Teacher Instructional Practices Designed to Meet the Individual Learning Needs of Mathematically Gifted/Talented Students in Middle School Algebra I

by Dr. Ginny TonnesonDr. Ginny Tonneson

Using classroom observations and teacher interviews, this study determined the ways in which seven middle school teachers from a suburban school district modified their instructional practices for the gifted/talented students in their mixed-ability Algebra I classes.

Observations Most of the gifted students generally were engaged.  This level of engagement may be attributed to the fact that the course already had challenge and rigor built in, the pace was fairly quick, and the teachers provided a supportive environment where the students felt free to take risks.  The teachers generally had high expectations for their students, modeled high-level performance, and provided an environment that was conducive to learning.  Despite their concerns about the increasing number of students taking Algebra I in middle school, and rather than lowering the level of the course to accommodate struggling students, the teachers kept the rigor of the course high and provided the gifted/talented students with adequate attention.

Challenges The researcher found that the teachers did very little aimed specifically at the gifted/talented segment of the class.  In fact, prior to the initiation of the study, the teachers did not know which students in their classes had been identified as gifted.  In addition, although one teacher had a gifted endorsement, none of the other teachers had received any professional development in gifted education despite the fact that they all had gifted/talented students in their classes.  When the teachers modified the pace of instruction and level of challenge, they did so for the class as a whole, rather than for individual students.  Likewise, they practiced limited differentiation strategies, consisting mostly of flexible grouping.  They did not provide any acceleration opportunities for the gifted/talented students beyond the activity at hand, and, although a few teachers provided enrichment activities, these were intended for the class as a whole.

Solutions Because of this, the needs of the gifted/talented students appeared to be met to some extent; however, the study revealed several areas where administrators and teachers could adjust their practices to more fully support their gifted/talented students. For example, teachers need to be aware of their gifted population and to be provided with professional development concerning differentiation and gifted education.  Additionally, schools might consider identifying students as gifted within domains, as well as selectively placing students into Algebra I in middle school and providing leveled Algebra I classes.  Furthermore, administrators should emphasize the importance of assessing students for prior knowledge and providing them with a supportive environment.  In this way, the needs of gifted/talented students could be more fully addressed.