Spelling Bee Lessons

The school spelling bee was yesterday. It was epic. I should’ve worn stronger antiperspirant.

Spelling beeWe’ve not had good luck with school spelling bees. The first was in 2nd grade but she was young having skipped 1st grade. She didn’t really get that there are no second chances in spelling competitions. Spell it wrong and you’re gone. HORIZONTAL did her in.

It was one tough lesson.

The next spelling bee didn’t come until 4th grade at the new school she’d started just a few weeks prior. By this time she knew the rules but though she’d win – no problem. She rushed and got the word wrong. We think it was CATERPILLAR that made her stumble but can’t remember for sure.

Another tough lesson.

Which brings us to today. She’d already won her class spelling bee and the school competition determines if she goes on to the regional bee.

She studied but I wouldn’t say she studied diligently. What she did work on was slowing down. Making sure she hears the word correctly, visualizing it and carefully and deliberately spelling it aloud.

Considering her history, she just didn’t want to go out in the first round.

And then she did.

The principal called the word – GRADE – without the benefit of a microphone. Not sure why because it was right next to him. He needed it as you can imagine in a gymnasium full of wiggly little kids.

She heard the word (so she thought) and even asked him to repeat it so she could be sure (so she thought).

And then she spelled – RAID – and she was out.

And my heart broke And my poor sweet girl, who could’ve spelled that word way back in preschool, had bombed yet another spelling bee. As she pushed her seat back I could see the chin quiver. You know how that happens right before you cry? It was rough.

She managed to hold it together until the end of that round and then there was a February miracle. One of the teachers, not her own teacher who was actually on the judge’s panel, but another teacher contested her elimination because she hadn’t correctly heard the word because the principal didn’t use the microphone. Thankfully, all the powers that be agreed and she rejoined the spelling bee.

And the principal started using the microphone.

One of the best parts for me as a mom was hearing the school cheer for her when she rejoined the competition. Even her fellow students knew she got a raw deal.

And then she won.

I think my husband may have let out a whoop. He’s been saving up from all those never played basketball and soccer games, the dance recitals that never were and the gymnastics meets that never will be. He wanted to cheer for his kid. One of the sweetest things I’ve ever witnessed.

Yes, I’m proud of her for winning the spelling bee. Not because spelled the words correctly (finally!) but because she learned from her past mistakes. She didn’t let the first-round snafu rattle her confidence. She showed grit.

She won that spelling bee like a boss.

But more than feeling prideful I’m feeling happy. It’s not often that she’s recognized for her accomplishments. You can’t really run around showing everyone your straight A report card or IQ score – unless you really don’t want to have any friends.

Winning the spelling bee is giving her a moment of glory and she deserves it.

What are your experiences with academic competitions or spelling bees? Share in the comments or on Facebook.

The False Hope of Differentiation for Gifted Students

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If you haven’t read James R. Delisle’s article, Differentiation Doesn’t Work in EdWeek go read it when you’re done here. The link is at the bottom of the page.

The first time I heard the term differentiation as it relates to gifted education was when my daughter was still in pre-school. We knew she was gifted because we’d had her tested when she was three and were beginning to think about schooling options.

Differentation for gifted students offers false hope

Differentiation Offers False Hope for Gifted Students

A friend of a friend had a gifted child and she’d been down this path a few years before. We met over coffee (her) and Diet Coke (me) and I heard her story. It’s a familiar one to me now but then it was all so brand new. Gifted child who isn’t having needs met in school. By now we all know the drill.

She’s the one who clued me in on some key terms I should become familiar with as I began my search for an appropriate school.

“Make sure there is differentiation for gifted students in the classroom. That means they’ll meet each student where they are so they’re learning at their own pace.”

It was like being given the secret password to making sure your gifted student is adequately served in a mainstream classroom. Sweet! My hopes of not having to worry about my daughter’s educational needs were on the verge of being fulfilled.

I had bought into the false hope of differentiation.

When my daughter started school I really thought this whole differentiation thing would be THE answer. There would be no need for an expensive private school because the public school principal assured me that all the teachers differentiated the curriculum. The professionals had this all under control.

I can hear you chuckling but I believed.

And then it didn’t happen.

I suspect (know) that we had it easier than many others. I’ve heard the horror stories and this isn’t one of them. Our story is merely disappointing and frustrating. My daughter did benefit from subject acceleration. She was double-promoted (grade skipped). She attends a pull-out gifted program once a week. She’s used GiftedandTalented.com for math, well it was EPGY back then, as subject enrichment. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, enough.

Who’s to Blame?

The thing is, I don’t blame the teachers. I’ve been in charge of a bunch of kids before and it seems I spent the bulk of my time just putting out fires. Figuratively, not literally. But remember, I’m not a professional teacher or child wrangler. So when I hear that teachers can’t develop individual learning plans that fit the wide range of abilities they find in their classrooms, I get it.

I don’t expect teachers who have no training identifying gifted children to realize that the quiet boy in the back row or the girl who can’t still may need a differentiated curriculum. Not all wiggly kids have ADHD and not all straight-A students are gifted. My point is, teachers need more training in knowing what gifted is when they see it.

I don’t expect teachers who have zero training in how to serve gifted children to know how to provide meaningful learning opportunities for them. Once they know who the gifted students are they have to know how to serve them. Those extra worksheets don’t count. They can’t rely on those pull-out gifted programs to provide 100% of what these kids need.

I really don’t expect teachers who have to be concerned about the hungry kids, the ill-cared for kids, the kids in the margins of society and the margins of their classrooms to recognize that maybe that one gifted kid in the class is bored out of her ever-loving skull.

Because, reality.

If all the education theorists and all the classroom teachers can’t figure out how to make differentiation work I’m not sure I can do any better. But, maybe there could be some baby steps…

  • Take a chance and group the gifted kids/high-achieving kids together. Doesn’t cost anything and you’d have some pretty happy kids.


  • Spend less time raising the bottom of the class and just a little more time letting the top of the class fly. I really believe that all kids will surprise you when expectations are reasonably high. Set the bar higher for those who show high potential. They just might amaze you.


  • Use some of those standardized tests to justify moving kids more quickly through the curriculum. If a student is several grade levels beyond everyone else in math or reading/comprehension my guess is that they can absorb information more quickly than the slowest member of the classroom. Keeping them to the same on the same schedule seems grossly unfair.

I know, I know. There are a bazillion factors I’m not considering. I’m just considering what’s best for my child because someone has to.

Go read James Delisle’s article. He’s a bona fide expert and much more eloquent than I am on the false hope of differentiation for gifted students.

Have you had success with differentiation in the schools? Share your experiences in the comments or on Facebook.

17 Wishes for Making Parenting Gifted Children Easier

I was Facebook chatting with a friend who’s just starting out on her journey of parenting a gifted kindergartener and we were talking about what would make our lives easier as we guide these unique little people. These are the items I came up with in no particular order.

gifted children, parenting

Parenting Gifted Children Made Easier

Yep, I get it. Wishing for things to be easy as we raise gifted children is a total first-world problem. My kid has a full belly and goes to bed feeling safe. I’m more than thankful for this.

Nope, not all of these are very realistic. I know that. Some are tongue-in-cheek. Maybe a few of these things are already happening in some magical places but I’m pretty confident that they’re not the standard.

But some of these wishes sure seem like they could should be the norm.

Parenting a gifted child would be easier if…

  • Neighborhood libraries were open 24-7 and the next book in whatever series they’re reading was always available.


  • School districts provided professional development for ALL teachers on the identification of gifted students.


  • All the enrichment programs were high-quality, reasonable priced, within a 20-minute drive of home, and the schedules never conflicted with any other activities. And all those enrichment locations should be next to a coffee shop with comfy chairs and strong Wi-Fi (I’m writing this at a coffee shop 60 minutes away from home while my daughter is at math class. There are no comfy chairs.)


  • We could figure out how to download those *&{@! Minecraft mods without infecting our computers with some horrific virus. (I’ve had zero personal success with this.)


  • Differentiation in the classroom happened and it actually worked. (Remember, these are wishes – anything can happen!)


  • Every teacher, principal, and superintendent would be educated on what gifted students need in the classroom and then they’d provide it.


  • Elementary classes would be on a block schedule to allow say, a 1st grader to go to 4th grade math and 3rd grade reading without ripping a hole in the space-time continuum.


  • Schools would celebrate academic achievement the same way they celebrate athletic achievement (No, I’m not suggesting getting rid of traditional athletics!)


  • And for those middle school students that need to go to the high school for classes, please provide transportation. Thank you.


  • Gifted students would be grouped in a class so they would have true peers they could interact with. Maybe chat about things like a comparative analysis of Matt Smith vs. David Tennant vs. the new old Doctor (Whovians will understand).


  • Scratch that – gifted students would have their own school. No more pull-out enrichment programs that while we are so thankful for are simply not enough to sustain these kids.


  • There would be one universally acknowledged definition of what it means to be gifted and one universally accepted assessment to determine if in fact one meets that definition.


  • Chess club would count as a sport.


  • Computer programming would be taught as early as elementary school.


  • Teachers would communicate via email rather than the archaic ‘backpack’ system. (Ok, not really a gifted thing but I hate digging through a backpack for the latest classroom news. I’m sure most schools already do this and I’m just in a black hole of poor communication).


  • Librarians would limit the weight of the books a child checks out each week to prevent future chiropractic bills.


  • The term “smarty-pants” would be banned. Please.


I reserve the right to add to this list as the whims hit me.

What say you – what’s on your wish list?