For our team and the members of our group, gifted education is not about speeding through school or having Ivy League kids. It is about our children receiving an education that causes them to work hard, overcome obstacles, and fail and recover. It is about finding friends who understand them and are OK with their quirks. It is about not being ashamed to ask for differentiation for our kids.
–Joshua Raymond, Michigan Parent and Gifted Student Activist
Stories where parents work with public school administrators and teachers to create new programs to fill a need for children are always lovely. I think it reflects the kind of democratic public school system we should all seek.
Joshua Raymond has often commented on posts I have written about gifted education. We don’t always agree about minor points, but we have a mutual respect for one another.
Joshua led a group of parents in Metro Detroit to create new programming for the gifted population which was sorely needed. By forming a team with diverse strengths, they were able craft a presentation explaining the needs of gifted children and how a magnet program would support these learners and benefit a school district.
For some time this has been a struggle, but parents persevered and climbed many hurdles. I am happy to report that in September 2017, third and fourth graders will have a gifted magnet program that will eventually expand to K-12 grades. It will be the only program for gifted learners in eastern Oakland County.
It is important to note that some parents, who pushed for gifted programming, now have children who are older than the grades that will be covered. But they continue to be committed to seeing the program implemented for others.
The gifted magnet program could not have happened without a responsive school district which parents found in Avondale. Superintendent Dr. James Schwarz said “Let’s make this happen!”
How many of us wish more superintendents would be as responsive as Dr. Schwarz? I am not surprised to find he has an impressive list of credentials starting when he was a public school elementary teacher. His master’s degree is in curriculum and instruction leadership.
Carmen Kennedy and Marty Alwardt are assistant superintendents who have worked to make this school a reality too. Their openness to new ideas and their commitment to the children of Avondale and Oakland County is commendable.
Gifted students will be identified with a multi-part identification currently being developed, including teacher and parent nominations that focus more on gifted indicators than test scores; iReady data, Fountas & Pinnell reading data, and student evidence of creativity. In addition, parents and teachers can submit other evidence of giftedness, such as IQ scores or a portfolio, for consideration.
Another plus to this program is the diverse community it will serve. Joshua acknowledges that while many in Troy and Rochester can afford extracurricular programs, or even the Roeper School (a private school for gifted students), students in low-socioeconomic areas don’t have as many options and opportunities.
This program is committed to identifying and educating gifted students that may be overlooked or not given opportunities.
Public gifted education should be available for every gifted learner, not just the wealthy!
Such cooperation between school officials and parents deserves to be highlighted and perhaps replicated. If you are interested in learning more about Avondale’s magnet school, contact the following individuals:
Martin.Alwardt@Avondale.K12.MI.US – 248-537-6015
Hillary.Olance@Avondale.K12.MI.US – 248-537-6049
Joshua Raymond, Kathryn Clements, Ali & Drew Weadock – NEOgifted@outlook.com
Prospective Parents Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/NEOgifted/
Seeds of thought
1. Finland does not have a gifted program. They believe that “we are all in this together.” This has proven that these children are not diminished for not having access to gifted programs.
2. Gifted programs create a “cast” system.
3. The words of Smokey Daniels of National Louis University in Chicago, “When we label one child as gifted, what have we labeled all of the other children.”
4. All children deserve to learn together.
5. What are the other children missing by not being with the “gifted” children? Children learn best from their peers. Gifted children also model in such a way that it helps other children grow. From an anthropological perspective, tribes did not have separate hunting and gathering groups for those who were faster or more accurate.
6. This teaches “gifted” children that they have nothing to learn or gain from others. Gifted programs keep children isolated from each other. It also sets them up to view themselves as entitled and better than others.
7. We need a better middle school system where the playing field is leveled so all can be together. The Waldorf school has it right when they teach through woodworking, knitting, handicrafts, and drama. Children need science taught through gardening and cooking. Math is taught through industrial arts. These experiences are the purposes for applying math and science. Application must first come through hands on experiences and then the critical thinking follows. History should be taught through drama. It amazes me that the very things that create good engineers and motivate students are the very things that have been removed from school or never even present because they were not seen as academic. In fact they are the foundation.
8. The Waldorf system explains that they do not accelerate children by using the bow and arrow analogy… the more you pull back at the beginning, the farther the arrow flies. (In fact Silicon Valley families are flocking to Waldorf schools.) Again children in Waldorf schools have proven that they are not diminished by not having access to gifted programs.
9. My children have had their hearts broken by not being labeled as “gifted”. This cast system teaches the children labeled as not gifted that they are somehow inferior.
10. These pull out gifted and isolated programs also prevent friendships between children labeled as gifted and children labeled as non gifted.
11. These programs take limited resources away from children who were born “behind the starting line.” At the elementary level, schools should first put their resources into the one on one reading programs, such as Reading Recovery, so every child can be successful. We still so a poor job at ensuring that all children can read and those are the children who first deserve the limited resources.
12. We are not looking at the correct school reforms: an overhaul an archaic system and an overhaul of a system that rewards children for being early bloomers and punishes and humiliates children for being late academic bloomers.
Nancy Bailey says
You have a lot here, Karen. But I disagree with much of it.
I wish we ran our schools like Finland, but we don’t. Even if we did, they do address students who work at higher levels. America has spotty programs for gifted…usually pull-out programs that do little to help students at the level where they are functioning.
I don’t think children should feel bad for not being in gifted education. It’s a myth that students with high intellect have it easy and fun. Schools should educate all parents about the meaning of giftedness and perhaps we could drop the label.
By the way, Karen, this is more about parents coming together with school district administrators and teachers to meet a need for their children. I find it refreshing in that it is a democratic process.
We do need good school programming for all students at all levels. On that we do agree! Thank you.
But students with high intellect deserve something different. Many get bored and have emotional issues.
I do agree that gifted students should be around peers who are not gifted.
I am not a fan of Waldorf schools. They have a religious background based on the beliefs of Rudolf Steiner. If parents want Waldorf, that’s fine, but I don’t think they should be charters that get tax dollars. Look up their background.
Also is National Louis University mostly a nonprofit online school?
Roger Titcombe says
“It is about our children receiving an education that causes them to work hard, overcome obstacles, and fail and recover.”
Nancy is so right. See this very important article about the necessity of a culture of learning from mistakes. Sorry its a long article, but please stick with it.
Nancy Bailey says
Thanks, Roger! Always happy we agree across the pond!
Pam DeFiglio, Digital Content Manager, NLU says
National Louis University is a non-profit university founded in Chicago in 1886 by a pioneering teacher named Elizabeth Harrison. She became interested in the work of Friedrich Froebel and the then-fledgling movement to develop kindergartens. Her classes to prepare young women as kindergarten teachers grew into the National College of Education, which over the decades earned an excellent reputation for preparing educators–a reputation that continues to this day. In 1980, the College grew into a university by adding other colleges and fields of study. Today, National Louis University has campuses in Chicago, Wheeling, Lisle, Skokie and Elgin, Illinois; Tampa, Florida and Nowy Sacz, Poland. Here is more info: http://www.nl.edu/about/ Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
Nancy Bailey says
You’re welcome, Pam. My what a lot of campuses.
Thank you, Nancy, for telling our story very well!
Nancy Bailey says
You are very welcome, Joshua! I hope it works out well. Keep us posted!
Sarah Ryan says
American schools are not set up as Finnish schools and the entire societal focus on respect and importance of education is different. Every child deserves to have their educational needs met. Every child. Including gifted kids who process information differently, sometimes at a whole other level. When mainstreamed in classrooms in American public school, they are often left out due to the focus on the ones who are behind. They are used as teachers. helpers in our understaffed classrooms rather than learning , they are kept in busy work that they mastered 2-3 years ago. This has been my experience and many others on our public school system. I have had to advocate so my daughters learning needs were met every year, some teachers more receptive than others. She is now at a Montessori middle school where she , and every child , is allowed to learn at their own rate and is receiving a well rounded education, with having her learning needs met. This is a rarity in our public school system.
Nancy Bailey says
Thank you, Sarah. You echo many parental concerns about children being used to instruct others in understaffed classrooms. One mom told me her student was being sent to the library to do this. While doing service activities is acceptable, it should not replace instruction.
We need a realistic conversation in this country about labels and academic levels and how children are grouped. No one likes tracking, but large class sizes make it impossible to adequately serve the individual needs of all children.
And beware of total digital learning! Computers have their place but will never replace excellent schooling.
Wow! Lots of good replies:
Before responding to some of the topics in the list, it is important to KNOW what Gifted and Talented means. Here is a great definition https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/definitions-giftedness
Most important to remember is that Gifted and Talented students are asynchronous in development….they may be academically excellent in Math but have low abilities in Language Arts.
First, Finnish schools don’t have Gifted Education but are looking to develop these programs. It’s not so much, “We are in this together” as much as it is ,”you are not to think you are better than another” (another misconception about Gifted Ed.). Take a look at “The Law of Jante” (google it) and this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2W8sQvtUvE (Links to an external site.). Though it is a Swedish student, the Law of Jante affects the Nordic countries and it proves that students are diminished from lack of programming.
If a school is creating a Caste system mentality, superior attitudes, broken-hearts and mis-labeled students, than it is NOT doing Gifted Education correctly! It sounds more like a tracking type of system gone wrong. A lot of this was created by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act which left alot of potential -driven students in the dust.
Another misconception is that Gifted kids are there to help and mentor other kids. Often, Gifted students do not have leadership skills to do so and it isn’t fair and equitable to “make” someone do that.
Most importantly, there is a large under served population of Gifted students that are left to their own devices. Public Education is about giving fair and equitable education to all. Joshua’s program did just that in reaching these students.
The best part about Joshua’s program is that a group of parents worked with the school system to create change. Surprisingly, when there is Gifted Advocacy, it affects all education for the positive.
US Public Education is based in our Democracy and our individualism. Making all children the same is not equitable. Gifted Education is about noting and meeting all students where they are and giving them equal educational resources . Not all kids learn the same but they all deserve resources that are tailored to their learning abilities and style.
Roger Titcombe says
“Another misconception is that Gifted kids are there to help and mentor other kids. Often, Gifted students do not have leadership skills to do so and it isn’t fair and equitable to “make” someone do that”
Quite so, but that does not negate the power of peer to peer discussion in the context of a problem solving approach to teaching and learning. The following is from Section 5,2 of my book, ‘Learning Matters’ It is especially relevant to the teaching of the more able.
Exposing pupils to cognitive conflict is central to all teaching for cognitive development. It essentially comprises presenting pupils with factual evidence that doesn’t consciously or unconsciously make initial sense to them, so creating a state of discomforting mental tension. In order for the conflict to be resolved within the mind of the individual learner then a personal conceptual breakthrough is necessary. Cognitive development arises from the accumulation of such conceptual breakthroughs. If the cognitive conflict is too great then the learner might ‘close down’ and withdraw co-operation with the lesson. This could be at a conscious or subconscious level. Hostility to the whole subject area is therefore a possible consequence so highly skilled teaching and managing of learning is essential to avoid such an outcome. If there is insufficient cognitive conflict then the learner will just assimilate experiences at a shallow level and there will be no conceptual or cognitive gain. The work of the Russian learning theorist Vygotsky can provide a structure to help the teacher plan learning, through his ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (ZPD) (1978). The ZPD is the level of cognitive challenge beyond which the learner cannot manage unaided, but not beyond what can be understood with the assistance of a teacher or more able peers. The teacher and peer group members can assist in a variety of ways that involve discussion (peers) and skillfully constructed leading questions (teacher). This is a key role of the teacher. It is only by experiencing this type of teaching and subsequently discussing it in departmental teams that the necessary teaching expertise can be built.
Nancy Bailey says
Roger, you stated well the problem of using students as teachers. Thank you.
It is hard to address ZPD in overcrowded classes. Lowering class sizes should be first priority here, and/or working on good scheduling that lowers at least some classes.
All of your comment is very interesting. I encourage parents and teachers to read it and your other material. England and America are not that different with their schools and have the same problems.
Roger Titcombe says
It all depends on the culture of the classroom. The approach I support involves group working. For effective peer to peer mutual support in problem solving groups of 5/6 are ideal. The more and less able students in the class should be distributed across the groups. This works with classes of no more than 30 students, which is normal in the UK.
Teachers have to understand and be skilled in this way of working. It is not the most able student in each group ‘leading’ the others, but a genuine debate in which the ideas of all the students in the group are discussed and tested in terms of evidence and logic. It is not always the most able student in the group that comes up with the best ideas first. All the students have to absorb each other’s suggestions and restate them in terms of their own level of understanding. This is called ‘metacognition’ and is an important part of the process. The most able student is likely to gain at least as much as the least able from this process.
Nancy Bailey says
Excellent reply! Thank you for sharing, Alisha!