Gifted classes challenge schools

Programs fail to stimulate pupils, says parents' group

January 10, 2000|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

As the parent of an academically gifted child, Debra Curro makes it her responsibility to see that her 10-year-old son, Taylor, is challenged at school.

Twice a month, she volunteers in her son's fifth-grade classroom at Central Elementary School, where she leads a literature discussion group with a small group of advanced pupils. The Riva parent also said she took the lead in obtaining an advanced sixth-grade math curriculum for Taylor's teacher to use for gifted pupils.

Curro is a co-founder of the Gifted and Talented Association of Anne Arundel County, an advocacy group formed in September for parents of academically advanced pupils. The group says that the county's programs for gifted pupils are inadequate and that their children are frequently bored and frustrated in class.

Curro's son wrote a letter to school board members last week, outlining his experiences during the past two years in the county's enrichment program for gifted elementary pupils. The programs, called "prototypes," are units on different themes developed to meet the needs of advanced pupils in regular classrooms.

Of a third-grade math prototype, he wrote: "Our whole class did every lesson together, except when my mom came in and taught an enrichment class once a week. Math has mostly been boring throughout my school years.

"Please remember about how some kids need to be challenged more in the classroom. I am one of them," Taylor wrote.

The Gifted and Talented Association, which has about 60 members, has asked the school board to create a task force to develop short-term solutions for gifted and talented instruction for the 2000-2001 school year, said co-founder Lynne Tucker. The group's next meeting is at 6: 30 p.m. Tuesday at Annapolis Senior High School, 2700 Riva Road.

Diane Sprague, the county's gifted and talented program coordinator, describes the county's offerings -- including the prototypes -- as "works in progress."

County's offerings

But she disagrees with parents' assertions that advanced pupils are not stimulated. Gifted children in the fourth-grade science prototype designed experiments that might be sent into space on a shuttle launch in March.

Beyond the prototypes, Sprague said, the elementary curriculum guides include additional lessons for gifted pupils so that teachers can adapt course work to meet a child's ability level, a teaching strategy called "differentiated instruction."

"Teachers modify instruction based on where they see their kids are," she said. "It can happen daily, it can happen weekly."

"I'll be the first to admit that there's not enough [separate lessons for gifted pupils] and they're not tied together in a comprehensive way the way the prototypes are," Sprague said.

Overworked teachers

One of the parents' primary concerns about differentiated instruction is that overworked teachers must try to divide their time between children of widely varying abilities in the same classrooms. Parents say that gifted and talented children often fall through the cracks.

"Teachers have said, `When do we have the time for that?' " said Shirley Bors, who has a gifted third-grader in a county elementary school.

Bors and other parents say they would rather see more "homogeneous" groupings of pupils with similar abilities.

"If they had one trained teacher in each grade to meet the needs of a particularly gifted group, that would better help the teachers accomplish their jobs, as well as meet the educational needs of the child," said Tucker, who supports more specialized instruction for advanced pupils. "We don't have magnet schools, we don't have learning centers, we don't have pull-out programs per se" for gifted pupils, she said.

Staying flexible

Sprague said the county prefers to have a flexible approach to grouping pupils.

"There are times when you're presenting information when it's appropriate to have students of mixed abilities together," she said. "We're not anti-homogeneous grouping; that's one strategy on the menu."

Gifted and talented education experts say both teaching methods have benefits.

Grouping pupils of mixed abilities "ensures that kids of lower abilities don't keep getting stuck with the poorer teachers," said Charles E. Beckman, a spokesman for the Center for Talented Youth at the Johns Hopkins University.

"Still, we do find that when gifted kids are in heterogeneous groups, sometimes what happens is that they get handouts and are shuttled to a corner of the room while the teacher helps the struggling kids understand the material," he said.

New structure

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