Deborah May

DEBORAH MAY

Um, I’m Deborah May and I’m a curriculum specialist in Nebo school district in Spanish Fork, Utah.

Well, um I wish we had a real easy way to talk about who gifted and talented children are. Um, I think it’s really difficult to answer that question “Who are gifted and talented kids?” without um thinking in terms of individual kids and what their needs are. Um, gifted kids look different in lots of different ways. Um, but I think they are kids who demonstrate behaviors that are unlike others of their age. Where they demonstrate behaviors of uh learning faster, um where they have more advanced vocabulary, where they’re more apt to have an interest in things that are more sophisticated then other children who are their age. But identification of gifted students is quite difficult. It um—I—I um often tell my students in courses that I uh wish that we could have a litmus test that was real easy to identify them, but we don’t. So I think the best we can do is that we can use um multiple criteria that will give us indications of kids who demonstrate gifted behaviors so that we know at least that we’re finding kids who um have behaviors that we can access and we can meet those needs of those behaviors.

Well, I think pullout programs can be positive. There can be pros. Um, certainly it affords us a time when gifted students can be together at least some of the time. Um, it is one way that we can meet the needs of gifted kids. Um, but it often times is not adequate in meeting their needs very clearly. Um, we tend to meet their needs in one area or we meet their needs only in part of the day or meet—meet their needs only once in a while. But we don’t totally meet their needs like we would if we had full-time programming. Now when we talk about mainstreaming them, what are the positives about mainstreaming, um I really do believe that it’s important to have a community of learners. I like the idea of all of us together and we’re all in this together and learning together. And yet so often when we have students mainstreamed um the teacher can’t meet the needs of that student. And I don’t think it’s for lack of wanting to, I think teachers really want to meet the needs of gifted students, I think they want to meet the needs of all students. Um, but we ask—ask an awfully lot of our teachers today. Um, we have kids now in our classrooms that have never been there before because they’ve always been in special schools and we’ve always mainstreamed gifted kids and it hasn’t worked before. So um while I like the idea of everybody being there together and having their needs met, I just think it’s pretty much an impossibility for a regular classroom teacher to do.

Well, um I think successful programs for gifted students really focuses on good curriculum for gifted students. The administrative design isn’t nearly so important to me. Where we put them, when we put them together, um who pays for it, or where they are. What I really care about is the curriculum that we design for them. Now we have gifted kids um whose needs are not being met in a regular classroom and that we design curriculum that does meet their needs. That we have students who um, um might need nuclear energy study in 3rd grade. I had a student that did that once. Uh, he became interested in nuclear energy in 3rd grade and—and it went from me being able to help him till I knew what he was talking about to I really didn’t even understand what he was talking about anymore. And so um I think that um I—I think I’m off the question. Sorry. We’ll cut that one, right? (interruption) Sorry. All of a sudden I was going, now what was that question? I think I was back on the other one. Sorry.

Well, collaboration in all areas of education is extremely important. Um, you know, I cannot do my job as a gifted specialist all alone on an island because I have other people that um I need to work with, and around, and through. And um I think a collaboration is really important. I think it makes me stronger as um a resource for gifted kids and gifted teachers, um but I also think that sometimes we collaborate to the point that um we have to give up too much of what we care about for kids. So um in my job that I currently have collaboration is really important between our gifted community and the regular ed community and yet I fear that sometimes it does get in the way that we um don’t get to the needs of gifted kids when we collaborate too much. Um, now could I talk for just a moment though about collaboration in general? Um, in Utah specifically, uh if we didn’t have good collaboration between the state department, the Utah Association for Gifted Children, the classroom teachers that work with gifted kids, the administrators that work with gifted kids, um coordinators of gifted programs, we probably wouldn’t have a program of any kind in Utah. So collaboration um between entities that care about gifted kids I think is probably the strength of what we do and I think it’s extremely important for our bright kids.

Well, the Center for—is Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling—oh, let’s start that again. OK. What is it? Center for the Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling. OK. Um, the Center for Improvement of Teacher Education and Schooling is a great boon that’s happened in our area. Um, that kind of collaboration has certainly made us stronger. Um, the things that we’ve been able to do through our Sites uh Organization have been spectacular. I’ve never seen such good staff development for teacher as that has happened with Sites. Um, I think we’re doing work now um for teachers and for administrators that’s well beyond what we’ve ever been able to do before. I think we’re doing really sophisticated things and I think we’re doing staff development that’s very smart. It’s staff development where we um don’t just do a one shot thing but we um stay on something and we work at it over time for long periods of time. Um, I think the progress that we’re seeing in schools both for gifted kids and for all children um has pro—has improved dramatically because of the Sites Program.

Any time you can work with kids in creative thinking or in uh creativity, I think kids learn better and um I—I think that letting kids have the opportunity to um make choices about how they’re going to approach a study, um how they’re going to share what they know, all of that has to do with creativity. But in order for the kids to be able to use their own creativity, I think there needs to be some creativity training. And so that could be creativity training in um thinking creatively, in using creative problem solving, in using talents unlimited, in um using different thinking strategies that allows—that allows kids to sort of think outside the box. Take those blinders off. And um once they learn how to think creatively, um then I think that we can start allowing them to make choices and how they use that creativity in their every day learning.

If I could choose one thing to make life better for gifted students, um I think it would be a funding issue. Currently we definitely lack in funding and um I think it really would make a difference if we could hire additional personnel, uh if we truly could develop curriculum that meets the needs of gifted kids, if we really could do a—a top notch identification system, if we really could look at um individual students and program for their individual needs not force-fitting the child into the program. I think we really would um solve a lot of problems for gifted kids. Not only would we make um their curriculum better, not only would we enhance their learning, but I think we’d save them. Um, I think that we tend to um capture more of our gifted kids then we do currently. Um, I often think of what Jonathan Cozall said in a speech he gave once where he said um, “I’m often asked if money would make a difference and I say, ‘Sure it would make a big difference. Throw it at me.’” And I kind of feel like that with gifted ed too. I think it would make a profound difference. Throw it at us and see what we could do with it.

Um, I think the one other point that I’d like to make about gifted education is that um I wish that we found—we could find a way where uh people would be more accepting of gifted kids and they would understand that they do have needs. I—I think my biggest plea would be that uh we have school boards around the country that understand gifted education, understand the need gifted kids have. Um, I would wish that we would have principals in—in uh the country and in our state specifically that all cared about gifted kids and understood that they needed something different to be productive. Um, and I wish that we had every teacher and every parent that understood it too.