I’ve long been concerned about how gifted education, as a field, communicates it’s purpose. If we don’t have a clear story, some else will write our story for us and it won’t be pretty. I wrote about the importance of having a story here.
Part of a great story is clarity. Quick, punchy explanations are essential. So how clear are our gifted programs’ purposes?
Try this. Open up the homepages for a few gifted programs. One could even be your own district’s gifted page. This would be the first place that parents, teachers, community leaders, and even students would go to learn about your program. This is where you can tell your story.
So, read through these pages. Is the message clear? Not clear to an expert in the field, mind you, but to a novice. Could a person with only a high-school level of education understand it?
Testing District Program’s Websites
I ran this experiment with a dozen random gifted programs’ homepages. I pasted all of the text into Microsoft Word and calculated their Flesch Reading Ease score – a way of measuring how complex or simple a text is.⚠️ Note that higher scores mean simpler text! (I think that’s a bit counter-intuitive).
My findings: the explanations on many gifted programs’ homepages are so complicated that they would be illegal if they were insurance documents.
See, many states require insurance paperwork to be readable by regular humans. They want this writing to be simple enough to score above 40. Text intended for 9th graders should score at least a 60. The average score of the 12 gifted program homepages I copy/pasted was 29.
For an example of a low-scoring (and thus highly-complex) paragraph, here’s the national gifted association’s “who are we” statement (as of this writing):
NAGC’s mission is to support those who enhance the growth and development of gifted and talented children through education, advocacy, community building, and research. We aim to help parents and families, K-12 education professionals including support service personnel, and members of the research and higher education community who work to help gifted and talented children as they strive to achieve their personal best and contribute to their communities.
This paragraph’s score is about 20 (while insurance paperwork has to score above 40). And you can see why! Lots (and lots) of multi-syllable words, long and meandering sentences, and not a lot of clarity. An average person who stumbles on this paragraph wouldn’t have a clear idea of this organization’s mission.
- 60 and up: Text appropriate for 9th graders.
- 40 and up: Legal requirement for insurance paperwork.
- 29: The average of 12 gifted program homepages I used.
- 20: NAGC’s mission statement.
Clarifying Our Message
This is a problem! Parents check our websites to see what we’re all about. We certainly don’t want their eyes to go crossed trying to parse our explanation of giftedness. And it speaks to a larger problem: our ability to communicate as educators.
Let’s try to simplify our explanations.
Step One: Filter out the jargon – those fancy-sounding words that don’t really mean anything. I’ve written about this problem before. Check your district’s homepage for words like differentiation, identification, asynchrony, rigor, acceleration, or proficiency. Those are words that normal humans don’t know the meaning of – heck I don’t even know what some of them really mean (hello “rigor”).
Step 2: Do you see a bunch of acronyms? Write the actual words out! I get email from educators every week with sentences like, “I’m an AIL teacher in an OCEED program and our students are working on their GTOL projects but I need some help creating a GTA statement.” (And that’s barely an exaggeration). I often have to look these terms up or ask for clarification. And I’m in this business! Always write acronyms out the first time they’re used or, better yet, simply avoid them if you can.
Step Three: Simplify sentences. One reason the mission paragraph above scores so poorly is its overly-complicated text structures. I mean, I have to take a breath in the middle of the sentences! Bust up compound and complex sentences into shorter, simple sentences. One subject. One predicate. Step away from the commas! Aim for clarity above all. Make it simple enough for an average middle schooler to understand.
Test your program’s own webpage. How complicated is its message? The Spelling and Grammar checker in Microsoft Word includes a Flesch Reading Ease score test. You can also find them online. Remember, higher scores mean simpler writing. Insurance paperwork is often required to score above 40. Make sure your message is simpler than that.
Write a new paragraph that clearly explains your gifted program. Use simple words. Use simple sentences. Remove or explain acronyms. Cut out any edu-jargon. Make it so that someone without a high school diploma can understand what your program does and why it’s important.
Use this work to develop an elevator pitch. If you’ve got 30 seconds with your district’s superintendent, be ready with a punchy, powerful explanation of what your program does for kids!
Finally, if you want to, send me what you came up with: firstname.lastname@example.org.