Thursday, July 27, 2006

Teacher Training

I recently came across an article in the Examiner about one district's efforts to give its gifted program teachers special certification. You can read the piece here. By next school year, all the gifted teachers in Carroll County, a district in Maryland, will have taken a six course sequence through Johns Hopkins (a university with a deep interest in gifted education, thanks to the pioneering efforts of the late Dr. Julian Stanley).

Teacher training is actually one of the biggest problem areas in gifted education. It's also one that's not talked about much. As the Davidsons and I wrote in Genius Denied, there are two main issues.

First, since most gifted children remain in regular classrooms, all teachers need training on how to best teach gifted children, just as they learn about teaching other populations. Yet very few teachers colleges require any courses on gifted learners. Few even offer them.

Second, since we hope that eventually gifted children will be in accelerated academic classes created specifically for them, this country needs a critical mass of teachers specifically certified in gifted ed. Yet many teachers colleges don't offer concentrations in gifted education, and only half the states offer certification in this area.

So it's good that Carroll County is going above the requirements to make sure its teachers know how to best run classrooms of accelerated learners. A Gifted Child Quarterly study a few years ago found that teachers with three to five graduate courses in gifted education were significantly more effective in instruction, and in creating a positive classroom environment, then teachers with no specialized coursework.

In general I'm wary of teachers colleges (they can be ideologically strange places). I'm also wary of requirements that people spend years learning to be teachers (given the shortage of math and science teachers, summer boot camps and night classes for mid-career professionals are probably fine). But I don't like that gifted education gets shut out of programs that almost all teachers have to go through. It's good to see that in Carroll County, they're not.


The Princess Mom said...

I agree that all teachers need training in gifted issues, but I don't think it's a panacea. In my experience, the classroom teachers with gifted training were the least likely to make appropriate accomodations for my kids.

One teacher told me during a single conversation not only that "English differentiates itself," but that she had done her master's thesis on the social needs of gifted kids so she "knew all about what [Wolfie] needs." Since Wolfie was so bored in her class that he was failing, I have to doubt that either claim is true.

As they say, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Help! My Kids Are Smarter Than Me!

Quiltsrwarm said...

Hey Laura...
I have to completely agree that teachers need either gifted cert or have taken a quarter or two of gifted "sensitivity training" if their job requires them to be in constant contact with gifted students. BUT, it is a HUGE barrier for teachers who may want to tap into the gifted kids when even respected universities with 4-year education programs (and graduate degrees) don't even offer gifted training.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, the year before I pulled my kids from public school, the new (at the time) gifted coordinator couldn't believe the results of tests from early elementary that indicated giftedness because by the time the kids got to her classes (she had been a 5th grade teacher), they definitely weren't "gifted" in her mind... It was really hard to politely point out to her that by 5th grade many gifteds have hidden their abilities.

She had no gifted training whatsoever and was required, as part of her assignment to that job, to get gifted certified within the year. I live near a university town with a respectable educator program, but this teacher had to travel 1-1/2 hours, one way, two or three times per week, to another city to take the classes required of her. This is just one example of the huge stumbling block teachers face in trying to obtain training in gifted issues and makes it unlikely they will do it -- if it is optional.

Having the state board of eds require teachers in their states to have a minimum of a couple quarters of gifted training would be a great start (state universities would then have to offer the courses because of demand), but how many state boards believe the needs of the gifted to be a worthy cause?

Anonymous said...

Before we left the public schools, I met with the district gifted teacher who instructs the pull out enrichment program for the top scoring five percent of forth grade students who take the Otis-Lennon group test. My objective was to ask her support in early entrancing our highly gifted son who missed the cut-off by less than a month against the resistant superintendent and principle.

She explained that a few years ago, she had a boy in her class with an I.Q. of 150. She said that he was one year young for his grade and didn’t fit in. I realized at that point, that although she may enjoy working with bright kids who achieve well at their grade level, she didn’t get gifted. She did not understand highly or profoundly gifted kids. It apparently never occurred to her that this boy had difficulty fitting in BECAUSE he has an I.Q. of 150.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Thank you all for sharing your experiences on this. Anonymous in particular.... I think that story about sums up the problem with resistance to acceleration. People -- even teachers who should know what they're doing! -- blame a kid's misfittedness (is that a word?) on the thing they don't like. But highly gifted kids will never be "normal." What is normal? One can work to help them be challenged and happy.

skinnyd said...

I am a TAG teacher in a private school. I teach the accelerated math program which is a pull-out program. I am also the math head of the school.

I have to agree that all teachers need training in the area of gifted education and that it is extremely hard to find that training. Currently, I am in the process of searching for some classes for myself to take to expand my knowledge-base in this area so I may better support my faculty and students. I am frustrated with what I have found being offered in my area.

It is my personal goal to support every one of our students’ mathematical education no matter what their ability. I believe that every child can develop a love for math in the right environment. But I am compelled to teach to the gifted. I am so fortunate to have this opportunity and only want to become the best that I can for my children!

If you know of any courses available to certified teachers, please pass on the information.


Davidson Institute Staff said...

Hello skinnyd,

The Davidson Institute's Educators Guild is a free national service for active elementary, secondary and post-secondary educators, as well as other professionals who are committed to meeting the unique academic needs of gifted students. The Educators Guild provides information on University/College Gifted Ed Offerings and Degree Programs, including:

The Belin and Blank International Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development

Center for Gifted Studies and Talent Development - Ball State University

Gifted Education Resource Institute (GERI) - Purdue University

National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented - University of Connecticut

Northwestern University's Advanced Teaching: The Gifted (Evanston, IL)

NEAG Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development - University of Connecticut Online Masters Degree

University of Denver - Gifted Education Program

University of Georgia - Gifted & Creative Ed Degrees

University of North Texas – Gifted Education Program

University of South Florida College of Education – Masters in Gifted Education

University of St. Thomas - Gifted, Creative & Talented Education

The Center for Gifted Education at The College of William & Mary

Become a member today and become a part of an online community of more than 1,000 professional educators and access free consulting services and Educators Guild publications.