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"Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself, but talent instantly recognizes genius" (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Many gifted celebrities were told early in life that they would not be successful, for example: Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for lack of imagination: Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team: Carol Burnett was dismissed from drama school with a note saying she was too shy to put her best foot forward: Thomas Edison was told by a teacher that he was too stupid to learn anything and that he should go into a field "where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality" (Bluefish TV.com). What if these charismatic and unique individuals had just given up and did exactly what a few short-sighted individuals had suggested? The natural trajectory of giftedness in childhood is not a six-figure salary, perfect happiness, and a guaranteed place in Who's Who. It is the deepening of the personality, the strengthening of one's value system, the creation of greater and greater challenges for oneself, and the development of broader avenues for expressing compassion (Silverman, 1993, p. 22).
Response to Intervention came to life late in 2004 when George W. Bush signed the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act, which reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, now called IDEA 2004. Fundamentally, Bush required general education to observe and evaluate a student's response to an individualized intervention in the general education classroom. Essentially what was restricted to a special education classroom is now a key aspect in the general education classroom. RTI was designed to make sure every student gets assistance or services he needs whether or not he technically qualifies for special education or has a learning disability (McCook, 2006).
My campus, Athens Intermediate, incorporates assessment and intervention within a school-wide, multi-level prevention system to take full advantage of student achievement and reduce behavior problems. At AIS, this process identifies students who are at risk for poor learning outcomes, monitors student progress, provides research-based detailed interventions and tweaks interventions along the way based on a student's responsiveness. We use a tiered service delivery model, which means different levels of instruction and assistance are provided. Tier one is instruction received in the classroom, suitable for most students. Tier two signifies the interventions that a few students will receive when data shows that they are not quite learning the material after instruction is given. Tier three is very intensive instruction given to a small number of students that data proves they are still not getting the desired results (National Center on Response to Intervention).
What can be done for those who are gifted? Basically, on Tier 1 all instructional needs are being met with core lessons. Is whole-class and grade-level instruction suitable for the gifted learners? Maybe for some subjects and some advanced learners, but all of them? They often have already mastered what is being taught or can do so very quickly. RTI can be useful for the gifted child. Just like the student who is behind and needs assistance (i.e. Tier 2), there are those who are ahead and need some acceleration. Like there are a small number of students who are drastically behind in any given area/subject and will need some significant assistance (i.e. Tier 3), there are about the same number of students who are significantly ahead and will need considerable challenges and acceleration in any given area/subject (Fisher, 2009). How will the RTI model at Athens Intermediate take into account the gifted and talented learners? How can we at Athens Intermediate increase the quality and level of services for our gifted learners?
Why Implement RtI for the Gifted Child
"In the ordinary elementary school situation children of 140 IQ waste half of their time. Those above 170 IQ waste nearly all of their time. With little to do, how can these children develop power of sustained effort, respect for the task, or habits of steady work?" Hollingworth, L. ()p. 299. Response to Intervention is a multifaceted approach addressing students' comprehensive academic and behavioral needs, it can serve as a model for increasing the quality and level of services for all students, including those who are gifted and talented (Coleman, 2010). It involves the systematic use of assessment data to efficiently allocate resources to improve learning for all students including students with disabilities, students identified as gifted, those who qualify under section 504, and advanced learners (WOGI, 2010). By documenting instructional interventions, the RTI process allows high-achieving learners' access to differentiated curriculum, flexible pacing, cluster grouping, and other universal interventions available to all students in the regular classroom (http://www.gadoe.org/ci_iap_gifted.aspx). If education is to focus on developing student abilities and providing an educated work force, then it also must focus on the growth and achievement for all students-where "all" truly does mean all (Hughes, Rollins, 2009, 32.3). It is the position of the Council for Exceptional Children that a RtI framework for gifted students would support advanced learning needs of the learner in terms of a faster paced, more complex, greater depth and/or breadth with respect to their curriculum and instruction. Likewise, learners who are gifted with disabilities may need more than one level of intervention and acceleration in terms of curriculum and instructional strategies, RtI must be seen as a school wide initiative, spanning both special education and general education (CEC, 2007).
Curricular interventions should be selected based on data driven decisions and related to identifiable measurable gifted characteristics. Educators should also be held accountable for presenting the instruction in a manner that reflects best teaching practices (Hughes, & Rollins, 2009, 32. 3). Three times during the school year learners are screened to identify a need, identification and acceleration of the curriculum can begin right away. Interventions can be implemented to improve academic opportunities. Dexterity of the learner is identified within a nurturing system regardless of label or potentially biased teacher recommendations. By waiting to provide talent development activities until students "qualify" for gifted education services, schools are ensuring that only students who have the appropriate backgrounds when they enter school receive such services. RtI promises an astounding medium of cultivating the potential growth before a student qualifies. Without supporting the strengths of gifted learners, true growth cannot occur and learners are in danger of not developing and even losing their gifts.
An early intervention through universal screening for strengths is a proven method for finding gifted learners, especially in traditionally underserved populations. Research supports evidence that gifted children may begin to hide their talents at an early age. Knowing the characteristics of pre-school through grade 2 gifted students is critical in discovering potential and/or demonstrated strengths for early interventions (CDE, 2006). Interventions for gifted learners must act in accordance with the area of vigor and interest, or charismatic needs of the student. Disregard to giftedness may augment underachievement and other negative behaviors thus, resulting in the possibility of RtI for low performance and behavior. "It is surprising that very highly gifted children do not rebel more frequently against the inappropriate educational provision which is generally made for them. Studies have repeatedly found that the great majority of highly gifted students are required to work, in class, at levels several years below their tested achievement. Underachievement may be imposed on the exceptionally gifted child through the constraints of an inappropriate and undemanding educational program or, as often happens, the child may deliberately underachieve in an attempt to seek peer-group acceptance". - Miraca U.M. Gross, Exceptionally Gifted Children
Personalized Instruction Based on Student Needs
" If they learn easily, they are penalized for being bored when they have nothing to do; if they excel in some outstanding way, they are penalized as being conspicuously better than the peer group. The culture tries to make the child with a gift into a one-sided person, to penalize him at every turn, to cause him trouble in making friends and to create conditions conducive to the development of a neurosis. Neither teachers, the parents of other children, nor the child peers will tolerate a Wunderkind" (Margaret Mead, 1954). Instruction for the gifted learner should be constructed on the strengths and skill surplus of the learner. Attention endowed on unique learner attributes keeps the classroom focus on delivering instruction that works for individual students (rather than a one-size-fits-all approach). Differentiated instruction, a staple of RtI, allows instructors to simultaneously address individual, small group and large group needs (Whitten, Esteves, & Woodrow,). Gifted learners are an incredibly heterogeneous group with a greater diversity in achievement levels than that found among typical students (Hughes, Rollins, 2009, 32.3). Therefore, in a tiered program the needs of gifted learners would be specifically met based on their characteristics. It is important to realize that we must differentiate within a gifted group. Even though gifted students may have been identified as gifted, there are still strengths, weaknesses, and a tremendous range of actual performance levels within this group (Hughes, Rollins, 2009, 32.3). Gifted learners need to be able to access a flexibly-paced advanced curriculum that provides depth and breadth in their area of strength (CEC, 2007). The CDE believes the identified strengths of a gifted student will cause all gifted students to experience at least level II interventions so that ceilings are not placed on learning. These interventions might be classroom based, small group with a specialist, a specialized program delivered by the classroom teacher or specialist or classes to meet the individualized needs of gifted students (CDE, 2006).
Instruction Driven by Assessment
Assessment instruments and gifted/talented identification procedures provide students an opportunity to demonstrate their diverse talents and abilities (TEA, 2009). Within an RtI framework for a gifted learner, student progress is frequently monitored to make certain acceleration and improvement is taking place. If it is not, a different strategy should be put into place. This can help precious time being lost in addressing the academic difficulties of a student. In lieu of trying something over a long period of time without knowing whether it's working, instructors can confirm a strategy's validness with the gifted learner. According to the Texas State Plan for the Education of Gifted/Talented Students the identification process for gifted/talented services is ongoing, and assessment of students occurs at any time the need arises (TEA, 2009).
Progress monitoring is the systematic gathering of data to evaluate the progress of the child (Hughes & Rollins, 2009, vol.32, 3 pg. 36). The objective in a remedial program is to raise the student achievement to that of their peers in the general education classroom, or Tier 1. Nevertheless, in a strength-based RtI, the goal is to raise achievement beyond the general education classroom. Progressing monitoring is critical to the process of determining how much a student's achievement levels are changing over time. Since the purpose is achievement improvement for all learners, progress monitoring is vital.
Improved Quality of Instruction
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction acknowledges the merits of using RtI for students that are at risk, but also recognizes the potential it holds for achieving higher levels of academic and behavioral success for all students, including those whose needs extend beyond the core curriculum (Rollins, Mursky, Coltrane, Johnson, 2009, vol.32,3). Several key aspects characterize a rigorous curriculum and research based effective practice focused on rich and profound ideas of discipline. Instruction will engage students emotionally and cognitively. It requires students to solve problems, address issues, and create products and is relevant to the learners lives (Tomlinson, 2005, 44,pg. 160-166). A critical element of RtI is the proper use of research-based teaching methods. The focus is proactively creating an instructional environment that sets up learners for high levels of achievement. Research-based teaching goes beyond validated programs and strategies to include proven instructional methods such as differentiated instruction. All learners must have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in ways that allow them to be successful. Instruction should be designed to account for students' learning strengths, interest and academic capabilities. The strategy, program or intervention must be subjected to rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain and provide reliable and valid data using experimental or quasi-experimental designs across multiple settings (Whitten, Esteves, & Woodrow, 2009). When teaching methods are grounded in research, learners have the best chance of success. An array of challenging curriculum options in intellectual, creative and/or artistic areas; leadership; and specific academic fields are provided for gifted/talented learners(TEA, 2009) Additionally, TEA asserts that curriculum is designed and evaluated through collaboration by specialists in content areas, instructional techniques, and gifted/talented education. Moreover, the use of a tiered delivery model should be employed.
Focus on Positive Relationships in the Classroom
Learners should feel confident and supported within their classrooms. Instruction that accounts for their learning strengths and interest areas will motivate the gifted learners. When students feel safe and accepted by teachers, they demonstrate greater academic growth. Respecting students' learning strengths and interest promotes learning and fosters an environment where learners can thrive. Flexible grouping and peer-assisted learning, both essential components of RtI, allow educators to simultaneously build students' social and academic skills; as relationships are strengthened, so too are students' academic skills (Whitten, Esteves, & Woodrow, 2009).
Increased School-Wide Collaboration
Educators must work as a team. RtI is a general education endeavor. Accountability for carrying out the model should fall solely on the shoulders of the general education teachers. Reasonably, educators of all backgrounds and experiences must and will participate in various forms of teamwork to meet the needs of all learners gifted or not. ). How will the RTI model at Athens Intermediate take into account the gifted and talented learners? Will staff work together to provide the appropriate interventions deem necessary for the individual learner? How can we at Athens Intermediate increase the quality and level of services for our gifted learners? What support will the classroom teacher receive to provide individualized services to the gifted learners?
In this action research a triangulation method, the use of both qualitative and quantitative research will be used to identify what can be done to help educators of gifted students at Athens Intermediate School comprehend the RtI for the gifted process. This approach will also show how to best utilize it when helping their advanced learners with individualized accelerated instruction. Glantz tells his students that incorporating multiple sources of data is critical to ensuring a more accurate view of reality (Glantz, 2003, pg. 40).
Athens Independent School District is a 3A school situated in scenic Athens, Texas. Athens Intermediate School (AIS) is a large intermediate made up of 538 students. There are 13- 4th grade classrooms, 14- 5th grade classrooms, and 2 special education classrooms. Breaking this down further, of the 13- 4th grade classrooms 8 are self-contained and there 2 teams of dual language classes. The 5th grade make-up is 2 teams of dual language, 2 teams of mono-language and 4 self-contained mono-language classrooms. AIS is a recognized campus for the past two years. Moreover, Gold Performance recognition has been earned in Science and in 2010 a Gold Performance has been earned in Reading improvement and attendance.
The participants for this action research will be 16 identified gifted students in the 4th grade and 20 identified students in 5th grade. Teachers will be assigned a color and students will be affixed with a number and parents of the participants will be referred to as parent of color group/number to maintain confidentiality and security purposes.
The qualitative data will be collected through surveys such as questionnaires and interviews to assess the attitudes or views of the respondents (Glantz, 2003, pg.62). According to Glantz, they are relatively easy to construct and analyze. Questionnaires, like the Likert scale, will be useful to describe how the teachers and parents of gifted children at AIS regard RtI and Gifted accelerated instruction. Systematic observation is another data collection method that will be employed to acquire data that will be accurate. The use of an observation procedure such as seating charts and student time- at- task have should prove to strongly influence student achievement. These instruments can be easily adapted for use in different grades and with the teaching of different subject matter (Willerman, McNeely & Koffman, 1991; pg. 21-22). Quantitative methods focus upon the product, or the "what," in a situation (Glanz, 2003). The "what" of this action research will be collected through detailed field notes in that they are nonjudgmental, concrete descriptions of what has been observed. Informal unstructured open-ended interviews with the students, parents and teachers will be conducted to ascertain the comprehension and utilization of RtI for the gifted process.