Bringing Out the Excellence
in our Students
Don’t All Children Have Special Gifts and Talents?
As the coordinator of Hortonville Area School District’s (HASD) Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program, I have heard that question many times. The HASD response to that question, “Absolutely.” Our district is built on the fundamental belief that all children have gifts, however; some children, approximately 5-7% of a school’s population, have exceptional academic gifts or talents that require additional or different support. Our GATE program provides this support through a differentiated and challenging environment that accommodates students’ differences and offers an array of educational opportunities that are commensurate with students’ needs. All children, those who have been identified as advanced and those whose abilities are advancing, benefit from the strategies and methodologies associated with a differentiated curriculum.
Who are our gifted children?
The Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI) defines giftedness as: “pupils enrolled in public schools who give evidence of high performance capability in intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership or specific academic areas.” Identification in our program is ongoing, consistent and equitable. Multiple measures and identification tools that are based on each area of giftedness ensure that students are identified appropriately and accurately. Over 150 HASD students have been identified in one or more of the areas summarized below:
General Intellectual Ability: Children who exhibit early and rapid development of language ability, strong reasoning powers, and advanced ability in critical thinking and problem solving.
Specific Academic Ability: Children who are capable of making outstanding progress in one or more curricular areas such as math, reading, writing, science or social studies.
Creative Ability: Children who tend to develop original ideas and products. They are flexible and original in their thinking.
Visual and Performing Arts Abilities: Children who demonstrate unusual adeptness or skill in the field of drama, music, dance and/or visual arts.
Leadership: Children gifted in leadership usually have the ability to convince others to act or not act in specific ways. They are usually self-confident and comfortable with their peers. They express themselves well and frequently are charming and charismatic.
The identification process reflects our district curriculum. Areas of identification drive the type of services that gifted students are provided. For example, students identified in the specific academic area of math will receive challenging math programming that goes into greater depth and complexity. GATE services are an extension of the regular curriculum, not a separate entity or add-on to the curriculum.
What should programs for the gifted look like?
There is no simple formula for designing a program. Just as children vary, so do programs. The HASD GATE program is based on the Wisconsin Comprehensive Integrated Gifted Education Model and the National Pyramid Model. Both models provide a framework for establishing specific goals with our unique students’ needs as the inspiration. The Pyramid Model represents all levels of identified gifted students. To understand the Pyramid Model, picture a triangle that is divided into three sections. The apex of the triangle is the smallest section. This represents a very small percentage (5%) of identified Level III GATE students. The needs of Level III students are so exceptional that both in – and out-of-school opportunities are provided. Specialized services include:
Ø Subject and grade-level accelerations
Ø Independent Study
Ø Online Classes
Ø Early Graduation
Ø Dual Enrollment
Ø Youth Options (11th and 12th grade students who have exhausted the district offerings in a subject may apply to take the next course at a college and the district pays the tuition.)
Ø Advanced Placement Courses
The middle section of the pyramid represents about 35% of identified Level II gifted and talented students. Program goals for this level include many of those described for Level III. In addition to those, Level II students may be offered:
Ø Cluster classes (students of similar readiness levels are grouped together)
Ø Pull-outs that are an extension of the core curriculum and allow students to study in greater depth and complexity
Ø Local competitions such as Quiz Bowl, Math 24 Challenge, Lego League
Ø Extra-Curricular activities such as Chess Club, Newspaper Staff, Debate Team, Future Problem Solvers of America,
The bottom section of the triangle represents about 60% of the Level I identified students. Level I students’ needs are typically met in the regular classroom with differentiation such as:
Ø Curriculum compacting (Teachers pretest students to see what skills and concepts they have already mastered. This instructional strategy allows students to move at a faster pace and/or study a unit in greater depth or complexity.)
Ø Tiered assignments (Activities are designed to meet individual student’s readiness levels, interests, and learning style.)
Ø Enrichment opportunities
Ø Junior Great Books
Ø Northwestern University Talent Search
Ø Team teaching (Teachers plan and teach collaboratively.)
Ø Subject accelerations
Ø Modification of what students are learning (content), how they learn it (process), and how they will show what they have learned (product)
What makes the HASD GATE program so successful?
In tough economic times, many districts have had to cut their gifted and talented programs. Fortunately, HASD Board members and administrators understand the importance of the program and through funding and policies, support GATE children. Expenditures are required to achieve goals and student performance objectives. The correlation between budget and program effectiveness is evident in how monies are allocated for personnel, resources, training, and opportunities.
Gifted and talented students potentially differ from their peers in three ways: the pace at which they learn, the depth of their understandings, and the interests that they hold. In general, gifted students think more rapidly, more deeply, and with more complexity and integration than their grade-level peers. HASD teachers receive training that is based on current research in identifying and meeting the social, emotional, and academic needs of gifted and talented students while monitoring their progress.
The GATE staff consists of a coordinator and two GATE resource specialists; one for elementary and one for middle schools. They provide ongoing support to teachers in many different ways. Some of these include: team planning and teaching, identifying specific student needs, creating or locating resources, and providing professional development workshops. Unique program options include book clubs facilitated by parents, elementary science fairs, Battle of the Books, Recess Rap, webquests, College Day for Kids, Student Leadership Conference, Games and Giggles and more. These program options make learning fun, challenging and relevant. The instructional strategies and services of the GATE program have a trickle-down and positive effect on many children.
Building and maintaining a quality program require a collaborative effort. Teachers, specialists, administrators, Board and community members, students and parents worked and continue to work together to provide a continuum of experiences, program options, instructional strategies and resources. A GATE Advisory Council was formed last year. The council is facilitated by a GATE parent and meets monthly. The goal of the council is to develop and provide a quality program that meets the varied needs of our students.
In recognition of the unique needs of gifted and talented children, it is our district’s mission to enable them to develop to their greatest potential, become life-long learners, critical thinkers, and responsible members of an ever-changing society. We are fostering the development of our world’s future teachers, scientists, parents, entrepreneurs, leaders, artists, musicians, and careers we are not even aware of, yet. It is vital to prepare every student for the 21st century. We are charged with bringing out the excellence in our students.