October 21st, 2012
How have education models for teaching students in need of advanced learning changed over the last three decades? Two education experts offer insight and data. They are: Joyce VanTassel-Baska, EdD, the Jody and Layton Smith Professor of Education and executive director of the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary, where she has developed a graduate program and a research and development center in gifted education, and Sally Reis, PhD, professor and head of the Educational Psychology Department at the University of Connecticut, where she also serves as principal investigator of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Here’s an excerpt from the article, titled “Program Delivery Models for the Gifted“, and posted on the Duke University Talent Identification Program website:
DGL: Is an appropriate delivery model or grouping enough to meet my child’s academic needs? Or are there other considerations?
VanTassel-Baska: The research suggests that cluster, pull-out, and full-time grouping have important learning effects at both the elementary and the secondary levels. Gifted programs that employ acceleration (increased pace) more than enrichment (depth and breadth) have more important learning effects at both levels. Differentiation, the process of adapting instruction to the needs and abilities of students, is key to enhanced learning within a grouping model.
Reis: How academically gifted students are grouped and organized and what curriculum and instructional opportunities are offered to them in these groupings are critical. For example, having a separate class for mathematically talented students would mean little unless advanced curriculum and differentiated instruction were offered to the class.
The full article is here.
September 28th, 2012
RiShawn Biddle’s editorial board, who cover the reform of American public education in blog Dropout Nation, compiled three excerpts about the difficulty of trying to meet students’ advanced learning needs without exascerbating race- and class-driven acheivement gaps. The piece is called – The Power of Challenging Young Minds. Excerpt authors are: Sara Mead of Bellwether Education in the Education Week blog, Barry Garelick in a response to Mead’s Education Week piece, and Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, in the Boston Review.
Here’s an excerpt by Mead:
Certainly, maximizing the abilities of our most talented youngsters is also an important part of developing our human capital. And there is evidence that our schools are not doing as much as they could on this front–particularly for talented low-income and minority students who often are not identified for these programs… But the grim reality is that in practice the gifted and talented label–and special programs for youngsters who wear it–often has less to do with meeting specific and unique needs of especially bright youngsters than with rationing access to a limited supply of quality educational options.
Click here for the full article.
September 1st, 2012
I’m very happy to report that this week CPS Deputy Superintendent Carolyn Turk introduced the school district’s new Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager. She is Paula Feynman, who has in recent years worked as a 6th grade science teacher in Sudbury, MA. She is very skilled in project-based learning and differentiating instruction, in communicating around advanced learning issues, and has train-the-teacher experience as well.
Ms. Feynman also has a nuanced understanding of ability, recognizing that any given student won’t necessarily always fit well into a category of “disabled”, “typical”, or “advanced”, but rather that any student should be appropriately assessed, supported, and challenged as needed, with no student’s needs ignored or neglected.
Ms. Feynman’s official start date at the district office was Monday, August 27th. Dr. Turk reports that she has already been meeting with key curriculum staff and was introduced to the grade 6-12 teachers at their August professional development session (August 29). Dr. Turk said “Paula is off to a great start and we are fortunate to have her on board.”
I will meet with Ms. Feynman in early September to work on setting up introductory sessions with parents, and to discuss the rolling out of SAPs — Subject Acceleration Protocols — a new intervention for middle school students with advanced learning needs.
Ms. Feynman’s new CPS email is: firstname.lastname@example.org And the description of her new position — Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager — is here.
- Freedom Baird
CPS parent, CALA coordinator
August 28th, 2012
Below are answers to questions that CALA coordinator Freedom Baird submitted to the School Committee in mid-August, around the issue of advanced learning, especially as it will be addressed in the new Upper Schools. The answers were prepared by Deputy Superintendent Carolyn Turk, and reviewed by Superintendent Jeff Young.
Cambridge Public School District
TO: Superintendent Jeff Young
FROM: Carolyn L. Turk
RE: Questions from School Committee
DATE: August 24, 2012
1. Where are we in hiring the Academic Challenge Program Manager?
Interviews for the Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager position were conducted during the week of August 6th. As a result of the interview process, two candidates were moved forward to a final reference check/interview stage. The reference check process was conducted during the week of August 13th. As of August 21st, a finalist has been identified and a job offer has been both extended and accepted. In order to give the individual an opportunity to properly notify her current district, the CPS formal announcement of the appointee is scheduled for Monday, August 27th.
2. Was “flexible grouping” implemented in the Upper Schools’ classrooms? I.e., were students intentionally grouped into academic clusters within heterogeneous classrooms, so that students with advanced learning needs would have access to academic peers? What specific method was used to create the flexible groupings? What strategy will be used to update the groupings as the year progresses?
Homeroom lists for the 2012-2013 school year were created with a primary focus of balancing groups of students based on considerations such as feeder school, gender, and known special education plan needs. For year 2 (and beyond) of the Upper School Program, information that will become part of the routing spring preparation of homeroom lists for the following year will be expanded as teachers have ongoing opportunities to assess, analyze, and understand more about individual and collective student learning profiles. The structure for homerooms will not prevent implementation of flexible grouping during class time. Consistent with the Upper School Academic Challenge Policy, “flexible grouping will be employed as an instructional strategy based on student need.” Research tells us that effective instructional decisions are made based on both the identified needs of students and the particular characteristics of the content being taught. That said, the instructional strategies of flexible grouping and cluster grouping will be implemented at each Upper School Campus once the school year commences and teachers have their customary opportunity to meet and interact with and assess the students with whom they will be working during the 2012-2013 school year.
Glossary Reference Notes:
Cluster grouping is a practice employed at some schools, usually beginning in middle or high school, where students of similar academic abilities are put in groups for classroom instruction. The inspiration behind cluster grouping is that students of similar abilities will learn better when collaborating with each other, rather than be forced to uncomfortable speed up or slow down to accommodate other students with different abilities.
A method of splitting students into groups for class activities based on specific goals, interests, and learning needs, rather than grouping the students by ability.
3. Who will oversee the administration of SAPs in the Upper Grades starting right now, until the Academic Challenge Program Manager is hired, and is on site, and is up-to-speed? Who, especially, will insure that students without vocal parents will receive SAPs, if they need them, starting at the beginning of the school year?
The Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager has been hired.
4. Have teachers, coaches, and school leaders been updated on SAPs and flexible grouping? When, and by whom?
Heads of Upper School, teachers, coaches and the Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager will collaborate throughout the school year to support the successful district implementation of the Subject Acceleration Protocol tool/process. The word process is an important factor here. The Subject Acceleration Protocol document is a tool used to facilitate a learning assessment and corresponding curriculum design for an individual student — it is not to a program or meant to be a substitute for a program.
Flexible grouping is not a new concept in the Cambridge Public Schools. Teachers of grades JK-12 routinely group and regroup students in a variety of ways throughout the school day as a means to deliver instruction that responds to students’ readiness, interests, and learning profiles. In Cambridge, the term flexible grouping continues to be used in concert with the term differentiated instruction. During the last two school years, district sponsored professional development on the targeted topic of differentiated instruction has reinforced with our teachers, coaches and school leaders the knowledge and understanding that flexible grouping is a key element of a successful differentiated classroom. As an outgrowth of these professional development experiences, during the recent planning, designing, and writing of the new Upper School units of study, teacher teams built lessons of support and challenge into the overall structure of the curriculum design. Professional development in this area is ongoing and will continue to be embedded in the work of our teachers in the upcoming school year.
The Subject Acceleration Protocol was first introduced to the Cambridge Public Schools in school year 2010-2011. During the 2011-2012 school year [requests for] use of the SAP became more formalized. Teacher representatives, coaches, coordinators, and school/district leaders all played a role in the development and subsequent revisions to the CPS/SAP. To support the implementation of the recently adopted Academic Challenge Policy, information updates/supports designed for instructional staff, students, and families will made available under the coordination of the Academic Challenge and Enrichment Support Program Manager.
June 16th, 2012
In this June 15th EdWeek article, Do We Know How to Teach Highly Able Learners?, Peter DeWitt explores approaches to teaching students with advanced learning needs. He recommends that teachers focus on individual student growth rather than achievement, as many highly able learners may achieve high or adequate grades without growing or stretching themselves at all. Here’s an excerpt:
Good teaching for gifted learners happens at a higher “degree of difficulty” than for many students their age. In the Olympics, the most accomplished divers perform dives that have a higher “degree of difficulty” than those performed by divers whose talents are not as advanced. A greater degree of difficulty calls on more skills–more refined skills–applied at a higher plane of sophistication. A high “degree of difficulty” for gifted learners in their talent areas implies that their content, processes and products should be more complex, more abstract, more open-ended, more multifaceted than would be appropriate for many peers.
Good teaching for gifted learners requires an understanding of “supported risk.” Highly able learners often make very good grades with relative ease for along time in school. They see themselves (and often rightly so) as expected to make “As,” get right answers, and lead the way. In other words, they succeed without “normal” encounters with failure. Then, when a teacher presents a high-challenge task, the student feels threatened. Not only has he or she likely not learned to study hard, take risks and strive, but the student’s image is threatened as well. A good teacher of gifted students understands that dynamic, and thus invites, cajoles and insists on risk-but in a way that supports success”(National Association for Gifted Children).
The complete article is here.
June 6th, 2012
On Monday, June 4th, attendees of the CALA general monthly meeting were joined by Vicky Oatley, president of the board of directors of MAGE, the Massachusetts Association for Gifted Education. Ms. Oatley, a resident of Cambridge, and former student at the Morse school, is a public school teacher in Waltham, and has students with a range of learning needs, including advanced learning issues. She received her professional development in advanced learning education from the University of Connecticut’s Neag Center.
At the meeting, Ms. Oatley took a few minutes to present Freedom Baird, the founder and coordinator of CALA, with MAGE’s annual Public Service Award. MAGE presented the award in recognition of Freedom’s role in founding CALA, advocating on behalf of Cambridge Public School students with advanced learning needs and their families, and reaching out to a broad range of community members to promote constructive discussion and shine light on the issue. Ms. Baird, in thanking MAGE for the award, emphasized that it was the work of the many parent members of CALA and other members of the Cambridge education community and leadership that have made the organization a success, and helped move their work with the district forward.
May 28th, 2012
In the Milford Daily News, Scott O’Connell reports on the dire lack of Massachusetts statewide funds to support students with advanced learning needs — “Gifted Education Funding Falling Short on High Achievers”. Here are some excerpts:
Often misunderstood because of its name, gifted and talented education is essentially a kind of special education for students who fall on the opposite end of the learning spectrum. Like special education students, gifted learners have different needs from the typical student, Modest said.
……Many districts aren’t adequately providing for those separate needs, said Framingham State University professor Loretta Holloway, a member of the state’s Gifted and Talented Education Advisory Council.
“Repeatedly teachers are saying they’re getting pushed back from doing something different for these kids,” she said.
The latest solution proposed by the advisory council, which held its last meeting of the fiscal year this past Wednesday, is to insert advanced learning requirements into the state’s new teacher evaluation system. That would at least give some direction to districts in a state that doesn’t even have an official definition for gifted and talented education, Holloway said.
……In Marlborough, the School Department is starting a new gifted and talented initiative in the fall that will take a cluster model approach to teaching advanced learners, in which all the advanced learners are put in the same classes, to make it easier for teachers to address them specifically.
……“We need to study whether the ‘advanced’ group, who may be years above grade level in achievement in at least one area of concentration, are sufficiently challenged in that area,” she said. “If under-stimulated, this group is prone to underachievement, depression and, in the worst-case scenario, high school dropout status.”
The complete article by Scott O’Connell is here.
May 22nd, 2012
The US government’s Race to the Top 2012 pits town against town, to see which school district can best personalize education for it’s students. Joy Resmovits of the Huffington Post reports in this piece: “Race To The Top 2012 Invites School Districts To Compete”. Here’s an excerpt:
The competition this year opens $400 million in grant money to school districts — and not states, like in previous rounds — with a focus on “personalized learning,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will announce Tuesday.
“With this competition, we are inviting districts to show us how they can personalize education for a set of students in their schools,” Duncan said in a statement. The competition — President Barack Obama’s signature education program — is “aimed squarely at the classroom level and the all-important relationship among teachers and students,” Duncan said.
School districts in Houston and Los Angeles have confirmed that they’re in. Sacramento’s mayor Kevin Johnson signaled his interest in a statement to The Huffington Post. Chicago, Newark and Las Vegas are also reportedly interested.
The new guidelines require ways to connect student-level data with college outcomes; evaluations that include tests for teachers, principals, school boards and superintendents; a focus on school overhauls; and the agreement of local teachers’ unions.
The complete article is here.
May 12th, 2012
An article titled “‘Why Don’t We Have Any White Kids?’”, by N. R. Kleinfield, takes an in-depth look at the trend toward resegregation in the public school systems of cities across the US, despite efforts to counter it. The author interviews an advanced middle-school student who struggles to fit in with her peer group.
Here’s an excerpt:
“It’s a bit weird,” Amiyah said of the school’s racial composition. “All my friends are predominantly black, and all the teachers are predominantly white. I think white kids go to different schools. I don’t know. I haven’t seen many white people in a big space before.”
Would it be better if it were integrated?
“I think they would stop calling me white girl if there were white kids,” she said. “Because my skin is a little lighter and I can’t dance, they call me that. Some of them can’t dance, either.”
“I could talk the way I talk.”
Other students speak street slang that she repudiates: “They will say to me, ‘You are so white.’ I tell them, I have two black parents. Do I look white?”
She had been having trouble making friends. This year, her mother noticed a speech change. “She’s slacking off more to fit in,” Ms. Kingston said. “She’s saying: ‘I been there.’ ‘I done that.’ ”
Amiyah confirmed this: “I speak a bit more freelance with my friends. Not full sentences. I don’t use big words. They hate it when I do that.”
She said she had become more popular.
The complete article is here.
May 10th, 2012
Sarah Sparks reports in EdWeek on the neurodevelopmental paradox of students who are “twice-exceptional”, in that they have both learning disabilities, and advanced learning needs. The article, titled, “Studies Shed Light on ‘Twice Exceptional’ Students”, is here.
Here’s an excerpt:
Often, when people think of a gifted student with disabilities, they picture an autistic savant, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie “Rain Man,” but in reality, “there are a lot of kids who are really struggling, and we totally miss them,” said M. Layne Kalbfleisch, the principal investigator of the Krasnow Investigations of Developmental Learning and Behavior, or KIDLAB, at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Va.
Ms. Kalbfleisch and other experts estimate there were 300,000 twice-exceptional students—intellectually gifted children also diagnosed with learning disabilities—in 2004, when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act first noted that students with disabilities may also be gifted.
The complete article is here.