Special Populations in GATE: Twice Exceptional Students

In my final semester of my masters program, I’m taking the class I’ve been waiting for: Special Populations in Gifted Education. The course is held online, so all conversations take place on BlackBoard.

The fifth reading, “Twice Exceptional Children: Twice the Challenges, Twice the Joys” by Claire E. Hughes, was published in Special populations in gifted education: Understanding our most able students from diverse background (Castellano & Frazier, 2011)My thoughts are below…

On identification,

After reading the section on Identification, I was struck by how far behind we still are when it comes to identifying 2e students. For one, a move to using multiple measures for gifted identification should in theory eliminate the issue, but when programs still rely so heavily on these achievement tests, composite scores, etc. we are still creating barriers for students to have their gifts recognized. This tells me that our process for identification needs to be more fluid and flexible. I know the argument against this is that if we don’t have firm structures in place, then we open the door to all kinds of issues, but if we aren’t flexible in our process, we stand to miss so many kids. Additionally, the third thing mentioned in the chapter was the challenge of recognizing diverse patters of learning. The idea that education has a “norm” and that students who don’t fit are rejected seems so antithetical to education in general. We hear all the time that all children are different, have different learning styles, etc. yet, when it comes to our 2e students all of this flies out the window. There needs to be more teacher training (we always come back to this, don’t we) on the recognition of learning differences and variability. Lastly, the idea that some 2e students learn best conceptually was new to me, but not surprising. In the high stakes environment, our lowest students are almost all taught in a rote, drill-n-kill environment. I would argue that this doesn’t work well for most kids and that teaching conceptually is best practice for all kids. If our goal is to educate children so that their learning transfers to their world outside the classroom, then we need to be teaching them from a conceptual framework. If we want them to just pass a test, then rote memorization can work (but often still doesn’t, as evidenced by the continually low scores at some schools even with this drill and kill culture.)

A student was a bit off topic, but stated in response to another classmate:

One thing that your post did make me think about is how schools need to make it easier on teacher to make sure that all students are getting what they need, and that we are able to focus on their skills as much as possible.

My response…

Teachers need to be prepared to make accomodations in the classroom for these students based on goals. I had a 2e student a few years ago who was diagnosed as non-verbal autistic, but was clearly high functioning and gifted. He had a difficult time writing and generating ideas, but his reading comprehension was off the charts high. He was also gifted in math and may have been double accelerated. Because he had a one-on-one with him, he was able to be placed in an advanced math class. In my class, English, I was almost never able to get an assignment out of him. He would work on his reading journals/homework at home with his parents, but in class, neither myself nor the aide or collab teacher were able to coax work out of him. He always scored highest and near perfect on all assessments. As a teacher, I had to just excuse the work he didn’t do because it wasn’t fair to fail him when he had clearly mastered the content, but his disability was preventing him from completing work.

Another classmate was concerned that someone had said she felt separate classes for high and low ability students were a good choice to help teachers meet their needs of students. She stated:

Another point you made was that all students should be grouped by ESL, high, medium, and low.  Research says that if you do that, the high students will thrive, the middle students will make minimal gains and the low students will remain the same.  Students need peer role models, they need to be heterogeneosly mixed so that they can grow socially, academically, and emotionally.  The ESL students will not learn English if they are not in an environment where English is spoken.  It would be great if your school could group for math and reading by ability level, that is where you will see amazing gains, but to group them like that all day every day would be detrimental in my opinion.

To which I said…

I hear what you are saying about grouping, and I agree that continuing to group heterogeneously is more inclusive and more beneficial to students, especially those with disabilities, but research also shows that ability grouping in classes has positive effects on all levels of students. When we group our highest ability and/or gifted students in class, we are able to provide for their needs and push them by differentiating for them. Inevitably, this means we are grouping our lower ability students, but there are also positive effects in this regard. I can’t remember if I read it in an article for my other class with Dr. Edinger or another class all together, but in the gifted world, grouping by ability is seen as a necessary practice to ensure that gifted students are having their needs met and that “lower” achieving students actually verbalize being glad when these students are gone because it gives them an opportunity to shine. I know K was really speaking about something that looks more like tracking (or at least that is how I read it), but if we are being honest, there is still a level of tracking by abilities that is happening schools – advanced classes, AP, IB, specialty schools, gifted programs, etc. where our highest ability students are placed in groups of other high achieving students. Sometimes, like in Chesterfield, all students attending a school must be in the top 97% of higher and all of the students around them are identified as gifted. I think I’m rambling a bit. I would never advocate for self-contained classes again. I’m glad we have moved to an inclusion model that allows for a least restrictive model, for sure. But the more classes I take on gifted, the more I wonder what harm we do to gifted kids when we keep them in heterogeneously grouped classes with teachers who fail to differentiate and challenge them appropriately.

As an aside…the more research I do on this, I actually don’t believe I was correct at the start of this post when I said “I agree that continuing to group heterogeneously is more inclusive and more beneficial to students, especially those with disabilities.” More research on my part is needed before I take a definitive position on this…

On The Paradox – Characteristics, Programming, and Curriculum
 The paradox of programming part was super interesting to me and it stated “the strongest emphasis has to be on developing areas of strength…”Quite often, we place 2e students in collaborative classroom settings, where their areas of weakness are addressed first. Students are not pushed in these classes and their giftedness is not addressed. In this way, schools are in compliance with the IDEA but ignore their gifted needs all together. There is a one size fits all model for students with IEPs when there is no other option but to place them in a collab setting with a spec. education teacher. Since gifted is not federally mandated, schools don’t have to comply to any regulations. Therefore, students with gifts can’t be placed in advanced classes if their IEP dictates spec. ed. services. This is the real paradox of programming for 2e students.

Additionally, it discusses the ways that the giftedness and the disability may mask each other – not producing a large enough discrepancy to qualify for either service. This again denotes the need for more flexibility and fluidity in our identification processes. If we have strict policies that dictate a certain magical number that is never broken for identification in either area, children can continue failing to fall through the cracks.

On Instructional Accommodations / Integrative Strategies

After reading the section on Instructional Accommodations, I was a little concerned with the part that said “Teach science in science, NOT reading or writing.” This was especially concerning as an English teacher, but also as an educator. Promoting that idea that somehow Science and reading/writing are mutually exclusive is not benefiting a child. I agree that barriers to success should be minimized and that a child who is gifted in Science but who has a disability should not struggle in a class due to reading and writing, but completely eliminating reading/writing from a Science classroom is concerning. In the “real world” of science, scientists need to be able to read and write. If a child excels in science and is gifted in it, and may some day want to purse science as a profession, an inability to read/write in that content area may do more harm then good. Accommodations in the science classrooms should be given to help aid in the reading/writing process by differentiating appropriately, but this should not include completely removing reading/writing. I make the argument often to people that reading/writing is not just for the ELA classroom. It is not a content area, it is a skills course and used in every other content area.

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