The Brain and Being Human

Dr. Ruf recently attended the 47th Annual Nobel Conference, which is held every year at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. She was particularly fascinated with this year's subject, The Brain and Being Human, and wants to pass along the discussions to our readers.

Videos are available of all the speakers as they present their insights on "what influences our choices, beliefs and social needs, why music and art move us, how new science helps us move and communicate, and how that, in turn, changes how we interact with the world.

In addition, master teachers from 11 high schools in Minnesota have developed lesson plans for this year's Nobel Conference topic, which are free and available online for teachers. Curriculum materials are also posted that focus on neuroscience and psychology having to do with the research of speakers.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

This month is the sixth annual National Bullying Prevention Month. This event was originated by PACER, an organization that was founded in 1977 by parents of children and youth with disabilities ( In 2000, the PACER Center noticed an increase in bullying situations against children with disabilities, and so began to compile resources for bullying prevention. Ultimately, PACER realized that it was important to design these resources for all children. We know that many children who are gifted are also targeted by bullies.

National Bullying Prevention Month is dedicated to raising awareness of bullying prevention through events, activities and education. PACER's website offers its resources for parents, educators, teens and kids, and will also offer one-to-one assistance by phone or email with regard to bullying situations.

"This is a very real and painful issue that kids are facing," says Julie Hertzog, director of PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. "But they don't have to face it alone, and bullying can be prevented if we all work together to change the culture."

School is Not Real Life, Part 4

Boys in Primary Grade Classrooms

By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

A client couple recently asked me to observe their nearly five-year-old son in his small private school K-1 classroom (that's kindergarten through 1st grade). Their little boy was already tested and found to be exceptionally gifted, so the school was willing to accept him into their program before he was five years old. But he hated school and wasn't making the progress that anyone had envisioned. They told me that the teacher, a young woman in her first year of teaching, was interested in whatever recommendations I might make to "engage" this child in learning at school.

First, I watched the eight little girls vie for top spot by finishing all they were asked to do quickly and perfectly. The girls set to work immediately when the teacher told them what they were to do. I watched the four little boys slide around in their seats - or fall off completely - or get up and walk around, ask to go to the bathroom, rip holes in the paper with pencil and scissors, put their heads on their desks, and otherwise not even begin to do what they were asked to do. The boy I was asked to watch behaved in all the "wrong" ways just as his parents had been told, but absolutely the same way as the other boys in the class.

Is sitting still and doing exactly what the teacher tells you to do a prerequisite for a good life? Is there something wrong with the boys or with the schools for expecting all children to sit still and be quiet? When schools tout their "developmentally appropriate" curriculums, do they talk about allowing active young boys to explore, handle objects, run around, and use their kinesthetic, visual and spatial abilities, the primary learning modes of males? We need to ask ourselves, what is "developmentally appropriate" - and in what ways - for whom?

I am a high intelligence specialist, but when the parents of a bright boy come to me because they are considering early entrance to kindergarten (starting school before the usual age five), I almost always discourage it. The home, preschool, and kindergarten environments are almost always more boy-friendly than grade school because they are more flexible and allow more free choice for the children, much like a good Montessori school. It makes so much more sense to experience one more year at home or in preschool, go to kindergarten for another year of flexibility and playtime, and then skip 1st grade. This way, the child still goes through school somewhat faster, but needs to spend less time in the more structured grade school environment. The problem with this boy's school placement is that it was more like a 1st grade than a kindergarten classroom, and he really didn't need to be there yet.

What did I recommend? I told them he shouldn't even be in school yet. A good daycare would fit his current needs better at this point. At the most, he should go half days or only two to three days a week at this age regardless of his intellectual abilities.

School is Not Real Life, Part 3

Teaching to the Average in Same-Aged Classrooms

By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

Remember how I said that the average IQ difference between people who get our jokes - people most likely to become our friends - is 12 points (on a 100 point scale with a 100 IQ being average)? And remember I told you that the typical same-aged elementary classroom has a 70 to 80 IQ range in it? You probably have been told by others - not me - that this is good for children because it teaches them about the real world. Well, in the real world we choose our friends and our activities by how comfortable we are in that environment and by who else we get to spend time with. Also, although it may be nice to have a mix of abilities in the office, we pretty much want all CPAs or medical doctors to have a certain high ability, no lower than what is required to get the job done, right? That's why we have examinations at the end of such training to guarantee that everyone who earns the title actually can do the job.

Did you know that every job or career actually has its own IQ average and its own proven necessary minimum? Google Linda Gottfredson and Frank Schmidt to get you started. They are among those who have shown that people in the professions or other very complex careers need a minimum IQ of about 120 in order to both learn what they need to learn and perform it well. Like IQs or not, these numbers keep correlating with real life outcomes. Oh, and in case you are assuming that you can change somebody's IQ, there are no replicated studies that show any more than an average 6 point temporary increase in testable IQ with even the most intrusive interventional approach, adoption. So, the way I look at it, we need to start educating and training people for what they can do and for what will give them satisfaction, pride, and the ability to take care of themselves.

Most people think that teachers teach to the average. Well, no, they don't. They can't! If they taught to the average, too many of the slower learners simply wouldn't catch on to most of what was happening in the classroom. Teachers teach to the top of the bottom third once they know their class. This way, they reach the slower learners fairly well and the majority of the kids in the middle get lots of encouragement and opportunity to manage their time, learn study skills, and how to handle a certain amount of intellectual struggle and feel success when they finally "get it." The sad truth, though, is that the brightest students end up spending a lot of time waiting for something new to happen. Depending on a number of other factors, like whether they are male or female and their personality profiles, they learn a lot that ends up not being helpful to real life. They learn that if you are smart, you don't need to study or work hard. They learn that their parents and teachers don't know what they are talking about if they think this assignment matters. They learn that they are smarter than everyone else in the class and are in for a shock when they actually do get out into the real world.

David Lohman says that by 1st grade the typical same-aged mixed-ability classroom already has 12 grade equivalencies of achievement in it. Brighter children absorb more from their environments than lower ability children, so regardless of their preschool environment, brighter kids will know a great deal more than low ability children by the time they reach 1st grade. Environment is an extremely important factor in someone's development, but it does not change whether or not someone is very bright or very slow. A child whose IQ is 120 could finish the typical elementary curriculum in about 4½ years, not six. A child whose IQ is 130 could finish it in less than three years. Above 140 needs only one year, but they are required to stay all six and go at the pace of everyone else their age. What a waste of time and talent. Folks, there has got to be a better way.

School is Not Real Life, Part 2

Same-Aged Classrooms

By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

Everyone knows that the reason we put children in school by age for their instruction is that there are centuries of excellent research that proves this is the most effective way for children to learn, right? Well, no, actually, there is no such research at all. I think it had something to do with following the Henry Ford factory efficiency model and no one ever seemed to think of questioning its validity for the schooling of generations of children around the world.

In the "olden days" of mass public education, we had the one room schoolhouse. It worked quite well. Students proceeded through the curriculum at their own pace and worked with anyone else, of any age, who was ready for the same material and production. My goal is not to give a history lesson here but to point out that we no longer do this in schools. Whether you are ready for more or not, it is not allowed because the student will get ahead and, "What will we do with her next year?"

Here is a little IQ lesson, though. Whether or not you approve of the concept of IQs or IQ testing, the research shows that IQ results correlate with all kinds of real-life outcomes. The average IQ in the US is 100 and regular standardized tests that most people take in school (or when they enter the military) all start as low as around 50 IQ and as high as about 150 IQ. Yes, there are some other kinds of tests that have different scales, but that's not what I'm talking about now.

The average IQ difference between people who choose to marry each other is 12 points. Basically, they get each other's jokes. That old magic feeling of someone thinking we're amusing! The genetic mingling of the parents' genes gives them children who will usually be within 15 points higher or lower to their parental average. Same with siblings- only 15 points between them on average. Most people know that there is a bell curve shape for most human qualities, and IQ is no exception. There are more average people than there are very low or very high IQ people.

American school classrooms are set up by age. Kindergarten screening tells the schools which children are most ahead and most behind others their age. The principal stacks the kids by ability and then considers gender, behavior, ethnicity, and socio- economic background, and then deals the kids out to the four different kindergarten classrooms so that every class has the same number of each kind of kid. This means that the four most advanced children will all be in different classrooms. No one will get their jokes except maybe the teacher! The typical IQ range in such a classroom is 70 to 80 IQ points, but we are generally comfortable with and drawn to people who are within about 12 points of us. Then we tell the kids that they need to learn to get along with their "peers." But peers might not be age-mates unless they--by some stroke of luck--are fairly close to us in intellect and get our jokes, get us.

School is not a very happy time or place for many, many bright children.

School is Not Real Life, Part 1

By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.

Over the past years, I've started many of my speeches by asking my audiences to repeat after me as I state, "School is not real life!" They usually chuckle and don't say anything, and I then lean forward and say, "I'm not kidding. Let's all say it together. School is not real life!"

Everywhere we turn we are lead to believe that school-and school success-is absolutely the most important thing during our children's childhood years. We are judged as parents according to how well our children perform in school, how well they behave, the grades they get, and whether or not we have taught our children how to "fit in" and do the work of getting good grades.

How many people recognize that "Best Practices" and "Standards" imply a one-size- fits-all approach to instruction that assumes that all children pretty much learn the same way, at the same speed, and at the same ages? How many of you are guilty of accepting and believing that one early task of the school years is to learn to get along with the other children their age? To whom does it occur that we really don't learn social skills from fellow 6-year-olds, especially those who may be our same age but are otherwise quite different from us?

When we grow up, do we choose jobs that hire only people our age? Do we rule out possible friendships because someone is a different age from us? I assert that teaching children by age makes about as much pedagogical sense as teaching children by height. Also, learning to follow directions and do what someone else tells you to do for 12 or more years does not lead to creative thinking or entrepreneurship, and yet our educational system is set up to allow teachers to grade our children on how well they comply, sit still, do the assigned work and turn it in, whether or not it makes any intrinsic sense for the individual child.

So, my subsequent columns will address many of the ways students vary from one another and how a good educational system would allow for these differences. It is my strongly held opinion that tweaking the current system is not the answer. Let's see if I make arguments and points that change more than a few minds.

Lists of Behavioral Milestones

When Dr. Ruf was gathering material for her book, "Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind" (subsequently renamed "5 Levels of Gifted: School Issues and Educational Options"), she sent survey questions to approximately 80 families who participated in her research. She found it fascinating at how many parents told similar stories and how often those stories and milestones fell into the same Levels. Ultimately, these behavioral milestones became the basis for her Five Levels of Giftedness.

Finding out a child’s Level is not a competition to see who is best or smartest or most amazing. It is a nonintrusive way of figuring out how to meet the social, emotional, academic and parenting needs of a child even without a full-scale assessment. The Ruf Estimates is a good alternative to getting this information when a child is too young for professional IQ testing, or the family cannot afford the testing.

As is stated at the beginning of any of the "list” articles Dr. Ruf has written, not all things on the list must be present for a child to basically fit a Level. It is about finding a "feel" for what seems to best describe the child. Also, the lists were never intended to be read in isolation - that is, without the benefit of the anecdotes that accompanied the behaviors that are contained in her book. Knowing a child's Level does no good if one doesn't then read up on what each level needs.

We hope this helps people to understand a little better the purpose of the lists. Learn how to use the information by reading the whole book, or read the feedback from the Ruf Estimates Online Assessment. Remember, "it's not about labeling the child - it's about helping the child."

Personality and individual intellectual differences make big differences in how people work and play together

We found a great resource to share with you at the Brain Pathways Blog. Start here: to read "Watch Sparks Fly Between Sequential and Global Thinkers." Thanks to Sally Lyon for bringing it to our attention.

About the Brain

"The first lesson we learn from studying our own circuitry is shocking" says neuroscientist David Eagleman. "[M]ost of what we do and think and feel is not under our conscious control."

In our April edition of TalentIgniter's newsletter (, we have included three articles highlighting research about the brain. Links to articles and books takes the reader to greater understanding about how the brain works through studies of the underlying anatomy; what we need to do to restore the art of remembering; and how a better understanding of the brain could impact criminal law if one questions individual cognitive control.

Visit our Parents' Picks

Please browse our extensive – and growing! – list of recommended books, toys, supplies, websites, and other products at We have designed this section to list products that are particularly appropriate in keeping your bright child happily growing and learning.

These selections come from the parents of children in the age groups noted. We're starting with infants and babies, but as the families grow and our contributor list expands we'll add recommendations to cover your needs – and your children's interests – throughout their childhood years.

We would love to hear about any products that you have been especially pleased with and would recommend for other parents. Just contact us at Thanks!

Interruption of Services During Move

TalentIgniter is currently in the process of moving to a new web hosting vendor to be able to support our growing traffic and capabilities. During this process, the Checkout is temporarily disabled until we finish our migration to the new host. Our expected completion date is Friday, April 15, so please come back soon or contact us so we can email you.

Dr. Ruf to Speak at Resource Fair March 19

On Saturday, March 19, Dr. Ruf will participate in the Seventh Annual Gifted Education Resource Fair sponsored by the Minnesota Council of Gifted Children (MCGT) and the MCGT Homeschooling Chapter.

We have discovered that nearly half the people who attend these events aren't sure their children are gifted. If you are in the same boat, or know someone who is, here is a chance to hear Dr. Ruf address precisely that topic. She will speak on what giftedness is at 9:00 a.m., and she will discuss educating the gifted at 1:00 p.m.

The Resource Fair will take place from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Edina Community Center, 5701 Normandale Road, Edina, Minnesota. The cost for MCGT members is $5.00 per family for members of MCGT, and $10 per family for nonmembers. Admission for the two sessions along with the Resource Fair will be $10 per family for MCGT members and $15 per family for non-members. Admission is payable at the door. To pre-register for Dr. Ruf's workshops, which is recommended, go to

Boys and Trouble in School

By Deborah Ruf with Kathy Hara

One of my first graduate school classes, one I needed for continuing certification as an elementary school teacher, was called “Sex Role Stereotyping.” This class taught me how the majority of differences between boys and girls were caused by society’s [unfair] sex role stereotyping. The premise was that girls could grow into women who could do anything a man could do and boys would grow into sensitive, nurturing men. Girls would want to be more like boys, boys would grow up to be more like girls, and all of us would be far better off.

Well, I’m all for equal opportunity, I really am. But experience has shown me that it doesn’t work that way, and we simply are not all the same.

I taught school in Northern Virginia, 4th – 6th grade. For my seating plan, I found I used girls to keep boys apart. Girls seldom did anything to cause harm or disruption, and boys were simply the ones who most often got in trouble! ( I remember one very bright boy in particular, Tim, whose mother volunteered to help with the slower learners so that I might have more time available to work with the faster learners like her son. My position was that until he finished the grade level work I’d assigned, he hadn’t earned the opportunity to work at a more challenging—and interesting—level. Not even his mother appeared to disagree with my reasoning. Looking back, I now understand that we were wrong to take that approach.

Dr. Deborah Ruf's Trip to Australia 2010

This past February, Dr. Ruf was invited and traveled to Australia staying for nearly a month. This link will get you to an audio interview on the "Life Matters" program at ABC Radio Sydney as well as a synopsis of her speaking engagements and topics:

While in Sydney, Perth, and Bunbury, Dr. Ruf worked with families, performed evaluations and conducted salon-type workshops on how personality differences affect school adjustment among bright and gifted children. These more intimate settings, plus the support of her host family in Perth, gave her extensive insights into the educational system and options in Australia at a personal level. On the surface, our countries don't appear to be significantly different in that they group children by age and put them at grade levels largely without regard to ability or readiness to learn --- much as it is in most places in the US. One very major difference, however, is how university entrance is determined --- and this greatly impacts the advice that Dr. Ruf gives clients from Australia compared to those in the US.

In order to work together with people from around the world, we need to become aware of the obstacles and traditions people face before we can give blanket advice. Enjoy the interview. It's a good opportunity to learn more about the experience, theories, and viewpoints of the creator of the Ruf Estimates of Levels of Gifted Online assessment.

Gender Differences in Eligibility for Gifted Programs

By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D., and Kathy Hara

More girls are identified as gifted and accepted into gifted programs than boys.

That this is true is particularly interesting in light of the fact that there are actually more high IQ males than there are high IQ females. When you include spatial and quantitative reasoning abilities, the ratio of boys to girls is even wider.

Information in support of this statement has come from early talent searches that look for standardized test scores in ability or achievement in the 98th or 99th percentile. This pool of kids is eligible for further screening on out-of-level tests, where students in the 5th through the 8th grade ages are allowed to take SATs and similar tests that are normed for older college-bound students. What we see is that there are more males at the very highest end. In the 1970s, the ratio for quantitative reasoning was 13 to 1 male to female. But in recent years, that gap has been closed to 4 to 1. However, experts in the academic intelligence field speculate that this is due less to a true gap closing than it is to a refocusing on girls and underrepresented minority math instruction while neglecting the needs of the highest ability math boys.

So why do more girls get into the gifted programs? This has a lot to do with other factors, including differences in behavior, interests, energy levels, flexibility, brain growth and brain structure between boys and girls.

In the structure of the brain, the part that interconnects the two hemispheres - the corpus callosum - is on average about 25% smaller in males than in females. This seems to lead to males thinking more in their left hemispheres while females think across and back and forth with both. As a result, more males tend to specialize and focus on what interests them. Gifted females tend to be high-level generalists and multi-taskers, natural managers.

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