Today I was a 4th grade gifted/talented teacher at Stratton Elementary in Champaign. I have known the teacher for whom I was subbing for many years now and was delighted to finally work in her classroom. I was not disappointed in the least!
Her class was really great: they did their work, they were engaged and engaging, they were fun, and they followed directions. This last is an important issue in schools. I don’t mind if students talk or move around the room. I do mind when they do it for no purpose and ignore directions. What I often tell students is that when I need it quiet, they need to be quiet. If they can’t handle that, then I can’t let them work together. This class proved that they know exactly what is expected of them while in school, and that they can exceed those expectations.
I am going to be working with these students again on Monday. I am excited to see them again and continue working with them. They are so different from the students across the hall that I was with earlier this week! Where they were belligerent and uncooperative, my students today were amicable and supportive. I was even able to let them work all afternoon on a single project without constantly reminding them to stay on task. It was truly like a breath of fresh air.
So now I find myself wondering: what’s the difference? Why is it that students in the gifted/talented program at Stratton are so mature, responsible, respectful, and pleasant while the rest of the school has more than its fair share of immature, irresponsible, disrespectful, and unpleasant students? Is it simply that students who are gifted/talented are better behaved by nature? Is it a matter of confidence levels? The students in this program come from a variety of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. The students in the other classes are equally diverse. I suppose I could do some research on that matter, but right now, anecdotal evidence from the past four years indicates that students who are high-achieving in academic terms are often the students who are more socially-adjusted.
I believe in the model of education that proclaims that that which is suitable for gifted/talented students is suitable for all students. I have had some exposure to the philosophy of gifted/talented education. It mainly focuses on differentiated instruction in the form of project-based learning. I want to do that with all of my students. Yet the students with behavioural issues seem to be unable to handle such open-ended instruction. So, again, I am back to my initial question: what is the difference? And, perhaps more importantly, how can I tap into this difference and find a way to bring it into the traditional classroom?