Is there evidence that shows putting gifted kids together is a good thing? How do you convince a colleague or administrator to group gifted kids? Here’s some information I have found that might help you make an argument.
Gifted ≠ Good At School
Most people equate “gifted kids” with “smart kids.” But this is a dangerous oversimplification. Gifted kids, while indeed smart, are often not good at school, lacking skills like organization, following directions, and compliance. They can have behavior problems, motivation issues, learning disabilities, and difficulty finding friends.
Both personally and professionally, it was helpful for me to consider the difference between “high-achieving” and “gifted” students.
A Parallel With Special Education
I come from a family of special ed teachers and worked in a special ed classroom myself. Because of this background, I’ve always thought of gifted education as a parallel to special education. In some states in the US, gifted students even have individual education plans (or IEPs) just like a student in special education.
Students in special education receive services appropriate to their needs because their needs are very far from the norm. A typical classroom simply can’t serve them.
Gifted students (by definition) are equally far from the norm, and should also have special environments led by well-trained teachers.
If a student’s cognitive ability ranks in the bottom 2.5% of their peers, they can qualify as having an “intellectual disability.” We recognize that a student with needs this far from the norm requires special services.
Gifted students are the same distance from the norm, just in the other direction. Their cognitive abilities are in the top 2.5%, higher than 97.5% of their peers. That’s not just a “smart kid.” That’s an extreme. That’s a student with special needs who requires special services.
Just as we don’t expect classroom teachers to serve students with severe disabilities, we can’t expect them to address the needs of the gifted. The spread is simply too wide.
Page and Keith sum up the academic benefits of grouping gifted kids:
“Greater variability produces lower achievement, and greater homogeneity produces higher achievement. That is, high-ability students perform better when they are in a homogeneous, rather than a heterogeneous, environment.
Putting these students together leads to higher achievement. They can go further, have deeper discussions, and learn faster. Their teacher can design lessons appropriate for their needs.
What Parents Say
This article is packed with parent reactions to grouping gifted kids:
“All of the school districts reported positive reactions by parents to cluster grouping, while only 1% also noted some negative reactions. Parents frequently commented on the positive reactions to the accelerated pace and instruction in the classroom.”
90% of the respondents indicated gifted students were very positive about being in a cluster classroom. Comments such as “excitement with moving through material without having to wait for others to catch up,” “enjoying their intellectual peers,” and being “very eager to be challenged” were related.
Gifted kids tell their parents that they like learning faster, being challenged, and working with like-minded peers.
I taught at a school with a classroom made up only of gifted students (I also grew up in the program). The teachers at our school could address these students’ needs far better than if these same students were spread across the district. We received specialized, monthly training far beyond anything I learned in my credential program or general district workshops. Teachers became experts in teaching this particular population.
This PDF from Karen Rogers evaluates 13 research syntheses on the effects of grouping gifted and talented students
Guideline 1: Gifted students “should spend the majority of their school day with others of similar abilities and interests.”
“Ability grouping clearly benefits gifted students. Such students have unique characteristics requiring specialized instruction…”
“Programs of enrichment and acceleration, which usually involve the greatest amount of curricular adjustment, have the largest effects on student learning.”
If you have any questions or other great links, please feel free to get in touch with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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