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Teaching High Ability Learners
See also: Working With Young Gifted Children.
IntroductionI have been involved in gifted education, in the first instance as a parent involved in the Association of Bright Children, and currently as an educator, for 20 years. Despite numerous advances in brain research, pedagogical research, and curriculum development many things haven't changed. Classroom teachers, as a whole, are still unaware of the issues which face our cognitively competent learners and, worse still, fewer resources are being devoted to special students, including the area of high ability learners. The range of delivery models and curriculum design strategies has increased with expertise, yet many school across North America are not incorporating this continuum. Bias continues to exist against those who are able on the part of staff and students alike.
Educational ReformWhy aren't we teaching more reflectively, incorporating new information and new research on exemplary teaching strategies, pedagogy, andragogy and brain function.
Andy Hargreaves cites five paradoxes of school reform:
- Many parents have given up responsibility for the very things they want schools to stress.
- Business often fails to use the skills that it demands schools produce.
- More globalism produces more tribalism.
- More diversity and integration is accompanied by more emphasis on common standards and specialization.
- Stronger orientation to the future creates greater nostalgia for the past.
- Moving missions: shared visions and dreams
- Policy realization: review and renew moral purposes at the school level.
- Reculturing: school culture has been one in which teachers have been isolationists and struggle competitively, rather than cooperatively, for limited financial and human resources.
- Restructuring: allowing time for teacher to meet cooperatively, rather than being "grounded in structures of time and space", isolated in their insular classrooms and by departments.
- Organizational learning: develop collaborative professional learning communities.
- Positive politics
- Understand the political configuration of your school.
- Act politically to secure support and resources.
- Empower others to be more competent.
- Embrace conflict as a necessary part of change.
- Reclaim the discourse of education.
With these kinds of turnover rates and the level of inexperienced leadership, principals, as much as teachers, are hard-pressed to keep up with new curriculum, meetings and paperwork. There is little time for him or her to familiarize with the culture of a school. Hargreaves & Fullan (1992) warn against principals driving premature changes that interrupt and are insensitive to the culture of a school. They counsel teachers to have patience and take ownership of change opportunities.
Brain ResearchMorgan, (p. 265) speaks of the qualitative differences between physical growth in children and the quantifiable growth of intelligence in which the brain is maximizing cooperation between biological structures in the brain. We organize what we know, the brain must make connections between subsystems, as well as bridging the gap between left and right brain through the corpus callosum which connects both halves of a highly differentiated system. Our cognitive style, he says is the thinking person's mode of perceiving, remembering, thinking and problem solving, with implications for all cognitive function including social and interpersonal functions, as important, says Goleman, in being able to make sense of the world and it's mysteries.
Programming for Gifted LearnersBased on individual needs of the learner, the teacher, the class and the school. Programs and delivery models must be adapted to take all concerned under consideration. Unfortunately, economics and education cutbacks have controlled access to many learners. Programs must be a personal, professional, practical and highly individualized program. Shore (1996) suggests that there are a wide ranging variety of practices and recommends nine factors to keep under consideration.
- Congregate gifted children at least part of the time
- Address children at a high intellectual level
- use acceleration where warranted
- Address real and challenging problems
- Include well-supervised independent study
- Place educational experiences in a life-span context
- Build substantially upon opportunities for individualization
- Include well-trained and experienced teachers
- Support the cognitive and affective needs of all gifted students
As the Royal Bank says: for every one teacher who wants to teach, there are 20 students who do not want to learn.
The benefits of various strategies revolve around the level of educational achievement. A crucial factor is the training of the teacher/facilitator, not to mention the availability of human, technological and financial resources. Teacher training, in all of the program delivery models, is crucial to the success of that model. The codicil being, of course, accessibility to such resources.
I believe that we don't do enough of Multi-Age groupings, nor are there many opportunities for opting out of particular courses/classes and doing independent studies. Within each of these models is the understanding that we modify the assessment strategies, as well as the expectations and develop open-ended tasks for the students to pursue. Again, I believe the key lies in teacher education and in-service opportunities which will benefit all learners.
Androcentric AssumptionsOther barriers to quality gifted education are sexist and racist assumptions about the gifted. Feminism is now a dirty word, says Kennedy (2001). "But in the current gender-political climate, with so many different voices crying in so many different kinds of wilderness, they remain a fractionalized bunch - a multitude of tongues, but no single choir." She further says that Feminism has evolved into society's new "F" word. Erdman (1990, p.175) says that while most of her curriculum student are female, respected classroom workers, most remain mute as decisions are made in their districts, with little objection in the wider world, towards policies they feel not to be in the best interests of wider political climate of their school systems.
Gifted women haven't risen to political prominence. They are too busy doing the work of the world: volunteering in rape crisis centers, advocating quietly for women and children. (Erdman,1990, p.174) We hold androcentric assumptions about what is worth knowing. We can only teach what we know. We must take to time to broaden our awareness, in between diapers, laundry, our partners, our homes and groceries.
Where and when do we create some energy to examine these issues?
How do we find like-minded souls with whom to create a discourse of reflection?
Erdman (1990, p.176) & Apple (1986) speak of the difficulties teachers have had in fighting for working conditions which directly affect learning conditions. Women, primarily female elementary teachers, have not had much success in breaking away from the myth of the female "natural ability to nurture". Political action has been seen as an unacceptable political protest in our society. The protests of Bill 160 in Ontario were met with a wide array of responses, primarily negative ones, as teachers fought to disseminate information on what was happening in our decade of cut backs for the purpose of tax cuts.
Equal Opportunity for Program Participation:Teachers must facilitate equal opportunities for those with cognitive competence and those who are less able. We must fight the stereotyping, exploitation, and the denigration of those who are only apparently less able, while ensuring that all learners receive the best education possible. It is my belief, proposed as far back as 1992 (Tomlinson & Callahan, 1992) , that the three areas of pedagogical instruction: differentiation of instruction, individualization of instruction and multiple modes of instruction works for all learners, able or disabled.
While Tomlinson & Callahan (1992, p. 183) cite a 1978 study of 251 students in which gifted students were working below their intellectual level. I would hesitate to extrapolate this data and dated conclusion to the classroom and the work *my* colleagues are creating. Integration is the norm in the province in which I work. Matthews & Smyth (2000) speak of the attempts towards inclusion, based, perhaps, upon fiscal reasons not moral reasons. Michael Fullan, interviewed Dec. 2/01, cites a less than ideal grade for schools in our nation. He believes that improved literacy programs, including literacy coordinators, developing abilities in teaching staff to create teacher leaders who will become visionary principal leaders. He believes it is the charismatic CEOs who are rising to levels of power and authority. These are not qualities that are found in classrooms of today. He also recommends that EQAO (Ontario Provincial tests at the grades 3/6/9 levels) testing money ought to be better spent in such initiatives as intern programs for new teachers.
Affective Education & CreativityI believe that the one things missing from a lot of our work in gifted education and schools today, is a notion of developing the whole child. I am having a discussion with one of my students, a student from Beijing. I deliver a cooperative learning, activity-based program which incorporates the notion of the various intelligences, and differentiates program as best I can. I have done extensive research, as well as a few lectures in the subject of giftedness and I think I am creating a program that benefits all of my students. However, he and I are now in an ongoing discussion regarding the more creative aspects of my program. We do guided imagery, we brainstorm multiple solutions, seek to interpret doodlegrams. (Abstract scribbles in design which encourage right brain thinking. He is not amused. I am cognizant of that great Canadian demand for improving problem solving skill. A friend, formerly co-owner of an aeronautics software engineering firm, had to help me come up with reasons why a CEO ought to be creative, have a vision of the future. Problem solving and leadership are major tasks our gifted leaders must master.
ConclusionI believe that if we can create programs based upon exemplary programs, we can create, with adequate human and physical resources, programs which will allow high ability learners to become the best they can be. As Tomlinson & Callahan (1992, p. 187) say "educational change is needed for all kinds of learners, including the highly able" The trick is to create a culture of change using all the resources at our fingertips. (Andy Hargreaves)
OISE/UT. Created by Jennifer Jilks. Analysis of Article
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