Embracing diversity : empowering preservice teachers for teaching gifted and talented students

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Conference publication

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This study investigated preservice teachers’ perceptions for teaching and sustaining gifted and talented students while developing, modifying and implementing activities to cater for the diverse learner. Participants were surveyed at the end of a gifted and talented education program on their perceptions to differentiate the curriculum for meeting the needs of the student (n=22). SPSS data analysis with the five-part Likert scale indicated these preservice teachers agreed or strongly agreed they had developed skills in curriculum planning (91%) with well-designed activities (96%), and lesson preparation skills (96%). They also claimed they were enthusiastic for teaching (91%) and understanding of school practices and policies (96%). However, 46% agreed they had knowledge of syllabus documents with 50% claiming an ability to provide written feedback on student’s learning. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds suggested they had educational language from the syllabus and effective student management strategies. Preservice teachers require more direction on how to cater for diversity and begin creating sustainable societies by building knowledge from direct GAT experiences. Designing diagnostic surveys associated with university coursework can be used to determine further development for specific preservice teacher development in GAT education. Preservice teachers need to create opportunities for students to realise their potential by involving cognitive challenges through a differentiated curriculum. Differentiation requires modification of four primary areas of curriculum development (Maker, 1975) content (what we teach), process (how we teach), product (what we expect the students to do or show) and learning environment (where we teach/our class culture). Ashman and Elkins (2009) and Glasson (2008) emphasise the need for preservice teachers, teachers and other professionals to be able to identify what gifted and talented (GAT) students know and how they learn in relation to effective teaching. Glasson (2008) recommends that educators keep up to date with practices in pedagogy, support, monitoring and profiling of GAT students to create an environment conducive to achieving. Oral feedback is one method to communicate to learners about their progress but has advantages and disadvantages for some students. Oral feedback provides immediate information to the student on progress and performance (Ashman & Elkins, 2009). However, preservice teachers must have clear understandings of key concepts to assist the GAT student. Implementing teaching strategies to engage innovate and extend students is valuable to the preservice teacher in focusing on GAT student learning in the classroom (Killen, 2007). Practical teaching strategies (Harris & Hemming, 2008; Tomlinson et al., 1994) facilitate diverse ways for assisting GAT students to achieve learning outcomes. Such strategies include activities to enhance creativity, co-operative learning and problem-solving activities (Chessman, 2005; NSW Department of Education and Training, 2004; Taylor & Milton, 2006) for GAT students to develop a sense of identity, belonging and self esteem towards becoming an autonomous learner. Preservice teachers need to understand that GAT students learn in a different way and therefore should be assessed differently. Assessment can be through diverse options to demonstrate the student’s competence, demonstrate their understanding of the material in a way that highlights their natural abilities (Glasson, 2008; Mack, 2008). Preservice teachers often are unprepared to assess students understanding but this may be overcome with teacher education training promoting effective communication and collaboration in the classroom, including the provision of a variety of assessment strategies to improve teaching and learning (Callahan et al., 2003; Tomlinson et al., 1994). It is also critical that preservice teachers have enthusiasm for teaching to demonstrate inclusion, involvement and the excitement to communicate to GAT students in the learning process (Baum 2002). Evaluating and reflecting on teaching practices must be part of a preservice teacher’s repertoire for GAT education. Evaluating teaching practices can assist to further enhance student learning (Mayer, 2008). Evaluation gauges the success or otherwise of specific activities and teaching in general (Mayer, 2008), and ensures that preservice teachers and teachers are well prepared and maintain their commitment to their students and the community. Long and Harris (1999) advocate that reflective practices assist teachers in creating improvements in educational practices. Reflective practices help preservice teachers and teachers to improve their ability to pursue improved learning outcomes and professional growth (Long & Harris, 1999). Context This study is set at a small regional campus of a large university in Queensland. As a way to address departmental policies and the need to prepare preservice teachers for engaging a diverse range of learners (see Queensland College of Teachers, Professional Standards for Teachers, 2006), preservice teachers at this campus completed four elective units within their Bachelor of Education (primary) degree. The electives include: 1. Middle years students and schools 2. Teaching strategies for engaging learners 3. Teaching students with learning difficulties, and 4. Middle-years curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. In the university-based component of this unit, preservice teachers engaged in learning about middle years students and schools, and gained knowledge of government policies pertaining to GAT students. Further explored within in this unit was the importance of: collaboration between teachers, parents/carers and school personnel in supporting middle years GAT students; incorporating challenging learning experiences that promoted higher order thinking and problem solving skills; real world learning experiences for students and; the alignment and design of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment that is relevant to the students development, interests and needs. The participants were third-year Bachelor of Education (primary) preservice teachers who were completing an elective unit as part of the middle years of schooling learning with a focus on GAT students. They were assigned one student from a local school. In the six subsequent ninety minute weekly lessons, the preservice teachers were responsible for designing learning activities that would engage and extend the GAT students. Furthermore, preservice teachers made decisions about suitable pedagogical approaches and designed the assessment task to align with the curriculum and the developmental needs of their middle years GAT student. This research aims to describe preservice teachers’ perceptions of their education for teaching gifted and talented students.