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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Intervention for Gifted Students

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

His name was Kevin (a pseudonym). He had red hair and freckles with a slight build. He was confident and well spoken (perhaps outspoken). He was probably the smartest student I had ever seen. His mother was divorced and worked a horse training operation by herself. Kevin had to take care of his two younger siblings. Every one of his middle school teachers complained about him. His attendance was horrible, but that is not why teachers disliked him.

Kevin's Story

His behavior constantly interrupted the teaching. His state standardized test scores indicated that he had passed all subjects, yet the teachers recommended that he be retained because of his poor attendance and failing grades.

Pure interpretation of policy states that Kevin should be retained yet the idea of social justice pressures for Kevin to be passed on to the ninth grade. The administrator was in an ethical bind. On the one hand, the school is there to serve the student and the parent and on the other hand, the administrator is supposed to support the teachers. Kevin obviously was more educationally adept than other students that were recommended for ninth grade with no questions asked. The only reason that he was considered for retention was that he had not "earned" the right to ninth grade because of poor attendance and failing grades. But that was not the real issue. Most likely, if the behavior was good, accommodations would have been already been made, but since Kevin was apparently able to get under the skin of all of his teachers, they may feel little compassion for his situation.

I got to know Kevin because he attended Saturday school to make up absences. I never had a problem with him. He did the work, got along with the other students, was polite, and even pleasant. In just talking to him, I learned that he played the guitar, his favorite class is science, and that he likes to ride horses. He seemed like a normal kid.

Now that this school year is over, the above types of decisions are being made all over the country. In this case, you have to wonder, how much does attendance, assignment completion and discipline affect student learning? I am not saying they do not matter, but I am wondering if they matter too much in regular public education. All over the US, students are flocking to charter schools that seem to care more about what the student knows and can do, rather than how they do it.

Strategies and Support

What solutions are there for students who have passed the state standardized tests but are not passing a class and/or have poor attendance? What can teachers do in the classroom before the administrator, counselor, attendance review committee make their life-changing decisions? Perhaps the biggest thing we can do this summer is restructure the design of our learning plan to identify a student before his or her becomes a problem. Also, gifted students are natural leaders and tend to challenge authority, and the more you exercise it, the more troublesome the students become. Anyone that gets backed into a corner will fight back -- students are no different. The key is to never allow them to get into a corner in the first place, and that happens before the lesson even begins, in the lesson planning.

I can't help but think that if even one of Kevin's middle school teachers had cared enough to invest whatever time and energy was necessary to reach him, things would have been different. Each, however, said they had done all they could do: sending progress reports home to mom, calling her on the phone, requesting parent conferences, documenting misbehavior. Obviously, it was more following procedure than caring about Kevin.

The mother wrote in a letter to the school and pleaded for help, "Kevin is in classrooms where the teacher has his or her back to the class and one person makes a noise, the first words from the teacher are 'Kevin! Stop talking!' They have formed their opinion, and to them Kevin is just a troublemaker. He passed his state standardized tests and we know he is intelligent. I believe Kevin would benefit from a fresh start with all new teachers." Her words still echo in my soul. Why didn't I listen to her?

Epilogue

Kevin was retained in middle school as a regular student. The first month of the next year, he was in the office constantly until at the end of the month he was caught with marijuana, assigned to in-school suspension in which he caused a disruption, and was sent to the alternative school again. The mother withdrew him from school at that point, to home-school him. I went along with the decisions of the principal and the attendance committee. I was a part of this travesty. Kevin was definitely better off in home school.

Please share how you would have helped Kevin turn things around.




Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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