College Applications – Focus on the Factors You Can Control

By Cassandra Geiger & Jenise Holloway

ctd blog 1About 250 colleges and universities in the United States are deemed “selective.” About 50 colleges have acceptance rates of 30% or less; a few creep into single-digit admittance. These institutions claim higher graduation rates, world-renowned faculty, top facilities and resources, and large endowments.

Students and their families applying for admission to colleges and universities, regardless of the institution, often find the process overwhelming, anxiety provoking and sometimes confusing. The stress increases when applying to “selective” schools, where gaining admission may seem impossible.

The key to keeping a healthy and constructive perspective on the selective admissions process is understanding which factors you, as a student or parent, can control or influence and to what degree. Early identification and acknowledgement of these factors can reduce uncertainty and stress.

Factors within student/parent control

  • The classes you take in high school.
  • The quality of your work on assignments and projects.
  • How you spend your time, whether it’s a job, community service, sports, clubs, etc. Avoid the temptation to add “resume stuff” — take classes for the intellectual challenge and engage in activities for the genuine interest.
  • The research you do to develop your list of colleges and when you do that research. Your chance of success improves when you have the right information early in the process.
  • The timeliness of your applications; Submit all required material – applications and other supporting documents — on or before the due dates.
  • The quality of your application and essays. The earlier you start the process, the more time you have for “quality control.”
  • The number of applications you submit. A well-thought-out and researched list of colleges that includes reach schools, strong possibilities, and “safeties,” can reduce the panicked tendency to apply to as many schools as possible.
  • Your presence on social media and the information you make available for viewing.
  • Perspectives about the process and openness. Keeping an open mind and adopting a long-term view will go a long way toward reducing your stress.

Factors student/parent can influence

  • The attitudes and behaviors you display that distinguish yourself as a learner, not just a student.
  • The alignment between your professed interest and actions. Admission officers will notice if you say your dream is to be a medical doctor, but you are not enrolled in any higher level math and sciences classes. Similar observations will be noted if you profess your dedication to community service, yet have not participated in any activities that support your claim.
  • Your willingness to envision a future at various colleges and universities not just your first choice, the most prestigious or the one your friend likes.  This also requires moving beyond biases and preconceived notions of a college or experience derived from a visit. While bad weather, an unenthusiastic tour guide, or an extremely charismatic admissions rep can leave a lasting impression, none should be the sole factor in deciding whether a college is a good match for you..
  • The impression a student makes on admissions personnel regarding an applicant’s autonomy and independence. If only the student’s parents are asking questions, calling, and completing application tasks, it leaves doubts about whether a student has the capacity for independent long-term engagement.

Factors beyond student/parent control

  • The institutional priorities and needs of colleges. They change from year to year.
  • Size of the institution and the number of acceptances offered.
  • The number of applicants and the talent level (Rank, GPA, extra curricular activities, or other accomplishments) of the students you are competing against.
  • The content contained in your recommendation.
  • The admission representative(s) who read your application.

During the entire process, it’s helpful to remind yourself that multiple factors contribute to a denial or acceptance. Rarely is there one factor at the root of an admissions decision. So focus on the aspects of the process that you can control and make them the best you can. Good luck!

cassandra-profileCassandra Geiger directs the Northwestern Academy, a joint initiative under the Good Neighbor, Great University Program to identify and prepare academically talented, low-income youth from Chicago Public Schools for successful matriculation to selective colleges and universities. She previously worked with the Schuler Scholar Program as a college counselor.

Jenise-Holloway-webJenise Holloway is CTD’s Project EXCITE Advisor. She has spent more than 10 years working with students and their families through early college awareness initiatives, college admissions and retention.

Is it Too Early to Think Career?

By Juliet Frate, NUMATS Coordinator, Center for Talent Development


As the parent of a gifted child, you want your child to develop his or her talents and reach full potential.  So you pay close attention to academic development because you know your child has the ability to earn top grades and scores . . . and potentially to earn a scholarship for a highly selective college or university.  You also pay close attention to personal and social development because you know that how your child thinks, feels, and acts can impact academic success . . . and you don’t want anything holding her back.

But do you ever think specifically about career development?  “Of course!” you say, “That’s why I help my child identify career goals and make sure he takes the courses he will need to make that happen.”  Well, that is career decision-making, often considered one of the latter stages of career development.  Career development, like academic, personal and social development, begins early and takes place over time.

The various career development theories address the ages and stages in which specific tasks or milestones take place.  Generally these involve career awareness, exploration, decision-making, and establishment, with accomplishment of the previous stage being a prerequisite for success moving forward.  And in that the competencies of career awareness and exploration are closely connected to the development of self-awareness, self-concept, and self-knowledge, these competencies clearly play a role prior to the secondary and postsecondary years of education; i.e., prior to career decision-making.

If you want your gifted child to develop his or her talents and reach full potential, consider a stronger focus on career development beginning now! Here are some online resources you can consult to get started:

And stay tuned for our next blog post, on Careers of the Future!

Juliet Frate is coordinator for Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search. She has worked as an educator and researcher for over 30 years.

Best School Year Ever

CTD Susan Corwith

by Susan Corwith, PhD, Associate Director, Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University

Schools should be exciting, engaging places for all students, and parents play an important role in setting the stage for success.

The new school year is a perfect time to do some “homework” of your own to gain approaches and strategies to make this the best school year possible for your gifted child.

The resources identified below are easy to read and focus on three keys to success: establishing trust, engaging in effective advocacy and defining achievement.

Establishing Trust

Establishing positive, trusting relationships with your child’s teachers will have a significant impact on what you are able to accomplish and the success your child will experience in school. The following article from Dr. Christy McGee in Parenting for High Potential offers simple, straightforward advice to starting the year off right.

Engaging in Effective Advocacy

Making sure your child has access to appropriately challenging programs and services typically requires ongoing communication with your school. From identifying specific needs to deciding what is reasonable to ask for, effective advocacy is key. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, Director of the Carnegie Mellon Institute for Talented Elementary and Secondary Students, offers valuable and easy-to-use tips in Working with Your Child’s School found on the Davidson Institute Website:

Defining Achievement

Achievement is more than just grades. It includes building a good foundation for advanced education and learning how to study, persist and strive for excellence. Parents should talk with their children and with educators about what it means to achieve. And, parents need to think about the messages they give to their children both directly and inadvertently. Learn more about defining achievement from Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Director of CTD, in a recent Parenting for High Potential article:

Lupkowski-Shoplik, A. (2010). “Tips for Parents: Advocacy – Working with Your Child’s School.” Retrieved from

McGee, C.D. (January 2013). “Building Trust at School.” Parenting for High Potential, 2 (4), 18-19.

Olszewski-Kubilius, P. (October 2011). “Playing the School Game.” Parenting for High Potential, 1 (2), 2-3.

Ask Paula — Fall 2013

OK.Paula“Ask Paula” is your opportunity to seek advice and find answers about parenting and education.  Here, our gifted expert and CTD Director, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, offers her insights.

Q: How can I prevent my child from being discouraged by a class he doesn’t do well in because he hasn’t been exposed to the information?

Helping a child deal with a less then welcome outcome to participation in a challenging class is one of the most important things we can do as parents–and the sooner the better!!! We are all life-long learners, and being in a situation where the learning is challenging for any reason, is one we all face many times in our lives. The key is developing the mindset to face the challenge and recover from a less than optimal result rather than shy away from such experiences in the future. Carol Dweck, in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, talks about a growth versus fixed mindset regarding intelligence. A growth mindset includes the belief that intelligence is malleable and can grow.

A fixed mindset rests on the belief that you are born with a certain amount of intelligence that is unchangeable. Students with a growth mindset focus more on learning and improvement than grades and outcomes, are more willing to take on academically and intellectually demanding tasks, are motivated and energized by challenge rather than demoralized by it, and are more likely to respond with increased effort to “failure” or set backs. As parents, we want to promote a growth mindset in our children so that they are not discouraged by less than stellar performance. According to Dweck, the kinds of feedback and praise we give children can affect their mindsets. Praise focused on effort and individual improvement and that rewards risk-taking (e.g. taking a course in something you are not sure you will like or will be good at) are conducive to developing growth mindsets, while praise focused on comparisons to other students or grades are not. Parents can also share their own experiences with learning something new or falling short of expected levels of performance and achievement and model ways to handle events that do not “go our way.”

Parents can also help students understand that at some point, one has to make choices about those subjects or activities to invest time and energy in and those that are less important. Not everything that interests a child can be pursued at the same level of intensity and engagement. Parents can directly communicate their expectations, including that less than outstanding performance is perfectly acceptable in areas that are not a top priority or interest or areas that are new.

Do you have your own question for Paula? Let us know in the comments section below, or on Facebook, and watch this space next quarter for Paula’s replies!

Six Steps Toward Better Parenting of Gifted Children

By Audra Nelson, Parent

Audra with her kids

Author Audra Nelson and family

As a parent of three bright, high-energy kids, I spend most of my days feeling tired. Grateful and happy, but tired. There are simply not enough hours in the day. For this reason, I have a love/hate relationship with parenting advice. The advice often sounds great, but just thinking about how to implement it can wear me out.

The Center for Talent Development’s recent Opportunities for the Future Conference was chock-full of fantastic parenting advice. Strangely, though, I left feeling energized. Maybe because it’s summer, and the days truly are longer. Or maybe because the advice seemed too important NOT to implement. Either way, I’m excited to act on the following six ideas shared by keynote speakers Drs. Del Siegle and D. Betsy McCoach.

1. Talk about how talent develops. Don’t let giftedness be the elephant in the room with your kids. Too often, gifted students believe every challenging task is a test of their giftedness, and they live in fear that people will find out they aren’t as smart as everyone thinks they are. Remind children that they have a role to play. It’s not about being gifted; it’s about using your gifts and developing your talent, achieving and learning more each day.

2. Teach kids that mistakes make us smarter. Too often, children buy into the belief that smart kids do well without working hard. We need kids to realize that working hard makes you smart! As you stretch yourself and overcome challenges, you create new pathways in your brain. Every mistake leads you closer to success. As parents, we can help kids build their brains by providing them with enrichment opportunities such as those offered by CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program or Gifted LearningLinks.

3. Avoid -EST words. As adults, we know it’s rarely, if ever, true that we are the best, brightest, fastest or any other -est. At some point, our kids will learn this lesson, too. If they grow up thinking they are the -EST, the reality will come as a shocker. As parents, we can help build kids’ confidence and give them a realistic view of the world by avoiding “-est” words and exposing them to other kids of equal or greater ability. The earlier that students “swim in a bigger pool of talent,” the easier it is for them to develop a mindset centered on learning and growth rather than a performance mindset in which ability is a fixed entity.

4. Give specific, developmental compliments. John Hattie did a meta-analysis of the education research to find out what makes the most impact on a child’s education, and this was it: individual feedback. The next time my daughter asks if I like her drawing, I’m going to stop and really look at it. And instead of saying, “That’s the best portrait you’ve ever drawn,” I will take note of something specific. Maybe I will say, “I really like the realistic colors you’ve chosen,” or “You spent a long time working on that. You must be learning to pay attention to detail.” I will make the time to respond to her in a way that will influence her learning, not just allow me to get back to my agenda.


All family members find topics of interest at the Opportunities for the Future Conference.

5. Document and recognize growth. Showing kids how much they’ve learned year to year gives them a visual of growth and an understanding that growth is not fixed, but malleable. When my son moans and groans about handwriting practice, I can encourage him by showing him the improvement he made from preschool to kindergarten.

6. Advocate, advocate, advocate for gifted education. Research suggests that in a typical 180-day public school year, gifted kids spend nearly 75 days on unnecessary repetition, approximately 80 days on content previously mastered and only 25 days on new material. The research on gifted students’ growth over the course of a year is equally dismal. Gifted kids seem to be learning more during the summer, away from school, than they are learning during the academic year in school. In a system that evaluates teachers on achievement, rather than individual growth, teachers have every incentive to pull up low-achievers and, sadly, to let high achievers be. Gifted education needs parent advocates. Let’s get started today!    

If you attended the conference this past weekend, what were your takeaways? If you didn’t, what do you think of the ideas above?

CTD sponsors the Opportunities for the Future conference every year. The event offers a wide variety of sessions and workshops for gifted students and their parents.

Ask Paula! — Fall 2012

“Ask Paula” is your opportunity to seek advice and find answers about parenting and education.  Here, our gifted expert and CTD Director, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, offers her insights into helping emotionally intense and sensitive children and recommends resources related to grouping high achieving students in a heterogenous classroom.

Q: Hi Paula, our son who is 6 is very bright. He is also very sensitive. He was crying last night because he feels his best friend from Gr. 1 seems to be hanging out with a different boy and my son feels like he is losing him as his best friend. He feels very sad and hurt and is very expressive of his feelings of loneliness, abandonment and loss. Is being this sensitive a trait of gifted boys? I do not see this in my niece who is also gifted. Also, please advise the best way for me to help him. I let him talk through this and listened. Thanks much! -Faiza

Hello Faiza,

Your story about your son’s sensitivity and emotion is not an uncommon one for gifted children. First, as with any personality characteristic, there is a great deal of variability across individuals, even within a group of gifted children. So, it is also not surprising that your niece and son are different. I have two daughters  and one is much more sensitive and intense in her emotional reactions to things (like her mom) than is the other. Many scholars within the field of gifted education believe that a heightened level of sensitivity and more intense emotional reactions are some of the defining characteristics of giftedness, but in my experience, many, but not all gifted children, exhibit these.

It can be challenging as a parent to deal with intense sensitivity on the part of a child. Our immediate tendency is to minimize their feelings and say, “you are over-reacting.” But as a first step, I think it is always important to acknowledge and accept a child’s feelings and it is wonderful that your child is able to articulate his feelings so well and feels very safe in expressing them to you.

Our role as parents is to be emotional coaches, so to speak, guiding our children in understanding their feelings and reactions and helping them to acquire strategies to regulate them. You could consider consulting with a psychologist about ways in which your might respond to your child’s sensitivity  and strategies you might use to help your child dial down the intensity. The goal would be to use and model these strategies with your child so that he can acquire them and use them independently as he develops and matures.

Some resources on the topic of emotional intensity and sensitivity are available on the the website of the Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG–, the website of the National Association for Gifted Children (–parent resources), and the website of the Davidson Foundation ( The books, “Emotional Intensity in Gifted Children” by Christine Fonseca (Prufrock Press, or “Living with Intensity” by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski (Great Potential Press) might also be helpful to you in terms of offering concrete strategies to use.

I always say to my daughter who is very sensitive that it is her best characteristic, enabling her to be so empathic and caring, and also her most challenging, because it makes her feel different and “not normal”. I can tell you from experience though, that if you work over time with your child to help him or her gain understanding of his feelings, emotions and reactions, his sensitivity will be an asset for him in his life.

Q: Can you suggest any good studies or data showing gains (academically or emotionally) made by clustering TAG students into groups? -Wisconsin Talented and Gifted Coordinator

I can recommend two resources for you regarding research on cluster grouping within classrooms. Right now this is a “hot topic” within gifted education as the trend has been to keep gifted children within heterogeneous classrooms rather than put them in pull-out programs or separate classrooms.  Several models for cluster grouping gifted students together within otherwise heterogeneous classrooms have been proposed by a couple of different authors. One of these is by Marcia Gentry and Rebecca Mann, “Total School Cluster Grouping and Differentiation” published by Creative Learning Press. Another is “The Cluster Grouping Handbook. How to Challenge Gifted Students and Improve Achievement for All” by Susan Winebrenner and Dina Brulles, Free Spirit Press. The authors of both of these books explain cluster grouping and cite research studies to support their claims of its effectiveness with meeting the needs of gifted students.

Educators may also be interested in the book “Best Practices in Gifted Education” by Ann Robinson, Bruce Shore and Donna Enersen and published by NAGC. It addresses a variety of gifted education topics, and there is a Flexible Grouping chapter that cites numerous studies as well as provides some good examples and offers best practice recommendations.
Do you have your own question for Paula? Let us know in the comments section below, or on Facebook, and watch this space next quarter for Paula’s replies!

Rainy Day Activity: Heading West with Pecos Bill

by Kaitlyn Crites

Pecos Bill was one of the roughest, toughest cowboys in the entire West! Raised by coyotes who would expect anything less?  Did you know he used a rattlesnake as a lasso? He rode a tornado through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona! Accounts of Pecos Bill are known as tall tales, exaggerated stories passed from one generation to another.

Why should students study tall tales?  These symbolic, insightful tales have survived for centuries, and reflect the cultures, values, mores and beliefs that shaped history.  In addition, they comprise a genre of literature all their own.

One of my favorite tall tales is that of Pecos Bill. There are several books for young people I recommend that cover this legendary figure’s engaging antics and lead to good discussion.  Children PreK through grade 2 will benefit from reading with an adult. Students grades 3 through 5 will also enjoy the books.

Pecos Bill, Colossal Cowboy: The Graphic Novel by Sean Hamann Tulien and Lisa K Weber

Pecos Bill by Steven Kellogg and Laura Robb

Here are a few questions to stimulate discussion with your child post read:

What does exaggeration mean?  Why do people exaggerate when they tell a story?

Do you think that Pecos Bill was really raised by coyotes?  How do you think that story got started?  Do people really believe he traveled on a tornado?

Pecos Bill roamed far and wide (you can pull out a map to track his course.) Why do you think he headed in the direction he did? What was he looking for?

Pecos Bill used a rattlesnake as a lasso. What would you use to make one?

Pecos Bill wore a vest. Why do cowboys wear vests? 

I teach a Saturday Enrichment Program course at the Center for Talent Development titled “Superheroes of the 1800s.” Students learn about the first American adventurers through creative hands-on activities related to geography and language arts. One activity the kids embrace could be easily replicated at home to augment learning about tall tales. We make western vests to get more in tune  with legendary cowboys like Pecos Bill. You and your child will be ready to jump into the saddle after creating this western vest!  And, if someone is searching for a unique Halloween costume this might fit the “Bill”!

Materials Needed:

To have your cowboy or cowgirl create their own western vest, recycle a brown paper bag from your local grocery store, and round up one or more of the following: crayons, markers, colored pencils, paint, glitter, construction paper, stencils, foil, stickers, ribbon, pins, buttons, and/or whatever else is lying around the house that will add color and contrast!

Instructions for Doing the Activity:

  1. If there is writing on the brown paper bag, turn it inside out.
  2. On a flat surface, cut from the center of the bag’s open edge to the middle of the bottom with scissors. Cut out a neck hole on bag’s bottom. Cut armholes in bag’s sides. Trim the front edges to complete the vest.
  3. Decorate your vest however you would like using art supplies found at home.  Almost any item works, so get creative!
  4. Cut vertically along the bottom of the vest to fringe the edges.
  5. If you would like to add rosettes, tear two aluminum foil circles (one smaller than the other) to make each.  Put a small circle on top of a larger one. Then, poke ribbon or yarn through layered rosette and into the vest and knot both ends.
  6. Try on your finished product!  Pecos Bill would be proud!

Modifications for Younger or Older Students:
For younger students, parents can assist in cutting the brown paper bag and additional items that will be added to the vest.

For older students, parents can trace circles on the brown paper bag for their child to cut independently

Additional Resource Link: offers multiple tall tales of Pecos Bill.  Parents can read these stories and have their child act it out while wearing their vests.  For example, taken from Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado, ‘Well, Bill jest grabbed that there tornado, pushed it to the ground and jumped on its back.’  By using his/her imagination, your child can grab a tornado from mid air, push it all the way to the ground, jump on its back, and ride it like wild old Widowmaker

Kaitlyn Crites teaches for CTD’s Saturday Enrichment Program. Visit the Saturday Enrichment Program website for winter courses related to storytelling and adventure. Saturday Enrichment Program is offered at multiple sites throughout Chicagoland.  Other writing and literature courses are available online through the CTD Gifted LearningLinks program.

Race to the Finish: Thinking Like an Olympian

In light of the 2012 Summer Olympics, journalists are exploring what goes into becoming a talented athlete.  A recent article called “Michael Phelps’ Mom: ‘Don’t Push’ Kids Into Sports” discusses parenting talented children.  The star athlete’s mom has been there for him from the beginning, but not in a way that some would expect.

In contrast to other parents, Phelps’s mom has never pushed her son into doing anything he wasn’t enjoying — in her son’s case, swimming.  Even when Phelps’s swim coach charted his potential for the years to come, his mom laughed and responded, “If [Michael still] doesn’t enjoy it, this isn’t going to happen!”  Her perspective is that kids need to enjoy what they are doing above all else.

In the end, talent and training drive athletes, artists and academics to perform or score their personal best.  Observing achievement across fields may lead to essential insights. Along with two leading experts in the field of gifted education, CTD director Paula Olszewski-Kubilius co-authored a paper calling for recognition and support like that used to nurture athletic and musical talent be applied to academics: “The science of optimal performance, applied to traditional academic disciplines as well as sports, music, and other domains, can help educators to meet the specific needs of high-ability students in every field.”

In what ways do you think practice and performance in sports and the arts differ or relate to academic talent development?

The Mother of Invention: Questions vs. Answers

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”  –Plutarch, Greek Philosopher (ca. 46 – 127)

Students are often evaluated based on the answers they know rather than the questions they conceive, an issue recently addressed in SmartBlog’s post called “Asking The Right Questions.”  There seems to be a trend towards memorizing answers to predetermined questions.  It is becoming less prevalent for students to be asking their own big questions.  The focus is on the answers.

Now, this makes sense logically.  Of course the answers are most important, right?  They are what we seek in the end.  But what about the means to the end?  Or, to put it simply, what about the questions?

Summer Program 2008

As we approach the month of August, we are also approaching National Inventors Month.  Remember that formulating questions is a key step in the inquiry process, and inventors became such by asking their own big “What if’s?”

The Teacher Report has some activities for this upcoming month, such as researching past and present inventors, creating an “Invention Box,” and more!

What questions does your inquisitive gifted child ask? What are some other activities you can do to celebrate National Inventors Month? For a list our questions and corresponding course descriptions, download the Saturday Enrichment Program catalog.

The Value of Talent Search

By Dr. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius

In my years of working in gifted education, the questions I get most frequently from parents and educators are related to the Talent Search identification model.  What is it?  Why does above grade-level testing really matter?  What do the results tell us? What do we do with the information gained?  What is the ultimate benefit of Talent Search?

I have conducted research, written numerous articles and designed programs based on Talent Search but I really came to appreciate fully the value when my daughters participated in the program.

My younger daughter had an expansive imagination. She was a good student in core academic subjects, but her passion and greatest strengths seemed to be her creativity and artistic ability. When she took the ACT® in middle school, I was shocked to see that she had a high score in mathematics. I wondered how I, a trained professional in gifted education, had missed her exceptional mathematical reasoning ability.

My daughter’s ACT scores opened up my eyes to her abilities, and I now had a much more complete and accurate picture of her academic strengths. Armed with the knowledge of her abilities, I no longer felt shy about advocating for her at her high school. According to my daughter, one of the most valuable aspects of the Talent Search Testing was the opportunity to take a “high stakes test under low-risk conditions.” I am a stronger advocate now because I have witnessed how Talent Search benefited my children and want to see that occur for many more academically gifted children.

Recently, the National Association for Gifted Children (NACG) devoted a full online issue of its quarterly publication Parenting for High Potential to the topic of Talent Search.  Articles include an overview of Talent Search addressing many of the fundamental questions parents and educators have. The parent perspective is also presented and a third article looks at the educator’s view of Talent Search and how schools and Talent Development Centers partner to benefit gifted students.

I believe all parents and teachers, regardless of their familiarity with Talent Search will find value in these articles and am happy to share the resource. The full publication is available at

CTD Director Paula Olszewski-Kubilius is currently serving a two-year term as president of NAGC.  CTD is one of four regional Talent Search institutions.  Northwestern University’s Midwest Academic Talent Search (NUMATS) covers the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.  The NAGC publication provides information on the other three regional programs and additional institutions that conduct Talent Search. 

Hey Lady, You’re Blocking My View: Reflections of a Classroom Teacher Moving Online

by Anne Stevens

After fifteen years of classroom teaching, I moved some of my favorite content online as a new instructor for Gifted LearningLinks at the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. Now, I am three courses into the experience, and I am starting to see the ways in which I underestimated online learning.

+ Today’s digital tools require a lot less explaining.

Initially, I wrote up extensive directions and step-by-step guides to building new work with GIMP, Prezi, iMovie, etc.  I discovered that students prefer to use the screencast of our live Adobe Connect session instead. The students go back and watch bits of it if they get stuck, and then they are off and running!

A recording of a demonstration in GIMP in Adobe Connect.

+Long Powerpoint lectures in any context are a thing of the past.

Deep discussion of two or three images in a synchronous online meeting with students is more effective than the delivery of a longer lecture. For an asynchronous experience, engaging media like TED talks, documentary films like Art21, or virtual fieldtrips to sites like the Library of Congress or the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum are much more productive and diverse learning experiences that students can do when best fits their schedule.

+ The online classroom needs to be flexible and asynchronous.

I thought, at the start, that regular synchronous meetings were a necessity. While younger students appreciate the regular online sessions, older students prefer the flexibility of independent work. Online learning serves the motivated gifted student, and reinforces her sense of ownership of her education, interests and time. Revision of my curriculum is done to make it more spare and self-sufficient to fit into my talented students’ distributed learning matrix.

+ Peer- to- peer synchronous interactions are valuable.

While the individualized support I provide is important, students are excited by interactions with peers in the online classroom. While some of these students are digital natives, most have had the core of their education in a standard classroom. Their online experiences express the potential of this new world. The more I can fade into the woodwork, the better: students feel independent and build community.

Students screen sharing their work and using chat to discuss it in Adobe Connect.

Asynchronous online courses like those offered by Gifted LearningLinks are, by necessity, a flipped classroom. We describe our courses as facilitated independent study, which they really are. Students study and watch lectures independently, produce projects and take tests, and interact with the instructor for feedback and next steps. The flipped classroom is an exciting place to be, with comments flying during synchronous sessions and peer critique written out with careful, specific language. Asynchronous communication is used as well—email, screencasts and discussion boards—in much the same ways we use it in our adult work lives: to set meetings, to review deliverables, to evaluate and discuss next steps.

Gifted LearningLinks started out as correspondence courses, where all the student work went back and forth through U.S. Mail and teachers and students spoke by phone. Now, with new tools coming online on a weekly basis, we discuss every change in the field as potential opportunities for our teachers and students. I see now that online teachers are made, not born, and the learning community of the future is flexible, with an emphasis on quality communication and connected experiences.

Anne Stevens is the coordinator of Creative Studies at the Center for Talent Development and teaches in the Saturday Enrichment Program, Gifted LearningLinks and Summer Program. Her upcoming GLL Enrichment course, Images + Text: Reading & Writing Workshop begins April 1, and she teaches an honors elective course, Art & Literature of the Graphic Novel for grades 6-12.

A Summer of Change

This post was written by Sabrina Rangi, a 2008 alum of CTD’s Civic Leadership Institute (CLI) and student at Yale University. CLI is a three-week summer service-learning program for outstanding high school students completing grades 9 through 12. The program combines hands-on education, meaningful service, powerful speakers and seminars and an unforgettable residential experience for a summer that students often describe as “life-changing.” This is her story.

I never had to face many urban issues growing up – well, perhaps I did, but in an altered sense of the word. I am from a small, rural, and conservative town in Michigan. Although there was homelessness, poverty, racial and wealth gaps, it was never to the extent seen in large cities and it was something I didn’t really comprehend. As I got older, I began to realize the importance of civic education and became specifically interested in how communities differed from my own. I decided to attend the Civic Leadership Institute the summer after my freshman year of high school. Had I not attended CLI that summer, my understanding of the world would have been stalled. CLI catalyzed the formation of how I viewed the world and the place I sought after within it. I have many memories from my experience in Chicago, but there is one that guided me through high school and especially now, as a student at Yale University.

We had just spent a few days in class learning about homelessness and the complexity of the issue – how homelessness is not an issue that can stand alone, rather, it is composed of layers which contribute to the final societal product. But what I remember the most is going to a homeless shelter for women and children. We were encouraged to meet some of the people and I sat down next to an elderly woman. Without hesitation, she began telling me the story of her boyfriend, the cop, who was traveling the country. He would be back for her, she told me, don’t worry. He had left her only for a few weeks but she knew in her heart that he would come for her. I learned from her frantic demeanor and the state of her affairs that her story was fabricated. It was in that moment I really understood the complexity of homelessness, and in a sense of many urban issues. In this case, I learned that one layer that exacerbates being homeless is untreated mental illness.

This memory has been guiding me as I begin to decide the future of my studies at Yale University. As a freshman at Yale, I have decided to study Psychology and Neuroscience. It is interesting to note that outside my dorm window is Occupy New Haven. What was once a political movement, has become a gathering for the homeless. I am reminded day to day of  the many layers surrounding societal issues, and the work that still needs to be done.

Is your gifted high school student looking to do something meaningful this summer? CTD is now accepting applications for our Summer 2012 Civic Leadership Institute at Northwestern University’s Chicago Loop Campus. In partnership with Johns Hopkins University, Civic Leadership Institutes are also held in Baltimore and San Francisco. Apply now! Apply now!

Ask Paula: Overcoming Perfectionism

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Each month, we ask you to give us your toughest questions about raising a gifted child. Our resident gifted expert and CTD Director, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, offers her insight. This month: How to help a gifted high school student overcome anxiety issues and stay motivated.

Q: My high-school aged daughter is often overly anxious about her performance in her academic classes. A bad grade (for her) on a test, a forgotten assignment, or similar things will send her into a tailspin of fear of failure. Yet, she also has a tendancy to want to coast through “easy” classes that she doesn’t feel are important. How do I find the balance between allievating some of the pressure for success she places on herself, and instilling a solid work ethic? Thanks! -Kristie B.

A: It is not unusual for gifted students to have very strong reactions to perceived “failures” such as a disappointing grade. Many gifted students have received accolades for their exemplary performances and achievements from adults over the course of their school careers and for them, getting high grades and test scores are the norm and what they believe is expected of them. The  pressure that some students may feel to reach always reach a high standard of performance can be psychologically and emotionally wearing and potentially debilitating. A couple of suggestions.

I recommend that you and your daughter read the book, Mindset, by Carol Dweck. You may have read about this topic in the popular press already. The book is an easy read and appropriate for parents, teachers and also adolescents. This will help you and your daughter understand the underlying beliefs that often are behind a fear of failure–specifically, the belief that failure means you are not as smart as you thought. The book makes the argument for acquiring a growth mindset, one that views “failure” as a valuable learning experience. Dweck discusses some of the messages that adults can inadvertently and with the best of intentions, give to children that can undermine their self-confidence and their willingness to take intellectual risks and pursue challenging courses.

Another good resource is the book, Letting Go of Perfect. Overcoming Perfectionism in Kids, by Jill Adelson and Hope Wilson. This book is available from Prufrock Press. Another great book is Peak Performance for Smart Kids. 7 Habits of Top Performers, by Maureen Neihart, also available from Prufrock Press. This book focuses on helping kids acquire mental habits and performance strategies to cope with stress, anxiety and challenge. Neihart suggests actively coaching gifted students to learn relaxation strategies, to set appropriate goals, to deal with negative emotions, and acquire optimistic and hopeful attitudes and perspectives.

I would also suggest talking to your daughter and reassuring her that less than perfect performance is acceptable to you. Emphasize that you would rather see her opt for challenging courses and assignments and earn lower grades than take easy courses and get high grades. Tell her that you are more concerned with the effort she expends than the outcome. When she does experience a disappointing grade, ask her how much she learned, whether she gave it her best effort, and what she might do differently in the future. You might want to talk to her about times in your or her life when effort and persistence paid off or times when you were less than successful but learned a great deal. Many students are helped by reading biographies or autobiographies about gifted individuals. These illustrate that most eminent and gifted individuals had as many so called “failures” and “set-backs” as successes, and that their most distinguishing characteristic was their perseverance.

As adults, we know that motivation, persistence, resilience, and positive coping strategies are just as or more important to success and happiness than high grades, test scores or other achievements. We must place as much importance on helping our children develop these as we do on finding the right school or program for them.

Do you have your own question for Paula? Let us know in the comments section below, or on Facebook, and watch this space next month for Paula’s replies!

Spy Kids: Secret codes for gifted kids

Source: PBS/NOVA

As a kid,  there’s nothing more thrilling than speaking or writing in a language your parents can’t understand. Add the challenge of creating and deciphering your very own secret code, and you’ve got an irresistible and mind-bending activity for gifted students.

Deciphering codes requires looking for patterns everywhere, and it’s somewhat mind-boggling how important this process of searching for and defining patterns and relationships is to everything we do.  It forms the basis of language, mathematics, science, and even art and music.

The starting point for many children are basic substitution codes such as alphanumeric codes (1=A, 2=B, etc.) and Morse Code.  Studying and “playing” with these codes can help younger children develop their language, reading, and spelling skills as well as their problem-solving strategies.

Studying codes is also an excellent example of an activity that can fulfill the need that many gifted students have for tasks that increase in complexity the deeper they dig!  Codes are at the heart of the concept of algebraic functions in mathematics; the development of scientific explanations and predictions based on patterns of observations in the natural world; rhythm and pitch in music, geometric transformations and the organization of space in art, computer programming, and genetic sequencing.

Maybe your gifted child has already begun “speaking in code.” Where do you start in helping your child cultivate their own code books (even if they don’t tell you what it means)?

Here are some  resources to help you keep up with your child’s secret code enthusiasm:

Learn about the fascinating history behind famous secret codes:

A do-it-at home activity for making your very own secret code:

How to write in super-secret invisible ink:

Real World Secret Codes:

Decoding Ancient Languages: Hieroglyphs:

Patterns and Fibonacci Numbers in Nature:

Decoding DNA:

For secret agents looking to create and break a variety of challenging codes, visit .

Hungry for more? Check out our new summer Math Studio course, “Codes and Spies”,  which integrates math problems and concepts with fun, critical thinking activities like solving puzzles, finding patterns in music, and building a Rube-Goldberg machine. “Codes and Spies” is for students completing Kindergarten through Grade 3, and will be offered afternoons in Chicago and Skokie, IL on July 9-13. Find more information here.

Has your child caught on to the “spy” phenomenon? What is their favorite secret code?

Insatiable Minds

Any parent of a gifted child will tell you that their kids’ insatiable curiosity can be both amazing and overwhelming. It can be a challenge for a busy parent to ensure that the child’s hunger for learning is met. What to do?

 We’ve gathered some  links to child-friendly resources parents can use to feed those sponge-like minds! Each has been tested by CTD Research Director (and parent to gifted children), Dana Turner Thomson.

1. The Annenberg LearnerThis free, monthly newsletter is filled to the brim with timely historical facts, current events, and fun science articles, like “Why Snowflakes Have Six Sides.”

2. Let’s Explore: All kinds of hands-on, educational activities for big imaginations.

3. Here There Everywhere:  A current events site with stories for and about kids. “I often print out an article for them that I know they will enjoy and leave it by their breakfast bowls so they can ‘read the paper’ while having breakfast,” Dana says. (Check out this piece about two Canadian teenagers who sent a Lego man into space, while still managing to finish their homework.)

Looking for more? Stay tuned. We’ll continue to post resources here on Talent Talk, as well as on our Facebook page and on Twitter.

How do you feed your gifted child’s insatiable curiosity? Feel free to share links and resources that you enjoy.

Defining “Gifted” From School to School: “Ask Paula”, February 2012

Each month, we ask you to give us your toughest questions about raising a gifted child. Our resident gifted expert and CTD Director, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, offers her insight. This month: How to motivate a gifted learner to try new things, and educating children who are both gifted and have learning disabilities.

Q:  How does one get a school to take learning disabilities seriously in a gifted child who is performing above grade level? Also, how do you get help for a child who is gifted at one school but doesn’t make the “cut” for the gifted program at another school? -Pamela 

A: Getting detailed information about the achievement of your child, relative to his or her advanced abilities, is one of the ways to bring attention to the possible existence of a learning disability along with giftedness. It is this mismatch between ability and achievement that defines learning disabilities. The mismatch may not be obvious for a child who is performing above grade level expectations in the classroom. Typically, you would need an evaluation by a psychologist who is trained in giving cognitive and psychological assessments to children, is experienced in reading and interpreting patterns of test data, and is knowledgeable about the complexities involved in working with gifted, learning disabled children. In your case, a psychologist who is knowledgeable about twice-exceptionality is especially critical because above grade level performance is not typically associated with a learning disability, but can be for a highly gifted child. A battery of tests may be costly and takes time, but could provide the best evidence about the existence of both giftedness and a specific learning disability. The website of the National Association for Gifted Children has some position papers on twice-exceptionality that might be helpful to you and also to teachers and administrators at your child’s school.

Regarding the issue of the changing definition of giftedness across schools, this is very frustrating. Because the field does not have a single definition of giftedness and because schools can vary so much in the characteristics of the children they serve, this is an all too common experience for families of gifted children. I would recommend that you provide some evidence of what your child was able to do within the gifted program at his or her previous school, including a recommendation or evaluation from the gifted program teachers–as well as detailed information about the curriculum. The key here is to demonstrate that despite different entrance criteria, your child is well suited for the gifted program in the new school. If you child was successful in an advanced class in the previous school, information about the class and his or her performance might help administrators at the new school determine that their gifted program is also a good fit for your child. You might also ask whether the new school would be open to a “trial placement” in the gifted program, meaning letting your child into the program and assessing, through his performance, if it is a good placement for him or her. A final possibility is to submit or obtain through private testing, any additional information about your child’s abilities or achievement that would help with a placement decision.

Q: How do you motivate a child who is profoundly gifted in one area to still put in effort in weaker areas or areas of less interest? -Shannon 

A: I think the best way to motivate a child to work in his or her “weaker” area is to show him the importance of that area for high level performance in his or her area of strength. So, if you child is very interested in math and science, and does not like to write, talk to him about how scientists have to write journal articles and grant proposals and how important writing is to being a successful scientist. Similarly, if you child is interested in art, but says he or she hates math, show him the connection between the two–perhaps through reading about architecture or talking with an architect. If your child loves to write creatively and complains about studying math or science, show him or her examples of fiction that combine science and math with amazing stories. The best approach here is to help children see the connections between various disciplines and to stress, through examples of people or various jobs, how individuals who are creative producers or innovators need to be well versed in multiple disciplines.

Do you have a question for Paula? Leave it in the comments below, or on our Facebook page.

Selective Achievers: When It’s OK to Not Take That Extra AP Course

By Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Director, Center for Talent Development

Parents often have questions about charting an appropriate educational path for their gifted child. A recent article from Psychology Today offers one approach for parents to consider that differs from the idea of taking as many advanced courses in as many subject areas as possible. It takes into account a student’s passion and particular talents:

I allowed my daughter to opt out of  AP English her senior year–to drop down one level–so she could invest in her art classes as she prepared her art portfolio for college admissions. I think students and parents have to make choices about how students invest their time and energy. I am more in favor of this approach when a student shows a persistent interest and passion in an area–e.g. has been taking art classes and is invested in an art career–than a student who wants to opt out because of a new found interest or to do something they have not been studying seriously for a while.

The bigger issue is whether high schools allow students to specialize early–to take more classes and extra-curricular activities in areas of interest and passion–rather than opt for well- roundedness and being good at everything–being generalists. Also, there is the question of whether or not high schools allow kids to have more electives–so as to dabble in more subjects. It is great if high schools allow kids who have passions and demonstrate consistent interest and achievement in an area to specialize. Also, it benefits other kids who do not have well identified interests and passions to take more electives–to enrich their school programs with options and opportunities.

It must be said that this drive to take all advanced classes is fueled by colleges and universities who stress grade point averages across all subjects and class rank for admissions and are impressed by the number of AP classes prospects take. Students end up feeling like they have to play this game for college admissions, and this is a consideration in making course choices.  There are downsides to being selective –loss of placement at prestigious, selective schools,  and the potential loss of  certain scholarships.

I do not think that all gifted kids are naturally driven to pursue the highest levels of study in all areas as this author suggests. Some are, but many are selective achievers–striving only in areas they like or are especially interested in. There is a new article in the Journal of Advanced Academics on selective achievers and if they can be distinguished from under-achievers on certain characteristics (they could not).

Whatever the decision, it should be the right one for your child. So, tell us in the comment section: Has your child had to choose between pursuing a passion and tackling extra challenging coursework? How did you handle it?

Do Test Scores Change With Age? “Ask Paula”, January 2012

Happy early New Year! We’re kicking of 2012 right with a brand-new installment of “Ask Paula”, where CTD Director Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Ph.D, answers your questions about gifted education.

Q: When my child was in 1st grade, she was tested for participation in CTD and she qualified in all areas. She has enjoyed her many CTD experiences since then. She is now in 4th grade, and her CogAT scores were far lower than those considered in gifted range (she was in the 70th-80th percentile). I know last month you discussed the definition of gifted, and I’m wondering if giftedness changes over time. Also, should we continue taking advantage of the CTD opportunities, even if her school considers her to be far from gifted? -Shannan Y.

A: Something to keep in mind is that children are not consistent test takers. Younger children are especially prone to fluctuations in their test scores as they are more easily affected by fatigue and environmental factors. There is some error in all test scores and statisticians assert that it is more accurate to view “true” test scores as lying somewhere within a given range of scores rather than a single point.High test scores are not a fluke; they indicate that a child has exceptional ability or knowledge, depending on what the test is measuring. Low test scores, especially when they were previously higher, may not be representative of a child’s ability. With regards to testing, gifted specialists like to say there are no “false positives” (children who obtain high test scores and are not gifted) but there are “false negatives” (children who obtain low test scores but are gifted).

If your child is thriving in her placement, I would not worry about one test score. I would look at other indications of her learning such as performance on achievement tests or school achievement or even those things she does at home (e.g. what she reads or projects she initiates). The CoGAT is a group test and the test that your child took in first grade through CTD was individually administered. Some testing specialists believe that group tests underestimate gifted children’s ability.

Also, as children develop, their abilities tend to differentiate, meaning that they tend to show relative strengths and weaknesses across different areas, e.g high mathematical reasoning ability and lower verbal reasoning ability or vice versa, and this means their abilities may not be apparent in global ability tests scores. So, tests that measure sub areas like mathematical reasoning and verbal reasoning (such as the EXPLORE, the ACT and SAT) are more helpful in terms of giving information that is useful for appropriate school placement. For now, I would recommend that you view the CoGAT score as one piece of the puzzle and gather more information as your child progresses though school. I would also recommend you continue to enrich your child through CTD or other outside of school programs and at home.

Do you have a question for Paula? Post it here in the comments section, or on our Facebook page.

Your Move: Chess as Curriculum?

 New York Times: Maybe Teach Them Math, Science, and Chess

This report by the Chicago News Cooperative for the New York Times shows that the enjoyment of chess is not limited to boys-only clubs in high school, but that it can be a valuable learning tool, particularly for young students. Exposure to the game at a young age can help students develop “discipline, analytical thinking, time management, focus, and patience”. These are crucial habits for gifted learners with cognitive ability that may arrive ahead of their ability to sit still for long periods of time.

There are other benefits as well. Gifted girls who may shun the game in middle school can instead foster a lifelong love of chess with the influence of female mentors like grandmaster Susan Polgar, who took up chess at age 4.

“My dream is to get in front of education decision makers and convince them to make chess part of the curriculum for K through second grade. That’s when thinking patterns and habits are formed. It should be mandatory, like physical education,” says Polgar.

Do you think chess should be mandatory in schools? Has your child benefited from learning chess?

If your gifted 5th or 6th grader has an interest in chess, logic, and game theory, consider enrolling in the Saturday Enrichment Program (SEP) course, “Recreational Math”, which will incorporate strategies and mathematics of two-player games of perfect knowledge such as chess, go, nim, and mancala. Students will explore, develop and employ strategies and higher level reasoning skills as they evaluate their alternatives and discover cause and effect relationships. The course begins January 14, 2011.  Sign up here!

Building the Scaffolding for Creative Development

by Anne Stevens

How often do children talk in the media about how parents can support them in their efforts to develop expertise? This recent article in Forbes generated some interesting discussion here at CTD:

The points this young developer makes are all related to the delicate act of “scaffolding” a gifted child’s development. A scaffold is a temporary structure: you roll it up when it’s needed and then roll it away when it is not. “Scaffolding” allows the child to feel supported in his/her efforts, but not pressured to develop his/her work to your expectations. Knowing when to “roll away” is a demonstration of trust to your child.

As one of our staffers pointed out, it is important to recognize that while engaging in these sorts of self-directed projects, the child is often in what Czikszentmihalyi described as “a state of flow,” where he/she is fully engaged in the moment. This state itself is highly motivating all on its own. Allow and encourage your child to reap the rewards that comes with this state of flow, rather than ‘pulling them out of the moment’ by introducing external pressures or distractions.

The ‘flow’ is inevitably accompanied by bumps, bruises and false starts. A brief article like this one does not address the likely cul-de-sacs and wrong turns D’Alosio took in his path to his app release, or the doubts that he or his parents might have had along his long and intense path to programming. Steady parental support and trust through an intensive learning process yielded an engaged and self-assured young adult.

What about in a family, unlike Nick D’Aloisio’s, where parents do have background in their child’s area of interest? How might parent expertise contribute to creative development? A colleague pointed us to an article in the International Journal of Learning and Media about a detailed qualitative study of eight young technology users with parents working in Silicon Valley. These tech-savvy parents all acknowledged their children’s developing expertise by focusing their support on scaffolding through labor (claymation, anyone?), resources, and non-technical consulting. ‘Teacher’ as a role was identified as something that happened early and gradually shifted to Field Consultant, Project Collaborator, Learning Broker, or Resource Provider. The parents in the study carefully describe making space for their kids to develop individual identities in a technologically rich environment.

As a parent myself, I liken the thousands of hours this boy spent teaching himself the software and programming languages he uses to the hours my daughter spends drawing and reading. As parents, we can reflect quietly on where this might all lead…but, according to Nick D’Aloisio, we should keep our hopes and aspirations for our kids to ourselves. “Scaffolding” is a useful metaphor for effectively supporting our gifted students: provide support, resources, and a listening ear, and gently move away to savor their independent learning when they signal they are ready.

How do you help your child(ren) build scaffolding for their creative pursuits?

Anne Stevens is a visual artist with an MA in Visual Studies from UC Berkeley. She has developed the Creative Studies program exclusively for the Center for Talent Development’s Saturday Enrichment Program, as well as an online curriculum for CTD’s Gifted LearningLinks Program.