I find myself faced with an interesting dilemma this week due to a request posed to me by one of my GT students last spring. His request is indicative of a situation that many gifted kids find themselves struggling with when they are placed in heterogeneous groupings. [We’ll cover various grouping options in an upcoming blog; today’s topic is a tangent.]
School begins for our district after Labor Day, so we here are in the midst of that energetic push we all thrive on at the beginning of a new school year. [I suppose most of you have probably already been in school for a month now, but here in the land of agriculture, state fairs, 4-H, and powwow season, we wait until later. We do our best to enjoy the sunshine before the snowflakes fly!]
Hogan and his classmates are transitioning to a new school this year, so the teachers in that school have essentially no background knowledge on the incoming kids (unlike, for example, a 4th grade teacher who is aware of upcoming students because they’ve been in the same building together for a few years). One day last spring, when I was having a discussion with Hogan’s GT group about their new school this year, he raised his hand and – out of the mouths of babes – made what he probably thought was a simple request. Yet its implications are profound.
“Ms. Fish,” he said, “Could you please not tell our teachers next year who the GT kids are until a few weeks into school? That way we can at least get called on when we raise our hands for a short time…”
The other kids in the group immediately chimed in with their agreement to his request.
Perhaps part perception, part reality, but their explanation was a bit heart wrenching. The kids all said (as it seems to them, at least) that once the teachers (not all of them, but at least some of them) know who the gifted kids are in the class, they quit calling on them when they raise their hands. The teacher has confidence that the gifted kids already know the answer to a question, but she doesn’t always have confidence that other students do. If the purpose of asking the question is to know who understands and who doesn’t – well, then, apparently some must think: why bother calling on the gifted kids?!?!
My students expressed to me the frustration they feel when they are – from their point of view – shut out of participation in their regular classes. Like any other student, these kids just want to learn and participate, too! After months (years?) of raising their hands and not being called on, some of them eventually give up on the process and they quit raising their hands in class. Some go so far as to quit trying to participate altogether. After all, from their point of view, the teacher doesn’t seem to want them to participate in the first place.
[Add a less-than-challenging curriculum into the mix and it’s no wonder some of these amazingly bright kids get turned off about school. Or worse, drop-out altogether. Those could be great topics for future posts.]
Granted, some kids can really be “hand hogs” – raising their hands and expecting to be called on EVERY time. In the society that is a classroom, it of course isn’t realistic for only one child to answer every question. But I’m not referring here to the hand hogs. It’s about those kids who are shut out of class participation because they’re perceived as being “already where they need to be.”
[Yet you can bet that when another student in the class is struggling, who is the first child called upon to help tutor? MmHm. Ironic.]
Why do we pose questions in class? Is it only to assess who has the answer? Shouldn’t we also pose questions to spur on higher-order thinking? To seek out perceptive responses? To highlight various points of view? To establish opportunities for brainstorming and creative problem solving?
If a teacher isn’t calling on the gifted students because he knows they already know the answer, shouldn’t that be a clue that those kids need some curricular accommodation(s)? Couldn’t that be a clue that we need to broaden our question-asking horizons?
So, a little food for thought for everyone as we begin a new school year… Why do you ask questions in your classroom? What are you seeking to learn from your students by their responses? What types of questions do you pose? What implications do your question-asking patterns have for student learning, curriculum, and instruction? And finally, what question-asking strategies do you employ so that the gifted students in your class aren’t shut out from participation in your classroom?