My third grade class is a diverse group. Name the category: socio-economic, ethnic, academic, behavior, language, sense of humor... and the word diverse fits. The demographic breakdown: 18 students; 50 % Hispanic, 11% African-American, 39% Asian-Pacific Islander, 56% free and reduced lunch. All but four primarily speak another language at home with their families and are English language learners. This data doesn't seem significant considering our school demographics: 42% Hispanic, 15% African American, 26%Asian Pacific Islander, 61 % Free and reduced lunch, 53% Limited English Proficiency, 31 % mobility. That is until you know the class is a self-contained class for high ability learners. Some might call it a gifted class. We're steering away from this label. We think it's a placement that is just providing what kids need. We're providing intellectual stimulation and nurturing. The nurturing part is really important as we consider the experiences of our students or maybe I should say, the lack of experiences. Tamara Fisher, a teacher of gifted students at an Indian reservation in Montana in her blog, Unwrapping the Gifted, describes well the difficulty of recognizing gifted behaviors in students who don't have typical middle class American experiences and resources. She also describes how it can be done.
We wanted our high ability classes (one each 3rd, 4th, 5th grade) to reflect our general school population. It began with efforts, school-wide to raise awareness of student behaviors that indicate giftedness. These can be demonstrated by students even though English language is emerging, reading is below grade level, or behavior challenges are present. We've had to swerve from the indicators of giftedness we grew up with, i.e. high test scores and great grades to looking for giftedness as demonstrated behaviors. Test scores and grades are a part of our criteria, just not the only criteria. Potential giftedness might show in a student through their exceptional ability to learn, exceptional application of knowledge, exceptional creative/productive thinking, and exceptional motivation to succeed*. Specific behaviors include frequent translating for a parent, learning a new language at a rapid pace, persistence with challenges, high interest and passion in a subject, quickly learns and adapts to new cultures, highly developed reasoning, problem solving, keen sense of humor, fluency and flexibility in thinking, highly curious, advanced connections... and more.
Our district provides a great system for identification for our gifted and talented programs. Our adminstration supports any staff development we need to further our knowledge about how to serve our underrepresented populations in exceptional programs. Together with the grassroots efforts of our classroom teachers recognizing, referring, and defending their students abilities, we have been successful in providing our students access to programs that would have been unavailable to them in the past based on a narrow criteria for giftedness. Along with all our work to provide for emergent learners in our school it feels good to know we are nurturing learners who are ready for more challenge.
*from our district's Gifted Behavior Rating Scale