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========================================================================
=   __  __           _________   ____                                  =
=  |  \/  | ___  _ _|_   _/ _ \ / ___| ___    An Eclectic E-Journal    =
=  | |\/| |/ _ \| '_ \| || |_| | |  _ / _ \   Written By And For The   =
=  | |  | | (_) | | | | ||  _  | |_| |  __/   Families Of The          =
=  |_|  |_|\___/|_| |_|_||_| |_|\____|\___|   Talented And Gifted      =
=                                                                      =
========================================================================
=  Volume 1, Number 8                                  August 19, 1996 =
========================================================================
=                                                                      =
= Editor: Valorie J. King  (vjking@erols.com)                   =
=                                                                      =
= Permission is hereby given for noncommercial electronic or print     =
= format redistribution of intact articles from MonTAGe. Please cite   =
= "MonTAGe: The TAGFAM E-Journal (c) 1996 Valorie J. King."            =
=                                                                      =
= MonTAGe is the Electronic Journal of the TAGFAM mailing list.        =
=                                                                      =
= Information about TAGFAM may be obtained from the TAGFAM homepage at:  =
= URL: http://www.tagfam.org                                             =
=                                                                      =
= The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the individual   =
= authors.                                                             =
========================================================================
=                       In This Issue:                                 =
========================================================================

  1. From The Editor's Desk
  2. TAGFAM Survey Report and Commentary
  3. The Socialization Roadblock
  4. Strategy, Assessment, and Tactics
  5. Problem Solving 101: Teaching Social Skills
  6. Problem Solving 102: "What Do You Say, Dear?"
  7. Problem Solving 103: The Roles of the School Principal

From The Editor's Desk
by Valorie J. King (vjking@erols.com)

Writing for MonTAGe is usually an effortless task for me. The ideas flow so quickly that I long ago abandoned pen and paper for the speed of the keyboard. At 100+ words per minute I can touch-type with the best of them. My children recognize the particular click-clack rhythm that means "Mom's busy writing" and know that this is not the time to ask questions. Even my husband recognizes the rhythmic hum of the keys and the implicit "do not disturb" written in my furrowed brow.

This issue of MonTAGe sits on my desk as penciled notes written upon 3" x 5" note cards. Names of research studies, textbooks, and other scholarly works are neatly printed in the upper right hand corners. Subject headings, quotations, and neatly organized outlines occupy both sides of each card. I stare at the cards. Family members, not hearing the warning sounds of the keyboard, breezily wander in and out of my office inviting me to participate in their activities. I ignore the interruptions. I ignore the cards. I type. I backspace. I check my email. I rub my eyes and wish I'd chosen another topic to write about.

A week later, I'm still collecting, sifting, and collating information. I frame and reframe the data. I try to step outside myself and look at things from a new perspective. Frustrated, I grab my personal journal and go outside to write the old fashioned way. Pen and ink. Slowly swinging back and forth. A few sips from a now cold cup of coffee.

Weeks and months spent reviewing legislation, research, and a variety of textbooks and professional journals from the fields of education, medicine, and psychology have made one thing clear -- the "game" is rigged. The dice are loaded and the cards are marked. The educational programs which, according to the research, benefit gifted children the most are disappearing at an accelerating rate. In their places we find "enrichment," part-time "pull-out" classes, cooperative learning and requirements that gifted students spend their time in the classroom tutoring other students.

"Freedom begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite." -- RAH

Given enough time and manpower it may be possible to reverse the changes in our nation's educational policies which have decimated appropriate educational programs for intellectually gifted children. But, for the moment, the only feasible alternative is to take back responsibility for our children's education. It's time for the parents of intellectually gifted children to tell Mrs. Grundy to "go fly a kite." Politely, of course.

-- Valorie --


TAGFAM Survey Report and Commentary
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

In July of this year (1996), we conducted a survey of TAGFAM subscribers regarding their satisfaction or disatisfaction with their child's educational experiences during the past year. Our goal was not to undertake a serious research study but rather to informally assess the experiences of the past year. The reports we solicited were anecdotal and represented the personal opinions and observations of the parents.

The Questions:

"If your child had a good year in school last year, what were the top three things that made it a good year? (please rank them #1, #2, #3)"

"If last school year was really bad for your child, what, in your opinion, were the top three things that went wrong or were bad or negatives in the situation? (again, please rank them #1, #2, #3)"

The Responses:

Several subscribers provided responses covering multiple school years. A few provided responses covering multiple schools or classrooms within a single year. There were 47 reports covering 59 children in grades Pre-K through High School. This represents approximately 10 percent of the TAGFAM subscriber base.

The length of the individual reports varied greatly. The shortest was less than five lines long. The longest report was several printed pages in length (over 150 lines). Not too surprising was the fact that the longer reports usually related extreme parental disatisfaction with their child's school year. The few extremely short reports also represented "bad" years. On average, the reports covering "good" years were about one-half to one-third as long as reports covering "bad" years. Reports of "mixed" years, both good and bad, contained substantially more detailed explanations of the situation and reasons for judging each item listed as "good" or "bad." The "mixed" year reports were by far the most interesting to read and contained the greatest evidence of parental concern regarding the child's experiences. Overall, the reports seemed to be evenly mixed between "good" years and "bad" years.

Caveats About This Report:

Please keep these caveats in mind as you read this report and the accompanying commentary.

It would have been nice if we had the time and resources to actually go through and code the data the way researchers do for observational or qualitative studies. But, since we live in the real world, that didn't happen. What we did was look at the reports to see what types of problems were common through out. We also looked for items which were common to the "good" outcomes. Then, we went back and did a psuedo "coding" operation on the reports using these common items as our "factors."
Factor NameDescription (positive/negative)
EnvironmentAdapting/Non-adapting to child's needs
SocializationSupportive/Non-supportive of skills development
AcademicsChallenging/Boring
PeersPresent/Not-present in class/school situation
PoliticsInfluence of legal/political/organizational issues (e.g. equal access, equity) rated as to whether the child's interests were served or not-served
Parent/SchoolCollaborative/Not-collaborative
Good Role ModelsPresent/Not-present
Outside-enrichmentPresent/Not-mentioned (e.g. CTY, EPGY, parental)

Factors were either "present" or "not present." If present, the factor was given a positive (helpful) or negative (not helpful) rating according to how the coder interpreted the parent's statements in the report. There is probably some "rater bias" present here. In "proper" research designs factors are rated on a continuous scale rather than the black/white, good/bad used here. We just didn't have the resources to do this nor did we have enough data (it requires multiple samples from a much larger population).

Identifying information was removed prior to the collation and evaluation of the reports. The raters were Valorie and Robert King.

What We Learned:

Not too surprisingly, these parental reports showed a remarkable congruence with the research literature regarding the educational needs of intellectually gifted children. It some instances, it was clear that this congruence was due to the parent's familiarity with the body of research regarding education and intellectually gifted children. Some reports also showed parental expectations, both met and unmet, arising out of familiarity with the research literature.

While reviewing the reports, it became clear that the majority of parents who responded were not aware of the wide ranging influence that changes in federal legislation has had on schools, most notably in the areas of classroom practices, teaching methods and district or school-wide grouping strategies and the funding and direction of educational researchers. This perceived need for information was addressed by posting excerpts from the federal legislation to the TAGFAM mailing list. The URL for the Department of Education webserver was posted so that parents could read the entire text of relevant legislation and policy documents. (http://www.ed.gov)

The most frequently cited factor was the classroom environment. Every parent made comments regarding the importance of the classroom teacher's attitude, knowledge about children and gifted children in particular, professionalism, and overall effectiveness in the classroom. Parents seemed to intuitively understand the importance of a warm, supportive, and caring environment for their child's growth and development. It was not clear whether or not parents understood that the home environment is as important if not more so than the school environment. The research on both child mental health and adult mental health shows the clear relationship between a warm, supportive, and caring environment at home and later mental health status. Conclusion: if you cannot remove your child from a poor classroom situation then it becomes even more important to provide support, warmth and caring at home; in simple English -- side with the child, not the school.

The second most frequently cited factor was academic challenge. The majority of parents mentioned either the presence or the lack of an academically challenging curriculum at their child's level in the /classroom. Not surprisingly, environment and academic challenge tracked together when both were mentioned in a report. Good environments also provided academically challenging curriculum materials. Only one parent rated the environment as "good" yet stated that the curriculum was not academically challenging for the child. This is understandable given that the child was in preschool where social/play activities are given priority.

A few comments on academic challenge. Federal legislation makes it clear that one of the national goals for education is to provide a challenging curriculum for EVERY student. Title I of the Education Act of 1994 is devoted to programs for disadvantaged youths that will provide them with a challenging curriculum. This is based upon the stated policy that "All children can learn." It seems to me, that this goal is not being met with regards to intellectually gifted children. Nor is it being met for other children who have achieved the learning objectives for a given lesson or even a given year and are then expected to tutor or do "busy work" until the rest of the class catches up. It is my firm opinion that all parents should read the text of the Education Act of 1994 and then confront their schools' principals and schoolboards with this lack of academic challenge for the advanced students. The legislation is very clear on this point.

Parents reporting "good" years frequently mentioned the importance of a establishing and maintaining a collaborative relationship between home and school. Not too surprisingly, an adversarial or non-collaborative relationship between home and school was reported by those parents whose "bad" year reports were rated as the "worst" in the sample. Our data was not sufficient to show a cause-effect relationship. National research studies, however, have shown that good, supportive relationships between home and school are strongly associated with good student outcomes. Poor student outcomes have been shown to be associated with a lack of parental involvement in the school community and a lack of effective communication between school and home. These studies looked at disadvantaged populations but the results seem to ring true here as well. No comment is made here as to the "causes" of a poor relationship between home and school.

At the high school level, "good" years were more likely to have mention of the presence of a positive role model for the student, usually at school, in the form of a teacher or counselor. In middle school, the "good" years were more likely to have mention of "finally having real peers" to be with. The majority of the reports covered the elementary school years and made mention of the difficulty these students had in finding both peers and friends to socialize with. The raters noted several instances where the parents made mention of the school's insistence that the child must "learn to get along with children of the same age" and the difficulties that arose from attempts to force the child to participate in what the school called "age appropriate" socialization activities.

Elsewhere in this issue of MonTAGe you will find a more detailed discussion of the socialization issue. An important point to note is that according to child development experts, children at the ages usually found in grades K-5 are at the stage where their greatest need is the "search for competency." Their relationships with other children revolve around the search for "what am I good at, what am I not good at." To deprive these children of academic challenge is to neglect their social, emotional, and psychological needs. Neglect. It's a legal term. I use it in the same sense here. To neglect the needs, whether social, emotional, psychological, intellectual, or physical, of any child is a crime. Trouble is, how do you prove it?

Later in childhood, as the individual moves towards adolescence, the developmental needs change. The older child, typically in grades 6-8, needs friends and "pals" to identify with and socialize with. Peers, according to the "Handbook of Child Psychology" (Mussen, 4th edition), are those who interact at similar levels of behavioral complexity. The text goes on to discuss several common mistakes that arise regarding "peer status." "Every graduate student knows that chronological age is a 'summary variable' and that individual scores on age-related traits may vary enormously around mean values. Plainly, children who are age-mates are not always equivalent -- in either psychological or social terms" (pages 106-107).

The high school years are usually from age 14 up through age 17 or 18. During this time, the young person is transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. The greatest developmental need is to establish a firm sense of "who I am." Role models fill the young person's needs to identify with the adult roles and responsibilities that he or she will be assuming in a few short years. Mentors and teachers often fill the young person's needs for role models. There are many, many books written on this subject. And so, the "exercise is left to the reader" as my college professors loved to say.

The "political" category was almost a catch-all. Perhaps it should have been broken down further. Of interest here were situations where the child's needs were not being met and the reason given seemed to point to a breakdown in the organizational structure of the school or a failure of that organization's policies to insure that the child's needs were met. Several parents commented that their child was denied access to classroom or school facilities due to concerns regarding equity or equal access. Teachers often confused the issues, e.g. use of the classroom computer was granted according to misguided attempts at "fairness," attributed to school district policies requiring equal access, rather than according to instructional plans for meeting each child's needs for a challenging curriculum.

In my opinion, the failure to provide a challenging curriculum, at the gifted child's current achievement level and paced according to the child's abilities and needs, is a denial of equal access under the law. Take away the "gifted" and you can see the situation which fueled the educational reform movement "All children can learn." (From which the heterogeneous classroom and cooperative learning practices arose.) Students were denied access to more challenging curriculum on the basis that they were members of a "group" which was being using lower level materials. Once placed in the lower group, there was rarely a means to advance or escape, not even when achievement tests showed that the child was performing at a higher level than the group to which he was assigned.

Then it was called "tracking." Now, it's called "age groups." Once a child is assigned to a grade by his or her chronological age, it is almost impossible for the child to break out of that grouping. More challenging curriculum materials are denied or withheld by school officials who, ignoring the child's demonstrated achievement or needs, state that the materials are inappropriate for the group to which the child is assigned. Parents of intellectually gifted children find themselves stone-walled by the very same attitudes that have relegated poor or minority children to the lowest ability groups with little regard as to what the child's true abilities might be. The problem of low student outcomes due to low teacher (school) expectations hasn't gone away. It's just moved to another group -- intellectually gifted children.

Closing Summary:

As we warned at the beginning of this article -- this was not a scientific piece of research. The majority of the content of this article is opinion and should be considered skeptically. Read the source documents for the Education Act of 1994. Read whatever else you can get your hands on. Make up your own mind and act accordingly. The effects of recent changes in federal legislation are clearly being felt in the nation's schools. You may choose to lobby and advocate for changes in that legislation to ensure a fair and equitable education for the nation's intellectually gifted children. Or, you may decide that the restructuring and reform efforts, funded by the federal government, are doing what needs to be done.

Whatever route you choose, please remember this. Your child has only you to protect him or her. Your child has only you to stand up and say NO! to a cold, uncaring, and unsupportive school environment. The stakes are high. Your child's needs are no less important just because he or she scores highly on achievement tests. Every child deserves an opportunity to be exposed to a challenging curriculum in school every day -- not just one or two weeks out of the year. If it's not happening -- find out why. Insist upon changes. Keep in touch with the school and make sure that today's improvements in the classroom do not evaporate tomorrow.

Good school years don't just happen out of the clear blue sky. Our survey results made that point perfectly clear.


The "Socialization" Roadblock
by Valorie King (vjking@erols.com)

[Note: "Sam" is a composite drawn from the many examples in the TAGFAM archives and my personal experiences as both a parent and a child."]

"I'm sorry, but skipping a grade just isn't a good choice for Sam. He needs to learn to get along with the other children in his class. There's more to learn in school than academics. We think that the best choice for him is to let him stay where he is. The best thing for Sam is to be with children his age. I'll have the school's counselor work with his teacher to develop a plan for Sam."

In good faith, Sam's parents take the school's advice and let the teacher and counselor "handle" the situation. One year later, Sam's social skills are no better and his classroom behavior is worse.

How often we hear this tale. Parents expecting to discuss academic needs and accomodations with their child's teachers or principal have often reported back to TAGFAM that the discussion centered around "socialization" issues instead. Unprepared for this turn of events the parents found themselves stone-walled in their quest to obtain a more appropriate classroom environment for their intellectually gifted child. Socialization, as an issue, is a show-stopper if you're not prepared to deal with it.

The argument above sounds so reasonable. It sounds even more reasonable if you know that Sam often loses his temper in class and doesn't play well with the other children. No parent likes to see a child sitting off by himself or on the sidelines staring at the group playing a game. We wish that somehow we knew what to do. No one likes to feel like an outsider all the time. The principal's offer sounds good. The school counselor will work with Sam to help him learn to get along with the other children. The classroom teacher will make sure that Sam works in cooperative groups with the other children to help him improve his social skills. Yep. Sounds like Sam needs to wait a few years before he's ready to learn something new in Math or to have a reading book that has some meat to it. Sam needs to be "socialized" first.

The problem is, the "reasonable" argument is based upon misunderstandings and misconceptions. The "Sam" in our example has achievement test scores that place him at least two grade levels above his current placement. He rarely learns anything "new" in school. The teacher criticizes Sam for careless mistakes in math and sloppy spelling in English. She insists that he do exactly the same work as every other child in her classroom. His teacher really wants the best for Sam but she doesn't understand why he acts the way he does. The behavior modification techniques taught in her classroom methods course don't work with Sam. Sam, being a child, is not able to articulate what's wrong in ways that the adults around him understand or accept. Sam's attempts to blame the teacher are seen as evidence of emotional immaturity. The adults, however, see nothing wrong with "blaming the child." Sam's search for competency (which is normal for his psychosocial stage) ends at the roadblock of "socialization."

Environment and Temperament

"Longitudinal temperament studies suggest that many behavioral deviations are initially a straightforward response to a poor fit between, on the one hand, a child's temperament and emotional needs and, on the other hand, parental attitudes and child-rearing practices." (p 1072)

             "Synopsis of Psychiatry," Kaplan and Sadock, 7th Edition.

In other words, the child who is trying to adapt to an unbearable situation is at risk of developing behaviors which are problematic for those around him. Changing the situation or environment was shown to be more effective in eliminating "problem" behaviors in the children of the New York Longitudinal Study of Temperament in Children. Thomas and Chess in their report on that study, "Temperament in Clinical Practice," noted that refusal of parents or the child's teacher to change their style of interacting with the child (to match the child's temperament) was reflected in an increase in "problematic" behaviors.

Point #1: Changing the environment to match the child's needs is more effective than insisting that the child adapt to the environment. Meeting Sam's need for academic challenge and reducing his boredom will eliminate the problem behaviors if the changes occur before Sam develops a pattern of maladaptive coping, i.e. misbehaving in class.

Socialization

"Socialization is the aggregate of an individual's acquired habits of conformity to the rules and expectations of the society in which he lives."

              -- David T. Lykken in "The Antisocial Personality"

Lykken lists three principal components of "socialization:"

1) Conscientiousness -- a general disposition to avoid antisocial behaviors. We obey the rules out of habit rather than by "counting the cost."

2) Prosociality -- a general disposition toward prosocial behaviors: altruism, nurturing, caring, and affection. Learned through the cultivation of empathy and participation in and enjoyment of affectionate relationships with others. Learned via role models who are admired and emulated.

3) Acceptance of Responsibility -- learned behaviors: work ethic, "pulling your own weight," reaching goals through one's own hard work. Acceptance of conventional family and social responsibilities.

Point #2: The school is charged by society with teaching children to be responsible, productive, and contributing members of society. Teaching these skills is a bona fide part of the school curriculum. Sam does need to learn to work hard, to be a caring member of the classroom, and to follow reasonable rules of behavior. Note Lykken's comments about the importance of role models in the learning of prosocial behaviors.

Peers

"... the word 'peer' denotes 'equal standing' ... semantic usage in English doesn't make for correct usage, i.e. use of 'peer' to mean age-mates is common but incorrect." (Handbook of Child Psychology, Vol IV. 4th Ed. p106)

"Equivalence in chronological age does not mean that children are necessarily equivalent in other attributes -- for example, intellectual abilities, social skills ..." (op. cit., p 107)

"Peer status should mean interaction at similar levels of behavioral complexity." (ibid)

"Same-age socialization can be viewed as a context for acquiring skills needed in give-and-take -- both pleasant social exchanges and aggressive ones." (op. cit. p 109)

Point #3: For most children, their age-mates are similar enough in intellectual abilities and social skills to qualify as 'peers.' Valuable social learning occurs in the classroom and on the playground as a result. The school's expectations that students will acquire needed social skills as a result of classroom and playground interactions with their peers is not unreasonable. Age-mates often serve as role models for each other.

Role Models

"A person can learn by imitating the behavior of another person, but personal factors are involved. If the role model is not someone the person likes, imitative behavior is not likely to occur." (Synopsis of Psychiatry. Kaplan & Sadock, 7th ed. p 169)

"Persons learn by observing others, intentionally or accidentally; that process is known as modeling or learning through imitation. The person's choice of a model is influenced by a variety of factors, such as age, sex, status, and similarity to oneself." (ibid)

"People are more likely to imitate individuals who are experts or powerful but pleasant, who resemble them in a number of ways and who receive rewards for what they're doing especially if the rewards are things desired by the subject." (Social Skills for Mental Health. p 92)

Point #4: If the intellectually gifted child is to learn appropriate social behaviors through observation and imitation then he must see himself as "similar" to the role model. In Sam's situation, it is more likely that he will imitate the classroom teacher instead of his classmates and will adopt the teacher's manner of speaking and interacting with the other children (bossy, critical, demanding). Placing Sam with older children or those who are at or above his level academically will provide him the opportunity to observe and learn from their behaviors. He will be more likely to imitate their behaviors since they are both "more expert" and "more similar" to Sam than his age-mates.

Problematic Behaviors

(From: Social Skills for Mental Health. p 92)

"Excessive Behaviors (occuring in groups):

1) hyperactivity [pacing, fidgeting, repetitive movements]
2) aggressive or impulsive behaviors
3) attention-seeking behaviors
4) emotional lability (inappropriate laughing or crying)
5) general disruption

"Deficient Behaviors (occuring in groups):

1) negativism (refusal to participate)
2) inattentiveness
3) apathy and withdrawal (unable or unwilling)
4) anxiety (fearfulness, afraid to speakup or participate)"

Learned Helplessness -- "develops when a [child] learns that no behavioral pattern can influence [change] the environment." (Kaplan & Sadock, p 169)

"... many behavioral deviations are initially a straightforward response to a poor fit between [the child and the environment]." (op. cit. p 1072)

"Asserting one's own will and opposing that of others is crucial to normal development. It is related to establishing one's autonomy, forming an identity, and setting inner standards and controls. (Kaplan & Sadock, p1069)

"Children may have constitutional or temperamental predispositions to strong will, strong preferences, or assertiveness. If power and control are issues for the [adults] or if they exercise authority for their own needs, a struggle can ensue that set the stage for the development of [oppositional behaviors]." (ibid)

Point #5: All behavior is goal directed and adaptive. Specific behavior patterns evolve during childhood as a result of the interaction between temperament, abilities and motivations, and interaction with the environment. Sam's behavior problems didn't just suddenly appear. They resulted from his attempts to cope with an unbearable environment over a period of time.

What Sam Really Needs

In our example, Sam is between the ages of 6 and 11; this is the psychosocial developmental stage labeled "Industry vs Inferiority" by Erikson. Sam's behavior depends upon more than just his intellectual abilities. His social and emotional growth may be more similar to his age-mates than it is to that of his intellectual peers who may be in the "Identity vs Role Diffusion" psychosocial stage (ages 11 - late teens).

"Industry, the ability to work and acquire adult skills, is the keynote of this stage. Children learn that they are able to make things and, most important, able to master and complete a task ... The productive child learns the pleasure of work completion and the pride of doing something well." (Kaplan & Sadock, p 262)

"Good teachers and good parents who encourage children to value diligence and productivity and to persevere in difficult enterprises are bulwarks against a sense of inferiority ... Conversely, a school environment that denigrates or discourages children can diminish their self-esteem, even if their parents reward their industriousness at home." (op. cit. p 263)

"Children can become confident of their ability ... or they can forsake the attempt, forsake industry itself, and come to the conclusion that they are inferior and cannot operate the things of the world." (op. cit. p 48)

Sam needs to have a school environment in which he can grow both intellectually, through academic challenge, and psychosocially. He needs role models, with whom he identifies, to model appropriate social behaviors for him. He needs a classroom environment that adapts to his temperament. Finding these things for Sam may not be easy.

Point #7: The school principal may be correct. Keeping Sam in the current classroom situation may be the right decision.

Point #8: If the current classroom environment does not change to accomodate Sam's needs, Sam's attempts to change the classroom through his disruptive behavior will probably continue.

Point #9: Sam needs academic challenge in order to develop a sense of competency. His greatest psychosocial needs are to have work that is "worth doing." He needs to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Conclusions

Sam's parents have a tough decision ahead of them. Sam may need some outside help to unlearn the maladaptive behaviors. If a grade skip is the only way that the school can provide Sam with sufficient academic challenge to meet his psychosocial developmental needs then Sam may need some coaching in social skills to help him adapt to the new classroom and teacher. Older children, assigned as "buddies," can provide the "more powerful or expert, and pleasant (friendly)" role models who are similar enough that Sam willingly and unconsciously imitates their prosocial behaviors. Sad to say, Sam's parents will probably need to "educate" the educators about the real meaning of "socialization."

Editor: Valorie J. King (vjking@erols.com)

Return to... Hoagies' Gifted Education Page

Send suggestions and corrections to webmaster@hoagiesgifted.com
Copyright 1997 by Valorie King, All Rights Reserved
Last updated July 28, 1997 counter


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