It wasn't a G/T assignment, but this hands-on, long-term science project our guy did with a buddy is the type of learning I hope all gifted and talented students have access to.
I am putting on my educator’s hat today for a rant on gifted and talented education. I bumped into an acquaintance whose middle schoolers attend a local public school. Her kids in eighth grade – one of the most challenging grades to teach. She said they were doing well except for one class: G/T Math. I recently agreed to co-chair the county school system’s G/T Advisory Steering Committee, so my ears perked up. “What’s going on?” I asked. This is the story – remember this is second hand. According to my friends’ kids, the teacher is using computerized presentations or notes on the board to teach. Granted, we’re only a few weeks into the school year, but kids who typically do well in this high-level math program are beginning to struggle. “It sounds like the teacher is using college-style methods,” I told my friend. As I said, eighth grade is a challenge. The kids want to be treated like adults, but they bounce, push, fidget, and argue like little guys. There is a reason they don’t attend college yet. For most 13/14 year olds, their systems are less mature than their outward appearance. If what the children were saying was true, their teacher was equating “advanced learner” with “advanced learning style.” My friend agreed with me. Her kids also reported that when someone asks for clarification, the teacher shows the class the beginning steps of the problem, and then tells the students that they should be able to figure out the rest. Does this sound familiar? There is misconception that children who belong in gifted and talented classes are ideal students. If they can’t keep up with the cream of the crop, they don’t belong in the class. An admission: I used to be that teacher. It was a year or two into my high-school career. The boss asked me to teach a high-level course – a stepping-stone to A.P. English. The retiring veteran who was giving up the class told me that about half the teens in the course, “Don’t belong. Their parents want them to take the class.” She implied that either the parents or the kids had a puffed up idea of how bright they were. My teaching was guided by that veteran’s voice for a year. I don’t think any students failed, but I know I failed plenty of students. I’m going into my fifteenth year in education. As a visiting poet-in-the-schools, I work in mainstreamed classrooms. Writing with kids who have individual and sometimes unusual needs, talents, and limitations has taught me that when I put on my teacher’s hat, I have to meet each student where he or she is. My dear friend Jennie Steinhauser – gifted and talented herself in the ways of teaching – also helped change my point of view. She is one of the most generous-spirited teachers I know. (Now generous enough to homeschool her three kids.) Thankfully, the county-level staff at the G/T program knows that gifted kids (especially in middle school, I think) need creative, understanding teachers who see them as whole people – gifts and limitations, talents and quirks. I am lucky enough to have one of those talented and quirky kids. The 11-year-old is GT/LD – gifted with a learning disability. The current term is twice-exceptional. (You’ll find the National Education Association’s wonderful document on twice-exceptionality here http://www.nea.org/specialed/twiceexceptional.html). When my guy walks into a G/T classroom, this is what I hope he will find: Today, his teacher split the class into teams for a long-term group project, opening a window for kids who like to work cooperatively. Tomorrow, the teacher had them draw colored graphs and charts – a different window. The next day, she read to them, instead of having them read silently. And after that, the window he opened was for hands-on learners -- manipulatives in the science lab. Or researching online, for the kids who get excited by technology. I’m a big believer in multiple intelligences theory. Check out http://www.adifferentplace.org/intelligences.htm -- a very visual-learner friendly page on MI. Teachers can’t know which window is going to let the light in for a particular student. But we must know that it won’t be the same window for every child in the room. We have to open those windows, one by one, until every face has been illuminated. Even if it takes us all year. An aside to my Howard County, MD friends – the folks at the county G/T office know this. This is why we need to advocate for our G/T Resource Teachers, particularly in middle school. Some content teachers out there need the support & best G/T practices information that a G/T Resource Teacher provides. If you want to find out more, or to help, come to the G/T Parent Academy on October 1 (Faulkner Ridge Center, 7 PM). Here is the G/T website: http://www.hcpss.org/gt/