Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Now More Than Ever---Advocating for GT Kids

So our district, like many others faced with the call for teacher accountability, has moved to a model where 50% of our yearly evaluations are based on student test scores. Yes, that's even for early childhood *sigh*. I think almost everyone in education has a soapbox (or at least anyone who still has passion for the profession)-mine is those GT kiddos. My biggest fear is that teachers, fearful of losing their jobs, will spend all their time trying to get those who are struggling up in scores and those who probably can already pass the test will sit on the sidelines.

I already see 2 things happening. One is that some teachers don't want the GT kids. If a child enters 4th Grade with 7th Grade skills, it's hard to show growth on a common assessment, especially one standardized for 4th Grade skills. They may be growing, but the measure has a ceiling, so that growth just doesn't show. We are a society that caters to mediocrity. The other is that lessons are planned for the middle/low students. So even if they aren't officially GT, these advanced kids have to sit through lessons on sight words when they can already read Horrible Harry books!

I often hear critics say that teachers complain a lot and don't give solutions. So I am going to make some suggestions:

1) Don't forget those high kiddos! No matter what level they are on, they can always improve their skills. I talk to teachers who do small group instruction (a must at the elementary level), however, they meet with their high group, maybe once per week, their low groups get individualized instruction every single day. A Kinder student who can already read sentences can benefit from lessons in fluency and comprehension. You could even do a literature circle (I call it "Book Club" :) or read a chapter to the group from a chapter book and have them do a separate activity-maybe related to vocabulary. They have the ability to grow as much as the other groups-but we have to help them get there! That's our job.

2) I've been doing a lot of reading on Blended Learning or Flipping the Classroom-using all the technology tools many schools have to differentiate. Recording lessons yourself (it is summer, I'm going to do some of this while I have the time) or using already recorded lessons (between YouTube, TeacherTube, BrainPop, Discovery Education, Khan Academy--there are many out there) to differentiate your lessons. If my whole group lesson is about counting to 10, for example, and I know that Johnny can already compose and decompose numbers to 10, then I can set him up on a computer or give him homework to watch videos of something more at his level. Maybe introduce a concept not in our standards or work from something he's interested in.

3) Peer tutoring is NOT differentiation! I hear this in meetings and workshops all the time and it just eats my lunch! There is nothing inherently wrong with peer tutoring. I think it could even be an effective tool, especially if you are talking about a before/after school activity. But asking the student who finishes their work first, to go around and help those who are not yet finished is not forwarding the instruction of that advanced student. Now, I've heard the arguments-when you teach something you learn it better. My point is that these kids don't need to learn what they already know better, they need to learn something new! I could teach a colleague how to use powerpoint, it doesn't make me a better powerpoint user. I would much rather be learning a new program I could implement.

Just imagine going to school every day, stepping off that bus ready to learn. A great curiosity, many questions--only to be relegated to whole group instruction that you already know how to do, small group instruction where you are told to "go read a book". And independent work that really isn't challenging, you get it done in 2 minutes, then are told you have to go "help your friends". What new thing did you learn that day? If this happened day after day, would you really be growing? But it is important to differentiate for those kiddos-even if they can already pass the test used for our evaluation!
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  1. You are absolutely right! Well said!
    ~ Terri Eichholz

  2. I completly agree, and as far as testing in early childhood a much more comprehensive way of assessment is a hands on, one on one teacher lead assessment not standardized testing! We seem to have our education a bit backwards in this country, instead of setting high expectations we dumb it down. It is so sad for our children and their "thoughtless" future where they cannot think critically, make their own decisions, or support themselves outside of their parents home. Something has to change, he sooner the better. Great Post!
    Christine @
    100th member giveaway, free TPT unit for all 100 members!

  3. Miss Trayers, I could have written this exact thing about what I saw when I was still teaching in the classroom and definitely when my daughter was still in school.

    Our state (AL)doesn't begin GT classes until 3rd grade and it's only once per week. I wish she could have had a teacher like you that would be as passionate about her education as her daddy and I are.

    When my daughter was in K and 1st, she had the exact experience you are speaking of. Her K teacher never even made her do the work for herself that everyone else was doing, much less differentiating it for her. Instead, she asked her to do the work of two little boys with down syndrome. She became the second teacher that other students would turn to to get help with stuff.

    Her first grade teacher said to me once, "I don't know what to do with her. Sometimes she finishes the work before I even finish passing it out to the rest of the students." And my daughter would cry at times when she came home because she never got to meet with the teacher in small groups. She met with the teacher 4 times the entire 1st grade year for reading and a handful more than that for math. I think some of those were for some kind of testing. Her teacher's reasoning was that my daughter just didn't need her the way the other students did and nothing we said could change their minds about that. Both her K and 1st grade teachers were considered the best in each of their grade levels...the teachers everyone wanted. But for us it became more and more frustrating with each meeting. All that anyone in the school suggested doing was skipping her a grade...going so far as to give her the end of year tests for the next 2 grade levels ahead.

    The worst part of it all, though, was that the teachers went on and on and on to my child in front of other children about how smart she was and how easily everything came to her. That she was lucky to be so smart and have it so easy. Three things resulted from, my daughter felt guilty, like she didn't have the right to be the way she is. Two, she started having a hard time learning anything new if she didn't understand it the very first time. She expected for everything to come as easily as her teachers told her it would be for her. And three, as they got closer to the end of 1st grade, the other kids started resenting her. They didn't want another 1st grader telling them what to do...even if the teacher asked her to do it.

    Sigh. As hard as it was for me, having been a teacher, we pulled her out to homeschool last year. It was the best thing we could have ever done for her educationally and socially at this time. And her younger brothers (who are a lot like her!) are thriving in this situation as well. We may not always choose this route, but it has been extremely successful thus far.

    It makes me so sad when I see GT kids or academically bright children be left to defend for themselves. My daughter may be smart, but she is still a kid with feelings and a kid that has a desire to learn with a lot left to learn. (and not everything is a breeze to her!) I think a lot of (but not all) GT/academically bright children lose the desire to learn because of the situation you have described above. So sad!!!

    I appreciate you always advocating for these children and I am so sorry that the powers that be make it harder and harder for you to do your job the way you know would benefit those kids the most. And I appreciate you sharing the things you do in your classroom. I have gotten some great ideas and learned some things from you. Good luck!

  4. Brandy-so sorry to hear what happened to your kiddo. That is so sad. I can't imagine being disillusioned by the school system in 1st Grade! Thank you for your kind words-it means a lot to me! :) Your little ones are lucky they have parents who will advocate for what's best for them. Thanks for sharing your story-unfortunately, there are probably others who can relate as well.

  5. Terry-thank you for your comment!

    Christine-Thanks so much for commenting--isn't sad what we have to deal with in Early Childhood these days! You know we don't even have standards for critical thinking or creativity-I have to make something up or tie it to a writing activity when we are working on those skills. But they are great at filling in multiple choice bubbles!

  6. Brandy-so sorry that happened to your daughter. Sadly, it happens if GT program is pull-out model. The reg.ed teachers are strapped so much, with very little help and large classes. Add the special ed children, the struggling kiddos, the middle kiddos, and the off the charts kiddos usually are left alone. Or they are paired with struggling kiddos instead of challenged.

  7. I am your newest follower and I just wanted to say "Hi." I am looking forward to reading your posts!