. A lot of people think I am extremely creative - especially since I am gifted and work exclusively with gifted kids. But I'll let you in on a little secret. I don't think I am creative at all - at least not in the originality realm.
Working with gifted students definitely keeps me on my toes. If you are not at the top of your creativity game, the boredom rate goes sky high with this population!
Now, I'm sure there are lots of ways to get and stay creative, but I am going to talk about how I do it to keep things fresh with middle-school gifted students.
It all comes down to exposure. My creativity comes from piggy-backing off of original ideas and creating more unique and personalized ideas stemming from the original one. I am not much of an original person, but give me an idea and I will run with it!
When I say, "exposure," I mean it in the sense of opening oneself to new experiences. I do this in many ways. One of the main ways I get ideas to spark my creativity is to expose myself to various forms of media. Reading is always a must, and I read EVERYTHING!!! I read cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, anything I can get my hands (and eyes) on. I used to read a lot of fiction, but now, I am reading a lot of non-fiction because it seems a bit more relevant to me and my students. I keep a chart of books I am reading on my classroom door so my students see I am an avid reader even as an adult. I am currently reading The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene. I also read blogs and especially social media such as Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.
My students tell me Facebook is for old people (me), but little do they know, that's where I get a lot of my fun and engaging ideas. You know those little annoying videos that are scattered throughout your feed? I watch them. Those funny quotes/ posts from sarcastic friends? They turn into thought-provoking and often entertaining discussion prompts.
It doesn't end with social media and reading. Video tutorials from YouTube, documentaries, and even trending TV shows help me connect with what is relevant in my student's lives. I will even go as far as online gaming to understand the words my students use and use the content to engage my students into the activity I have planned for them. Fortnite, Overwatch, and Clash of Clans, anyone?
What is probably the most influential way I get exposure to create new lessons, have deep discussions, and build respectful relationships with my gifted students is exposing myself to real life. It is far more interesting than fiction and is always in "real-time." Seeing exhibits at museums, visiting parks to look at concrete creations for children to climb on, nature reserves, even car dealerships (that one might be more for my shopping enjoyment, but hey...) provide the inspiration for me to piggy-back off of existing ideas to create an exceptional and extraordinary climate and culture within my classroom of gifted students.
5 interesting (well, at least I think they are interesting) things about being a Gifted Education Specialist
Okay, please disregard the fact that it has been 4 super-busy years since my last post. It looks like I left off on a bit of a sad note, so I wanted to reintroduce my blog in a more fun and interesting way. So here are 5 things I find very interesting about being a Gifted Education Specialist in a middle school.
1. You have the weirdest and most amazing conversations every day. Seriously. I have had conversations with middle-school gifted students that I could never dream of happening. One day, I had a casual conversation with a 7th grader about this generation's social upbringing being primarily impacted by John Ratzenberger. On another day, I am in a heated debate on whether or not the Illuminati are real and defending the fact that I am not a part of this organization sent here to distract the gifted students from further research and infiltrating the Illuminati compound and their secrets. Every day brings about new fusions of topics for me. It definitely keeps my mind sharp to be around such creative thinkers!
2. I get to teach the coolest topics and random facts within units are always welcome! Right now, as I write, my young 6th-graders are developing websites tailored to their unique personalities. Just before this class, I was neck deep in discussions with my 7th-graders about their Passion Projects (an in-depth project of the topic of their choice). We were talking about writing a thesis that supports a claim on Sasquatch, whether or not dark chocolate was really better for you than milk chocolate, and holograms. The interests of these 7th-graders runs the full spectrum of knowledge! This afternoon, I will go into deep discussions with my 8th-graders on the various court cases they are studying that influence adolescent opinions in our country, and believe me, I have very opinionated kiddos with me!
3. The art. Seriously. It is either amazing or hilarious! Either way - it's great! One would think by the time a kid is in middle school, they don't make those cute pictures for their teachers. WRONG! The only difference is that the pictures are pretty recognizable, and can cover any topic that may not be related to the love and kindness you share with your student. I posted a few special pieces for your viewing pleasure!
4. Free therapy! Being a gifted adult and former gifted child, I see myself in all these kiddos in some way, shape, or form. I remember the high points of my gifted programs I was fortunate to be a part in and pull those qualities into my classroom. I also remember the self-doubt and insecurities, perfectionistic tendencies that did more harm than good, and the way I was treated as a gifted child from my friends, peers, teachers, and other adults. I remember it all and I make sure that I develop and amplify the good stuff and protect them as much as I can from the bad. Being gifted isn't always a "gift."
5. This list would be a joke if I didn't mention the kids themselves. Do you have any idea what it is like to see the future? I am not a clairvoyant, but working with and learning from this unique population of amazing students shows me that we are in for BIG things in the coming years! Don't be fooled into thinking that all gifted kids are the same. Each one is amazing and the potential I see is off the charts! I may have featured student bloggers in my upcoming posts to demonstrate the epic job I have!
Thanks for reading!~ It feels good to be back in blogging!
It's funny. Whenever I see former students out in public and they get a little shy - I get it, I am a teacher and I am supposed to live at school, why would they see me at the store? - I tease them and tell them, "Don't go and get shy on me! Don't act like we didn't spend 174 days together!" And they smile and giggle and hopefully I get a hug or a "Hi Mrs. Wittmus" out of it - maybe I'll get a quick run-down on what's going on in their lives now that they have moved on from my class.
I say 174 because that was the number of student school days in my district's calendar year. I think it has gone up, but for the longest time, it was 174 days.
I lost a student this past June. I lost him to cancer. I've had hundreds of children enter my classroom on that first day and leave the 174th day hopefully a year wiser, stronger, more compassionate - because that's how they leave me at the end of those 174 days. Each and every child has left some sort of indelible mark on my soul, some marks are stronger than others, but every mark, I believe, has made me a better teacher, a better human.
Trevor's mark was more impressionable than most. He was the "total package," that dream student teachers pray to have in class. He was gifted academically and emotionally. He was happy, witty, caring, and helpful. His desk was even clean! He made it a personal mission that no student with special needs be left out at recess or anything that involved teaming up with others. He brought forth amazing entertainment and humor as the Master of Ceremonies at the annual school talent show, and he took this humor and talent with him into the drama setting in middle and high school.
I ran into him a few years later after he had left my elementary school. It was at the local ball fields and my crazy toddler daughter had an agenda of her own, making it impossible to enjoy my oldest son's practice. Out of nowhere, Trevor bounded up, gave me a hug-saying he was helping out at the concession stand and was taking a break-and would I like for him to take my daughter over to the playground so I could watch my son? That's just the tiniest bit of who he was - taking a break to give me a break - and he was thrilled to do it!
Throughout his treatments, he remained positive. He focused his energy on helping others, in true Trevor style. Throughout his treatments and suffering, he collected teddy bears to give to children with cancer at the hospital to give them comfort throughout their treatments - again, thinking of others over himself - the pure essence of this child.
To the average student, that is FOREVER. To me, it was a blink and a memory. I don't know why he had to get cancer. I don't know why he had to lose his battle, but I am a firm believer that all things happen for a reason. I can't imagine who I would be without his presence and role in my life. Even more, I can't imagine how much dimmer so many lives would be had he not touched them with his positive energy and humor.
Many people say that the world is a sadder and darker place because of the passing of amazing people like Trevor. I disagree. It is a lot brighter because he was here, he was himself, and he taught so many.
It is already day 13 of this new school year and I must get back to the important task of teaching and influencing tomorrow's youth, but more importantly, I must learn from them to be better as a whole. It's reciprocal.
I am forever grateful to be a teacher. I am forever grateful to have had Trevor in my life.
Yesterday I was enjoying my time with my class when I had a teacher panic moment. Right now, teachers are under a microscope with laser-like focus on teacher-accountability/teacher-quality/data-driven lessons and curriculum manufactured to drive student learning as measured by higher performance on high-stakes exams. It was the last ten minutes of the hour and my principal came in with some new equipment (yay!) for my classroom. Honestly, I was happy because the gifted classroom is usually not at the top of the purchasing list - but I digress. Anyway, the panic hit me when he left the room. To someone who does not know what goes on in a gifted classroom, particularly MY gifted classroom, it may have looked like, well...recess - free time - social hour - you get the idea.
I immediately began thinking of reasons why my class looked the way it did - after all, they weren't all silently reading at their tables. They weren't all silently tapping away on keyboards doing research. I was not at the forefront of the classroom at my lectern lecturing on critical thinking in forensic science. There was a lot going on - I mean a lot!
We had just finished listening to a thirty-minute career and research presentation on Aerospace Engineering from a student who barely spoke ten sentences together all year long - and it was AMAZING! Who knew he had so much to say? He even had an interview with a NASA aerospace engineer as one of his sources!
We were also loud - thank goodness I don't have classrooms on either side of me because there always seems to be heated and passionate discussions or raucous laughter going on. I do, on occasion, get the SRO, whose office is above my classroom, to come down and get onto my students about their volume - sorry Deputy Neupert!
But as I go back to the snapshot in my memory of what was going on at the moment when my principal walked in, it became clear to me that my dream was coming true. True, he may have seen students scattered across the four corners of my classroom - two students on the floor under a table, a group of students gathered at a table on laptops and iPads using a backchannel to communicate and laugh, students digging through and playing with Legos, another coloring a picture, and a group of students gathered around my desk laughing while I was sitting with my feet up on my desk. Damning evidence? Nope. Not in my classroom.
What I saw was two gifted students who alone, isolate themselves from others in school because of their abstract views on life and everything adolescent, yet they found each other in my classroom and were under the table privately talking, socializing, and building a relationship. The group of students using technology to communicate are known in their challenge classes as the quiet and reserved ones, yet are extremely hard to stifle in my classroom. Ideas, creativity, and laughter come from their table on a daily basis. They look forward to gathering in my class and collaborating about the daily topic.
My student coloring at a table was coloring a logo he designed himself and was putting the finishing touches on it for his research presentation on college football vs. the NFL for next week. I saw my students using Legos to build a robot and problem solve a programming glitch that kept it from propelling a ball at the speed they desired and were running some trials, and the students gathered around my desk? They were telling me about how hard it was that I was their third - yes, third - gifted education teacher in one year, and it was this time last year when they were told they would be getting a new teacher (me). They needed reassurance in knowing I would be there for them. They were telling me of their "trust issues" and how some teachers didn't understand them. They listened to me prattle on about how I live with my idiosyncrasies and were relieved and amused because many of them have similar eccentricities and mannerisms. They know I can relate and help.
No, my classroom is not recess or free-time for the gifted students, nor do I stand at the front of the room commanding attention. It is a delicate blend of harmony, dysfunctional opportunities, teachable moments, and student-led learning. All in all, it is the beginning of the ultimate vision I have for my students; a place where they feel safe to be themselves until they are comfortable to own it outside my classroom doors. A place where they enjoy learning and the learning does not look like what goes on in a traditional classroom A place where I facilitate the process of learning, not dictate the content to be learned.
Yes, the regular education teacher of fourteen years in me panicked, but I realize through reflection and deep breaths that my students are doing just fine - and so am I.
It is now fourth quarter here, and my teacher mind starts to think, brainstorm, and plan for next year. What great units can I create? How can I challenge my already-gifted students? Since my middle school gifted-education class (it is called SPECTRA in my district) is merely an elective (insert sarcasm here), I talk to my students about how they would like their SPECTRA class to look in the upcoming year. Many tell me to omit the seriously crazy and in-depth independent research project - sorry kids, not going to happen. Others tell me they need more puzzles and projects that let them work and create with their hands and not use sooooooo much technology - that, I can adapt into my units as a student choice, though the technology isn't going anywhere. Some want more time to work in teams and others want to do more work themselves. I run the entire spectrum of gifted personalities in my classes, and I am sure to meet many more amazing personalities in the coming years!
What really got under my skin this week, and hurt my sensitive feelings, was when one of my students was talking about next year and said, "You know Mrs. Wittmus, your class is really just a blow-off class. That's why I take it." I guess I must have looked shocked and hurt (and I was definitely feeling those things), because he quickly backtracked and said he liked me as a teacher because I am super-nice, and he liked my class because it was fun and really easy - therefore, a "Blow-Off" class. He was just being honest, ya know.
His words felt like a slap across the face - I have spent so much time and energy painfully choreographing every unit, every lesson, every goal and objective to not only align with NAGC standards, but to provide challenges to a population of students who don't regularly see challenge in their general education classes. I painstakingly designed my assignments and projects to give my gifted students what they needed - a learning experience, dammit!!!
Now, I am an internalizer and I mull over daily details and conversations that don't sit right with me - sometimes wondering what I could have done differently. I replay them over and over in my head and try to find solutions to give me peace - and maybe a good night's sleep. As I processed our conversation and his words, I began to reflect - because in the fourth quarter of the school year (or at any time, for that matter), you can't plan for the next year unless you reflect on what you have already done.
Reflecting on my first year as the gifted education specialist at my middle school, I had to reflect less on the big picture of the year as a whole this time, and clearly play and focus on the highlight reel of this particular student's journey in my class.
He came to me as a quiet student who liked to fly below the radar. He didn't seek attention for himself - just wanted to be left alone so he could play games on his phone. Some of his teachers were surprised he was gifted and came to me for verification of this fact - to which I whole-heartedly assured them he was and to not to let him fool them! Anything I asked of him, he'd shrug his shoulders and say, "I don't know," hoping to get out of answering questions or even making eye contact with me.. However, thinking through the passing months, I have seen him race others to my class to be the first one there and jump into whatever project he was working on at the time, help and mentor younger gifted students in his class (I have split 7th/8th & 6th/7th grade classes - SIGH - I know, but that is for another blog post). When he earns a great grade, he is loud and shows everyone, "BOOM! In your face!" - we are also working on humility and graciousness. This student may underachieve, but turned in crazy great work on projects where he got to choose the topic and he comes to me for clarification and guidance on many of the projects we do.
More than anything, he is one of the wittiest and silliest students I have - giving me great joy and laughter on a daily basis.
Now, I am not touting that he has done a "one-eighty" or has "come full-circle" or that I am some sort of teacher extraordinaire - I am so very, very far from that! We still have days where I have to sit with him almost the full period to keep him from disengaging. There are still assignments that are returned to him to be redone because he just did the bare minimum and wanted to get it over with. I will not accept less than his best - and he is learning that.. He still tests his limits with me and my expectations of him, but we do have such a good time together! As I plan for next year, he is one student I am especially looking forward to working with even more.
My class is a "Blow-Off" class? If all blow-off classes can make gifted kids think, try, ask questions, get frustrated, open up, and excited to be there, then yes. My SPECTRA class definitely IS a "Blow-Off" class and all gifted students should take it.
I am a little late in starting this - This is my first year working solely with gifted students. I have worked with gifted elementary students within my general education third-grade classroom for the past eleven years and after taking a leap of faith, I have found myself as the singleton Gifted Education Specialist in a middle school. It's been a tough transition - going from a classroom of adorable, loving, and happy eight-year olds to multiple classes of hormonal, super-excitable, brooding (you name it, I deal with it) sixth through eighth graders - and they are ALL gifted. YIKES!
I wanted to create this website as a resource for my students and their parents, as well as provide them a place of support and understanding. There is so little support for gifted individuals compared to the rest of the student population. In my first year already, I have had to advocate for their rights and on many days, I feel like no one hears me.
I also wanted to create this site as a resource for all teachers - not only the ones for gifted students. Chances are, if you teach gifted students, you already get their plight. I want this site to help combat the misconceptions teachers may have of gifted children and hopefully help them provide a better education for the gifted students in their classrooms. Light PD, if you will.
Finally, I want to do more than repost the great articles and blogs I read. I want to contribute, so through this blog, I want to share what I do in my classroom with my gifted students. Keep in mind I am a teacher, so I steal a lot. Many ideas come from Pinterest and other teachers; however, a lot of these ideas morph when I apply them to my gifted kiddos. Here, you will see what takes place in my world!
I am a former gifted child/student and currently a gifted adult and Gifted Education Specialist in the best middle school in the world!