Sunday, September 16, 2012

Using CCSS for ELA with Gifted Learners

Using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts with Gifted and Advanced Learners edited by Joyce VanTassel-Baska is the companion booklet to the Mathematics one that I have discussed earlier. Although there is some duplicated material, it is not as much as I feared and it is a good reminder. This book was spearheaded by National Association for Gifted Children in response to the release of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The ELA book offers more sample questions for implementing a differentiated curriculum than the math book- offering one for grades 3, 5, 8 and 11/12 in each strand, but considering the breadth of the challenge of teaching ELA standards across the many curricular areas that CCSS encompasses, it only brushes the surface. A great deal of programmatic development needs to occur when dealing with advanced learners. We need to thoroughly understand the stretch of curriculum so that when standards are mastered earlier or "practiced at higher levels of skill and concept" (p. 49) we know how to develop activities to continue to push learning. The appendix provides a variety of resources are provided to pursue existing curriculum and methods of differentiating material.

I liked the way the authors identified different needs across the stages of development. For early learners, they comment that "grouping of gifted learners early is a spur to their developing abilities and interests in verbal areas" (p. 39).  This runs counter to heterogeneous grouping lovers, but for children who enter school able to read, it is essential that they are clustered for meaningful instruction and have a peer group with whom to share their learning in a meaningful manner. In the middle years, the authors point out the importance of "reflection on one's potential talent fields and a clear assessment of one's own strengths and weaknesses in the talent area [to] provide another basis for judgment about how interested an advanced learner may remain in a worthwhile domain" (p. 40). This self-reflection should not be solely encouraged in advanced learners. All learners need to step back, evaluate their skills and interests and what it will take to pursue their dreams. Weaknesses do not prevent goal achievement, but they may make it harder to reach. Realistic analysis is important to show the level of work and motivation required to attempt the desired goal. Students who cannot realistically say they will put in that kind of effort should be encouraged to explore other options that may not rest so much on their weaknesses. As children grow into adolescents, the role of self-assessment becomes even more critical. Independence requires serious, unbiased self-examination. Students who want to pair their college and program of interest to their personal profile need to be able to make use of self-knowledge.

Knowing that advanced learners require more from their schools than many programs traditionally provide, what do we do? First we need to have schools answer the question: Will "they become important brokers and facilitators of talent development, or do they become barriers to it by imposing cumbersome rules and regulations that block advanced learners from their upward trajectory of progress in a talent area?" (p. 41) Some will say that this is harsh and too black and white. While there will always be irregular implementation of whatever choice is made, overall, schools do make a choice. Some will also argue that of course they will facilitate progress, it is what they do for all children. If they only do the same thing for all children, they fail and are barriers. An example of this is seen in the idea that students are "prisoners of time" (p.42). If students are locked into a program of study without opportunity to compact curriculum, to accelerate at a personally reasonable speed and are discouraged from going outside for academic advancement, we are keeping them prisoners and likely to diminish or extinguish their thirst for knowledge. Instead of nurturers of excellence we become bearers of oppression. Individualizing instruction is not easy. If we want to promote excellence, however, some level of individualization is essential.

CCSS are not the end, but the beginning. We need to take the framework they provide, deeply understand the objectives and understand how to take it farther for our advanced learners.

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