Educators evaluate needs of gifted students

WORTHINGTON -- A dedicated committee of educators began planning Prairie Elementary's new services for gifted and talented students in October, sorting out its priorities and deciding what services to offer.

WORTHINGTON -- A dedicated committee of educators began planning Prairie Elementary's new services for gifted and talented students in October, sorting out its priorities and deciding what services to offer.

For the 2007-2008 school year, educators had only two goals -- identifying a group of academically gifted students and teaching their fellow teachers some techniques and strategies for working with those gifted and talented students.

"If you invest in your educators, you'll have the resources available (for a long period of time)," said Kelly Troe, the committee's chairwoman. "The theory of putting money into the teachers is a prudent and resourceful plan."

The committee includes teachers from first-grade to fifth-grade classrooms: Renee McCuen, Laurie Landwehr, Kelly Troe, Chad Kremer, Judy Heitkamp, Hollie Hibma and Stacy Dibble, as well as tech support Diane Standafer and behavior specialists Heidi Meyer and Josh Noble.

This week, the first phase, planning, gave way to the second phase, action, as teachers of second-graders through fifth-graders meet for a seminar on gifted education.


Strategies for educating gifted students

While some schools prefer to hire a gifted and talented coordinator as a separate position, Troe found it more practical to begin with the teachers -- partly because funding for gifted and talented services varies a great deal from year to year. The teachers, however, stay in the district and have many opportunities to work with gifted children every day in the classroom.

Keeping students in the classroom instead of pulling them out to learn separately for part of a day is a new trend in gifted and talented education.

"An integrated classroom is much more potent," Troe explained. "Kids aren't just gifted two hours a day."

Allowing those children to stay in the classroom with their peers can actually allow them to help their peers as well. If a gifted child is working on something more difficult than his or her fellow students, the other students might get curious and want to do the same type of work, particularly if they are on the edge of being gifted themselves. They may have to work harder than the gifted student does to do the same work, but that would be a good thing, Troe said.

Another advantage of staying in the classroom benefits the gifted student, who may be gifted, but still has many of the same needs other students have. Just because he or she excels in math doesn't mean he or she doesn't need help learning study skills, organizational tactics or social skills.

Other strategies allow gifted and talented students to be clustered together in a classroom, so they benefit from each other as well as the other students. In classrooms without the clusters, Troe said, new student leaders emerge.

Troe emphasized that many of the curriculum tools Prairie already has have options for needy students on both ends of the academic spectrum, enabling teachers to help special education kids as well as gifted kids without having to design a whole new curriculum.


What does it mean to be 'gifted'?

Although it is possible to be gifted in many areas, educators boiled them down to three arenas during the seminars this week -- intellectual, academic, visual and performing arts, and creative and productive thinking.

Because Prairie, as a school, is geared toward academics, the gifted and talented committee decided to work first with the academically gifted students, which would then provide a template for creating services for students gifted in the other three areas.

From there, Prairie educators looked at four specific components of gifted and talented education.

First, they went over the characteristics of a gifted learner.

"It is no more and no less difficult than teaching other children," Troe said, noting gifted children are about as likely to misbehave as other kids.

The second component is looking at Prairie's own statistics and students. This year, 30 Prairie students from second to fifth grade have been identified as being gifted in math, and 50 as gifted in reading. These students scored in the top 10 percent nationally on tests. The number of students may increase at a future time.

Third on the list is programming, using the resources Prairie has and "thinking of ways you can master the spectrum (of learners), because the spectrum is never going to go away," Troe said.


Fourth is looking to the future and deciding what strategies to use in the next year to help those students. Teachers at each grade level were asked to come up with their own ideas for helping gifted students.

Troe anticipates the gifted and talented services will expand in the future, but gradually. A new Web site for the gifted and talented service is in the works, for example, and there are already brochures and helpful information available for parents of gifted students.

"Many of the services currently provided at Prairie are in the areas of math and reading," the brochure states. "There is more to be done. Our dreams and plans for the future include gifted service for many other areas as well."

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