Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Individualized Doctoral Plan: Back to the "U" Daze

I took a year off from my Ph.D. studies for a number of different reasons: Continental Congress 2009, helping the Rasta Jew become a better high school student, and angst about the direction of my research. The last was probably the most significant reason that the original plan to take a semester off stretched into a full year. But that year is over now, and after dealing with some typical UNM bureaucratic idiocy, I'm back at the "U". (Why, oh why when there is nothing offered in the college for doc students during the summer, do they count summers as regular semester, thus essentially fining a person the cost of applying to the program again for taking a fall-spring 2 semester combination surrounded by two summers? I think they nickel and dime students in order to afford the exorbitant athletic budgets--but that's a different blog).

So here I am back, and that angst that kept me from registering last spring--along with the worst winter weather in a generation for the East Mountains--means that I am rethinking my research direction. Which is interesting and a little nerve racking, but I understand that it is not uncommon. The particulars are unique to each student, though, as are mine.

My background is heavily in the sciences. Prior to going into teaching science for a host of life-course and personal reasons, all my university work--undergrad and grad--had been in the sciences--biology, geology, although a minor in Anthropology and my interest in history allowed me to take a teaching certification in social studies as well. (Science and math certified teachers almost never get to teach anything else, because of the dearth of science teachers, and that was true of me, but I have the endorsement).

That heavy science background made it natural for me to consider a dissertation project weighted toward a scientific study when I decided to pursue a Ph.D. after earning an MA in Special Education (emphasis in Gifted/Twice-Exceptional--that is, Gifted with another qualifying diagnosis). So I planned to get a dual Ph.D. in Special Education and Psychology--spanning not only two departments, but two colleges. My research was to be on the differences in brain development among typically developing children, intellectually gifted children, and intellectually gifted children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. I began charging into it. I enjoyed courses in Neurobiology, Neuroanatomy and physiology, research seminars. I enjoyed courses in children's psychopathology, intelligence testing, and still more research seminars in psychology. But I did not enjoy the deadly serious politics of the Psychology Department at UNM. Whereas the Special Education Department is particular open to students developing an Individualized Doctoral Plan (IDP) for studies, the Psychology Department is not. And although the Office of Graduate Studies advisor was enthusiastic about such a "edge of the envelope" venture, the Psychology Department was not. So among other things I was doing during the 2009 - 10 school year, I was floundering, and wondering if I really wanted to do this Ph.D. at all.

As the summer 2010 days wound down towards August, when registration is required, I ran into one of my professors, who also happens to be my advisor's husband, playing guitar at ABQ Uptown. We had a nice conversation during which I allowed that I might return to the program. The next day I got an e-mail from my advisor about a special course, a Dissertation Seminar, that she recommended I take. That was the encouragement I was looking for, and I am now re-admitted, taking six hours, and thinking about my research.

I have decided a few things. First, now that I know the psychology dual degree will not work--I could go on beating my head against that wall, but it is likely to give me a headache and make me tired--I want to change my focus in the research. The point of the dissertation research, my advisor keeps saying, is that it be something doable so that I will get it done. "It is not your life's work," another member of my committee advises. "It is the ticket to the next phase of work." I have been down this path before--a gargantuan project that took so long that I hated it, and the field, before it was all over. I tend to dream up these huge, complex projects that are doable--if I want to delay graduation until I am 75.

So--the focus. I want it to be related to the minor hours I have been accumulated over the three years I was taking significant coursework. Obviously, it also has to be related to special education. Since I have had experience as a homeschooling mom, and I have contacts in that community, my advisor suggested that I think about looking at some aspect of homeschooling for Gifted/Twice-exceptional children. I thought about that, and I think it is good. Nothing much has been looked at in this area--in fact, educators in general tend to ignore homeschooling as a significant educational alternative, even though more than one million American children are now homeschooled. It's not the mainstream, but it's certainly not the province of a few religious fanatics (as the MSM would like you to believe) either.

One caveat my advisor and I decided upon is that I need to narrow the field for the Twice-exceptional qualification. Twice-exceptional (2X or 2e) means children who are intellectually gifted (IQ usually 125 - 130 and above) and who have some other IDEA qualifying exceptionality. In kids who are a priori gifted, these exceptionalities do not include Mental Retardation and generally not Traumatic Brain Injury, but they can include severe physical disablities ( like Cerebral Palsy), Emotional-Behavior Disorders (which encompasses mood disorders, anxiety disorders and conduct disorders), Specific Learning Disabilities, Other Health Impaired (this is usually ADHD, but also encompasses severe and life-threatening diseases, such as cancer or Type I Diabetes) and Autism. With respect to Autism--which has been my interest--intellectually gifted kids aren't generally found among the severely autistic, whose intelligence is hard to assess. 2x students with ASD usually have Asperger Syndrome, High Functioning Autism, or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder.

So today, as I write this, I have the beginning of an idea, but not really the idea itself. I know that I want to tap into the relatively unexplored field of homeschooling. I know that I want to focus on some aspect of Gifted/2X. It is thought that the number of gifted students among the homeschooled population is high, though I have not seen any numbers. For the 2X component, I want to focus on those gifted kids with what Temple Grandin calls "different minds." These are the gifted kids who, although they have enormous potential, learn so differently that they are far less likely to be successful in the school environment. So I am thinking of those with Autism, severe ADD (without the behavioral component) and related syndromes.

I see the broad outlines now, but I do not really have fleshed out questions or ideas. Yet. Those will come. I think they will come from thinking and writing, along with a good dose of preliminary research. And of course, I welcome reader's thoughts--especially if you are or have been homeschooling a very smart and very different child. Or if you are intellectually gifted, no matter what your age or background.


Anonymous said...

You may well already know about this person, but just in case not:

By happenstance, his latest post nicely complements your latest post:

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I do indeed know John Elder Robison, however, I had not read that article. I appreciate the tip.

Sandy C. said...

I've been a regular reader of your blog for a couple of years but don't think I've ever commented or if I have it's been a long time. I am the mother of a gifted/2x student who was homeschooled through high school and has now graduated from college and is working in a law firm, planning to attend law school in two years. I'm fascinated by your PhD ideas. I'm in college getting my teacher certification for special ed (final semester then student teaching in January) so I am familiar with the IDEA, etc.

I did not know the gifted/2x designation until my schooling and then I said, "aha" that is my son! He was diagnosed as ADHD and with depression in the second grade. We started homeschooling him in 4th grade and were able to keep him off medication. Homeschooling worked extremely well for us. I also have a daughter who is gifted but not 2x. I would love to hear more about your ideas or to contribute any anecdotal evidence I can. My birth family is all borderline gifted and possibly some 2x in there, also, thinking especially of one of my brothers and my sister who is now a mental health therapist and considers herself ADD. Interesting people, those gifted/2X's!!

Retriever said...

So happy for you, that you are getting back into your researches again, and eagerly await hearing more!

I have been very morose about all the spectrum stuff lately, probably just exhausted (work stressful, worried about the kid's future). With hindsight, I think he MIGHT have done better homeschooled. Except that I felt that his father and sibs were such social hermits that he would not get enough socialization (I'm the gregarious one in the family, can you tell!?).

Tullia said...

Hello Elisheva,

I've been reading your blog for awhile, but this is my first comment. I have a serious blog reading addiction and find that I usually don't have time to both read and comment. Your dissertation ideas are fascinating. I homeschooled a son from grades 4-12 who is now a college student. He would definitely fall within some of the parameters you've listed, but how many I couldn't say. Feel free to e-mail me. In any case, as a former homeschool mom and teacher in a small co-op, I'm excited about your dissertation and look forward to reading more.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Thanks, one and all! I really appreciate the encouragement and you'll likely be hearing from me in the next several months!