore III & Chance Lewis

Special Award Competition:

CTY Announces New Award to Support Pre-College Math and Science Research 

BALTIMORE August 15, 2013—Young scientists ages 13 to 18 with promising research ideas can now be awarded funding of up to $600 through a new annual competition sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY). CTY is establishing the CTY Cogito Research Awards to help offset the costs associated with conducting research in math and science for selected middle and high school students.  
More information is also available on the Cogito site at:

Log on to Facebook, search for the following pages:

Parents Advocating for Gifted Education
International Gifted Education
Mirror Books: the Power of Positive Images
The Brain Café
Prep For College
Uplift, Inc.
National Association of Multicultural Education

Upcoming Workshop:

National Harambee Education Summit Sept 19-22, 2013 Washington, DC
For more information:

Upcoming NAGC Webinar:

Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 7-8 EST Beyond Colorblindness: Building a Gifted Education Classroom that Honors Cultural Difference

Your comments and ideas are greatly appreciated!! Dr. Joy