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Gifted Education Content for Pre-Service Teachers

Wow, that was quite a swamp I got stuck in after arriving home from the conference! Today's post is another step in digging out.

Last time I wrote, I got as far as writing about the Saturday morning portion of the conference. Today, I want to write about an important session I attended Saturday afternoon titled "Persuading Instructors of Pre-Service Teachers to Include Gifted Education."

Good news! Did you know that the Higher Education Opportunity Act (2008) includes a requirement for all teacher preparation programs to include information about the needs of gifted students within the content that future teachers receive? Also known as Public Law 110-315, the language can be found in section 200(23)(D)(iii) within the definition of teaching skills: "The term 'teaching skills' means skills that enable a teacher to employ strategies grounded in the disciplines of teaching and learning that focus on the identification of students' specific learning needs, particularly students with disabilities, students who are limited English proficient, students who are gifted and talented, and students with low literacy levels, and the tailoring of academic instruction to such needs."

Additionally, colleges who received Title II Teacher Quality Improvement Grants have another requirement placed on them within the law: "An eligible partnership that receives a grant to carry out an effective program for the pre-baccalaureate preparation of teachers shall carry out a program that includes all of the following: (1) Reforms (B) Required Reforms - The reforms described in subparagraph (A) shall include '(ii) using empirically-based practice and scientifically valid research, where applicable, about teaching and learning so that all prospective teachers and, as applicable, early childhood educators (IV) possess teaching skills and an understanding of effective instructional strategies across all applicable content areas that enable general education and special education teachers and early childhood educators to (aa) meet the specific learning needs of all students, including students with disabilities, students who are limited English proficient, students who are gifted and talented, students with low literacy levels and, as applicable, children in early childhood education programs; and (bb) differentiate instruction for such students."

Unfortunately, as I have written about here before, most teacher preparation programs include woefully little information (let alone strategies) for future teachers about the unique learning needs of gifted students. An analysis by Margarita Bianco of the University of Colorado-Denver on "the gifted chapter" in the Special Needs texts that colleges use with future teachers showed that it is often the last chapter in the book, it is often a skipped chapter, and if it is presented to future teachers, the topic is often mixed in with other topics.

So what is being done? To begin, the NAGC HEOA Work Group has sent inquiries to all colleges with teacher prep programs that have received Title II grants - seeking to learn just what they do to fulfill this requirement (along with offering NAGC's assistance if desired). Plans to branch this inquiry out to all colleges with teacher prep programs are in the works.

Additionally, they are creating an "instructor manual" that will assist Education professors in including this information in their classes. According to the handout from this session, "Each chapter of the manual will correspond to a different typical pre-service course (educational psychology, science methods, etc.) and will contain content, activities, assessments, and resources that will help the instructor of that course embed information about gifted students and gifted education in that course." What a cool idea :o) And so needed!

Finally, the work group wrote, and NAGC has approved, three Knowledge and Skill Standards in Gifted and Talented Education for All Teachers:

All teachers should:

1. understand the issues in definitions, theories, and identification of gifted and talented students, including those from diverse backgrounds;

2. recognize the learning differences, developmental milestones, and cognitive/affective characteristics of gifted and talented students, including those from diverse backgrounds, and identify their related academic and social-emotional needs; and

3. understand, plan, and implement a range of evidence-based strategies to assess gifted and talented students, to differentiate instruction, content, and assignments for them (including the use of higher-order critical and creative-thinking skills), and to nominate them for advanced programs or acceleration as needed.

What can you do? If you are a student in a teacher preparation program, ask your professors to include information about gifted students in their courses. Ask questions in class that show you are curious how the day's topic applies to or relates to the needs of advanced learners. If your professors say they aren't required to teach that information, you can show them the HEOA language above.

If you are a school administrator, seek applicants who have knowledge of and meet the NCATE-approved NAGC-CEC Teacher Knowledge and Skill Standards for Gifted and Talented Education.

If you are a college professor, familiarize yourself with the standards and include relevant information in your courses. If you're not sure where to begin, contact NAGC or CEC-TAG for assistance.

If you are a teacher, seek professional development opportunities that will help you gain the gifted-related knowledge and skills you likely missed out on in college. Contact the college where you earned your teaching degree and let them know just how much you wish gifted education content had been covered when you were in the teacher preparation program. Encourage them to include that content now. Let them know just how ill-prepared you think you were for understanding and reaching these learners.

If you are a parent, help your child's school become aware of this information. Contact a nearby college and inquire, as a concerned citizen, about how their teacher preparation program is meeting the HEOA requirement to include knowledge about gifted students when focusing on teaching skills with pre-service teachers.

Feel free to share additional ideas (and concerns and epiphanies) in the comment section below.

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