E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) conducts theory-based research in schools around the country. However, one of our professional and personal objectives is that our studies also lead to practitioner-friendly procedures and products that can be integrated into instructional practices and curriculum. In all of our studies, we incorporate multiple assessment techniques to ensure the quality of the intervention materials; to determine the status of students’ prior knowledge, skills, and abilities; to establish baseline data on teachers’ instructional and curricular practices; or to assess what has been learned and applied in classrooms. Essentially, all research studies involve multiple data collection tools. We choose some of the existing tools, adapt others, or create our own that are specific to the planned, research study. Depending on the purpose of the instrument, we determine the extent to which we conduct validity and reliability studies of a newly created instrument or use more informal procedures to check the appropriateness of items to document the application of an intervention.
If we were trying to study teachers’ classroom practices in one of our current or future studies, we could use the Classroom Practices Survey (Archambault et al., 1993), which we designed for a national study of grades 3 or 4 teachers. We based the Classroom Practices Teacher Survey on a literature review and researchers’ experiences. We found that teachers could make adjustments in their instructional and curricular practices in the following ways:
- alternative arrangements for grouping students for instruction
- advanced or accelerated work
- instruction in higher level thinking skills
- within-class enrichment activities of various kinds
- modifications of the regular curriculum
- challenges and choices in the curriculum (Archambault et al., 1993)
These adjustments required subtle or dramatic changes in how class assignments were designed; how the availability of different types of resources were used; how critical, creative, or research skills were infused in various content areas; how flexible grouping facilitated learning; or how the level of difficulty of objectives was adjusted to students’ learning needs. Once the overall purpose of the potential instrument was well defined, we generated items to meet the specific needs of the study. Through formal content and construct validation procedures and reliability techniques, we reduced the initial item pool and developed a 39-item survey that asked teachers to respond to the frequency (i.e., never, once a month or less frequently, a few times a month, a few times a week, daily, and more than once a day) with which the classroom practices were used with average and gifted students. As part of the validation process, we subjected survey items to factor analysis, which led to a more parsimonious approach to understanding, discussing, and interpreting items. Through this construct validation phase of the instrument, we identified 6 factors underlying the entire item set:
- Questioning & Thinking
- Providing Challenges & Choices
- Reading & Writing Assignments
- Curriculum Modification
- Enrichment Clusters
These factors allowed us to make statistical comparisons by student classification as gifted or average, region of the country, ethnicity, type of community (i.e., rural, urban, or suburban), and legislative mandates related to programming for students with high academic abilities, among other variables of interest. Such analyses provided many informative details about classroom practices in public and private schools throughout the country.
Other researchers in Canada, Australia, and the United States have used the instrument in their own studies because they noted the academic nature of the instrument and the ease of administration. Researchers also modified or added items to make the instrument appropriate for different age groups (Robinson, 1998), and still others adopted the organizational and measurement techniques to develop items related to a specific subject area such as reading (Richards, 2003).
The original NRC/GT instrument to assess classroom practices could be used as an informal, self-report technique of your own classroom practices. Do you want to know if you include challenges and choices in your classroom? Do you want to know the extent to which you use thinking skills? Well, you can! The Classroom Practices Teacher Survey and all of the details related to instrument development are included in the research monograph entitled Regular Classroom Practices With Gifted Students: Results of a National Survey of Classroom Teachers (Archambault et al., 1993).
Some of the Classroom Practices items reflect opportunities for students and teachers to ask questions, reflect on learning, or participate in a flexible learning environment. These items may serve as guidance for your own self-study of the frequency of use. Factor 1: Questioning & Thinking include items that reflect practices that provide high-end learning opportunities (Renzulli, 1994) for all students. However, the depth, breadth, abstractness, and complexity of these practices need to be varied to challenge gifted and talented students. The Questioning & Thinking factor includes the following items:
- Teach thinking skills in regular curriculum
- Provide questions to encourage reasoning & logical thinking
- Ask open-ended questions
- Encourage students to ask higher-level questions
- Encourage student participation in discussions
You could use the same rating scale as the original instrument (see response format above) or adjust the format, such as: (1) Never, (2) Sometimes, (3) Frequently, (4) Always. Since you are adopting this instrument for personal purposes, rather than a research study, you should select a rating system that is informative for you. Then you can study the patterns of your ratings and decide if you want to consider some of the items as the basis for seeking more information about the practices. Think about what you already do well; think about items that you might add to your instructional repertoire; and select items that you might want to know more about in the future. If you wanted to enhance the quality of questioning techniques based upon your ratings, try a few tactics to help you understand your current practices. Tape record a few 5 minute segments of your classroom interactions. Listen to the voices carefully.
- How many students are asking questions?
- What types of questions are posed?
- What other types of questions would enhance the interactions?
- Are students challenging each other’s responses?
- Are students searching for verification of details by analyzing specific sections of text?
There is a great quote by Frank Kingdom: “Questions are acts of intelligence” (source unknown). Questions are posed to clarify information, to seek details, to offer alternative perspectives, or to continue the quest for more knowledge and understanding. If you completed your personal ratings of Factor 1: Questioning & Thinking and found that your ratings were mainly “never” and “sometimes,” you might want to experiment with resources such as the following:
- Learn how to incorporate thinking skills into various content areas to encourage students to examine concepts and principles. Sternberg and Spear-Swerling (1996) provide examples of several assignments that encourage analytical intelligence, practical intelligence, and creative intelligence, based on Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence (1985). In biology, they offer the following suggestions:
- Evaluate the validity of the bacterial theory of ulcers.
- Design an experiment to test the bacterial theory of ulcers.
- How would the bacterial theory of ulcers change conventional treatment?
- Fountain and Fusco (1991) support the viewpoint of teaching reading as thinking and recommend several strategies that emphasize metacognition before, during, and after reading, writing, thinking, and listening (Costa, 1991, Costa & Liebmann, 1997). Metacognition makes us aware of what, how, and why we are doing something. Essentially, it aids us in planning, monitoring, and evaluating our thinking. Loring (1987) adapted Fountain and Fusco’s approach and provided the following suggestions applicable to any text, conversation, or reflection. The works of Fountain and Fusco and Loring have been modified for Table 1 of this article.
Questions and Statements to Support Reading/Writing/Speaking/Listening
Try the techniques above and see how students respond. Ask students to select one question before, during, and after they read text of various challenge levels (i.e., on grade level and above grade level). Encourage them to start a “Questioning & Thinking Journal” to see how their understanding of text is supported or enhanced by carefully analyzing their reading, thinking, and reflections. Convene small groups of students and ask them to share their reactions to documenting this process in their Questioning & Thinking Journals. As you read their journals, think about how you can make changes in your classroom practices that would further support Factor 1: Questioning & Thinking. Completing a similar analysis of classroom practices by including Factor 2: Providing Challenges & Choices further enhances the focus on questioning and thinking and considers various elements of the learning environment.
Self-reflection of classroom practices will certainly be enhanced as you think about how students are responding to changes you are making based on your personal analysis of your classroom. The second factor from the Classroom Practices Survey may extend your analysis of daily events that affect the classroom climate as well as teaching and learning opportunities.
Factor 2: Providing Challenges & Choices consists of a much larger group of items that clustered together during the factor analysis of the Classroom Practices Survey. As you review the items, you will recognize the inclusion of items related to thinking skills, flexibility of instructional choices, and varying the level of difficulty of the content. Once again, consider these items as an opportunity to conduct a self-reflection of your classroom practices. Select a response format (e.g., (1) Strongly Disagree, (2) Disagree, (3) Agree, (4) Strongly Agree) that will be informative and then conduct your rating of each item below for Factor 2: Providing Challenges & Choices:
- Allow students to work in location other than class
- Teach unit on thinking skills
- Competitive thinking skills/problem solving program
- Contracts or management plans for independent study
- Time for independent study projects
- Work from higher grade textbook in class
- More advanced curriculum unit
- Group by ability across classrooms
- Send to higher grade for specific subject area instruction
- Establish interest groups
- Consider student’s opinion in allocating time for subjects
- Programmed or self-instructional materials
- Encourage students to organize long-range projects
As you review your responses to the items above, determine whether you want to learn more about some of the practices that you are not currently emphasizing in your classroom. Ask yourself questions such as the following:
- Have I varied the learning environment for students who like to learn in small or large groups or independently?
- Do I really want to promote opportunities for students to use advanced curricula?
- Do I recognize my students’ academic needs by approaching new content in various ways?
There are myriad ways to approach teaching and learning. It is a matter of making choices that will yield the most positive outcomes for you and your students. Take a moment and think about how you would respond to the following question: How do I optimize student learning? As you think about your answer, consider various instructional options for students:
- Renzulli, Rizza, and Smith (2002) suggest the use of the Learning Styles Inventory to determine student preferences for one or more approaches to learning, understanding, and applying their skills and abilities. The styles include: direct instruction, instruction through technology, simulation, independent study, projects, peer teaching, drill & recitation, discussion, and teaching games. As you plan lessons and think about ways students will demonstrate their mastery of the curriculum, experiment with different approaches that will invigorate the learning environment.
- Rogers (2002) investigated the research evidence related to instructional management provisions and their impact on gifted students. In her book entitled Re-forming Gifted Education: Matching the Program to the Child, she provides research-based guidelines that will promote decision-making. Perhaps you would like to consider accelerating a gifted student in one subject either within the current grade level or advancing to a higher grade level. Rogers outlines questions to consider in developing an appropriately challenging educational plan and lists the behavioral characteristics that are important considerations for the student to experience success (see Table 2).
Candidate for Single-Subject Acceleration
Designing challenges and choices for your classroom is a worthy journey to consider. The changes will not be immediate nor automatic; therefore, think about what you would really like to accomplish, familiarize yourself with appropriate practices, and then monitor the results by asking two questions: (1) How has this change made a difference in my classroom? (2) What are the students’ responses to the focus on challenges and choices?
Only two of the six factors of the Classroom Practices Survey have been highlighted as opportunities to engage in an analysis of what happens in your classroom. The remaining factors include:
- Factor 3: Reading & Writing Assignments
- Factor 4: Curriculum Modification
- Factor 5: Enrichment Clusters
- Factor 6: Seatwork
The research teams associated with The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented will continue to create instruments that are of value to our planned program of research and will, at times, describe how such instruments can be of value in classrooms around the country. Adapting research instruments for individual use may prove to be another way to engage in your own professional development experience. Self-reflection and assessment are certainly pragmatic ways to consider classroom changes. Enjoy the process!