Guest Editor’s Introduction

Dr. Shawn Robinson, independent scholar focusing on the intersection of race, giftedness and dyslexia.

This special section of Wisconsin English Journal sheds light on supporting twice exceptional (2E) African American students: Implications for classroom teaching. I contend it is important to provide operational definitions which promote solutions and change. Reis, Baum, and Burke (2014) define 2E as:

Students who demonstrate the potential for high achievement or creative productivity in one or more domains such as math, science, technology, the social arts, the visual, spatial, or performing arts or other areas of human productivity AND who manifest one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria. These disabilities include specific learning disabilities; speech and language disorders; emotional/behavioral disorders; physical disabilities; Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD); or other health impairments, such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These disabilities and high abilities combine to produce a unique population of students who may fail to demonstrate either high academic performance or specific disabilities. Their gifts may mask their disabilities and their disabilities may mask their gifts.

Identification of twice-exceptional students requires comprehensive assessment in both the areas of giftedness and disabilities, as one does not preclude the other. Identification, when possible, should be conducted by professionals from both disciplines and when at all possible, by those with knowledge about twice exceptionality in order to address the impact of co-incidence/co-morbidity of both areas on diagnostic assessments and eligibility requirements for services.

Educational services must identify and serve both the high achievement potential and the academic and social-emotional deficits of this population of students. Twice-exceptional students require differentiated instruction, curricular and instructional accommodations and/or modifications, direct services, specialized instruction, acceleration options, and opportunities for talent development that incorporate the effects of their dual diagnosis. Twice-exceptional students require an individual education plan (IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan with goals and strategies that enable them to achieve at a level and rate commensurate with their abilities. This comprehensive education plan must include talent development goals, as well as compensation skills and strategies to address their disabilities and their social and emotional needs. (pp. 222-223).

The authors of this special section also raise awareness of what Reis, Baum, and Burke describe as “behaviors alone can be misleading without understanding the characteristics of each exceptionality, the context in which a behavior occurs, and the effect of comorbidity on the combinations of giftedness with the diverse disabilities” (p. 219). In each paper, authors examine the importance of teachers understanding and acknowledging the characteristics of each student’s uniqueness, and other factors hindering the identification and the educational services of this population (Baldwin, Omdal, & Pereles, 2015).

Another issue that affects students is the cultural mismatch they experience, as teachers do not always recognize the cultural capital they exhibit in the class (Ford, 2013; Robinson, 2016; Yosso, 2005). To effectively address cultural mismatch, and to raise awareness on how to best academically and socially support 2E African American students, the authors in this special section provide recommendations, strategies, and resources for:

  • Teaching practices that promote academic engagement and motivation;
  • Assessing and Identifying 2E students;
  • Providing a culturally responsive learning environment;
  • Supporting families of 2E students;
  • Discussing placement, programs and practices for 2E students.

In the first article, “Karl Is Ready! Why Aren’t You? Promoting Social and Cultural Skills in Early Childhood Education,” Wright, Ford, and Walters, take a preventive and anti-deficit approach. The authors emphasize that teachers who are culturally competent and understand, affirm, and are responsive to Black males’ culture and identities, can reverse their negative experiences and ensure academic success. Further, they provide an overview of educational outcomes for school readiness and provide a personal vignette of a student named Karl. The authors speak to what Black boys can do, rather than what they “allegedly” cannot do, and end with recommendations to support educational institutions in order to ensure that PK-12 teachers are ready for young Black boys.

In the second article, “#Black Intellect Matters: Inequitable Practices Yield Inequitable Results,” Ford, Lisbon, and Little-Harrison provide a story about a student named Terrence who could have been academically pigeon-holed as a “slow learner” because of testing bias, cultural bias and language differences in assessments. The authors discuss how using assessments to address student achievement is at the forefront of education and a topic marked by controversy when the population consists of students of color. The authors address best practices when it comes to standardized tests and end with recommendations for K-12 teachers, school psychologists, and families.

In the third article, “Too Bad to Be Gifted: Gifts Denied for Black Males with Emotional and Behavioral Needs,” Owens, Ford, Lisbon, Jones, and Owens provide a case study of Donovan, a highly intelligent Black boy identified with emotional disorder. Donovan’s story exemplifies the overwhelming findings at federal, state, and local levels about minorities disproportionately placed in special education, who indeed exhibit traits of 2E.

In the fourth article, “Schooling at the Liminal: Black Girls and Special Education,” Evans-Winters offers the tenets of Black feminism and critical race theory as the framework for understanding Black girls’ experiences in the special education referral process. The shared narratives reveal how Black girls from lower-income and working class families may be at higher risk of being identified as learning disabled and/or as having a behavioral or emotional disability compared to their middle class and White peers. The author ends with implications for special education, teacher education development, and for social workers.

In the fifth article, “Relationships and Resources in Education and the Impact on Transition Planning,” Blackwood provides a call to action for researchers and practitioners to begin exploring how social and cultural capital access impacts the experiences of students with disabilities as they transition into higher education. Blackwood concludes with implications for research, policy and practice.

In the sixth article, “How Coaching Special Olympics Changed the Trajectory of My Life,” Robinson offers a narrative that addresses a period in his life when he was disengaged and angry, which affected his schooling. As authors Owens et al. discuss in this special issue, students with learning disabilities and behavior disorders face enormous academic and social challenges, which are reflected in his narrative. Robinson discusses: (1) a brief overview of the characteristics of a gifted student with a learning disability and behavior disorder, (2) his high school experience, and (3) recommendations for identifying 2E students in special education who are often overlooked and academically neglected.

In the seventh article, “Speaking from the Margins: Recounting the Experiences of a Special Educator and His Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students,” Stewart and Kennedy offer an approach that shows the power of narrative inquiry. The authors’ article is tri-fold. First, they discuss the trauma of being degraded by bigotry as a Black male special educator. Second, authors shed light on the experiences of culturally and linguistically diverse 2E students. Finally, they provide strategies for creating an inclusive learning environment and working with parents. Furthermore, the authors provide recommendations and implications for practices based on lessons learned from the marginalized, inadequately assessed and underserved population, which is validated by the research of Ford (2014).

In the final article, “Family Engagement and Advocacy for Culturally Diverse 2E students,” Wood and Davis provide recommendations for how schools can enhance advocacy efforts and increase support for culturally diverse 2E learners by engaging with families and communities.

As the guest editor, I am pleased to share this set of readings with the hope that the articles are used to improve the academic outcomes of 2E African American students in and out of special education. This student group has been neglected for far too long, which results in numerous and extensive gaps in knowledge, theory, and academic support (Mayes & Moore, 2016). I am aware that this special section neither fills all voids nor meets all needs. Nonetheless, the articles offer much in the fields of gifted, multicultural, and special education, language and literacy, diversity and beyond.

Baldwin, L., Omdal, S. N., & Pereles, D. (2015). Beyond stereotypes: Understanding, recognizing, and working with twice-exceptional learners. Teaching Exceptional Children, 47(4), 216-225.

Ford, D. Y. (2013). Recruiting and retaining culturally different students in gifted education. Waco: Prufrock Press.

Ford, D.  Y. (2014). Segregation and the underrepresentation of Blacks and Hispanics in gifted education: Social Inequality and deficit paradigms. Roeper Review, 36(3), 143-154.

Mayes, R. D., & Moore, J. L., III. (2016). The intersection of race, disability, and giftedness: Understanding the education needs of twice-exceptional, African American students. Gifted Child Today, 39(2), 98-104.

Reis, S. M., Baum, S. M., & Burke, E. (2014). An operational definition of twice-exceptional learners: Implications and applications. Gifted Child Quarterly, 58(3), 217-230.

Robinson, S. A. (2016). Triple Identity Theory: A theoretical framework for understanding gifted Black males with dyslexia. Urban Education Research and Policy Annuals, 41(1), 147-158.

Yosso, T. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race, Ethnicity and Education, 81, 69–91.

Why Inquiry Matters: An Argument and Model for Inquiry-Based Writing Courses

Beth Godbee, Assistant Professor of English at Marquette University, and undergraduate researchers Katie Ellington and Megan Knowles argue that inquiry helps students see themselves as agents over their own writing and learning. When students become agents, they can more easily write their way beyond a semester, course, or educational experience—and into the stance of writers. Continue reading

Formative Assessment and Growth Mindset

Marci Glaus is the English Language Arts Education Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction; email Marci.Glaus @

I vividly remember my first English class as a first-year college student, probably because I’ve told the bizarre stories from that class so many times. Each story stems from early in the semester based on my first experience with assessment at the college level.

During the second week of classes, the professor walked into the classroom carrying a folder of our papers at arm’s length, as if it pained him to hold them near his body. While positioning himself at the front of the room, he told us our papers were “turds,” dropped them on the floor where they scattered, and then paced back and forth over them while lecturing for the 55 minute class period. Then he left. When we were sure he was gone, some of us got on our hands and knees to distribute the papers: mine had a partial shoe print on it, along with comments in the margins and a big red “C” on the last page.

While I knew that what that professor did was unprofessional, it still took a while for me to move beyond the troubling letter grade, but once I did, I was able to read the comments in the margins. Most of them made sense, and some would have been just as helpful written in another language. In my mind, this meant that I would have to talk to him about those comments. However, like roughly half of the other students who dropped his class, he was one of the last people I wanted to talk to. At that time, I did not think about all of the internal and external factors that steered me into his office to ask my questions, but I was glad that I did because in roughly ten minutes, he answered my questions, cleared up the confusion, and was actually quite lovely about it.

The last time I told this story, someone asked why I went to office hours—what had cultivated the expectation that I should ask questions about writing and physically show up to face a seemingly very unpleasant man? Why not just drop the class? That question has very little to do with skills or academics. It has mostly to do with habits or even assumptions I had developed about teaching and learning shaped before college and career readiness became a slogan.

When we hear the phrase college and career readiness, most likely the first thing that that comes to mind has something to do with academic skills students have mastered to be successful after graduating from high school. However, we all know that there is much more to life after high school than content knowledge. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction agrees (see figure 1). There are necessary habits and behaviors students must figure out in order to persist in the face of challenges. Of course content knowledge is important—we would not be able to write with authority about much without it. Even the skills for appropriate application of that knowledge is crucial, but when the opportunity to continue honing those skills and adding to that knowledge comes to a halt in the face of a challenge (or even an insult), nothing much happens, or even worse, damage is done.

Figure 1.


Many people have heard or read about growth mindset from Dweck (2003), who suggests that success is in the learning. I have heard educators talk about how to teach growth mindset to foster reflection, value hard work, and think of mistakes as opportunities to learn. When I learned about growth mindset myself, I kept coming back to the idea that it seems related to formative assessment. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (2016) defines formative assessment as “a deliberate process used by teachers and students during instruction to provide specific, actionable, and immediate feedback” (emphasis added). It is not a test, or something to put in the grade book; rather, it is the expectation that teachers and students use everyday classroom experiences based on learning goals to gather feedback for the purpose of planning what comes next in learning. Key parts of this process include making sure that students have a solid understanding of the objectives so that they can provide input about where they are with their learning and take part in plans to move forward. These established expectations fit under the idea that we are here to learn rather than simply look smart (Dweck, 2003, p. 245). Because formative assessment focuses on student growth, information that teachers gather from students reflects the assumption that a learning process does not look the same for each student, and each student will take responsibility for learning (NCTE, 2013). This also means that mistakes will be made—a hard sell to someone with a fixed mindset about intelligence, or a student focused solely on finishing an assignment to get a good grade. However, if we think about teaching and learning with the focus on formative practices where not everything is graded, then there is room to grow.

Another way to think about formative assessment and its relation to a growth mindset is a re-framing of how we think about learning gaps. I appreciate how Heritage (2010) reminds us that when we are learning, there should be a gap, otherwise, there is nothing to work toward (p. 12). In other words, we talk about teaching and learning as a process, full of actionable feedback from teachers, peers, and students themselves, all working to close that gap as evidence of learning.

Looking back on the opening story, I admit that I went right to the grade and fell into a fixed mindset where feelings of not being smart enough or good enough thrive. Had I languished there, I would not have talked with the professor like I had in the past with other teachers about gaps in learning in order to make my writing better. Those teachers helped me focus not only on writing, but on what NCTE identifies as “goals that represent valuable educational outcomes with applicability beyond the learning context” (p. 3). I firmly believe that because of those formative experiences, I learned the basis of what was needed to begin college level coursework, and the mindset to work through obstacles and learn from criticism (Dweck, 2006).

NCTE’s position statement on the use of formative assessment to inform instruction in the English language arts provides further background, strategies, and further reading related to formative practices. They promote a formative assessment stance that, like Dweck, emphasizes the understanding of a learning process as the focus for success.

Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

Heritage, M. (2010). Formative assessment: Making it happen in the classroom. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. (2016). Formative assessment. Retrieved from

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Wisconsin’s graduates are college and career ready. Retrieved from

From the Editor

John Pruitt, Associate Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Rock County
[PDF version here: From the Editor]

In January I’m set to teach Contemporary Women Writers, and, as always, the anxiety of assigning the perfect texts that I and my students will eagerly pore over loomed large. In years past, I turned to the critics and award winners, mostly with success, occasionally without: of course, if my students hate a short-listed Booker Prize nominee, they obviously lack the artistic and literary disposition I demand in my classroom. Right?

It nearly happened again, this time with Rachel Kushner’s novel The Flamethrowers, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book, its dust jacket covered with glowing reviews from Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and other renowned publications. I sort of liked it—it was actually a little too pretentious, I thought, so I decided to shun the professional readers and turn to common readers for their reactions. My students, after all, are common readers themselves, so I sought out reviews from their peers.

That’s how I serendipitously discovered the BookTube Network, which I understand happens with most great discoveries: the Venus de Milo, the Uluburun shipwreck, the Galapagos Archipelago, Uranus…Thousands of videos about books and reading abide here, assuring me that even millennials continue to turn to the written word. In fact, here’s what I learned from them about The Flamethrowers:

“Much of this book just isn’t very good. It’s actually pretty bad.”

“Reading this was like sitting in the back of a cab in a strange city. You’re pretty sure you’re headed somewhere but it’s taking forever and it looks like you’re going in circles.”

“There are some good passages, but they’re hiding deep in long stretches of clunky writing where nothing, literally nothing, happens.”

“This reads like a book that I should like in a literary sense, and I’m not positive that it worked out like that. I pretty much struggled through it, and was relieved when I reached the end.”

“If you’re craving substance, engagement, something, this book will leave you wanting.”

I did think about this approach before I decided not to assign the book. After all, Amazon is replete with negative (and hilarious) reviews written by jaded adolescents forced (as they put it) to trudge through another dull classic, but I don’t teach those students. In college, they may take my literature courses simply to fulfill a Humanities requirement, but they have options in music, art, philosophy, and other disciplines as well. And, frankly, I don’t care if they can psychoanalyze Hamlet or deconstruct Joyce or queer Woolf. I don’t want to do that myself.

I care only that they continue reading for pleasure when my class finishes. That’s also why I teach primarily contemporary literature. Very few English majors cross my path in the two-year system, so current novels speaking to current events will more likely engage those who may never again enroll in literature courses.

So, while I do turn to the London Review of Books for personal reading, I turn to the young masses for classroom reading. As we know, despite how much we want them to love Dickens and Faulkner, if our students hate what we’re teaching, we all suffer.