Whither Gifted and Talented Education?
A recent editorial in the New York Times by Chester E. Finn, Jr., “Young, Gifted, and Neglected,” has reinvigorated a century-old antagonism in the education community: how best to serve our gifted and talented students. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll note that I spent most of my 21 years as a public school teacher working with gifted and talented students and minored in G/T education in my M. Ed. program.) Letters to the editor followed the publication of this article a few days later. I say “reinvigorated” because in the era of NCLB the focus has been on basic skills and failing schools, not the best and brightest. But have NCLB and the conterminous “standards” movement yielded any insights for G/T educators? I would argue that they have, and in so doing have served to remove many criticisms of G/T programs if we put the new insights to use. Add new instructional technology to the mix and we can finally move beyond the old disputes.
Finn first notes that we have done a poor job of identifying our G/T populations. His second argument forms around the idea that G/T programs are unfunded and inadequate at grades K-8, and leads to his third point, that too few students are well prepared to be successful in too few advanced classes.
Apart from certain aspects of the funding issue, these problems can be solved, in part because of one underlying principle of learning that came to light under NCLB: all students learn best with individualized instruction informed by accurate diagnosis. The “diagnose, prescribe, assess” model works for students at all levels of achievement. A true pioneer in this field, Joseph S. Renzulli, quoting Dr. Marshall Sanborn, wrote in 1981 that at least six factors must be part of the G/T identification process:
- Apply multiple techniques over a long period of time.
- Understand the individual, the cultural-experiential context, and the fields of activity in which he/she performs.
- Employ self-chosen and required performances.
- Allow considerable freedom of expression.
- Reassess the adequacy of the identification program on a continuous basis.
- Use the identification data as the primary basis for programming experiences.
With the increasing accurate online assessment tools, such as NWEA MAP and the expected PARCC and SBAC coming with Common Core, we can get at most of these factors. Dr. Renzulli created an online tool, RenzulliLearning, to discover some of the more affective factors, such as self-chosen performances. And in a blended learning classroom environment, new technologies make it possible to adequately serve all students without the need for separate classrooms or pull-out programs. Challenging course work is increasingly available to all.
Letters to the editor followed the publication of this article a few days later
Educators: Are you successfully implementing a G/T program in your school or district? We want to hear about it! Leave details in the comment section.
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