Our school systems need to advocate for curricula differentiation and for grouping gifted and talented students. Advocates of gifted and talented student programs relentlessly seek to convince teachers and administrators that setting up an honors class is not enough to meet the needs of our gifted student population.
America has approximately 3 million gifted students, a number that represents 6 percent of its entire student population. The Council for Exceptional Children for the U.S. Office of Education reported that 39 states have legislation on gifted and talented education. These states generally define giftedness in terms of intellectual ability, creativity, leadership, and artistic talent (Zettel 1980).
Mitchell (1984) has reported that most states select gifted and talented students through multiple criteria. However, many school districts still use intelligence tests as the key identifier. Intelligence is measured through established IQ tests, and identifying the gifted is based on those scores. The population of gifted individuals is referred to as moderately gifted (IQ range 130-144), highly gifted (IQ range 145-159), and exceptionally gifted (IQ >160) (Clark 2002). However, using test scores alone is not sufficient to identify the great potential of highly creative students, for other factors need to be considered.
If a child displays outstanding traits, it is likely that he or she is gifted. In a study by Rogers (1986), the following characteristics distinguished the 38 gifted from the 42 average third and fourth graders: a brisk learning ability, an excellent memory, a long attention span, perfectionism, a fondness for older buddies, a broad vocabulary, a sense of humor, an interest in books, a knack in puzzles and mazes, maturity, inquisitiveness, perseverance, and intense observation.
Other factors that set gifted students apart from their peers are a rich memory, curiosity, reflectivity, and an openness to experiences. Resnick (1997) identifies six types of gifted students. The challenging student is creative and rebellious. The successful gifted student achieves most of the time and prefers to conform to the environment. The underground type is shy and lacks self-confidence. The gifted dropout student is angry and explosive. The autonomous student is intrinsically motivated and passionate. The sixth type consist of the double-labeled students who are both gifted and disabled and sometimes labeled as having ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) due to their lack of focus.
Gifted students learn faster, understand more complex issues, and have distinctive emotional needs. So, regular school programs must be modified to accommodate their needs. Gifted students should be provided with acceleration options and various forms of enrichment that broaden the conventional school curriculum.
Organizing a comprehensive program to satisfy gifted and talented students is a complex task. Schools should create such opportunities as acceleration, enrichment, self-paced classes, or advanced classes. Staff members should be educated to identify and provide an appropriate curriculum for gifted students. Differentiated Educational Plans (DEPs), which briefly describe the modified content, activities, and assessment planned for such students and his or her group should be filed for each student.
Once the DEPs have been implemented, students should be encouraged to move through content areas at their own pace. If they master a particular unit, they need to be provided with more advanced learning activities, as opposed to more of the same activity. In other words, burdening gifted students with more trigonometry homework or drills, just because they can do it and need to be kept engaged, is not considered to be part of acceleration or enrichment.
Two very helpful strategies in running optional activities toward enrichment and acceleration are compacting and contracts.
Compacting. Students are provided with enrichment and spend less time working on skills they have already mastered in the regular curriculum. For example, a seventh grade student who has a grade equivalence of above 8 in math is usually uninterested in math classes. The teacher can provide him or her with challenging puzzles, competition questions (such as Math Counts or International Math Olympiads), math project samples, and help the students develop advanced and versatile skills separately from their peers.
Contracts. Students and teachers agree on what students will learn, how they will learn it, how long it will take them to learn it, and how they will be evaluated. A science teacher and a student might agree on a cycle of 6-week periods when the student will complete and present a science project or a portfolio. Contracts should include a calendar, written student and teacher roles, a scoring guide (a rubric), and a product format. Students and parents must join the teacher in the decision-making process while outlining this contract (Parke 1989).
Compacting and contracts do not stop students from attending regular classes. Depending on the student's characteristics, availability on campus, reports from teachers, and the curricula, a student, for example, might stay in regular science and social studies classes, spend half of his or her time working independently in language arts, and not attend regular math classes at all so that he or she can work with the school Math Olympiad team.
Before each campus decides which format will best serve their students' needs, they should decide what is applicable and feasible. Special magnet schools, pull-out programs, a gifted school within a school, resource rooms, flexible grouping provision based on definite needs, and mainstreaming are some of the available alternatives (Daniel and Cox 1988).
When gifted students are taught in a traditional slow-paced classroom and subjected to an inadequate curriculum, they do not apply themselves, have low stimuli, and even drop out. If schools do not allow gifted and talented students to flourish, their achievement and motivation will fade in a relatively short period of time. Parents of gifted students may choose to enroll their children in alternative programs, such as home schooling or other gifted and talented schools.
Rogers (1991) believes that gifted and talented students should spend the greater part of their school day with others of corresponding abilities and interests. Gifted students benefit from learning together and need to be placed with similar students in their areas of strength so that they can understand their learning differences in gifted classes.
Grouping gifted students cannot be considered elitism or a violation of equity in education. It is an erroneous belief that all students are best assisted in heterogeneous learning environments. There are many grouping methods in which average and below-average students may benefit as well as the gifted do. Rogers (1991) suggests many strategies and grouping options. He recommends a cluster grouping of students if schools cannot maintain a full-time gifted program.
In enrichment clusters, advanced learning experiences and higher-level thinking skills are combined in groups of various graded members. Students and teachers learn authentically, work on real problems, and act as practicing professionals to produce a product or effect a change for a real audience. The clusters work according to an extended and flexible schedule (Renzulli 1997).
Prosperous people are accountable to the state and are obliged to pay taxes on what they possess. In return, the state has the duty and responsibility to provide services for these people. Gifted and talented people should feel accountable to God, state, and their nation for how they use their potential (for good or bad) and the extent to which they use it (efficiently or wastefully). They should not enjoy the relaxation of saying: This is the best I can do, for their potential is dynamic and subject to improvement. Pure talent must be accompanied by industriousness, perseverance, and conscientiousness. As Thomas Edison stated: Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. As a result, a genius is often a talented person who has simply done all of his or her homework.
On the other hand, the state, society, and educational components are responsible for buttressing gifted and talented programs and for using these students' special abilities instead of wasting them. Gifted and talented people should be identified and helped so that they can assist others.
Another critical component of educating the gifted generation is preventing the developing a corrupt, threatening mob of talented people obsessed with selfishness, evil, or lawlessness and deprived of moral values, ethics, and good intentions. Such an outcome is even worse than wasting the gifted generation's talents. Notorious dictators, criminals, and militants are all known to be geniuses. We are held accountable for developing a fruitful, qualified, and fully activated gifted generation, one that is decent, just, and ethical and can lead and help the world.