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Reflections on the Morning the Students Return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

I had some tears in my eyes this morning on my drive into work while listening to some children being interviewed on the morning they return to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Here are some thoughts that have been going through my head.

First, I want people to know that–despite interviewers suggesting that there would be no teaching today–teachers don’t just teach about math, English, history, science, and the elective subjects. Social-emotional learning is perhaps the most important aspect of teaching. I can’t imagine what my peers at that school will say to their students this morning, but you can be sure that teaching and learning will be happening whether or not common core or Florida core content is ever mentioned all day. Additionally, teaching and learning is not a linear path from teachers to students. Teachers learn a lot from their students every day, and I am sure that today will not be an exception.

To the Florida Legislature who voted to arm teachers, I want to say that I will never own a gun nor carry a concealed weapon at school. It is precisely because I love my students that I will not be a part of introducing more guns into the school environment. If gun-free zones are less safe than places that allow or encourage concealed guns, then why are law-abiding citizens not allowed to bring them into government buildings? Better get rid of those metal detectors that are making our government officials less safe. Legend has it that even Joe Gallo, the mobster from the Colombo crime family, understood that guns don’t make kids safer. Bob Dylan wrote of Gallo, “It was true that in the later years, he would not carry a gun. ‘I’m around too many children,’ he’d say. ‘They should never know of one.” Unfortunately, our children know all too well about guns today, and I don’t want to contribute to that area of knowledge.

While on the topic of loving students, I want to say that I am offended by the suggestion that police and sheriff officers, who work in the schools, don’t love or care about the students. At our school, the sheriff’s deputy interacts with all our students and goes out of his way every single day to let students know that he cares. He consistently demonstrates a high level of love and caring for the entire school, and he is one of the most valuable members of our community. While we have a very loving staff, it is safe to say that no teacher here loves our students more than he does. It turns out that deputies are like other people, including teachers. Some love, care, and support students in every way, while others don’t. It is unfair to suggest that because someone is a teacher that s/he is more likely to love the students than anyone else who interacts with and supports them.

One last thought, I am encouraged by the strength and courage shown by today’s students. While people expend a lot of effort criticizing the youth and young adults of today, I find them to be the kind of people that will help bring the change that is so badly needed in our society. Kurt Vonnegut once said that true fear is waking up one day and learning that the people you went to school with are now running the country. With this generation, instead of fear, I welcome the day that they are ready take over.


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Posted by on February 28, 2018 in Uncategorized


Using Phonological and Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and Prosodic Reading in Art Classes

Once again, this was written for a reading endorsement class. I am posting my thoughts for anyone who is looking to support reading from he art classroom.


It seems that phonological awareness and phonemic awareness differ mostly in their degree of specificity. Phonological awareness is acknowledging in general that words are made up of sounds, which can be manipulated to form other words. It happens in listening, not reading. Pence-Turnbull & Justice (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012) write, “Phonological Awareness is an individual’s ability to attend to the phonological unites of speech through implicit or explicit analysis. We can examine an individual’s phonological awareness using a variety of simple tasks (which are typically presented orally, so that a person must listen to the phonological unties and not read them)” (p.80). Similarly, our reading suggests, “Phonological awareness is the ability to identify, think about, and manipulate sounds in spoken language without using text” (Phonics and Phonological Awareness Article.pdf, p. 1). The key to understanding phonology seems to be that the person can hear and use sound differences without necessarily identifying them as individual phonemes of a particular language.

Conversely, “Phonemic awareness involves the understanding that words are made up of individual sounds, or phonemes, and the ability to manipulate these phonemes either by segmenting, blending, or changing individual phonemes within words to create new words” (Phonics and Phonological Awareness Article.pdf, p. 1). “When an individual is able to attend explicitly to the individual phonemes in words…he or she is said to have phonemic awareness” (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, pp. 80–81). Hence, while both phonological and phonemic awareness are about understanding that words are made up of sounds, phonemic awareness is more specific in that one with phonemic awareness can identify and manipulate specific phonemes within words.

Two ideas/plans

As an art teacher, I try to help support reading and other content area needs throughout my curriculum. I currently teach grades 2–5 and three middle school electives. The first plan will describe using phonics and phonemes into a grade 3 lesson, which is when children are transitioning from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. The second plan will support middle school students who are reading-to-learn, but still need support in developing thier phonemic awareness and literacy skills.

Plan 1 for Grade 3 lesson: During one of my third-grade lessons that was originally designed to support North American history across the third-grade level, the students learn about the influence that the Europeans had on making pottery in the part of the continent now known as Mexico. I introduce the terms pre-Columbian art and post-Columbian art along with some other challenging vocabulary words for this project. Phonics education is designed to make connections between letter sequences and phonemes. For the purpose of developing the students’ phonological awareness, I say the words before putting them up on the projector to be read. While I say them, I stress the sounds that make up the words. I have the students repeat the sounds so that when I put up the slide, they will already be aware of the sounds, and they can start connecting them to the letters they see on the projector. In this lesson, I go beyond phonemic awareness and ask the students if they can identify the morphemes—the roots and affixes that make up the vocabulary terms—to see whether they can derive meaning by which they can begin decoding the words. For pre- and post-Columbian art, I often get responses about Columbia rather than about Columbus. This lexicon error gives me an opportunity to talk more about the geography and historical development of the region. Conversely, the students usually recognize the pre- and post- prefixes. Therefore, once they understand that Columbian refers to Christopher Columbus, they can generally derive the meaning of the terms.

The grapheme to phoneme correspondence and phonological awareness parts of the lesson doesn’t stop with the vocabulary words. In designing their pottery, I ask the students to build vessels using pre-Columbian methods (the techniques used in Central America before the introduction of the potter’s wheel from Europe), but to design their pots in post-Columbian style like the artworks of modern Mexico. I include the names of contemporary Mexican artists, like Mata Ortiz, with some exemplars in the lesson because the phonemes and morphemes of Mexican-Spanish language sound different than American-English phonemes. Hopefully, this helps any ELLs in my classes from Spanish-speaking countries to hear the differences in pronunciation thereby raising their phonological and phonemic awareness of the differences between Spanish and English phonemes.

One last element to this lesson that is designed to support literacy is that the students must build their name as a relief feature onto the surface of their pots or other vessels. Doing so helps support the correspondence of the phonemes that make up their names to the alphabetic symbols needed to spell them. I find that being able to manipulate the physical letters also helps the students at this grade level who are still reversing letters like “b” and “d” when they write.

Plan 2 for middle school elective: My middle school electives that most lend themselves to supporting reading are my digital art and design class, and my cartooning and caricature elective, though I include literacy in my other electives as well. This year, I used both classes to support a struggling reader, which prevented her from needing to be pulled out of electives that she enjoys for reading interventions. This plan will describe how I support reading through phonics in the cartooning and caricature elective.

For this class, my students are primarily learning about the connections between art and literature through SVS (sequential visual storytelling). While there are smaller projects along the way, the main goal of the class is for the students to write/draw their own graphic novels using SVS that follow a “Hero’s Journey” pattern as defined by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). This being the objective of the class, we explore many stories along the way and identify the parts that reflect various portions of the hero’s journey. In each story, we also look at the historical archetypes that are present in the tale and compare then to Carl Jung’s identification of historical archetypes.

During the storytelling-based lessons, we sometimes do read aloud sessions where the students have an opportunity to read parts of the story. I try to ensure that they read with fluency, including automaticity and appropriate reading speed, when they read, and support them individually when I see them struggle. I am sensitive that some struggling readers are not comfortable reading in front of their peers, so I do not force public reading. For those, I work on reading more privately in one-on-one sessions.

I also read to them. When I read, I try to enunciate the various phonemes and point out important morphemes to promote phonological and phonemic awareness. I already make my thought processes transparent about understanding content and vocabulary; therefore, I can also illuminate my processes for decoding words and linking/manipulating sounds as I read to the students.
While reading, I also use the punctuation in exaggerated fashion to help the students develop prosodic reading, which studies have shown help support silent reading as the inflections of speech tend inform meaning.

This year, when I teach the lesson, I plan to incorporate a Reader’s Theater strategy where the students, working in small groups take a story from an existing graphic novel, turn it into a script, and act out their script during the class. During the reading, I will ask them to enunciate the phoneme blends clearly, and to read with emotion to help other students with comprehension. When writing their scripts, I will require the students to choose words and phrases that have a strong rhythmical quality and/or a strong voice. I can assist them in this area through the use of exemplars and by walking around as they work suggesting rhythmic phrases. These things are said to help with prosodic reading, phonological and phonemic awareness, and reading comprehension (Paige, Rasinski, & Magpuri-Lavell, 2012).


Paige, D. D., Rasinski, T. V., & Magpuri-Lavell, T. (2012). If fluent, expressive reading important for high school readers? . Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 56(1), 67–76.

Pence Turnbull, K., & Justice, L. (2012). Language development from theory to practice. . Boston: Pearson.

Phonics and Phonological Awareness Article.pdf. (n.d.). Retrieved from scps.instructure:


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Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, and Pragmatics

This blog post is from my response to a discussion board in my reading endorsement class. It is slightly modified for my readers who don’t have the benefit of seeing the question and overview. The purpose of the discussion board was to discuss four areas of oral language development as they apply to early literacy.

Before discussing the importance of each of the four topics (phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics), I would like to comment about overall oral language development.

Considering that the earliest language instruction is passive—meaning it comes from the experience of listening (hearing really) to how family and community members use language, it seems that the first important step in literacy development is oral language expression used around babies and preschool-aged children. According to the research by Hart and Risley (1995), there is a drastic difference between a child’s language opportunities and her/his family’s socioeconomic status. They write, “In 4 years of such experience, an average child in a professional family would have accumulated experience with almost 45 million words, an average child in a working-class family would have accumulated experience with 26 million words, and an average child in a welfare family would have accumulated experience with 13 million words” (p. 198). If accurate, that means that children from the highest SES families have about 32 million more quality word experiences than children born into poverty by the time they enter kindergarten. These numbers are based on two and a half years of research observing the interactions between families of youngsters between birth and school age of various economic statuses. If oral language experience and development is critical to early literacy—and Hart and Risley’s research is still valid—then educators are challenged to figure out how to make up a loss of millions quality language experiences for our students who come from lower SES families. This is food for thought about this critical stage of early literacy. I would love to hear from some of my cohort who teach children from lower SES families how they deal with early language deficits based on limited experiences. Does this factor into your decisions?

According to Language Development from Theory to Practice, phonology is the process of breaking down language into discrete sounds called phonemes. SAE (Standard American English) has 39 phonemes or sounds that combine to make about 100,000 words (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 22). The assigned reading states, “Children learn to talk without being consciously aware of individual phonemes…” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). This means that it is necessary to make children phonologically aware for them to transition from learning to listen and talk to learning to read and write.

Syntax is about the rules governing how words are put together to form phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and beyond (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). Like phoneme use, syntax begins unconsciously. Children and other language learners begin forming sentences by mimicking experiences from other, more proficient, language users. This occurs before they are aware of how the rules work. In my personal and teaching experience, even children with various developmental and cognitive disabilities learn to form sentences by scripting from the language they have heard from various language experiences before they understand the rules—or even the vocabulary—necessary for developing original sentences. This explains why they sometimes express well-formed sentences that are not meaningfully related to the current situation. Or, as Pence-Turnbull and Justice (2012) write, “Consideration of Chomsky’s proposition that Colorless green ideas sleep furiously illustrates the difference between semantics and syntax, in which a sentence is devoid of meaning but conforms to sophisticated syntactic rules” (p. 24). In other words, the child misunderstands the meaning of the words or combinations of words, but still can put them in a meaningful order. Syntactic awareness takes automatic syntax and makes in useable.

Semantics is the area of literacy learning where the sentences and word phrases become meaningful. In the semantic system, meaning extends beyond individual words to include “…phrases, sentences, discourse and whole text” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 11). Sometimes words have multiple meanings. Without the semantic skill of deriving meaning from the context of a sentence or phrase, it may not be possible for developing readers to comprehend what they are learning. One example that I frequently employ is the word pitch, which means different things across the many school content areas. In PE, it is a thrown ball or golf shot. In math, it means the slope of a line. In economics, a pitch is a way to sell a product or service. In engineering and science, pitch is another word for tar. In music, it represents the highness or lowness of a note. And, in art, pitch is related to value, meaning how light or dark a specific hue compares to other hues in the artwork. Without a significantly developed semantic system, it is impossible to understand the meaning of the pitch in the various contexts in which it may be used in school texts. Going back to the Chomsky sentence from above, semantical awareness also helps a child understand that there is something wrong with the phrase despite its correct grammatical form (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012).

“Pragmatics (use) pertains to the rules governing how language is used for social purposes” (Pence Turnbull & Justice, 2012, p. 24). There are three areas where understanding pragmatics is important for language learners. They must learn how to express intentions, to communicate during conversations, and use language that adheres to social conventions. Pragmatics can involve additional aspects like language register, cultural awareness and responsiveness, and even body language.

Like phoneme and syntax use, low-level pragmatics comes automatically from experiences in social situations. However, educators must not assume that students have sophisticated pragmatic systems down automatically. The reading states, “…many educators: ‘had been operating on the belief that the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic cues were straightforward and familiar to children, and, because of this, were wholly available for use in finessing the graphophonemic system’” (Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017, p. 12). Instead of teaching literacy under that deficient assumption, it is important to move the children from their automatic understanding of these important areas of oral reading readiness toward understanding them on a more cognitive level.

Ruby Payne, for one, recognizes this idea in her work demonstrating that different groups of children may be unaware of the language register shifts that need to take place for kids to be successful in school (Payne, n.d.). Students sometimes know when to socially switch codes from the casual register they are using with their friends to a more intimate register that they use with their mother, but they may not recognize when and where schools require formal register since schools are a place where many registers can be used correctly. Language register code changing also requires the student to make a shift in the grammatical rules from their local informal dialect to SAE. Therefore, educators need to be cognizant about the pragmatic shifts that take place in various school-related social situations, and must illuminate the rule changes for the children to apply them properly to different social and learning literacy situations.

To tie it all together, while these four areas are essential for language and literacy learning, without knowing that all the students in our classes have had beyond the most basic introduction to oral language literacy at home, teachers need to find ways to compensate in several ways. We must provide some additional language experiences to supplement what is missing. These experiences should be designed to help the students develop automatic phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. In my estimation, we can never fully make up for millions of missed language experiences that some children have lost in relation to others in our classes. However, we should not write curriculum based on the assumption that the students have all had the same opportunities either. Once the students demonstrate that they can use phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics automatically, there is a need to illuminate the processes for them so that the students can begin to transition from learning how to listen, talk, and converse in social situations to learning how to use these skills cognitively for learning to read and write. It involves ensuring that the children can develop phonologic and graphophonemic awareness to attach letters and other symbols to their spoken language skills.


Hart, B., & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday esperience of young American children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Company.

Oral Language Reading Selection(1).pdf: 8972_Comp1_Summer2017. (n.d.). Retrieved from SCPS instructure:

Payne, R. (n.d.). Understanding and working with students and adults from poverty. Retrieved from Homepages :

Pence Turnbull, K., & Justice, L. (2012). Language development from theory to practice. . Boston: Pearson.


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The Importance of Culture for Deriving Meaning

Charles Sutton

Galileo School for Gifted Learning

Level 7 Learning

When children from subdominant cultures in American society are consistently underrepresented in gifted programs, most experts agree that there must be something about the way education is presented through the lens of the dominant culture that makes the curriculum and subsequent demonstration of intelligence and talented more difficult for these students. The question is: what is it about culture that makes it an important component for learning and gifted identification? This paper will look at some of the research that connects culture to learning style.

According to Rodriguez and Bellanca (2007), historically, when children have been ripped away from their own culture due to some traumatic event, and they are subsequently educated in an immersive culture that is not their own, these children have been unable to perform or to demonstrate knowledge. The authors provide several examples of this occurrence throughout history including: the children who survived the Holocaust, the First Nations’ children who were taken from their families by the Canadian government, the children of Japanese citizens who were put in internment camps, and the children of slaves brought from Africa to America. In each case, and others like them, “…many children who survived did so with their cultural identity severely impaired or irretrievably lost” (p. 59).

One thing that all of these groups have in common is that without their cultural heritage intact, they were unable to process meaning when they tried to learn, as was first identified by Reuven Feuerstein (Rodriguez & Bellanca, 2007). Many of these children were initially identified as intellectually disabled, when the reality was that simply they could no longer use their background information and prior experiences as a basis for establishing meaning for the things that they were trying to learn. He developed a mediation for these students to replace their cultural loss. Similarly, when a child suffers from deficit thinking—when s/he is led to believe that her/his culture is somehow inferior to that of the dominant culture, then it is as if the student’s own culture has been torn away, and s/he can no longer effectively use cultural experiences as a way to derive meaning in what s/he is attempting to learn.

Context is critical for learning. Most people derive context from the things we know and experience through our family and community culture. When the school’s dominant culture is a mismatch to the child’s family culture—especially when there are significant value and learning differences between the two cultures—then the student feels that s/he cannot use the majority of life’s experiences to help parse the information that is presented at school. If s/he does, then the information may be deficient in some way in the child’s subconscious. As in the cases of the children who were torn away from their culture in the examples above, these students may not be able to express their intelligence significantly without having the proper cultural context available to them. Therefore, they may be gifted and talented in actuality, but they are also not able to express themselves in ways that the teacher and other adults in the dominant culture will recognize. Therefore, their gifts and talents go unnoticed.

Similarly, the Supporting Good Teaching Series from the Educational Research Service offers the following

        Schools have a culture of their own, and many mainstream schools reflect and operate according to what might be described as middle-class European American cultural standards. Students from other cultural backgrounds may experience cultural conflicts in such classrooms because their accustomed ways of learning and communicating may not match mainstream routines—hence creating barriers to effective learning (Educational Resource Service, 2004, p. 1).

Further, they write, “Cultural conflicts can interfere with a child’s progress by producing misunderstanding, discomfort, possible rejection, and, ultimately, low achievement” (Educational Resource Service, 2004, p. 2). This is true of the gifted child as well as the more typically intelligent child. Therefore, the low achievement—while having a different cause than gifted underachievement in dominant culture students—often prevents these students from being identified for gifted and talented programs. As educators, by providing multicultural experiences in the classroom through responsive curriculum, we can go a long way toward giving students back access to their native culture for learning context and presentation of intelligence and talent.

According to Rethinking Schools (2000), an additional benefit to a multicultural approach is that without it, academic rigor is impossible. In a totalitarian society—where only one point of view is tolerated—it is difficult to teach about situations that are best understood and processed through diverging viewpoints. Conversely, in a democratic education system, it is not only possible, but desirable to teach multiple points of view. Similarly, they suggest

      ,ul>In curriculum, academic rigor is impossible without a multicultural standpoint. Suppose one is teaching about the American Revolution. Traditional—non-multicultural—curricular approaches to the revolution focus on the actions of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and other “great men.” But, in 1776, the majority of people in the 13 colonies were women, African Americans, or Native Americans. They pursued their dreams in ways that profoundly impacted the revolution… ”There is no way to make sense of events following the Declaration of Independence—or any other historical era—without multicultural perspective (Rethinking Schools, 2000, para. 2).

Yet, when we only teach and expect students to learn through the lens of the dominant culture that presents the White, European, male vantage point, then we narrow the possibility of deeper understanding and learning. As a result, one can see that multicultural education is a more democratic way to teach and learn because it allows for looking at things through divergent experiences. In a similar manner, Morrison (2013) writes, “…democratic education promises much more meaningful learning. If people have more choice and freedom to study what interests them, then they become more deeply engaged in, and thus less alienated from, their learning” (p. 95). How much more is this true when students have the lens of their own culture from which to process, provide context, and express their cultural voice in their education projects.

In summary, the idea of excluding certain cultures from the curriculum is similar to dramatically ripping a child from his/her family and community in that s/he loses the ability to use the context of culture to assign meaning and expression. Feuerstein found that students who were physically separated from their culture historically needed to learn a mediation for assigning meaning before they could be successful at deeper learning endeavors. Fortunately, for many American children from underrepresented ethnic, racial, and gender situations, teachers only need to take a multicultural and responsive approach toward the curriculum to give them back the context they need to become identified. There is an added benefit in that democratic, multicultural education curriculum provides an interweaving of ideas that makes learning about a topic more rigorous, which is a primary goal of gifted education. Therefore, teachers should provide multicultural experiences rather than relying on curriculum that expresses only the viewpoint of the dominant culture as a lens through which all children must learn.


Educational Resource Service. (2004). Culturally sensitive classrooms. Arlington, VA: Educational Resource Service.

Morrison, K. A. (2013). Democratic classrooms: Promises and challenges of student voice and choice. In J. W. Noll, Taking sides: Clashing views on educational issues (seventeenth ed., pp. 92–101). New York: Mcgraw Hill.

Rethinking Schools. (2000). Multiculturalism: A fight for justice. Retrieved from Rethinking Schools:

Rodriguez, E., & Bellanca, J. (2007). What is it about me you can’t teach?: An instruction guide for the urban educator (Second Edition ed.). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.


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Considering the Needs of Underachievers and Underrepresented Groups in Gifted Programs

Charles Sutton

Galileo School for Gifted Learning

Level 7 Learning

Reis (n.d.) identified a number of possible reasons that gifted students may underachieve. Her final—and perhaps most salient—point is that “…there are some students who may underachieve as a direct result of inappropriate and unmotivating curriculum, and before we try to ‘fix’ them, or punish them for their behavior, perhaps we need to advocated drastic curriculum changes for them” (p. 82). I have long felt that this problem exists at all levels of education and it affects both motivation and behavior in the classroom. As a result of that kind of thinking, long before I worry about trying to change behaviors through assigning consequences, I alter my curriculum and teaching-style to match the students’ wide range of needs in the classroom. Interestingly enough, although her topic is not about underachievement but underrepresentation, curriculum changes are also recommended by Ford (2010), who discusses how current curriculum is designed to favor students in the majority group, who happen to match the cultural background of the majority of teachers. Accordingly, curriculum needs to change for multiple reasons to allow for students from diverse background to thrive and therefore, be identified for their gifts and talents while also approaching their identified potential. While both articles cite additional reasons for underperformance or underrepresentation, curriculum changes will be the main focus of this response.

As Tomlinson suggests, differentiation is the key to meeting diverse needs for all students—including gifted students—in a mixed ability classroom (Wu, 2013; Holloway, 2003). While mixed-ability integrated classes may not meet all of the social and emotional needs of gifted students, students can receive academically appropriate curriculum through the differentiation process (Holloway, 2003) Therefore, the key to designing curriculum for the diverse group of gifted underachievers—and for those underrepresented for receiving gifted services due to ethnic, racial, and gender prejudices—is to keep in mind that the content needs to be flexible with a lot of room for making diverse choices.

My master’s thesis identified that tracking students into lower groups to reduce the academic challenges for underachieving students of all types makes the problem of underachievement more significant as the student develops self-efficacy and self-concept problems associated with being aligned with such tracks. Students also lose interest in the work when there is little challenge, so there is a double effect that causes a wider achievement gap between the student’s potential and production (Sutton, 2013). This effect is multiplied for gifted students whose self-concept may be entirely based on academic superiority and success (Reis, n.d.). Therefore, the curriculum for underachieving, gifted students need to be more challenging, not easier. Instead of reducing the difficulty of the work, providing an advanced curriculum that allows the students to make personal choices may help reverse the chasm between potential and performance.

Ford (2010) reflects that, in her experiences, three factors contribute to underrepresentation in the classroom, so any differentiated curricular decisions should consider these three things: deficit thinking, colorblindness, and White privilege.

Deficit thinking occurs when students are conditioned to consider their own cultural background as inferior to the majority culture. As Americans, we live in a society that has many cultures, but other cultures are forced to assimilate into the dominant White culture by which schools, businesses, and society in general run. According to Gollnick and Chinn (2013), “Assimilation policies promote the values of the dominant group, which are reflected in hidden curriculum—the unwritten and informal rules that guide the expected behaviors and attitudes of students in schools” (p. 14). While the hidden curriculum is about behavior conformity, the majority of content and language curriculum also has built in expectations that students from other culture demonstrate academic intelligences through traditional, dominant values. Since educators can have little effect in the short run on the societal issues that cause a pluralistic society like America to embrace dominant cultural values, the values and intelligences of other cultures are often seen by people born into families from these subordinate cultures as inferior to the White dominant culture that is considered more acceptable in school and society. Therefore, they develop deficit thinking. The curriculum should, therefore, be designed to equally value multiple cultures so that even when the society is not pluralistic in practice, the in-school curriculum will show that every student’s own culture has equal value and acceptance in the classroom.

Colorblindness in school, on the other hand, occurs when teachers attempt to be fair to all races and cultures by ignoring everyone’s culture altogether and treating every child the same. If one were starting from a blank slate without the already built in prejudices that are in the curriculum and societal rules in school, then this might be ok. However, pretending that there are no differences between the students of various cultures, and then using curriculum that has been traditionally preferential to White culture is tantamount to expecting instant and complete assimilation without the hope of pluralism or equal treatment. Therefore, any curriculum decisions need to be culturally diverse and responsive enough to represent the intelligences and values of every student in the classroom. Rather than colorblindness, the teacher should be celebrating the diversity of cultures in the school via the curriculum and design of the classroom.

Finally, teachers need to address White privilege in the selection process by which Whites are over-identified for placement into gifted programs as compared to their percentage in the general population. Ford (2010) defines White privilege as, “…a form of entitlement and affirmative action in which the social and cultural capital…of White Americans is valued and held as normal, normative, or the standard” (p. 33). This differs from deficit thinking in that in the case of White privilege, it is not the minority person who feels like his/her culture holds less value than the dominant culture. Rather, it is people in the dominant culture whose expectations are that the correct or normal way to create, develop, and assess curriculum is—as it has always been—through the lens of the dominant culture. It is in this area is where Ford’s (2010) assertion that there is a need for disaggregated data can be valuable. As educators, we are asked to use data to drive our curricular decisions. When most people in the class have mastered a topic as reflected in testing, then we can move onto other topics. If many students need more support when faced with a standard or benchmark, then we scaffold to provide those as well. However, when we disaggregate according to race, gender, and culture, then we can begin to see where the curriculum has factors that are prejudiced toward White, male privilege. Breaking down test results according to various subgroups within the system can help educators make decisions about whether particular questions, techniques, or even topics are biased toward the dominant culture or another culture so that corrections can be made to help compensate. These corrections may include differentiating to allow a wider range of cultural selections, changing the nature of the topic itself to be more culturally diverse and responsive, or eliminating the question or topic if it is not possible to correct the biases in other ways.

As an educator in mixed-ability classes, there is a lot that can be done to make the curriculum more appropriate to help students underperforming through underachievement or as a result of built in prejudices that cause the students’ talents and gifts to remain hidden. Understanding the causes of each situation will help the teacher differentiate to allow for a wider range of students to succeed. Underachieving gifted students have traditionally been bored by easier curriculum, so making tracking in the classroom to make the work less challenging will only exacerbate the problem. Instead, the work should become more challenging and include choices that the students find stimulating. Underrepresentation is a factor resulting from three issues that occur when a dominant culture expects a pluralistic society to adhere to its norms. These include deficit thinking, colorblindness, and White privilege. Creating culturally responsive, challenging assignments with choices that fit the range of cultures in the class can help eliminate these biases and allow each students gifts to become apparent. The key is differentiation.

Ford, D. Y. (2010). Underrepresentation of culturally different students in gifted education: Reflections about current problems and recommendations for the future. Gifted Child Today, 33(3), 31–35.
Gollnick, D. M., & Chinn, P. C. (2013). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson.
Holloway, J. H. (2003, October). Grouping gifted learners. Educational Leadership, 89–91.
Reis, S. M. (n.d.). The underachievement of gifted students: Multiple frustrations and few solutions. Wege zur Begabungsforderung, 72–83.
Sutton, C. (2013). Examining the efficacy of online credit-recovery programs for at-risk adolescents. A Theses Presented to the Graduate Program in Partial Fufillment of the Requirements. Concorida University.
Wu, E. H. (2013). The path leading to differentiation: An interview with Carol Tomlinson. Journal of Advanced Academics, 24(2), 125–133.


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Does Low Sociometrics Affect Teacher Perception?

Charles Sutton
Galileo School for Gifted Learning
Level 7 Learning

Rizza and Morrison (2003) conducted research that strongly suggests that when a student has emotional/behavioral disability along with giftedness, the teacher may stereotype the students and not identify the student’s characteristics that make him/her gifted. The younger, less experienced teachers in the study were more likely to associate these stereotypes with the student than a more well-seasoned educator. According to the study, this could potentially be a problem for students who are twice-exceptional; these students have above average intelligence, strong task commitment, and/or high creativity (Renzulli, n.d.), but they also have an identified disability that requires services. When a teacher sees some gifted characteristics in these students, s/he may only associate them with the disability even though many of these qualities may equally be signs of a child’s giftedness. This misconception prejudices the selection process. As a result, the student will likely get services for managing his/her academic and/or behavioral weaknesses, but may not receive the additional services needed to enhance the child’s gifts and talents. That being the case, these talents may be squandered. The question this paper raises is why would teachers, regardless of experience, be fooled into missing a child’s gifts and only see the disabilities?
One possibility is sociometrics. Sociometry is the “quantitative study and measurement of relationships within a group of people” (Apple, Inc. , 2015). Most studies of sociometry in school environments look only at peer relationships. For example, Baydik and Bakkaloglu (2009) conducted a study of students to see whether socioeconomic status differences affected elementary school children’s sociometrics status among their peers whether or not the child had a documented disability. What they found was that anything that made a child stand out negatively could cause a decrease in the child’s sociometry and thereby make the child more isolated, but intellectual and behavioral disability was a stronger better predictor of negative sociometrics than physical appearance or socioeconomic status differences. The socially isolated students—the ones with apparent intellect and/or behavior problems—consistently underperformed in school work due to their isolation, and they were moved into remedial groups by their teachers.
From the results of prior studies, the authors of this sociometry research paper hypothesized that students with low performance and also students who had behavior problems that made them stand out as obstacles in the classroom would have the lowest sociometrics. Their results, based mostly on teacher response surveys, confirmed that to be true. This is interesting for possibly understanding where the teacher biases may come from because the teacher responses correlated with the low sociometry based on children’s emotional/behavioral disabilities. Therefore, one could hypothesize that the teacher responses may have been influenced by the kinds of stereotypes that Rizza and Morrison (2003) identified in their study considering that the teachers who filled out the survey materials are the same ones who moved these students into remedial groups. While the Baydik and Bakkaloglu (2009) study does not identify any of the students in their sample as gifted or twice-exceptional, the research may suggest why teachers possibly under-identified some of the talents of the students to whom they gave low sociometrics scores. As was noted above, the students who are isolated by their peers (and perhaps even the teacher) will underperform and the gifts may remain hidden. I suggest that a study should be conducted as a follow up to Rizza and Morrison (2003) to see if sociometrics play a part in the stereotypes identified in the study.


Apple, Inc. . (2015). Sociometry. 2.2.1(178).
Baydik, B., & Bakkaloglu, H. (2009). Predictors of sociometric status for low socioeconomic stutus elementary mainstreamed students with and without special needs. Educational Sciences/Theory & Practice, 435–442.
Renzulli, J. (n.d.). Renzulli’s three-ring conception of giftedness. Retrieved from
Rizza, M. G., & Morrison, W. F. (2003). Uncovering stereotypes and identifying characteristics of gifted students and students with emotional/behavioral disabilities. Roeper Review, 25(2), 73–77.


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STEM, STEAM, and Perfectionism in Gifted Students

The art curriculum could be an excellent place to help alleviate the pressures that gifted children put on themselves due to their tendency toward perfectionism. As a famous artist, Salvador Dali, once said, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.” The beauty and diversity of art is in the differences caused by imperfections. Conversely, in most forms of mathematics, for example, it is possible to score 100% on exams and assignments all of the time, which can be equated in the gifted child’s mind with perfection. Therefore, when s/he misses one question on a test, s/he also questions her/his abilities regardless that there were no prior mistakes. In art, perfection is impossible; so, if taught correctly, the art room can be a place where gifted children can learn that unavoidable mistakes and differentiation is what gives the world of art such beautiful diversity. In a time when the trend in educations is toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), there is extra internal pressure on the gifted child toward perfectionism because each of these is an exact discipline with little room for error. That is why I prefer STEAM, because integrating the arts—the “A” in STEAM stands for arts—and language arts with these things introduces back the ability to have different approaches, some less than perfect, that are equally valuable contributions to the subject area. In gifted programs particularly—and in all programs in general—there needs to be a sharp movement away from STEM toward STEAM so that schools are not trying to produce citizens who place their personal value on exactness. Rather, students of the future will be more valuable to society—and to themselves—if they can contribute imperfectly and still be happy with their production.


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