How AI is Helping All Students with Learning Differences

Matthew Lynch, author of the Tech Edvocate article, “Using Artificial Intelligence to Help Students with Learning Disabilities Learn,” is enthusiastic about the way AI can help students with learning differences. He points out that there are multiple and distinct ways that AI “can help students to better understand independent of teacher instruction.”

The first way is that material can be presented in a more understandable way so that difficult reading material can be simplified, allowing “students with learning disabilities to better related and engage with material.”

Second, “artificial intelligence helps educators identify learning disabilities.” According to Lynch existing testing often makes it difficult at times to identify students with dyslexia and dyscalculia but “new artificial intelligence systems are being developed to help teachers administer more sensitive testing.”

Third, as artificial intelligence continues to be developed and refined, the goal of utilizing the students’ mastery of a concept allows a student to receive reliable and timely feedback – based on their own performance – and move through material at his/her own individual pace.

Fourth, with the increased amount of data that can be collected, teachers will have the ability to evaluate classroom strengths and challenges as well their own. And in particular, the strengths and challenges of students with learning differences will be better identified and addressed.

With all these ways that AI can help students with learning differences, it is exciting to know that Quest Academy in Palatine, Illinois, began this school year with an educational partnership with Microsoft – and plans already in place to infuse AI into their entire curriculum – “the first elementary school in the U.S. to develop an AI curriculum.” What is learned about AI in the coming months at Quest will be so valuable to all educators, parents and all students, especially those who are gifted with learning differences (2e – twice-exceptional) who will so benefit from the personal assistance of AI to help them engage with and better understand whatever material or instruction they encounter in school and at home.

Help Your Gifted/2e Child Manage Stress and Social Challenges with These Apps!

If you are on any social media platform these days, it’s hard not to notice the glowing descriptions that some parents post about their family life, their children and their accomplishments. But it is also an inescapable reality that many of our gifted and 2e students are dealing with an unwelcomed array of emotional and social issues at school and complex and deeply problematic family issues at home.

Fortunately, there are some apps available to help all children – and adults – deal with the heavy burden of stress that they might feel at times and the social difficulties that our gifted and 2e children may experience as they grow up.

One app, according to the Melbourne Child Psychology webpage, is called the Smiling Mind. This app, which is good for the whole family, is designed for different age groups; 7-11, 12-15, 16-22 and adults. Common Sense Media, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/smiling-mind, describes it this way: “Content-rich meditations with something for everyone.”

Another app worth mentioned by the Melbourne Child Psychology is Conversation Builder, which Common Sense Media describes, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/conversationbuilder, “Great practice for kids who struggle with social exchange.”

A third and final app to consider is My DPS (Digital Problem Solver). This app is designed to help students younger than high school to remember “strategies for dealing with anxiety, sadness or anger.” Common Sense Media, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-reviews/my-dps, is enthusiastic in its description of this app: “Fantastic app teaches emotions, coping strategies for kids.”

While it’s true that some of our gifted and 2e children and students cannot always avoid feeling stressed or awkward in social situations – and neither can we as adults – we can still be filled with a sense of optimism and hope that there is a way through the difficult times everyone experiences. The truth is that we can take steps to improve our situation and manage our levels of stress and navigate through awkward social moments. And we can start by using these three apps to help our children move forward to deal with and eventually overcome the obstacles they face.

Family Violence and the Impact on All Our Children

One of the joys I have had of being an advocate for nearly 25 years – for finding the strengths and gifts in all children – is having the chance to help parents and educators create a greater sense of awareness, support and advocacy for all children – especially those who are gifted and have learning differences.

And in the process of being an advocate for children, my awareness of the challenges faced by children growing up with domestic violence has been increasing for the past several years to the point that I feel it is essential that I share some of what I have been learning.

What I have learned is disturbing on one level of understanding when we just look at the facts. But ultimately knowing these facts helps us get to another level of understanding where there is a sense of hope in terms of the resilience of our gifted children and the protective factors that can be put into place to protect all children experiencing family violence.

Here are some of the facts that surround family violence:

Family violence is not an unfamiliar situation to the almost 30 million American children who will be exposed to family violence by the time they are 17 years old according to the website, Promising Futures: Best Practices for Serving Children, Youth and Parents Experiencing Domestic Violence http://promising.futureswithoutviolence.org/what-do-kids-need/get-the-facts/

In fact, according to this resource, “one in four American children will experience violence between their parents/caregivers – that’s about 20.5 million children… and.. more than 1 in 9 (11 percent) of children surveyed were exposed to some form of family violence in the past year, including 1 in 5 (6.6 percent) exposed to intimate partner violence between parents (or between a parent and the parent’s partner.)”

Author of the book, Invincible, The 10 lies you Learn Growing up with Domestic Violence and the Truths to Set You Free, states that “According to UNICEF, growing up with domestic violence is one of the most pervasive human rights violation in the world, affecting more than a billion people. Yet too few people are aware of the profound impact it can have.”

Yet, Barbara Kerr, Ph.D, states in her article, “Resilience and Gifted Children,” it has been found that the characteristics of gifted students are often the same characteristics of resilient students. In addition, Kerr writes that “A clear finding from positive psychology research is the importance of positive emotions as a protective factor during and after a crisis or loss.” Furthermore, Kerr mentions that “Barbara Frederickson (2010)one of the best-known researchers on positive emotions, has shown that emotions such as gratitude, hope, love and humor are powerful forces for building resilience.

In addition to surrounding our children with positive emotions – even in the midst of difficult times – Kerr mentions that educator and author Jean Peterson, in her interviews with gifted children, found that helping children problem solve and plan also builds resilience, especially when these children faced situations involving bullying.

While we cannot escape the reality that the facts about family violence are discouraging, the truth is that we can – as parents and educators – help all children find a sense of safety and protection and rise above the situations in their lives and be filled with a sense of joy and hope for their future – even in the midst of the turmoil they are experiencing.

2017: Harnessing the Power of Teachable Moments

If you routinely pick up the newspaper or listen to the news on TV, you know that every day in 2017 has been filled with some incredibly disturbing stories that definitely make you struggle a bit as a parent or educator to find the right words. It is no easy task for any parent or teacher to explain to the children we are raising or teaching just what is happening in this unpredictable world we have found ourselves in these days.

Some of the most problematic of these stories are those that describe a basic lack of moral decision making by some extremely well-known figures in politics, sports, the news media and the entertainment world and also some not so well-known people, too.

These stories of bigoted and bullying language and behavior, lying and charges of violence, including sexual assault, are upsetting and disheartening for all of us to read.

But they are especially problematic for concerned parents who often find it extremely uncomfortable but necessary to explain to their children that these are not acceptable behaviors for anyone – even those in high positions of government at the state or the federal level or members of the news media or sports or entertainment world.

Yet for those of us who are grandparents, parents or teachers of gifted students, the times we are living in present an incredible teachable moment that leads all of us to one essential question.

The question is this: Given the circumstances of today’s world, how can we effectively teach our own gifted kids – and all students – to make moral decisions in everyday situations?

That is exactly what the online Education World article, “Teaching Kids to Make Moral Decisions,” looks at in their story about Michael Sabbeth, an attorney who had some time to reflect on his good fortune as a patient while recovering from surgery back in 1990. Sabbeth saw that developing an ethics class was a way to give back to the world, especially to “honor the skills and dedication of the doctors, nurses and technicians who took care of me.”

The course Sabbeth teaches is called “Sailing the Seven Cs, a reference to the seven skills involved in ethical decision-making. They are conscience, character, competence, consequences, choices, compassion and courage.”

One student in his class, a 10 year old named Kelsey, said that she learned that even though her brother might be mean to her, “You have to show people how they should act.” Another student commented that, “Mr. Sabbeth really teaches us a bunch of stuff about the future and how to think about one thing two different ways, and how to argue points. He makes me think, so when I hear about war with Iraq (for example), I know there are two different ways to look at it.”

And it is this idea of teaching our children to look at situations from several points of view that Sabbeth found helpful in teaching students the dilemma involved in making tough choices they might face in the future. He accomplished this by presenting students with real-life situations that were reported on in the news.

In their discussions, the students could see that each choice had a consequence. But Sabbeth taught them, according to one of his students, “Sometimes you only have difficult choices or bad choices; but ultimately one choice is better than the others.”

Besides the advantages students pointed out to what they were learning, one classroom teacher had this to say about the classes Sabbeth taught: “The ethics lessons are helping students respect one another and respect differences. The course teaches kids how to think and make decisions based on facts rather than on opinions.”

So, even though we are living in unpredictable times that are full of change and situations we have not faced before, we can take heart and know that it is possible to harness all that is happening around us -just like Michael Sabbeth has done in over 500 classes.

And just like Sabbeth has done, we can be intentional and take the everyday situations that we face as grandparents, parents and teachers of gifted children – and that are children are facing – and turn them into teachable moments that will help guide our children on a path of making moral decisions now and in the future.

Tips on Helping Yourself and Your 2e Child Navigate the Uncharted Waters of 2017

Parenting any gifted child, including a 2e child, is not an easy process. It is especially difficult for some parents in light of the unpredictable change that is happening right here – and now – in the U.S. and all over the world.

Even in more predictable times, our gifted children often bring a host of sensitivities and awareness of their environment that frequently complicates their lives – and ours – and adds to the level of anxiety that many of our gifted children already experience. For parents of 2e children, the complexities of getting through each day can seem especially daunting and overwhelming at times.

This is exactly the feeling – of being overwhelmed – that many parents of 2e children experience more often than not. It is an exhausting and draining way to live and frequently leaves parents with a long list of unanswered questions about what to do to get through another day without a “mini-crisis” or another child – or parent meltdown.
Fortunately, there is a beacon of hope on the horizon for all parents. It comes in the form of the experiences of other parents of 2e children. The lessons these parents have learned can often act as navigation maps for all of us – especially when we sail into “rough waters” that we all encounter on the journey with our gifted and 2e children – and even on our own professional or relationship journey.

One parent, Maya Hu-Chan, global leadership expert and executive coach and author of the Inc.com article, What My 2 Autistic Kids Taught Me about Business, shared the following lessons she learned as she built her career and raised her triplets, two of whom were autistic:

1. Be persistent. When faced with a challenge, keep at it. Persistence often pays dividends.
2. Focus on positives. People tend to respond to negative interactions negatively. If you focus on keeping things positive, you’ll be surprised at the reactions you get.
3. Change what you can, accept what you can’t. Work on what really matters.
4. Take care of yourself. Just like the flight attendant tells us, put on your own oxygen mask first before attending to others.
5. Don’t go it alone. You are only as good as your team. Invest in the time and resources to get the right people around you.

These lessons are life lessons for us all and can be a map forward for you as you begin or continue your journey as a parent of a gifted or 2e child. Please know that my hope for you is that these lessons inspire you to move forward each day with a sense of optimism for the future. May these lessons allow you to safely navigate all uncharted waters and reach your goal of helping yourself and your gifted/2e child thrive and find joy in the world as it is right now – unpredictable and full of change.

When the Bully Is a Presidential Candidate: A Teachable Moment for Every Gifted Child

Like it or not this year’s 2016 presidential election has some incredible teachable moments for parents and educators. And this year’s teachable moments include unexpected lessons in bullying and what to do when faced with bullying behavior.

With reports of hateful rhetoric from presidential politics spilling into our schoolyards in the form of threatening remarks and bullying, it is essential that every parent leverage this negative energy from the presidential campaign to teach our children not just about bullying and how to respond but to it but also to teach our children about compassion, empathy and what real leadership looks like, too.

One parent, writer and former teacher, Cynthia Leonor Garza, wrote a fascinating piece for March 9, 2016 issue of The Atlantic. Her article, “The Presidential Campaign and Its Lessons on Bullying,” quotes bullying expert, Barbara Coloroso, who describes bullying as “’a conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile activity’ intended to make the bully feel powerful when engaging the target.”

According to Garza, “Coloroso says that Donald J. Trump, 69, is absolutely a bully. There’s meanness and smugness to the way Trump denigrates his opponents – or any person, place, or thing he doesn’t like, Coloroso argues. He calls them stupid, losers, and rapists, belittles them with names like “Little Marco” and says he wishes he could punch them in the face. That he seems to take pleasure in his name –calling ‘should be scary to all of us,’ Coloroso says. ‘That’s a lack of compassion.”

Garza points out that we have anti-bullying laws in 50 states – but that these laws only apply to our youth and not to the adults – or to any of the presidential candidates who may be acting like middle-school students.

So what is one thing that we can we do as parents and educators during this 2016 presidential cycle in terms of teaching our children and students about bullying and how to respond?

Garza says that Coloroso doesn’t advocate fighting back but says, “’Aggression begets aggression. Passivity invites it, but assertion will dissipate it.” And according to Coloroso, it is important that there be “the brave-hearted – those who denounce the bully.”

As a parent, you can start by helping your child learn to speak up the next time your child witnesses or experiences bullying – as long as your child feels safe – and definitely advise your child to immediately tell a trusted adult whenever he/she has been targeted by a bully or witnesses bullying anywhere. This is something you can practice at home by role-playing – an effective way to prepare any child to speak up in bullying situations.

And for us as parents and teachers and grandparents – it’s time we all become “the brave-hearted” ourselves and take steps to denounce the bullying we are witnessing by Donald Trump in this 2016 presidential campaign. This will send a powerful message to our children that bullying by children or adults is never to be tolerated and will help teach the lessons in compassion, empathy and leadership we want to instill in all of our children.

2e Tips for Home and School: Managing Your Students’/Your Child’s Often Puzzling and Sometimes Disruptive Behavior

If we are truly honest with ourselves, then we might admit to the world that we’ve been somewhat frustrated by the puzzling behavior of some of our twice-exceptional (2e) gifted students – or even our own 2e child or 2e grandchild.

And like everyone else, have you ever wished for potential solution to the puzzling and sometimes disruptive behavior of a 2e learner – a gifted learner who also may have some learning differences?

Then these classroom/home management tips, suggested by special education educator, Whitney Catherine Bilyeu and included in her July 2012 Twice-Exceptional Newsletter article titled, “Examining the Issues of 2e Students with EBD: A Conversation with an Educator,” might just be the help you need to get started on addressing your students’/child’s behavior:

1. Approach the school/home as a partner, not an adversary. An adversarial relationship with school/home fosters tension, anxiety and aggression in students.
2. Be positive, supportive and encouraging when meeting with school personnel/parents to foster the positive energy your child desperately needs.
3. Ask questions and get feedback from the teacher/parent. Communication is essential, even when things are going well.
4. Provide outlets for you child’s/students’ interests and talents that give the child opportunities to be responsible and successful while learning self-motivation, self-discipline and
self-sufficiency.
5. Help your child/students recognize signs of distress and exhaustion and learn techniques for relaxation and rejuvenation. Model activities that are calming, centering and therapeutic.
6. Help your child/students attain goals that are open ended with no one way of attaining them.
7. Remember that there is no perfect environment for a child/your students. Help them adapt so they can succeed in the world beyond their school or their home.

And remember that it takes time to address behavior issues in our students and in our own children. Yet if you begin to implement each of these tips, you will be surprised at how the puzzling and disruptive behavior you once noticed will begin to lessen and change for the better.

New Year’s Resolution for 2016: Try These Effective Strategies and Make This the Year of the 2e Student

If you are like most parents or teachers, you most likely either have a child at home/in your class or know someone who has a child at home/in their class who is a puzzling, outside the box learner. This is the child who has tons of strengths along with some significant struggles and may even be a twice-exceptional learner: gifted with a learning difference or disability or disorder.

Possessing impressive strengths and complex needs, 2e students can represent a daunting challenge to parents and teachers in their efforts to help these students reach their true learning potential.

According to Daina Lieberman, author of the article, “Road Tested/Ten Tips for Teaching the Twice-Exceptional Student, “ there were nearly 70,000 K-12 students in 2006 who were identified as 2e. So obviously that number certainly has increased in the ten years that have passed.

Lieberman points out that most 2e students do best when they received some type of gifted programming along with needed support and that “they can thrive in advanced classes.”
Here are some suggestions for parents and teachers from Leiberman’s article that I have combined with ideas from Beverly Trail, author of the 2011 book, Twice-Exceptional Gifted Children, and my own observations and experience. I have implemented these strategies in my classroom and in my consulting practice and have personally seen how effective they are with various 2e students:

1. Build relationships to unlock learning in every student

2. Develop a flexible, growth mindset towards all students and yourself

3. Differentiate instruction to teach to student strengths

4. Group homogeneously with like-minded peers to offer challenge

5. Reach out to staff for their perspective and new solutions to challenges you face

6. Address student needs/challenges and offer support options

7. Teach critical and creative thinking to tap into student skills

8. Communicate with parents and students for answers

9. Use technology to personalize instruction and help all students access the curriculum and accelerate their learning

10. Teach organizational skills to allow students to take responsibility for their own work

When starting to implement any of these strategies with your 2e child or student, it is always good to remember that what you see now in your 2e student is definitely not who your student will be 10 years from now. With flexibility, humor and time, your 2e student will blossom and grow as you begin to offer some real hope and solutions to the challenges they face as outside the box gifted learners.

Good luck to you in your classroom as you try some of these strategies out at home and at school! And may you resolve that 2016 will be the Year of the 2e Student – a year of focusing on the strengths and needs of some of your most interesting, creative and passionate students.

#IStandWithAhmed: How Racism and Bias Impact Every Gifted Child

We can learn from every situation. And if there ever was a situation for gifted parents to learn from, it is the story of 14 year old Ahmed Mohamed who was handcuffed and arrested in his classroom after his homemade clock was incorrectly labeled by police as a “hoax bomb.” According to Dexter Thomas, author of the LA Times article, “#IStandWithAhmed lesson: Curiosity is for white kids,” any child trying to think like Steve Jobs could get arrested.

That’s a lesson in curiosity that no parent or student today should have to learn. Yet in the minds of some individuals in the U.S. and other countries, the idea of giftedness being primarily present among the white population is not an unusual belief. But it’s a wrong belief, nonetheless, and one that has been addressed by educators who have been trained to see beyond skin color in an unbiased manner and utilize effective assessment tools for identification of gifted students.

One organization that works tirelessly to guarantee educational equity for all students – helping students receive multiple unbiased assessments to properly identify their areas of giftedness – is the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). The NAGC states on their website page, “Identifying Gifted Children from Diverse Populations,” “there remains much to be done to ensure that all high-ability students receive appropriate gifted educations services to meet their needs.”

In Ahmed’s case, it seems as if he was moving a couple of steps ahead of his teachers in terms of his interest in STEM projects. And when he took the initiative to create a project his teachers didn’t correctly recognize, he unfortunately got the wrong attention from his school and ultimately the right attention from others involved with science and technology, including the White House. It’s even more obvious now that students like Ahmed – from a minority background and who happen to be curious and inventive – need identification, understanding, support and advocacy so that their unique gifts can be leveraged and celebrated.

A lesson we all can learn from this experience of Ahmed and the NAGC is that all students, including “those who are limited English proficient, disabled or from minority or low-income” need to be recognized, valued and given opportunities to succeed. In many countries, this also includes females who are routinely denied advanced educational experiences beyond the first few grades and forced into early and arranged marriages.

What students everywhere don’t need is to experience what Ahmed experienced here in the U.S. – racism, bias and fear – debilitating conditions of the heart and mind of those fear-mongering members of every society whose paranoia threatens students around the world from reaching their true potential and realizing their hopes and dreams. Steve Jobs was given a chance in America. Ahmed Mohamed deserves a chance, too.

A 2e Learning Quest Starts with the 2e Newsletter

Now that school has started, it’s the perfect time to start your own 2e learning quest as a parent or educator. With resources like the Twice-Exceptional Newsletter, www.2enewsletter.com, you can more easily move forward in growing your understanding of your own 2e child or in understanding those students in your classroom whose unique learning needs are beginning to get your attention

According to the subscription flyer for the 2e Newsletter, a twice-exceptional child is defined as “one who shows high-intelligence or high potential in one or more areas, but who also has a learning challenge such as an auditory or visual processing disorder, AD/HD, Asperger’s, or dyslexia.” And while these students have numerous strengths, including advanced language skills, observation and memory, as the 2e Newsletter flyer points out, these same students often display “poor short-term memory, attention issues, language-based disorders, or sensory processing difficulties.”

Besides offering a bi-monthly, online subscription newsletter that is a tremendous resource by itself, the editors/publisher of the www.2enewsletter.com also offer the following “Spotlight on 2e Series” – highly informative and affordable booklets that address a variety of 2e topics. These booklets are for both parents and teachers, with the exception of the first two booklets listed:

• Parenting Your Twice-exceptional Child – for parents
• Understanding Your Twice-exceptional Student – for teachers
• The Mythology of Learning: Understanding Common Myths about 2e Learners
• The 2e Reading Guide: Essential Books for Understanding the Twice-Exceptional Child
• Guiding the Twice-Exceptional Child: A Collection of Columns by Meredith Warshaw
• Understanding the Gifted Child with Attention Deficit
• The Twice-Exceptional Child with Asperger Syndrome
• The Twice-Exceptional Child with Dyslexia
• Caring the for Mental Health of the Twice-Exceptional Child
• Writing and the Twice-Exceptional Child: Issues and Strategies

I wish you the best as you get ready to embark on this quest this fall to discover more about your 2e child/student’s strengths and ways to address his/her challenges. May your journey be filled with new insights, helpful resources, much laughter, peace of mind and personal growth.

And as you plan for this 2e adventure, be sure to begin by checking out all that the 2e Newsletter has to offer you and your family or your school. With the 2e Newsletter as your guide, your search for understanding, support and advocacy for your uniquely designed 2e child/student has never been easier. Good luck to you and if I can be of any help this year, be sure to
visit my website, www.mindsthatsoar.com and follow me @illinois2e and on Facebook at Cathy Risberg’s Minds That Soar. Best of luck at home and in your classroom!