Hug a Teacher During Teacher Appreciation Week

Hug a teacher is Kars4Kids’ answer to the #ThankATeacher hashtag trending on social media during Teacher Appreciation Week (May 1-May7). What is “hug a teacher?” It’s a platform we created where you can enter the name of that special teacher in your life and offer that teacher a hug.

Let’s face it, teachers aren’t doing what they do for the money. They’re doing what they do out of caring. We just don’t think a day or a week is sufficient to show our appreciation. We think a simple thank you isn’t cutting it.

Not that “hug a teacher” cuts it, either. In an ideal world, teachers would be placed on a pedestal and fed fine delicacies, and never have to worry about paying the bills. How shall we put this to make it sink in: Teachers are our future.

They are everything.


And yet:

The average national starting salary of a teacher is $30,377. Compare that to the average starting salaries of a computer programmer ($43,635), a public accounting professional  ($44,668), and a registered nurse ($45,570).

Does that make any sense? Who gave that computer programmer his start? Who taught the accounting professional how to add and subtract? Who inspired that nurse to go into a helping profession in the first place?

You betcha. A teacher. The least we can do is be thankful. To hug a teacher and offer a shoutout by name, is certainly not going too far to express our appreciation for all that teachers do.


By the way, according to the National Education Association, “Teachers spend an average of 50 hours per week on instructional duties, including an average of 12 hours each week on non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers, bus duty, and club advising.”

It’s just not fair.

Hug A Teacher

So at Kars4Kids, the experts at mentoring and education for children, we’re asking you to go the extra mile to show your appreciation for Teacher’s Appreciation Week, by naming that special teacher out loud and proud on our hug a teacher platform, HERE.

Hug a teacher today. And then share this with the hashtag #HugATeacher (though we think a higher teaching salary would be a good thing, too).

It’s something to work toward, anyway.

Social Emotional Intelligence in the (Much Calmer) Classroom

Social Emotional Intelligence (SEI) is the ability to understand your own and other people’s emotions and to use this information to guide your behavior. Many teachers believe that fostering social emotional intelligence in students can help them better absorb knowledge in the classroom. The teacher who puts a high value on cultivating social emotional intelligence, is likely to have a calmer, more pleasant classroom environment. This is because students (and others) who are socially and emotionally intelligent can solve conflicts in the classroom. They are quick to understand what’s  bothering their peers and to empathize with what they are feeling.

SEI is controversial, in that some do not see social skills as an inborn sort of intelligence. Lending strength to the debate against SEI as a kind of innate intelligence is the fact that most believe social emotional intelligence can be developed and improved by practicing good social skills. One might, for instance, practice active and constructive responding, or listening and responding to others actively and with empathy.

Inside and outside of the classroom, students who have high social emotional intelligence are great at sizing up their peers  and understanding how they are likely to think and feel about things. That makes it possible for them to avoid saying or doing things that make their classmates feel uncomfortable. On the rare occasion that students with high social emotional intelligence make classmates uncomfortable, they know it right away and work to restore good feelings.

A student or any person with a high level of social emotional intelligence can be friends with all sorts of people, in many settings. That’s because the socially emotionally intelligent person, no matter where you stick him, is quick to pick up the social rules specific to that setting. Some people really do seem to be born with high social emotional intelligence, always landing well in social situations, others less so, somehow always missing social cues, and sticking their proverbial feet in their mouths.

Social Emotional Intelligence: Code Switching

A teacher who wants to develop the social emotional intelligence of his or her students may want to begin with a discussion on code-switching. Code-switching is adapting to the social code of a new situation. Imagine a student doing homework on a device such as an iPad or tablet. While looking up information on rainforests, the student finds a funny cat meme and stops to send it to a friend by private message on Facebook. This is normal behavior.

But take that same student and put her in a different setting. Now she is researching rainforests inside the classroom. She stumbles across something funny, such as a cat meme, but doesn’t send it to her friend. That would go against the classroom social code. Instead, she may make a mental note to find that meme later, when she is at home, and to then send it to her friend.

Here, the student is presented with the same situation, having found the same funny something (a cat meme), while researching the same specific topic (rainforests),with the very same tools (computer). What has changed is the setting and that setting’s code. She’s not at home. She’s in the classroom. What you do at home is different than what you do in the classroom. The behavior codes are different. The student who finds that meme in class and does not send it to a friend at that moment, is effective at code-switching.  She gets that sending that meme right now would be inappropriate.

The student, on the other hand, who acts on impulse and sends that meme off to a friend during classroom time, may find it confusing to be reprimanded for doing exactly what she would have done in the same situation at home. She may not get that she is breaching class etiquette, by failing to follow the classroom code. Discussing similar examples in class can help students become more aware of codes and code switching, thus raising social emotional intelligence and awareness.

The teacher might, for instance, describe other situations and ask students to talk about how they might change their behavior to adapt to different settings with different codes of behavior. A teacher might lead a classroom discussion on the topic, asking students to talk about times when they weren’t sure how to behave in a given setting and how to identify social cues. Students can be asked to identify examples of code-switching in stories and books.

Social Emotional Intelligence: Conflict Resolution

Teachers can pair off students and give them conflicts to resolve, to help develop their social emotional intelligence.  Students should be guided to find resolutions to conflicts by seeking a solution, showing respect for how others feel, and by adapting to a new situation which may involve compromise.

Tug of War, conflict resolution

Social Emotional Intelligence: Give Air to All Feelings, Really Listen

When siblings fight at home, often parents don’t really care what the spat is about—they just want it to end. The same is often true of a teacher in a classroom, trying to teach, while students may be arguing in the background.  The better approach is to let students say what they really feel, and listen carefully to what they say. By respecting students’ feelings, teachers teach students to respect the feelings of others (such as the feelings of the teacher!).

Sometimes developing empathy requires walking a mile in someone else's shoes (Cylonphoto / Shutterstock.com)
Sometimes developing empathy requires walking a mile in someone else’s shoes (Cylonphoto / Shutterstock.com)

Social Emotional Intelligence: Encourage Active Constructive Responding

When students are proud of their work, teachers should be attentive. The teacher’s body language should reflect a positive connection with the student and what the student is saying. There should be eye contact and real enthusiasm. The teacher’s words should also offer praise and support for the student.

Extra Credit: Five Areas of Emotional Intelligence

Social emotional intelligence is a newcomer to the psychology scene, having popped onto the scene during the 1980’s. Psychologist Daniel Goleman saw emotional intelligence as having five main parts:

Psychologist Daniel Goleman
“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” Psychologist Daniel Goleman (1995) cited in: John O. Dozier (2010) The Weeping, the Window, the Way. p. 130

Self-awareness: knowing one’s own feelings and capabilities, knowing when you need help, and knowing what makes you emotional. Students can develop self-awareness by keeping a journal; asking for input from classmates; and simply slowing down to get a clearer picture of one’s own behavior (take a break, take a walk, do deep-breathing).

Self-management: knowing how to control one’s emotions when they might get in the way of productivity.  Students can get a hold of themselves when feeling frustrated or angry by doing something that changes the energy of what they are feeling. Exercise, for instance, can help rid the body of tension, and give the student a burst of endorphins. Have a student squeeze a hand grip ten times, when he feels angry.

Motivation:  For students in the classroom, motivation is about behaving in a way that brings emotional rewards such as happiness and satisfaction. Remind students how good they’ll feel when they see those A’s lined up next to the subjects listed on a report card, and how great it will be to see a proud parent’s smile.

Empathy: The first three areas of emotional intelligence are self-related and directed. Empathy is about others, for instance how well students read and deal with their classmates’ emotions. Empathy means really listening to classmates and making eye contact. Don’t minimize the importance of what your classmate feels. On the teacher’s part, active, respectful listening, without interruptions, is bound to generate empathy between students in the classroom.

Social skills: This is how students manage to make others’ feelings and needs fit with their own, how they find common ground and make things work in the classroom or social environment. Begin by teaching them how to resolve disagreements, which begins with identifying the students’ feelings. Sometimes, it’s best to walk away from a conflict and return to the discussion calmer. Once both students are calm, they can hone in on the nature of the problem. Only having identified the problem, can students work toward resolution. Both should try to cooperate with the other wherever possible.

Not all social skills have to do with conflict resolution, of course. For some students, being new in a school, meeting new people, brings anxiety. Sometimes, it takes time to learn the code of a new school, or the code of a new friend, whose home culture is unfamiliar. Through active listening, and being respectful of others and kind, students can identify common ground to create bonds of friendship.

 

Brad Cohen: Tourette Syndrome and Bullying—Get to Know the Person, Not the Problem

Tourette syndrome and bullying—it is no stretch to say that there is no other educator who knows as much about this subject than Brad Cohen. Cohen struggled to become a teacher in spite of having Tourette syndrome and he won! His story is so inspiring that it was suggested a movie be made about his life. That movie, Front of the Class, touched everyone who saw it, and is still touching hearts and minds, 7 years after its premiere.

The Kars4Kids blog wrote about the movie here, and included the movie clip. Even after watching the movie and blogging about it, we found we were still intrigued with the story and we wanted to know what Brad was up to these days. Thanks to Google, we discovered the Brad Cohen Tourette Foundation and made contact. What followed was an exchange that was profound for its powerful positivity, hope, and honesty.

We talked about Tourette syndrome and we talked about Brad’s personal experiences as someone with TS. Brad shared insider info about his family life, his life philosophy, and how to deal with bullying. It’s all right here, a Kars4Kids exclusive.

Brad Cohen
(courtesy Brad Cohen)

K4K: In the movie about your life, Front of the Class, we see the dramatic reenactment of that middle school assembly where your principal, Mr. Meyer, brought you onstage to tell the students about Tourette syndrome (TS) and how the kids applauded you. Later we see you telling your first classroom to ask you anything they want about TS.

We hear about your philosophy that education ends the bullying, that the bullies just want a way to understand the differences they perceive in others, that this is their aim. Is it really just that simple? Can all forms of bullying be prevented through education or understanding?

Brad Cohen: First of all, nothing is simple.  I try to share this idea with people often.  Just because it looks to others like it is simple, it is not.  I had to work hard to get where I am today.  I had to learn from my mistakes.  I had to go through a lot of trial and error.  I had to fall down and then get back up again.

But as I reflect…..doesn’t everyone go through similar experiences?  For me, they just look different than for the average person.

Bullying is a serious issue.  It’s happened for years.  But I do believe bullying is learned.  This means if it is learned, then it can also be fixed through education.  You must start small and build on experiences.

It needs to be discussed in schools and counseling sessions.  It should not be the elephant in the room.  When kids walk through scenarios, it helps them see there is light at the end of the tunnel.  It also helps kids see that the bully bystander is just as bad as the bully if you choose not to do anything about it.  Overall, I do believe education is the key because education is power!

K4K: After that school assembly, I imagine things still weren’t exactly magical for you. When did you realize you had an honest-to-goodness real friend?

Brad Cohen: Actually, it happened soon after the school assembly.  Students saw there was more to me than just a guy who made noises.  I joined a youth group and people just accepted me for who I was.  Tourette’s wasn’t an issue and I started to make genuine friends.  It was long overdue!

K4K: How can we arm our children against bullying?

Brad Cohen
On the lecture circuit (courtesy Brad Cohen)

Brad Cohen: We must talk about it and role play.  We must set up boundaries and monitor the situations.  We must build relationships so others see more to a child than just a disability or something superficial on the outside.  People need to get to know others for their special strengths on the inside.  Get to know the person, not the problem.

K4K: When a student is being bullied, what is the teacher’s role?

Brad Cohen: They must find a way to help.  It may mean help directly and protect the child. Or it may be to advocate for a child and teach them how to stand up for themselves.  Either way, no child should ever feel they are alone and the victim.  If a teacher can’t help, then who can?

K4K: In a case of bullying, we hear a lot about the victims. What about the bullies? Don’t they need help, too? How can we help them?

Brad Cohen: Of course the bullies need help too.  If the bully doesn’t realize what they did wrong.  Or the bully isn’t taught better strategies to use in life, and then they will continue to bully others.  We need to provide resources and be proactive with troubled children rather than waiting for a situation to arise and then figure out a way to fix it.

K4K: Tell us a bit about your personal struggle with TS. You talk about your “constant companion” but also about not letting Tourette’s “win.” Can you describe your relationship with Tourette syndrome as it was and how it has evolved?

Brad Cohen: At an early age, I realized I needed to make a choice. I could either go through denial or ignore the fact that I had Tourette Syndrome, or I could embrace my Tourette’s and make the best of it.  I chose to accept it.

I used to call Tourette’s my best friend.  It went everywhere with me, it knew me better than anyone else and like a best friend, we were going to have some good times and some bad.  Deep down, I just knew I couldn’t allow my Tourette’s to win!

(courtesy Brad Cohen)
(courtesy Brad Cohen)

K4K: In the movie, we learn how you got thrown off a golf course because of your tics and noises. Do you still get thrown out of restaurants and golf courses or has the situation improved on the ground? Is there a greater awareness of TS today?

Brad Cohen: There is definitely more awareness today than ever before.  Not only are people more aware of Tourette’s, people are more willing to talk about it.  It is no longer taboo to be different.  In some special way, it is cool.

But at the same time, it is never easy.  I have not been thrown out of as many places recently.  I believe this has a lot to do with the choices I make.  I put myself in successful situations.

For example, I made the choice to no longer go to movie theaters.  But if I did, I’m sure I’d be thrown out.  And when I do go out, I enjoy attending baseball and football games where it is already loud.  My tics blend in with the crowd.

K4K: Does your wife Nancy ever get sick of your noises and tics? In the movie, Nancy doesn’t even seem to be aware of your TS. Is she or was she like that in real life, say even on the first date? How do you account for her acceptance of TS?

Brad Cohen: Nancy has been great.  Tourette’s was never really an issue for us.  I think that is a credit to who she is as a person.  Even on the first date, it came up, but was never even a topic of discussion beyond that.  Even I was surprised at first.

K4K: Tourette syndrome is inherited. Does it concern you as a father that your son Dylan may one day develop symptoms of TS?

Brad Cohen: I used to say no, it didn’t bother me.  I figured who better to be a role model to a child with Tourette Syndrome than me!  But then, once you actually become a father, things change.  Nobody wants their child to be different.  I’m no different than other dads across the world.  But I do know that I can be that role model for my child in the event that we do need to navigate down a similar road.

K4K: How about in the classroom? Are there times when your TS symptoms disturb your students’ concentration, for instance, during tests?

Brad Cohen: Honestly, I don’t think so.  They are so used to me, it is not an issue.  If anything, I think it would be awkward for them to sit in a quiet room with me.

Brad doing what he loves best: teaching children! (courtesy Brad Cohen)
Brad doing what he loves best: teaching children! (courtesy Brad Cohen)

K4K: Dumb question time: how can you drive if you have tics? Isn’t that kind of dangerous?

Brad Cohen: Well let’s just put it this way, I’m glad I’m not the driver in front of me.  I’m just kidding.  I actually don’t tic much when I drive.  For a person with Tourette’s, we actually tic less when we are focused on something.  When I’m driving, I’m pretty focused, so my tics don’t happen as much.

K4K: Your story inspires us because you don’t allow challenges to hold you back from the thing you most want to do in life. We also see that you’ve really got the stuff to teach. You’re animated and enthusiastic and that is a key element to being a fine educator, in my opinion. Have you ever seen a child with ridiculous aspirations that were never ever going to come true? Are there limits to what a body can achieve, even with high motivation?

Brad Cohen: In my opinion, the sky is the limit.  I love people who think big and have dreams beyond the normal realm of life.  Who am I to tell someone else they can’t do something?

A true teacher never gets in the way of a good dream.  A true teacher embraces the moment and finds ways to support others.  It isn’t up to me to kill the dream; rather it is up to me to provide opportunities for that other person to see if they can fulfill the dream.  Allow them to go through trial and error and learn through their own experiences.

I’d like to guide a child towards success or failure and figure out the next steps with them rather than telling them the way it is “supposed” to be done.  Many people told me I couldn’t do a lot of things.  But each time I was told I couldn’t be a teacher because I had Tourette Syndrome, I just wanted to prove them all wrong.

I wanted to show them that not only could I be a teacher, but I could do it better than the next person. ***

Kars4Kids and the Brad Cohen Tourette Foundation have something exciting in the offing. Stay tuned to this space for details!

ADHD: 5 Strategies to Improve Learning

For a child  who struggles with ADHD (hyperactivity attention-deficit disorder), school can be a stressful place. Though most children with ADHD are intellectually bright and love to learn, learning and navigating the school setting presents many challenges to this child. In fact, a staggering number of children with ADHD will fail to succeed in the school setting.  According to Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Healing ADD, 33 percent of children untreated with ADHD will never finish high school.

What makes learning so difficult for kids with ADHD? Studies suggest numerous ways that an ADHD brain differs from a normal one. One study showed a disruption in catecholamine production in the ADHD brain. Catecholamines are amino-acid-based neurotransmitters that include dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine and are responsible for electrical transmission of nerve signals in the brain.

When nerve transmission is disrupted, critical functions needed for learning are also disrupted. One such function is the Executive Function. The executive function is essentially the executive administrator that instructs our brain to activate, to organize, integrate, and memorize information, and many other activities. It also regulates impulse control, and acts as that voice in our head that warns the potential consequences of an action. In a way, it’s analogous to a conductor coordinating the different instruments in an orchestra to make the final product, a performance, seamless.

If your child has ADHD and has struggles in school, what can you do? What kinds of strategies can you employ to ensure your child’s success?

Based on an assumption that you’ve addressed your child’s ADHD

Find a good therapist, one with an expertise in ADHD: Children with ADHD face many struggles in the school. It’s harder for them to form friendships and to navigate peer relationships. A child with ADHD can be a tough student to manage. Without impulse control, he might disrupt the class, get up, walk around, or call out of turn. This child needs someone to talk to, to sort out feelings of failure and difficulties he’s having.

A good therapist, one trained to work with ADHD clients, should put together a comprehensive psychosocial plan, one that includes a behavioral, school, and home component.

Parents also need a good therapist. ADHD adds a tremendous strain to a marriage. Dr. Daniel Amen reports that parents of children with ADHD divorce at three times the rate of the general population. A therapist can listen to the struggles of a parent and can recommend some effective parenting tools in managing a child with ADHD.

Rule Out Other Disabilities or Disorders: According to C.H.A.D.D., “individuals affected by ADHD are at an increased risk of experiencing additional cognitive, emotional, or behavioral disorders.” Around two-thirds of children dealing with ADHD also have co-existing disorders such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, tics and Tourette syndrome, and learning disabilities such as dyslexia or dysgraphia. Many school districts have an extensive therapeutic who can all meet with your child and complete a full evaluation. Once the evaluation is done, they along with your child’s teacher, can decide if your child qualifies for special educational accommodation, or a 504 disability accommodation.

“A Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a civil rights law designed to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. It requires school districts to provide necessary educational services that would meet individual needs of a child with a learning or physical disability. It’s meant to “level the playing field.” If your child qualifies for a 504 disability accommodation, he could be eligible for push-in or pull-out services, a modified curriculum, or special education services provided through the school district.

Set up a structured behavioral modification system. Mentioned above, an effective behavioral modification program helps a child with ADHD learn by targeting, rewarding, and shaping desired behaviors through operant conditioning. Typically, a therapist can put one together based on feedback from teachers, doctors, and parents. For it to work, a behavioral modification must follow certain guidelines:

–It must be followed strictly by any adult who spends a significant amount of time with the child.child.

–It must be designed with the ABCs in mind: Antecedents (things that set off or happen before behaviors),  Behaviors (things the child does that parents and teachers want to change), and Consequences (things that happen after behaviors).

The behavioral modification program should also start with small achievable goals. It must be consistent (time, settings, participants). It must be used over the long-term. And it should be adjusted as a child learns the desired behavior.

Make time for regular exercise for your child: Children with ADHD tend to have lots of nervous energy. If your child has an anxiety condition, that can add to the nervousness. Exercise isn’t merely good for the body. Because it helps the brain to release endorphins, it has been proven to alleviate stress. Because a child is expected to sit for long stretches in a classroom setting, frequent exercise helps a child with ADHD blow off steam. Communicate with your child’s school that your child needs regular exercise and in case a punishment is warranted, teachers should eliminate some other privilege, and not exercise.

Engage him in an activity he enjoys and feels successful at: If school is rough and your child  never feels successful, or least doesn’t see himself as successful, those feelings of failure will spread and poison every aspect of his life. If you engage your child in the arts, music, theatre, or any production where he can create, express himself, feel a sense of accomplishment or enjoyment, those positive feelings can spread to other areas of life, even back to school.

School can present many hurdles and challenges for a child with ADHD.  But with effective parenting skills, a therapist relationship, and behavioral strategies both in and out of school, a child with ADHD doesn’t have to be a statistic.

Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, or ZPD for short, describes a way to maximize a child’s learning. The zone of proximal development is about assessing a child’s academic achievements and spotting the natural forward thrust of a child’s learning direction: where that child could be in his learning with a bit of guidance. It’s about learning potential and about getting a child from point A to point B.

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ZPD is about moving a child from point A to point B.

Vygotsky’s term: “zone of proximal development” is marvelously descriptive. The idea is that wherever a child is in his or her learning, there is a range of learning that is within reach, but not yet attained. This is where the child can get to with a nudge from a teacher that sees the child as he or she really is at a given moment in time, rather than where he or she is supposed to be according to external guidelines set by say, the Board of Education.

In the following clip, we see a demonstration of how the zone of proximal development works. The boy has memorized the names of the numbers. He doesn’t yet understand what those names signify. By pointing at blocks, one for each number name, he comes to understand that the names signify specific numbers. He has moved from rote memorization of number names to actual counting.

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Vygotsky: “These functions could be called the buds of development.”

The boy moves to the next level through the guidance of the teacher who shows him what to do with his finger, the blocks, and the sound names of the numbers he has already learned. Here, the zone of proximal development is clear: move from knowing the names of the numbers to the act of counting through a demonstration of what counting is in practice. Vygotsky saw a child’s knowledge as being in a constant state of maturation.

“The zone of proximal development defines functions that have not matured yet, but are in a process of maturing, that will mature tomorrow, that are currently in an embryonic state; these functions could be called the buds of development, the flowers of development, rather than the fruits of development, that is, what is only just maturing.”[1]

Perhaps the saddest part of Vygotsky’s theory is that it remained in its own embryonic stage of development, due to the fact of his untimely death at age 37 of tuberculosis, just two years after he developed his theory of the zone of proximal development. Other education theorists have jumped into the fray to build on Vygotsky’s theory, for instance, through the concept of “scaffolding,” a term never used by Lev Vygotsky. Scaffolding derives from the idea of supports that are gradually removed as a building is constructed. In an educational sense, scaffolding offers guidance through focused questions and is tapered off as a student becomes competent in a specific academic discipline.

ZPD led to the educational theory of "scaffolding."
ZPD led to the educational theory of “scaffolding.”

While Vygotsky’s time on this earth was short (November 17, 1894-June 11, 1934), his effect on the field of education is immeasurable. The son of a Jewish banker, Vygotsky only obtained an academic degree at Moscow State University as a result of winning a place in the Jewish Lottery. The lottery determined which Jews out of a pool of many applicants could be admitted to a given school. The quota for Jewish students meant that only 3% of the total student body could be of Jewish blood.

Though Vygotsky gained fame for his work in the field of developmental psychology, child development, and education, the Belarusian researcher’s original degree was in the field of law and his hobby by choice, the arts. Only later did he find his way to research. Today, no student of psychology, child development, or education will leave the hallowed halls of academia without some understanding of Vygotsky’s theories, and in particular, his theory of the zone of proximal development.

Perhaps the main lesson to be learned from Vygotsky’s work is to see the now in order to see the future. By seeing a child’s current state of learning in its raw, naked state, we gain access to an internal crystal ball which tells us where that child could be with the right questions asked and just a bit of external support. We learn through Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development to always see a child as something that is never static, as someone that can always learn and grow and move forward.

To Vygotsky, the learning process was never over. Vyogtsky’s intention was to apply the zone of proximal development to every area and not just to child education. This is Lev Vygotsky’s legacy to all of us: the idea that life is all about growth, refinement, and forward movement. As long as we live, as parents, teachers, and as individuals, the process never ends.


[1] Vygotskii [Vygotsky], L.S. 1935. “Dinamika umstvennogo razvitiia shkol’nika v sviazi s obucheniem.” In Umstvennoe razvitie detei v protsesse obucheniia, pp. 33–52. Moscow-Leningrad: Gosuchpedgiz.

Spotting Gifted Students

Spotting gifted students in a large classroom is no big deal. Or so you might have thought. You simply apply the rule of Sesame Street: “One of these things is not like the others.” shutterstock_178688006

After all, gifted children are different from their peers. They’d have to stick out somehow. So sure, you’d think. You can spot ‘em a mile away. They’re the pocket protector-wearing first graders solving quadratic equations as their peers stumble over, “See Dick run.”

Well, yes and no. The gifted child may indeed stand out in the classroom. But often, it’s for all the wrong reasons.

spotting gifted studentsThink about it: a super-bright kid in a class of garden variety, average students. He’s going to be BORED. Terrifically bored. And so, he may just end up exhibiting behaviors most of us would deem negative. In fact, we might even assume the gifted child has a learning disability or perhaps even an intellectual disability. That was certainly the case with Jason Barnett, whose parents were urged to put him in special ed. classes.

His behavior was odd.

Now, most of us are aware there is something slightly “off” about geniuses. Still, we continue to see genius as a desirable attribute. Parents avidly watch for signs of giftedness in their children.

The upshot is we expect odd behavior from geniuses but only after some reflection. More likely, we expect a genius to be more clever than most, a cut above his peers. If you Google “signs of giftedness” you’re going to see all those special virtues you’d like to see in your kid. Less often, you’re going to learn about the darker side of giftedness which may be confused with disability.

Here are some of those signs—the ones you wouldn’t expect to see:

  • Easily distracted from topics and tasks
  • Impatient when not called on to answer questions
  • Often bored
  • A tendency to disrupt the classroom
  • Dislikes repetition and memorization
  • Finishes work quickly but is sloppy
  • Tries to get out of doing classroom activities aside from those he finds interesting
  • Leaves projects incomplete
  • Bites off more than he can chew and then shows signs of stress
  • Mouths off to authority figures
  • Overreacts to criticism
  • Finds it difficult to do teamwork
  • May overlook practical details such as correct spelling
  • Forgets to do homework
  • Is hypercritical of both himself and others
  • Will belabor a point
  • Expects perfection in himself and others
  • Carries jokes too far
  • Often the class clown
  • Perceived as the classroom “know it all”
  • Can be bossy during group projects

No. You wouldn’t have expected to see this list of the negative traits of giftedness. But when you read them, did you find yourself nodding your head a bit? You see it, don’t you?

The most important thing to keep in mind about giftedness is that it is exceptional, rare. It is every bit a minority statistic within a classroom as the intellectual disability or ADHD. Teachers and parents should be watching for exceptional (read “different”) behavior and keeping an open mind about what this behavior means.

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You want your child to be getting the most he can out of his time in the classroom. You want to give him the best possible chance to succeed, whether gifted or average. Let your child show the way to what he needs and be responsive to that.

Don’t be quick to interpret a negative behavior trait or in fact, any unusual classroom behavior. Instead, keep watching and noting the child’s behavior. Offer the child challenges to see how these are handled. Watch and wait until a clearer picture emerges. And absolutely consult with experts before pinning a label on a child: any label at all.