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Specialized Schools for High-Ability Learners


reviewed by Joyce Juntune

coverTitle: Specialized School for High-Ability Learners
Author(s): Bronwyn MacFarlane (Ed.)
Publisher: Prufrock Press, Austin
ISBN: 1618217771, Pages: 200, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

Gifted education professionals as well as parents of gifted children will find Specialized Schools for High-Ability Learners a welcome resource when considering alternatives to traditional programs for gifted students. Parents will become informed on what to look for when choosing a specialized program for their child. Gifted educational professionals will find clarity and direction for designing and redesigning programs that match the needs and abilities of high-ability learners.


The book focuses on equipping educational leaders with the research and information needed to develop quality schools and programs to serve high-ability learners in specialized settings. A specialized school or program, according to the editor, includes charter schools, magnet schools, schools within a school, online learning programs, and private schools. The book describes components of specialized schools/programs as well as descriptions of specialized schools currently operating in diverse settings.


The first section of the book provides a comprehensive discussion of five foundational components recommended for specialized schools/programs. A chapter is devoted to describing each of these core components: (a) differentiated curriculum and instruction, (b) program evaluations and student performance assessment, (c) the use of national standards in program direction and development, (d) the importance of focusing on the whole child by giving attention to the physical, social, and affective areas in addition to the cognitive area, and (e) the infrastructure support needed for specialized schools and programs to succeed.


Several helpful insights are put forth in each chapter for readers to contemplate. The chapter on curriculum and instruction reminds readers of the difference between fact-based understanding and conceptual understanding. It emphasizes both conceptual understanding and the use of pre-assessments prior to engaging in specific content learning as being hallmarks of specialized schools/programs. Schools also need to develop a curriculum framework organized across levels that includes goals, outcomes, strategies, and activities. This framework is matched with a scope and sequence that goes beyond the regular content standards to include reasonable outcomes for gifted learners. For differentiation of curriculum and instruction to happen, it is imperative for schools and programs to provide the necessary professional development so that the upgraded rigorous curriculum becomes alive and meaningful for the teachers in the school.


The chapter on standards details two very useful reasons for using the national standards in developing gifted programming at a local school and program level. First, the standards can be used as a diagnostic tool to assess the current program components against the nationally recommended important program components. Second, the national standards can be used to identify a vision of the future for a program. Where does the program hope to be in the future? The standards detailed in this chapter also describe the knowledge and skills needed by teachers in any specialized school or program for high-ability learners.


The evaluation and assessment chapter emphasizes the development of metacognitive and reflection skills in assessing the progress of students with advanced abilities and interests, as well as the importance of evaluating the settings in which these students are placed. The chapter author provides examples of questions that might be raised by various stakeholders prior to a program evaluation. These questions could give direction to a program evaluation.


The importance of supportive leaders is discussed in a chapter on leaders in specialized schools and programs. Though the chapter author described several traits of successful leaders, there were two focus points for leaders in this specialized area: (a) the importance of resilience and (b) an understanding of educational purpose and action as a driving force in decision-making. The author went on to recommend that leaders work for small, incremental changes as opposed to large, dramatic changes. A chart of suggested “Levers for Change” is included in the chapter, detailing ideas for incremental changes.


The final component discussed is the need to focus on developing the whole child. The chapter authors remind us to focus not only on what a gifted child can do, but also on who they are. Educators of gifted children need to see them in terms of their whole identity. “Gifted children are qualitatively different than their age-mates, and the ways they are served should also be different” (p. 77). Therefore, in addition to common program services such as acceleration, grouping, enrichment, talent development, and technology usage for depth and complexity of learning experiences, the authors recommend that attention be given to the social and emotional needs of gifted students. They recommend the involvement of counselors as support staff, and the implementation of the Autonomous Learner Model (Betts & Kercher, 1999). This model fosters self-awareness and positive self-concept while building the thinking skills of decision-making and problem-solving.


The second section of the book tells the stories of several specialized schools with different purposes and operating in different settings. The section begins with a short discussion of school design principles, teacher beliefs, and instructional decisions found in specialized schools. There is also a brief description of some of the specialized schools in New York City. The remainder of the section gives us an inside look at different kinds of specialized schools:


1. The Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science is a residential program in a university-based setting at Western Kentucky University.

2. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, Jefferson County (KY) Schools, and Interlochen Arts Academy are examples of approaches to music, creativity, and the arts in specialized schools.

3. The Virginia Governor’s Foreign Language Academies represent second language academies offering instruction in foreign languages.

4. The chapter on young learners and specialized preschools focuses on the importance of challenging young children by revisiting key early childhood researchers and spotlighting The Roeper School, Ricks Center, and The Nueva School. A list of specialized preschools is also included in this chapter.

5. The specialized elementary schools chapter makes a visit to Mirman School in Los Angeles and The Knox School of Santa Barbara.

6. The Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS), housed at the University of North Texas, is the final specialized school in this book.


The book is directed toward education professionals and decision-makers involved in the development of specialized schools and programs for high-ability learners, However, educators leading programs for gifted students in traditional settings will find several ideas and suggestions that can be used to improve the services provided in their individual programs. Each chapter ends with a series of questions for reflection and discussion. This addition makes the book very usable for a book study with other gifted educational professionals.


Reference

 

Betts, G. T., & Kercher, J.J. (1999). Autonomous learner model: Optimizing ability. Greeley,CO: Autonomous Learning Publications and Specialists.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22560, Date Accessed: 11/20/2018 11:51:56 PM

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