Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Rose by Any Other Name

Barbara Vandecreek is the author of the Math Rules! Series published by Pieces of Learning. This post was written in May of 2006 and just made it to the top of the pile again. I thought it deserved a re-post. Please share it! - Tyler Young

by Barbara Vandecreek


I fell for it too... disguise the name of the class. We don't want to offend anyone, don't want the kids to stand out from the others. People thought it was invoking elitism to call students 'gifted.' The first district I worked in called the pull-out, "Challenge Class."

You know I still get a funny feeling inside when I meet someone and am asked what I do. New conversations always go to that, "So you're a teacher." Then predictably, "What do you teach?" Reluctantly I answer, "gifted." I've been teaching gifted for over twenty years. You'd think I'd get over it. I feel like I'm trying to show off or something, a false pride in working with smart kids. Do special ed teachers get the feeling that they're special? Coaches don't have any problem saying they coach. They're proud of it and expect applause. Some, not all.

A neighbor of mine once took umbrage when he overheard me tell a guest at a party that I "taught gifted." He puffed out his chest mockingly and told me that I sounded pompous. Did I really sound pompous or was that his projection? How do I know if it's in my mind or his? Why do people feel that way? Is it intimidating for them? After all, I do point out that I teach gifted. I'm careful not to say I'm a gifted teacher. I don't know if they catch the distinction.

Some of the names given to cover up the identification of gifted classes include KARE (the acronym includes the name of the school district), EDGE, EL (Exceptional Learner), Endeavor, and many others. The cute names remind me how teachers used to call their reading groups: blue birds, robins, and eagles. Everyone knew that the eagles were the smart kids. No one had to tell them.

I must say that within the last few years the state organization in which I am a member has been encouraging districts to call the gifted classes gifted classes. I don't think everyone does it yet. I know that because one question in the recent self-report each district must send to the state education department asks, "What is the local name your district uses for service, if any?" And, at a meeting of coordinators not long ago, a coordinator remarked that we need not use 'that' word. I sided with the coordinator who spoke up that if we called the class "Purple" everyone would know that the meaning of purple was 'gifted'.

It hit me October 3rd, 2004 and never again will I hesitate to call my students gifted or my classes the gifted classes. I was watching the television program "Sunday Morning, CBS" and the commentator interviewed Ringo Starr. At one point Ringo said, and I quote, "I play the drums. That's what I do. It's God's gift to me, so I do it the best I can."

Now when my students and I talk about the class they are in I tell them like it is. High intelligence is a gift. You can't buy it. You can't earn it. You can't pick it out from a set of choices. It is given to you, that's why it's called a gift. So, do the best you can with it. You don't need to defend it. Don't hide it. When someone gives you a gift you wear it, show it off, play with it, use it. Tell it like it is!

The local name my district uses for the service goes by no other name - "Gifted Class."

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Language in a texting world

"Texting is fingered speech.  Now we can write the way we talk" - John McWhorter

Texting often gets a bad rap when it comes to its effect on the English Language.  Many articles, books, and lectures have featured debates about the long-term effect that texting will have on the way we communicate.

However, studies are now showing that students are able to communicate just as well as before texting was popular.  If anything, texting is encouraging children to use written language more often in a more casual and less threatening environment.



With every generation come cries that teenagers are destroying the language with their slang. People are now complaining that casual language used in texts and instant messages keeps kids from understanding how to write and speak “properly.” In fact, experts say that texting is far from destroying English, but innovating and enriching the language.

We used to speak like we talked, however, now it’s the other way around. Now, we can write quickly enough to capture qualities of spoken language in our writing, and teens are doing just that. John McWhorter’s 2013 TED Talk “Txting is killing language. JK!!!” states that teenagers are innovating language. He believes their creative development of the English language should be not mocked, but studied, calling texting “an expansion of [young people’s] linguistic repertoire.” As an example, he focuses in on the term lol. It can now be used not only to talk about something truly funny, but instead sets a tone that the person writing the text is conveying a lighthearted tone.

So, while LOL and ROFL may not have been part of our language 15 years ago, now may be the perfect time to embrace and celebrate our ever-changing language.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Nancy Polette, the person I want to be when I grow up!

Nancy Polette (pronounced nan’-sē po-lēt’) is one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Her love of reading and passion for writing are an inspiration for everyone.


Nancy Polette with other members of the Pieces of Learning family at
a Texas Gifted Conference.
I had the honor and privilege of traveling and working with Nancy for several years through Pieces of Learning; she as a conference presenter and me as conference exhibitor. She never ceased to amaze me with her ability to captivate her audience, while teaching the teachers to get the best use of books in their classrooms. She is also a lot of fun after the work was done! Over dinner, she could tell some of the funniest and most interesting stories about her life as a workshop and conference presenter, as well as an educator for many years. She was always extremely popular and in high demand.  She has traveled more than 2 million miles across this nation presenting at educational conferences, staff development workshops and training teachers in library-use practices.


Nancy’s first official publication was a poem, which was published in a children’s magazine when she was only 10 years old. Of course, she later became a teacher and librarian! She has taught at both the elementary and college levels, while continuing to write professional books, novels and picture books, along with hundreds of literature guides for teachers to use in the classroom.

Her writing career really began when she realized there were not enough resources available for teachers to use in the school libraries. So she promptly wrote several resources and guides for the teachers and librarians to use.

She has been an educator for over fifty years and is the Professor Emeritus of Education at Lindenwood University near St. Louis, Missouri. Nancy believes that reading is knowledge and she worries that if kids today are not passionate about reading, they may not be as well-educated as they could be.

Nancy’s books continue to be best sellers for Pieces of Learning. You may recognize some of her titles, History or Hoax, Blunder or Brainstorm, Damsel or Daredevil, Gifted or Goof Off, Research Reports to Knock Your Teacher’s Socks Off, Research Without Copying, The Best of Nancy Polette, Eight Cinderellas, Genuine Geniuses, The Research Book for Gifted Programs K-8, Another Point of View, It’s a Myth, Activities for Any Novel, Activities for Any Picture Book, over 400 popular classroom literature guides, and many, many more.

Nancy is my role model.  I am so grateful to her for her kind and gentle words of encouragement to me during an extremely difficult time in my life. She helped me believe in me!

By:  Peggy Hord, Consultant Coordinator, Pieces of Learning



In honor of Nancy and her legacy at Pieces of Learning, we are offering all of her books 25% off. Order any of Nancy's books from our website before June 15th and use the coupon code POLETTE to get this discount and experience the teaching strategies that have made Nancy so popular with Pieces of Learning's customers!