Susan Winebrenner

SUSAN WINEBRENNER

I’m Susan Winebrenner I’m an author and consultant in gifted education and also for teaching kids with learning difficulties. I’m the author of three books, Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom, Teaching Kids With Leaning Difficulties in the Regular Classroom, and Super Sentences which is kind of a vocabulary enhancing activity book for those who’d like it.

Well when I talk to teachers I try to make it as user friendly as possible. And so I just talk about those I’m call gifted or those for whom the activities are designed are most beneficial for. Would be those kids who are functioning two to three years above the expectations for age peers in any area of learning. And teachers seem to be able to handle that. If you talk about IQs or achievement scores and you’ve go to kind of shift that depending on socio-economic conditions and and the realities of of what’s going on in a certain district. So this is been a a definition that most classroom teachers and parents I think can find useful and helpful.

You know it’s funny I don’t think that they have any special needs. I think they just have special problems because the same needs they have which are those of all kids are just not being met. Gifted kids need consistent daily challenging opportunities to move forward in their own learning and in heterogeneous classes in public education settings that frequently doesn’t happen because of the confusion of the meanings of two word teach and learn which are not synonyms. Teachers are given a body of stuff to teach and it is assumed sometimes by their administrators that that the expectation is thou shalt teach this to all kids. I believe that the only uh uh accountability is to document that kids have learned X Y or Z. And my job with teachers is to help them understand that if some kids can provide that documentation ahead of an upcoming unit that they should be given full credit for their mastery and be allowed to use uh their learning time not for extra credit in which I have no belief or support at all. But in working on alternative extension activities. My belief is that those opportun—opportunities should be offered to everybody in the class. A teacher doesn’t have to figure out who should do this, that or the other thing. And that when we do that and kids show that they are eligible for the extensions that it’s totally equitable and it greatly reduces resentment. In the subject areas that don’t lend themselves to um formal pre-assessment where the content might be new for the children what gifted kids can do that other kids can’t do is move through new content in a much faster pace still creating opportunities for them to be able to work on other activities. So I don’t think they have any special needs at all. I just think that their same aren’t being met in a in a heterogeneous situation in which most of the focus in the last four to seven years has been on the kids who are not accomplishing those standards or those expectations.

It’s interesting because it’s a it’s a passion of mine. These kids were calling twice exceptional. Um frequently people who have no experience in gifted education seek out the weakness as proof that this child could not possibly be gifted. In fact very few children are gifted across the board and basically we have to whether their gifted or twice exceptional with average intelligence we have to be able to give ourselves permission to only uh apply remediation techniques during the time the whole class is working on an area in which this student has some limitations. But during the time the whole class is working on an area in which this student clearly excels then total credit has to be given for that and that student has to be allowed to be working on an advanced level in those areas with the coviat(?) that they may need to express what they’ve learned in non traditional ways. So I think that uh understanding kids who have these glaring strengths or weaknesses whether their gifted or not we have to resist the impulse to spend most of their school time fixing what needs to be fixed without nourishing what eh needs to be expressed in advanced ways.

You know if I could design the perfect program I would combine um what I call cluster grouping. Which is purposefully placing four to six students who are going to need consisting consistent sorry. Placing four or six students who are going to need consistent differentiation including compacting. In the same classroom with a teacher who has had some training in what to do with them. Um that would mean that not all teachers would be getting some of these so-called gifted kids in their classes. But the uh notion that you have to have one or two of these kids sprinkled into every class liberally because with out their presents there will be no positive role modeling has been disproved in informal research and informal classroom observation. When you cluster them together they are much more likely to respond to differentiation opportunities because they’re that doesn’t mean they have to go off and be the lone soul in the back of the room working on something and missing what’s going on with other kids. The teachers more likely to notice their needs and provide for them because there are four to six or seven and the parents are thrilled because instead of having to advocate for a special program uh their children are experiencing consistent learning challenge which I think uh is pretty much what most parents want regardless of where their kids are on the learning continuum. I do however really value allowing kids who are gifted in some areas to be meeting with their learning peers on a regular basis and I have frustration with people who have just dismissed the benefit of so called pull out or resource programs out of hand. And I tell people not to decide whether or not they support that until they’ve taught in one for a while. Because what happens to these gifted kids in the regular classroom is um they have so little opportunity to be validated that they’re okay the way they are. That getting together with learning peers on a regular basis provides that very golden opportunity for them to just be themselves and know it’s okay to want to know everything and it’s okay to want to express everything you know and it’s okay to feel competitive even though that’s not suppose to be a word that’s cherished in education these days. So I think it really has to be a balance between regular in class differentiation and occasional opportunities to be meeting with learning peers even if it’s an out of classroom setting. Now when you place those clusters in a classroom with a teacher who has some gifted education training she knows that she’s not suppose that time to introduce new material but rather to and in hopefully creative ways re review and um (construction noise)

Use that time to reinforce previously learned concepts in a kind of fun learning manner and then that way when the kids return to the class the issue of whether or not they will make up the work becomes moot and that’s always a nice thing to think about.

Um the pros of pull-out the benefits of pull-out uh include the opportunity for gifted kids (construction noise)
The benefit’s of cluster grouping is that it provides consistent opportunities for these kids to be meeting with other kids in an environment in which it’s perfectly safe to be themselves. It also provides opportunities for trained, teachers trained in gifted education to spend some sincere and focused attention on their social-emotional needs just through discussion groups which almost never happen in the regular classroom. Um the cons include the fact that uh classroom teachers sometimes feel as though it’s imperative that the students make up all the work that they missed while they were gone and if you include compacting pre-assessments and have clear evidence that some of what you are teaching (construction noise)

If teachers are aware that when they can document previous mastery and they have clear evidence that these youngster already have mastered what their teaching in their absence then they don’t have to feel this need to have them make it up. So uh uh when teachers incre--. When teachers insist that all the work be made up instead of at least a portion of it or compacted part of it then it puts these gifted kids in a very difficult position of um having to tolerate the idea that in order to be eligible for this thing they really need they have to end up doing more work then other age peers and and so that’s very difficult. Um I think the other con that that has plagued us over the years is we tended to create these opportunities only to appeal to kids who were linguistically or mathematically talented and I think we have to expand that so that different kids might be involved in these kinds of experiences over a period of a school year and and that more kids would have an opportunity to that.

Well first of all I want to council parents on how to advocate for what their gifted kid’s need in school. This is a very difficult uh job and and it’s it’s very um delicate. What I council parents to do is become familiar with the what we call the mission statement of the school. Find out what your school is promising all kids and then challenge the teachers and administrators by asking what evidence do you have that my child is also experiencing these promises. I think schools that have become complacent about the needs of gifted especially since the attention to standards and the focus on underachieving kids has become so intense run the severe and and absolutely realistic risk that with the opportunity parents now have to remove their kids from public education without bankrupting themselves these kids are disappearing from public schools. So the price of of not paying attention to them is is not a non-price it’s a big price. I don’t think their special as I’ve said before and so I think when parents learn to advocate you’re promising a challenging learning environment. My child is not experiencing a challenge how can we work together to make this happen what can I provide what can you provide. I think parents need to advocate for uh adequate staff development. I’m very very passionate about adequate staff development. Sure it’s my business but besides that I am absolutely convinced that any strategy a teacher learns to benefit gifted kids in a heterogeneous classroom is going to benefit many other students as well. It’s going to raise the level of teaching and therefor it can not help but raise the level learning. So good staff development in gifted education is just plain good staff development. And sometimes a parent teacher organization can actually subsidize funding for this kind of thing but I think that this is the this is one of the focus areas in which parents would be very um well advise to spend some of their efforts. Now in terms of parenting their kids um I tell parents never never never ask the teacher to provide more work for your child unless you’re prepared to have your partner call your boss and ask for the same thing for you. My wife is spending too much time knitting and I’m wondering if she shouldn’t have more work from the office to bring home. I ran out of breath. My wife is having too much uh opportunity for um craft work and television and I I think dear boss you should send home more work for her to do at home so she can stay more more busy in the evenings. I mean who would appreciate that. These kids do not need more work they need differentiated work and they also need parents who understand that educating a gifted child in a public school setting is a team effort. There is very little that any school can do to totally meet all the needs of of gifted kids and so parents have to uh provide quite a big support uh system for these kids as well as for all their kids. But I encourage parents to um help their kids access community resources, college for kids, Saturday classes for gifted kids, camps summer camps for kids, cultural events, um to help the child hook up with some area of interest in which they may not be particularly gifted but in which learning how to do something that their not really good at might actually teach them a little humbleness on the side. So um I think there has to be uh a team effort. But I think that truly we have to be also helping parents understand that high grade do not indicate that learning is happening and lower grades, if your uh child is actually encountering a challenging learning environment, lower grades are not a cause for alarm either. As a matter of fact I would tell parents that I’m truly worried about youngsters who have only gotten high grade all their life. I don’t think this is a cause for celebration, I think this is a recipe for future underachievement. And the last place I want a child I love to be the first time the have to encounter the reality of my gosh I worked as hard as I could on this project and I didn’t get an A. I don’t want them in a freshman dorm wondering whether or not they’re still worth anything. I want them right here in my home and I can say thank heavens this finally happened perhaps you’re actually learning what learning is.

You know my wish is that giftedness what ever that is would be considered only as significant as any other learning difference. I just don’t understand what all this emotional hoopla is about. I mean we differentiate for kids with learning difficulties, we cluster hearing impaired kids together in one classroom uh rather than sprinkling them out so that the specialist in in hearing impaired teaching can can um be focusing her efforts helping that classroom teacher. Um for some reason we just can’t treat this as just another learning difference and and my really deep wish for for education is that we could teach kids at a very early age to cherish these differences even if they weren’t multiculturally related. We could teach kids to resist peer-pressure to be the same as every one else even if it wasn’t in the context of a substance abuse program. And I really think that the more we can empower these kids to accept themselves the way they are (construction noise)

I really think the more we can empower these kids to accept themselves the way they are, empower all kids to accept and cherish diversity, the much, I’m sorry, the more we can, the more we can empower everyone to accept themselves and the differences in others among them, the fewer problems we’re going to have at any level of learning. So giftedness is simply a manifestation of a learning difference and because those kids are as far removed from average on the exceptionally capable side of a range of ability. As are the kids we’ve been pouring all this money into who are uh uh different from the norm on the exceptionally needy side they’re just as eligible for differentiation based on that difference not because they’re special not cause their parents are advocates but because of that difference and I just wish we could spend more time teaching kids how to cherish differences and teachers too.