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Developing Programs for Students of High Ability
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E502
Author: Sandra L. Berger
As educators undertake the task of program planning to
accommodate the diverse
abilities students bring to school, they are faced with a
bewildering array of choices. In
education for students who are gifted, a variety of theories and
models have been
developed. Instructional methods and materials of all types are
enthusiasm, each claimed to be "ideal" for students of high
ability. To make sound
decisions, educators need to understand the components of an
program for these students.
What Constitutes an Effective Program?
A program "is part of the mainstream of education and doesn't
rise and fall with public
opinions" (Morgan, Tennant, & Gold, 1980, p. 2). It is a
system for educating students with identifiable needs (The
Association for the Gifted
[TAG] 1989); it is often designed by a curriculum committee; and
it is supported by a
district or school budget. Like literature and mathematics
programs, programs for
students with high ability are assumed to be integral parts of a
Teaching strategies may change, but the question of whether or
not they should be a
part of the curriculum is never raised.
A distinction should be made between programs for students who
are gifted students
and provisions for these students (Tannenbaum, 1983). "Provisions
unarticulated, and temporary activities, which are neither
followed up in any meaningful
way nor preceded by any meaningful lead-in activity" (Morgan,
Tennant, & Gold, 1980,
p. 2). For example, a teacher with vision and energy might
recognize that a particular
student needs to have his or her curriculum modified and decide
to provide special
activities. However, unless there is a commitment on the part of
the school system to
continue meeting the student's needs and to offer similar
opportunities to other able
students at each grade level, it does not constitute a program.
When budgetary cuts
have to be made, enrichment provisions become expendable.
What Are the Components of an Effective Program?
program comprises eight major components. These are described in
- Needs Assessment. A program is an integrated
curriculum response to
the educational needs of a group of students. Therefore, a
logical first step is to
determine what needs should be met. Need is defined as the
discrepancy between the
current status and a desired status and indicates a direction in
which an individual or
school system wants to move. An effective needs assessment
enables educators to
gather information about the nature and instructional needs of
the students and the
resources of the school or school district. Information about
community attitudes and
teacher skills may also be gathered. Borland (1989) has provided
a list of useful
questions that might be asked, possible sources of information,
and ways to obtain it.
- Definition of Population. A clear definition of the
population serves as
the foundation of a program. The definition should be based on
from the needs assessment and state and local requirements. It
should address specific
abilities and traits possessed by persons of high ability. In his
1971 Report to Congress,
Marland (1972) included a definition that is well known for its
diversity and usefulness.
Updated in 1981 (P.L. 97-35, the Educational Consolidation and
Improvement Act), this
definition has provided guidance to many states. Other programs
are based on a
multidimensional view of intelligence (Gardner, 1983; Sternberg,
1985). However, a
local frame of reference gleaned from the needs assessment is
- Identification Procedures. The purpose of
identification is to locate
students whose needs are not being met by the core curriculum,
educational needs, and provide them with an appropriate program.
procedures must be consistent with the definition in local use
and should measure
Identification is generally divided into several phases that
might be conceptualized as a
pyramid. The base of the pyramid involves the entire student body
and is typically called
screening. As the process evolves, the population becomes
smaller. The apex of the
pyramid comprises the students who will participate in a program.
A wide variety of
instruments and methods are used as the pyramid narrows. Student
portfolios, parent and teacher referrals and recommendations,
student products, group tests, and individual tests are just some
of the ways information
is gathered throughout the school year. The identification
process should be ongoing
and articulated with curriculum options.
- Program Goals. The goals of a program should be
written as clear
policy statements of what the district will do to respond to the
needs of the target
population. They should be stated broadly and may refer to
desired student outcomes.
Outcomes should reflect the assessed needs of the students. Since
should be made available to the public, they should be stated in
language. A comprehensive plan might also state program
objectives and suggested
activities. Borland (1989), Clark (1988), Maker (1982),
VanTassel-Baska and colleagues (1988), and other textbook authors
examples of justifiable program goals and objectives.
- Program Organization and Format. Organization and
format refer to
decisions on how students will be grouped for instruction, where
instruction will take
place, how often instruction will occur, who will provide
instruction, and who will be
responsible for the program and the administrative organization.
Like other program
components, organization and format are derived in part from the
The choice of format(s) involves a number of complex decisions
delivery of educational services and includes fiscal
considerations. The central question
is, "Which format(s) will best serve the needs of the defined
magnet schools, pull-out programs, a school within a school,
classes, resource rooms, effective grouping arrangements based on
specific needs, and
mainstreaming are just some of the available options (Cox,
Daniel, & Boston, 1985;
Daniel & Cox, 1988; Eby & Smutny, 1990).
- Staff Selection and Training. Selection and training
of staff are crucial to
the success or failure of a program for students of high ability
(Renzulli, 1975). But how
can an administrator select the people who will ultimately
inspire students and others?
Researchers have consistently identified effective teachers as
those who "are all things
to all people." No definitive profile of the ideal teacher for
these students has been
published to date. However, interest in and eagerness to work
with students who are
curious and highly able are essential.
As with other program components, staff selection and training
should relate to the
needs of the target population. If students are transported to a
central location, they
need a teacher who has had some experience with self-contained
classes. Above all,
teachers in programs for students who are gifted should have a
understanding of these students (TAG, 1989). If teacher selection
development, the teacher will have a critical influence on what
will be taught. Because
good programs for students of high ability often grow, it is
useful to have a core staff
who can model effective teaching and collaboration for new
- Curriculum Development. The most effective
substantive scope and sequence and is based on the needs of the
(TAG, 1983; VanTassel-Baska et al., 1988). School systems that
programs should consider whether or not they are sufficiently
rigorous, challenging, and
coherent. Appropriate curriculum produces well-educated,
knowledgeable students who
have had to work hard, have mastered a substantial body of
knowledge, and can think
clearly and critically about this knowledge.
Maker (1982) has explained how to differentiate curriculum for
students who are gifted
in terms of process, content, and product. Her discussion enables
educators to develop
appropriate objectives based on the school system's core
and colleagues (1988) have provided theoretical bases, specific
- Program Evaluation. The evaluation component is
critical because it
allows a school system to reassess student needs and determine
the efficiency and
effectiveness of its various program components (Callahan, 1983;
Callahan & Caldwell,
1986). Evaluation should be both formative (ongoing) and
summative (final outcomes).
Evaluation enables a school system to make midcourse corrections
and answers the
question, "Is this program doing what we want it to do?"
Borland, J. H. (1989). Planning and Implementing Programs for the
Gifted. New York:
Teachers College Press.
Callahan, C. M. (1983). Issues in evaluating programs for the
gifted. Gifted Child
Quarterly, 27, 3-7.
Callahan, C. M., & Caldwell, M. S. (1986). Defensible evaluation
of programs for the
gifted and talented. In C. J. Maker (Ed.), Critical Issues in
Defensible Programs for the Gifted (pp. 277-296). Rockville,
MD: Aspen Systems.
Clark, B. (1988). Growing Up Gifted. Columbus: Merrill.
Cox, J., Daniel, N., & Boston, B. (1985). Educating Able
Learners. Austin: University of
Daniel, N., & Cox, J. (1988). Flexible Pacing for Able Learners.
Reston, VA: The Council
for Exceptional Children.
Eby, J., & Smutny, J. F. (1990). A Thoughtful Overview of Gifted
Education. New York:
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple
Intelligences. New York:
Maker, C. J. (1982). Curriculum Development for the Gifted.
Rockville, MD: Aspen
Marland, S. P. (1972). Education of the Gifted and Talented.
Report to Congress.
Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Morgan, H. J., Tennant, C. G., & Gold, M. J. (1980). Elementary
Programs for the Gifted and Talented. New York: Teachers College
Renzulli, J. (1975). Identifying key features in programs for the
gifted. In W. Barbe & J.
Renzulli (Eds.),Psychology and Education of the Gifted
(pp. 214-219). New
Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human
York: Cambridge University Press.
The Association for the Gifted (TAG). (1989). Standards for
Programs Involving the
Gifted and Talented. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional
VanTassel-Baska, J., Feldhusen, J., Seeley, K., Wheatley, P. G.,
Silverman, L., &
Foster, W. (1988). Comprehensive Curriculum for Gifted Learners.
MA: Allyn and Bacon.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain
and may be freely
disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This
publication was prepared with
funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of
Educational Research and
Improvement, under Contract No. RI88062207. The opinions
expressed in this report do
not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the
Department of Education.
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