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Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Teaching with Games

Thanks to uninterlaced for today's topic. He mentioned in a comment to yesterday's post that all he did in a weekly gifted pull-out program was play games.

To observers of my workshops with gifted children, what I'm doing looks pretty unremarkable. I leap around the room a bit more than most instructors, perhaps, but basically I spend the whole time playing games with the kids. Another improv teacher could come in and not perceive anything wildly unusual about what I'm up to.

What I'm doing is interacting with the kids as a gifted adult and teaching on multiple levels. I create a space where everyone is safe yet free to explore, knowing on some level that I will hold the space for them. I always go in with a lesson plan, but very often I will modify it, mix up the order, or abandon it completely.

I teach to the needs of the group with a constant awareness of the group dynamic and developmental purpose of each game. I follow the "aliveness" - the game that intrigues the kids, the one they want to play again and again. I take the elements of that game and present each one in a different game format to find out exactly what fascinates them so much. Then I push for more risk-taking and opportunities to fail in that area; or I use the format to teach another learning objective.

It sounds very involved but I do it all almost subconciously because I am deeply in the moment. This immersive teaching process is something that can be applied to teaching lots of different things, but it does require enormous creativity and mental energy. I first saw it modeled by my teacher, Keith Johnstone and I was so inspired. He was having as much fun as we were, solving the problems we presented to him minute by minute.

Games are a great way to teach things. Improv games are usually highly entertaining to play and hilarious to watch. However, as learning tools, games themselves are pretty useless on their own. They need a teacher who knows how, when, and why they are useful and who constantly adapts the game to the group. With gifted kids, this requires an exceptionally sensitive individual who can understand the patterns and processes of the gifted and teach to their learning edge.

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Monday, February 27, 2006



I recently finished reading several books about ADHD. I started researching attention issues after a particularly draining workshop with Grade 1-3 gifted kids. I learnt a lot about sequencing activities and teaching so that all children could learn more easily and effectively. However, the characterisics and behaviours identified as the "symptom cluster" for ADHD could just as easily be a gifted person, acting this way for any number of reasons.

What does this mean? Are all gifted people ADHD? Am I?! I recognized myself in many case studies. It makes my head spin a little. Especially because according to some experts the only way to know for sure if you have it is to try stimulant medication and see if it alleviates your symptoms. About 2/3 of people diagnosed with some form of ADHD respond to meds - so what about the other 1/3? What hope or help for them?

My interim conclusion is that we are in the infancy of all brain sciences and in future people will look back on this time and shudder at our ignorance. There's no doubt that our medications do wonders for many mental illnesses and that we have made enormous progress. But in terms of understanding what is really going on inside someone's mind and soul and treating it by applying chemicals to their brain, I think we have miles to go.

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Friday, February 24, 2006


What Do "Normal" People Think of the Gifted?

Thanks to Unsane for poking my brain in this direction. Why do the gifted get pathologized so often? What do we look like to the rest of the world? GENERALIZATION WARNING! This whole post includes huge generalizations about both gifted people and everyone else. If generalizations offend you in principle, stop reading now!

I've been trying to figure out this question for a while. Improv has really helped me because when I am performing, I produce instant character sketches that have to resonnate with people all the way to the back of the bar. I must use every stereotype I can come up with to flesh out the character and engage the audience. This has led to me "collecting" stereotypes and prejudices to exploit later on stage.

The conclusions from my research are:
1. Normal people expect strangers to behave reasonably predictably.
2. They base their predictions on visible or auditory markers, like accent, speech style, fashion sense, role, ethnicity, age, and their own judgement of what's normal.
3. Behaving outside the prediction is funny/interesting in performance but very threatening in real life.
4. Normal people can tolerate more unpredictability as personal relationship increases, but there is a fairly low limit for this behaviour.
5. Unpredictable behaviour puts unbearable stress on a social system which must be removed if the system is to be preserved unchanged.

So I think many of the problems of gifted people in general are based on them not conforming to predictions and thereby destabilizing everyone else's nice comfy social systems and stereotypes. I don't think that much of the rejection is personal; it's just much easier than figuring out why the behaviour is occurring and accommodating it through change. I found this lovely quote from Olin Miller to illustrate the idea: "You probably wouldn't worry about what other people think of you if you knew how seldom they do." It's too much hassle!

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Thursday, February 23, 2006


Choosing a Coach (or other professional)

Thanks to the trollish comment of Mr. Morris for sparking today's post. Also, I think it's a helpful followup to my last post!

First of all, determine what the problem is to the best of your ability. Even if you can't pin it down exactly, just write down the things that are driving you crazy. Identify any and all categories of professional that might be able to help. You wouldn't go to a dentist for a foot problem, but you might go to a podiatrist for input on your back problem.

Once you have a list, ask around; local associations related to the issue, social workers, school counselors, doctors, friends, family, anyone you can trust. This is the number one way most people use to find services, and there's a good reason - a recommendation takes some of the stress out of the process. However, no-one is living your life; recommendations that are right for them may be wrong for you. Complement your word-of-mouth search with contacting professional associations, trying google searches for websites of likely people, and checking the Yellow Pages.

Now you must find The Right One from this vast and confusing array of people. My advice will always be - Go With Your Gut. Set up introductory appointments by phone or in person. It's a bit like dating - you'll get a first impression of a person that will tell you a lot, and you should trust that feeling. Like dating, it can be frustrating and exhausing and you will probably go through stages of feeling that you'll never find The Right One. Prepare yourself for a long haul.

Gifted people are more likely than most to realize the limitations of qualifications and degrees. While these things protect you in some important ways and show a dedication to professional learning, they can't tell you whether this person is the right fit for you. In my opinion, finding the fit is more important than any letters after someone's name. Many will disagree with me; all I will say is that they may have another agenda. Trust your gut.

Here's the vital point - once you have decided to begin work with someone, always remember that you are the client. You have to power to ask for what you want and fire someone who is not delivering. This is your time. However, if you aren't getting what you expected, it's your responsibility to speak up and let the professional you are employing know about it. You will learn a lot about them by their reaction! A good professional will adjust to your requests, or recommend someone else if they can't give you what you need.

Good luck! I welcome your feedback.

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Friday, February 17, 2006


The Answer is In The Question

I participated in an online conference this week. The keynote speaker was Annemarie Roeper, and it was a very interesting experience. The usual conference protocol is warped by the medium; each participant receives email posts of what the keynote and other participants have posted, meaning the keynote posts get lost in the noise. People are also more likely to ask very individual questions and post multiple times as if it is a small group (there were over 600 registrants!)

What I noticed was the number of parents asking questions about their kids' behaviour that are impossible to address without more context. It would be irresponsible for the keynote or anyone else to offer anything but the most general suggestions. Some people are probably just unaware of how unique each "case" is when you are dealing with the gifted population.

The reason that it's so difficult to get good, informed, and useful advice is because there is a shortage of professionals willing and able to educate themselves about giftedness. It would be wonderful if there were easy answers available that we could give out as a checklist or decision tree, but it doesn't work that way, and I caution you against anyone who tells you otherwise. It takes time to build a relationship with a family and to earn the trust of a gifted individual in pain. These sensitive people are often the "canary" - the person who reacts first and most strongly to imbalances inside themselves, at home, or elsewhere.

So it's a bit like meeting a lawyer at a party and asking for advice about your pending divorce. If you find yourself forming personal questions in your head, your answer is simple; it's time to get professional help, or invest in becoming an expert yourself. It will require research and time and money, but it really is the most efficient way to proceed.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006


Vocations and Multipotentiality

Thanks to shutteredeye for today's questions: "How would you advise someone to discover what it is that they are truly meant to do? For example, is it a disservice to society for me, capable of excelling as a neurosurgeon, to instead pursue say, photography? In your opinion is it a waste of talent or resources, so to speak?"

As a coach, I don't advise people how to discover what they are meant to do - I work with them as they answer that question for themselves. We brainstorm, look at things as many ways as we can conceive of, and talk about values, dreams, goals, fears, and ultimate fulfillment. The process is different for everyone but basically we work from the inside out. We turn up the volume on that small voice inside that knows what is right.

Something I've noticed lately is that gifted people rarely find one thing that they are meant to do forever - what is deeply satisfying to them changes as they grow and change. My clients pick up the skills and tools learnt during the coaching process again and again throughout their lives. Especially the internal volume control!

Following this thread, I believe deeply that the only person who has a valid opinion about what to do with your multiple talents is you. After all, you're the only one who really knows what you are capable of. In my view, it is a disservice to society to do anything other than that which calls most deeply to your soul. Your talent for other things will inform whatever it is that you are most passionate about.

To use your example, there's many ways to combine a passion for photography with a detailed knowledge of the brain. Or perhaps it's the manual dexterity that is your talent - again, it will help you in unanticipated ways in photography, perhaps creating a unique artform. Who is to say that a completely new aesthetic sensibility is of less value to society than an awesome brain surgeon? I certainly can't judge.

No person who is storming into the world and using the magnificence of their unique talents is ever wasting anything. It's the people who play small that go to the grave with their music still inside them.

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Monday, February 13, 2006


Gifted Love

Valentine's Day tomorrow - I won't be posting then because I've plans all day, so I'm sharing a few thoughts right now.

One of the largest complaints of the highly gifted adults I know is the difficulty of meeting potential partners who "get" them intellectually. The relative scarcity of gifted adults in the population makes it hard. The greater variability amongst gifted people makes it even harder. Many do place a high value on intellectual compatibility. So how do you meet someone right for you?

The greater sensitivity of many gifted people can make them ideal candidates for internet dating and email communication. Some research shows that introversion is more common amongst gifted people, so what could be better than a medium that doesn't have to involve the party scene? It is less stressful than initial face-to-face contact and both people have more control of their environment. In my opinion it's been a godsend for people in all kinds of subcultures looking for love.

However, there are plenty of other ways to find pockets of gifted people. Games clubs, special interest clubs, improv groups (!), and even clubs like Mensa are full of them. One straight gifted woman I know placed a personal ad in the classified section of her local newspaper that gave all the normal information, but tagged on the sentence "I'm probably smarter than you are. If you're not intimidated by this possibility, give me a call." She got a small selection of interesting men replying who she was quite happy to date.

For the gifted looking for long-term love, it's not a numbers game. It's more a question of finding a group of prospects in a setting that's comfortable. If you're a gifted person reading this, what techniques have worked for you? Let's share the love! Happy Valentine's Day!

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Saturday, February 11, 2006



I must confess to a little hubris. I've done quite a few workshops lately with gifted kids and even some work with gifted adults, and I was starting to feel that I'd got the whole thing under control.

Then, along came a group that I was totally unprepared for. It was a big group, the first time they had ever been together, and they were in a new place with new teachers (me, and the gifted resource teacher). They were very young and some of them clearly had difficulty staying focused even when they wanted to.

It was one of those times when I simply had to throw the plan out of the window and improvise the teaching. Once I had recovered from the shock of all this unrestrained energy, I changed tack to some very physical activities to take the edge off the nervous excitment. I started to switch activities every five minutes just to keep them engaged. I ditched a whole bunch of games and even made up some completely new versions. It was exhausting and fascinating for me, and hopefully fun for the kids.

Luckily, I get another chance with this particular group. I'm busy reading all I can on ADD, ADHD, and other disorders to get some specific ideas on how to deal with the focus issue. I am humbled to think that some teachers have to deal with this with only a few hours of training on the needs of gifted kids and practically no information on twice-exceptional (2E) kids - those with a learning disability who are also gifted. The challenge is to make it rich and enjoyable for every kid in this very diverse class.

I do love a good challenge!

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Excited to be Me

I love my work. I love, love, love my work! I think it is the best thing in the world to watch a bunch of 4th graders who don't know each other turn into a cohesive group in two hours flat. I love to see a kid who is all annoyed at the world, and particularly me, start laughing and smiling inside of 45 minutes. I most especially love to confuse a gifted kid who has all the answers and have him be OK with confusion by the end of the day. Such is the power of improv.

I'm a bit spinny with the wonderfulness of it all. Having a job that is always challenging me to innovate is something I thought I would never achieve. This is a short post because now I have to re-plan the whole next day of this workshop based on what happened today. It's so cool, and I just had to share. May it happen for you.

Sometimes by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man; decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

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Friday, February 03, 2006


Career Counselling for the Gifted

Thanks to soh for today's question:

"I also found standard career counselling useless but I'm curious as to why it is so useless for those with a higher IQ. What rationale did you arrive at?"

Corporations like people to fit neatly into the jobs they have available. They need people to be predictable and to perform consistently, because they are trying to produce a standard product. The standard product helps them build their market and build trust with their customers. Makes good sense.

Gifted people are many things but usually not terribly predictable and consistent, at least not over the long haul. They are always testing the system and thinking of ways to do things better. Many thrive on change and need to be constantly learning. Rarely do they stay neatly within their job description. The same traits that cause friction in the educational system are even more problematic in the workplace, where there is no duty to accommodate and the bottom line rules.

Career counsellors are trying to get you employed, and all their assesments come from the same basic assumption; there is a list of possible jobs, and they will try to fit you neatly into one of them that uses your skills and aptitude. Multipotentiality complicates this approach with many gifted people - who may be excellent at multiple unrelated skills, giving a uniformly high score in skill or interest subtests.

More importantly, career counsellors are not about helping you figure out what will allow you to fulfil your potential nor supporting you as you invent a way to make money doing it. If all you want is to make money, and live your real life outside of work hours (see Einstein), this is a sound approach. But if you want work that is truly engaging and huge fun, you may have to create it yourself - like this guy. Even more difficult is the need to be prepared to innovate yet again, as your internal drive to growth looks for the next challenge.

This is potentially a whole book (yes, I'm going to write it!) but I think it mainly boils down to the incompatibility of the gifted and the corporation. I am making huge generalizations here, but there simply isn't any research on this yet - I'm looking at grad school! I feel very strongly that both groups need each other; I would love to find a way to make it work.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006


How I Found My Purpose: Chapter 7

The three weeks I spent determining whether or not I was cut out to be an entrepreneur were extremely draining. It felt like being thrown against the wall like a piece of overcooked spaghetti, day after day. I learnt a lot about providing psychological safety for sensitive people when doing group work. By the end, I found out that I had plenty of the required stubornness, sass, and spirit to run my own business. I simply couldn't see myself working my way up a corporate ladder, so it looked like it was start my own business or die trying.

The only problem was that I didn't know what I would sell. I was going to start a virtual assistant business, but only because I didn't have any better ideas. Then I sat down with one of the program advisors for coffee and coaching, and confessed my confusion. He asked the right questions, uncovering my passions for improv, working with youth, and all things gifted. Then he said, "Well, why not have a coaching business working with gifted people, and throw in some improv-based workshops?"

Click. It was as if the universe was rearranging itself around me, slotting all the pieces of the puzzle into place. I can't adequately describe the peace and clarity of that moment. Of course! It was so obvious, it had been staring me in the face all along. It felt daring, and crazy, and exciting, and also good and real and sane. I felt the rightness of this path down to my very core. Everything I had done had prepared me to recognize this as My Purpose and to throw my whole weight behind it now that I had found it. I was on my way.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006


Great News!

I'm so thrilled - I just heard that my proposal to speak at the 23rd SENG Conference in Irvine, California, has been accepted! Here's my session description:

Improv for the Exceptional
Are you always “in your head”? Do you feel like you’re from another planet? Come and play in the Here and Now! Improv shows you how to conquer fear of failure, impress your friends, and use your gifted brain to have fun. This session explains the power of improvisation and introduces some basic games you can use to build confidence and social skills at home or in the classroom.

I'm walking on sunshine and spreading the joy!

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