Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Gifted Programs: Why Do the Smart Kids Get To Do All The Cool Stuff?

What does it mean to be gifted?

I live in a house which was built in 1940. Don't ask why, I'll give you the cliche response that it is charming, but some days it really isn't. It is in constant need of renovations here and there, but it's the place where my kids run around, learn and explore, so it's home to us. 

There is the constant need of fixing toilets, painting, updating decor and making sure the roof and foundation are in good condition. It's not something we can ignore,  we need to keep looking at ways to improve our house so it remains solid in the years to come when we are still living here or want to sell!

School systems are no different. They are in constant need of attention and improvement, just like any other home or facility where we house precious people and things. Yet, we have these systems in place which need some updates, some renovations. One area is Gifted Programs.

The first year I taught 5th grade, I had several students in my class in the LEAP program. Each week, on Wednesdays, they would eagerly board a bus and leave us for a whole day. They would return to my classroom all excited about the projects they were engaged in, the higher level learning they were experiencing. I was genuinely happy for them. What an amazing experience to leave school all day and dive into all types of projects and interactive, collaborative activities with kids your own age from other schools who were excited to do the same thing.

Isn't that what every student wants? Isn't every child gifted in some way?

Then there were those left behind. The average and even considered, "below average" students. We carried on in class and I'd like to think I did my best to continue to make learning just as fun, but in the end, I'm sure it wasn't. I mean, getting bused away to this amazing building, the land of making, exploring and developing your thoughts and learning? 

There are basically two ways schools strive to meet the needs of all kids:

Push In: School programs that encourage inclusion of all different learning types are evident in many educational institutions. Providing extra support in the classroom can be observed through realm of team teaching, para professionals helping students, teacher aides working one-on-one and parent volunteers. These are ways many schools compensate to keep all children in the classroom learning together.

Pull Out: Having children leave the classroom and offering them extra help or enrichment is still on the rise. One of the main issues of pulling kids out of class for enrichment or instructional support is the transition time, at least 10 minutes of learning is lost each time a student is taken from class. However, allowing students to exit the classroom to experience more individualized instruction can be key to moving them forward academically.


The bottom line is this: 


Should identified "gifted" children be the only ones who get to leave and have all the fun?

No. 

Should they be required to remain in the same classroom all day exposed to the same material they have already mastered? 

No. 

Should students who are average or labeled "below" be required to stay in the same room all day and not access enrichment programs. 

No. 

Could every student benefit from leaving the building and experiencing enrichment.

Yes.

This is where we are headed with STEAM Studio. Teachers and parents cannot do it all. There needs to be a variety of programs out there which cater to the diverse needs of our students. All students deserve enrichment, regardless of the IQ.

Kids aren't just numbers. We need all types to solve problems. They all are part of an equation to make our world a more interesting place. 
Let's renovate our enrichment programs to connect with all students.


How do we really know who is gifted? Appearance and standardized test scores are not always valid indicators.

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