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Skills to Help Teachers Respond to Non-academic Concerns of Highly Able Students Jean Peterson, Ph.D. Purdue University

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Presentation on theme: "Skills to Help Teachers Respond to Non-academic Concerns of Highly Able Students Jean Peterson, Ph.D. Purdue University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Skills to Help Teachers Respond to Non-academic Concerns of Highly Able Students Jean Peterson, Ph.D. Purdue University

2 Social/Emotional Concerns of High-Ability Children & Adolescents Sensitivity (re: developmental or family transitions, events, change, relationships, loss; re: response to environment) Stress Denied, Controlled Emotions Control of Environment Protection of Image “Fix yourself” Can’t ask for help/Always ask for help.

3 Social/Emotional Concerns, continued Existential concerns Little room to rebel Sense of “differentness” Interpersonal problems Perfectionism (re: risk-taking, doing>being, unreasonable standards, can’t begin/end/enjoy, product>process, hung up on mistakes, focused on “right” way, self- critical, critical others, need for control)

4 Social and Emotional Concerns, continued Intense idealism, sense of justice Doubts about ability (depending on child’s view of “intelligence”) Stress-related disorders (e.g., depression, eating disorders, insomnia) The importance of “being known ”

5 Sensitivity Expressed? A Matter of Degree? The presence of heightened, multifaceted sensitivity—whether it is expressed, or to what degree, is a function of socialization—e.g., depending on the rules of emotion expression they have learned. Not seeing it does not mean it is not there.

6 Definition, Characterics (Mendaglio) Giftedness is superior intellectual potential with many possible manifestations, some of which are socially acceptable. Intense emotionality— heightened sensitivity (a cognitive term) heightened self-criticism (analytical re: self) emotional intensity (see more, so feel more)

7 Intense Emotionality (Mendaglio) Gifted individuals are presumed to have a strong awareness of their emotional states, a heightened perspective-taking (regardless of accuracy) A high level of intelligence is associated with rapid information processing and accessing short and long-term memory. From this perspective, greater intelligence is associated with more and intense emotions. Further, with rapid processing comes rapid rise and fall of emotions as new information is accessed. The outcomes of emotional intensity are both positive and negative.

8 Peterson study: High Ability and Perfectionism 32% highly critical of others 51% highly self-critical 15% very hard to begin something 29% very hard on self when make mistakes 11% “definitely” don’t “play” well in life 18% don’t enjoy doing a task, project at all 32% feel very inferior to others, generally

9 Potential Factors of Resilience in Gifted At-Risk Good problem-solving skills An ability to gain attention from others An optimistic view of their experiences A positive vision of a meaningful life An ability to be alert and autonomous A tendency to seek novel experiences A proactive perspective Role models outside the home who serve as “buffers” Positive self-concept Don’t blame self for family problems, or feel must “fix” Social support Intelligence

10 Peterson study: Achievers & Underachievers 20% of underachievers became achievers in high school 16% maintained achievement in 1 area 33% improved one grade point 69% chronic underachievers ACT: 93.5% for high achievers 84% for underachievers

11 Peterson Follow-up Study of Achievers & Underachievers 87% underachievers attended college 52% had four years four years later 41% performed better than in h.school More likely to attend non-major public institution No more likely to change to a smaller institution

12 Peterson Study: Successful Adults who were Adolescent Underachievers Suggests developmental issues: identity, separation, direction, tempo “feisty” females Perceived teacher and parent indifference Several with heavy household responsibilities Importance of achieving adult mentors

13 Bright, Troubled, and Not Identified 37% of the “worst kids in school” had had state test scores above the 90 th percentile earlier in school Must they be “good,” clean, nice, comfortable in school, and engaging? Must their parents advocate for them? Resilience in the face of adversity

14 Implications for Education of the Gifted What about enrichment, remediation? Must they affirm teachers in their work? What about developmental lag? How can we affirm ability when it isn’t being demonstrated? How sensitive should teachers be to troubled lives? How much must they “fit” a program or school (vs. program/school fitting them)?

15 Peterson Study: Gifted and Traumatized 10-year longitudinal study, age Multiple traumas revealed; eating disorder Intelligence as a factor of resilience Intensity, hypersensitivity, drivenness Recognized her need for outside guidance Long healing; proactive; communicative ‘The counselor told me that I was just unlucky— in a bad situation—and that it wasn’t my fault. He supported my leaving home. Said I’d be OK.”

16 Peterson Study: 14 At-Risk Gifted At risk for poor educational/personal outcomes Risk factors: depression/suicidal ideation; extreme conflict with parents; severe underachievement Resolution of conflict with parents generated the most narrative Two extreme underachievers had graduated from college Resolution of 4 developmental tasks correlated with increased motivation to achieve

17 Bullying and the Gifted Gifted kids try to “make sense” of bullying and bullies. Coping strategies improve with age. Being bullied decreases for boys after grade 6. Intelligence helps some gifted kids to cope (e.g., strategies, “making sense” of bullying). Some gifted kids’ attributions of causation are to external factors (bullies’ deficits; not being known), while responsibility for resolution is internal. Gifted children aren’t likely to be harmed physically, but some respond sensitively to other kinds of bullying (and some not).

18 Bullying, continued Being bullied can contribute to self-doubt, loss of self-esteem. When the child takes action, has support, makes changes, or resolves the bullying, there is less loss of self-esteem. There appears to be a process of repair when the situation improves. Being bullied, for some, contributes to wanting to avoid “mistakes,” to “be better” in order to avoid being bullied (an internalization of “fault”?). “Not being known” contributes to being bullied. When better acquainted, bullies and bullied sometimes can become friends.

19 The Subjective Experience of Being Bullied “Very helpless... couldn’t do anything about it.” “Kinda made me feel like an outsider.” “You feel like something’s wrong with you.” “It sucked. I didn’t want to go to school. Every day was horrible... I didn’t like being assigned to groups, because I was always afraid of being assigned to her group... changed me profoundly.” “It’s intimidating.” “I think it just basically destroys people sometimes... it makes them feel they’re not worth anything.” “It totally bottles them up.” “Scared me a lot.” “A friend said she felt very degraded. Hurt. Just didn’t feel as confident anymore. “I just felt so bad. My mind was telling me, ‘You’re worthless.’ Voices in the back of your head.”

20 Life Events and Their Impact A major theme: the high stress of 5 Advanced Placement tests in one week, the extreme involvement in activities, the pressure from expectations of self and others Agreement that attention to social and emotional development is warranted in programs School transitions—middle-school social milieu

21 Peterson Study: What is “Gifted”? Dominant-Culture Teachers as Gatekeepers Individual, competitive, conspicuous achievement Organization, precision Production (of a familiar variety) Strong work ethic (of a familiar variety) Eagerness to learn, high motivation (of a familiar variety) Strong social skills, good behavior, good personality Cooperative in groups Assertiveness Maturity Helpful, responsible, dependable Involvement in school activities

22 Teachers’ Ad-hoc Criteria: “Gifted” Behavior Verbal ability, articulateness, assertiveness Family and socioeconomic status Work ethic Social skills

23 Culture Clash when Identifying... Significant minority values sometimes do not fit well in the individualistic, competitive, conspicuous-achievement-oriented culture of mainstream schools. The dominant culture—white, middle-class, “mainstream,” historically Northern European— drives the culture—and IS a culture.

24 5 Non-mainstream Communities Latinos Immigrant Asians African Americans American Indians Low-income Anglo Americans Thematic analysis of language in response to “Who would you nominate as ‘gifted’?”

25 Latinos: “Gifted” Arts as a means of expression, not “achievement” Humility, instead of self-promotion or assertiveness Community service, but not through organized activities

26 Immigrant Asians: “Gifted” Education (as related to adaptation) Adaptation Caring for Family Asceticism and Hard Work for the Future

27 African Americans: “Gifted” Selfless contribution to the neighborhood, including caretaking, nurturing of children “doing nice, thoughtful things,” being a concerned neighbor Handiwork—”making something out of nothing,” making something “a work of art” Concern for family, emphasis on children Wisdom (as contrasted with knowledge) Ability to inspire others to higher level Being hard-working, but not tied to material gain

28 American Indian: No Nominations “We don’t believe in standing out.” “You don’t put yourself above anyone.” “Can blend the cultures, find satisfaction in both, without being assimilated” “They’d have to speak the language.” “It’s not ‘I did this.’” Can separate the cultures when necessary, while practicing traditional religion “taking an active role in monitoring the changes in the tribe so the culture is still intact for the next generation”

29 Low-income White: “Gifted” Helping others, listening, advising Child-rearing, teaching the young Manual dexterity, creativity, versatility Academic ability with practical application Overcoming adversity Non-bookish learning

30 Common Themes in Non-Mainstream Groups Concern for family, children Helping others, community, listening Respect for elderly, parents Stoicism in face of adversity Manual dexterity Non-bookish Learning Not “showing what you know”

31 How Can We Engage the Non- Stereotypical “Gifted”? Calling attention to factors of resilience Helping them with developmental transitions (Is “stuckness” functional?) Helping them find “safe harbors” Applying listening skills Stand WITH them, Stand BESIDE them, AFFIRM them Achievement may not be the most salient aspect.

32 Child Anxieties at Developmental Junctures Control! Change! (and therefore loss! grief!) Uncertainty! No “map”! Unknown Territory (and little tolerance for ambiguity?) Perfectionism (being used to being able to control) Sexuality (troubling thoughts, past embarrassments, androgyny, no sense of commonality with others, no chance to articulate the concerns?) Peer Relationships (new demands, concerns, peers > adults, unfamiliar territory) Future-Fear (afraid of asking “dumb” questions about college; relocation; perfectionism re: direction, major, roommate, college, marriage; leaving childhood behind; others’ expectations; managing the complexities of adulthood) Fear for Parents, Parents’ Marriage, Family Safety, Internalization of Parents’ “Concern” Messages

33 Assumptions All students need to be taken seriously and heard. Shy students also want to be recognized. All students need support, no matter how strong and successful they seem. All students feel stressed at times. All students are sensitive to family tension. All students feel angry at times. All students wear a façade at times. All students feel socially inept and uncomfortable at times. All students worry about the future at times. All students, no matter how smooth and self-confident they may appear, need practice talking honestly about social and emotional concerns.

34 Counselor and Teacher Self-Assessment Check biases about gifted kids. Check attitudes about gifted kids. Can we be comfortable with them? Can we avoid one-upping them? Can we avoid competing with them? Can we be fully present, without feeling intimidated or insecure or less able? What feelings about underachievers? What feelings about high achievers? Can we avoid thinking in stereotypes?

35 Why Group Work with Gifted Kids? To learn how to deal with fear To learn how to articulate feelings To understand authority To learn how to deal with anxiety To appreciate teachers To develop self- advocacy skills To learn how to deal with worry To appreciate peers To affirm personal strengths To learn how to deal with perfectionism To share developmental concerns To learn how to “deal with the system” To learn how to “lean” for help To understand transitions

36 Why Group Work, continued To increase self- awareness To break down stereotypes To learn to give & receive feedback To gain insightsTo develop skillsTo learn to give & receive compliments To explore identity issues To develop trustTo reduce stigma re: “counseling” To gain self- esteem To develop coping strategies To learn how to deal with stress To discover shared concerns To develop social skills To learn how to deal with anger

37 Reminders for Group Facilitation Stay poised, no matter what is said. Avoid giving advice. Avoid “rushing to fix them.” Recognize the importance of letting them TALK. Concentrate on LISTENING (it’s hard work). Enter their world. Learn about their subjective experience. Avoid self-disclosure. Don’t “psychoanalyze” or “interpret.” Don’t say “I know exactly what you mean” or “You shouldn’t feel sad about that.”

38 Strategies—At Each Stage Listen! Normalize the difficulties. Pay attention to the self (what is going on emotionally?). Practice talking! Seek assistance, if necessary. Facilitate discussion groups at school— social/emotional development Focus on strengths—send messages of confidence (“You’ll figure it out”).

39 Basic Strategies  Listening  Strengths -focus—the same importance as otherwise  The need for affirmation, validation  Reframe “problems” as a positive. “It makes sense that you responded like that.” “You were smart enough to talk to someone.” “You know what’s in your control—and what’s not.” “You worked hard to get our attention.” “You aren’t afraid to learn from your mistakes.” “You’re a survivor—building toughness.”... in order to break the cycle of negativity, criticism, and problem-focus and move the focus to strengths, uniqueness, appreciation. Then focus on “figuring out how to live more effectively.”  Parents: “I’m so glad you’re my daughter/son.”

40 Active Listening: Hard Work! Pay attention. Don’t be distracted. Give eye contact. Affirm, validate (i.e., accept their feelings, views) Don’t be afraid of “pauses.” Be nonjudgmental. Accept what they say as important from their perspective. Keep the focus on them, not on you. Don’t over-function!

41 Emotional Reactivity from our FEARFUL parts from our WORRIED parts from our ASHAMED parts from our GUILTY parts from our SAD parts from our LONELY parts from our UNHEARD parts

42 Harnessing Our Reactivity How people react is not “inappropriate.” It may be “ineffective,” though. It may be perfectly understandable, given the child’s experiences in life. Listen. But don’t push too hard for feelings. If the person is emotionally reticent, make contact that is not intense.

43 Listening, continued Thank them for talking to you about it. Don’t fold your arms or lean back. Don’t criticize, preach, judge, shame, blame, give advice, bombard them. Don’t act bored. Don’t be upset by tears. Don’t talk about yourself. Don’t use “should” or “shouldn’t.” Don’t use “why.” Don’t be afraid of their feelings.

44 Critical Feedback We are hurt most by criticism of something that feels like an important part of ourselves. We are especially sensitive to criticism from someone whose opinion we care about. When we talk to the people we’re close to about our upsets, they feel implicated. We’re likely to be as accepting of others as we are of ourselves. That is why people who are lucky to have been raised with self-respect make the best listeners.

45 Teachers-Student Relationships Changing the teacher-student or teacher-parent relationship does not mean changing the other person, but changing our way of reacting to that person. It’s not the other person’s overreaction that is your problem, but how YOU react to it. You don’t have to become upset when someone else is upset.

46 Listening... still more Don’t say “That’s nothing to be upset about.” “You have no reason to feel that way.” “I know exactly what you mean.” “That happened to me once.” “Don’t you think it would be better if...” “What should I do?” Don’t feel responsible for “fixing” them. Don’t assume you know everything you need to know. Let them inform/teach you. Don’t “catastrophize.”

47 Listening is Difficult Listening is hard because it involves a loss of control. If you’re afraid of what you might hear, it feels unsafe to relinquish control. Even if you DO know what someone is going to say, he/she still needs to say it—and have you listen and acknowledge it—before feeling understood.

48 Listening: Rudimentary Skills Appropriate nonverbals (nod head, lean in, give eye contact) Reflecting feelings Reflecting meaning Paraphrasing Asking for more Checking for accuracy Summarizing


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