Creating Independent Learners

One of the biggest concerns I have seen in working in gifted education is parents interest in how schools are fostering independent learning. This is not an easy task when teachers are required to teach a prescribed curriculum and have a wide spectrum of student needs to meet in one class. (Not to mention class sizes of 30+ kids)

Let’s back up first. What is independent learning?

The simple answer is allowing students to set a goal and develop a plan for learning. SMART goals are typically the most referenced when we talk about fostering independent learning. (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely)

SMART goals are also what is used typically when creating goals for gifted student Advanced Learning Plans (ALP). This goal set up is helpful in making sure students really understand what is going to go into accomplishing their goals throughout the year, and allows them to see what action steps they need to take next.

The thing with SMART goals is they can use this set for smaller goals in classes with class projects or even tests they are preparing to take. High school students will think SMART goals are too elementary, but once they put the goal into action they will see (hopefully) that it does help them achieve their goal.

Another thing about SMART goals is parents can help create them at home too. There are plenty of pinterest and google results out there for templates to use with your kids at home. So what kind of SMART goals could you set at home with your student? Maybe it’s mastering a kick in their karate class, getting the lead dance part in ballet, scoring their first goal, reading a harder book on a subject that interests them… the list can go on and on. You could even create goals on how they can work on building a better relationship with a sibling or adult, or learning how to recognize their triggers when they are anxious. Kids need help with those skills too.

Teachers are constantly using and developing rubrics for their classes and grading content, but another way to use rubrics is to allow students to self-assess their work in an honest and reflective way. This means asking students to genuinely reflect on their effort, what they learned, where they struggled (either with content or presentation), and what they would do differently if given a project similar. This self-reflection allows students to check and make sure they really did take ownership of their learning and end project. Another reason a self-assessment is beneficial is it allows teachers and parents to see where their student might be struggling or feeling confident in.

When we allow time for self-reflection on major projects, we are allowing our students another way to express what they are proud of and what they are struggling with in class. This can lead to them learning how to self-advocate for their needs in a class. Once they take the time to reflect on their success and struggles, they can then ask the teacher for work that is similar to what they felt like they did well and also for help in areas where they struggled. (Gifted students don’t always like to struggle with academics, but a self-reflection sometimes pushes them to realize they may need help and that is ok.)

So now what?

  • Create goals for your students- parents and teachers. Create some goals yourself with your students so they can see how you take control of your learning or personal goals. If we don’t demonstrate how to do it, they may not want to buy into it.
  • Make sure the goals are created based on their interests or where they want to improve upon something they feel needs strengthening.
  • Allow your students to reflect on their progress or completion of the goal.
    • Here are some example questions to ask:
      • What do I like best about the work I did?
      • What might I do differently next time in order to challenge my mind?
      • What did I learn about myself and my learning during this project?
  • Encourage students to use their self-reflection to advocate for their needs in the classroom. Encourage them to ask for help or ask for the ability to differentiate a project

    • (Teachers) Offer a menu of choices on how to complete a project that allows for you to use the same rubric, but allows a gifted student to take charge of their learning.  

This should get you started if you are concerned your student is not becoming an independent learner. I would love to hear your ideas and what you have done or seen in the past! Share below!

Happy goal setting!

Lindsay

What’s the state doing for your student?

Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has done an amazing job setting up the rules and regs for school districts across the state in order to help gifted and talented students become identified, have programming options, and encourage parent involvement in their child’s programming. They have one of the best set ups when it comes to identification of gifted and talented students and provide gifted and talented specialists with in-depth training on how to properly find gifted students. But what about programming for gifted students?

CDE requires all students who are identified as gifted and talented in any area (Specific Academic, General Intellectual Ability, and Specific Talent Aptitudes) are placed on an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP). The ALP is “a written record of a gifted student’s strengths, academic and affective learning goals and the resulting programming utilized with each gifted child and considered in educational planning and decision making. 12.01(2)” (CDE, 2018) This is a legal document in which programming is described and tied to standards for the students ability level and grade level. So what does this mean for you as a parent? What does this mean for you as an educator? A student?

Well the answer is simple, but the implementation is difficult. Here is why.

The Code of Colorado Regulations requires each school district has gifted and talented programming in place including having all gifted students on an ALP. Once the ALP is in place, it is to be used by schools (teachers, administration, and specialists) to help make decisions in educational programming and decision making in order to meet the unique needs of a gifted student. Another major piece of the ALP is the Affective Development (12.01(3)) and is a required piece of programming for gifted students. This means finding ways to help gifted students understand themselves as gifted learners, the implications of their abilities, talents, and potential for accomplishment. The Affective Development programming also requires programming centered around interpersonal (empathy, leadership, teamwork, active listening, etc.) and intrapersonal (self- esteem, ability to learn, self-confidence, etc) development. These plans are all tied to standards so teachers and parents know how the programming will happen.

Now as far as implementation, the state requires that an ALP is created and updated yearly. Every school district in state will have different requirements on how often the plan is updated throughout the year. (Personally I do one mid year update with students, unless their plan is different and requires more check ins.) At a minimum, parents and teachers should have access  to the ALP as well as have the ability to help create programming plans for the ALP. When the goals are being written, they should be aligned with tired classroom instructions and expanded learning opportunities for supplemental programming (12.02(2)(g)(ii). This is supposed to be a combined effort from the specialist, parent, and teacher with the support of administration.

(CDE, 2018)

Yes, I said, “supposed to.”

While the state has these guidelines in place, ALPs are often filed away and not looked by the classroom teacher who should be helping provide supports for your gifted student. The GT specialist should be following up with teachers on how they can help support the classroom teacher with their GT students. The reality of it is across the state of Colorado there aren’t the same opportunities or support staff available to help implement and support ALPs for gifted students. Some districts have one GT specialist for their entire student body, and some don’t have anyone to help with GT services. There are districts that are overcrowded and have multiple specialists who split time buildings and end up with caseloads of 135 gifted students to keep track of… (Something that would be unheard of in Special Education.)

The state of Colorado does not require a GT specialist in every district, they simply require someone to take on the responsibility of creating ALPs for students. The state also only requires teachers who are in charge of classroom instruction in core academics meet the requirements under federal law for highly qualified teachers. So if a gifted student is in a classroom with a highly qualified teacher and they have access to their ALP (with the possibility the teacher didn’t read the ALP), that school is technically meeting the requirements on serving gifted students.

So what can you do? Ask if you have a GT Specialist in charge of ALPs. Request access to your students ALPs so you know how to help make sure appropriate programming is in place for your student. If you are a parent, follow up with teachers to make sure they have seen your student’s ALP and ask how they are implementing it in the classroom. Remember it is a legal document, meaning it has to be followed for the best interest of the student. It is not something to be filed away and forgotten about until the end of the school year.

Check on your school’s programming options, and ask for updates on your students progress. It most likely won’t happen unless you ask.

Resources: Colorado Department of Education: https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt

ALP Resources from CDE: https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt/alp-0

Laws and Regulations for GT (page 98): https://www.sos.state.co.us/CCR/GenerateRulePdf.do?ruleVersionId=6251&fileName=1%20CCR%20301-8