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The GT Escalator: a concern for high school students

June 9, 2007

Do your teens say “school is boring” even while spending hours on homework assignments? Maybe there is a reason.

Most students learn new material in 9 to 12 repetitions. Lesson plans create many opportunities for repetition. Furthermore, some curriculum (esp. language arts) “spirals” – repeats and reviews many of the concepts covered in previous years.

But gifted students learn in as little as 1 to 3 repetitions. So don’t be surprised when a gifted child complains that school is boring. Unnecessary repetition (i.e., unnecessary homework) is boring.

“According to the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, gifted elementary students have mastered between 40 and 50 percent of the school year’s content in several subject areas before the school year begins.”

From “All Gifted is Local”, by Jane Clarenbach, The School Administrator, February 2007, Number 2 Vol. 64

In essence, gifted students climb the stairs of learning quickly, and then wait at the landing while the other students repeat the materials enough to learn it. So how do we get gifted teenagers off the staircase landing and onto a continuously moving escalator of learning?

Either entire classes must be designed specifically for GT students or GT students must be ability-grouped within classes to accommodate for their special learning needs.

Many people assume that Advanced Placement classes meet the needs of GT kids, but in truth, the majority of AP students are not gifted. Nationwide, 41% of regular education students take AP classes. At CHS, in some subjects, over 48% of the students are in AP. Thus, by definition, AP classes are taught to normal and high achieving students, and are not taught at a GT level. In fact, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) directs that “when working with gifted/talented students, educators must differentiate AP course materials to meet the specific needs of these learners” for more depth and complexity.

At present, CHS offers specific GT/PreAP courses in English, Biology, Geometry and Algebra II for 9th and 10th graders. There are only two GT/AP courses offered for 11th and 12th graders – English III and IV. The number of GT classes offered may be dictated by the number of students enrolled. If GT kids are taking the AP classes, then the GT students should be appropriately ability-grouped into these classes. And then their classroom teachers should  differentiate the curriculum through compacting (escalator approach) vs. teaching all at the same level (stairwell approach).

“Appropriate” instruction should be given, NOT “harder” (memorization, coloring, etc.) instruction. We can make specific GT courses or we can ability group students (and differentiate) within all courses where GT kids don’t have the option to take a GT course. The obstacles are teacher education and curriculum availability. But we have to begin somewhere.

To address this need, the TEA just created a new website for AP, Pre-AP, and International Baccalaureate teachers with an “interactive curriculum self-assessment tool to help educators assess the strengths and weaknesses of their curricula in meeting the needs of gifted learners”. Using this new self-assessment tool, TEA evaluated 4 core AP courses and found them lacking. For example, “without modification, products developed in AP Biology do not meet the needs of gifted learners, especially with regard to developing personal interests and expressing creativity. Additional concerns included the amount of in-class time allowed for course projects, which could pose obstacles to differentiation in depth and complexity.”

If we want our teens on a moving escalator of learning, we need GT instruction at Coppell High School.

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