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Changes being tried in classes for gifted Elementary schools to focus teaching on areas of strength


Many elementary students participating in Howard County's gifted-and-talented program are seeing substantial changes in the way they're receiving the enrichment activities this fall. For second-graders throughout the couch methods -- as under the previous version of the gifted-and-talented program.

Instead, each school will identify students with different academic talents and design ways to teach to those pupils' particular strengths -- ways that are more closely linked to their regular classroom work.

The changes eventually will affect thousands of elementary school pupils.

Last year, more than one in five elementary school students was pulled out of regular classes to participate in the twice-a-week enrichment activities.

The program's new emphasis means that more children likely will be involved in the activities.

"Some students are skilled or highly able in certain areas, and we want to meet the needs of those students," said Robert Glascock, curriculum coordinator for the county's gifted-and-talented programs.

The goal will be to create "flexible groupings" of students who are spotted as being talented in various skill areas.

Gifted-and-talented resource teachers will be expected to develop enrichment exercises that are tied more closely to the classroom curriculum.

For example, second-graders who are talented in mathematics may not be talented in language arts and social studies.

dur-ing the course of a school year, the gifted-and-talented resource teachers might conduct one enrichment unit for certain second-graders in math, another for others in social studies and a third for yet another group in reading.

The units likely would be arranged to be taught during the regular classroom time for that particular subject.

Some students might participate in one of the units and others might be selected for all three, depending on their academic strengths.

By the end of the school year, more students likely will end up working with the resource teacher, but for shorter periods of time.

That's a big change from the county's current "Type II" gifted-and-talented program, which formally identifies students using a combination of assessment scores and teacher and parent recommendations.

Under the system still in effect at most schools, students identified as gifted spend two 45-minute periods a week for the entire year with a gifted-and-talented resource teacher to develop research and critical thinking skills.

At times, that system has been criticized by both parents and regular classroom teachers.

Some parents were concerned that their children weren't being challenged enough in their regular classroom subjects.

Some teachers said they felt they never were told what students were being taught during the gifted-and-talented program's pullouts.

"There was a feeling of the gifted-and-talented program being disconnected," said Marie DeAngelis, a resource teacher with the central office's gifted-and-talented program. "We listened to the classroom teachers and understand that they have so much to offer. We want to work with them to decide how best to meet the needs of their highly able students."

Under the new system, students likely will continue to spend about the same amount of time outside of class with the resource teacher.

However, what they're learning now will be tied in more closely to the curriculum for their grade.

Mr. Glascock and Ms. DeAngelis said they want to see how the changes work at the six pilot schools -- Centennial Lane, Forest Ridge, Guilford, Phelps Luck, Rockburn and Waverly % 5/8 elementaries -- and in the second grades at all schools.

Then they will present a report to the school board in the spring and determine whether to make the changes systemwide or to phase them in over several years.

At Forest Ridge Elementary in North Laurel last week, the school's two gifted-and-talented resource teachers began teaching their first classes under the new program.

On Thursday morning, Keith Zembower spent an hour with a dozen third-graders during their classes' math lesson time, working on exercises that normally are taught to fifth- and sixth-graders.

Later in the morning, Collette Crandel and the school's media specialist, Dawne Royo, pulled a group of fifth-graders out of their science time to began Internet training. The students will use the Internet to do additional research on oceanography -- the subject that the others in their class are studying with the regular classroom teacher.

"We presented a menu of ideas for enrichment activities to the teachers and asked them how we could best serve their highly able students," Mr. Zembower said. "What they want us to do is what we'll do."

The effort to tie the gifted-and-talented program more closely to the regular classroom has been appreciated by other teachers.

"I used to send the students to the [gifted-and-talented] classroom and have little idea what was going on," said Forest Ridge fourth-grade teacher Lisa Ciarapica. "This is more helpful for us, because I know what they're learning about and have some input into it."

These changes to the gifted-and-talented "Type II" program will not affect the school system's other two types of gifted-and-talented programs.

These are: "Type I" schoolwide enrichment programs, which include such activities as field trips and guest speakers, and "Type III," independent investigations.

Also unaffected by the changes are advanced math classes for fourth- and fifth-graders.

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