REVEALED: The Mystery of Gifted Education
by Carole Richards
In the 1950’s through the 1970’s, the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools had a nationally respected Major Work gifted program. I had the opportunity to teach in the program.
Students were selected based on an IQ of 125+. They were placed in grade-level classrooms at satellite schools. Students were given math and spelling one grade level higher. Everyone took conversational French. Each child was required to prepare and present a topic once a semester to his or her class. Students read chapter books and answered questions for the assigned weekly chapters. Weekly, a student led a book discussion of their book.
Major Work students were engaged and interested in what was happening in their classrooms. They learned to speak in front of a group, became leaders and were challenged. The Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is currently reviewing their rules for teaching these gifted students. They want to make gifted education better.
One of ODE’s big issues is the amount of time during which students receive gifted instruction, which adds to the cost of a gifted program. With the Cleveland Major Work model, the cost for a class was the same whether students were in the gifted program or not. The one cost exception, several periods a week for French conversation.
The second rule being considered is teacher licensure. I had an elementary education license but I wasn’t afraid of their intelligence. When I left a regular education classroom to move to a gifted classroom, one of the teachers said to me, “Aren’t you afraid you won’t know something they ask?” My answer, “Well I guess we will learn it together.” A license doesn’t ensure the teacher’s confidence and respect for the intelligence of these bright minds.
While high school gifted students need talented teachers knowledgeable in higher level science, math and the humanities, an elementary gifted teacher needs to make the joy of learning new things their focus. I call it horizontal expansion of their learning. It doesn’t necessarily mean the subject matter needs to be more difficult, it means the children need to be encouraged to explore beyond the standard curriculum. And teacher personality is a critical component of successful gifted education.
My daughter chose to not participate in the gifted pull-out program in our suburban district. She said, “It just means more work.” As an adult, she says she was with the gifted kids in her mainstream classes anyway.
Gifted kids are such an exciting group of learners. They often have a vast number of interests beyond the classroom. They can be bogged down in mainstream classrooms with lots of minutiae. One of our students once told me, “It’s not that I hate homework, it’s that I get tired of showing the teachers over and over that I know the information.” That quote really sticks with me. It says so much about our gifted children. If they know something, why make them do it the same number of times as their average peers? Richard LaVoie says, “Fair is not equal. Fair is giving everyone what they need.”
Let’s celebrate our gifted children for their abilities. Encourage them to follow their interests and make sure they have solid basic skills. Lots of rules from ODE won’t make gifted education better. It’s all about whom and how we teach these children.
Carole Richards is president of North Coast Tutoring Services, president/director of the Academic Fun & Fitness Camp at Lakeland Community College, author of Richards Learning Systems®. She is a frequent guest on radio and TV. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.