Educating the Gifted

My philosophy based on my learning and experience

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My reflection on and philosophy of gifted education comes from my masters of education program, where I specialized in studying academically and intellectually gifted teaching and learning.

Gifted people exhibit a combination of high intellectual ability and potential for talent in one or more domains of curiosity, performance, athleticism, art, or academic interest (Van Tassel-Baska, 2005) that measure above and beyond the average expectations of their classroom, age, or any other grouping where potential and talent are measured. I have learned through the many conceptions and definitions of giftedness that the “three-ring conception” of giftedness (Renzulli, 1998) most fits my own philosophy. Measurements must not be limited to performance on standardized testing, nor be contingent on socio-economic, cultural, or ethnic backgrounds.

Giftedness can be presented through portfolios or other documented collections of work and performance. Students who display these characteristics deserve to be challenged and appropriately taught to meet their needs.

People who work with gifted students have a responsibility to develop an explicit education plan that nurtures all aspects of students’ high potential, while taking into consideration the social and emotional needs of the individual.

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Learning happens when a person can make connections with the topics and life experience, other disciplines, or foundational skills.

Students who make quick connections should be allowed and encouraged to explore topics of skill and interest at a pace and depth that meets their goals and needs. Some students need acceleration in skills and in content, but for core knowledge — teachers should provide best possible content and delivery within the resources available. Students need to be known to the best of a teacher’s and school’s ability, so that learning paths can be designed in an authentic way that are meaningful to the students. The Parallel Curriculum Model (Tomlinson, Renzulli, et al., 2009) stresses the importance of designing authentic curriculum and experiences that will have lasting effects on student learning.

“I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” (John Dewey, 1897)

In order to provide gifted education, this philosophy and definition must be held in high regard when making decisions for students and programs. All students need to be challenged in order to grow. Potential should be recognized and teachers should strive to foster talent and potential in all students by providing engaging paths for learning. The bright students, formally identified or not, deserve to be challenged and taught at their level.

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Teachers of all students should provide a child-centered learning environment, so that all students have an opportunity to reach their goals.

Gifted education should allow kids to be creative, allow for choice, play into their interests and challenge them to solve problems or find problems within disciplines. Students should grapple with real life applications of the discipline- and to find connection and meaning with all of the content.

Thus, I believe that good education is gifted education and gifted education is good education.

This echoes some of what Borland (2005) theorizes about schools providing gifted education without labels.

Reflective practice and commitment to life-long learning are at the heart of my beliefs about education.

Teachers should be constantly seeking professional development, participate in professional communities, and immerse themselves in the world of education. Just as we ask our students to reflect on their work, it is important that we take time to examine our practice in the classroom.

I think by modeling that we are awake to life, students begin to appreciate that they have the present moment to build upon.

Teachers must be responsive to students and to meet them where they are. As teachers, we only can influence in the moment, and so we must take this very seriously.

One example of a defensible curriculum for gifted and allstudents is the Parallel Curriculum Model (Tomlinson, Renzulli, et al., 2009). The Parallel Curriculum Model allows teachers to design units with ascending intellectual demands as well as decide the angle at which to present the content. This model helps gifted students practice and identify with the discipline within the adult world. Gifted students need depth beyond a regular curriculum. Within the Parallel Curriculum, students can grapple with problems and extend their experience with a subject.

For example, I have used the Core Curriculum and Curriculum of Identity parallels in my fantasy literature unit for fourth grade. Students have designed learning paths based on levels of interest, curiosity, skill, and core understandings. Products in this unit are engaging and allow for student creativity. This model also stresses theimportance of differentiationwithin every level of learning, because it incorporates individualized learning paths.

Activities are designed so that students can enrich and extend their learning through advanced experiences. Some examples of this are identifying with a literary research project about authors’ influences or archetypes across literature. Students tap into their understanding of theme by exploring the concept of power, either through an online discussion or art expression, for example, about how power shifts in scenes, dialogue, and through character changes.

In my classroom, students create Harry Potter’s world, and because of their connection with the concepts, students’ gifts and creativity shine. Through projects like these, I have learned that I have a constructivist style and some form of Piaget’s (1968) experiential learning and philosophy of teaching.

I have witnessed my students’ joy in learning, in their eagerness to get started on their wand shop or their book of spells.

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Another example is when one of my students who is gifted in languages (English is his fourth language.), excitedly came up to my desk to share that he had made a connection between a Latin root word and a magical spell in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Now as an extension, he has the option to explore other root words, their meanings, and their connection to other spells in the book.

Gifted education should expand a students’ critical thinking, connections, and creativity.

The purpose of gifted education is to meet the needs of our brightest students and to recognize and nurture academic and intellectual potential and talent so that students continue to strive for excellence in all they do. It is the teachers’ and administrators’ educational responsibility to provide enriching and challenging curricula that allow for creativity, problem-solving, and intellectual growth so that children can be life-long learners and become creative-productive adults.

I believe that all students deserve to have an education that builds on interconnected disciplines, and that learning paths should be designed in an authentic way that is meaningful to the students. When students are truly connected with what they are learning, and a teacher has a true understanding of her or his students, student productivity and creativity expand.

Educational experiences designed and planned with this philosophy will nurture giftedness, high ability/potential, and talent. Students can build successes on their potential, and with the right teaching and mentoring, can blossom and reach their full potential and move on to be creative-productive adults.

© Samantha Lazar, M.Ed. 2019

References:

Borland, J.H. (2005). Gifted education without gifted children: The case for no conception of giftedness. In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.). Conceptions of giftedness (2nd ed.) (pp 1–19). Cambridge University Press.

Dewey, J. (1897). My pedagogic creed. Retrieved from http://dewey.pragmatism.org/creed.htm

Renzulli J.S. (1998). The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness in Baum S.M., Reis S, M., Maxfield L. R. (Eds.). Nurturing the gifts and talents of primary grade students. Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

Rowling, J. K. (2001). Harry Potter and the sorcerer’s stone. London: Bloomsberg Children’s.

Piaget (1968). Retrieved from https://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/learning-theory-research/cognitive-constructivism/

Tomlinson, C. A., Kaplan, S. N., Renzulli, J. S., et al. (2009). The Parallel curriculum: A design to develop learner potential and challenge advanced learners.California: Corwin Press.

Van Tassel-Baska, J.L. (2005). Domain-specific giftedness: Applications in school and life. InR.J. Sternberg and J.E. Davidson (Eds.) Conceptions of giftedness, 2nd Ed. (pp. 358–376). New York: Cambridge University Press.

This article was originally published at The Inspired Classroom

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