Voices from the Village: A Teaching Community Developing Identity for Gifted Readers

By Dr. Katie Coggin and Dr. Kim Freed.


Full Title: Voices from the Village: A Teaching Community

Developing Identity for Gifted Readers through the Lens of Overexcitabilities


Introduction

Gifted students often struggle to understand the social-emotional needs that make them unique. In Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration, gifted children will often exhibit one or more of five different overexcitabilities: Psychomotor, sensual, imaginative, intellectual, and emotional.Learning to embrace their unique needs and potential overexcitabilities will help students develop self-confidence and self-awareness. Beginning to understand how others see their overexcitabilities will help children overcome any challenges they face as a gifted student with age-level peers. Using picture books to help them embrace their identity can have a profound impact on the development of gifted learners. To be happy, well adjusted, and feel as though their talents are being used, “gifted children must develop the potential that lies within them” (Halsted, 2009, p. 20). Adult allies can help gifted readers realize their full potential and provide them with resources to help them develop a positive and lasting identity.

Using Picture Books to Help Gifted Students Develop their Identity

Picture books can be a powerful tool to introduce gifted children of all ages to their potential overexcitabilities. Lessons should be approached from a strength-based viewpoint and help children see ways to embrace their overexcitabilities in order to better manage and accept them. Students are also able to see the potential challenges of overexcitabilities exhibited in texts. Students should first be given a brief overview of the overexcitability and then have time to explore picture books for the given characteristics of that overexcitability. We believe there is no right or wrong response in these activities. When introducing specific overexcitabilities, be open to others recognizing different ones. If a child can justify their named overexcitability response and what it meant to them, they should be encouraged to do so. When using picture books, the overexcitabilities can be seen in many of the following:

  • Through characteristics of the main character or another character

  • Things that happen to a character

  • Illustrations

  • Title of the text

  • In a theme of the story

  • Feeling the text gives the reader

In the following sections, each overexcitability is briefly introduced. It is followed by recommendations to parents and educators to nurture and modulate overexcitabilities constructively. These recommendations come from the book Living with Intensity: Understanding the sensitivity, excitability, and emotional development of gifted children, adolescents, and adults by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski. Finally, a list of books is given for students to analyze each overexcitability.


Intellectual Overexcitability


An intellectual overexcitability might include being extremely curious, loving knowledge and problem solving, always reading, always thinking about things and asking questions. An intellectual overexcitable child can be incredibly focused for long periods of time.


Helping to nurture constructive expressions of the overexcitabilities, children need to hear:

  • Your curiosity fuels your intelligence

  • You have wide and/or deep interests

  • You have great potential to learn new things and to make changes

  • You really stick to projects that interest you

  • You defend your ideas and are open to learning different information


Strategies to encourage modulation of intellectual OE:

  • Discuss the positive aspects of intellectual OE

  • Honor the need to seek understanding and truth, regardless of the child’s age

  • Accept and provide for sustained effort; alter sleep patterns as necessary

  • Help children find answers to their own questions

  • Remember that this child is not a small adult; the gifted label does not apply to all of the child’s parts!

  • Teach inquiry methods and communication skills

  • Allow children to develop their own projects based upon individual interests

  • Help children develop goals and engage in self-reflection based on steps toward these goals

  • Seek opportunities to provide interaction with intellectual peers, not necessarily age peers (chess club, multi-grade extracurricular offerings, or enrichment classes)

  • Incorporate multi-modal explorations and mind-body integration of experience whenever possible


Books to Support Intellectual OE:

  • Archibald Frisby by Michael Chesworth

  • The Boy Who Loved Math by Deborah Heiligman

  • Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

  • Mosque by David Macauly

  • You Can’t Take A Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Glasser

  • The Library by Sarah Stewart

  • Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen

  • Last to Finish: A Story about the Smartest Boy in Math Class by Barbara Esham


Sensual Overexcitability


A sensual or sensory overexcitability might include an intense love of beauty, nature, art, or music. These children may have a sensitivity to certain smells, tastes, or textures. A sensory overexcitable child may love feeling comfortable.


Helping to nurture constructive expressions of the overexcitabilities, children need to hear:

  • You take such delight in beautiful sights, sounds and feelings

  • You like _________ sounds/textures, etc. but I notice that _________ noises/textures, etc. bother you

  • I think you know what you like and what feels good to you

  • Sometimes, it’s good to try new things. Would you like to try _______?


Strategies to encourage modulation of sensual OE:

  • Discuss the positive aspects of sensual OE

  • Provide environments that limit offensive stimuli and maximize comforting stimuli

  • Provide opportunities to dwell in delight. Take time to smell the roses or watch the sunset

  • Co-create a pleasing and comfortable aesthetic environment

  • As much as possible, foster control of the child’s own living space and work setting (e.g., the child’s room is his own room, unless mold is growing on the leftover pizza or there are other health hazards)

  • Help the child find comfortable and appropriate clothing

  • Understand that attachments to stuffed animals and favorite blankets may run a tad longer than with other, less sensually sensitive children


Books to Support Sensual OE:

  • Green Pants by Kenneth Kraegel

  • “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth by Eric Carle

  • Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg

  • Many Luscious Lollipops by Ruth Heller

  • Paddle-to-the-Sea by Holling Clancy Holling

  • Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky


Imaginational Overexcitability


An imaginational child has free play of the imagination. They could have very clear and vivid dreams, a good sense of humor, magical and fantasy thinking, a love of poetry, music and drama and enjoy visualization. Daydreaming is a key in the imaginational overexcitability. An imaginational overexcitable child may have imaginary friends.


Helping to nurture constructive expressions of the overexcitabilities, children need to hear:

  • You have a rich imagination

  • You view the world in a different way

  • You think of and tell great stories

  • You make the mundane extraordinary!


Strategies to encourage modulation of intellectual OE:

  • Discuss the positive aspects of imaginational OE

  • Cherish creative and imaginative expression

  • Encourage children to share imaginings - tell stories or draw images of imagined friends, pets, buildings, creatures, and worlds. How would this story be different if it took place in another country or time period or world? Would you like to make a picture book about an imaginary peer?

  • Provide opportunities for design and invention. What do you think cars may look like and be able to do in 2030? What are some possible interesting uses for recycled cardboard?

  • Provide opportunities for relaxation and channeling imagination with stories and guided imagery

  • Help children to distinguish between the imaginary and the real worlds

  • Provide outlets for creative pursuits - writing, drawing, acting, dancing, designing, building, etc.

  • Include opportunities for both individual and group involvement to validate and honor imaginational activities

  • Help children use imagination to solve problems and cope with challenges

  • Over open-ended activities

  • Record imaginative content and ideas in a journal


Books to Support Imaginational OE:

  • Olivia by Ian Falconer

  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

  • Tuesday by David Weisner (any of his other books could be used)

  • What Do You Do with An Idea? by Kobi Yamada

  • Imagine a Day by Sarah L. Thomson

  • Shadow by Suzy Lee (any of her other books could be used)


Psychomotor Overexcitability


A psychomotor overexcitability might include a child who talks fast and uncontrolled. They are perpetually in action and have an intense desire to win. These children may have trouble sleeping and may have impulse control issues. A psychomotor overexcitable child may also compulsively organize their environment.


Helping to nurture constructive expressions of the overexcitabilities, children need to hear:

  • You have wonderful enthusiasm and energy

  • Your intensity can help you do many things

  • I wish I had your energy!

  • You put your whole body into learning

  • You like to be able to move and don’t really like to sit still

  • Sometimes our bodies need to relax


Strategies to encourage modulation of psychomotor OE:

  • Discuss the positive aspects of psychomotor OE

  • Avoid activities that require sitting for long periods of time

  • Plan for movement opportunities before and after a long period of stillness

  • Provide for reasonable movement in a variety of settings

  • Involve the child in a physical task - send her on an errand

  • Help your child notice signs of exhaustion or need for quiet time

  • Provide for and model activities that soothe and calm

  • Teach that time-out can be a choice, not a punishment

  • Teach relaxation techniques

  • Consider physical or occupational therapy as needed


Books to Support Psychomotor OE:

  • Edie is Ever So Helpful by Sophy Henn

  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

  • G is for Galazo: The Ultimate Soccer Alphabet by James Littlejohn

  • Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

  • My Mouth is a Volcano! by Julia Cook

  • The Grizzly Bear Who Lost His GRRRRR! by Rob Biddulph

  • Billy’s Booger: A Memoir by William Joyce and Moonbot


Emotional Overexcitability


Many gifted children with the emotional overexcitability experience extremes of emotions. They might feel anxiety, guilt or feelings of responsibility, they can be overly shy, have intense concern for others, and might possess a strong sense of right and wrong. An emotional overexcitable child may have physical responses to emotions and often feel like they aren’t good enough.


Helping to nurture constructive expressions of the overexcitabilities, children need to hear:

  • You are sensitive to others’ feelings

  • You care very deeply and have deep feelings

  • You are very loyal to those you care about

  • You are very aware of joy, frustration, sadness, love, anger, and whole world of feelings


Strategies to encourage modulation of emotional OE:

  • Discuss the positive aspects of emotional OE

  • Accept feelings and their intensity

  • Teach the child to share his emotions and feelings with others in positive and productive ways - verbally, through movement, art, journaling or music

  • Teach children to be respectful of others’ feelings or seeming lack thereof

  • Develop a feeling vocabulary - include a continuum of feeling words. How many ways can we describe feeling “bad”? (e.g., annoyed, irritated, frustrated, aggravated, uneasy, anxious, uncomfortable, bored, concerned, etc.)

  • How many ways can we describe being “happy”? (e.g., content, glad, joyful, blessed, ecstatic, buoyant, and so on)

  • Learn listening and responding skills. Much attention is devoted to the importance of listening and responding in “Mellow Out,” They Say by Michael Piechowski (2006)

  • Teach children to anticipate physical and emotional experiences, and rehearse responses and strategies

  • Teach, model, and share relaxation techniques, including deep breathing, stretching, and two minutes of quiet (a personal time-out)

  • Use journaling to express feelings

  • Model “temperature taking.” - How do I feel right now? What’s my emotional temperature? Am I feeling warm? Cool? What might this mean? What are my feelings telling me?

  • Find and choose activities that provide meaningful opportunities for empathy and social concern. Volunteer at a pet shelter, participate in a community service project, or find some other humanitarian outreach activity to give deep caring some active expression


Books to Support Emotional OE:

  • A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

  • Mirror by Suzy Lee

  • The Music in George’s Head by Suzanne Slade and Stacy Innerst

  • Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Anderare and Guy Parker-Rees

  • Niko Draws a Feeling by Bob Raczka

  • Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems


*The books presented in these lists are just a small sample of books that can be used with gifted students and overexcitabilities. We compiled these from our own libraries, extensive searches for books that matched the overexcitabilities, and we were inspired by lists presented by Dr. Robert Seney, Professor Emeritus, Mississippi University for Women.



References

Daniels, S., & Piechowski, M. M. (2009). Living with intensity: Understanding the

sensitivity, excitability, and emotional development of gifted children, adolescents, and adults. Great Potential Press.


Halsted, J.W. (2009). Some of my best friends are books: Guiding gifted readers from

preschool to high school. Great Potential Press.


________________________________________________________

Dr. Kim Freed and Dr. Katie Coggin are GT Resource Teachers and are passionate about gifted learners. They are recent graduates of the University of Denver’s Curriculum and Instruction in Gifted Education.

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