Archive | July, 2010

Just what is Twice Exceptional Anyway?

12 Jul

This is a fairly new term to a lot of people– even educators, who often ask me for a definition of twice exceptional, sometimes abbreviated as 2E. The narrow term used by a lot of school districts is a child who is designated gifted and talented, usually determined by an IQ of a certain number or a checklist administered by a gifted and talented specialist, along with surveys given to parents, teachers and others who work closely with the child. In addition to the gifted designation, the child also has a identified disability such as a learning disability, aspergers/autism or ADHD.

Some children who are twice exceptional have either an IEP (a special education individual education plan) or a 504 plan (a general education list of accommodations that they child has a right to have.) Both an IEP and a 504 are federally mandated legal documents. However, many children do not have any legal protections because they are either smart enough to “fly under the radar” and compensate enough to manage reasonable academic progress or they struggle with academics so much that no teacher realizes that they have an incredibly gifted kid in their midst.

The more broad definition of twice exceptional is a student who has extremely high skills in some areas along with very low skills in others.   In my experience, most kids who are super smart also have some quirks, often social ones, and bright kids who have learning difficulties almost always have found ingenious “work-arounds” to minimize the impact of their disabilities. I have worked with kids in both categories and I use the more loose designation in my work and on my blog.

The tips and books and ideas I review here will work generally work well with kids who are learning disabled, gifted, 2E, English Language Learners, highly visual , creative and, well, most average kids. Great books are great books, and effective teaching is effective teaching across the board. All kids have gifts and struggles. If I believe an idea works particularly well with a specific population of students, I’ll let you know, but feel free to adapt for particular students. That is what differentiation is all about.

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

12 Jul

Yeah, yeah, I know that To Kill a Mockingbird has been all over the news this last week, but I really wasn’t jumping on the 50th anniversary bandwagon. I’d picked up a copy a few weeks ago (only to find I had a copy on my shelf when I got home!)  I was already mid-book when all the hoopla began because reading Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine made me curious.

The reason it made me curious is that Caitlin, the main character in Mockingbird, is also nicknamed “Scout” because her brother believed that she was much like Jean Louise (AKA “Scout”) in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, I have read To Kill a Mockingbird multiple times, both as a child, and then again as an adult, but never as a special education teacher. You see, Caitlin has aspergers syndrome and I wondered if Jean Louise would look like a child with aspergers as well. I just love it when a book leads me to an interesting idea, another book or to researching something intriguing. Thus, I began my investigation–and thoroughly enjoyed a foray through an old favorite in the process.

My conclusion after reading To Kill a Mockingbird is that Jean Louise is pretty obviously a highly gifted kid. She is highly verbal and inquisitive and taught herself to read before she could remember. She is also very honest and sometimes comes across as very legalistic (but then what else would you expect from a lawyer’s daughter?) For example, when Dill starts to cry during the trial because Tom Robinson is being treated so badly by the prosecuting attorney, Jean Louise explains to him that this is just the way lawyers are supposed to be.  She also has a lot of trouble being in a crowd of ladies having tea and needing to act like a lady, but any girl, raised among boys and men would feel out of place and uncomfortable in that situation.  (I know that I would have wanted to escape it!)

Those are the arguments that I could use to show that Jean Louise has aspergers syndrome, but after reading the book, I don’t think so. Her father does teach explicitly about empathy by asking her to put herself in another’s shoes.  And she sometimes seems to be cognitively advanced ahead of her social skills and needs some help managing the protocols, but she catches on very fast and too expertly to the nuances of empathy for me to believe that she might be on the spectrum.  She often understands less fortunate friends and “Boo” Radley better than her older brother and the townspeople.

It was a fun experiment to look at this book through a new lens.  Along the way, I noticed that Atticus (Jean Louise’s father) was a perfect example of how to nurture a gifted child and the first grade teacher was a perfect example of how NOT to nurture a gifted student.  (yikes!) This led me to research a bit into the Dewey teaching system that Jean Louise was subjected to. Did I mention that I just love when a book makes me curious and leads me to learn something new?

To Kill a Mockingbird has mature themes and may not be for the youngest readers of Mockingbird, but for young adult and adult readers, pairing the two books would make for a thought provoking project.  I heartily recommend this book. It is one of those books that I believe everyone should read and discuss.

What do you think? Could Jean Louise have aspergers syndrome? Have you ever read a book and noticed that the character looked like they had a disability?

Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

10 Jul

Ten-year-old Caitlin has plenty to deal with. Her older brother, Devin, was recently killed in a school shooting, her widowed father is nearly non-functional with grief—and to top it off, she has aspergers syndrome.  Devin had always explained things to her, but now she is left to figure thing out without him. Along with her trusty dictionary and a compassionate school counselor, she struggles to find closure, understand empathy and make her first friend.

Narrated by Caitlin, with all her quirks and misunderstanding of idioms, language and social situations, the book unfolds as Caitlin struggles to understand the world she finds herself in, with unintentional wit and poignant insight. In the end, Caitlin finds closure not only for herself, but leads her father, friends and community toward healing.

Caitlin and Devin both loved the movie To Kill a Mockingbird adapted from the book by Harper Lee.  Devin had nicknamed her “Scout,” after the main character because both girls were very honest, straightforward and had unusual understanding into people and situations. Throughout the book, comparisons and references are made to the movie and its lessons on empathy.

This book is geared toward students who are ages 9 to 12 and will resonate with children who are on the spectrum. It will also help typical students to understand children who think differently.  Older students will enjoy pairing Mockingbird with reading or discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  For parents and teachers, Caitlin’s clear voice will help them understand the logical, literal and deliberate thought processes typical in many children who are on the autism spectrum.  All those who read purely for pleasure will find an enjoyable book with an endearing character and thought-provoking themes.