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Cross-grade grouping: Coppell Middle School North

October 11, 2011

Curriculum options at Coppell middle schools improved dramatically for gifted students last year by offering GT classes in the four core subjects: Math, Language & Literacy, Science and Social Studies.  These classes were designed, according to Todd Kettler, CISD Director of Advanced Academics, to build the foundation for advanced courses in high school.  “GT Courses in middle school use an accelerated curriculum for grade-level skills and include beyond grade-level skill development as well,” according to Kettler.  He describes several important components of the middle school GT curriculum including self-directed learning, research, complex thinking, and communication skills… and insists there is no more homework than standard or pre-AP classes.

Last year, each middle school incorporated the new GT course offerings, taking the opportunity to tweak the program to fit the unique culture of their school.  Middle School North decided to use cross-grade grouping to meet the needs of their GT students in 7th and 8th grade in each core class – 6th grade courses remained self-contained.  Cross-grade grouping, typically viewed as grouping students by their abilities instead of their grade, is a well-documented “best practice” in gifted education.  According to Principal Leanne Dorhout, this solution was suitable at North to overcome scheduling difficulties, meet financial limitations, and offer inherent curricular benefits.  “We are lucky to have a large enough demand and the support of parents and staff to do this,” she said.

As a result, GT classes are offered more frequently at North, allowing for more scheduling options without the need to increase faculty.  Students are likely to be able to take their GT classes as well as their first pick for elective – so there is no need to choose between advanced academics and the trombone, for example.  Additionally, cross-grade classes meet the 21st century goals for understanding a global, conceptual perspective and collaborating with others.  These classes appeal to GT learners:

“multi-tiered, multi-level classes allow self directed conceptual learning and higher level thinking” — Leanne Dorhout, CMSN Principal

For math and language & literacy, the courses look similar to those traditionally offered in cross-grade grouping classes like algebra and reading.  However, North did make some adjustments to the science and social studies curriculum.  Originally, they envisioned a conceptual environment where students would learn fundamental truths through their grade-assigned topics.  For example, students in GT social studies might learn the concept of Revolution as a class through examples in Texas History (from the 7th graders) and American History (from the 8th graders).  This proved cumbersome, according to Kettler, in cross-grade classes where the number of students participating from each grade was vastly uneven.  So, the curriculum was adjusted to a rotating 2 year block.  Now, all students in combined GT social studies embrace the study of Texas History one year and American History the next. For the GT science 2 year block, the GT science curriculum emphasizes organisms and the environment one year and earth and space the next.

This might pose a problem for some students considering joining the GT program in 8th grade, but the issue is not as common as you might think.  After all, points out Linda Cook, CISD Director of Science, “this is really only a problem every other year.”  Last year, GT science and social studies focused on the 8th grade subjects; this year, the rotation was the 7th grade subjects.  Four students were impacted by the block curriculum and were advised of the complication.  “In most cases,” according to Cook, “the counselors recommended that students attend pre-AP classes taught by certified GT teachers.”

Do you have questions, concerns or praises about the GT program at North?  Ms. Dorhout welcomes discussion and dissention, embracing the thoughtful questioning and evaluating her students are learning in the classroom.  “This is not the only way to do it,” says Dorhout, adding, “We saw a lot of benefits last year with our students who participated in these classes – We are making leaders and thinkers.”

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