Educating the Gifted and Talented

“People should be free to find or make for themselves the kinds of educational experience they want their children to have.” -John Holt-

Friday, March 17, 2006

Facilitate GT students' dreams!

"The best that can be done for gifted learners is to keep them from learning to be average!" said Nancy Johnson, a teacher from Ohio. She was one of fifteen presenters at the Autonomous Learner Model Conference in Colorado. The one recurring message of most all sessions was that children learn best when their curiosity is awakened and they are actively engaged during school hours.

Dr. George Betts of the University of Northern Colorado, along with wife Donni, hosts the ALM conference each year. He impressed upon teachers not to be dispensers of knowledge only. "Facilitate students’ needs, desires and dreams. Believe in them!" he urged.

He went on to suggest that teachers and parents create a positive environment and make belonging meaningful. "When students feel they belong and are accepted they learn to trust and take risks. Simple questions such as "How are you? Are your needs being met? Do you need something? show students concern and caring." he said. It is a critical part of becoming an independent, life long learner, someone who learns by choice rather than coercion.

Karen Larsen, a teacher from Westminster is an avid proponent of curriculum compacting. This requires teachers to pre-test their students’ knowledge. Mastery is defined at 85 percent which equals a solid "B", but students would, in fact, get an "A" so they will want to keep trying! When they show competence they can move on to the next chapter in the book or work on an enrichment project.

One of the best reasons for compacting is that it does away with boredom. As a result behavior problems diminish, students stay in school and test scores improve. Larsen suggested that teachers start with a small group of students for whom compacting seems especially appropriate.

Karen also talked about myths and realities regarding giftedness. She said it is a serious injustice to think of special provisions for the gifted as being undemocratic. "The reality is that compared to most others, gifted students are under served and do need different methods to learn well. Helping them succeed is only fair." she stressed.

With a mental mind as old as some of their teachers’ age, gifted students can also feel out of place in a regular school setting. A solution is to group them together for at least part of the school day. Experts agree that gifted kids need a chance to be together. If they are to do well in school they deserve and need an opportunity to be with peers that accept them.

Unfortunately it is rarely done because people believe that ability grouping is the same as tracking. However, with ability grouping students are re-evaluated regularly so change would naturally occur. Ability grouping is really "need based" instruction and the best way for gifted learners to remain engaged in school.


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