Meeting the Needs of High Ability Learners in the Middle Grades (page 2)
A joint position statement of the National Middle School Association and the National Association for Gifted Children.
The National Association for Gifted Children and the National Middle School Association share a commitment to developing schools and classrooms in which both equity and excellence are persistent goals for each learner. Equity refers to the opportunity of every learner to have supported access to the highest possible quality education. Excellence refers to the need of every learner for opportunities and adult support necessary to maximize his or her learning potential.
Early adolescence is generally described as the time between ages 10 and 15. During this developmental span, young adolescents experience a wide range of growth rates in cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and moral dimensions. Change in young adolescents can be rapid and uneven. In addition to the diversity of development implicit in early adolescence, middle schools also reflect diversity in student gender, culture, experience, economic status, interests, and learning preferences. Every middle school classroom also represents a wide array of talents.
In light of the inevitable variance in middle school populations, it is critical that middle school educators develop increasing awareness of and skill necessary to address the full range of learner needs—including needs of those who already demonstrate advanced academic abilities and those who have the potential to work at advanced levels.
High-ability adolescents may differ from fellow classmates in cognitive skills, interests, modes of learning, and motivation. As a result, their educational needs may also differ in some important ways from those of other young adolescents. Attending to those needs requires informed attention to both equity and excellence in all facets of schooling.
All middle school learners need educators who consistently use both formal and informal means of recognizing their particular strengths and needs. In regard to advanced learners, identification requires specific plans to seek out students with advanced abilities or advanced potential in order to provide appropriate educational experiences during the transition into adolescence. Both the National Middle School Association and the National Association for Gifted Children share a strong commitment to appropriate use of multiple approaches to identify high potential in students from minority and loweconomic groups. Identification of high performance and potential are precursors to helping young adolescents maximize their potential during these critical years. Identification of student performance and potential should be followed by educational planning to maximize the potential.
Ongoing assessment is critical to informing classroom practice. Preassessment, in-process assessments, and post assessments should give learners consistent opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, understanding, and skill related to topics of study. Assessments related to student readiness, interests, perspectives, and learning preferences provide educators with a consistently emerging understanding of each learner’s needs in the classroom. Middle level educators should use data from such assessments to modify teaching and learning plans to ensure that each student—including those who already perform well beyond expectations—have consistent opportunities to extend their abilities.
Curriculum and Instruction
Equity in the middle grades requires that all learners have an opportunity to participate in curriculum that is rich in meaning and focused on thought and application. Excellence requires support necessary to show continual growth in knowledge, understanding, and skill. Advanced middle grade learners thus require consistent opportunities to work at degrees of challenge somewhat beyond their particular readiness levels, with support necessary to achieve at the new levels of proficiency. In addition, educators should address student interests and preferred modes of learning in planning curriculum and instruction that is appropriately challenging for individual learners. Educational resources should be of a sufficient range of complexity to ensure challenge for advanced learners. Flexible pacing and flexible grouping arrangements are important instructional adjustments for many highly able middle level learners. Because of the inevitable variance among high-ability learners, advanced learners, like other middle school students, need curriculum and instruction proactively designed to accommodate their particular needs.
Critical to healthy development in the middle grade years is development of positive student affect. Students benefit greatly from learning environments that reinforce their worth as individuals and simultaneously support them in becoming more powerful and productive. For advanced learners, this may require helping students affirm both their abilities and their need to belong to a peer group. Middle level educators need to understand and address the unique dynamics that high-ability and high-potential young adolescents may experience as they seek to define themselves and their roles among peers.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for Gifted Children. ©2008 National Association for Gifted Children.
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