Friday, November 30, 2007

I want to drive a Gran Turismo (GT)!!!!

It's not fair I have to drive my Jalopy!

If there's nothing to do, something MUST be done. If something MUST be done, we must do something ELSE. In this spirit, educational pundits frequently feel the need to exert their powerful influence over those below them by issuing a pedagogical mandate requiring a course of action that requires much action, but little course or direction. The latest such mandate targets our school's Gifted and Talented (GT) program.

Apparently, it is time to take our focus off of all the other aforementioned pedagogical mandates we are still trying to interpret and focus on how we are currently serving the needs of high school students who were targeted long, long ago in their educational careers as creative, unique, clever, quirky, and insightful--GT. At our school, as is the case in most large high schools nation-wide, we "service" our GT students through our College Board certified Pre-Advanced Placement and Advanced Placement courses. These courses are academically rigorous and intellectually challenging courses that prepare students for college curriculum and expectations.

In teaching these classes, I challenge each and every student, teaching in a variety of ways, from lecture, to discussion, to telling, demonstrating, and modeling appropriate learning and mathematical procedure. I teach beyond the standards--to EVERY student in the class.
I have found that the willing will always rise to the challenge. But because we ARE still high school and not college, there are so opportunities for success built into the class that even those lacking ability can compensate by perseverance and pertinacity.

Math tends to be the great equalizer in our school. Some can do it, some cannot. Some TRY, some do not. Those that cannot and do not usually have exerted nothing but pathetic deliberation in their choice of excuses rather than real, hard-nosed industry. I believe most, if not all, of our great PreAP and AP teachers would cite the same reason for most students' failures. It's not necessarily that the material is beyond them, but rather seems beneath them.

Because of our "open enrollment" policy for PreAP and AP classes (which means that students can be in the "smart" classes despite their intelligence, motivation, and work ethic), non-GT students can be enrolled in a program designated to serve our GT students. The didactic dilemma has been now clearly pointed out to us!!!!! How to we keep the
spark of creativity and the flame of imagination alive in those GT students who are now mixed with the "others?"

That's what we are now required to provide written documentation of: how are we teachers of PreAP and AP students differentiating our curriculum for the GT students?
Aside from the fact that I teach EVERY student as if they were GT, making them write mathematical limericks, probing deep theoretical implications, and doing ink-blot tests for warm-ups, the most frustrating thing about this latest mandate, is that I see my own son getting very little out of HIS GT status. He is only in second grade, but is already growing academically disinterested in school. HIS GT program is a pull-out program, which he actually looks forward to, as he gets a chance to do non-routine work, interact with other curious friends who are at his reading level, and talk about more than "Hannah Montana."

So much attention and resources are thrown at the bottom end of the spectrum that, outside the twice-weekly GT sessions, anyone and everyone who is on par or ahead of the 2nd grade curriculum has their curiosity and spark potentially extinguished, while all the "others" (who will eventually take PreAP and AP classes) are remediated.

What I have seen in teaching high school for 9 years, is that by the time students are juniors and seniors taking college level classes, there is very little distinction (or need to distinguish) among GT and non-GT students. In fact, many GT students themselves have forgotten their once-given classification, as they realize that their interests and imagination have plenty of fuel in the course of a rigorous, challenging, stimulating PreAP or AP curriculum. Those non-GTers, will likely tell you the same thing!

Yesterday, I asked one of my GT Calculus students if she thought that her "GT-ness" was dwindling as a consequence of being in my class: if she felt her gifted and talented needs were being adequately catered to. She had no idea what I meant! She looked at me with a strange anticipatory smirk as if there was a punchline. There wasn't. Apparently, she had long ago dropped any expectation of special treatment or hopes of a "differentiated curriculum" because of the 2nd grade test that qualified her for the GT program. She felt almost overwhelmingly challenged and stimulated in all of her current AP classes, probably TOO challenged.

I then probed her on the possibility of a differentiate curriculum, asking her how she would feel if other non-GTers in the class were suddenly not responsible or accountable for the more challenging problems I routinely assigned. Or, what if I took some of her more basic assignments were replaced with more "thought-provoking, multi-stepped" GT problems. I assured her that the QUANTITY of her work would not increase, only the QUANTITY of TIME should would have to spend on the problems of improved QUALITY. She looked at me as if I were crazy and dismissed my ranting like any good GT student (or nonGT student) would.

But, nonetheless, the mandate came out so something must be done. What will likely end up happening is that I will submit a very proper, pedagogically perfect, lesson plan that has a diversity of instructional techniques incorporated, using all the latest educational buzz words like "anticipatory set," "think-pair-share," and "group collaboration." It will be sure to include a special "feel good" activity for the elite in the group, although it will be surreptitiously implemented so that the "others" do not detect it. Once submitted and in the authorities hand, they will check my name off some list which will prove that I am doing my A-L-L as a professional teacher to reach A-L-L students.

Or perhaps I will just differentiate for GT by not allowing them to turn in late work. That's simple enough.

It is frustrating, though, because rather than talk to the students (both GT and "others") who are actually in my classes and getting first-person accounts of how "stimulating" my class is, much less actually observe my classes in earnest over a period of several days or weeks, they prefer cursory 10 minute walk-throughs to gauge my level of professionalism, and insist on a paperwork submission, including a form acknowledging that the paperwork was actually submitted. I hope to then receive a paper receipt of my paper submission acknowledging that I'm approved to continue to teach our GT kids (and the "others.")

It's hard to stay optimistic and motivated as a soldier in the trenches when the generals do nothing but send orders to "do better . . . . or else" from their comfy leather chairs at headquarters. It has been said that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to figure out what the main thing is!

Is it equating Equal Opportunity with Equal Equal Outcome? What an unfortunate, well-documented world that will be.

1 comment:

Shealynn said...

Shouldn't all AP courses be taught with GT standards? Don't we expect AP courses to challenge the student and to develop critical and creative thinking skills? It seems that these courses, at some point, actually become the GT program and replace the pull-out programs from the elementary levels. I realize that the AP program allows for open enrollment, but everyone in an AP class should be held to GT standards. If you're not "gifted" or "talented" enough to fit into an AP class (regardless of whether you have passed the test to actually be labeled "gifted and talented"), maybe you shouldn't be in an Advanced Placement class.
As a parent, and a member of the human race, I really worry about our education system.