California Educator

May 2011

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“Our students attend every Ivy League college you can name. I firmly believe gifted education can be a ticket out of poverty.” Rochelle Hall United Teachers Los Angeles aBove: These students belong to a cluster of gifted students at the Independence Elementary School fourth- grade classroom of Erika Tindell (center) in Bakersfield. A cluster of gifted students In an elementary school in Bakers- field, two groups of students in Erika Tindell’s classroom are discussing By the Great Horn Spoon!, a novel by Sid Fleisch- man in which characters face difficult choices during the Gold Rush. One group discusses the transformation of the main character. The other group looks at life-and-death decisions that take place in the novel from the viewpoint of multiple characters — and debates the implications and morality of events that tran- spire. The students are al l Rochelle Hall fourth-graders at Indepen- dence Elementary School in Bakersfield, but the more intellectual discussion takes place within a “cluster” of students who have been identified as gifted. The cluster model is used in the Rosedale Union School District until students attend junior high school, where they enroll in classes for gifted students. In some ways, the “cluster model” is United Teachers Los Angeles similar to teaching a split-grade combi- nation class, says Tindell, a member of the Rosedale Teachers Association. She uses differentiated instruction to meet the needs of Gifted and Talented Educa- tion (GATE) students as well as general education students, including those with learning disabili- ties and English learners. It’s a constant juggling act that might be impossible without professional development of- fered by her district, which enables teachers to push stu- dents on the “high end” while also helping those who are in the middle or struggling. But the best thing about having a cluster of gifted students, she says, is the “trickle-down ef- fect” from their presence that motivates other students to try harder. “Lots of times gifted kids get left out,” says Tindell, who received the 2011 Dis- tinguished Service Award from the Cal- ifornia Association for the Gifted, an organization of parents and educators striving to improve education for gifted individuals. “Then students get in trou- ble because they are bored. Some teach- ers think the answer is giving them more work, but that’s a disservice. I be- lieve that instead of giving them more work, it’s important to give them differ- ent work, so that they can learn and grow and be challenged with greater depth and complexity.” For student Maggie Mosher, the ap- proach works just fine. “I like being in a cluster because it’s more challenging. For me, it’s actually easier to do harder things. I like being a GATE kid, but I al- so like being in a regular class with reg- ular kids.” Tindell says she tries not to make a “big deal” of the GATE kids in her class and treats them like regular kids. “Everyone has talent in my class- room, and people may be different, but nobody is better than anybody else,” she says. “Some parents may want their chil- dren to only be in GATE clas ses throughout their education. I feel that when GATE children are in mainstream classes, they can learn how to deal with people and diverse situations on all lev- els. To me, it seems like a great prepara- tion for life.” MAY 2011 | 19

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