Give them CHOICES! Using Menus to Meet the Range of Needs in Your Classroom

One of the most challenging jobs for teachers to do is meet the enormous range of needs for the learners in the classroom. Even in my self-contained gifted classes, children's skills and knowledge could be asynchronous, or very unevenly developed. Within my 4th and 5th grade multi-age language arts class alone, I had children reading at SEVEN different reading levels. SEVEN.

*Side note: It's a huge misnomer that kids are all at the same level in a gifted classroom. Differentiation in gifted classes is every bit as important in a classroom with only gifted students as it is for general education of special education classrooms.*

Okay, back to my point. BECAUSE it can be so challenging to meet the needs of a range of learners, using menus is a great way to differentiate!

There are several reasons menus are a great choice for ANY classroom:

  • They give students CHOICE. There are so very few times in a child's day when they get to exercise control over what they do. Menus empower students to have power over which activities they choose to complete.
  • Menus increase student engagement. As a result of increased autonomy, students are naturally more invested in their own learning. 
  • They create a student-centered learning environment. Teachers truly take on the, "guide on the side" role.
  • They can meet the needs of a variety of intelligences--students with strengths in areas other than language arts can showcase their own talents 
  • They can be a departure from the traditional worksheet activities (HOORAY for that!)
  • They're easily adaptable--they can range from quick learning activities to a lengthy long-term project.
  • The difficulty levels of activity options can be varied and laid out in a way that students can't just stick with completing the easiest tasks. 
Maybe it's time for you to dabble in menu options for your classroom! With Valentine's Day right around the corner, I want to help you differentiate your ELA instruction! Click on the picture to take a peek at my Valentine's Day Vocabulary Tic-Tac-Toe Menu Board. You'll find EVERYTHING you need to make your first go with menus a huge success. 

Thanks for reading! 
~Jen
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Gifted Kids and Overexcitabilities: Sensual Intensity

Yes, this one sounds a little weird at first, right? But it's not, I promise. This OE has EVERYTHING to do with the five senses (you know, sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) and how people who have overexcitabilities experience these things in ways that are much, much, more intense than the average person experiences them. Like the other intensities, the Sensual OE has both positive and negative aspects. 

This could be a GREAT thing! People with sensual intensity could express an deep and profound appreciation for gourmet food, the great beauty and wonders found in nature, and musical expression early on in their lives. Experiencing these things brings with it stimulation to the body's pleasure centers. It makes them feel happy, excited, and exhilarated even! You know how good it can feel to hear the perfect song, taste the perfect bite of food, see the most beautiful sight, right? Now multiply that feeling times 1304284. <---- That is NOT a scientific measure, FYI. But you get the point, right?

On the downside, having a Sensual Overexcitability may lead to the seeking out of things that cause the same sensations that provide those happy feelings, and they may do it to an extreme. Think: binge eating, binge shopping, overindulging. You might find that they get so absorbed in smells, sounds, or sights, that they are hyper-focused on those things, instead of the lesson, activity, or process in which they're supposed to be participating. Further, there's a chance that you might see someone with a Sensual OE cutting the tags out of their clothes, or aligning the seams on their socks just.right. They're wearing earplugs to school assemblies, or putting on earphones during thunderstorms. 

I have had several students who seemed to experience Sensual OE. Most of the time, they were most noticeable outwardly because they had a really hard time with boisterous environments, the glaringly bright overhead lights in some classrooms (not mine, because I.hate.overhead.lighting, especially of the fluorescent persuasion), and thunderstorms. Oh the thunderstorms. 

Like the other OEs, there are strategies and coping skills that children (and adults) can help. These are all taken directly from one of my favorite pages/organizations: SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted):
  • Whenever possible, create an environment which limits offensive stimuli and provides comfort.
  • Provide appropriate opportunities for being in the limelight by giving unexpected attention, or facilitating creative and dramatic productions that have an audience. These individuals literally feel the recognition that comes from being in the limelight.
  • Provide time to dwell in the delight of the sensual

You can also read more here, and here

Thanks for reading HERE! 
~Jen



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Gifted Kids and Overexcitabilities: Emotional Intensity

If you've worked with gifted children in any capacity, THIS is probably the most widely recognizable OE of all. The Emotional Overexcitability. I chose to write about this OE first because of how easily identifiable it is, and also because as a gifted adult I am pretty sure I (still!) experience this OE myself. 


According to an article on the super-informative SENG page, the emotional OE is characterized by 
"heightened, intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, identification with others’ feelings, and strong affective expression (Piechowski, 1991)". You might notice things like "stomachaches and blushing or concern with death and depression (Piechowski, 1979)".

In a nutshell, these people experience emotions and relationships to people, places, or things very deeply. They might be deeply empathetic toward other people or animals, they have a strong desire to love and be loved. They are very, very aware of their own feelings, can be harshly self-critical, immensely joyful or tragically sad, and they can experience all of these emotions in a relatively short period of time.

You might peg these students as drama queens or attention seekers, but in reality, the heightened intensity of how they're experiencing the world could be the root of some of their outwardly negative behaviors.The strong emotional reactions that these children are prone to can cause some difficulty at home and at school, so it's important to help your child or student work through the range of emotions as they come. Trust me on this one, be patient! It takes time to learn to self-regulate and cope with the sometimes unexpected emotions that rise up from the depths. Actually, they don't need to rise up from anywhere, because (for me, at least) those babies are always sitting pretty darn close to the surface.

In my years of teaching, I've DEFINITELY worked with a child or two just like this. And there is a slight pretty good chance that I have at least one offspring who sees life through this lens. One sweet girl I'm thinking of was just soooo emotional about many things. She was the first one crying when we experienced the sad parts in my read aloud books (well, maybe she was second, because I was usually the first one...), she was easily upset or offended if she perceived any unfairness in the way people were treating her, and forget about it if someone even started talking about one of those pet rescue commercials with the sad dogs and sad music.

Some pointers for helping out the child (or adult) YOU know with Emotional Intensity:
  • LISTEN to them--validate their feelings instead of trying to minimize them
  • Help them to recognize (and avoid, if possible and when appropriate) things that are known to trigger strong emotional reactions like scary or intense movies, for example. 
  • If known triggers are unavoidable, work on rehearsing appropriate reactions and coping strategies. 
  • Work with children to recognize signs that they're starting to feel an intense reaction to something (sweaty palms, shaking, pit in stomach, general unease) and work on teaching them ways to cope with their feelings. 
  • Focus on the positive aspects of the deep connections and empathy that they're capable of! 
Here are some more resources for you or your students' parents to check out: 


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Sidetracked: I've got the creating bug!

Just a quick post before I get back to my Overexcitabilites series! I'm hooked on creating and I can't. stop! Sharing the fruits of my labor with you today!

I worked hard ALL.DAY.  yesterday to create two new products for my TpT store, and I'm so proud!
This is a collection of images from my first product--Create Your Own Holiday. It's a great higher level thinking project for students that reaches into the top three levels of Bloom's Revised Taxonomy and levels three and four of Webb's DOK. Intended for kids in second grade (with support) through fifth grade, it can be used as part of a larger study of holidays or on it's own. Students work toward mastery of the CCSS Speaking and Listening standards when they present their project to the class, and best of all, it's FUN! 

This second (related) product is actually a part of the larger package, but I listed separate and it's FREE for a while in my store. I pulled out the Holistic Product Rubric and Peer Evaluation Tool because they truly can be used with sooooo many different projects. If you use Project Based Learning in your classroom, I think you'll find these very helpful. Click on the image to link to my store, or pin it and come back for a peek later! 

Thanks for reading, 
~Jen
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Gifted 101-An Overview of Overexcitabilities



In my last post, I mentioned the fact that gifted children have traits that can be awesome and amazing, but they also sometimes have characteristics that can be frustrating and even a little scary at times. Today I'll begin elaborating a bit on what I meant when I typed that. I'm going to start with a phenomenon seen frequently in the gifted population called Overexcitabililties (OEs). When I learned about OEs during my graduate coursework, I was truly fascinated by this information. Though, you should be warned, I am a little nerdy and I DO buy what my husband refers to as "textbooks" (I prefer the term professional learning materials) for fun and read them in my free time. Nonetheless, I think you'll find this information interesting at least!

So, a while ago, there was a psychologist and psychiatrist from Poland named Kazimierz Dabrowski who came up with some theories about human development. Part of his work revolved around what he called "overexcitabilities," which in the most basic sense means that some people tend to experience the world with a heightened sense of awareness, and that their brains react more strongly to these stimuli than your typical brain. The heightened awareness, sensitivity, and stronger reactions happen pretty regularly in people who have overexcitabilities, and OEs seem to occur more frequently among the gifted population (though not all gifted children have them) than your average folks. Most researchers believe that you're born with OEs, so it's important to learn how to help children cope with them as they arise.

Here are some quick things you should know about these intensities:

  • There are five overexcitabilities that Dabrowski identified: Psychomotor, Sensual, Emotional, Imaginational, and Intellectual 
  • People can have all five intensities, but usually some are more pronounced than others
  • There is no 'cure' for these intensities, so not only is it important to help children understand what they're experiencing, it's important to be patient with them as they learn to cope
  • Overexcitabilities are REAL. There are strategies and interventions that people have developed over time to help people deal with their experiences and feelings
  • Living with these intensities isn't always a bad thing! They can lead to success, creativity, and a greater appreciation of the world. 

There are TONS of places you can find more information about OEs. The links below are just a few. In addition, I'll be blogging about each of the intensities in the coming days, so STAY TUNED!  

  • Duke Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP) has a great article here
  • SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) has a more detailed look here
  • Blogger/Presenter/Gifted Person and Professional Ian Byrd (of Byrdseed.com) has a straightforward and succinct post you can find on his site here
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So, you think you know gifted learners?

If you're a teacher, you've probably seen a chart that looks a lot like the one pictured below (link to a copy here) that lists traits of the gifted child compared with the traits of a non-gifted "bright" child. This was a chart (since updated) that was created in the 80's by someone named Janice Szabos for Challenge Magazine.  For some of you, this may have been one of the only things you learned in your teacher education studies about gifted children, period. (Insert frowny face for the widespread lack of proper training and preparation in teacher ed. programs about this population of learners. :( )

Yes, the list may be somewhat helpful for someone entering in to the field of education. When someone first put this neat little page in my hands as a preservice teacher, I felt enlightened! Phew! Good thing I could hang on to this little piece of paper and pull it out when it was time to recommend children for screening. I could definitely brush up on the traits again if I found out that I was going to have a gifted child in my class the next year! Perfect.

Welllllll....maybe not so perfect. Now that I've been to the rodeo a few times (is that how you say it? I know people say, 'It ain't my first rodeo', right??), I have found that this handy little list can actually be a bit misleading--especially if this is the one thing you rely on to tell you about all the behaviors little Johnny might-be-gifted should be displaying.

For example, there is a line that states that the bright child works hard, while the gifted child plays around but tests well. Yes, I believe that the bright child most certainly has to work harder at learning some things that a gifted learner. However, in my years of teaching gifted children, the truth is that they are NOT always good at taking tests! In fact, I would suggest that test taking could be somewhat more difficult for the gifted child, because in some instances, they are able to provide evidence or rationale for more than one correct answer, even though the creator of the test has decided that there is only one.correct.answer.

If you don't have much experience working with gifted learners, perhaps this thought never occurred to you! You're not alone! There are many surprising characteristics that the gifted population has to offer--some are amazingly, incredibly, mind-blowingly awesome, and some of the traits that are inherent to these children can be scary, surprising, and downright frustrating.

In the coming weeks, I plan to elaborate on more gifted traits in a series of posts. I'll write about the traits, perhaps give you an example or two of how these traits could manifest themselves in the classroom, and with any luck, I'll point you in the direction of some websites, books, or other resources that could be helpful to you in your journey.

Thanks for reading :)
~Jen
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And We're Off!

Ok. First day jitters over here. I finally finished my first two products for Teachers Pay Teachers and I could not BE any more excited! They're posted and ready for someone to scoop up! Click on the pictures to get one for yourself!

The free item is a constructed response recording sheet. I plan to write more about this in the coming days, but basically, I made it because my gifted learners needed some scaffolds to help them create stronger written responses. My students had TONS of ideas about how they wanted to respond to questions that I posed following close readings of single or paired texts. But because of the special ways their little gifted brains work, they had a hard time organizing their thoughts in a meaningful way. It worked WONDERS in my classroom. I'll tell you more later about how I actually implemented it with my students.


The other product I made was actually for my daughter. She's working on a science experiment for her school's Science Fair, and I wanted her to have a place to record all of the steps of the Scientific Process as she went through them. Plus, like I mentioned in an earlier post, the version that came home from school was written in the font which shall not be named.  


If you're reading this and know someone who could use one of these products, send them my way! I'm happy to help! 



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Gifted


I taught for 10 years in various elementary classroom settings, but for six of those years, I taught in self-contained classrooms for students who were identified as academically gifted. As a gifted person myself, I was naturally drawn to these sometimes quirky children. And, from my own experiences, I knew the importance of having teachers who understand the special needs that are inherent gifted learners. I was lucky enough to have several teachers in my own educational career who were wise, caring, kind, and adept at understanding how to challenge me, keep me engaged, and push me forward in my own learning. As an adult, I felt pulled towards becoming one of those teachers--someone who helped children reach their full potential. I wanted to be a teacher who recognized the tedium of sitting through hours of "learning" material that they had mastered days, weeks, or years, ago. I wanted to help those students recognize their strengths and use them to build up their weaknesses. I wanted (and still do!) to help a grossly underserved population of students get what
they need in the classroom.

I'm not in the classroom this year, but I feel like I can still have an impact. I can still help these children by advocating for their needs, educating their parents and teachers, and by creating materials for them to use in real ways. I hope to dedicate a series of posts to this mission, perhaps sprinkling in some resources I found helpful while I was in the classroom.

Check back for more in the coming weeks!


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Just say no to Comic Sans


It's snowy outside, my kiddos are enjoying a little screen time on their day off, and I'm CREATING! My daughter has science fair coming up in a few weeks and she started her experiment yesterday. I took a peek at the recording packet that came home, and I just.couldn't. let her use it. Why, you ask? 

COMIC SANS, plain text, no graphics. Need I say more?

I know, it's not about where she records her information, it's about the content and the learning, right?  Of course it is! But, also comic sans. Eew. I can't. 

*To be fair, I think some high school students found/created it, so they probably just didn't know, right? Right?!*

Anyway, it is a perfect opportunity for me to practice my skills, channel some creative energy, annnnd stay in my pjs. 

It's for the greater good, really. 



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Baby Steps...

Well.

Today it happened. I won the Powerball Lottery. Just kidding. That would have been nice, though.

Today I actually created my first product for Teachers Pay Teachers.

I am feeling excited, nervous, anxious, proud, and maybe even a little bit scared. But most of all, I feel encouraged and energized. I am accomplishing something I've talked about doing for several years now. I'm learning new things. A LOT of new things. Many of my google searches are now starting with the phrases, "What is..." and "How do I..." and that's a GOOD thing! I love to learn, and I truly feel that by frequently putting myself in positions where I am forced to learn new things, I'm becoming a better teacher, author, and creator.  I'm experiencing firsthand what it feels like to learn things that are mostly foreign to me. I can reflect on what it is that my brain is doing while taking the new information in, processing it, assimilating it to things I already know, and learning--truly learning--it by putting the information to use. Isn't that what we as teachers hope to help our students achieve?

It's early in the game, but I feel good. I can't wait to get this TpT store up and running, continue this blogging journey, keep learning, and see where all this takes me!







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Trying to Soar...Again

I started this blog several years ago, with the intention of joining some friends who were blogging about teaching or other life journeys. It seemed to me a good way to connect to people with similar interests and goals, a way to share those moments, learning events, or activities to an audience who may eventually use my experiences to help themselves, or perhaps just smile a little when they realize they're not alone in their journey. After all, teaching can be a very tough job, and sometimes it just helps to know you're not the only one dealing with challenges. It all sounded. so. good.

Then life got in the way gave me a reality check. Raising two young children (often alone, because of a husband who traveled frequently for work), teaching full time while earning a Master's degree, and mentoring two teachers...well, you get the idea. I had high hopes, but the reality was that I just didn't have the time (energy?) to add another activity to my daily to-dos.

So the blog just sat frozen in cyberspace (does anyone even say that anymore? Cyberspace? No? Oh well.). No one really knew about it, so it wasn't really a big deal--it wasn't like I was letting my thousands of followers down by abandoning this little page that I had started, right? But every time I saw the little shortcut on my home screen, I felt a little twinge of disappointment that I hadn't been successful at following through on something I started. I'm not the kind of person that does things half-way. I've always been an "over-achiever" (don't get me started on that term--it drives me CRAZY! More about that on another day). When I choose to tackle something, it. gets. done. and it gets done well. This blog though, I just couldn't do it.

Until now.

I think.

This past summer, I moved with my family to a new state. My husband got a new job and we decided to relocate. Part of the agreement we made as we chose to embark on our new journey was that I was going to take a year off from teaching. Part of this decision had to do with the (unfortunate) timing of moving during what I call "hiring season" for teachers, combined with needing to get licensed to teach in a new state, and the desire for me to help my children get settled into their new life. We just thought it would be wise for our family if I stayed home. So far, it's all working out.

Fast forward to today. Kids are settled, boxes unpacked, volunteering hours have been (and continue to be) logged at both of their schools. Everything is GREAT. Except I miss teaching.

I'm missing the camaraderie that came from those shared experiences of complaining together about that long staff meeting after school, or having a meeting with that parent that we were all dreading, or that rare and glorious day when we got to wear jeans to school. I miss the connections with my students--the little anecdotes that they would share with me, the troubles we'd talk through together as they unpacked their things, the excitement they had for learning new skills and content. I miss the excitement that I got from searching and searching and planning and planning for that perfect unit or lesson. I miss the satisfaction and pride I got from being able to help other teachers in their own journeys.

I also love being home, though. I truly believe my family has benefitted from the HUGE reduction in work-related stress in my life. I'm available to them more now than ever-- I am a ROOM MOM! What?! I did NOT see that coming! Not gonna lie-- I am also enjoying the reduction in ironing spraying wrinkle releaser on my work clothes. Jeans are my new best friend. I can wear them whenever I want and I love it. I'm not sure I am ready to get back into teaching just yet. Maybe. I'm not sure.

So for now anyways, how do I find a balance between my lifelong love of teaching and learning, with staying home and providing a good environment for my children and husband? I'm not sure. Yet. But for now, I think I'll give this blogging thing a try. I'm going to push beyond the comfort of my (new) daily routine and put myself out there. And who knows? Maybe I'll make some new connections. Maybe I'll learn a thing or two. Maybe I'll be talking to no one but myself! But that's okay, because I'm learning and I'm growing. And I'm still wearing my jeans. Maybe someday I'll be soaring.

Thanks for reading--
~Jen


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