Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Individualized Instruction is not a replacement for Gifted and Talented Programs

Many great thinkers have been self taught from books and, in this digital age, we have more resources for an individual who is self driven to expand their knowledge.  That, however, is only one type of learner, and to say that all Gifted and Talented (G&T) learners are self motivated is a grave misnomer.

There is a relatively new self-published book on Individualized Instruction by Schwahn and McGarvey titled Inevitable:  Mass Customized Learning in the Age of Empowerment.  This is a good book on laying out the foundations of individualized instruction and acknowledging the training that needs to be done for this type of instruction to be successful.  This is also a good book for book study groups, but I think we also need to balance this book with the concepts of, perhaps, Copeland’s book, Socratic Circles, particularly the thoughts presented on page 47.  Why?  Because learners need to think beyond their own mind.  It can be argued that when we share, collaborate and listen to other ideas, we learn the respect needed to work in the 21st century workplace as educators, scientists, business people and even politicians.  Imagine - what is Social Studies without expressing opinions?  What is Science without challenging hypotheses? What is Language Arts without discussions about literature, or having to revise what one thought was the perfect piece of writing?

When we expose our ideas to others we are ready to learn, for most likely our ideas will be met by the ideas of others, some in agreement and some in disagreement.  This is when the learning process begins because as with writing, we may need to revise, rethink, and rework our thoughts before expressing ourselves again.

If we are to teach beyond the minimum standards and equip the 21st century workforce with the knowledge base and skills it needs to succeed,  we need to look at our education system and see where it gets bogged down.  Federal mandates may be one place to start such scrutiny, but that is a slow process.  We need to act locally and think about our future generation of workers at the community and state level before we tackle the cumbersome federal level.  We can blame federal standards for different issues in or education system, but we can also act locally to improve our schools from the ground up.  We need to stand up for our teachers and the programs that further the growth and knowledge of our children.

Unfortunately, the legacy of NCLB is perhaps that average and above average students can take care of their own learning.  This is what I call our investment in “adequate” or minimum education.  Unfortunately, a decade has passed without challenging these students, and ignoring the gifted and talented students.   We need to invest in our G&T programs  that challenge our students and have a ripple effect in enhancing the education of all students.  When a school has a G&T coordinator to support both teachers and students, everyone benefits (as long as the program is funded).  G&T teachers can help teachers differentiate as well as work with students in small groups, or on a one-to-one basis, to enrich their learning.  Currently, G&T programs in some schools have been cut as administrators and uninformed taxpayers opt for  Individualized Instruction as a way of reaching talented students.  However, too often, this Individualized Instruction is ineffective and equates to more busy work for a student without meaningful follow-up with a teacher or mentor.   This is not education.  Individualized Instruction does have a place in our future, but involves more training than many districts are ready to pay.  Until we reach that point, we need to invest in our 21st century workforce.  

“To succeed in the 21st century, all students will need to perform to high standards and acquire mastery of rigorous core subject material.  All students will also need to gain the cognitive and social skills that enable them to deal with the complex challenges of our age.”

                                                               -The Partnership for 21rst Century