Update from the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development

2e Center News

January, 2018

About this Column

The 2e Center is located on the campus of Bridges Academy in Studio City, California. In this column, we share what’s happening at our center and report research findings, teaching ideas, and parenting suggestions we have found to be successful in helping 2e kids thrive.
— SB

The Center is proud to announce “Master Classes in 2e Education.” This six-day professional development experience is an opportunity for educators to refine and expand expertise in 2e education. By studying and learning from the masters, participants will explore practical strategies in strength-based instruction, multimodal curriculum, literacy development, and mathematics through understanding. A seminar series in academic and emotional regulation and in executive function will provide insight and unique approaches for student success. Enrollment is limited. Please see the information below. Find the registration form at https://goo.gl/forms/ki75bf07pR26aDJ32.

 

Twice Exceptional: Students with Unique Brain Wiring

By Susan Baum, Laura Bahr, Carmen Sevilla, Kim Vargas, Maria Kennedy, and Caroline Maxwell

The idea that strengths are associated with prevalent diagnoses, such as dyslexia or attention deficit disorders, is becoming popular and relevant (Eide & Eide, 2000; Armstrong, 2010). With this thinking comes the increased recognition that neurodiversity and cognitive diversity are assets to be nurtured, not disabilities to be “fixed,” and that individuals who have extraordinary gifts and talents along with cognitive and behavioral challenges have minds that are “wired differently.” These individuals are frequently described as being twice exceptional (2e).

The focus of this column and the following two will be on how individual patterns of strengths and challenges within the unique population of 2e students offer information about how best to meet their needs. Specifically, in the three columns we will look at gifted students with dyslexia, with ADHD, and with autism spectrum disorders. Through case studies, we will examine each group of students’ strengths and weaknesses, and provide practical suggestions for meeting their needs.

Steve’s Story

What does a tortoise have to do with dyslexia? For Steve, everything! Indeed, after several attempts, he successfully negotiated the deal of a lifetime, the affordable purchase of tortoises for his school. His ability to see the big picture, to defend an argument, and to stay in the struggle helped him in his quest.

Steve has not always been successful. He is severely dyslexic. Reading and writing are so difficult for him that he often refuses to try. This behavior is not at all uncommon among people with dyslexia. On the other hand, Steve has many talents, also a common trait among dyslexics. [The table below shows n challenges and strengths of dyslexic minds.]

Challenges and Strengths of the Dyslexic Mind

Challenges Dyslexics Face

Strengths Dyslexics Display

Trouble decoding written language

  • Can be metaphorical thinkers
  • Can see things others miss due to their ability to make connections between and among disciplines

Poor spelling and handwriting

  • Often find it easy to see 3D spatial perspectives
  • May think like architects, engineers, or builders

Difficulty with remembering details and rote memorization of facts

  • Have excellent narrative reasoning skills (e.g., recalling stories, episodes, and concepts)
  • Profit from experiential learning

Individuals with dyslexia often display extraordinary spatial and kinesthetic talents, predisposing them to success in certain kinds of professions. These predispositions may be seen as a “dyslexic advantage” (Eide & Eide, 2011). Fernette Eide argues that many dyslexics have the kinds of spatial “strengths that engineers and architects show when they imagine how they can best adapt a design to a landscape…or the strengths someone sailing a boat shows in factoring winds and waves and currents to chart a course...or the strengths a paleontologist shows in reconstructing an animal skeleton, or recognizing fossilized bones in a rock quarry.” (retrieved November 16, 2017).

In Steve, these traits show up as a love of the humanities, an area of study in which he can pursue his interests in building, architecture, and art. At home, he has a professional workshop with all his tools arranged by frequency of use. Steve spends hours alone, building furniture and sets for plays put on by his family. 

Steve is also strong in Gardner’s naturalist intelligence, enjoying the outdoors, camping, and taking care of animals. His enrichment activities of choice in school often include horticulture and animals. In fact, he has become the expert on the chickens that reside on the Bridges campus. Among his accomplishments are organizing a chicken leadership group, writing a handbook on chicken care, and crafting a proposal for the purchase of more chickens.

Dyslexia in the Classroom

Like many students with dyslexic brains, however, Steve’s production in traditional kinds of learning is limited. Rather than trying to get him to learn like others, his teachers explore ways in which learning experiences can mirror the way Steve’s brain works. What’s important, as suggested by Fernette Eide (2017), is thinking of Steve as “spatially talented; not verbally challenged.”

With that in mind, Steve’s teachers often work at engaging him in learning and producing by leveraging his strengths for skill development and incorporating his talents and interests in his learning experiences. For instance, the humanities curriculum in the middle school at Bridges Academy is delivered from a variety of perspectives, allowing students to select the way they would like to engage in the curriculum. Steve chose the section of the course that uses arts and architecture as an entry point to explore a period of history. The methods used in this section would enable Steve to apply his building talents to create projects that demonstrate his understanding. Additionally, course content, delivered visually through art history and lecture, would make it easier for Steve to access information.

With such spatially-oriented experiences serving as entry points for Steve, reading from the text for additional content was much easier. The learning experiences also provided him with background knowledge helpful in putting his ideas in writing. Additional support for Steve came when his humanities teacher initiated writing assignments with oral activities. For instance, she would put students into opinion groups where they could talk with others who shared their perspective on an issue. As a result, the students were better able to develop sound arguments to use later in a persuasive writing assignment.

Another example of how Steve’s abilities were valued and talents incorporated into the curriculum occurred in physical science. During a unit on bridge design, his science teacher, acknowledging Steve’s advanced skills in design and carpentry, excused him from building the simple dry-spaghetti-and-glue bridge assigned to the other students. Instead, the teacher allowed him to create his own scaled model of a stadium out of balsa wood.

Talent Development

A critical part of Steve’s program was talent development, which can take the form of independent studies and special projects outside of the core curriculum. Currently, Steve is taking an independent study course in technical drawing. The middle school director designed this course for Steve with her knowledge of and experience in engineering and architectural studies. She felt this opportunity would not only engage him in challenging and complex learning in a strength area, but also support growth in areas of challenge.

Success in the technical drawing class, the director explained, requires Steve to demonstrate the skills in the table below. The right-hand column lists learning experiences the middle school director devised for Steve to be able to demonstrate skill mastery.

Skills to Demonstrate

Ways of Demonstrating Mastery

Mentally shift from one task to another

Being able to manage more than one assignment at a time

Executive functioning skills

  • Following directions
  • Persevering through challenging tasks

Reading fluency and comprehension

  • Reading a book orally with the director and discussing it (507 Mechanical Movements, which explains the transmission of motion and power)
  • Exploring how and when to apply each mechanical movement using a website that has the movements animated
  • Practice note-taking skills while reading the Basic Technical Drawing Textbook and outlining chapters using the software Inspiration

Problem-solving and critical-thinking skills

Building models and creating designs

Using computer-aided design software with proficiency

Using 3D modeling software to enhance Steve’s design skills and help him find patterns and details within the program to apply to his various projects

Note how talent development encompasses Steve’s dual sets of needs, ranging from his gifts and talents to his learning difference. The design of this independent study class not only appealed to Steve’s interests and talents but also enabled him to do the following:

  • Use the language of the discipline of technical drawing
  • Identify specific functions of technical drawing
  • Become familiar with the tools and materials used in technical drawing
  • Demonstrate freehand sketching skills
  • Use proper scale
  • Describe the process for problem solving during design.

In addition to learning and applying essential skills, Steve was also able to experience the joy of staying in the struggle and completing challenging tasks — all confidence builders!

Getting Back to the Tortoises

Because Bridges Academy prides itself on looking first at what students can do, administrators and faculty are well aware of students’ strengths, talents, and interests. Therefore, from time to time, school personnel have asked Steve for help in creative projects. For instance, the division director of the elementary program often chatted with Steve about their common interests. Through one of these conversations, they discovered their mutual love of tortoises. Steve even suggested that purchasing tortoises would benefit the students in the elementary program and offered to lead the project. An exciting way to direct his learning evolved!

The first step was for Steve to find out what was needed for this project. He researched different types of tortoises as well as their habitats. His leadership role in the project, and his passion for it, overcame Steve’s reluctance to read and synthesize information into a written format. Next, in order to get permission to go ahead with the project, he pitched his idea to the head of school in a formal presentation. Steve was able to compellingly discuss sustainability and cost, and to justify the importance of the tortoise as an educational asset.

The project was approved, and Steve moved forward with creating the habitat. Accompanied by the division director, Steve went to a local outlet of a nationwide pet supplies company to meet with the manager, providing written information about the school and the worth of the project to its students. Steve’s impressive presentation resulted in his being referred to a different manager, then another, up the company’s chain of command. Finally, he ended up negotiating an almost 50% discount on the tortoises and additional discounts on habitat materials. Through Steve’s research and efforts, it looked like he would save the school hundreds of dollars.

However, when it was time to pick up the tortoises, the store refused to honor the discount that Steve had negotiated. He was devastated and ready to give up entirely. Using what she knew about his learning profile, the division director helped him turn this defeat into a successful learning opportunity.

“Where else can we get tortoises?” she asked him. Helping Steve see that he could look for other options transformed his frustration into a willingness to continue. It was back to the research, back to the synthesis, and back to the planning. Steve found a breeder with whom he negotiated a reasonable price for two tortoises. “Wow, I did it!” he exclaimed.

“He could barely contain his excitement when the tortoises were delivered,” the division director said. “He ran into my office screaming with joy when they arrived.”

Conclusion

When schools can both accommodate for strengths and interests within the regular curriculum and provide other opportunities for more authentic, purposeful learning, students who learn differently can demonstrate mastery of skills and academic growth. Aligning instruction to how their brains are wired is a key to success. As argued by Duranovic, Dedeic, & Gavric (2014):

Connecting dyslexia to talent leads us in a more optimistic direction than only associating dyslexia with a deficit....The revelation of talent in individuals with dyslexia opens a door to more effective educational strategies and for choosing professions in which individuals with dyslexia can be successful.

Strategies for Success for Dyslexic 2e Students

Apparent in Steve’s story is how motivation and a sense of purpose undergird his willingness to tackle tasks difficult for him. With this in mind, we offer the following strategies.

Strategy

How it Applied to Steve

  1. Appeal to dyslexic 2e students’ high need for visual/spatial activities and conceptual thinking.

Steve embraced the humanities curriculum, in which visual entry points and building models played integral parts.

  1. Give assignments that are in an area of interest and/or strength and are purposeful.

Consider Steve’s willingness to write when it was for a real-world purpose.

  1. Offer multiple ways to access information other than reading (e.g., video clips, websites, speakers who use visual representations, field trips, podcasts, audio books, and visual representations, such as works of art and photographic essays).

For Steve, this included interviewing experts and consulting websites.

  1. Provide students with a wide range of options for demonstrating understanding (e.g., 3D models, murals, caricatures, political cartoons, charts, graphs, photographs, and podcasts).

Steve was able to build a complex model to show his understanding of principles of physics and build a model of the Colosseum to explain the role of athletics in ancient Rome.

  1. Use prewriting activities (e.g., building or drawing the setting of a story, or using storyboarding) to help big-picture spatial thinkers unleash ideas and organize them in a linear fashion.

Steve often sketched out ideas to help him plan and produce. He would then create a storyboard much like a filmmaker does when beginning a new project.

  1. Use resources with highly sophisticated visual content or limited words on a page. (Picture books of poetry, graphic novels, and TedTalks are examples that respect both the intelligence of the learner and provide a scaffold for reading and comprehending.)

For Steve, learning from websites and illustrations during his independent study not only kept him focused but allowed him to comprehend the advanced material.

References

  • Armstrong, T. (2010) The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain. Cambridge, MA: Pegasus Press.
  • Duranovic, M., Dedeic, M., & Gavrić, M. (2014). Dyslexia and Visual-Spatial Talents Current Psychology, 34(2), 207-222.
  • Eide, B. and Eide, F. (2011) The dyslexic advantage: Unlocking the hidden potential of the dyslexic brain. New York: Penguin Press. 
  • Eide, F. (2017). Recognizing dyslexia’s strengths in the classroom. Educational Leadership 74 (7).

Authors

Susan Baum, Ph.D., is the director of the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development at Bridges Academy. She has been conducting research and advocating for bright students with learning differences for over 30 years.
Carmen Sevilla has been a teacher at Bridges Academy and is now director of the middle school. She has many areas of interest, including a specialty in technology and instruction. When not at Bridges, she enjoys time with her three sons.  
Laura Bahr has been a teacher at Bridges Academy since 2007, teaching everything from mathematics to performing arts. A published author, film producer, and actor, she loves literature, film, theater, music, and is a full-time student of life. Kim Vargas is a specialist in both special education and education of the gifted and talented. Her many roles at Bridges Academy encompass admissions, outreach, and student support. In addition, she serves as associate administrator of the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development.
Maria Kennedy works in the Phoenix program at Bridges Academy. Born in England, Maria has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. She enjoys teaching all subjects to students grades K to 6 and has done so in several countries around the world. Her passion is devising educational programs that enable students to reach their full potential.  Caroline Maxwell teaches studio art, photography, and art history to middle school, high school, and college students.  A practicing artist who has exhibited her work internationally, she spends her days at Bridges Academy, evenings at Rio Hondo College, and weekends on a soccer field.
   

 

 

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