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December 1, 1994
Vol. 52
No. 4

Response / Gifted Learners Too: A Possible Dream?

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Too often the reality for gifted students is that their needs are not met in the regular classroom.

Several years ago, a major oil company ran a series of two-page magazine advertisements. The left-hand page depicted conditions as they existed in society: troubling and recognizable. In this scenario, captioned “The Real,” readers saw environmental problems in dire need of solution. On the right-hand page— captioned “The Ideal”—was a problem-free, dreamlike scenario, featuring clean beaches, pollution-free lakes, and a smog-free atmosphere. Somewhere in the crevice between the pages was implied the massive complexity of moving from left to right. I think it is the crevice that is the issue in Mara Sapon-Shevin's “Why Gifted Students Belong in Inclusive Schools.”

The Real

  • Special programs for advanced learners (as for learners with handicaps) are typically established because those students' needs are not being addressed in general classroom settings.
  • Conditions that make it difficult for classroom teachers to adapt instruction for varied learning needs continue to be pervasive after decades of reform efforts. Impediments include large class sizes, competing demands on teacher time, and lack of teacher skill and comfort with designing and implementing curriculums that are concept-based, problem-oriented, student-centered, and multi-intelligent. It is not surprising, then, that most classroom teachers still do not differentiate instruction for academic diversity (Bateman 1993, Archambault et al. 1993, McIntosh et al. 1993, Westberg et al. 1993).
  • Research further indicates that teachers are more inclined to make adjustments for struggling learners than for advanced ones. Teachers often have negative attitudes about gifted learners or perceive that the gifted will make it on their own (Tomlinson et. al. 1994b, Crammond and Martin 1987).
  • Although educators talk a great deal—and rightly so—about ensuring equity and quality of educational opportunity for at-risk learners, there is virtually no parallel emphasis on providing high-end excellence and access for advanced learners.
  • Results of inclusion even for special education learners on whom inclusion efforts have been primarily focused are far from unanimously positive (Hallahan and Kauffman 1994, International Institute for Advocacy for School Children 1993).
By adopting the notion that “gifted education is just good education for everyone,” are we once again looking for a one-size-fits-all solution, or are we willing to grapple with the complexities of student needs for differing approaches to content, process, and product in a single inclusive classroom?

The Ideal

Although we have legitimate reasons to wonder whether we can make inclusion work for the success of all students, the vision of a community of inclusion is too important to the future of public education for us to not actively work toward it. According to a recent task force report completed for the National Association for Gifted Children (Tomlinson et al. 1994a), both general educators and educators of the gifted share a desire for communication and collaboration between the two fields.
Sapon-Shevin penetrates the crease between the real and the ideal in her scenario about Mary Beth, a student with learning disabilities. Let me rewrite her scenario about Jason to match: At Jefferson Elementary, resentment and abrasive rhetoric about Jason and other gifted students have dissipated. Jason's teachers acknowledge his learning profile as important. His teacher for the following year has received training and support for modifying the curriculum so that Jason can remain a part of the regular program as much as possible. She is excited about working with the resource teacher in gifted education as part of a team effort to address Jason's learning needs.In place in her class are varied forms of preassessment of student readiness, collaborative and independent learning, flexible grouping, and graduated rubrics that enable students to progress toward expert-level production. Finally, considerable effort has been invested in helping Jason's classmates and their parents understand the need to address all sorts of student differences in the class, including that of gifted students.
My bet is that wherever such scenarios begin to be constructed, gifted learners, their parents, and educators of the gifted will be eager participants in working toward the goal of creating classroom communities of inclusion.

Archambault, F., K. Westberg, S. Brown, B. Hallmark, W. Zhang, and C. Emmons. (1993). “Classroom Practices Used with Gifted Third and Fourth Grade Students.” Journal for the Education of the Gifted 16, 2: 103–119.

Bateman, B. (1993). “Learning Disabilities: The Changing Landscape.” Journal of Learning Disabilities 25, 1: 29–36.

Crammond, B., and C. Martin. (1987). “Inservice and Preservice Teachers' Attitudes Toward the Academically Brilliant.” Gifted Child Quarterly 31: 15–19.

Hallahan, D., and J. Kauffman. (1994). “From Mainstreaming to Collaborative Consultation.” In The Illusion of Full Inclusion, edited by J. Kauffman and D. Hallahan. Austin, Tex.: Pro-Ed.

International Institute for Advocacy for School Children. (1993). “Heterogeneous Grouping as Discriminatory Practice.” Effective School Practices 12, 1: 61–62.

McIntosh, R., S. Vaughn, J. Schumm, D. Haager, and O. Lee. (1993). “Observations of Students with Learning Disabilities in General Education Classrooms.” Exceptional Children 60, 3: 249–261.

Tomlinson, C., M. Coleman, and A. Udall. (1994a). “Report from the National Association for Gifted Children Task Force on the Interface between Gifted Education and General Education.” Washington, D.C.: National Association for Gifted Children.

Tomlinson, C., E. Tomchin, C. Callahan, C. Adams, P. Pizzat-Tinnin, C. Cunningham, B. Moore, L. Lutz, C. Roberson, N. Eiss, M. Landrum, S. Hunsaker, M. Imbeau. (1994b). “Practices of Preservice Teachers Related to Gifted and Other Academically Diverse Learners.” Gifted Child Quarterly 38, 3: 106–114.

Westberg, K., F. Archambault, S. Dobyns, and T. Salvin. (1993). “The Classroom Practices Observational Study.” Journal for the Education of the Gifted 16, 2: 120–146.

Carol Ann Tomlinson is William Clay Parrish Jr. Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia's School of Education and Human Development. The author of more than 300 publications, she works throughout the United States and internationally with educators who want to create classrooms that are more responsive to a broad range of learners.

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