Session Descriptions and Instructor Information

Center for Gifted Education Language Arts Curriculum

Denise Zacherl and Kristen E. Jacksa

The session will focus on the Center for Gifted Education’s teaching models and how they are interwoven throughout the Center’s language arts units. An important component of the workshop is structured time for participants to examine, work, question, interact, and plan using their individual language arts units. By the end, attendees will be able to provide better delivery and instruction using the Center’s language arts units. Participants are encouraged to bring their own copies of their William & Mary Language Arts teacher editions and student readings, as well as laptops, to the session.

The carefully crafted goals of the units are to develop students’ skills in literary analysis and interpretation, persuasive/argumentative writing, linguistic competency, and oral communication, as well as to strengthen students’ reasoning skills and understanding of overarching concepts. The units feature advanced reading selections that have been chosen for their complexity, depth, relevance to societal issues, and capacity to elicit interpretive responses while cultivating contemplative thought. Challenging works of literature from many eras and cultures, as well as a variety of genres, were specifically chosen to encourage students to reflect on the readings through writing and discussion. Embedded in the units are multiple opportunities to hone critical thinking skills and explore interdisciplinary connections with the language arts. Spark the love and power of literature in your students!

Please note: This session is designed primarily for those instructors with little to no training or experience with the Center models and units. It is an introductory-level session and not intented to be an advanced session for those who have received this training.

Denise Zacherl, who spent the past 10 years as a gifted and talented coordinator, began teaching elementary science at Cross Elementary School in South Carolina in 1988. Denise has found a deep passion for working with gifted students, particularly in schools of poverty. She works with teachers, administrators, and coaches in improving their instructional competency. She has recently authored two new Center for Gifted Education ELA units for the lower grades and participated in problem-based middle school unit field testing through Project ExCEL (grades 7–8). She has been instrumental in participating in primary and elementary gifted mathematics field testing and implementation through Project M2: Mentoring Young Mathematicians (grades K–2) and Project M3: Mentoring Mathematical Minds (grades 3–5). 

Kristen E. Jacksa, M.A., N.B.C.T., an English/ELA educator of 22 years, has taught grades 6–11, working with gifted and talented and Pre-AP populations in grades 8–9. She has served actively as a middle school GT Liaison, has been an instructional coach, and an ELA Department Chair. Currently she teaches Honors/GT Seventh Grade ELA and is the Literacy Team Leader at the top STEM Middle School in the nation. She presents at local and state conferences on latest trends and best practices to meet the needs of gifted students yearly and mentors local college GT cohort master’s degree students. Her passion for protecting and meeting the needs of our most able learners drives her teaching daily.

Designing Challenging Math Activities for the CCSS Elementary Classroom

Jess McKowen Patti and Molly Bryan Talbot

In mathematics, gifted students should have opportunities to explore topics in the regular curriculum at substantially greater depth and to engage in activities not ordinarily taught to all students. This session will explore guidelines and strategies for designing mathematics activities that exemplify characteristics of good curriculum for gifted learners. The presenters will share classroom-tested ideas and activities for providing highly able students with challenging enrichment activities in mathematics. Information about addressing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and related assessments will also be included.

Jess McKowen Patti is currently a third- and fourth-grade teacher of gifted students at Zachary Elementary School in Louisiana, where she recently received the Zachary Community School District Teacher of the Year. Formerly, Jess taught second and fifth grade. She attended Southeastern Louisiana University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, grades first through fifth. Jess then returned to Southeastern Louisiana University, where she obtained her master’s degree in special education: gifted. 

Molly Bryan Talbot is currently a teacher of third- and fourth-grade gifted students at Zachary Elementary School in the Zachary Community School District in Louisiana. Molly attended Louisiana State University, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in elementary education, grades pre-K–5, through the LSU Holmes Program. She then returned to LSU to earn her education specialist degree in gifted education. Molly currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA, with her husband, David. 

Navigating the Information Highway: Strategies for Teaching Informational Text in the Content Areas for Gifted Students

Magdalena Fitzsimmons

This session explores a variety of strategies for implementing instruction and developing performance tasks that incorporate informational text in the high-ability classroom. During this session, participants will explore the benefits of infusing divergent thinking, collaborative behaviors, and critical thinking to build a deeper understanding of informational text for today’s diverse group of high-ability learners. They will discover how instructional approaches such as arts integration, problem-based learning, and a variety of discussion protocols support the needs of high-ability learners and align with desired learning outcomes. Participants will learn how to identify informational text resources in the content areas that are appropriately complex and support rigorous instruction, and they will participate in learning tasks that demonstrate how active, learner-centered approaches promote a deeper engagement with and understanding of informational text. There will be an emphasis on the integration of technology to effectively support differentiation of content, process, and product for gifted learners, so participants should bring along their favorite electronic device. Lesson plans, materials, and resources will be provided. 

Magdalena Fitzsimmons is currently an instructional coach at Carver Center for Arts and Technology as part of the Baltimore County Public Schools S.T.A.T. Program in Baltimore, MD. She is a graduate of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and the University of Calgary, Canada. Ms. Fitzsimmons has presented at numerous national and state conferences on the topics of arts integration, problem-based learning, curriculum for gifted students, creativity, and technology integration. Ms. Fitzsimmons has also written and edited reading language arts curriculum for gifted and talented students for Baltimore County Public Schools, the Maryland State Department of Education, and is the author of Challenging Common Core Language Arts Lessons: Activities and Extensions for Gifted and Advanced Learners in Grade 5 published by Prufrock Press.

What About Engineering? An Integrated STEM Approach to Addressing Multiple Content Standards

Debbie Dailey, Ed.D.

Due to time and scheduling constraints in most classrooms, including gifted classrooms, many teachers are turning to an integrative STEM approach to learning. Through the lens of problem solving and engineering design, teachers can seamlessly integrate multiple subjects while addressing numerous content standards. Through this integrated approach, learning takes place as students are actively engaged in authentic tasks while addressing real-world problems. Through this approach, students problem solve using the engineering design process, build science content knowledge by “doing science,” utilize real-world mathematics in building and evaluating models, and read informative texts and write proposals, summaries, and conclusions as they practice literacy skills. For example, teachers could create a unit focused on “building homes for tomorrow” that must address certain real-world problems such as energy conservation, natural disasters, and safety and protection. Using engineering design, students would design and create neighborhoods or cities addressing the specified criteria. Through the process, students would construct science content knowledge, use mathematical skills, engage in reading, writing, and debate, and explore past, present, and future neighborhoods/cities to better inform their project. Participants in this session will actively participate in an engineering-focused integrated unit addressing content standards in science, mathematics, language arts, and social studies. An additional focus will be on the role of technology for student engagement, presentation, and assessment. Participants will also adapt the unit (or create a new integrated unit) to meet their particular classroom needs. This session is appropriate for all grade levels.

Debbie Dailey, Ed.D., is an assistant professor of teaching and learning at the University of Central Arkansas where she is the coordinator for the Gifted and Talented Program. Debbie has written multiple publications and provided numerous presentations and workshops focused on STEM and gifted education. Most recently, Debbie coedited a new book: Engineering Instruction for High-Ability Learners in K–8 Classrooms. Participants in her sessions are actively engaged in hands-on science and engineering activities. Prior to moving to higher education, Debbie was a high school science teacher and gifted education teacher for 20 years.