Apr 222015

Assumptions can be a major issue with gifted students, and a tutor may need to not only teach students to sometimes make assumptions, but also teach them which assumptions people will assume they should make. As an example (and for your amusement) here is a word problem, from an actual math textbook currently in use, with gifted-student commentary in italics. The commentary is derived from several different gifted students.

There are 12 flowers in the first row of a garden. Just flowers? Maybe there’s other stuff in the row. The second row has 20 flowers, the third row has 30 flowers, and the fourth row has 42 flowers. This is a weird shaped garden. Are all the flowers the same size? Maybe the first row has bigger flowers so it’s the same length as the second. How many flowers are likely in the 6th row? We can’t really know that- but it did say “likely.” O.K., this already sounds like a really long, skinny garden- they probably wouldn’t want to make it any longer, so they would probably start making the rows shorter again soon. Symmetrical things are pretty, so they’d probably make the new rows match the old ones, so the fifth row would be 30 flowers again, and the sixth row would be 20 flowers again. So the answer is 20 flowers.

Of course, the textbook writer wanted the answer to be 72 flowers, based on a sequence of +8, +10, +12 . . . but a gifted student might have real trouble seeing that, because it not only requires assumptions without evidence, but specific assumptions.

Oct 182014

There is a old saying: “really smart children don’t do well in school.”  It may be easy to dismiss this as a cliche, but it is important for parents and tutors to remember that the reason it became a cliche is because it is so often true.  The reason this happens can be illustrated by the following math story problem:

“If there are 3 apples and you take away 2, how many do you have?”

Depending on the school, you might find a question like this in first or second grade.  Unfortunately,  standardized tests and worksheets often contain this sort of grammatical ambiguity.  A student who is truly behind in math might put a wrong answer, or no answer, because they have difficulty translating the story problem into numbers.  The “normal” student will likely convert this into “3-2=1” and probably be counted as correct.  The gifted student, however, may put “2” . . . because the question asks how many apples you have, not how many are left; if you take two apples then you have at least two apples, maybe more if you already had some, until you eat some or give some away or lose some . . .    The gifted student often doesn’t see the “obvious” but less accurate answer, or may see so many possible answers that they get lost in the options.  Depending on the student’s situation, you may need to to explain to him or her that tests often do not want the right answer, they want the simple answer.

Sep 232014

Despite being capable of complex and efficient organizational systems, dyslexic people who do not live and work completely alone (probably most) may have difficulty interacting with non-dyslexic people who cannot see how their system works. This can lead to chaos when the dyslexic thinker attempts to force themselves into an unnatural organizational system, or friction between the dyslexic who is trying to stay organized and the non-dyslexic who sees only a mess. Fortunately, it is possible for a dyslexic thinker to make some simple adaptations which produce an appearance that is more acceptable to the non-dyslexic viewer.

One of the simplest of these is “Container Camouflage.” Look around your room/office etc., and observe where you naturally want to put things (3D, not just 2D). Don’t “clean up” first, since that will just confuse the issue. Wherever you see the largest concentrations of closely related objects, put containers. Make sure the containers allow for 3D placement, and that they interrupt established sight lines as little as possible. Wire cube shelves may be a good choice for things that feel like they should be higher up, while bins and baskets can be good for the things you wish you could pile on the floor. Non-dyslexic thinkers tend to assume that things in containers are “neat,” thus, adding otherwise unnecessary containers can create a happier work/home situation.

Sep 022014

The cliché seems to be that dyslexics are hopeless at organization, but this is actually very far from the truth. People with dyslexic tendencies (or who are simply highly gifted- the two often overlap) are frequently capable of maintaining complicated and highly effective organizational systems; these systems simply don’t look the way non-dyslexic people tend to think organizational systems should look. In fact, genuinely poor organization on the part of a dyslexic person often results from an attempt to impose a “standard” organizational system on a dyslexic brain. If you have ever said “I just cleaned my office/room/desk/garage and now I can’t find anything” then you may know what I mean.

A functional dyslexic organizational system tends to be far more spatially oriented and multi-dimensional than the typical, one-dimensional, filing system. Do you remember that professor from college who had an office filled with stacks of books and papers that looked like an incomprehensible mess but could lay his hand on whatever he wanted instantly? If so, you have likely seen a highly functional dyslexic organizational system.

Think of a typical filing system; it uses one dimension, which might be alphabetical, chronological, etc. Now think of those graphs from Algebra with the X and Y axes; those are two dimensional. Now add a Z axis to make it three dimensional. And now, realize that a dyslexic organizational system could have even more dimensions than that. As an example, imagine the horizontal direction in an office/desk/ etc. represents function, the distance from a given point represents the frequency of use, the vertical distance away from the 3ft level represents chronology, the offset from being square to the room represents the likely importance, and sightlines represent connections between functions. To most people it will look like a huge mess even though it more highly functional, for the dyslexic, than any standard system.

Thus, be aware that the appearance of organization is not necessarily the substance. Judge your students’ organizational skills by the results rather than the resemblance to a typical filing system.

Jul 192014

I recently heard a description of ADD that I thought wonderfully apropos.  Given the label “Attention Deficit Disorder,” many people assume that people diagnosed with ADD have difficulty paying attention to anything, that they are easily distracted.  However, as the description I heard put it, people with ADD tendencies aren’t easily distracted, they are easily fascinated.  They can focus with such absolute concentration that they fail to notice a teacher trying to get their attention, the time, the class going on around them, and even alarms, sirens, and in at least one case a bloody cut from broken glass.  What they do find difficult is controlling what they focus on at any given time.  This is where removing possible “distractions” becomes important; by removing competing sources of fascination, a tutor can help a student with ADD tendencies direct their focus.

Jul 162014

Home schooling isn’t for everyone, but it has definite advantages for some.  Home schooling frees up much of child’s time, can lower stress levels, and often results in better scores on standardized tests, to name just a few.  Even when homeschooling may feasible, however, many parents find the prospect daunting.

One possibility to ease the way is to home school with a tutor.   Home schooling with a tutor allows the benefits of home schooling without leaving the parents completely unsupported, typically costs far less than private school tuition, and can be fine-tuned to the families’ exact needs: everything from a tutor acting as an occasional consultant on the home schooling process to a tutor (or multiple tutors) providing all of the student’s educational needs.

Jun 292014
Here are some activities, from a book by Dr. Peter Blythe of Chester, UK, that can help a student overcome dyspraxia. It is best if they are performed for 5-10 minutes twice a day. These make great movement breaks at school or home.  These are just a sample!  There are many more available, or you can make up your own based on these.
  • walk the clock (draw a large clock face on the ground and play a game of walking to the time that is called out)
  • hop scotch with days or months in the squares
  • play games involving guessing when 10 sec., 20 sec., or 1 minute is over; for example, try to juggle for exactly 20 seconds
  • memorization (poems, multiplication tables, phone #) should be done while student is moving—balancing on a ball, doing cross knee touches, juggling, jumping rope, etc.)
  • teach student some simple cross-over exercises such as juggling, cross-knee marching, or crawling which they can do at home and between classes.
Jun 232014

Praxis is a Greek word which is used to describe the learned ability to plan and to carry out sequences of coordinated movements in order to achieve an objective. Dys is the Greek prefix ‘bad’ so dyspraxia literally means bad sequential coordination.  This term is not commonly heard, but tutors should be aware of it, as dyspraxic tendencies can cause children significant frustration!

A child who has trouble learning skills such as eating with a spoon, speaking clearly, doing up buttons, riding on a bike, walking without bumping walls or people, or handwriting may be described as dyspraxic. The movements which are involved in these activities are skilled movements, which are voluntary and must be learned in sequence. Developmental dyspraxia may be found in children who have no neurological disease.
Such children often develop a very strong dislike for school. Parents may say, “He’s so slow I have to do things for him or we’d never go anywhere.” Teachers may say, “She turns in the messiest papers I’ve ever seen, when she remembers to turn them in at all.” The children themselves may say, “Everyone is always mad at me, but I don’t know why.”
Tutors can help the child understand why they have trouble with certain tasks, how to get better at those tasks, and how to use their strengths to compensate for challenges. Tutors can also assure the student that nothing is wrong with them; they are just still growing!
May 312014


In order to learn most effectively, highly sensitive children need permission to adjust the environment to their comfort level; they may need to add or remove layers of clothing, turn off lights, or be separated from distracting sounds. They may need a pen instead of a pencil (scratching sounds) or a smooth writing surface such as a white board.

The child with low sensitivity may need the tutor to help him or her notice interpersonal cues such as facial expression, body language, personal space, and even announcement or sirens. Bear in mind that a student may be highly sensitive to some things but easily miss others.  A example is the child that misses body language cues, but is badly distracted by small random sounds.

May 222014

Another temperament trait a tutor should be aware of is how a student responds to change:

Children who demonstrate high predictability need advance warning of changes in routine, and need to practice handling change in a safe environment.

The child with low predictability needs the tutor to establish routines to stabilize behavior. The child’s need for novelty can be addressed by offering constant variations within the routine. This child may need tangible daily rewards for turning in papers or following directions.