Stranded at the head of the class
Sherri Sells and Kaylene Mueller keep gifted students engaged
Sometimes the students who are left behind are the ones who seem to be the furthest ahead.
“You have so much pressure on assessment,” gifted practitioner Sherri Sells said. “These are the kids who just get it.”
Sells, who serves students in the Peabody-Burns, Marion, and Goessel school districts, explains that gifted students in Marion County are never the focus in the classroom because teachers need to bring struggling students to the level of the rest of the class. The gifted students intrinsically know how to pass assessment tests, and thus are largely ignored, she said.
Teachers often recommend students for the Extended Learning Program, offered by Marion County Special Education Cooperative, because students are causing trouble in class when they are not being challenged enough. On the other hand, Kaylene Mueller, gifted facilitator for Hillsboro and Centre schools, also believes that gifted students face a pressure from their peers to assume an adult-like responsibility.
“I like my room to be a place where they can be 12 or 13 or 10 (years old),” Mueller said. “I can let them sing and have fun, but end up getting more work out of them.”
After teachers or parents recommend a student to the gifted program, the student must pass a matrix test. When the test is passed, the classroom teachers for the students set up an Individual Education Plan for each student. The IEP determines how often Mueller or Sells see a student: a student can see the gifted practitioner once a week or every school day. The IEP also determines the kind of interaction students receive from their gifted practitioner. Some students meet with Sells and Mueller individually — some students meet in groups.
Regardless of how often they see the students, both Sells and Mueller teach about 30 students each spread over multiple school districts. They can only see students for 30 or 40-minute class periods. Sells and Mueller initially teach students when they enter the program — most likely in the second grade— until they graduate from high school.
“I get to know my students,” Mueller said. “They know what to expect so they are easy to motivate.”
But, Mueller and Sells said that students are less motivated when they get to the high school level. Gifted classes are not graded and do not count against a student’s grade point average. Mueller said that some students would prefer that the class become an elective at the high school level so that they can have more time in class.
Because of time constraints, gifted classes consist of projects that students complete during the course of the year. Students choose their own projects but must set up specific deadlines that they adhere to throughout the year.
Mueller has Hillsboro High School students building a computer network. Her middle school students are inventing an item from bubblewrap.
“Kids are expected to think at a high level,” Sells said. “It’s trial and error sometimes, thinking critically about things.”
The goal for Sells and Mueller is to keep students challenged — to intersperse project progress with regular lessons in reading, science, history, and math without a set curriculum.
“I create all my own lesson plans,” Sells said.
There is not an overflow of resources available to gifted practitioners. Sells has had to dip into her own pockets to pay for school supplies.
“If our basic needs aren’t being met, how can we teach these higher learning things?” Sells asks.
Last modified Feb. 3, 2010