ERIC Identifier: ED371520
Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Hanninen, Gail E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
Blending Gifted Education and School Reform. ERIC Digest #E525.
School reform initiatives have resulted in many changes in American education
during the past decade. The complexity of the process has presented numerous
challenges for every educator. Juxtaposed against the reform climate are several
other changes that have affected American classrooms: changing demographics,
increasing diversity of student populations, and limited fiscal resources. It is
within this broad context that the needs of our most capable youth must be
challenged. This digest provides a process for assuring that the unique needs of
students who are gifted are addressed within the context of systemic reform.
Several key elements guide the process: creating belief statements, clarifying
the issues, and designing strategies for implementation.
CREATING BELIEF STATEMENTS
Belief statements define
systemic parameters as reflected in a district's vision statement and expected
outcomes. For example, what is believed about students who are gifted is based
on what is believed about all learners. Creating belief statements about all
learners is guided by the following questions:
What do we believe (about all learners)?
What do we know?
What do we want?
What do we do?
Processing these questions generates a set of district or school level belief
statements, vision statements, and expected outcomes that will affect the entire
community. Discussion should include educators and parents of students who are
gifted and talented as well as other representatives from various special
interests groups. By working individually, in small groups or as a whole, each
person generates belief statements. The general discussion provides an
opportunity to examine beliefs individuals hold about students who are gifted
and talented. Through a process of narrowing down the statements, each small
group lists five most strongly held statements. Later, when groups combine their
statements, a list of 10 to 15 strongly held belief statements provides an
organizational profile. A second list of belief statements may also be generated
around the question, "What do you believe about programs for students who are
CLARIFYING THE ISSUES
To understand elements of systemic
change, each educator needs to clarify the issues. Again, a key question guides
the process: "As you reflect upon what you know about education reform, the best
practices in education, and your experience with students who are
gifted/talented, what are the critical issues that come to your mind?" Identifying the five most important critical issues helps narrow the topics of
concern and focus discussion.
Developing a successful relationship
between education reform efforts and gifted education is linked to five key
Analyze the language.
List key decision makers, stakeholders, and risk takers.
Infuse gifted/talented into several school policies.
Visualize the desired direction.
Enact equitable access to resources.
The acronym "ALIVE" means that each strategy incorporates valuable
information gleaned in one of the other strategies and does not function in
ANALYZE THE LANGUAGE refers to interpreting what is really being said. For
example, the concept of inclusionary programs sounds very altruistic, but might
mean "inclusion of special education students only" in the regular school
setting. In this example, students such as those being served by Chapter 1
programs, gifted programs, or English as a Second Language (ESL) programs may
continue to be excluded from inclusive schools because the terminology has
Language in vision statements, district policies, and expected outcomes can
also be used to benefit students who are gifted. The following statement of
purpose uses several helpful words and phrases: "The purpose of the British
Columbia school system is to enable learners to develop their individual
potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to
contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy"
(Ministry of Education, 1991). Words like "individual," "each," and "potential"
are inviting. Collective words such as "all," "they" and "everyone" can be
misleading. Finding terms that are links to systemic parameters is crucial to
embedding special services in policy, linking a school system with the
community, and developing a shared vision.
LIST KEY DECISION MAKERS, STAKEHOLDERS, AND RISK TAKERS
means identifying individuals and groups who are strategic influencers. The
people most affected by school system changes need to be included in discussions
from the beginning. The number of persons needs to be manageable. The group
should represent a broad range of constituencies, including students, parents,
teachers, administrators, and members of the community. When choosing community
members, keep in mind that key individuals who have credibility with and the
respect of their colleagues will influence support for change.
INFUSE GIFTED/TALENTED INTO SEVERAL SCHOOL POLICIES implies that well-written
local district policies provide a basis for developing quality program services
for all students, including those who are gifted. Although services for students
who are gifted need to be defined in a specific program policy, they should also
be interspersed throughout broader policy statements on curriculum, instruction,
counseling, special populations, parent involvement, and staff development.
The following excerpt from a local district policy statement reflects that
community's beliefs and priority for programming: "Challenge their multiple
intelligences and engage students with diverse linguistic and cultural
backgrounds." This example depicts a connectedness to the whole district and
supports the district's need to address "multiple intelligences" and "diverse
linguistic and cultural backgrounds" of all students. Thus, infusing services
that meet the needs of students who are gifted/talented into local policy
statements can work two ways.
VISUALIZE THE DESIRED DIRECTION means that within the context of the total
school system, design a clearly stated and concise framework for delivering
services to students who are gifted. Such a design should challenge the future
and illustrate not only a relationship of such services to the total system, but
also provide accountability for a continuum of services from kindergarten
through 12th grade.
ENACT EQUITABLE ACCESS TO RESOURCES means using the first four strategies to
build equitable access to resources in a defensible manner. The notion that the
"squeaky wheel gets the grease" is often true because special interest groups
have gained an audience and power. Comprehensive quality services to students
are not developed by squeaky wheels, but instead are the result of well planned
efforts reflecting the beliefs and commitments of several constituencies.
Equitable access to resources also implies that resources are based on the needs
of students and not solely on the needs of teachers or administrators.
By using these five key strategies, a healthy relationship with the different
education reform efforts becomes possible. Each education reform strategy can be
accepted by educators of the gifted as an opportunity rather than a barrier.
A Gifted Leadership Conference in the state of Washington demonstrated one
way that using this process can generate strategies for blending gifted
education and school reform. Participants identified eight education reform
efforts affecting services to highly capable students. The resulting product,
created by the 41 participants, was entitled: "The Reform Movement: Where Do
Gifted Students Fit?" (Fascilla, Hanninen, & Spritzer,, 1991). The following
reform strategies, excerpted from the original publication, illustrate how
bridges in thinking can be built between education reform and gifted education.
GROUPING: STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS WITH GIFTED STUDENTS
guidelines to use when considering grouping options (Rogers, 1991):
Students who are academically or intellectually gifted and talented should spend
the majority of their school day with others of similar abilities and interests.
Cluster grouping of students within an otherwise heterogeneously grouped
classroom can be considered when schools cannot support a full-time gifted
In the absence of full-time gifted program enrollment, students might be offered
specific group instruction across grade levels, according to their individual
knowledge acquisition in school subjects.
Gifted students should be given experiences involving a variety of appropriate
acceleration-based options, which may be offered to gifted students as a group
or on an individual basis.
Students should be given experiences which involve various forms of enrichment
that extend the regular school curriculum, leading to the more complete
development of concepts, principles, and generalizations.
Mixed-ability cooperative learning groups should be used sparingly, perhaps only
for social skills development programs.
OUTCOMES-BASED EDUCATION: STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS WITH
Maintain programs for gifted until acceptable options are available, that is,
acceleration, self-contained classes, or advanced classes.
Educate all staff so that they are able to identify and provide appropriate
curriculum for gifted students.
Pretest before initial instruction, and provide gifted students credit for prior
Provide an enriched curriculum for all students and acceleration and/or in-depth
study for gifted students.
Ensure opportunities for flexibility in scheduling so that students can be
appropriately grouped and regrouped.
Provide gifted students the opportunity to work with their academic or
Match new learning experiences that capitalize on the students' strengths and
interests to the expected student outcomes, and provide appropriate assessment
Match the curriculum to the student's learning rate.
Eliminate the ceiling on learning (i.e., if a student is ready to learn algebra
in 5th grade, the system must not only permit it, it should support it).
Extend the depth and breadth of the lessons.
Within each education reform strategy, ideas were presented that respect the
integrity of the research and assure appropriate learning opportunities for
students who are gifted.
All students in our schools, including those who are gifted, deserve the best
education we are capable of providing. On the one hand, education reform efforts
reflect those approaches deemed necessary to accomplish that goal. On the other
hand, gifted education has frequently been perceived as being the best in
education provided only for "the best." If the aim of education reform is that
all students should experience "gifted teaching," then the expertise and support
of educators of the gifted should be a part of those efforts. Concurrently, all
educators need to acknowledge that "gifted teaching" does not necessarily mean
effectively "teaching the gifted." Knowing the difference depends upon
understanding the nature of a student's gifts and talents. It also means placing
greater value on each student's strengths.
The keys to successful education reform for students who are gifted results
in educators and parents who can continually:
Evaluate the effectiveness of the education reform strategies used in their
Review the quality and clarify the relationship of educational services for
students who are gifted.
Understand the complexity of the "big picture" as different education reform
strategies are institutionalized in schools and beliefs about services for
students who are gifted are incorporated.
Education reform is an opportunity for professionals in gifted education to
recognize what works, what does not work, where "hitchhiking" on the ideas of
others is wise, and to understand the changes that are needed to assure
excellence in learning and character development. An inevitable outcome will be
better schools for all students.
Fascilla, P., Hanninen, G. E., & Spritzer, D.
(Eds.). (1991). THE REFORM MOVEMENT: WHERE DO GIFTED STUDENTS FIT? Olympia, WA:
Gifted Leadership Conference, c/o OSPI.
Ministry of Education (1991). SUPPORTING LEARNING: UNDERSTANDING AND ASSESSING THE PROGRESS OF CHILDREN IN THE PRIMARY PROGRAM. Province of British Columbia.
Rogers, K. (1991). THE RELATIONSHIP OF GROUPING PRACTICES TO THE EDUCATION OF THE GIFTED AND TALENTED LEARNER: AN EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.