Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gifted kids, differentation and self-contained classrooms

I'm reading: Gifted kids, differentation and self-contained classroomsTweet this!

Parenting Gifted Kids has a great post up sharing compelling reasons for gifted children to be placed in self-contained classrooms. Teacher Sarah Robbins discusses the academic as well as social-emotional benefits of such an arrangement.

It's quite possible that if I didn't have kids on the leading edge of the bell curve, I'd be a vocal advocate for heterogeneous classroom grouping. I'm not. I think the broader the grouping, the harder it is for the teacher. The arrangment does not serve the students well, either.

There's a common perception that a class is taught toward the middle, but I've heard it's more realistic that the teacher, of necessity, directs most of her energy, pacing, etc. to the bottom third of the class.

Curriculum differentiation? Puh-lease. Tell me about a a positive experience you and your gifted children have had with this and I'll feature it in an upcoming post.

Back during that horrible first grade year, Smartypants had a teacher who gave him a personalized weekly spelling lists. His words were challenging- I needed a dictionary to spell some of them (i.e. loquacious).

But apparently he needed a dictionary, too.

Part of his weekly spelling assignment involved looking up words and recording their definitions. It wasn't until the Spring teacher conference that the teacher mentioned she didn't have a classroom dictionary advanced enough for Smartypants to look up his words. #differentionfail

And it's not just about the teacher. As Sarah points out, "All children can tell when someone is different. And gifted kids are intuitive enough to sense these differences. They feel isolated, alone, misunderstood and set apart in the mainstream classroom." I think many otherwise caring and smart educators are unaware of the the social-emotional burdens of gifted children. But that's a post of it's own.

So again, differentiation for highly or profoundly gifted kids? Maybe you've had a more positive experience than we have. Maybe your child was working at a level above, deeper or beyond his classmates. Maybe. Tell me about it.

More musings on parenting gifted children.


Jeanne said...

The only positive differentiation I have seen for my EG was within the ELO class by a trained G/T instructor using Renzuli. The differentiation horror stories far outnumber the positive ones. Even in Middle School a Social Studies teacher used "differentiation" to load more work on ID'd kids - and then had them work in groups with the bottom third to help "lift them up." Regular classroom activities included making illustrated flip books (ahem, I did say this was middle school, didn't I?). Arrggh - I could go on. And shall. In grade school my EG was constantly rewriting his assignments to "improve his handwriting" - which was fine, thank you very much, and well within the strictures of the handwriting rubric. The same teacher, who is considered a good teacher for bright kids, chastised him for asking too many questions and trying to appear "too smart." In 7th grade, after explaining the benefits of pretesting and differentiating the curriculum for those students who exhibited mastery, I discovered that his teacher was using the 95th percentile as the pretest threshold - far above the accepted percent - surprise - no one "qualified" for differentiation. [As an aside, the teacher was being guided in this by a math coach provided to the school under a Federal Math & Science grant] Did I mention that this student spent the entire year sleeping during class? And still earned his requisite "A"?

No - I think many educators want to do the right thing but lack the training to be able to do so. I no longer assume teachers have the requisite knowledge or training to meet the needs of my EG student - and when I hear "differentiation" it is Pavlov's bell ringing in my head - I always ask if the specific teacher has training or certification in differentiation for high ability kids. Usually met with a blank stare - but I hope that if I say it enough times maybe someone will start to think it might be important and the blanket "solution" called differentiation will be scrutinized more carefully.

Nancy said...

I really have had a more positive experience. Each year the teachers have given my child more challenging work but not as you describe. It has fit him pretty well.

I write a letter to the teachers every summer before school starts offering to help, stating that he has some special needs, and explicitly state the expectation that he needs to be challenged too.

He's in second grade, and so far, so good. The social aspect is important to me too, and he has some great friendships and seems pretty well-rounded.

I don't know if I'd call him profoundly gifted, but he does stand out, and the other kids do notice.

This is my experience, but every child really is different in terms of temperament and level of apptitude, so I am not touting this way as the 'right' way. I also realize that some may not be as fortunate as me when it comes to differentiation. It really does come down to the willingness of the teacher to match the child's abilities.

Michelle said...

Thank you for this article. I know that my students' parents are very vocal about their kids' education, and love the self-contained classrooms we have in our school ditrict. We have changes coming our way in 2010-11, but fortunately we are able to retain the SC model and still meet the needs of our top stuents. I think people often forget that even though we have gifted classroom, there is still a huge range of ability in just one room. I still have to differentiate on a daily basis to meet everyone at their own level, especially in reading and math. And yes, I do have an adult level dictionary in my first grade classroom. An example from one child's spelling words/vocab list last week was "ignominiously".

RL Julia said...

you always provide such food for thought! While I agree with you that heterogeneous classrooms probably don't work for the profoundly gifted, we have had good experiences with differentiation in a regular classroom at my kids school.That being said, I am starting to think that my kid's school is the ONLY school that actually provides a differentiated curriculum -although theoretically all of CPS is supposed to do it.

However, there are some caveats to this - one of the reason that the heterogeneous classrooms work for my kids is that the school doesn't have a gifted program so there are other gifted kids in the classroom AND that I have gotten over myself and learned that I need to follow up frequently to make sure that the curriculum is in fact differentiated - and that the teacher's needs are being met - its really just like following up on an IEP. I also have gotten more comfortable advocating that my kids be placed in classrooms with at least ONE other "gifted" kid.

This solves several problems - 1. The teacher has a "group" to work with and is therefore more likely to do the differtiation and 2. My kid has at least ONE other kid in the class that sort of "gets" him/her. I didn't figure out how important it was for my son both intellectually and socially to have companions in his classroom until relatively late in the game but it does make a difference. 3. The last thing is that the kids' school use a social curriculum called Responsive Classroom ( )which has been key. This curriculum really teaches all kids how to listen, problem solve etc... Over the years I have been amazed at the reports I get from my kids about the sort of intellectual and emotional generosity that goes on at school in terms of accepting differences, really listening to each other and creatively solving problems etc...
In their school, my kids are different from the majority of their classmates economically, religiously and ethnically - being smart is just one more label that makes them different yet they've managed to enjoy school, make a few friends and solidier on. However, they are not profoundly gifted (at least that I know of) and I think this might make a big difference.

Kristina said...

My teacher friends--and ones I've interviewed for newspapers, off the record--have said they teach to the bottom third of the class. Mostly, they teach to test thanks to NCLB. I generally favor diverse classrooms but not necessarily in this case. Am interested in what others say.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to understand what current thoughts are in terms of best practices for G/T children. I teach in a self-contained classroom. I have 4-5-6 grade students. They all have minor to severe idiosyncrasies. Their social skills also range from poor to very poor. I wonder why it is not better to place these children in a regular classroom setting, have pull out programs, for those for example excelling in math, and inclusion for other areas. Then the students would learn social skills within the classroom, be more accepted within the school, and be more prepared to enter middle school. Where I teach, it is in a self contained classroom, the students are ostracized by other classrooms, and are ill prepared to make the transition to middle school. There are NO middle school G/T programs where I teach. We we are doing just does not make sense to me. I think it is harmful to our children and sets them up for social failure.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@kristina Thanks for verifying the tidbit about teaching to the bottom 1/3.

@Nancy - I agree it does depend on the child--as well as the child's level of giftedness. The higher their abilities, the less likely differentiation will be able to suit their needs. I'm hoping @jeanne will share her positive experiences in a guest post.

@Michelle- I agree that many people, educators included, hear "gifted class" and forget the the ability spread in the gifted classroom may be as broad as in a typical classroom. Thanks for bringing that up.

@anonymous - It sounds like your teaching a gifted classroom without having training on the social-emotional and academic needs of academically talented students. That's a shame for all involved. It puts you in a difficult spot and I fear your students are not being served as well as they could with a teacher who might have more background on giftedness. It sounds like your school district has many systemic issues. Though perhaps they don't have gifted classes in the middle school because there is more formal tracking or leveling.

While you might be right in that some of the students could be "normalized" a bit. Some of their behaviors may be typical gifted (HG, PG) sensitivities, intensities or overexcitabilities. Or as I say, "that's just how they're wired." is a great site for information, BTW.

@IRL Julia, we'll have to go for a long walk and talk about this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Kim, yes, I do not have formal training on gifted;however I know that all the behaviors I see are associated with g/t. I do my best on an extremely limited budget to integrate my students into other classrooms in the school and to do field trips to promote social skills. I love all my kids. I just do not out situation is helping. We are not part of the school! We are considered district teachers and not part of the school. There are hostile feelings toward myself and the GT children. I was just informed that next year we will be moved to the portable. I have a Promethean Board in my classroom now, but the likelyhood of it moving to the portable is pretty slim. The culture of the school is not conducive to a g/t program. I tried to speak up at the staff meeting and say that isolating g/t kids in a portable outside the school building was not a good idea. It will further ostricized them and cause more social issues. They has been MANY playground problems. I thought putting art and music out there was a much sounder idea. However, I am not one of the "in" people so my words were ignored. I just want the very best for my students.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Thanks for popping back in @anonymous. Did you mean to say that NOT all of the behaviors of concern are related to GT?
I know that was a concern of some parents at the private school for gifted kids where my boys used to attend--that some of the children had issues or behaviors beyond what one might expect even for a "quirky gifted child." The school tended to look at everything as a gifted issue. I think this sometimes shortchanged the students and their families because they could have benefited from outside services or therapeutic interventions.
The move to further isolate these children physically seems like it might be a bad move. Are you involved with your state's gifted organization? I wonder if they might be able to help you. Advocating for gifted kids is often an uphill battle. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Your comments are quite frustrating to me as I have had enormous success with differentiation and teaching the identified gifted in my district for over 12 years. We went to the inclusion of all children except for the extremely disabled at that time, it was the work of my new position, Differentiation Support Teacher, to then work with teachers, parents, and kids to match student needs. It became everyone's work. Each building in our district has a DST. We do meet the needs of our identified gifted and talented through excellent differentiation that is occurring in our classrooms. How? The teachers have been trained, our evaluated by how they differentiate, and they work their tails off to make it happen. My role is to find resources, give support and training, coach them, and plan for them. What Carol Tomlinson preaches and teaches works. If your schools are trying this and you call it a 'horror' it is in my opinion that there was little training going on. We are successful and DI in the classroom keeps the gifted connected to their peers and still honors their brilliance.

Kim Moldofsky said...

@Anonymous. I will call you "Anonymous2" so as not to confuse you with the first Anonymous.

You write, "...Excellent differentiation that is occurring in our classrooms. How? The teachers have been trained, our evaluated by how they differentiate, and they work their tails off to make it happen. My role is to find resources, give support and training, coach them, and plan for them."

I fear that is the exception rather than the rule. You are fortunate to work in a school district that has the resources to and support for differentiation. In my experience, differentiation looks more like assign the gifted kids a few extra problems and like him help teach other students.

I dare say that I know many parents who have had similar experiences or observations.

I welcome another comment form you sharing specific differentiation resources or training materials that my readers and I may mention to our schools.

I do maintain, and I believe there is a lot of research out there to support it, that gifted kids make greater academic gains when placed in a homogeneous group and that kids with (to generalize) IQ of about 140 or higher seldom excel socially, emotionally or academically in heterogeneous classroom with their age-based peers.

I welcome any resources you can recommend.

Sarah Robbins said...

Wow! I am jumping in late in the game. Thanks to all of you for coming by my website and reading my article.

I am currently hosting a series you might all enjoy- Integrating Gifted Kids into Regular Classrooms.

I'm glad we all have the best interests of gifted kids in mind, and it's great to keep up the dialog in the quest of better serving this amazing population- they really are our future!