Thursday, September 19, 2013

Self-contained, with a broad definition of gifted

In Houston County (Georgia), the gifted program used to be a pull-out program. Students got one day a week of gifted instruction. This year, they've moved to self-contained classes, all day and for all grades. You can read about the change at in this article. (As a side note, it's a really good article, talking about many issues stories of these nature miss, like that gifted kids have to work a lot harder in classes when they're no longer "stars").

One reason few districts do self-contained classes is cost. If gifted education is targeted at 1-3% of students, then self-contained classes are often small, even if you combine a few grades. This means you have to actively put money into the program beyond the normal per pupil cost. For a variety of reasons, some political, schools find it difficult to do this.

The choice Houston County seems to have made is to broaden the definition of gifted. According to the article, some 4000 of the district's 27,000 students have been put into gifted classes. This is about 15% of the population. At this level, you could have 6 classes in a grade, with one being a gifted class, and not need any extra staffing levels.

So is this a smart choice?

On one level, a gifted designation this broad will be tricky. There is a huge variance within that 15%.

On the other, any attempts at ability grouping (or "readiness grouping" as we like to say here) will increase the chances that a class will be taught closer to a highly gifted child's level. The differentiation within that class can offer the highly gifted child more than the differentiation within a far more mixed class.

And since pull-outs are sometimes more disruptive than worthwhile, I think Houston County is moving in the right direction.

If your child is in a self-contained class, are you satisfied with the level of rigor?


nicoleandmaggie said...

This was the norm back when I was in early elementary. It would have worked for me if I'd had that and been skipped a grade. Then the self-esteem movement and cooperative learning started up and they decided that having a "smart" class was bad for the kids, even if you called it the "bluebird" class instead of "gifted." Cooperative learning doesn't work so well (for anyone) with highly gifted kids included in the classes unless they're in their own separate group, which they weren't.

I guess my point is everything old is new again.

Anonymous said...

We have open enrollment in Minnesota, which means that you can send your kids to any school in any district as long as there is space and you provide transportation if the school is out of your district. In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, the open enrollment policy has resulted in several self-contained gifted magnets popping up in the suburbs. This eases the problem of not-enough-gifted in the district to justify a self-contained classroom, but not completely. There are several mixed classrooms (combined 3rd/4th grades, e.g.), but this is still a much better option than a pullout. Many of the GT programs are for HG kids, and have pretty high enrollment requirements. I have been extremely happy with my son's HG program, which goes from 2nd through 5th grade. It would not be so great if the enrollment standards were lowered. The classes are meant to be challenging, and watering them down would not help the kids who need the most challenge.

Gail Post/ Gifted Challenges said...

If schools can afford it, self-contained classrooms would appear to be ideal for gifted children. Not only would it give teachers the opportunity to adapt to the pace and complexity of the needs of these children, but they would benefit from interacting with each other. Gifted children too often "dumb themselves down" to fit into classrooms where they perceive that they are different. They would finally have a place where they could relax and actually learn!

Anonymous said...

In Australia we had "streaming" (which is the same as "tracking"). The top class would typically be about the top 15% of students. This really made a difference in the pace of learning and by grade 9 or 10 we were learning calculus.

I know some people fear that a top 15% class would be too watered down for their top 2.5% or top 0.1% kid, and to some extent that's true, but it is still a vast improvement over forcing everyone to slow down to the pace of the struggling students.

If streaming/tracking is done consistently throughout K-12, a top 15% group should reach the same point by grade 10, that the average class reaches by grade 12. There is a significant improvement in the rate of learning by such streaming/tracking.

Stefany S. said...

My children attend a private school with a student population that probably reflects the top 15-25%. While both kids would benefit from an even narrower range of abilities in the classroom, this is a far better option than the full spectrum of abilities in most classrooms. It is easier for the teacher to differentiate within this narrower range and there is a higher likelihood that there will be classmates of similar abilities for grouping. That said, I still have to advocate for challenging material from time to time. The good thing is that my oldest (5th grade) is learning to advocate for herself at this point.

I think that any kind or self-contained classroom for high ability kids is a step in the right direction even with a broader definition of gifted (perhaps another word should be chosen instead of gifted to reflect this) as long as differentiation is a part of it. Any gifted program, even pull-outs, are a hard sell here in California. We don't have many options here, much less effective ones, so a self-contained classroom of the top 15% would be a huge step forward.

Anonymous said...

New reader here replying to previous poster. Not sure where in California you live but I'm reading these responses and thanking my lucky stars we live in Los Angeles where there are many self-contained or homogenous classes and schools for our GATE students. Los Angeles Unified even differentiates between those in the 95-99.5 percentile range and the 99.5+ range. My 15 year old had been in self-contained "highly gifted" schools from 2nd to 8th grade. She really pushed to attend a "regular" HighSchool her freshman year and things have gone downhill from there (but that's another tale in itself lol). In LAUSD they take the state's mandates for differentiation very seriously. If your kid qualifies under any of the districts 8 identification categories you are guaranteed the opportunity to choose self-contained classes either through the magnet or SAS program.