In the qualitative study “Gifted and Talented Education (GATE): ,” Young and Balli (2014) used Renzulli’s three-ring model of giftedness to explore student and parent perspectives on gifted education comparing experiences in both neighborhood schools and GATE magnet schools. They interviewed 52 participants from ten California elementary schools, two of which were designated Title I schools.
The researchers found that both parent and student perceptions of giftedness supported the model’s’ assertion that gifted children possessed high ability, task commitment and creativity (Young & Balli, 2014). It is worth noting that Renzulli’s model does not require a student to demonstrate all three characteristics (Davis & Rimm, 2004). In my experience working with gifted children in middle school, these students are often well above the ability of their peers, easily able to wrestle with complex concepts and ideas, and grasp abstract concepts well beyond the ability of their peers. Davis and Rimm (2004) noted that the “overriding trait – indeed, the definition – of intellectually gifted students is that they are developmentally advanced in language and thought” (p. 35). Additionally, the study found that gifted children had a higher level of task commitment without pressure from parents or teachers (Young & Balli, 2014). Additionally, high motivation and persistence is one of the single most recurrent traits in productive gifted students (Davis & Rimm, 2004). I’ve seen varying results as a gifted child’s task commitment depends on the area of study, their domain of giftedness, and their interest in a topic. I’ve had students who were highly gifted in math, but in an English class, they failed to turn in assignments or participate in class, even coming to the brink of failing. When a gifted child is bored, their productivity and motivation decreases, leading to underachievement. The study found “inconsistencies in the application of creative curriculum and instructional strategies among teachers and schools” (Young & Balli, 2014, p. 239). The lack of differentiation and opportunities for creativity can stifle any child, but can be particularly detrimental for gifted children. Another factor I’ve seen impact a gifted child’s motivation and enthusiasm is their inability to socially cope with their giftedness. In situations where a gifted child is struggling socially, they may reject or step away from their intellectual abilities in order to fit in or make friends.
The researchers also explored the similarities and differences between GATE programming in neighborhood schools and GATE magnet schools. Parents and students identified major issues with GATE programming in neighborhood schools, including boredom due to slow pace, extra work instead of more rigorous work, lack of differentiation and teachers with little to no understanding of the GATE student. Only some of the schools had homogenous grouping or after-school programming (Young & Balli, 2014). In both schools I’ve taught in, there was no gifted differentiation offered in regular classes. Resources and efforts in these settings were used to help struggling students. Much like the study noted, teachers are stressed and pressured to focus on the struggling students in the face of high stakes testing. Teachers are not given the support or training to meet the needs of their gifted children. There is also an assumption that gifted children receive enough gifted programming in their pull out programs and that in class, they should be working along with the rest of the class. The myth that gifted children will be okay on their own or can be used to help other kids further debilitates a gifted child’s motivation. Additionally, in talking with teachers in my building, many have little to no understanding of gifted children. There is a lack of education and professional development for teachers in identifying and working with gifted children. Gifted children are often misunderstood. Specifically, their overexcitabilities are mistaken for ADHD or troublemaker behavior. Academically, gifted children in my school either get ignored or given extra work, not necessarily differentiated work. They also get used as tutors for other kids. Neither school I worked in offered GATE after school programming. I assume this is something parents need to seek out on their own. I know programs exist, like the one through William and Mary, but it can be cost-prohibitive, especially for low-SES families.
The study also addressed parent and student perceptions of differentiated instruction, especially in neighborhood schools. Reports were conflicting. Some felt that their school and teachers did a good job of differentiating lessons and activities for the GATE student. All parents concurred that the more trained a teacher was in GATE, the better equipped they were to teach a GATE child (Young & Balli, 2014). Davis and Rimm (2004) go as far as to say that “good teachers of the gifted should be gifted themselves” (p.49). In many states, a GATE teacher doesn’t need to be endorsed in GATE education, much less identified as gifted. While it seems obvious that more training would lead to more effective teachers, schools and districts usually put support for gifted students on the back burner, assuming that gifted children will be okay regardless.
Overall, the study found that “participants reported general dissatisfaction with the GATE program in neighborhood schools” and felt there was little differentiation of instruction (Young & Balli, 2014). On the other hand, parents were overwhelmingly satisfied with the GATE magnet schools. I would concur with the frustration and dissatisfaction felt by the parents in this study. As I begin thinking about where to transition my own child for middle school, I worry about the lack of engagement and boredom he would feel in a regular education classroom, how he would be hindered from pursuing his interests, and the negative effects this would have on his love of learning. Even in classes where teachers are attempting to differentiate for their gifted students, often by the time they get to middle school, children’s natural curiosity has been thwarted and apathy towards school has set in. While the study noted that parents recognized the ways in which individual teachers made a difference, they didn’t make mention of the ways continued failure to meet the needs of gifted children can have long term effects on their productivity and success.
Davis, G. A. & Rimm, S. B. (2004). Education of Gifted and Talented. Boston: Pearson.
Young, M. H. & Balli, S. J. (2014). Gifted and talented education (GATE): Student and parent perspectives. Gifted Child Today, 37(4), 236-246