Gifted Education and Higher Student Achievement

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Self-Contained Gifted Classes

It’s easy to overlook gifted children, because many of them often seem to effortlessly do well in class. In an effort to make sure that all children learn, we spend more money and time helping children with academic disabilities. We do this, because we believe that all children can learn. It’s the right thing to do. What do we do for the other end of the spectrum though? Unfortunately, we often don’t do much at all. The gifted students receive little or no extra attention in many schools. I know of at least one district where the dropout rate is higher for gifted students than it is for either regular education or special education. We’re losing so many of these talented students.

When a student is academically struggling, there are a lot of resources available. Schools have learning teams, tutoring, special education and other resources dedicated to help children succeed in school. What’s available for gifted students? They struggle too but often for very different reasons. In my experience, teachers quickly try to identify students with learning disabilities but often overlook children who are gifted yet failing to achieve at their ability level. This disservice results in a society that simply ignores these children until advanced placement classes are offered later in their school career or until they enter college. What a waste! Many of these students are going to become the leaders of the future, doctors, architects, and political leaders. Unfortunately, we often give them a slow start towards these lofty goals by forcing them to endure lessons over material they already understand, read books from book level lists that are well below their ability level, and perpetually tutor students rather than learn additional and deeper concepts.

Gifted Programs

If you’re gifted, what will it mean for you? In many schools, it means nothing, or it means that you are used merely as an example for others, a tutor for struggling students, or a way to get higher standardized test scores for the teacher. I’m fortunate enough to work in a school where gifted students tend to be treated differently. We have self-contained gifted classrooms and many advocates for this kind of instruction. We also have many opponents. These teachers say that their classes suffer, because the gifted students have been removed from their classes. They have several arguments:

· Gifted students act as models for the remainder of the class.

· Gifted students can tutor other children in class.

· Gifted students raise their standardized test scores.

· Gifted students are better behaved. Overlooked Classroom Discipline Strategies

· Gifted students may develop an elitist attitude.

These arguments focus on what the gifted student can do for the teacher or for other students. None of the arguments focus on how to better educate gifted students. Does this seem wrong to you? While ability grouping has developed a bad reputation over the years, many studies have suggested that gifted students thrive when grouped with like students. It makes sense. Teachers who advocate self-contained programs have several arguments:

  • Studies show that self-contained programs result in higher academic progress when compared to both regular education and after-school programs. My experience is that student progress, when measured with standardized testing, is significantly higher than it was prior to this kind of instruction.
  • Instruction can be more complex, focusing on higher thinking skills and greater understanding of the curriculum.
  • Gifted students tend to get bored in regular classrooms. Student morale is higher when gifted students have self-contained instruction.
  • Gifted students can get bored in regular classrooms. Discipline problems sometimes arise. When gifted students are in self-contained programs, many discipline problems tend to be minimized or even eliminated.

Did you notice a difference between the two arguments? Should gifted students be placed in a class to simply act as role models that can tutor, or should they be placed in a class that can truly meet their own unique academic needs? From experience, I can tell you how the majority of gifted students would answer. Overwhelmingly, they choose self-contained gifted programs. Once in these programs, they willingly stay there. It’s not about piling on loads of homework. It’s about accelerating, enriching, and providing instruction that meets gifted students’ needs.

Some of my colleagues have become supporters, because they’ve noticed that not having gifted students in their class has had a positive impact on other students. Have you ever had that one student who loves to answer every question? This tends to be the same student who aces every test, completes assignments quicker than a NASA computer, and makes the rest of the class feel uncomfortably slow. When these students are removed from the regular classrooms, other students rise to the top. They’re forced to answer questions, and more importantly, they feel compelled to answer now.

One of my colleagues recently said, “We all know that the gifted kids will be fine.” She was adamantly opposed to our self-contained gifted program, an outspoken opponent. This was true up until the day her own child, a gifted student, was old enough to actually be in one of those classes. Can you guess where she put her daughter? Her child flourished in the self-contained classroom, and my colleague became an outspoken advocate of the program.

Gifted education has many different faces. Clustering, self-contained classes, enrichment programs, and pull-out programs are only a few of the different ways to teach gifted students. All of these are better than nothing, but self-contained gifted programs have consistently been proven to result in better academics, student morale, and lower drop out rates. If you were a gifted student, what type of program would you want?

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