Enter an academically gifted classroom in Wake County and you’ll notice a disproportionate number of white and Asian children. It’s a problem that’s plaguing schools on a national level.
The current methods used to identify children as academically or intellectually gifted (AIG) don’t adequately recognize African American and Latinx students who should qualify.
Starting in elementary school — when students are typically first identified for accelerated learning — these children fall short of their potential and stay behind. This lost opportunity follows students through middle school, with honors courses, and into high school, when Advanced Placement courses are also offered.
To address this identification and achievement gap, the Research on the Education and Development of Youth (REDY) program at SSRI has implemented a multi-year project called Nurturing for a Bright Tomorrow. The project provides targeted teacher training to K-2 teachers.
Developed by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) and Duke University, the training program has been implemented in 16 Wake County schools, in each of their K-2 classrooms.
The program started two years ago, with kindergarten teachers first receiving training. Then, as the students moved to a new grade level, so too did the training.
The goal is to increase the number of African American and Latinx students identified as gifted in third grade, when students are first selected for differentiated learning.
To see if the training is effective, another 16 Wake County schools serve as control schools, with the current methods for identifying students unchanged.
“Essentially, it’s an intervention-based study,” said Angel Harris, director of REDY. “We’re hopeful that it’s working. Next year we’ll see results and know for sure.”
This year marks the final year of training, with 2nd grade teachers learning the three components that should increase identification of giftedness: thinking skills, habits of mind, and learning styles and task rotations.
Recently, 2nd grade teachers completed their training in learning styles and task rotations, the final component of the program.
“The idea is that everyone has a preference to one of these four learning styles, so what we’re doing is training teachers to funnel information through each of them,” Harris said.
The task rotation then provides an opportunity for students to experience the classroom activity in a way that’s tailored to their optimal learning style.
“Part of it is that we’re teaching them about task rotations and getting them to employ those in their lessons,” said Jen Barbour, an AIG classroom teacher in Wake County who led training sessions. “But we’re also asking them to think about the types of questions that they’re asking and to try to reach different learners in different ways.”
There’s so much that teachers do each day — it’s near impossible to find time during the school day to discuss teaching styles with their colleagues in the profession.
“When you get to come to a training like this and have these great discussions with teachers from other schools it refreshes you and renews you and brings our purpose back to the forefront,” said Lynn Rustay, an AIG classroom teacher who, like Jen, led training sessions on learning styles.
With two years of training already completed, and students selected for gifted classrooms next year, they’re already seeing some results. While the effort is intended to help African American and Latinx children, the emphasis on reaching students in each learning style has seemed to help children across the board.
“I’ve seen kindergartners speaking, reading, and writing complete sentences — it’s impressive,” said Alena Treat, director of Academically or Intellectually Gifted Programs at Wake County.
“While the effort is to increase identification,” she added, “the side effects are also yielding academic growth. The emphasis is on the increased identification rate, but we’re also very interested in the performance of our students.”
Between the teachers’ excitement and Treat’s classroom observations, there are many reasons to be hopeful that the program is working. Next year, when students are tested for giftedness, we’ll know for sure.