Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is this gifted education, or just good teaching?

According to a recent article at, elementary schools in Wayne, NJ will soon be participating in a new kind of gifted education.

"Students of varying abilities will be engaged via lessons while in the same classroom using their creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, and logical reasoning skills," the article notes. "Faster learners may be given the task of calculating off the tops of their heads what could be bought with $20 from a list of items without using pen and paper. However a student who requires a little more help would be allowed to check their work with a designated "shopkeeper." And students needing more help would be given objects to count during their assessment."

To be fair, the program calls for a once-a-week pull-out as well, but on the whole, this is basic differentiation in the classroom. People like to claim that this "new" way of doing gifted education allows them to reach more students. But shouldn't good teachers be able to differentiate for different students, anyway, without calling it gifted education?

Of course, the problem is that differentiation is difficult to get right. The easier approach is to teach to the middle, which leaves gifted students bored and plenty of other students perplexed. So teaching teachers how to do differentiation well has plenty of merits. But if the goal is to enhance learning for gifted students, it would be easier to do ability grouping instead.

Which leads me to suspect that this is not the goal...


Maryann said...

If the teacher is doing a good job of differentiation, then they'll get more gifted kids at more levels than ability grouping will (within a typical age-based classroom). Unless the ability groups contain multiple age groups, you'll miss gifted kids at the higher end of the scale.

I think you're right though. This is just good teaching. A good teacher will get an idea of what each student needs and try to meet them at that level.

Stephanie said...

I also agree that this is "just good teaching" (which is powerful and to be commended), but what seems to be missing is that gifted students do not only learn faster, they often learn differently.Ding something in their head isn't necessarily as beneficial as asking them to compare how this $20 would spend in the US versus how it would spend in another country -- or even another state.

Because we tend to think pace is the most important feature of gifted students, it is easy to avoid taking the time to construct lessons and activities geared at increased novelty and complexity.

Bonnie said...

After 25 years of working with gifted students, I am personally convinced that they not only learn differently, but have highly developed personal skills that interface with their learning style. Although well meaning, there are very few teachers skilled with the concepts of differentiation who can deal with all of the differences in an average classroom and truly meet the needs of gifted students. Gifted students deserve more if we're asking them to share their gifts with the world.

kjpmeyer said...

We have moved to this kind of program this year. Out of need than anything. I'm not allowed to pull them from Core areas and I've been assigned teaching assignments during the "exploratory/non graded" times this year. So instead of fighting the battle of "when do I get them" we are attacking it from the other end. I have a few teachers who are all for adapting and changing what they do and the kids have already mentioned that they like what we are doing. However, I have some teachers, that aren't willing to move away from the "mid group teaching" style and are very old school.

The biggest concern that I've heard from the kids thus far is "am I going to be graded differently if I'm expected to be doing harder work?" We've decided that their main assessments will be grade level expectations, but their daily work will be the expectations set as they work in above grade level tasks.
Any words of advice, experience in this area, or ideas can be sent to me. I'd greatly appreciate how to tackle this mess.