Frequently Asked Questions
1) What is gifted education?
It is important to first define how a gifted student is identified. A student identified as “gifted” is usually one who thinks in a broader and deeper way than most students. They see beyond the subject compartments and look for the inter-dependency of disciplines. Imagine a camera: the gifted student sees life through a “wide angle” lens and uses many filters; whereas it is more usual to work with a “normal” lens.
The US department of Education released a report “National excellence: A case for developing America’s talent” highlighting the conflicts in our culture’s perception of giftedness.
Today, exceptional talent is viewed as both a valuable human resource
and a troublesome expression of eccentricity. As a culture we admire and
reward the brilliant, creative mind after it has invented something practical
or produced tangible results. …The nation’s high- ability students receive
mixed messages urged to do well in school but encouraged not to flaunt their
intelligence. …Negative stereotypes of high achieving students have created
an atmosphere in which students do not want to be identified as very smart.
U. S. department of Education (1993)
At the high school level identified students, with parental permission, are pulled out of their classes. Usually this is done one hour per week or in Brentsville’s case one hour every other week to meet in seminar with their age group peers.
The majority of the programs include an assortment of critical thinking skills, creative exercises, and subjects typically not introduced in standard curricula. Much of the material introduced in“gifted pull-out programs” deals with the study of logic, and its application to fields ranging from philosophy to mathematics. Students are encouraged to apply these empirical reasoning skills to every aspect of their education both in and outside of class.
2) How do you work and communicate with the different grade levels, how do you plan meetings, and what paperwork is required?
There is a curriculum of topics to be addressed laid out by Virginia Department of Education for each grade level:
The overall theme at the high school level is “Order out of Chaos”
The 9th grade asks: Is there order in knowledge- how do we learn?
The 10th grade asks: Is there order in the universe?
The 11th grade asks: Who am I as an American? What makes America, American?
The 12th grade asks: Who am I? What makes me the unique individual that I am?
Work with high school students is always done using a Socratic seminar approach; topics are introduced usually by posing a series of essential questions followed by discussion and concluded by creating an authentic product (which may be a reflection, drawing, construction, poem, etc.).
Permission for services has to be obtained from parents at the beginning of ninth grade or when a student enters the program in high school. Parents are informed of what topics are to be covered at each grade level in the form of a “Differentiated Service Plan.” (A copy is also given to each department chair.) This plan has to be mailed to parents by October 1st with a calendar of meetings and a comprehensive list of goals for each grade level. I also continue to provide seminar and topic calendars throughout the year. At the end of the school year, before July 1 each parent receives a “Progress Report” this details how their child has received services throughout the year. Examples of services are: seminar attendance, field trips and conference participation; all are documented and filed in their gifted education folder. Special projects to extend or enhance the curricula of advanced class-work and active participation are recorded and assessed by their classroom teachers. The Gifted Education Resource teacher meets with the classroom teachers in order to prepare subject matter to give a different dimension relevant to coursework and documents when this occurs.
3) Are the goals of this program tied into the AICE Thinking Skills classes, and if so, how so?
According to the curriculum guide lines from Cambridge University;
“Thinking Skills develops a specific set of intellectual skills,independent of subject content. It reflects the need voiced by universities and employers for more mature and sophisticated ways of thinking. The Thinking Skills syllabus also enables students to approach their other subjects with an improved ability to understand, analyze and resolve problems. As a result, students find the course of great benefit when preparing for higher education and for a wide range of careers, including law, scientific research, social science, journalism, medicine, business, accounting and engineering. As a curriculum subject, Thinking Skills offers students an excellent opportunity to express themselves freely and openly. The Thinking Skills syllabus encourages free and open debate, critical and investigative thinking, and informed and disciplined reasoning”
The aims of the Thinking Skills syllabus are:
• To give candidates a specific and transferable set of skills for solving problems, critical thinking and reasoning.
• To encourage candidates to apply these skills to realistic scenarios.
• To develop candidates’ abilities to understand and engage confidently in argument and reasoning.
It can be noted that the goals of Thinking Skills and Gifted Education are parallel; other schools have “GEMS” or “Theory of Knowledge” depending on the schools’ specialization. Therefore it is reasonable to intertwine the topics to be discussed with the thinking skills topics as the majority of the students in this course are identified gifted education students; unfortunately not all gifted education students are able to take this course because they have a very demanding academic load and the class cannot be offered every block; so these students meet in their seminar lunch groups and the same topics are explored but in a less in-depth way.
4) Are there any other important points about the program that you feel are misunderstood?
Usually students are identified in elementary or middle school; but any in-coming student (with their parents’ permission) is initially screened. Any student at any grade level may be screened; if they their parents, teachers, or any other adult recommends the student for gifted, then the student may be screened.
If they fall in the normal to high range, using PSAT, SOL scores, or any other external examination scores, they are invited for further testing. Further testing includes the COGAT, which I administer..Teachers of the student are asked to give a recommendation and samples of work are produced. This application is then sent to a panel of gifted education resource teachers who scrutinize the submissions and make a decision as to whether or not the student meets the criteria. This maybe in one or many disciplines. If a student is recommended to receive gifted services they are included in that school’s group.
It must be understood this is not a club that one can join or not join. Gifted programs are designed around a way of learning that will remain with the student as the student matures- a gifted student becomes a gifted adult with all the rewards and consequences it encompasses.
First and foremost a gifted student is a teenager with hopes and dreams, just like any other, they make mistakes and are hard on themselves. They may make bad choices and they may not always get good grades. They have emotional ups and downs, want to “fit in”, actually enjoy sports, video games, and talking on the phone.
Educators understand the scheduling concerns for gifted students. For example, students have the choice in PWC to enroll in Gems or AICE Thinking Skills; however, this means choosing this class over another class or elective. If the student must be serviced by the pull-out program, gifted education teachers work hard scheduling this as we know students often do not want to leave their scheduled class—whether it is an honors class, one in which they struggle, or one which they simply enjoy. In either scenario, students are faced with a choice, and we understand it is not necessarily and easy one to make. To that end we do our best to find creative ways to provide services, whether it be working with core teachers, using enrichment activities for projects or field trips, or having part of a Socratic seminar over lunch.