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Through a range of observations in music, English and science (see appendices B, C & D), I have focused in one particular student in year nine listed as gifted and talented (see appendix A). I was keen to see how this particular student was included in other subjects and to develop an understanding of how to include gifted and talented students in my lessons. Apparent in all observations was the high ability of this student’s performance in all the lessons.
Strategic seating plans and group organisation was prevalent in all three classes. In English, seating plans and pair work were arranged with the idea of matching lower achievers with more subject able students. Science had groups of three, where the higher ability student would take on an ‘assistant’ role, helping the other two students as another explanatory voice. In Music class, students were paired quite often in contrasting levels. A level 4 student would join a level 5 or 6 on a paired keyboard exercise. The higher-level student will be helping lower level student hence promoting co-optative learning.
In English and science, lesson plans are differentiated by providing scaffoldings and extension activities in order to stretch the capabilities of all students including G&T. In science, it was evident that the activities builds on difficulties to challenge gifted and talented students as well as supporting others.
All three teachers employ bloom taxonomy questioning techniques that appeared to be effective as it engaged and challenged all the students.
The literature on gifted and talented (G&T) pupils and inclusive learning is extensive. The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DfCS)provides one of the most comprehensive guidelineson how schools and colleges should plan and deliver effective provision for G&T students in its 2007 publication “Effective Provision for Gifted and Talented Students in Secondary Education”. The document provides guidance on how the following key aspects of creating an inclusive learning for G&T students should be achieved: effective teaching and learning strategies; enabling curriculum entitlement and choice; assessment for learning; organising the school; and, strong partnerships beyond the school. Following the introduction, the DfCS (2007:8) begins the debate by providing a definition for the term G&T pupils, defining gifted students as pupils “who have the ability to excel academically in one or more subjects such as English, Drama, Technology” while talented students are defined as those “who have the ability to excel in practical skills such as sport, leadership andartistic performance.”The authoritative body stresses that the potential of G&T pupils should be maximised, pointing out that some G&T student can “slip through the net” if they are not identified at an early stage and an inclusive learning environment subsequently created to ensure that they are appropriately catered for (ibid, 2007:10-13). Although the DfCS (2007) provides the key principles for identifying G&T children and describes what coinstitutes an appropriate learning environment, it does not explicitlydefine what this is. Instead, Booth and Ainscow (2000) describes inclusion in education as breaking down barriers to learning and increasing participation for all students. Despite identifying differentiated learning environment as the ideal inclusive learning environment for G&T pupils and comprehensively describing how this may be achieved, the DfCS (2007) falls short by not providing enough practical examples of how the strategies should be applied in a classroom environment.
One group of contributors has provided more practical examples of how a differentiated classroom can be created. This includes the works of Teare, 1997; Stepanek, 1999; Leyden, 2002; Thomson, 2006; Kutnick et al., 2006; Sebba et al., 2008; Tuncliffe, 2010 and Santos & Barmby, 2010.In his offering,Thomson (2006) recommends that appropriate questioning should be used as a way of differentiating for G&T students, however, this should be based on learning objectives, be interesting and engaging, stimulating, promote discussion, among other reasons. Similarly, Tuncliffe (2010) recommends that strategic seating should be used to promote collaborative working, during which lower level achievers should be match with more subject able students. The DCSF (2008a) however found that G&T students who were placed within a group of peers of similar mathematical readiness and interest achieved significant increases in mathematical performance, therefore this approach should be applied with caution.Sebba et al., (2008) recommend that peer and self-assessment should be used to encourage G&T students to self-monitor and work independently, describing a traffic light system which could be used for this purpose. Leyden (2002) however warns that the isolation of G&T students can lead to “lone ranger” syndrome. Although these publications provide useful insights into how strategies can be operationalised to create a differentiated classroom, one of the most useful contributions is that by Thomson (2006) who reminds us that G&T students can underachieve if they are not properly taught, therefore their teaching should be appropriately tailored to suit their needs. The author suggests that this may be realised by avoiding repetitive extension work, additional writing, time filling activities, helping others when tasks were completed and starting points that provide no challenge (Thomson, 2006). In concluding, I have found that the literature reviewed has provided useful insight on how I may provide an appropriate inclusive learning environment for G&T pupils in future practice.
Planning for, teaching, and enabling inclusive learning lesson reflections and associated lesson plans for Gifted and Talented learners are included in Appendix E.
The term Gifted and Talented (G&T) education is used to describe “children and young people with one or moreabilities developed to a levelsignificantly aheadof their year group (or with thepotential to developthose abilities) (DCSF, 2008, p.8). It also describes children with the ability to excel significantly more than their peers, have abilities in one or more academic subjects such as English or maths and have practical skills in areas such as music, sports, creative and performing arts or design (NIDirect, 2014). In the United Kingdom (UK), “gifted and talented” children account for approximately ten per cent (10%) of the school/college population each year (DCSF, 2007). According to Teare (1997),all children have a right to a challenging education which suits their needs, therefore it is important that teachers show the gifted and talented that they are valued and provide them with the necessary challengesto draw out their full potential(Swift, 2012).A key word here is potential, because being natively smart is not enough (ibid, 2012, p.1). Children need the right environmental conditions to support and guide them to achieve their gifted potential (Gagne, 2003), with an inclusive learning environment being prescribed by the DCSF (2007) as the desired setting. According to Booth and Ainscow (2000), inclusion in education is concerned with breaking down barriers to learning and increasing participation for all students. A growing body of literature (e.g. Teare, 1997; DCSF, 2008; Tunnicliffe, 2010) also stresses that gifted and talented learners should be identified at an early stage so that they realise their full potential (Tunnicliffe, 2010). The DCSF (2008) liststhe popular methods of identifying gifted and talented learners under eight broad headings: teacher/staff nomination; checklists; teaching-achievement, potential and curriculum ability; assessment of children’s work; peer nomination; parental information; discussions with children/young people; and, using community resources. The department elaborates on this by stating that during the process care should be taken that the identification reflects ability rather than achievement; includes talent areas and does not unduly disadvantage any group of learners (ibid, 2008, p.5). It is against thisbackground that this assignment reflects and synthesises on my experience of creating an inclusive learningenvironmentfor gifted and talented learners, drawing on some of the main learning and teaching strategies observed during the lessons and covered by the review of the literature. In addition to considering those strategies applied during my own maths lessons, consideration is also given to the implications of the learning experience for my professional development.
The importance of providing suitably challenging learning opportunities for G&T children is emphasised extensively throughout the literature. Stepanek (1999) for example, points out that if the content and tasks that have been deemed suitable for their grade level are too easy, G&T children will not be fully engagedand consequently will not be learning. This is because the brain does not release enough of the chemicals needed for learning: noradrenalin, serotonin, dopamine and other neurochemicals (Schultz et al., 1997, cited in Tomlinson & Kalbfleich, 1998). This was evident during the initial stages of my own lessons, when I noticed that some G&T learners seemed to be bored, easily distracted and displayed other behavioural problems.To address this concern, Iutilised a number of strategies to ensure that G&T learners were appropriatelychallenged, drawing on the observations I made during other lessons and the recommendations made by authoritative text.
Some commentators (Tuncliffe,2010;DCSF, 2007) suggest that to stimulate G&T learners, challenging learning objectives that aim to build on what learners already know, should be regularly incorporated into lesson plans. Given this, I provided 3-tiered differentiated learning objectives at the start of my fraction multiplication and division lesson and this appeared to be effective. All the students seemed to be appropriately challenged, with G&T children in particular seemingly keen to achieve the highest level possible.
The DCSF (2007)recommends that the needs of G&T students should be delivered as part of the differentiated classroom. The CCEA (2007)specifies that this should be planned and organised either by task, outcome, resource, dialogue, pace, support or choice. Acting on this advice, during the delivery ofmy fraction multiplication and division lesson on the 10th December, 2014, I used qualitative differentiation (Riley, 2004) which involved settinga number of common tasks that invited different responses and outcomes from the students(see appendix E3).In order to challenge G&T students, I differentiated by resources, using colours to demarcate questions. Although the questions were the same, whereas all students were expected to complete green demarcated questions without any difficulties, red demarcated questions were intended to challenge G&T students. I also used Bloom’s taxonomy, differentiated by asking G&Thigh-level questions, to stretch their understanding (CCEA, 2007). This was aimed at stimulating discussion (Tuncliffe, 2010) and providing me with the opportunity to address any misconceptions.During the lesson I observed that the majority of the students, including the G&T learners, engaged well throughout and made good progress. I however noticed that whereas most of the students provided generalised algebraic solutions for many of the tasks set, three of the G&T students considered how they could explore further, displaying higher-order thinking skills, consistent with Bloom’s Taxonomy of analysing, synthesizing and evaluating. It was however also observed that some of the students, including one of the G&T learners, struggled with some of the more challenging tasks, becoming bored, disengaged, disruptive and slightly frustrated at not being able to progress at the same rate as some of the otherstudents. This traitsis consistent with that described by theDCSF (2007) which states that G&T children can become bored, disengaged and disruptive if they are not suitably challenged.
During my observation of the English lesson I observed that the teacher usedquestioning as a means of engaging students. This questioning technique appeared to be very effective as it kept everyone on task, with G&T students seemingly more stimulated and challenged than the other students (Thomson, 2006). The strategy of using appropriate questioning as a way of differentiating for gifted and talented students is repeatedly recommended throughout the literature (Tuncliffe, 2010; Sebba et al, 2008; DCSF, 2007; Thomson, 2006), with the DCSF (2007) suggesting that this should be based on learning objectives, be interesting and engaging, stimulating, promote discussion, among other reasons. Acting on this advice,I used appropriate questioning techniques to invite students to think, reason, and express their opinions in order to develop their understanding during all my lessons. In order to operationalise this strategy, I employed Bloom’s Taxonomy questioning technique of analysing (e.g. What do you think…?), synthesising (e.g. What would happen if…?) and evaluating (e.g. Would it be better if…?), to stimulate higher order thinking (DCSF, 2007).Although this strategy appeared to be effective in engaging and challenging all the G&T students, I noticed that some of the less able students were struggling with some of the questions and tasks posed. In order to address this problem, I applied the strategic seating plan strategy I had observed being employed in the other classes.
Strategic seating plan and group organisation was prevalent in all three classes I observed. In English, seating plans and pair work were arranged with the idea of matching lower achievers with more subject able students. In music class, students were quite often paired in contrasting levels. Having discovered the effectiveness of the technique during my observations, I applied this strategy for my lesson on the 24thNovember, 2014. The effectiveness of this strategy is evidenced extensively throughout the literature (e.g.Tuncliffe 2010, DCSF, 2007, Kutnick et .al. 2005), because strategic seating is known to promote collaborative working (Tuncliffe, 2010).I therefore changed my sitting plan by matching lower achievers with more subject able students, particularly G&T students. I noticed that this encouraged co-operative learning and gave G&T students the opportunity to act as ‘assistants’, which bolstered their confidence considerably and helped them to have a deeper understanding of the topic. On the other hand, in a study conducted by the DCSF (2008a) it was found that G&T students who were placed within a group of peers of similar mathematical readiness and interest achieved significant increases in mathematical performance, therefore the effectiveness of this approach remains open for debate.
Another strategy which I employed to promote independence, reflection and self-evaluation,was peer and self-assessment (Sebba et al., 2008). I applied this strategy during my cumulative frequency lesson on the 27th November, 2014 to encourage students to self-monitor and work independently(DCSF, 2007). The peer and self-assessment strategy was operationalised by asking the students to traffic light a piece of their own work and then indicate by a show of hand whether they had put red, amber or green, based on whether they thought they had good, partial or little understanding.Using the strategy discussed above, I paired students with amber and green lights to encourage cooperative working, while I worked with the remaining group of red students.It was observed that all the students took ownership by taking the necessary steps to meet their goals, however, this strategy appeared to be more effective with the G&T student as it encouraged them to stretch their learning. G&T students also seemed more eager to achieve the next target. This finding is consistent with that of Sebba et al (2008) who found that in seventeen out of twenty studies, G&T students had improved capacity to learn, especially clarifying objectives, goal setting, developing self-regulation skills, increased confidence and taking responsibility for learning. This suggests that using a peer and self-assessment strategy is effective in teaching G&T students how to be creative, understand and apply self-assessment criteria and recognise the quality of outcome they could achieve (Sebba et al., 2008). This primarily because it challenged G&T students to explore what constitutes a high quality outcome and develop the skills they need to become autonomous learners (Tuncliffe, 2010). Moving away from that assertion, Leyden (2002) cautions that when independent working is being employed by teachers they should carefully monitor the amount of time children are allowed to work independently. Leyden (2002) asserts that if G&T students are allowed too much time to work in isolation they may develop the “lone ranger” syndrome and regard learning as a solitary pursuit. The effectiveness of individual working remains inconclusive, therefore during my own practice I will employ both individual and group work strategies.
The grouping of students as a strategy for creating an inclusive learning environments features extensively throughout the literature. Tuncliffe (2010) is an avid advocate of organised group work as a way of creating an inclusive learning environment, arguing persuasively that grouping by ability can provide appropriate enrichment and extension for G&T as this ensures intellectual stimulation and accelerates progress. This notion is underpinned by the findings of the DCSF (2008a) which found that mathematics students who were grouped according to similar ability and interests performed significantly better. On the other hand, it was also found in that study that G&T pupils who used self-directed, individualised mathematics instruction experienced significant experiences in performance compared to peers who did not receive the programme. During the delivery of my first lesson the class was divided according to ability and I noticed that this created an exclusive rather than an inclusive environment. It also made focusing on both groups more difficult and less fluency in the delivery of the topic. It is therefore clear from both the literature and my own experience that a balance needs to be struck and that grouping should be decided on each unique situation (Tuncliffe, 2010). Nevertheless, the evidence provided by the literature suggests that individual work is the most widely advocated.
Some authors (e.g. Santos & Barmby; 2010; DCSF, 2007; Thomson, 2006) strongly recommend that extension activities that include some form of enrichment should be incorporated into lessons toencourage G&T students to explore topics to greater extents. I therefore drew on the techniques set out in the schoolwide enrichment model (SEM) proposed by Renzulli and Reis (1985) to include enrichment and extension tasks in my lessons. This involved presenting open ended tasks to G&T students which offered scope for them to think for themselves and deepen their understanding and knowledge. During some of the exercises, I sometimes posed problems which relates to the next stages in the topics without providing the students with formal methods. I also suggested that students access mathszone, available at: http://mathszone.co.uk) to extend their learning (Thomson, 2006).
The DCSF (2007) draws attention to the fact that G&T students may underachieve if they are not properly taught, therefore their teaching should be appropriately tailored to suit their needs. While creating an appropriate inclusive learning environment, I therefore ensured that more challenge was provided for G&T students, but not more work (CCEA, 2007). This was facilitated by avoiding repetitive extension work, additional writing, time filling activities, helping others when tasks were completed and starting points that provided no challenge (Thomson, 2006). During my delivery of the cumulative frequency lesson on 27thNovember 2014.I therefore provided opportunities for feedback that identifies what has been learnt well and the next steps which should be taken (DCSF, 2007). Scaffolding was also used to help the students achieve their learning goals by splitting big tasks into several smaller ones and prevent G&T students from becoming frustrated if they were unable to successfully complete a task (Tuncliffe, 2010).
This assignment has attempted to reflect and synthesise oninclusive learning in relation to G&T pupils, drawing explicitly on the other assignment activities. Having completed the task, I have gained useful insight from both my own teaching experience and the literature, on how an appropriate inclusive learning environment for G&T student can be created. Completing the task has made me realise that there is no single, appropriate strategy for creating a single inclusive learning environment. Instead, a differentiated classroom environment should be created that incorporates the deployment of a number of strategies, including appropriate questioning; strategic seating and group organisation; peer and self-assessment and enrichment and extension activities. A differentiated learning environment should however be created either by task, outcome, resource, dialogue, pace, support or choice and be cognisant of the needs of the G&T pupil. Given this, I will continue to implement some of the strategies I have been applying in my lessons and those learnt from having undertaken this exercise in my future practice, however, while doing so, I will ensure that G&T students are appropriately challenged but not overworked or otherwise inappropriately engaged.
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