Monday, July 19, 2010

G & T

For about half of my teaching career the only meaning the letters G and T had for me was the gin and tonic I would have when I got home from a day at work. It was only after being a secondary teacher in England and the Netherlands that I moved into middle school education and came across an American colleague who had been a gifted and talented teacher in his previous school.

Having a gifted and talented programme was entirely new to me. As mentioned in a previous post, I had spent a number of years in remedial education, but in my schools in England and in the international school where I worked in Holland, there was no real focus on the students who were at the top end of the spectrum. Back in the early 1980s when I was a newly qualified teacher, the closest thing to a gifted programme was the fact that the school where I worked was streamed by ability. The school was in a town called Knottingley, and the way the classes were streamed was that the “top” class was K, the next one down was N and so on. Right at the bottom was my remedial class (4Y). Later, when it became not so politically correct to label the classes in this way, they took on the surname of the teacher so my class became 4M – the students, however, still always had the feeling that they were at the bottom of the pile.

One of my brothers was seen as being a gifted student when he was at school in the 1970s. Again, there was no provision for this at his school, but the head teacher (who had studied astrophysics at university) did withdraw him for some lessons in order to teach him privately. I suspect quite a bit of the motivation for this was that the head of this suburban school in a fairly deprived area of east London wanted the kudos of getting one of his students into a “top” university. My brother did end up going to Oxford to study astrophysics and whether or not he would have done this without the intervention of his head teacher is open to debate.

I still know very little about the gifted and talented programme offered in some schools so all I have are questions about effective or desirable these programmes are. Of course students who have already mastered the current content (in maths for example) or who master it very quickly need to be stretched further, otherwise they will actually be learning less than others in their class for whom this content is new. But my questions revolve around whether or not this could be better accomplished in a regular classroom instead of these “special” students being withdrawn. Surely it must be possible to offer enrichment options or different activities for those students? And surely it must be possible to give more support to the teachers who are providing these extra opportunities to gifted students?

(In the case of my brother he dropped out of Oxford after a year and a half and went to Southampton University where he completed a degree in engineering.)

Photo Credit:  Gin and Tonic by Pedro Moura Pinheiro

1 comment:

  1. I think that enrichment is possible directly within the classroom. It does require flexibility on the part of the teacher, that all of the students aren't going to be doing exactly the same thing at the same time. I am comfortable with that as long as all of my students are learning at their level, but I know many teachers that would not be comfortable with this. I haven't seen a gifted and talented program that truly worked. I would love to hear from some who have seen it successfully implemented and run.