The concept of the “middle school” took root in the U.S. in the 1980s and has not served the gifted population well since its inception. By definition, it is the opposite of gifted education focusing on early adolescence as a time for cultivating age-peer relationships where team work prevails over individual achievement. Children who may have experienced even minimal gifted programming at the elementary level now see these services vanish. Cooperative learning too often places these students in an untenable position of ‘carrying the load’ in classroom academic endeavors.
“Middle schools can also be difficult for students who were never challenged at the elementary level if no gifted options were available.”
Middle schools can also be difficult for students who were never challenged at the elementary level if no gifted options were available. Persistence, the ability to overcome failure, the lack of developed study skills are all obstacles to academic growth at the middle school level and for some the beginning of underachievement.
Many teachers at this week’s chat conveyed their frustrations with a system that places emphasis on high-stakes testing over deep learning, an attitude from fellow teachers that exceptionality is a bad thing, and that middle school teachers lack even minimal training in gifted education. As teacher Tami Terry pointed out, “GT kids automatically filter in to Pre-AP classes, which can be good and bad, [but there is] no consideration for areas of strength or weakness. So we often end up with a gifted kid, who hates science, in Pre-AP Science struggling and failing.” On the flip side, high school principal Dr. Steve Ritter noted that in middle school, “tracking the kids sometimes starts here. A “stigma” for kids not in middle of the road (low & high achieve) may emerge.”
“Parents play a pivotal role in their gifted child’s transition from elementary to middle school. It’s important to recognize that even a gifted child will face uncertainty, new demands, and academic challenges at school. Middle school students need their parents’ guidance even when they don’t recognize the need.”
Our discussion then turned to the effects of asynchrony on the middle school gifted student. Precocious gifted adolescents still experience asynchrony in social-emotional development. (Kerr & McKay, 2014) Many parents pull their children from public schools during these years and return later in high school. Dating can be challenging when age-peers may have little in common socially, psychologically or intellectually.
A bright spot in the middle school years for gifted students arrived with the introduction of Talent Searches. Available from many institutions across the U.S. (see links below), Talent Searches specifically target intellectually gifted middle-school age students. They provide high quality, accelerated and enriched gifted programming online and during the summer.
Finally, we discussed how parents play a pivotal role in their gifted child’s transition from elementary to middle school. It’s important to recognize that even a gifted child will face uncertainty, new demands, and academic challenges at school. Middle school students need their parents’ guidance even when they don’t recognize the need. Parents should consider changing parenting style at this age – adapt to child’s biological, social-emotional changes. It’s beneficial to approach pre-teens and teens with a positive attitude by voicing appreciation and approval for good behavior. (Taibbi 2012) A full transcript of this chat may be found on our Storify page.
Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7/6 C & 4 PT in the U.S., midnight in the UK and Saturdays 1 PM NZ/11 AM AEDT to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Storify. Our Facebook Pageprovides information on the chat and news & information regarding the gifted community.
About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime advocate for gifted children and also blogs at Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gifted Learners and the Middle School: Problem or Promise? (1995) Tomlinson
Hoodies, Headphones, and Axe Spray from Jeffrey Shoemaker
“What is Talent Search?” from Duke TIP
Smart Girls in the 21st Century (Amazon) by Barbara Kerr and Robyn McKay
Photo courtesy Morguefile.