Teacher Professional Development

What are the principles that should underly gifted training for teachers

DURING AN ELECTRONIC OGT conference on actualizing talent, the guest presenter, Dr Sally M. Becker, was asked:

What do you see as the key factors that need to be developed in teachers so they acquire and maintain skills that make them able to really inspire and mentor these kids? What do you really see as crucial?

Dr Becker replied as follows:

A few months ago, I would have replied, “Well, if I was in charge of the world...” and projected my ideal. :) But now, being retired and off the public payroll, and actually consulting in districts and schools, I am only too eager to share with you what I am learning and developing. Thank you for asking for it is one of my most favorite topics.

I believe that there are many excellent teachers out there, some of whom do an excellent job with our kids naturally. They would be hard pressed to begin to describe what it is that they “know” and “do” but our kids (and others) are very content and successful in their classrooms. We want them to recognize those successful strategies and employ them more consistently. Therefore the first session I have with a district curriculum committee, G/T Task Force, parent association, and/or faculty is what I call “An Introduction to Gifted.”

In this session I facilitate an activity in which the participants sort out perceived characteristics and needs of gifted students and develop a list of those that are truly found in high concentration within this minority population. They are often shocked as they distinguish learning style traits from gifted traits. We also develop a common set of terms so that we can understand one another better as we progress. And we debunk many of the myths of gifted education. I try to make it okay for them to support gifted education and programming for gifted students. I stress the fact that many of the strategies that work for these kids (compacting, choice, movement along a continuum from simple to complex, curriculum differentiation, etc.) work well for others too and that the “spill over” affects are tremendous for the entire school and district community. We want to “sell” gifted education as one means to total school improvement and reform.

The second session I call “An Introduction to Differentiation” and focuses on the need to see learners as individuals and clusters of learners. I model flexible groupings and tell stories about all kinds of content, process and product differentiation based upon the teachings of Carol Ann Tomlinson (The Differentiated Classroom, Responding to the Needs of All Learners available through ASCD, the American Association for for Supervision and Curriculum Development, ascd.org).

If teachers will truly get to know their students by their interests (passions), readiness to learn (ability levels, skill mastery), and learning style preferences, they will “hit” every student “right on” (a teaching and learning match) more often each week. The teachers will engage the students more often and find the students more cooperative and hopeful that there will be more and more good matches in the future. We then list all the valuable strategies that they might improve upon or learn, and then implement: compacting, Tomlinson’s tiered activities and products, Kaplan's depth and breadth schema, flexible groupings, pre-assessment tools, the power of rubricks, etc.

What is crucial for me is to be able to convince teachers that THEY CAN DO IT! :) I give them permission to stop trying to TEACH accelerated kids new “stuff” (cover content), but instead to explore being the “guide on the side” -- giving up some control of the WHAT by simply making sure these students know HOW and that the kids’ need for knowing WHY (the Big Picture) is addressed. Yes, I do think they should accept a role "of finding resources and helping the child to do so rather than teaching."

Published with the permission of Dr Sally M. Becker