. . . I've been told that I write novels for email messages. Perhaps this is the way to go. I'll try to make each entry, or Gemstone, a "precious" one. On mediocre days, all I might be able to produce is a "semi-precious" entry. In any case, an entry might be a "neat" Gemstone--something that is uniquely mine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Does GATE Education Really Work?

I've been doing a lot of thinking about GATE education, also known as Gifted and Talented education, and public education in general. 

When I was teaching in the public schools many years ago, I had a different viewpoint about student groupings than I do now. Back then (in the later 1990's) I believed that all classrooms should be a heterogeneous mixture of students. That all students, regardless of learning levels or abilities, should be grouped into one class. It makes it challenging to a teacher since s/he has to provide appropriate education to all levels of students, from the lower-leveled student to the gifted student.  All students learn at a different pace anyway, and so I felt that I was up to that challenge. If you ask me, and probably if you asked my former principals, I think I did a pretty good job meeting everyone's needs. But I did teach mostly science, and feel that science lends itself naturally to heterogeneous groupings. Now, however, I'm wondering if heterogeneous grouping really works anymore. Especially in math education. Even if a teacher "teaches to the middle", s/he runs the risk of leaving behind the lower kids and boring the gifted kids. How can all kids be challenged to do their best at any assignment when a teacher has such a huge range of abilities to deal with?

Now I'm not in the classroom as a teacher anymore, but am as an instructional assistant. Maybe I'm a frustrated instructional assistant because I'm constantly thinking of ways the classroom teacher could modify their lessons to meet students of different abilities. I see many examples of teachers working with students who have lower abilities in, say, math.  But then they leave the gifted students totally bored because they've finished with the assignment and have nothing left to work on.  "Read, Write, Draw, or Do Homework" should not be a direction given to the gifted students who finish their work early. Consequently, if the teacher moves on with a lesson or a concept when the top half of the students are ready, s/he will leave behind the bottom end students. It's quite frustrating.

What I do see are the teachers pacing the lessons based on the bottom half of the class curve. I see too much frustration on the part of the gifted students having nothing to do--no enrichment or application being done once they've mastered the concept. These kids are being short-changed in the public education system.  Many schools, like in the district I work for, provide a "pull out" program for the GATE kids (but this isn't for any of the academic subjects). For 45 minutes a day, they leave the regular classroom to go to a teacher who provides them with special projects that are supposed to excite them about learning and motivate them to reach their goals.  I think that all of the GATE kids like this special class--after all, it meets needs.  But what happens when the GATE kids leave the classroom?  The rest of the kids are left to do "study skills" or "Read, Write, Draw, or Do Homework". Imagine what happens to the self esteem of the kids who remain in the regular classroom. What are they feeling?  Maybe, "I'm too stupid to go to GATE." Or, "Why does he get to go to GATE when he is the biggest jerk in the class?" And of course, "Why do I have to do this boring stuff when they get to do something fun?"

So, here's what I think. Do away with the pull-out program. Provide the "cool" learning projects to all of the kids during that 45-minutes.  ALL kids can benefit from that kind of project-based learning. Have different rubriks set up for different kids. Maybe a GATE kid should write a 5-page report while a non-GATE kid should provide a 3-page report. I don't know. And what about a subject like math where kids learn at such a variety of different paces and in so many different ways? Is there anything wrong with making separate, homogeneous groups where teachers can keep students all together and engaged easier? Or teach using a different method such as with using manipulatives versus using visual keys? Yes, then there's the stigma of the "bottom" group, so who knows the solution. 

All I can say is that something does need to be changed in our public education system. Kids are miserable on all ends of the learning spectrum. And I believe that teachers are even more stressed out nowadays than when I was teaching 12 years ago. So even though I am a frustrated instructional assistant because I can't teach "my way," I don't know if I ever do want to go back to being in charge of a classroom again. 

1 comment:

Valerie said...

Definitely food for thought. Maybe you could become an educational consultant or something like that, even if at first you have to go back to school to do research in the field before becoming one.