At a recent School Board meeting, Dr. Linda Wright, Director of Elementary Instruction for Roanoke County Schools, introduced the gifted resource teachers in Roanoke County: Sue Bostic, Dawn Bowyer, Michelle Luckie, Beckie Mitchell, and Betsy Walsh. They work with students identified as academically gifted in grades K-12. (Students in grades 3-8 can be identified as gifted in the Visual Arts, a separate program coordinated by Richard Moon.)
Differentiation has been adopted by the county as the means of meeting the needs of these learners with the goal of ensuring “that there is challenge for these students throughout the entire school day.”
Mitchell explained the specifics of the program to the board. Students may be referred by anyone. They are screened by the gifted resource teachers. Last year 261 were screened; 123 qualified.
Approximately 6.5 percent of Roanoke County students– currently 984 students from kindergarten through grade 12– participate in the gifted program which provides differentiated instruction to meet their needs. That’s out of a total school population in Roanoke County of approximately 13,834 students this year.
The Gifted Program serves students in a variety of ways. Teachers concentrate on thinking skills at the elementary level and on teamwork and leadership in their middle school years. Pre-AP and Advanced Placement classes are available for secondary students.
The resource teachers also offer professional development opportunities for teachers who work with those identified as gifted.
In the Vinton area, teacher Dawn Bowyer is assigned to Mount Pleasant and W.E. Cundiff Elementary Schools and William Byrd Middle and High School. Michelle Luckie works with those identified as gifted at Bonsack and Herman L. Horn Elementary schools. Both also additionally serve other Roanoke County schools.
In an interview about how the program fits in at each school, Bowyer shared, “At the beginning of the year, we consult with the teachers of our gifted students to work out a schedule for pulling our small groups of gifted students at each school. Typically, we designate a day per week at each school– we may go a second day for schools with larger numbers of gifted students or to be able to include whole-class activities when requested. Once we have the day or days set for each school, we then work with teachers to create a schedule that will work for them. We try to schedule 45-60 minutes per grade level. Each year, we begin the year without any identified kindergarten students.”
She said, “Gifted students in all elementary schools receive instruction based on the four thinking strands of our curriculum (convergent, divergent, visual, evaluative); however, the way each resource teachers covers those skills may be different.”
There are some activities and units all of the resource teachers use, “but for the most part, we each plan what we want to do with our own groups of students to teach and develop those skills.”
“We may base our lessons on student interest and teacher request (for whole class activities),” she noted. “Each gifted resource teacher plans for her own groups and classes. We do, though, share ideas as often as we can.”
Bowyer said that Roanoke County has a cluster grouping policy in which gifted students in a grade level are clustered together in a class– at least for language arts and math. When the number of students in a grade level is high (seven or more), gifted students may be divided into two cluster groups– each group in a different class.
She went on to describe some of the activities they design for the gifted students.
“For convergent thinking, we often use logic puzzles,” said Bowyer. “We have various levels that may be a paper/pencil activity (using a grid or list to cross-off or circle) and we have hands-on logic activities as well (pattern block or dice, Sudoku-type puzzles, Scoops Logic with laminated ice cream cones and varied flavors of scoops in which students use clues to determine the solution (analytical and critical thinking skills).
Chocolate Fix is a favorite activity of many students— a game in which students fill a tray with nine (pretend) chocolate pieces using deductive reasoning. Students progress through 40 challenge levels from beginner to expert over time.
Bowyer says that “divergent thinking activities are always fun because they are much different from day-to-day activities students do in the classroom. These problems have many responses and solutions. Students typically work together to come up with the best solution to any given problem. For example, pairs or small groups of students will be given a task and a set of materials–build the tallest tower you can using only 12 straws, or 12 index cards, or a 12-inch sheet of foil. Each of us tries to incorporate some of these creative problem solving activities for each grade level at various times during the school year.”
At times the gifted resource teachers do activities with an entire class with the criteria that there are identified gifted students in the classroom.
Ad Agency is a simulation they use almost every year with whole classes of fifth grade students—one which students seem to especially love. This simulation uses all of the four types of thinking skills. Student teams learn about various types of media messages and their purposes. Their teams act as advertising agencies working to create an ad campaign for a cookie company.
Companies complete various advertising assignments weekly to earn money. Each team ultimately must create a new cookie — teams are given a roll of sugar cookie dough, and they decide what other ingredients they want to add to it to create a cookie. They name their cookie and create a package (using nets), a magazine ad, a TV ad, a billboard ad, and a Powerpoint presentation to judges as part of their campaign. Judges are often employees from central office
“We have others simulations we use: ‘Math Quest’ for fifth grade, ‘Algebra into the Unknown’ for second grade, and a ‘Creativity Simulation’ we started using this year in fourth grade,” said Bowyer.
They have also purchased several games to fit various thinking skills which they use at various points throughout the year.
“In addition to teaching our groups, we screen/test all students who are referred for the gifted program,” said Bowyer. “Most of the time this involves giving each student two ability tests (sometimes a third) and collecting data (grades, checklists, etc.) We fit testing in between groups and on days we are not scheduled in a school for the entire day. We also develop and provide professional development for classroom teachers.”
Bowyer says each of the five resource teachers does things differently while covering the same skills.
“I love my position as a GRT,” she continued. “I like the variety of teaching different grade levels and of being in different schools, and I like the various responsibilities I have – teaching students, helping teachers, and screening.”