Equity in Elementary Science Education: Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students

We believe all students can learn. When our quickest students master a concept on the first go-around, we are pleased. It is tempting then to put those talented students out of mind and focus on the 20 or more other students who need additional assistance.

But of course we cannot leave the brighter students to fend for themselves. We are obligated to provide enrichment opportunities and to challenge and engage these students. How do we find and monitor science enrichment activities for those students while simultaneously providing intervention and assistance to students who have yet to master the current concepts?

The Inclusive Classroom: Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students: Differentiating Mathematics and Science Instruction is a free, downloadable and user-friendly document produced by the Northwest Regional Education Library. In the introduction, it states, “Many of the strategies for teaching gifted students mathematics and science will be appropriate for the whole class. This is a theme that resounds continuously in this publication and in much of the literature on teaching gifted students.” Thus, we need not think of providing appropriate instruction to our gifted students as an add-on, or as something additional we must attend to, but rather as an alternative way of teaching all students.

The Inclusive Classroom provides a discussion of ability grouping. Is it fair to make gifted students work with others not so gifted? Will their potential intellectual growth be stunted? Research indicates that homogenous ability groups are effective for activities involving content review, while heterogeneous groups are effective when presenting new content. In heterogeneous groups gifted students learn how others think and how to articulate their own understandings, thus promoting clarity in their own understanding and in their verbal communication skills.

Other research-based, effective instructional strategies for teaching gifted children, identified in The Inclusive Classroom, include: posing open-ended questions that require higher-level thinking; modeling thinking strategies; accepting ideas and suggestions from students and expanding on them; facilitating original and independent problems and solutions; helping students identify rules, principles, and relationships; and taking time to explain the nature of errors.

Whole-class instruction is one kind of instruction involving a necessarily heterogeneous group. In the book Ready, Set, Science!, available online from the National Academies Press, case studies involving whole-class instruction in science are presented. Although they are not framed specifically as approaches for gifted instruction, the case studies do seem to meet the strategies found in The Inclusive Classroom. For example, in the case study “Seeing Ourselves in Measurement,” we learn how a first-grade teacher manages a whole-class exercise engaging students in scientific discourse and developing their scientific reasoning and social skills. In this context, all students benefit.

Students in the class, gifted students included, must listen and understand others’ thinking in order to contribute to and advance the discussion. The gifted student’s contribution may then stimulate thought in other students, compelling them to contribute as well.

A skilled teacher will facilitate the discussion so that (a) all students’ contributions are recognized, (b) ideas are critiqued for their scientific merit, and (c) consensus is reached in the manner the scientific community reaches consensus – through discourse around evidence-based, logical reasoning. Such discussions are normally quite appealing to the gifted student. If the discussions are handled as recommended by Ready, Set, Science!, all students, not just the gifted, stand to benefit.

This case study supports the assertion, noted earlier, that strategies developed to assist gifted students are generally beneficial to all students. This perspective frames gifted student enrichment as a seamless part of everyday general instruction, rather than an additional task teachers must attend to.

This article was written by Mary LeFever. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright May 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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