Serving Middle School Gifted Learners



winter 2006  Serving Middle School Gifted Learners


MIDDLE SCHOOL—why do those words often send shudders through parents and teachers alike? It is definitely a challenging time for students as they are changing from dependent children to becoming independent young adults. But it is an exhilarating time as well. During my teaching years in middle school, I always considered my students “old enough to engage in interesting and thought-provoking discussions, but young enough to enjoy sharing in youthful exuberance.” Those twenty years of middle school teaching make this GEC issue dear to my heart. It takes me back to the classroom where I spent some of the best years of my career interacting directly with kids on a daily basis. Our lead feature article, “Gifts of Language Diversity: Building Educational Aspirations with Latino Students in Middle School,” tells the story of one Texas school district’s efforts to better serve gifted Hispanic middle school students by offering Advanced Placement Spanish Language to eighth graders with advanced Spanish skills. In time, the project grew from a ten-student pilot program to include offerings at four of the district’s seven middle schools. Follow-up research studies have documented its success. Todd Kettler, Alexandra Shiu, and Susan Johnsen offer us a guide and a challenge to better serve a group of students that often goes underrepresented and that may not benefit from conventional programs for gifted learners.

Sylvia Rimm follows with an article based on her recent book, Growing Up Too Fast: The Rimm Report on the Secret World of America’s Middle Schoolers. Her article, “Growing Up Too Fast—and Gifted,” reports that while the timetable of adolescent development has changed over recent decades, the components of development remain the same. Dr. Rimm includes comparisons between gifted middle schoolers and their “regular” program cohorts. A common complaint expressed by critics of middle schools is that too little emphasis is put on academics because its proponents argue that social issues are the highest priority at this age. When true, this condition is particularly damaging to gifted middle school learners who are not only capable but eager for intellectual challenge. Susannah Richards offers us an antidote in her article, “Academic Rigor or Rigor mortis: Creating an Environment that Stimulates and Supports Academic Prowess in the Middle School.”

In “Creating a School for Gifted Learners: Trials and Triumphs,” three Bloomington, Minnesota educators share their challenging and exhilarating experiences in building a “school within a school” to serve gifted middle schoolers. Richard Cash, Julie Donaldson, and Barbara Dullaghan were the primary figures leading the charge in creating Dimensions Academy on the campus of one of the district’s already existing middle schools. From there we turn to more specific offerings in classroom activities for gifted middle school students in science and poetry. Amy Germundson strives to engage students in her article, “Igniting Potential: Engaging Gifted Learners in Science.” In a companion piece, Kristina Doubet shares her experience reaching underserved middle schoolers in her article, “Igniting Poetic Passion in Traditionally Underserved Gifted Adolescents.” Both articles contain concrete suggestions that teachers can infuse into their own classes. Most of our department writers focused on the middle school years as well, with comments directed toward specific audiences: parents, teachers, administrators, and support people. We commend them to you as well.


Finally, you will find two informational reprints:

• Meeting the Needs of High Ability and High Potential Learners in the Middle Grades: A Joint Position Statement of the National Middle School Association and the National Association for Gifted Children.
• Qualities of Successful Middle School Teachers and Successful Teachers of the Gifted by Susan Rakow in her book, Educating gifted Students in Middle School: A Practical Guide (please see book review on page 55).  The Spring Issue will focus on the long debated and continuing issue of identifying gifted learners. Look for it in early April 2007. Best wishes for a happy new year.
—Margaret Gosfield, Editor