Monday, May 2, 2011

Unwrapping the Gift(ed)

There is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people
-- Thomas Jefferson

There are many hot button issues in education, but one of the most controversial topics is gifted education. Defining “giftedness,” and what to do with gifted students, is often a highly politicized and polarizing process. Education experts often disagree on how to appropriately measure giftedness in students, and those who push for gifted and talented programs in schools are often charged with elitism. Gifted education is not mandated in many states, so those school districts are not required to budget for it. As a result, gifted students are often overlooked; since they are “excelling” in their current programs, they are frequently left to shift for themselves, essentially ignored while human and fiscal resources are diverted elsewhere.

The idea that gifted students need less teaching and school resources is pervasive in American society. Parents and educators who lobby for the creation of gifted and talented programs generally receive little sympathy or support from the parents of non-gifted students, as well as from educators who already face tight school budgets. Yet the problems inherent in under-challenging students are of equal importance to the problems faced by special needs students who require additional support and resources in order to learn the curriculum. Students who are under-challenged in school often exhibit the same behaviors as students who are struggling academically – they become bored, lose interest in school, and may exhibit signs of depression and behavioral problems. Gifted students, because they are academically advanced, are also frequently assumed to be advanced in all areas. Instead, gifted students may struggle socially, desperately wanting to bond with classmates, but often rebuffed because they are perceived as “geeks.” Gifted students can also exhibit an inability to communicate at grade level, causing further isolation from their peers.

Schools that don’t offer formal TAG programs sometimes offer modified work, extra work, or enrichment classes for their gifted students. Teachers can provide modified assignments and/or challenge problems and assignments for their high-level students (or all students), and some schools offer more formalized programs, such as Math Olympiad, Odyssey of the Mind, science fairs, and the like. While enrichment programs sometimes receive criticism for requiring gifted students to do extra work rather than the same amount of work at a higher level, such programs can still fill a gap if the school does not offer other options for gifted kids. If a school allows, gifted students can also engage in independent study programs, or learning sessions comprised of other high-ability classmates with similar interests.

Most public school teachers will experience the pleasures and the challenges of both special needs students and gifted students at some point in their careers, and often in the same class. It’s extremely difficult to meet the needs of all students in a heterogeneous classroom, especially without teaching aides. But teachers should resist, as much as humanly possible, the temptation to just teach to the middle, and leaving both high-achieving students and those who need more support floundering at the periphery. Creating a repository of challenge problems and assignments that require higher-thinking skills ahead of time can help address the gifted students, and keep them engaged and challenged in class. This week I’m featuring three resources written specifically for gifted and talented students. Please be sure to check out our Facebook and Twitter pages as well, as I’ll be featuring several new lessons, activities, and other resources on gifted education each day for the next week.

Not Just for Gods and Goddesses: Greece Enrichment
Subjects: Language Arts, Geography,
Grade: 2 Gifted
This unit is designed as an extension of a second grade Ancient Greece theme. The students will learn vocabulary using the alphabet and words of Greek origin, enrich their research and creative writing skills, create topographical cookie maps and perform original theatrical monologues. This lesson was produced by the CoreKnowledge Foundation, an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan organization that publishes educational books and materials for educators.

The “T” in Art is for Thinking
Subjects: Visual Art, Research skills
Grade: 4-8 Gifted
This lesson provides fourth through eighth grade gifted and talented students with a research-based project, and can also be used with art and language arts students from sixth through ninth grade. Students will design and create a slideshow presentation as a vehicle for analyzing a painting. Using the art criticism process, students will describe and analyze the art elements and principles of design and provide an interpretation of a painting of their choice. Biographical information about the artist and contextual knowledge concerning the art period/movement and the associated historical times may be included. This lesson is a product of ALEX, the Alabama Learning Exchange, which is an education portal that provides lesson plans, best practices, and Alabama professional development activities. This lesson is aligned to Alabama state content standards.

To Be Or Not to Be: A Lesson Plan Written for Peter L. Fischl's Poster Poem:
"To the Little Polish Boy Standing with His Arms Up"
Subjects: English, Research skills
Grade: 9-12 Gifted
In this lesson, students will read, analyze, and discuss the poem “To the Little Polish Boy Standing With His Arms Up” by Peter L. Fischl. Some topics of the lesson include identifying victims, bystanders, and perpetrators in the poem, analyzing the author’s use of music, painting, sculpture, and repetition in the poem, and to speculate about the author’s desire for revenge. This lesson is offered by the Holocaust Teacher Resource Center, an organization which strives to combat prejudice and bigotry by transforming the horrors of the Holocaust into positive lessons. This site is sponsored by the Holocaust Education Foundation, Inc.

~Joann's Picks - 4/29/2011~

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