NRC/GT: Research Should Inform Practice

Spring 1997 Masthead


E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
Storrs, CT

When we first started The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) seven years ago, we hoped our research results would go beyond the library shelves of other researchers. We wanted our studies and commissioned papers to influence policies and procedures in the field and to reflect the priorities of the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act. Programming issues became center stage for much of our work. Now, as we travel to conferences and read various publications, we note discussions about the NRC/GT findings. Sometimes presenters are not aware of our research teams’ affiliations, and they ask if we have heard about a specific finding. Yes—indeed—we know about the finding. We realize that our research has definitely not stayed on the shelf. We also take notice of where and how our work is cited. We see references to our work in many journals, newsletters, newspapers, and videotapes. This life beyond the library shelf is possible because of various product formats: videotapes, monographs, practitioners’ guides, and the world wide web site. We are proud of our accomplishments and continue to create products for various audiences that are responsive to the mission of the NRC/GT.

Periodically, we review our list of disseminated products to see which topics are most popular. The most popular topics with the general public are reflective of our original research needs assessment survey completed in 1991. The research topics of interest to people around the country were summarized and ranked, and then we designed studies accordingly. Luckily, we have a cadre of researchers associated with the NRC/GT to help us with our research agenda. Practitioners and parents expressed interest in program impact and curricular modifications. Delcourt, Loyd, Cornell, and Goldberg (1994) examined the effectiveness of various service delivery models on students’ cognitive and affective outcomes and concluded:

  • Gifted children in Pull-Out, Separate Class, and Special School programs showed higher achievement than gifted students who were not in programs and, in most cases, than those from Within-Class programs and nongifted students.
  • Although a limited amount of time was spent in the resource room (approximately 2 hours/week), the emphasis on academics with the Pull-Out model appears to have contributed to the achievement of these students.
  • Students from the Separate Class programs scored at the highest levels of achievement and at the lowest levels of perception of academic competence, preference for challenging tasks, sense of acceptance by peers, internal orientation, and attitudes toward learning.

Recognizing that some special programs and services for high ability students are often not full-time solutions, practitioners and parents also wanted research data on curriculum modifications in the classroom. What are some appropriate informal and formal techniques to assess the students’ mastery of content? Reis et al. (1993) examined one approach to modifying the curriculum known as curriculum compacting. Teachers of students in grades 2-6 were trained to use compacting and realized that several students had already mastered grade level concepts. The curriculum compacting study documented the following:

  • Approximately 40-50% of traditional classroom material could be eliminated for targeted students in one or more of the following content areas: mathematics, language arts, science, and social studies.
  • The most frequently compacted subject was mathematics, followed by language arts. Science and social studies were compacted when students demonstrated very high ability in those areas.
  • While approximately 95% of teachers used enrichment as a replacement strategy, 18% of teachers also used acceleration. (p. 39)

Teachers and parents are asking more and more questions about curricular modifications, as evidenced by our e-mail and letters. Several people have already read our studies on classroom practices (Archambault et al., 1993; Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, & Salvin, 1993) and acknowledge that few modifications were made for high ability students in regular classrooms. They can even quote statements that appear in several textbooks and journals in our field:

  • The target gifted students {in grades 3 or 4 classrooms} spent the majority of their time in reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science engaged in whole-class instructional activities; and whether these students worked with the entire class or in groups, students were heterogeneously grouped across all subjects for 79% of the time. (Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, & Salvin, 1993, p. 41)
  • . . . [T]arget gifted students spent the majority of their time doing written assignments and participating in review/recitation activities. In addition to spending a large portion of time in passive activities, 84% of the activities across all five subject areas in which target gifted students were involved contained no form of curricular differentiation. (Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, & Salvin, 1993, p. 41)
  • In a national survey of teachers of grades 3 and 4, the majority “reported they had no training in gifted education” (Archambault et al., 1993, p. 42). Of the 2,300 respondents, 61% of the public school sample and 53% of the private school sample had no training in gifted education.

The link between research recommendations and publications provided the public with the information they wanted to know. Thus, the research monographs by Delcourt, Loyd, Cornell, and Goldberg (1994); Archambault et al. (1993); Reis et al. (1993); and Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, and Salvin (1993) are very popular.

The results of a national survey of middle school administrators mirror some of the results we gleaned from a focus on elementary classrooms:

  • There is much room for greater awareness of the needs of academically diverse populations in the middle school and the specific instructional skills required to meet these needs.
  • Classroom standardization and a “one-size fits all” environment predominates over classroom flexibility as the norm in today’s middle schools.
  • Educators’ beliefs about differentiating the curriculum through instructional strategies do not convert into practice. Therefore, instructional and structural strategies, which support curriculum differentiation, appear to be underused.
  • Middle school practitioners who perceive the middle school learner as being in a plateau period tend not to create and deliver high level, engaging curricula, but rather to teach basic skills, low-level thinking, and less complex reading assignments. (Moon, Tomlinson, & Callahan, 1995)

These research monographs provide direct and indirect glimpses into elementary and middle school classrooms around the country. The researchers also conclude that more needs to be done to challenge our students. But just doing something different the next time around is not the answer; it is time to think about where we have been and where we want to go.

As practitioners reflect on their accomplishments during the school year, it is also a time to consider new or modified instructional and curricular techniques for the coming year. Local newspapers are filled with commentary concerning program changes. Some districts are revamping their curriculum, adopting block scheduling, or promoting the use of technology, while others are transforming their district by creating magnet schools. All these potential changes should be studied carefully; otherwise the same instructional and curricular techniques will be used under different nomenclature. One phrase that should become a refrain when we are considering new techniques is: What do we want students to know and be able to do? This phrase helps to focus our attention on dynamic learning. We should consult research studies, such as those listed above and others relevant to local issues, to ensure that purposeful change is made.

In a taped interview with Guskey (Sparks, 1995), there is a great suggestion that extends the earlier question of what do we want students to know and be able to do? We should ask students: Tell me what you learned today. And, as educators, we should ask: Tell me what you learned this week in teaching. Taken together, these three statements essentially provide a framework for instruction, curriculum, and evaluation. They remind us that we need to know where we want to go, and we also need to check to see if we are getting there. Studying relevant research, seeking professional opportunities, and reflecting on progress and accomplishments will guide us in designing effective and challenging educational plans for all students.

Reference
Archambault, F. X., Jr., Westberg, K. L., Brown, S. W., Hallmark, B. W., Emmons, C. L., & Zhang, W. (1993). Regular classroom practices with gifted students: Results of a national survey of classroom teachers (Research Monograph 93102). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Delcourt, M. A. B., Loyd, B. H., Cornell, D. G., & Goldberg, M. D. (1994). Evaluation of the effects of programming arrangements on student learning outcomes (Research Monograph 94108). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Moon, T., Tomlinson, C. A., & Callahan, C. M. (1995). Academic diversity in the middle school: Results of a national survey of middle school administrators and teachers (Research Monograph 95124). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Reis, S. M., Westberg, K. L., Kulikowich, J. K., Caillard, F., Hébert, T. P., Plucker, J., Purcell, J. H., Rogers, J. B., & Smist, J. M. (1993). Why not let high ability students start school in January? The curriculum compacting study (Research Monograph 93106). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Sparks, D. (1995). Linking student learning and staff development: A conversation with Tom Guskey and Herb Walberg [Cassette]. Oxford, OH: National Staff Development Council.
Westberg, K. L., Archambault, F. X., Jr., Dobyns, S. M., & Salvin, T. J. (1993). An observational study of instructional and curricular practices used with gifted and talented students in regular classrooms (Research Monograph 93104). Storrs: University of Connecticut, The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

 

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