Scott W. Brown
Francis X. Archambault, Jr.
Karen L. Westberg
University of Connecticut
It is clear that an alarmingly large number of gifted and talented students are unchallenged in our nation’s schools. Few comprehensive programs for the gifted exist, and those gifted students who do get special attention receive it for as little as 2 or 3 hours per week in a resource room setting, with little or no modification in their regular classroom activities (Archambault, Westberg, Brown, Hallmark, Zhang, & Emmons, 1993; Council of State Directors, 1987; Cox, Daniel, & Boston, 1993; Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, & Salvin, 1993). Studies by Archambault et al. (1993) and Westberg et al. (1993) have focused on classroom practices with gifted and talented students in regular classrooms across the United States using the responses of third- and fourth-grade teachers. The current study is an extension of this research conducted by The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT). The purpose of this study is to examine the factors that may affect the classroom practices of teachers with average and gifted students in the regular classroom.
The questions addressed by the current study are related to certain teacher and student demographic variables. There were three specific questions.
- What is the relationship of the teacher’s experience to his/her instructional practices with average and gifted students?
- What is the impact of specific teacher training in gifted education on both the gifted and average students?
- What is the impact of the presence of various numbers of gifted students within classrooms on the teacher’s instructional practices for all students?
Prompted in part by a series of studies and reports critical of tracking and homogeneous ability grouping (Carnegie Task Force on the Education of Young Adolescents, 1989; Goodlad, 1984; Oakes, 1989; Slavin, 1981; Toepfer, 1990), many school districts across the country are in the process of eliminating or downsizing their gifted programs and services. Thus, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the needs of gifted learners must be met in the regular classroom. Unfortunately, recent research (Archambault et al., 1993; Westberg et al., 1993) has found that the majority of regular classroom teachers are doing little to address these needs, and this result applies to classrooms and students in all regions of the country. These results are discouraging for supporters of gifted education, many of whom have long argued that a student’s educational program should be determined by his or her needs, abilities, and interests (Gallagher, 1985; Maker, 1982; Parke, 1989; Passow, 1982; Renzulli, 1977; Ward, 1980) and that any single educational experience will not benefit all students equally (Parke, 1989; Stewart, 1982). Although there is some evidence (Westberg et al., 1993) to suggest that certain classroom teachers are able to meet these students’ needs, we do not know at this time what distinguishes these teachers from the large majority of teachers who cannot, or will not, modify their instruction for gifted students.
Much has been written about the personal characteristics, competencies, and behaviors that distinguish outstanding from average teachers of the gifted (e.g., Story, 1985; Whitlock & DuCette, 1989). Research has also shown that gifted students prefer teachers who are older and more experienced (Bishop, 1967) and that teacher attitudes toward the gifted and talented are related to the amount of teaching experience (Rubenzer & Twaite, 1979). Thus, it appears that teaching experience may influence both how gifted students view teachers and how teachers view students. Despite a good deal of recent research on preservice and beginning teachers (e.g., Kagan, 1992), we know surprisingly little about the effect that teaching experience has on teaching behavior viewed over the longer haul, particularly the delivery of instruction to gifted students in the regular classroom.
According to Schack and Starko (1990), inservice training programs have traditionally been the major vehicle for preparing teachers to meet the needs of the gifted. Research also suggests that teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and practices can be influenced by training received at the preservice level (Koballa, 1984, 1986; Leyser & Abrams, 1983; Parish, Nunn, & Hattrup, 1982). However, we know very little about the differential effect of preservice and inservice training on the types of instruction delivered to gifted students. We also know little about how teacher behavior is affected by the number of gifted students in their classrooms. Perhaps greater numbers of gifted students reduce the teacher’s ability to meet individual needs. On the other hand, faced with a critical mass of gifted students, teachers might be motivated to become more familiar with gifted education practices and, therefore, be more able to meet their needs.
The Classroom Practices Questionnaire (CPQ) is a six-page instrument focusing on the teacher, school district, classroom issues, and classroom practices. The original sample consisted of 8,000 third- and fourth-grade school teachers randomly drawn from the four Bureau of Census regions of the country and three community types (urban, suburban and rural). The CPQ was mailed to the teachers in the winter of 1991. The return rate was approximately 50%; 3,993 total respondents. A complete description of the sampling procedure and the structure of the CPQ is presented in Archambault et al. (1993).
On the CPQ, teachers reported the frequency of 39 individual classroom practices that they employed with average and again with gifted students. Frequencies were reported on a 6-point scale ranging from 0 to 5 (Scale: 0 = Never; 1 = Once a month or less frequently; 2 = A few times a month; 3 = A few times a week; 4 = Daily; 5 = More than once a day). Earlier analyses of the CPQ indicated that there are six factors related to the classroom practices of teachers with gifted and average students, and that these instructional practices occurred slightly more frequently with gifted students than with average students. These factors were: (1) questioning and thinking; (2) providing challenges and choices; (3) reading and written assignments; (4) curriculum modifications; (5) enrichment centers; and (6) seatwork.
A repeated measures MANOVA with follow-up analyses was conducted. The model included the demographic variables (teaching experience, the amount of training, and the number of gifted students in the classroom) as the dependent variables and the type of student (average vs. gifted) and the six factor scores of the CPQ as the independent variables. The actual number of teachers’ responses in each analysis varied according to the amount of missing data. The actual number of respondents for each analysis will be reported for each of the three demographic variables.
Teaching experience was categorized into five levels [1 = <6 years, (n = 157); 2 = 6-10 years, (n = 180); 3 = 11-15 years, (n = 178); 4 = 16-20 years, (n = 259); 5 = >20 years, (n = 303)] (N = 1077). The analyses revealed significant interactions between teacher experience and the type of student (F = 3.31, p < .01) and between teacher experience and the six factors (F = 3.60, p < .01). Follow-up analyses indicated that as teacher experience increased, differences in the average and gifted, favoring the gifted students (i.e., differentiated instruction) also increased. This suggests the more experienced the teacher, the greater the differentiated curriculum for the gifted student(s).
The follow-up analyses for the interaction of teacher experience and the six factors across both types of students revealed that only the seatwork factor (factor 6) produced a significant effect (p < .05). Additional analyses indicated that the least experienced teachers reported assigning seatwork significantly less than those with 15 years or more of teaching experience. Thus, more experienced teachers appear to be more likely to assign seatwork than their younger colleagues.
The amount of training in gifted education that teachers reported was coded into three separate groups [1 = no training, (n = 364); 2 = district or workshop training (n = 349); and 3 = college/university courses or a degree program, (n = 325)] (N = 1,038). The analyses of the training effect revealed a significant main effect for the training variable (F = 24.39, p < .01), as well as significant interactions between training and type of student (gifted and average) (F = 4.88, p < .01) and between training and the six factors (F = 4.41, p < .01).
Follow-up analyses indicated that teachers with either type of training (district or formal university training) reported making greater differentiation between the average and gifted students for factors 1, 2, 3, and 5. For factor 4, curriculum modifications, teachers who had district or workshop training provided greater differentiation than teachers who had no training. Also, teachers who had university training provided greater differentiation than those with district or workshop training. The higher the level of training, the greater the curriculum modifications. Interestingly, only factor 6, seatwork, yielded no differences in the classroom practices according to the amount of training, possibly because few gifted programs focus on assigning seatwork to students.
The Number of Gifted Students in the Classroom
The number of formally identified gifted children in the classroom was coded into three separate groups [(1 = 1-2 students, (n = 504); 2 = 3-4 students, (n = 293); 3 = >4 students, n = 272)] (total N = 1,069). The analyses yielded a significant interaction between the number of gifted students and the factors (F = 3.71, p < .01), but there was no significant main effect for the number of gifted students (p > .05).
The interaction indicates that for factors 1, 3, 5, and 6, (questioning and thinking, reading and written assignments, enrichment centers, and seatwork) there were no differences in the classroom practices reported by teachers according to the number of gifted students in their class. However, for factors 2 and 4 (providing challenges and choices, and curriculum modifications) there were significant differences (p < .05). For factor 2 there was no difference in the classroom practices when teachers had between 1 and 4 gifted students in their classrooms, but when they had 5 or more gifted students, the challenges and choices for all students increased. For factor 4, there was a significant difference (p < .05) in the amount of curriculum modifications made for all students when the class contained between 1 and 2 gifted students and when there were greater than 4 gifted students), but neither group was significantly different from teachers having 3 and 4 students.
By examining the classroom practices of teachers with average and gifted students, examining teaching experience, teacher training, and the presence of different numbers of gifted students on regular classroom practices with all students, these results extend the findings of earlier research focusing on classroom practices. The conclusion that the more experience teachers have, the greater their ability to differentiate their instructional practices for gifted and average students is not surprising, but the extremely small actual difference among the training levels is discouraging. On a 6-point scale, the maximum mean difference between the experience levels was 0.06 for the average and 0.12 for the gifted students, with a maximum difference between the gifted and average students of 0.20 for the most experienced teachers. As experience increased, so did the difference in the treatment of average and gifted students, but again, the differences were very small.
The finding that teacher training in gifted education benefits all students is one that has been hypothesized by gifted educators for years. The current study provides evidence supporting this position. The classroom practices of those teachers trained in district or special workshop programs, and those with university or college training increased their classroom practices for all students, in every factor/practice except the use of seatwork. Additionally, college/university training had a significant impact above and beyond district and workshop training for modifying the curriculum with average students as well as gifted students.
Finally, the number of formally identified gifted students did not have an impact on the differences in several of the practices used with gifted and average students. Having greater than 5 gifted students in the classroom appears to positively impact the challenges and choices and curricular modifications that classroom teachers provide to average and gifted students.
The present study provides evidence that training in gifted education and the presence of gifted and talented students in the regular classroom positively impact the instructional practices of teachers for both gifted and average students. Teachers with formal training in gifted education (as opposed to district inservice training or no training at all) provided more curricular modifications for gifted students, and this finding should be of particular interest to individuals in higher education and school administrators. It suggests that administrators may want to examine prospective teachers’ transcripts to see if teachers were enrolled in courses on meeting students’ individual needs and courses in gifted education. The finding further suggests that faculty and administrators in higher education should make sure that their institutions offer these courses and encourage all education majors to enroll in them.
In addition to noting the benefit of formal training in gifted education, school personnel should be aware of the impact that district inservice training had on some of the practices used by teachers with gifted and average students, i.e., questioning and thinking, challenges and choices, reading and writing assignments, and enrichment centers. It reaffirms the “need for” and “benefits of” staff development at the district level. It also suggests, however, that training on how to modify the curriculum has been inadequately addressed or has not been provided at all in staff development programs.
The data from this study suggest that the number of formally identified students in classrooms does not have an impact on most of the teachers’ classroom practices. However, the research finding that having more than 5 gifted students in the classroom results in more “challenges and choices” being provided to both gifted and average students is particularly intriguing. This suggests that the “cluster model” in gifted education has noteworthy outcomes. The “cluster model” (placing several gifted students into one regular classroom with a trained teacher) has not been used as much in recent years and, perhaps, it should be reconsidered as a viable provision for meeting the needs of gifted students in the regular classroom. While there is certainly no consensus in the literature about the most appropriate delivery system for gifted students, the results of this study suggest that if the needs of gifted are to be met within the regular classroom, we should consider the training of the classroom teacher and the student composition of the classroom.