Education

Improvements on the Horizon for Livingston Gifted and Talented Program

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LIVINGSTON, NJ – Dr. Dorian Gemellaro, K-6 Science Supervisor for Livingston Public Schools (LPS), recently announced the district’s well-researched plans for a multi-year rollout of an enhanced Gifted and Talented (GT) program, which will go into effect for K-5 students this coming school year.

Gemellaro has devoted this past year to a fact-finding mission that included visiting classrooms, observing GT teachers and speaking with those helming and involved in GT programs in many other districts.

Giving attendees a primer on the history of gifted education at last week’s Livingston Board of Education (LBOE) meeting, Gemellaro reported that GT education dates back to 1905 and has waned, waxed and morphed over time. At certain periods, it has been a component inside regular classrooms and, at others, students have been pulled out of their classrooms to benefit from advanced educational instruction, she said.

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In 1990, Joseph Renzulli published a three-ring enrichment model, which represents the amalgamation of above-average ability, creativity and task commitment. The Renzulli model points the way toward which students should qualify for GT programming and is the model that’s currently used in the LPS district, according to Gemellaro.

However, Gemellaro said the current trend suggests that a different model might be better suited to today’s GT learners. This new trend favors differentiated classrooms where GT and non-GT students remain together and receive instruction tailored to their needs in each subject being taught. This model eliminates the issues associated with labeling a child gifted or, by default, “ungifted.”

“This is a radical approach,” said Gemellaro. “This would say to students, ‘This is a regular classroom but we’re differentiating at all different levels’.  But we’re not there yet.”

Gemellaro added that although there are no plans for LPS to eliminate the GT classroom, as it provides its own unique benefits to gifted students, she is making strides that would move the district closer to this current approach by introducing what’s known as “compacted curriculum” into the regular classrooms. Compacting curriculum aims to help keep gifted students learning at their appropriate levels throughout their day without always segregating them to accomplish that goal, she explained.

Using fractional math as an example, Gemellaro said that in a compacted curriculum scenario, a student adept at adding fractions would skip to either the next grade-level standard or the next standard for fractions, such as multiplying fractions, within a differentiated group of similar learners within their normal classroom.

“I think this would make things better for our GT learners because now they’d be challenged in their classroom as well as in their small groups,” she said. “This would give a wider reach to the GT program in general.”

Although the National Association for Gifted Children says that students who approach learning significantly above the norm for their age group are considered gifted, there is no state-sanctioned criteria for determining which students should be classified as gifted.  Each district is largely left to its own devices when making these determinations, according to Gemellaro.

The only state requirements are that a district has a GT program in place and that it uses multiple measures to make their determinations, she said. These could include standardized test scores, IQ testing (an indicator most all GT programs rely upon), or parent and teacher recommendations. Beyond that, exactly how each school or district approaches the identification process will be wholly up to them, Gemellaro said.

“We would like to have GT teachers be more actively involved in the day-to-day operations,” said Gemellaro. “This would involve going into classrooms, differentiating the curriculum that exists, enriching and extending the curriculum, compacting the curriculum, using ability groupings within the classroom and monitoring those, providing modified assignments and having the GT teacher work with a group of students if they have a passion for a particular project or doing an independent project with the GT teacher who would conference with that student. This would be an extension of learning for students who are particularly motivated and who excel in a certain area.”

The schoolwide enrichment program, which offers a wider array of opportunities for gifted students who are not necessarily driven in a particular field of study to still get the benefit of advanced educational opportunities, would remain in place but be informed by the interests of current GT students.

Because the rollout is a monumental task, it will be undertaken in stages, beginning with next year’s K-5 classes. These classes will benefit from staff members who are currently being hired and are trained in curriculum compacting at all grade levels. The rollout would continue with sixth-graders in 2019-20 and seventh and eighth graders in 2020-21, Gemellaro said.

In phase two, once the GT teachers have worked with students in grades K-8 to introduce these concepts in the classroom, the district would turnkey the compacting model to classroom teachers. This will begin with K-5 students in 2021-22 sixth graders in 2022-23, and seventh and eighth-graders in 2023-24, so that all students will be impacted by the curriculum compacting, rather than only the GT students, according to Gemellaro.

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