ERIC Identifier: ED334806
Publication Date: 1991-08-00
Author: Berger, Sandra L.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children
Developing Programs for Students of High Ability. ERIC
As educators undertake the task of program planning to accommodate the
diverse abilities students bring to school, they are faced with a bewildering
array of choices. In education for students who are gifted, a variety of
theories and models have been developed. Instructional methods and materials
of all types are presented with enthusiasm, each claimed to be "ideal"
for students of high ability. To make sound decisions, educators need to
understand the components of an effective educational program for these
WHAT CONSTITUTES AN EFFECTIVE PROGRAM?
A program "is part of the mainstream of education and doesn't rise and
fall with public opinions" (Morgan, Tennant, & Gold, 1980, p. 2). It
is a comprehensive, sequential system for educating students with identifiable
needs (The Association for the Gifted [TAG], 1989); is often designed by
a curriculum committee; and is supported by a district or school budget.
Like literature and mathematics programs, programs for students with high
ability are assumed to be integral parts of a school curriculum. Teaching
strategies may change, but the question of whether or not they should be
a part of the curriculum is never raised.
A distinction should be made between programs for students who are gifted
students and provisions for these students (Tannenbaum, 1983). "Provisions
are fragmentary, unarticulated, and temporary activities, which are neither
followed-up in any meaningful way nor preceded by any meaningful lead-in
activity" (Morgan, Tennant, & Gold, 1980, p. 2). For example, a teacher
with vision and energy might recognize that a particular student needs
to have his or her curriculum modified and decide to provide special activities.
However, unless there is a commitment on the part of the school system
to continue meeting the student's needs and to offer similar opportunities
to other able students at each grade level, it does not constitute a program.
When budgetary cuts have to be made, enrichment provisions become expendable.
WHAT ARE THE COMPONENTS OF AN EFFECTIVE PROGRAM?
An effective program comprises eight major components. These are described
in the following paragraphs.
Needs Assessment. A program is an integrated curriculum response to
the educational needs of a group of students. Therefore, a logical first
step is to determine what needs should be met. Need is defined as the discrepancy
between the current status and a desired status and indicates a direction
in which an individual or school system wants to move. An effective needs
assessment enables educators to gather information about the nature and
instructional needs of the students and the resources of the school or
school district. Information about community attitudes and teacher skills
may also be gathered. Borland (1989) has provided a list of useful questions
that might be asked, possible sources of information, and ways to obtain
Definition of Population. A clear definition of the population serves
as the foundation of a program. The definition should be based on information
gleaned from the needs assessment and state and local requirements. It
should address specific abilities and traits possessed by persons of high
ability. In his 1971 Report to Congress, Marland (1972) included a definition
that is well known for its diversity and usefulness. Updated in 1981 (P.L.
97-35, the Educational Consolidation and Improvement Act), this definition
has provided guidance to many states. Other programs are based on a multidimensional
view of intelligence (Gardner, 1983; Sternberg, 1985). However, a local
frame of reference gleaned from the needs assessment is equally important.
Identification Procedures. The purpose of identification is to locate
students whose needs are not being met by the core curriculum, evaluate
their educational needs, and provide them with an appropriate program.
Identification procedures must be consistent with the definition in local
use and should measure diverse abilities.
Identification is generally divided into several phases that might be
conceptualized as a pyramid. The base of the pyramid involves the entire
student body and is typically called screening. As the process evolves,
the population becomes smaller. The apex of the pyramid comprises the students
who will participate in a program. A wide variety of instruments and methods
are used as the pyramid narrows. Student records and portfolios, parent
and teacher referrals and recommendations, anecdotal evidence, student
products, group tests, and individual tests are just some of the ways information
is gathered throughout the school year. The identification process should
be ongoing and articulated with curriculum options.
Program Goals. The goals of a program should be written as clear policy
statements of what the district will do to respond to the needs of the
target population. They should be stated broadly and may refer to desired
student outcomes. Outcomes should reflect the assessed needs of the students.
Since program goals should be made available to the public, they should
be stated in easily understood language. A comprehensive plan might also
state program objectives and suggested activities. Borland (1989), Clark
(1988), Maker (1982), VanTassel-Baska and colleagues (1988), and other
textbook authors have provided examples of justifiable program goals and
Program Organization and Format. Organization and format refer to decisions
on how students will be grouped for instruction, where instruction will
take place, how often instruction will occur, who will provide instruction,
and who will be responsible for the program and the administrative organization.
Like other program components, organization and format are derived in part
from the needs assessment. The choice of format(s) involves a number of
complex decisions regarding effective delivery of educational services
and includes fiscal considerations. The central question is, "Which format(s)
will best serve the needs of the defined population(s)?" Special magnet
schools, pull-out programs, a school within a school, full-time self-contained
classes, resource rooms, effective grouping arrangements based on specific
needs, and mainstreaming are just some of the available options (Cox, Daniel,
& Boston, 1985; Daniel & Cox, 1988; Eby & Smutny, 1990).
Staff Selection and Training. Selection and training of staff are crucial
to the success or failure of a program for students of high ability (Renzulli,
1975). But how can an administrator select the people who will ultimately
inspire students and others? Researchers have consistently identified effective
teachers as those who "are all things to all people." No definitive profile
of the ideal teacher for these students has been published to date. However,
interest in and eagerness to work with students who are curious and highly
able are essential.
As with other program components, staff selection and training should
relate to the needs of the target population. If students are transported
to a central location, they need a teacher who has had some experience
with self-contained classes. Above all, teachers in programs for students
who are gifted should have a demonstrated understanding of these students
(TAG, 1989). If teacher selection precedes curriculum development, the
teacher will have a critical influence on what will be taught. Because
good programs for students of high ability often grow, it is useful to
have a core staff who can model effective teaching and collaboration for
Curriculum Development. The most effective curriculum includes substantive
scope and sequence and is based on the needs of the target population (TAG,
1983; VanTassel-Baska et al., 1988). School systems that purchase packaged
programs should consider whether or not they are sufficiently rigorous,
challenging, and coherent. Appropriate curriculum produces well-educated,
knowledgeable students who have had to work hard, have mastered a substantial
body of knowledge, and can think clearly and critically about this knowledge.
Maker (1982) has explained how to differentiate curriculum for students
who are gifted in terms of process, content, and product. Her discussion
enables educators to develop appropriate objectives based on the school
system's core curriculum. VanTassel-Baska and colleagues (1988) have provided
theoretical bases, specific procedures, and practical applications.
Program Evaluation. The evaluation component is critical because it
allows a school system to reassess student needs and determine the efficiency
and effectiveness of its various program components (Callahan, 1983; Callahan
& Caldwell, 1986). Evaluation should be both formative (ongoing) and
summative (final outcomes). Evaluation enables a school system to make
midcourse corrections and answers the question, "Is this program doing
what we want it to do?"
Borland, J. H. (1989). Planning and Implementing Programs for the Gifted.
New York: Teachers College Press.
Callahan, C. M. (1983). Issues in evaluating programs for the gifted.
Gifted Child Quarterly, 27, 3-7.
Callahan, C. M., & Caldwell, M. S. (1986). Defensible evaluation
of programs for the gifted and talented. In C. J. Maker (Ed.), Critical
Issues in Gifted Education: Defensible Programs for the Gifted (pp. 277-296).
Rockville, MD: Aspen Systems.
Clark, B. (1988). Growing Up Gifted. Columbus: Merrill.
Cox, J., Daniel, N., & Boston, B. (1985). Educating Able Learners.
Austin: University of Texas Press.
Daniel, N., & Cox, J. (1988). Flexible Pacing for Able Learners.
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Education. New York: Longman.
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to Congress. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
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and Secondary Programs for the Gifted and Talented. New York: Teachers
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(pp. 214-219). New York: Irvington.
Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence.
New York: Cambridge University Press.
The Association for the Gifted (TAG). (1989). Standards for Programs
Involving the Gifted and Talented. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional
VanTassel-Baska, J., Feldhusen, J., Seeley, K., Wheatley, P. G., Silverman,
L., & Foster, W. (1988). Comprehensive Curriculum for Gifted Learners.
Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.