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Gifted & Creative Education: Developing Talents of Children in Schools (March 2018): Curriculum

By Stephen T. Schroth and Kimberly McCormick


Whether formally identified or not, gifted children exist in most classrooms and almost all schools. If there is no formal gifted- or creative education program in place, services must be delivered to children by their general education teacher. Those charged with this task will find strategies for doing so in Carol Ann Tomlinson’s How to Differentiate Instruction in Academically Diverse Classrooms (now in its third edition) and Joan Smutny and S. E. von Fremd’s Teaching Advanced Learners in the General Education Classroom: Doing More with Less! Some schools may opt to “pull-out” gifted children for a set number of hours each week to work with a gifted-education teacher; other schools may elect to have this support provided by the specialist in the child’s general education classroom in a process known as “push-in” delivery of services. Some schools and districts establish special classrooms where gifted learners are grouped together, and a handful of districts and states have founded special schools that serve only gifted, talented, and creative children. More information about these various approaches can be found in Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education: What the Research Says, edited by Jonathan Plucker and Carolyn Callahan, and in Ann Robinson, Bruce Shore, and Donna Enersen’s Best Practices in Gifted Education: An Evidence-Based Guide. These works provide an overview of the current state of research in the fields of gifted and creative education, and examine which assertions can be backed up with data and which cannot. 

Teaching and learning in gifted and creative education programs are influenced by how services are provided. Within the field, approaches are often referred to as program models, and these reflect how schools and districts provide gifted and creative education services to the children they serve. Perhaps the most popular approach is the schoolwide enrichment model, as described by Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis in The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: A Comprehensive Plan for Educational Excellence. Other popular approaches—the levels of service model and the autonomous learner model—are outlined in, respectively, Enhancing and Expanding Gifted Programs: The Levels of Service Approach, by Donald Treffinger et al., and Autonomous Learner Model Resource Book, by George Betts, Robin Carey, and Blanche Kapushion. These approaches are common and popular in both the United States and abroad. Although also useful to parents and teachers, these books are especially valuable for gifted- and creative education program coordinators and administrators who are responsible for establishing and running programs that serve large numbers of children. An overview of many approaches, including these three, can be found in Systems and Models for Developing Programs for the Gifted and Talented, first published in 1986 and now in its second edition, edited by Joseph Renzulli et al. This volume includes descriptions of twenty-two approaches, the theoretical underpinnings of each, research on effectiveness, and implementation considerations. Other useful explorations of popular models and strategies for working with the gifted include Methods and Materials for Teaching the Gifted, edited by Frances Karnes and Suzanne Bean, and June Maker’s classic Teaching Models in Education of the Gifted, first released in 1982, now in its third edition coauthored by Maker and S. W. Shiever. Both these volumes provide comprehensive reviews of teaching and learning models that can be used to develop and implement a curriculum for gifted students in a classroom, a school, or across a district. All the volumes discussed above can prove helpful in building support for gifted and creative education programs and also in designing evaluation plans to assess a mature program’s effectiveness in serving its target audience.

For decades, the field of gifted and creative education was split between those who favored enrichment and those who preferred acceleration. Enrichment constitutes activities that go beyond the general education curriculum, permitting gifted and creative children to dive deeper into a field or subject of interest. Acceleration entails progressing through a subject or entire grades at rates faster or ages younger than is normal. Today, the general consensus is that gifted and creative learners benefit from both enrichment and acceleration. Despite this agreement, materials often still focus on one or the other rather than providing a balance. Those interested in disciplinary practices will find The Parallel Curriculum: A Design to Develop High Potential and Challenge High-Ability Learners, created by Carol Ann Tomlinson et al., a terrific place to begin because it emphasizes deep connections between children and the disciplines they study. Joseph Renzulli, Jann Leppien, and Thomas Hays’s The Multiple Menu Model: A Practical Guide for Developing Differentiated Curriculum (which includes a foreword by Carol Tomlinson) shows teachers how to ensure that their classroom curriculum closely mirrors that of various disciplines and how to include a variety of instructional activities designed to best meet certain student needs. Sally Reis, Joseph Renzulli, and Deborah Burns’s Curriculum Compacting: A Guide to Differentiating Curriculum and Instruction through Enrichment and Acceleration is an excellent resource to help practitioners put acceleration and enrichment into practice. The authors look at ways to assess a child’s knowledge and understanding before beginning a unit of instruction, and they provide suggestions for how to substitute lessons and investigations that are tailored to the child’s skills and needs. Those seeking support in planning and sequencing instruction might explore Planning Differentiated Instruction and Assessing Results: Teaching to Assure Each Student’s Success, by S. T. Schroth et al., and those exploring a variety of perceptions and methods for teaching the highly able would be well served by Modern Curriculum for Gifted and Advanced Academic Students, edited by Todd Kettler. Those especially involved in working with young gifted and creative learners will find Joan Smutny, Sally Yahnke Walker, and Ellen Honeck’s Teaching Gifted Children in Today’s Preschool and Primary Classrooms: Identifying, Nurturing, and Challenging Children Ages 4–9 a great source of information and inspiration. Those interested in strategies and approaches that work with slightly older children should seek out  Curriculum Development Kit for Gifted and Advanced Learners, created by Sandra Kaplan and Michael Cannon, which provides a comprehensive set of materials for that purpose, including lessons, curriculum grids, and catalyst cards. 

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