More than a majority of professional literature and conferences are geared to disadvantaged, underserved, underperforming, and English learner students. We talk about Closing the Achievement Gap. This has been the case for more than a decade. Do we often forget to look at the strengths of students and gear some of our activities to their strengths? Do we actively seek out gifted and above-average learners in our after school population and stretch their thinking? In closing the achievement gap, do we sometimes forget to push able learners to their potential?
We have heard the maxim, “All students can learn.”
But many educators conceptualize this statement as a mandate to pull up low-achieving students to help reach the school’s Academic Performance Index. They frequently believe above-average and gifted students take care of themselves and do not need extra attention. Some gifted learners do take care of themselves, but many of tomorrow’s new leaders are lost in the shuffle of remedial work. Unless we take the above-average and gifted from where they are and stretch them to new heights, we are losing some of our country’s strength. We need these creative thinkers, who can imagine the unimaginable, and who believe and can make their dreams a reality. We can spark this process in our after school programs! Everyone will benefit.
So much of the daytime program is spent teaching to the test to accommodate No Child Left Behind. Schools often leave out the visual and performing arts and in-depth discussion of social topics of current interest to kids. Ask the daytime teachers about this phenomenon. In all but the most affluent demographics, the answer would likely be “Yes, we have little time for the extras that make school interesting and fun.” These extras can be part of the after school program and still align with and give support to the daytime curriculum. Basing some of our curriculum on the interests and strengths of the above-average and gifted will result in fun for all students, bonding them to the school process. This will also help meet their need to reach into higher realms of learning. The after school program is a great place for sparking genius!
Our first task is to discern who are the above-average and gifted.
They may not be straight-A students. Through boredom, they may coast in school, not complete their homework, and not like school at all. Look for those in your group who are gifted musically, in the arts, in leadership, in academics, or in their unusual interests, e.g., rocket science (yes, rocket science!) or the behavior of bees! Look for students who provide detail when you ask them to draw a picture of their family. You may see eyeglasses, eyelashes, and freckles on faces, designs on clothing, buckles on shoes, and perhaps some background in detail. If they draw an animal you will see remarkable likenesses to the real animal in the drawing and perhaps some movement, e.g., a horse galloping into the air. Students who are very verbal and have keen insights are also typically those who are above-average or gifted.
Informally carry on a conversation about a current topic with a few of your students. You’ll learn a lot about how they think and reason if you listen carefully. Take their interests and go with them. Specifically, ask the above-average and gifted what they are interested in, and base some of your after-school activities on their answers. These children are extremely curious, typically have good memories and vivid imaginations. They will provide you with lots of ideas. (There is no implication here that you cannot derive great ideas from all of your students!) Scour the Internet for new ideas and activities, or take your current curriculum and stretch it to new levels by thinking outside the box. All your students will benefit.
What will this process result in for you, the group leader, instructor, or teacher?
Your students will school an interest in learning, whether they are discussing technology trends (safety on the internet) or drawing and thinking with the right side of the brain (google it). Delve into and discuss areas that are often no longer an essential part of the daytime program. Program participants are looking for something to bond them to school. You can provide them with that extra spark in the after school program and, at the same time reach out to the gifted.
Feeling unsure about this concept? Don’t be concerned. The gifted are special needs students. They sometimes see the world in a different way, have mastered the basics in their early school years, and need the extras you can provide to keep them interested in lifelong learning. At the same time, your entire group will benefit from their presence and leadership in your program. Even if you serve in the most disadvantaged area, and serve the most underachieving students, you will be able to find the gifted among them. They can provide the spark that will entice them and all learners to return to your program day after day.
For more information on gifted children identification, consult http://giftedkids.about.com and related web sites.
P.S….Breakfast today? Peaches ‘n toast (no coffee!)
Author: Roberta Pantle