K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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January 2011
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Archive of the web conference “Who Cares? Using Real-World Perspectives to Engage Academically Gifted Learners,” which took place Jan. 10, 2011. This web conference accompanies the article by the same name.

Transcript

Automated voice (00:02)
Recording started
Bobby Hobgood (00:03)
Good afternoon, and welcome to this LEARN NC series, "Reaching Every Learner: Differentiating Instruction in Theory and Practice." I’m Bobby Hobgood and along with my colleague Emily Jack here in Chapel Hill, we’re happy to bring you this fourth web conference in the series. Today’s web conference focused on the article by Linda Robinson, "Who Cares?: Using Real-World Perspectives to Engage Academically Gifted Learners." I’m going to let Linda introduce herself in just a moment. So I’m going to ask everyone out there who’s joining us now if you would join me in a virtual round of applause, and welcome, for some introductory remarks, Linda Robinson.
Linda Robinson (00:47)
Hi, delighted to get to be with you even if it is in cyberspace. You can see a little bit of my background there, I’m also the mom of two fun boys, which is not put on there, so I need to add that as well. There are three things that we are going to be focusing on today in my time, and then we’ll allow for lots, hopefully, of questions and answers so we can kind of explore this topic together a little bit more. The first thing we’ll talk about is why would we use real-life roles in developing assignments at all? What’s the justification for it? You got a lot of that in the article, so we’ll just kind of have a quick recap. And second is, how do real-life perspectives actually help address the needs of academically gifted learners? Why are we even mentioning this in relation to them? Is it exclusive to them? And the third issue that we’ll look at is some examples that I have from teachers that have incorporated this strategy that were not included in the article, so we thought we would explore some possibilities even outside of the ones that have already been explored.
(01:56)
So first we’ll look at why use real-life perspectives? We get caught up sometimes in schoolhouse learning and schoolhouse products. Book reports are something that we all grew up doing, but they’re not things that real people do in real life. And education, as we well know, is moving students towards adult roles. The earlier we can introduce those, the earlier students will have a chance to do not only some real, authentic thinking, but also some career exploration, and have some idea of what they may be interested — or not interested — in doing as a career. Second is that kids are more engaged when they realize that this is real learning. How often do you have students say to you, "Why are we learning this? What is this all about? What’s the purpose of this?" And certainly there’s nothing that we should be teaching that doesn’t have real-life applications, along the way. So the earlier they make that connection, the more engaged they’ll be. The third is an interesting one. And that is that in real-life perspectives, not only do adults think about these things that we look at as standard course of study objectives, but they look at them from different perspectives. And those perspectives are not always in agreement. So to get at the critical thinking that we really want to be developing with students, it’s absolutely imperative that we look at the issues as adults look at them, and that we see the things that might not be in total agreement and try to get some resolution.
(03:29)
So the second issue that we want to explore is why with gifted students, and why does that — how is that going to have any sort of an impact? You know, what would be the relationship between real-life perspectives and giftedness? In the article I’ve outlined characteristics of the gifted that are relevant to this particular question. But I want to make absolutely sure that we emphasize that this is is not the only way to address the needs of gifted learners. In the first article that was released on tiering without tears, we went through ten different ways to tier assignments. Ten different ways to, we’ll say "jack up" or "jack down" assignments as they are typically developed for our just-ready students, our grade-level students. And this is only one of those ten. However, my experience has sort of indicated that it’s one of the easiest and one of the least used, which seems a bit ironic. It’s incredibly easy once you get into the rhythm of examining an objective, and asking yourself, "Who cares about this? Who in real life might ever be interested in or use this particular objective? And in what ways would they do it? And who might use it differently and be in conflict with that individual?" So simply asking that question sometimes gives you better ideas than you might have otherwise had.
(05:00)
For example, I had first-graders who were — excuse me, kindergartners — who wanted to do a study of animals. And they each wanted to do a little bit of researching, you know, kindergarten and research is pretty much of a stretch for them. They wanted to do some fairly simple research into one specific animal. But then when you start to look at that, you think, "Well, who cares?" You know, so they do a little report on a dog. What exactly is the purpose of that other than they’ll learn to read the material and be able to give a summary? And not long after that I ran across an article in the News & Observer about the city council in Cary having a council policy that restrict the number of cats that a household can have. So that raises a real-life issue. If you restrict the number of cats that a particular household can have, what should be the policies related to any of the other animals that we’re examining? So we developed an independent study where the students had to look at the animal: What is the animal’s natural habitat? What does the animal eat? What are its enemies? What are its friends? But then you had to submit to the council — the city council the recommendations that you would make related to that particular species.
(06:27)
And interesting discussions arose, for example, one student had done cats, another had done tigers. The student who had chosen cats proposed to the one who did tigers, "Your restrictions are going to have some bearing on mine, because tigers actually would be considered cats." So they realized that they had to be much more specific and much more articulate about how they even described their species, much less the recommendations they would make. Then these very high-functioning students presented to the city council, which was the rest of the students in the classroom. And those students then determined which policies they would adopt.
(07:09)
So there are real-life perspectives that are sometimes in conflict, and if we look at two ways, just two ways, that we want to think about using these for gifted learners, one would be that when students get mastery — it doesn’t matter if we could consider them to be gifted learners or not — if they get mastery before other students do, they need to be doing something else, something that’s challenging. So if they have mastery of the standard course of study, they’re ready to apply it to real-life perspectives.
(07:39)
A second global way of looking at applying this would be that everybody gets real-life perspectives and everybody gets roles to play within the classroom, but that the roles are tiered in terms of sophistication. And you saw some examples of that with the Bill of Rights contract that was included in the article, where students could look at the Bill of Rights from the perspective of a policeman or the perspective of a Buddhist priest.
(08:08)
So now we’ll look at some other examples that were not included that might be of interest to you. Some teachers at Baileywick Elementary School in the fifth grade worked with me on a contract that we called "Technology Anthology Contract." They have to teach issues related to technology. So one of the first assignments we came up with is that you’re an account executive in charge of advertising for a video game company. And you are looking at advertising, and what’s effective and what’s not, what’s cost efficient and what’s not, and then you have to submit a recommendation as to what technology will you use for advertising your video games, and what would be your plan of action. And that they’ll submit in a written or in PowerPoint as well, recommendations to the company.
(09:01)
The second example from that same contract, says that you’re a director of a non-profit, and you’re submitting an application for a $100,000 grant to solve the issue of unfair access to technology, what we all call the technology divide, where we know that people of different socioeconomic levels do not have access. With that $100,000, what would you do? Would it be to get iPhones for people in poverty? Would it be to provide laptops? Would it be to provide DVD players or even tape recorders? You know, what is it that you would do that would address that issue as effectively and efficiently as possible with the greatest lasting value? And with that they have to examine all aspects of available technology, but also do cost analysis of what’s going to have the greatest impact.
(10:00)
In another example of that, they’re told that they’re members of the United States Senate, and that they feel strongly that there should be some limitations on certain technologies. For example, maybe it’s cell phones. Maybe cell phones can not be allowed to be taken into funeral homes. Maybe cell phones can not be allowed in certain areas that are having to provide a certain amount of security. Or maybe they shouldn’t be allowed in the U.S. Stock Exchange, or they shouldn’t be allowed in schools, or there shouldn’t be certain apps that can be downloaded at certain ages. What are the restrictions that you think should exist in relation to a specific technology — in this case, maybe cell phones? And they’re to actually write and submit a bill that they would propose to the U.S. Senate that would outline those restrictions.
(10:53)
Another group of teachers, third-grade teachers at Washington Elementary School who have to teach issues related to economics, were given this as an assignment to the students: You’re a newspaper reporter for a state-distributed paper. And you know that certainly this economic crisis has brought about a plethora of articles and features and stories about the entire economic crisis. But you need to come up with a fresh perspective. Something no one’s written about, something very, very different. What is it going to be? Well in order to accomplish that, the students have to look at what is out there, what has been written, what has already been explored in terms of economics. And then as a result, they’re addressing those standard course of study objectives that we want them to get mastery over.
(11:51)
Another teacher at Hope County High School, named Godzetta Whittington developed a fascinating contract on Macbeth, looking at the high-school level, and some of the interesting perspectives that she highlighted on that contract, one was to look at Macbeth from the perspective of a funeral home director. And you’re being asked to develop, first of all, obituaries, for three main characters out of Macbeth. How would Lady Macbeth’s obituary look different from Macbeth’s? And then you’re asked to develop the entire funeral program. What songs would you select? Remembering that they’re probably going to pick from contemporary songs, or hymns, or they have to decide which songs would best emulate the life and the death of each of these characters. And then they must submit an obituary as well. And the third aspect is that they’re to research the burial customs of 11th-century Scottish dignitaries as compared with 21st-century American dignitaries, and notice how they’re different and create a product.
(13:03)
Another role that Godzetta Whittington chose for studying Macbeth was that of an insurance salesman; I happen to love this one. And she had them first of all to create life insurance policies for each of these three main characters. And then, and this one really struck me as highly creative, develop a sales pitch for three different types of insurance that you would recommend for these main characters out of Macbeth. How would you choose what types of insurance they would need, what would you insure out of what you know that they owned and what you know were their assets, as well as their concerns. And then develop that policy as well as a sales pitch for them. I thought that was a magnificent one along the way.
(13:56)
So these are some examples of things that even go beyond the things that were submitted in the article as an example. And I noticed that we’ve got people from all different grade levels and so we’d love to get questions from you about what are the things about using perspectives that puzzle you and what are ideas that you might have for implementation of this strategy?
Bobby Hobgood (14:24)
Okay Linda, thanks for those remarks this afternoon. Now we’ve got, the balance of our time this afternoon devoted to your questions of Linda about using this particular technique, about working with gifted students in general. Linda, as you saw in her introductory slide, does a lot of professional development consulting work with school systems and so we’re very fortunate to have her here this afternoon. We’re going to devote some time this afternoon to Q & A with Linda. And Linda, before we go to some of the questions from around the state, I’ve got a question for you: In that you’ve worked with so many educators, both classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, administrators on working with gifted students, in particular this technique, can you talk about what kind of transformation you’ve seen in the teachers themselves? You know, we look at this technique and we talk about it. You’ve talked about it as a way of changing students’ perspectives by giving them real-world perspectives. In other words, their perspectives on the relevance of what they’re learning. But how about the teachers themselves? How does this technique influence or change them?
Linda Robinson (15:50)
That’s actually a great question. I think one of the things about teaching that we’re not even cognizant of sometimes but that’s often frustrating is that we feel like we’re on an island, not just in terms of not having interaction with other educators, but also that we’re very focused on our standard course of study, and we’re not connected to the rest of the world, and to the outside world. We also sometimes lose the importance of what we’re teaching. We lose sight of how significant what we’re doing is actually going to contribute towards the future. So there’s something about reaching out beyond our classroom and grabbing that real-world perspective and bringing it back into the learning that helps teachers realize what a contribution they’re making to each of these fields. There could be a student in your classroom who actually will be an insurance salesman at some point along the way. And so to have that student thinking like a real person in that field is preparing that child for his or her own future, and there’s something incredibly exciting about that. I’ve had teachers that sometimes aren’t sure exactly how to start and kind of need a jump-start, and they’ve had success with letting the kids make the connections. Had a teacher that was once wanting to teach a unit on weather. So, what she did was to list various careers and let the students say, "How are these related to weather?" For example, she listed poets. How are poets related to weather? And the students started brainstorming, and in brainstorming, they started asking guiding questions such as, "Why is it that when it’s one season we write about another?" or "Why is it that when we — when it’s winter time, or snowy — that we long for and write poems about sunny days and Caribbean islands and things like that? And so the mathematicians looked at what are ways in which we measure weather? So, you know, sometimes it’s as effective if you’re not sure where to go with it to let the students take careers and brainstorm what the connections are. But I think it increases the level of importance for us, of what we’re doing in the classroom, and it’s not just about the objectives, and it’s not just about the end-of-grade and end-of-course assessments, but that it’s about creating adults for the future.
Emily Jack (18:30)
Thanks Linda. The first question comes from a librarian who says, "Would it be practical to do a ‘who cares’ about being able to read well? As a librarian I want my students to realize that everything hinges upon them being able to read. Is this too broad a topic for 4th- to 5th-grade students?"
Linda Robinson (18:50)
It might be broad, only in that that’s usually not what your standard course of study objective would be, it wouldn’t just say read well. But it might be that you want them to read something very specific well. Can you propose what it might be? For example, why would you need to read, let’s say, the newspaper well, or why would you need to read nonfiction well, or why would you need to read a research article well? I would suggest that you narrow down the focus a little bit and honestly, using the standard course of study objectives I think is helpful in getting your focus on what it is that you want mastery of, and then looking at who in the adult world actually has mastery of that. So think about it from the standard course of study out, and that might focus it a little bit more of the questions. I think your concept is a terrific one. Why do people, and "well" might need to be more clearly defined. Are you talking about accurately? Or are you talking about empathetically? You know, what is it that you are wanting them to accomplish? So look back at those objectives and figure out more specifically what you want to address.
Emily Jack (20:00)
Thanks Linda, that’s helpful. The second question comes from an elementary art teacher who says that using real-life perspectives and experiences comes naturally in the lessons that she teaches, but she wants to know how she can make her art lessons more like, kind of a problem-based learning style. She says, in looking through the perspectives-based assignment examples, she found some ways in which she can positively challenge her academically gifted students.
Linda Robinson (20:28)
Oh, I love it! I love it! Again, looking from real-world perspectives in the arts, and I have a background in music, you might want to look at tying into other standard course of study objectives and other aspects of the curriculum. For example, if students are studying the community, or if it’s fourth and eighth grade where they’re studying North Carolina, or whatever it would be that they’re particularly studying, let’s say community as an example. If they’re focused on studying the community, your assignment might be that they are to develop a two- or three-dimensional work of art that would hang in — if it’s the community, I suppose, we might say the chamber of commerce or the mayor’s office or something — that would accurately depict the greatest forces in this community over the last one hundred years,and not just human forces. What would be other forces, economic forces that would have had an impact, and forces in the arts, and even forces in natural occurrences. You know, the tornado that swept through Raleigh might even be depicted. What are things that have influenced this community over the last one hundred years, and how would you depict that through art?
(21:47)
I’ll tell you a fabulous assignment that I had a student to do once at the high-school level, since we’re talking about Macbeth. He wanted to do an independent study, and since I was coordinator of gifted programs and Henry County Schools, around Collinsville, Martinsville area of Virginia, and we did an independent study program at the secondary level, students had to submit proposals. Well, he said that he would like to do something related to art, but he would like his high-school English teacher to be his adviser. Well, you know, it needed to be related to English. So he decided he would focus on Macbeth, which we said “fine,” and he wanted to do a series of abstract paintings related to Macbeth. Well, honestly, I have to tell you, I was a bit skeptical because how would you know the abstract paintings are related to Macbeth? This is what he did in his proposal: He assigned each of the — first of all, he picked the six pivotal scenes in Macbeth, the six scenes that he felt really told the story of Macbeth. Then to each of the major characters depicted in those scenes, he assigned a color scheme. For example, Macbeth had the blues, and Lady Macbeth had the reds, and other characters had various other shades of other hues. Then what he did was to determine the amount of that color that would cover the canvas depending on the amount of time that character spent within that scene. The intensity of the color was dependent on the intensity of the character within that scene. In some you would see Macbeth as a light blue and others as more of a Duke blue. And then the interaction of the characters was depicted on the relationship of the colors to each other, and whatever kind of abstract shape he had determined for the characters. So at times, when Lady Macbeth and Macbeth were interacting in a very heated way, you would see a deep, deep purple. Then he took these six abstract paintings to elementary schools and told the story of Macbeth. Now that’s a real-world kind of product.
Emily Jack (24:01)
That is very cool, I love that example. Thank you for sharing that. The next question is: I’m curious about how a teacher can deal with this fairness question that is bound to come up at the high-school level, or is it usually an across-the-board assignment at that level?
Linda Robinson (24:19)
That’s a terrific question. I would refer you back to the article that we did the first in the series on tiering without tears, only because that article spends a good bit of time talking about the fairness issue. That’s absolutely a paramount discussion to have before you can talk about differentiation for any students, whether it’s students that are struggling, or students that are going beyond. And the fairness — to oversimplify, and I will so the response can be brief enough, but do go back to that article, it’s much more fully fleshed out — but to oversimplify, we’ll look at it from two perspectives. The fairness in this case, we would address in one of two ways. Either everyone would be given a perspective, but students would be given different perspectives, which is only going to enrich our discussion when we’re talking about and looking at these objectives or the standard course of study curriculum, from these real-life positions. Or, those who have demonstrated mastery or prior mastery, or early mastery of the objective would then be put into the real-life role. And that would be for any student who shows and demonstrates early mastery along the way. So not to oversimplify, but in this case, we’re talking about just this particular strategy, I think it would be safe to say those are two ways to address fairness. You want to remember that fairness — we talked about in the early article, just to quick, quick recap — should be defined in four ways: everybody invests the same amount of time in their learning, that everyone is challenged, and that means they’re challenged from where they are toward where you’re taking them, and they’re not starting at the same place. But everyone is learning something new, that no one is stagnating, and that there’s some degree, equivalent amounts of fun across the classroom. You’re not having one population get significantly more fun than another.
Emily Jack (26:25)
That’s great, and I’m thinking back to some of the videos that we included with that tiering article as well, and specifically the video of the teachers at Baileywick Elementary, and their discussions of fairness. And if I recall correctly, one of the teachers said that they had kind of anticipated questions about fairness from the students, but once the the students saw that they were being challenged at their level and that they were all facing the same expectations, that there weren’t the questions that they had anticipated.
Linda Robinson (27:01)
Yeah, nice **
Emily Jack (27:03)
Thank you, and the next question is about labeling students "academically gifted," and this is another question from an art teacher, and she’s asking about, if a student is labeled academically gifted, you know, does mean that they’re automatically going to be academically gifted in the arts? Or, what are the issues there with labeling as you see them?
Linda Robinson (27:25)
Well, that’s, that’s a great question, and one that’s frequently asked and creates a lot of confusion. There are a multitude of definitions of giftedness. And in my mind, most of them are perfectly acceptable. There are a few that are not. They’re perfectly acceptable. A definition of giftedness is the starting place before you can determine exactly what services should be given, exactly how you’re going to differentiate. And in our state of North Carolina, because we have no federal funding and limited state funding for differentiation, a decision was made back in the 1980s to focus on two areas of instruction for our definition of giftedness. And those areas are the language arts and mathematics. And the reasoning behind that is that’s it’s a very small amount of money, and the hope is that other areas of giftedness will be addressed with other resources and through other programs. So our definition, if you notice it’s always "academically" or "intellectually" and/or "intellectually gifted" is our definition. Which leaves out the arts, and that’s not meant to be offensive. What it’s meant to say is, if we called ourselves the gifted program that would be like calling an athletic program something that’s only basketball. So by calling it academically or intellectually gifted, you’re saying this is all we’re focused on for this program at this time, with this money, with these resources. Other areas of giftedness are addressed in other ways with other resources.
(29:08)
So, even if the student is identified as gifted, even sometimes highly gifted in mathematics, they may even have learning differences in language arts. Certainly, that would have absolutely no bearing on their area of giftedness in the arts. So, can you interpret from the fact that a child is academically or intellectually gifted whether or not they are gifted in the arts? Absolutely not. There’s no relationship, there’s no correlation whatsoever. Every classroom ought to be looking for the children whose gifts go beyond those represented within the rest of the classroom. And for those students you’re going to be differentiating. So in an art setting, you would be looking for students who have a high degree of both potential, and performance in art, and therefore you would be differentiating to address their needs and not necessarily in the same way that you would for mathematics.
Emily Jack (30:09)
Thanks Linda. The next question is from a biology teacher who writes, "Next semester I’ll be teaching inclusion biology, regular bio, and honors bio. Do I need to look at the standard course of study objectives and develop three tiers in each class, and if so, how do I do this efficiently?
Linda Robinson (30:32)
Are you having — are you teaching those as three different sections? In other words, do you have students at all three levels within one classroom, or do you have three different classrooms where you’ve got three different levels of students? Let me get a little bit of a response for that. That would only make a difference in terms of how you’re serving the assignment. The bottom line answer, whether you want to hear it or not, I don’t know, but the bottom line answer is yes. Yes, you should be looking at tiering the standard course of study to meet those three different needs. The difference is going to be how you manage that. If you have one classroom with all three — it’s three different classes. Okay. That certainly makes it a lot easier for you in terms of the management. And the simple answer is, absolutely. Even within those classrooms you’re going to have a wide spectrum of aptitude and skill level, and so you’ll be wanting to differentiate. But absolutely there should be three tiers. It’s the standard course of study, it’s a standard course of study. And it’s standard in terms of, this is the minimum of what we must master in order to show proficiency, but you’re obviously going to be going significantly beyond that standard in order to address the needs of those students who are able to learn at a different rate.
Emily Jack (31:59)
Thank you. The next question is about testing. As you kind of do your professional development with teachers, do you get questions about how to do this and still make sure they’re preparing students for EOG and EOC tests, and if so, how do you address those questions?
Linda Robinson (32:19)
Yeah, you know, more and more, the EOC and EOGs are incorporating critical thinking and critical analysis. And the only way that I can see to get students in a very authentic way into critical analysis is to get them into these real-life roles, and let them look from those perspectives. I’ve also noticed, because I’ve had a lot of experience with problem-based learning, whenever you put students in an authentic role, their backs literally straighten. They somehow rise to being something you thought they were otherwise incapable of being and thinking in ways that you thought them incapable — as, say, third graders — of being able to process. And so, there’s a direct effect, a very positive effect between putting these students in these roles and then seeing their performance on an assessment that requires that they critically analyze things. I’m sure, if you’re teaching mathematics, you’ve noticed that the math assessments, more and more, are very, very problem-based. They’re not just looking at isolated skills. And the students, if they come from those problems first, and get used to thinking from real-life perspectives about that first, are much more likely to be able to show proficiency in that when it comes to the assessment.
Emily Jack (33:49)
Thank you. Have you looked at any of the test scores from teachers who have used this technique and seen whether those test scores have changed as a result?
Linda Robinson (34:02)
That’s a terrific question. I’m right now actually working on my doctorate, and one of the things that I would like very much to explore in my dissertation is precisely that. Here’s why; it’s a simple logistically issue. Here’s why we’ve not had good data in the past. Not to elaborate too much, but when we’ve even been able to access data about students, we have made the erroneous decision to put them into the system as academically and/or intellectually gifted. Period. And even then, sometimes they weren’t accurately put into the system. As a result, you can’t make correlations based on exactly what the art teacher was asking a little while ago. For example, if I wanted to look at the effects of a particular instructional strategy on students who are academically and/or intellectually gifted in mathematics, I would need to know that they were identified in that area. And in the past, we’ve only known that they are identified, and we didn’t have clear distinction between those that were identified in math and those in language arts. I know that sounds like a bizarre oversight, but that’s exactly what it’s been, so only for the past year and a half have we even had the capability to be able to go in and analyze that. And I’ll be honest and tell you, there’s not been a lot of data that’s been gathered and analyzed. So I’m looking forward to doing exactly that. I will tell you this; just teacher to teacher: I will tell you that teachers who have incorporated this have done significantly better on their National Boards. There’s a high correlation between teachers who get mastery of more sophisticated strategies, and more authentic strategies like this and those that are able to perform well on National Boards.
Emily Jack (36:10)
That’s great. That’s good to hear. Another teacher writes, "How can I use this concept with a small group of students which includes two students with behavior issues. And these are students who usually let the rest of the group members do the work."
Linda Robinson (36:24)
Yeah, you know, I’ll tell you from the perspective of problem-based learning because that’s a — it’s a much more in-depth structure of doing exactly what we’re talking about. Using these real-life perspectives, usually in a PBL unit, you’re doing this for a two-week period of time, and the students are put into real-life roles. And I did some, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do some work with Dr. Shelia Gallagher, who’s actually brilliant at just this, and Bill Stepien, who’s, both of them have written the books and the ASCD videos about PBL. And when we would go into areas, one thing we were looking for were ways to sort of rise to the surface those students who are under-achieving gifted students. Those students whose abilities have somehow sort of waned if not vanished by the time they’re in high school and upper middle school. And we were looking for strategies that would help us sort of see those characteristics come out. So we were looking at a lot of the very kind of student that you’re talking about, students who are serious behavior issues. I can remember one in Wilson County who had not made it through a complete week yet, and this was February, he had not attended all five days in any one week up to that point. And for the two weeks that we were doing problem-based learning, he never missed a day. And that in and of itself astounded his teachers. We thought that was aiming rather low for evaluation, but his engagement in that unit — and we documented it on video — was absolutely astounding. So it could be that this particular strategy would give kids a reason why they’re learning what they’re learning. And some of those kids that are behavioral issues often don’t see the validity and the connection between what they’re doing and what their interests are. Another thing that helps is it allows you to find the interests and passions to those individual students and find ways of creating roles that would simulate those passions that they have in looking at your own standard course of study.
Emily Jack (38:51)
I think that’s a great point, and I guess it just comes down to, you know, what is the source of these students’ behavior problems? So yeah, that’s a good way to address that. I’m wondering, can you talk a little bit about the teachers that are in the video, that — the videos that are associated with this article, the teachers in Hoke County? What’s their community and school environment like? Are these teachers in a wealthy county, are they well-resourced?
Linda Robinson (39:23)
No, they are not teachers in a wealthy county. The Leandro case, many of you would be familiar with that. It was a case that was brought initially by parents and some educators and it was a class action suit, but the Leandros are actually a family that live in Hoke County and that the impetus for the whole case was that this is a low-wealth district, about as low-wealth as you could be at that particular time, a very poor district. It’s south of Cumberland County, south of Fayetteville, and they recently got a Walmart, which is just, you know, a huge progress in that area in terms of just accessibility of things. But otherwise, it’s a very poor area. You might have seen the issues recently about their turkey-processing plant, and that’s the main industry down there, is House of Raeford. So it’s a very impoverished area, and these teachers in my book are absolute, dedicated saints. They are just remarkable in what they inspire and what they are able to produce out of these students. Incredibly dedicated. The ones that you saw on the video, most of them had been through the training in academically gifted local licensure that we’ve provided over the last — I think it’s been fifteen years that I’ve been working with Hoke County. Most of them have had at least three long weekends, we’re getting ready to do another this all-day Friday and Saturday. So they’ve had a minimum of 45 hours of training on differentiation, and then participated in another fifteen hours on a really advanced course that allowed them to pull together the things that they’ve been trained to do into more sophisticated products. So they themselves are very sophisticated, but they have had a good bit of training on differentiating for the needs of gifted learners, which has allowed them to sort of raise the bar for all learners in their classroom. And they sort of know where they’re headed in terms of challenging all students.
Bobby Hobgood (41:37)
Thanks Linda. Got a question for you related to the vertical and horizontal alignment of curriculum. We talk about that as a way of helping students as well to see connections and to make those important connections. And I’m wondering if you have any data, or anecdotal observations of what happens to students whose teachers use real-world perspectives as this one here, then they move onto the next grade level, or to a different school, maybe, you know, middle school, high school. What about that student is different and what happens if their teachers are not making those real-world connections. Can you talk about that just a little bit?
Linda Robinson (42:21)
Well, that’s interesting. You know, there’s a lot of debate within gifted education, obviously about the choice between what we’ll call acceleration and then what we’ll call everything else. The term that’s used is “enrichment,” but the reason I find that a little bit — offensive is not the right word, but inaccurate — is that every student should be getting enrichment. So let’s just say non-acceleration. Other ways to differentiate for gifted learners other than acceleration. When we accelerate, which we should, and there are 18 different ways to accelerate, and we certain — sort of grade acceleration is not the only way, it’s one of the more extreme ways. We should be accelerating, but there’s where you have the complexity of, what if the student gets early mastery of even the next grade level, or the next, and then has to sit through getting that same instruction all over again in the next two to three years, are we setting them up for disaster? There’s some concern about that. However, real-life perspectives, at least in my experience, is an alternative to that, and that is to say, I’m not going to the next grade level, or the next grade level, I’m going out into the real world and bringing that perspective in to the third-grade standard course of study. So I’m not bypassing the next grade levels, I’m getting them to look as adults would look back at this grade level. And I hope that we’re never hindered in our instruction by thinking, "Gee, I don’t want them to have a really, incredibly enriching, authentic experience this year, and that would therefore make the next few years more dull. The reverse tends to be true. If you can give students — particularly our students who are capable of learning at a fast pace and at a very sophisticated level — if you can just feed them all you can feed them during the time that they are under your care, sometimes that will sustain them through times that are a bit on the dry side. Those times that they’re really not being fed at their particular level. And it would keep them in school, and it will keep them to able to still be achievers because they know ultimately what’s going to be out there.
(44:42)
We all can reflect on times that a third-grade teacher made all the difference for us, or a second-grade teacher who provided us with a learning experience that we would never would have had otherwise that kept us thirsty and kept us going. So, certainly we don’t prevent students from having those experiences just because the next grade level might not do it, but real-life perspectives provide a way to broaden the learning without necessarily going beyond in terms of mastery of the standard course of study objectives and skills.
Emily Jack (45:15)
That’s a great answer. You know, when we teach students that an electrician uses electricity, we’re not just teaching them that specific content, we’re teaching them to think who uses this, and once students get in that habit and to it for an entire semester, an entire academic year, I suspect they’re not going to just abandon that.
Linda Robinson (45:40)
No, that’s a good point. Once they’re given the perspective, they turn around and apply it themselves to their own learning. And it’s as simple as if you’re in the first grade and you’re studying soil, you know? Don’t think of it as soil from the standard course of study objective, think about "who cares?" Who needs to know about soil? I’ll tell you the honest truth, I’d love for your first graders to come to my backyard and figure out why the grass doesn’t grow. We’ve owned the house now for 18 years, and every year we reseed and every year the grass doesn’t grow, we haven’t figured it out yet, so I’d love for somebody to come do a real-life problem in my dirt and figure out exactly what is it that’s missing, that’s not providing the light, or the nutrients, or the balance, or the acidity or whatever is needed for things to look a little greener.
Emily Jack (46:33)
So, you heard it here, who cares about soil? Linda Robinson.
Linda Robinson (46:39)
I certainly do!
Bobby Hobgood (46:40)
And Linda, for privacy reasons we cannot give out your address during this web conference.
Linda Robinson (46:47)
I’ll send samples. I’ll send soil samples.
Bobby Hobgood (46:48)
But we do really appreciate, Linda, your insight and your expansion this afternoon on the concept of "who cares" and that perspective and how it impacts not only the students but the teachers, and then what happens beyond the classroom, as well, to those students, as they move from one grade level to the next, and as they interact in the world, and then they come to understand that there is a connection between the classroom, and as we call it, the real world.
Linda Robinson (47:22)
Absolutely.
Bobby Hobgood (47:22)
So I’m going to ask everyone if you would join me in a virtual round of applause to thank Linda Robinson for her article, and for her time this afternoon. At the same time, thanking the folks in Hoke County, the teachers who worked with us there, who gave up time during the day to let us talk with them and to see how this technique works in the field. So Linda we thank you for being with us today.