Little Tikes

Although gifted education advocates call for the early identification of gifted learners, early childhood educators balk at any labeling of students at a young age. Brian, a very precious Kindergartner, presents a challenge to the gifted education specialist who meets resistance to formally identifying the child for differentiated services.

Steven Homby, the gifted education specialist, visits the kindergarten classrooms as part of the screening process for differentiated educational services at Sebring School. He finds two very bright children and is unprepared for the negative reaction to his discovery.

Mr. Steven Homby

The Longfield School District identifies and serves gifted students in grades K-12. Sebring Elementary houses all of the gifted students in grades K-3 for the district. As part of the identification process, young students are observed in the classroom during differentiated lessons. The gifted education specialist in the building comes into the classroom and teaches six to eight lessons adapted for the needs of gifted students. The lessons first start with the entire classroom, and gradually focus on a group of students who best respond to the differentiated lessons.

Students who best fit the profile of young gifted learners are referred for screening and assessment. The last phase of student assessment is the individualized administration of the Weschler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Revised (WPPSI-III). Student eligibility for gifted education services is based on student performance in the differentiated lessons, a behavioral checklist (completed by the classroom teacher), and the intelligence data. Services begin in the second half of the kindergarten year.

Mr. Steven Homby, the gifted education specialist at Sebring Elementary School, has worked with Mrs. Jane Smittey, a kindergarten teacher, during the identification process. He finds her to be pleasant and helpful in his implementation of the process. Two of the students in her classroom were identified as eligible for differentiated services.

While the faculty rooted around the media center waiting for a meeting to begin one Wednesday afternoon, Steven greets Jane and chats.

“Hello, Jane, how are you?” asks Steven.

“Just fine. I haven’t seen you around much,” she says.

“I have good news along that line,” Steven interjects. “Two of your students, Brian and Alicia, have been identified as gifted. They will both start working with me in January.” Steven detected some surprise, if not disappointment, in his colleague.

“No offense, Steven, but I just never look forward to the latter part of our school year. Your pulling the students out of class is distracting. The students shouldn’t miss the work we do while they are gone, and it requires a significant amount of my time to tell them what they ‘ve missed. I must confess, I don’t believe that any of these children are gifted. I’m sure their parents work with them at home and that’s why they know enough to do so well on your tests. But gifted, no. You can’t tell the difference between giftedness and a very supportive home environment at this early age.”

See Brian and Alicia’s assessments below:

Jane interferes with her two students’ attandance in the gifted resource room. Steven is frustrated with the student’s absenteeism and Jane’s attitude toward giftedness.

About a month has passed since Steven Homby and Jane Smittey spoke in the media center. The two identified children from Jane’s classroom have been arriving late to the resource classroom each week. Steven works with the gifted children at Sebring Elementary School one day each week. On Tuesdays, he meets with the sixteen kindergarten and first graders together.

It is Tuesday at 9:45, and it has been an hour since the resource room day has begun. Brian and Alicia have not arrived and Steven is concerned. It would be unusual, but he thinks perhaps both are absent today. About forty minutes later the tardy and absentee student list arrives in his classroom. Neither of the kindergartners missing from his classroom is listed.

Mrs. Smittey

Once Steven got his students to the lunchroom, he found Jane in the teacher’s workroom. “Why aren’t Brian and Alicia in my classroom today, he asked? We are working on a group project and it’s really difficult for the other children to work without them. Besides, they’ll fall behind our deadlines,” he says.

“Stephen, I kept the children because they’re missing too much work from my classroom,” she says.

“Jane, I’m more than willing to work with you to solve any problems created by missing class, but you can’t deny your students services that they are entitled to. Brian and Alicia are productive students in the resource room where they engage in activities unlike any other learning experience. It’s my responsibility to see that they actively participate in the gifted program.”

Jane quickly responds, “I’m the one responsible for making sure that all of my students are keeping up with their work. When the students are gone I have to teach the class and then teach them when they return. It’s just not fair to me or my other students.” Jane then walks out of the workroom.

After lunch, Alicia and Brian arrive in the resource classroom. Although the students seem glad to be there and engaged in their small group projects, Brian asks why he wasn’t allowed to come all day like he was supposed to.

Steven doesn’t know how to explain the problem without placing blame on Brian’s teacher, so he tells him they’d talk about it another time. Later, just when Stephen thinks that this matter could get no worse, he finds a telephone message in his mailbox from Brian Newton’s mother.

Stephen returns the call immediately.

Audio Recording of Parent/Teacher Telephone Call

See the audio transcripts below:

After feeling her concerns cannot be addressed by the gifted teacher, an angry parent fights back. The parent has written a letter to the principal who then calls a meeting between the gifted education specialist and the classroom teacher to resolve the problem of releasing students to the resource room.

Sebring Elementary’s school’s principal, Mr. Ben Jackson, receives a letter from Brian Newton’s parents expressing concern about Brian’s attendance in the gifted resource classroom each Tuesday. All parties involved will meet on Thursday before school starts in the principal’s office.

See letter below:

Steven feels that he may want to prepare some information for the meeting regarding early identification and intervention for gifted children. He found relevant information in an articleon early childhood gifted education.

See article below:

The meeting regarding students’ attendance in the gifted education resource room takes place.

Early Thursday morning, the teachers meet with Mr. Jackson. He gives each of them a copy of the letter sent by Mr. and Mrs. Newton. They each quickly read it.

Mr. Jackson starts with, “I’m hoping the two of you can help me to understand what’s going on here. Brian Newton’s parents want to know why their son is missing time in the gifted resource room. Steven, would you care to start?”

“Well, Jane sends Alicia Cerra and Brian Newton to me with the other kindergarten and first-grade gifted students every Tuesday. For the past few weeks the children have been arriving late in the mornings to the resource room. This past Tuesday, they didn’t arrive until after lunch. Mrs. Newton called me after school to tell me what she is concerned about Brian’s irregular attendance in the program.”

“Is this correct, Jane?” asks Mr. Jackson.

“Yes, it is,” she replies. “When the students leave my classroom for an entire day each week, they get behind. Their work suffers, and I have to work double-time to get them caught up. Brian and Alicia stayed in my classroom on Tuesday to complete work that had to be made-up.”

Steven asks Jane, “Do the children make up all of the work that is done on Tuesdays, or only what is necessary for mastery?”

“I don’t understand your question. My students must do all of the work I provide for mastery.”

Mr. Homby plays with some students

“Actually, Jane,” follows Steven, “many young gifted students can build mastery levels of performance more quickly than other students their age. In fact, they may have already acquired some skills.”

“I don’t find any of my students to be gifted. All students need to work in order to succeed in my classroom. I disagree with Mrs. Newton’s assessment of Brian’s participation in my class. Sometimes he does very well, and other times he needs help.”

Stephen Homby reports that in a class he took on gifted education he learned than early development of precocity is typically uneven, appearing to happen in spurts. In other words, young gifted learners show peaks of exceptional ability rather than consistent advanced development in all areas. He stresses that teachers must not expect advanced academic performance in all areas prematurely.

Mr. Jackson asks, “Jane, is Brian bored in your classroom?”

“Bored? I think all of the students may get bored at one time or another with tasks. School isn’t always fun. It’s hard work.”

“As early as kindergarten, bright students like Brian can find school unchallenging and discouraging,” says Steven.

Mr. Jackson ends the meeting by asking the two teachers to work together to see that the children attend the resource room and keep up with the classwork missed on those days.

Jane is overheard talking in the faculty lounge about gifted education. Steven goes home feeling discouraged about all of the efforts to identify and serve young gifted children in the school district.

Jane Smittey is overheard telling another primary grade teacher that she doesn’t think that her students should be in the resource room at such a young age.

“These children should be playing and exploring their world, not doing research,” Jane says. “Discovery and curiosity are tools to explore the classroom each day; through play the children learn about themselves and other things. Brian hardly ever plays with the students in my class.”

Mr. Homby sits with Brian

“What a shame,” thinks Steven. Clearly Jane Smittey is observing the life experience of typical young gifted learners. Uneven development present in young children exists between cognitive or academic and socio-emotional development. This often leads people to mistakenly assume that bright children possess substandard social behaviors. On the contrary, much of the early advanced socio-emotional development of young gifted learners is more conceptual (relates to understanding social contexts and emotions at an early age) rather than translated to specific social behavior. One of the best early indicators of giftedness is the presence of advanced socio-emotional development. For example, early displays of empathy or recognition of social issues, both of which are largely related to cognitively abstract understandings, show this advancement.

Steven goes to the library wondering what he’s going to do to turn this situation around.