Saturday, January 28, 2012

Best Practices in Gifted Education

There are times when I think that the ‘best practice’ for gifted education would be to hand the gifted child an iPad and walk out of the room! Of course, this would be the antithesis of what many believe to be  education and far too many gifted children do not have access to this technology. Not to mention, every child … every child … learns differently. Gifted kids are no different in this respect.

So, what exactly does “best practices” actually mean and how does a parent determine if they are being used in their child’s school? Best practices imply that teachers are using instructional strategies that have been proven effective and are research-based.

If you have a good rapport with your child’s teachers, talk to them. They can tell you about the gifted program. Ask if they are being provided with professional development in gifted education. Sadly, we all know the answer to that question. In lieu of that approach, ask other parents who have already had children participate in programs in your school. They should be able to tell you how classes are conducted and how the program is structured.

Essential to a strong gifted program is the use of a research-based method of identification. Talent Searches have a long history of solid research to support their use as a means to identify academically gifted children. In the U.S., the Talent Search model is offered by NorthwesternUniversity, Johns Hopkins University, Center for Bright Kids – Western Academic Talent Search, University of Iowa (Belin- Blank), and Duke University as well as others.

Gifted education can be taught in a variety of settings. If the school is full inclusion with no separate gifted program, then your child should be given differentiated instruction within the regular classroom. This means ‘different’, not ‘extra’ work. The curriculum needs to be matched to your child’s abilities. To ease delivery of instruction, cluster-grouping should be used with differentiation.

Pull-out programs can give the gifted teacher a bit of leeway in how the classroom instruction is delivered. Teachers may use enrichment activities, independent studies (your child’s choice), Socratic seminars (teaching by asking questions and followed by discussion), and higher-ordered thinking skills exercises. Innovative approaches may include developing skills for mathematically precocious children through subject acceleration, learning journals, and exposure of younger children to discussion of special interests they may have.

In programs not constrained by prep for standardized testing, some practical strategies which can be used in the gifted classroom include providing each student with an individual challenge in their areas of academic strength, a rigorous academic curriculum, and presentation of above grade level content. Provision for prior learning should be assessed and credit granted for material already learned as an antidote to boredom for most gifted students. 

In a perfect world, gifted children would also be able to work and learn with their ‘ability peers’. Multi-age gifted classrooms benefit both younger and older students. The older students peer-mentor the younger ones and the younger students share with those who are ‘on the same wave-length’! Even in a not-so-perfect setting, school districts can provide opportunities for elementary and secondary gifted students to socialize through participation in district-wide programs, field trips, and academic competitions with other schools.

Certainly one of the most researched and a cost-effective best practice in gifted education is acceleration. This can be achieved with early entrance to primary school, subject acceleration, full grade acceleration, ability grouping across grade levels, dual enrollment in university classes while still at the secondary level, and early entrance to college.

Another relatively new way of instruction is to use distance learning with a gifted teacher as a facilitator on-site or virtually. This provides high quality curriculum to students anywhere in the world ~ rural, inner-city, international. Programs are available from Johns Hopkins (CTY), Stanford (EPGY), Northwestern (GLL), ALEKS, and eIMACS; to name just a few.

Suffice it to say, there are many different ways to provide gifted learners with programs that can help them reach their full potential. Parents need to be knowledgeable about what is available (and you certainly should know after reading this post!), and then advocate for implementation of programs in their school district. You would be surprised at how many teachers simply never knew so many possibilities existed! 

Yes … there will always be resistance on the part of some educators, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. One thing I can assure you is that parents must learn to take the high road – be respectful yet forceful – or you’ll never get anywhere. Treat decision-makers as you would like to be treated.  If you don’t succeed within the system, consider opportunities outside the system. In the end, it is a parental ‘best practice’ to do what you feel is in your child’s best interest.   

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Technology for the Gifted Classroom

Yes, I know; this is a blog to provide support to parents. And I try to keep on topic; it is in the interest of parent-teacher relations and for homeschoolers that I decided to talk about tech tools for the gifted classroom. One can never have too many tools in the toolbox when it comes to teaching gifted kids.

There are, in fact, so many resources available to educators and parents that it would be impossible to cover them all here. The criteria that I considered when choosing tools were cost, ease of use, and availability.

All of these tools are available online and are free. Some have additional upgrades, but I don’t consider them necessary. School administrators are under extreme pressure to cut budgets and home budgets are already tight for many homeschoolers. So, free is nice!

Ease of use is an important consideration as well as professional development (PD). PD budgets are often the first thing to go when districts are looking to cut costs. Technology is great, but not if the teacher has no idea how to use it. Utilizing technology tools such as podcasts, webinars, and Skype can be a very cost-effective way to provide PD for teachers. They can also be utilized for personal development outside of school.

It is important to remember that technology is an enabler; not a replacement for authentic pedagogy. Instructional technologies empower educators to facilitate learning, increase student engagement, differentiate curriculum for each student’s learning style, and connect classrooms around the world. Students, in turn, can collaborate with gifted peers anywhere and at anytime while fostering problem solving skills, critical thinking skills, and teamwork. They can communicate with master teachers, create new and innovative content, and learn at their own pace.

My first stop on the Technology Tool Tour (TTT) would have to be Google. Recently, Google made access to these tools seamless with their search engine. Once on the Google Search homepage, roll over the Google logo at the upper left-hand part of the page to reveal all they have to offer, Google Docs is a collaborative tool that allows multiple people to access and edit a document online from anywhere. As a bonus, it auto-saves every few seconds. Google Calendar can be accessed by anyone you grant permission to use. Teachers can place upcoming assignments and projects on the calendar and students can view from school, home or even on the bus ride home. Google Books, Search, Translate, and Scholar are great resources for research materials. Google Earth can make geography lessons come alive!

Other programs on the TTT, include:

            Classmarker – design quizzes & tests; administer them; & grade

            Diigo – add to ‘favorites’ as well as search tags you set up

            Dropbox – doc sharing site, accessed from multiple platforms 

            Emodo – share ideas, text alerts to students, conduct polls, & share files

            Evernote – accessed from any device; record student presentations

            Pinterest – ‘ideas’ are searched & pinned to the user’s board. 

            Podcasts – For ‘flipped’ classrooms & to view a wealth of PD podcasts .

            Screencast-O-matic- teachers can make tutorials for staff & faculty.
             Skype –  free, video calls; connect classes, teachers, & students.

Finally, our TTT draws to a close with a look at social media tools; many of which you are undoubtedly already familiar with and will need little explanation. Facebook has a neat feature called Groups which can be open, closed, or secret. Taking privacy into consideration, closed groups would be the best choice for classroom. Here students can collaborate on projects, share research, and ask questions of the teacher. Google + has a similar feature called Google Hangouts. Virtual Reality programs such as Second Life (older students with adult supervision) and Mission V (Ireland) provide virtual classrooms where students can engage in global projects, conferences, and lectures from world-class educators. And last, but not least … Twitter … perhaps the greatest source of PD, late breaking news and trends, and a great place to grow a personal learning network (PLN) with other professionals and educators.

Of course, there are literally thousands of other sites on the Internet that provide tools for teachers and the classroom. Hopefully, I have whetted your appetite to explore the ones I’ve mentioned and then look for other tools on your own!