A Proven Program Model

We are a startup; we’re seeking seed funding to launch our program, yet we’ve already received requests from families with children whose needs are so acute that they aren’t being met by the school system.

These are families who don’t have the resources to do what wealthier families with extremely asynchronous children do, and either “afterschool” or homeschool their children. Their children are suffering immensely because their educational, social, and emotional needs are not being met. Their families are similarly suffering from the fallout. We wish we were already up and running, so that we could ask these families to apply formally for support, and so we could then provide that support.

So as we prepare to start knocking on doors — big doors! — for seed funding, we’d like to share a series of posts about our approach, starting with our program.

The Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund’s program model is based on a support approach proven successful by thousands of families across the United States (and internationally, even more families) over the course of the past twenty-plus years, and indeed for decades before that.

What does it look like? The details may vary somewhat depending on whether a child is in school, or homeschooled. The basic approach is this: Let the child follow his or her interests. The parent(s) serve as facilitators, providing materials, books, videos, classes and workshops, outings, and projects to allow the child to study the topic in question with as much depth as he or she desires, for as long as desired. Typically the child will move on to the next topic when the first one has been exhausted. Some children, particularly the more exceptionally and profoundly asynchronous, may have multiple interests they explore in depth simultaneously.

How can any child cover a full curriculum this way, particularly if learning exclusively in a home setting? The answer is anchored in who these children are. Most will branch out to end up exploring the full range of what typical children would cover in school, out of sheer interest. Most do so on their own schedule; while some maintain their learning multiple, ever-increasing grade-levels ahead across the board, others will reach a point when they realize that to achieve something they want and need – perhaps community college early admission, for example – they have to meet state requirements for high school graduation or equivalency, and will cram the needed learning into a very short time period.

Other kids, especially those with twice exceptionalities like dyslexia or Asperger’s spectrum disorder, may require more parental guidance to support and strengthen their weak areas, while they soar ahead in their strengths. Some may require remediation using approaches that can be adopted by the facilitating parent, but others require additional outside support from occupational therapists and other professionals.

Additionally, children with narrow interests may need parents to weave that interest into everything they do. If the love is horses, for example, that provides the opportunity to do horse math: If you have three horses in the stable, but six stalls, what percentage of stalls are filled? Horse grammar: What part of speech is the word “horse”? What is the etymology of the various horse part names? Horse biology! The physics of horse motion! The possibilities are nearly endless.

For asynchronous kids who are in a school, the degree of after-school and weekend accommodation will depend deeply on the accommodation that is happening during school hours. Is the child accelerated to the level of his or her intellectual age? Is the curriculum compacted to meet his or her need for learning at a faster pace? Does the child have intellectual (not chronological age) peers? If these needs are met, the needs out of school will be less intense.

But an asynchronous child whose needs are not being met in school will have extremely intense needs after school and on weekends. Most families in this situation find they need to devote constant effort to feeding the “lion” that is the child’s ravenous intellect. Because the social and emotional well-being of these children is closely tied up in having their intellectual needs met, families trying to use afterschooling to meet all these needs have a much harder time. It can be done successfully, but most success results from a combination of advocacy to have the child’s needs met in school through acceleration to place the child with intellectual peers, curriculum compaction, and in-school enrichment, in addition to the intensive afterschooling efforts.

The Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund will provide direct aid to families in need to help their asynchronous and twice exceptional children. This will include provision of services like assessments and advocacy through service partners familiar both with the needs of gifted children, and the methods of school districts, schools and educators. It will include the provision of intensive educational resources specifically tailored to each child’s needs. Kids and families may require individual or family counseling from specialists experienced in working with this population. The Fund will help families access free and low-cost online resources, including, when needed, through the provision of computer technology, training, and Internet access. And because community can be the greatest support network for anyone, the Fund will help families connect with existing communities of families with kids like theirs, both online and in person.

Stay tuned for our next blog post on the the reasons why parents meet resistance from their own families, communities and schools in seeking to meet their children’s needs by following this model, and how they can help resolve that challenge.

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Helping Healthcare Providers Help Gifted Kids

Screen-Shot-2012-06-13-at-11.00.35-PMI don’t usually write posts from my own point of view, but I recently helped GHF create a set of resources for parents and healthcare providers to help them better support asynchronous (gifted) children. Although I authored the brochure as an individual, I wanted to write a specific blog post here about it, because the result represents one type of support high-potential kids in need usually don’t have.

Children who are further along the spectrum of giftedness than the “garden variety” who may be served well by GATE programs (if such programs exist in their schools) are different enough from the norm that their healthcare is impacted. Families in need may lack the resources (internet access, time away from work and home responsibilities) to research effective ways to advocate for their children in education settings. And even families who aren’t in need may not understand just how much advocacy is required to help healthcare providers understand their children, too.

Perhaps “advocacy” is a misleading word, because here I don’t mean that parents need to advocate for systemic change. Instead, in many cases, healthcare providers don’t have experience with this population, strictly because of the size of the population itself. (See the chart near the bottom of the brochure.) As a result, even healthcare providers may believe the leading myths about giftedness, or simply may not understand how extraordinarily intense and different these children’s needs are.

As we build our program to serve these kids, the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund intends to connect families with free resources like those provided by GHF. Such resources are critical to families’ abilities to understand their kids’ needs, and to help them start meeting those needs more effectively.

I’m a parent, and my own children have extraordinarily unusual needs as well. I wish I’d had resources like the GHF brochure years ago, but I’m also happy my own experience helped me contribute to the expanding landscape of resources available to help others. I hope it’s useful for you or someone you know.

– Marlow

This is Alisa.

We are extremely excited to share our completed claymation Public Service Announcement: This is Alisa.

This is Alisa. She is many ages at once — 6 years old chronologically, but 20 when she reads astronomy, 8 years old socially, and 4 when she tries to write neatly. She is asynchronous. Some people call this being a high-potential child. But her potential will never be realized if her extremely intense needs aren’t met.

The fact that society is failing to meet Alisa’s needs is damaging, frightening, and alienating to her. She should have the same right to have her needs met as any other child.

There are thousands of kids like Alisa in the United States, kids who are many ages at once. They are as diverse as the population of our country. They all require support for their intense needs. The Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund aims to use a proven model to support them.

You can make a difference. Donate to the Asynchronous Scholars’ Fund today. Thank you for your support!

Why Must We Mass-Produce Education?

There are so few original ideas. Modern education is modeled on mass production. We despair of this, because the one-size-fits-all system really doesn’t fit all. This isn’t an original idea by any stretch; besides people saying this in recent years, in particular with dismay about the failures of No Child Left Behind, they have been saying it for a very long time.

I read an excellent blog post today about the idiocy of taking a single element from a reasonably successful school system (Finland), beaming it down into our system, and hoping inanely that it will work out of context. I then came across the recent announcement of Google’s answer to TED talks, “Solve for X.” One of the speakers, Michael Crow of Arizona State University, described how they’ve completely scrapped the artificial construct that is the classification system for educational study at higher education levels, in favor of a new approach that focuses on outcomes like sustainability and exploration. Some of their work encourages extraordinarily creative sci-fi thinkers to envision what might solve various problems humanity faces, and then tackles the practical side of realizing those visions.

And somehow this led me next to Temple Grandin’s 2010 TED talk. Her point was that the world needs to heed divergent minds, because some of those most divergent, like hers, can lead to the most surprising innovations and discoveries.

Meld this all with what we’ve learned about educating (or, to be more accurate, keeping up with) exceptionally and profoundly gifted and asynchronous children, and you have the makings of a major revolution… but not an original one, just the same one people have been having since we began to standardize compulsory education. Children are not homogeneous. They have different, varying needs. Some of them have extreme needs. Their educational system must accommodate those needs, or they won’t learn, much less thrive. And if our educational system encourages extraordinary creativity, married with practical approaches to realizing these creative solutions, mightn’t we be better off than with a system that encourages rote memorization, lock-step thinking, and outdated assembly-line approaches to problem-solving?

The Misdiagnosis of Gifted Children

Let’s visit an imaginary world where you, an adult with substantial ability in your area of expertise (whatever that may be), were forced to sit in a second-grade class all day. Imagine that for some reason you don’t understand, your teacher and fellow students and everyone else in the school sees you as a second-grade kid. You are bored. You are outraged, in fact. Why is this being done to you? Why can’t you have more challenging things to learn? Why does everyone think you’re just like these other kids? You can’t stop your hand from using your pencil to tap against the desk, or your foot from tapping in frustration. You get up to pace. You start snapping at other students. Your attention drifts, and you feel like you can’t focus on anything.

Restraining yourself all day, every day, to tolerate this intense boredom and injustice saps your energy so severely that even when you escape the confines of school to a family who also bizarrely views you as a second-grader, even though they know you’re smarter than that, it’s all you can do to lie around zoning out, reading distractedly, or taking your aggression out on them. And then the next day comes, and you have to do it all over again.

This is what it feels like to be a profoundly asynchronous child. You may have adult-level cognitive abilities, but you are second-grade age, so you are forced to go through the exact scenario just described. You may develop nervous habits from the stress and boredom, things like fidgeting, impulsiveness, inability to focus (because, come on, who can focus on excruciatingly boring material day in and day out, without respite?), and more.

Your teacher looks at these behaviors and tells your parents you have ADHD, or oppositional defiant disorder, or any of a number of other disorders, and that they should take you to the doctor to be medicated. Your parents do, and your doctor writes a prescription after a 15-minute visit, and you are deposited back in school, drugged out of your mind.

Another article today described it more succinctly: “Imagine if someone took away your Big Wheel and expected you to operate a sports car without training at 6 years old. Now imagine being punished and humiliated for wrecking.”

These scenarios sound extreme, and they are; but versions of them are being repeated again and again in endless variation with everything from garden-variety gifted kids to profoundly gifted kids across the country. An organization called Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted Children (SENG) made an excellent video about it, aimed at educators and healthcare professionals. But it’s instructive for everyone, and our wish is that everyone see it (and share it).

We have one caveat, the same one the video makes: There are twice-exceptional kids, kids who have advanced cognitive abilities but also learning disabilities. Some kids DO have ADHD, whether gifted or not. But the characteristics of giftedness, the school setting, and a range of other things absolutely must be assessed as part of the diagnosis, and the intellectual needs of the child must be met on an ongoing basis.

By sharing the video, and talking to educators and healthcare professionals about it, you may help change a child’s future. Thank you!

Advanced Content for High-Potential Learners

We came across a brief post on a homeschooling blog we visit from time to time, mentioning that Stanford University’s Nick Parlante will offer Computer Science 101 free online starting in February 2012. Two things (okay, three) about this interest us:

1. It reminds us, and we are thus reminding you, that there are incredible, wonderful, free resources in a vast range of subjects available online for anyone interested. This is exactly what high-potential learners need. Have a kid who’s interested in math? Watch Vi Hart videos, or try Khan Academy, or check out livingmath.net. Have a high-level learner? Check out MIT’s OpenCoursware. Want to learn Latin, but have a visual learner? Try Visual Latin (ok, that’s not free to really learn deep, but the first six lessons are free). Gifted Homeschoolers’ Forum has a list of favorite things that covers a great many topics.

Downside: If you don’t have internet access and/or a computer (some sites don’t work on smartphones, for example), you may not be able to access these more than perhaps at a public library. One more vote for broadening access to the Internet for everyone!

2. We love the fact that resources like these make it possible to customize learning to fit your child’s (or your own) needs. Learn better in the evening? Do your work then! Prefer to learn deep, rather than wide? Explore as deep as you like! Have plenty of ideas about how to teach kids math, but don’t know what a sentence diagram is, or why you would possibly want to know or have your kids know? Look it up online!

3. OK, this is maybe just us, but computer science is fascinating. Computers are part of our lives in such integral ways now. Understanding at least the basics about how they work seems valuable.

High-potential learners, particularly very asynchronous children, need to be allowed tackle big concepts before they’ve mastered the small steps along the way. Their brains are thirsty for this depth and complexity. When they’re ready, they’ll circle back and fill in holes. Let them soar!

Feeding kids’ brains at home

Note the apostrophe: Though zombie fans might like the title better without it, I’m talking about feeding the brains that belong to the kids. The more asynchronous/high-potential the child, the hungrier the brain.

There’s a wonderful blog post on how to help feed kids’ hungry brains, right in your home: It’s called 9 Ways to Make Home a Place of Delightful Discovery, Part 1, and it beautifully describes what we’ve observed being so incredibly effective for kids who fall into highly, exceptionally, or profoundly gifted categories in particular; but we think that there isn’t a child out there who wouldn’t benefit from doing what you can to create such creativity and learning opportunities in your own home.

Do you have any particularly effective modifications you made to your living space that helped your kids learn?