The sixth post on 21st Century gifted education comes from Brandi Jordan, a former elementary classroom teacher who now homeschools her three children. She is the Managing Director of The Teachers’ Lounge, a Really Good Stuff blog that is dedicated to providing teachers with practical information and resources. She also posts on Twitter as @ReallyGoodStuff.
Although it has been over 20 years, I distinctly remember being given the choice to stay in my current elementary school or transfer to the new magnet gifted program at another school for my fourth grade year. I was one of only three students who were labeled as “gifted” at my current school and, while I enjoyed the once a week special lessons, I was excited about the opportunity to spend a whole day being challenged. So, the next September I found myself in an unfamiliar school with no one I knew and a homeroom that I was pulled out of everyday to go to my gifted class.
We read The Little Prince and did science experiments outside. I remember writing poetry and creating a bound book. However, the thing that I remember most about that year was the transition back into the regular classroom at the end of the gifted program’s day. It was a strange sensation, going back into a room where a community of learners was being built without me, yet where I was expected to fit in. I often wonder what those students thought about those of us who left the classroom at 9am every morning and returned just before lunch.
Although I now homeschool my own children, I taught for almost a decade in the classroom. I got to see how gifted education has changed and how many times, being labeled as gifted was as damaging to a child as any other label. Now some may argue that a gifted label is a blessing or a boon, because it propels a child forward on a path of so called challenging education. I disagree. I think labeling and pulling a child to a gifted class hurts not only them, but the rest of the students in the classroom.
Imagine for a moment that you are ten years old. You are sitting in your fourth grade classroom and suddenly, the child at the desk next to you stands up and leaves the room to go to a special class. A class that you cannot go to. Why? Because you are not smart enough. Now, pretend that you are the child leaving. Everyone knows where you are going and why. Is it an awkward, uncomfortable feeling? Of course it is.
Instead of raising the expectations for all students, gifted education has suggested that the expectations should be lower for some students than they are for others. What does that say to the child who does not go to the gifted class about his potential? Should that influence how the gifted child is educated? I think it should.
Now, understand that I am not suggesting that a gifted child should not be challenged simply because his peers might feel bad. I am suggesting that gifted education move toward a place where all students are given the opportunity to excel within the regular classroom. I am suggesting that we raise the bar for everyone, not just those who have “gifted” stamped on their IEPs.
In Jerry Blumengarten’s article in this series on The Future of Gifted Education, he suggests that real life experiences are more valuable to the field of gifted education than traditional lessons. While I would agree with his statement, I also disagree that this is a method that should be used solely for gifted students. If an internship or a web project challenges and enhances the learning of a gifted student, will it not also do the same for a student without that label?
What would happen if we labeled all of our students as gifted? What would happen if we challenged them all in the same way as we do our gifted students now? While I cannot see the future of gifted education taking this path, I cannot help but feel that we are doing a disservice to all of our students when we do not challenge them in the same way and give them the opportunities that we now reserve only for gifted students.
I wish you could see me nodding vehemently here at my computer! Yes, what we need is a fundamental change in the way we provide education, and the way it’s funded. I too was labelled as gifted, taken away from my primary school, and sent to a special class at another school for Grades 5 and 6. I learned so much, was challenged and excited each day to go to school. But why did my former classmates miss those opportunities?
My recent post Creative Prompt — Start with an Old Picture
I wonder where you’ve gotten the idea that those in gifted education believe that expectations should be, ” lowered for some students” and raised for gifted learners. I wonder why you feel that, ” gifted education should move to a place where all students can excel in the regular classroom” rather than saying you wish that education would move to a place where expectations were set appropriately for all students.
You ask the question, “If an internship or a web project challenges and enhances the learning of a gifted student, will it not do the same for a student without that label?” Would you ask that same question regarding sports or music? If some students have ability and skill beyond the norm in music and sports they receive additional assistance and as a result perform in the sports and music arenas. Everyone seems to accept that. Why then do we fight the fact that area of academics student needs differ? Not all students need the same kinds of academic activities to foster their learning. Can’t we all agree that we should be providing students with what they need so they can all be learning rather than focusing on making things the same for everyone?
Hurrah! Well said.
Cathy, I agree that providing students with what they need so that they can all be learning is essential. I don’t think we’re disagreeing on that point at all. However, I don’t think that just those students who are labeled as gifted should be given opportunities to learn in ways that are thought to be more progressive or effective. And, yes, I would ask that same question about sports or music. While the child with great musical ability may far exceed the student with very little, should they both not have the opportunity to succeed — in whatever way that looks like for them?
My recent post Snowman Thematic Unit Activity Ideas
What if we treated all children as “at risk?” Would all children receive the education that raises them to the level of achievement they are capable of? Gifted children are at even greater risk of underachieving if left unchallenged, which I personally believe to be equally devasting as a student who is receiving special services for the purpose of meeting NCLB mandates.
I believe the field of gifted education itself is a victim of its own success. Schools have struggled for decades with the reality that different kids learn differently and have tried different ways to address this. In the early part of the twentieth century, the prevailing thinking was that we needed to stratify education. Intelligence tests were designed to find those kids who could best benefit from academics and separate them out from the others who had a more practical, vocational destiny so that each could be assigned to the right track to prepare them for what the professionals had determined was their path in life.
We now believe that every child can learn and that tracking is wrong. But we still have to account for the fact that in a typical fourth grade classroom, for example, we may have both a student who struggles to read a simple sentence and a student who is writing a novel.
Gifted programs got a reputation for being the “fun” class that kids went to while everyone else was stuck with the drudgery. But doing “fun” enrichment activities is hardly the only way to address the needs of gifted kids, and to say that all we have to do is label all kids gifted and give them all the “fun” enrichment is counterproductive. Instead of thinking of any kids as a clump based on the artifical label we attach, what if we look at the individual, figure out what that child (singular) needs in order to learn, grow, and thrive in school, and then do it?
I am torn on this subject; I myself was pulled out of classes for gifted programs almost 50 years ago. I did enjoy them and I didn’t feel ambivalent about the experience. All three of my children ended up being in gifted programs, but not initially. It seems that their particular gifts were not apparent when they were tested in kindergarten. My oldest son actually went through a regular class room until he reached middle school. So, I appreciated the philosophy of his regular class 4th grade teacher. She believed that the qualifying tests were not totally reliable, so she approached her regular class as if all were gifted. She taught to the highest level, on the assumption that there were gifted children in her classroom. I admired her approach. I also notice in my teaching internship classroom there is a mix of students in the regular classroom; some of the students certainly could be in an “honors” classroom. Just like some of the honors students should probably be in a regular class if judged solely on their work. So, if the system for identifying students is flawed, don’t we serve students better by offering differential learning in the regular classroom, with more projects that allow for higher level thinking from those students who are capable? We make a mistake if we think our criteria for selection to honors is infallible. Why not approach every class as honors and offer lessons that don’t set ceilings on achievement? Why not offer contracts with students that give them project choices that include more difficult, analytical work?