Galileo School for Gifted Learning
Level 7 Learning
In studying the special population of gifted students termed as “highly gifted”—generally defined as having an IQ range higher than 138 depending on the testing instrument—it was apparent that these students needed even more academic challenges and enhancements than the more typically gifted students. Therefore, a search was conducted to see what kinds of accelerated curricular tools were being used to increase the quality of the learning experience without necessarily increasing the quantity of work on material that is already below their academic ability. This paper summarizes some of that research as it applies to using Internet and communication technology tools as academic enhancements to learning for these children.
Johnson (2008) introduces this topic saying, “Because of the limitless knowledge that is literally at your fingertips, the Internet can be an excellent tool for use with gifted students to differentiate curriculum within a general education setting and also in gifted education classes” (p. 58). He acknowledges that Web technologies can be excellent resources for extending a subject for gifted and highly gifted learners as there are a wide range of complexities that can be found covering nearly any topic. Vacca, Vacca, and Mraz (2014) concur saying, “Today’s adolescents represent the first generation of youth who have grown up since the emergence of digital technologies…they have at their fingertips more information than any generation in history” (p. 13). This proliferation of information comes with additional challenges as well, so the level of complexity of a project can be adjusted relative to the technology and information choices selected (Johnson, 2008).
Apart from the vast amount of information at varying levels of difficulty that is found on the Internet, the nature of the technology and the forms of literacy presented one the World Wide Web are deictic in nature; therefore, they are in a state of constant flux (Leu, Coiro, Casek, & Henry, 2004). The changing status of technology and sources alone can add levels of complexity to a gifted child’s ability for the parsing of materials without adding additional busy work. For example, learning how to use a new technology for additional search tools or navigating a website that uses horizontal scrolling methods may be sources of interest and investigation on their own. Not that these things should distract from the learning, but if used properly, they can add layers of interest and metacognition to any topic.
One challenge of using Internet sources is the difficulty with understanding reliability. For most teachers who did not grow up in the technology age, the problem of source reliability did not present itself often as our resource materials were generally approved from school and community libraries, encyclopedias, or academic periodicals. As a result, teachers may not be aware of the problem—or if they are aware, they may not consider using reliability of sources as another layer of complexity for research conducted via electronic mediums. New literacies experts believe that critical literacy—the ability to examine sources for reliability and credibility—is essential for online research and reading (Coiro, 2005; Biancarose, 2012; Pitcher, et al., 2010; Leu, Forzani, & Kennedy, 2014; Leu, Coiro, Casek, & Henry, 2004). To assist with the process of helping gifted students evaluate materials, Johnson’s (2008) article includes a “Web Site Evaluator” (p. 63–64) tool, which includes questions in five areas of concern that help students assess the value of the information. These areas include authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency—meaning how current the material is, not money, and coverage. Using these areas to evaluate resource materials helps gifted students compare the relative value of sources with divergent ideas about a topic so they can determine their own stance.
Johnson (2008) provides several online activities that can be used as enhancements for highly gifted children—or any students for that matter—when they are not being challenged by the regular curriculum. While the activities are valuable, the key to understanding why they can help raise the bar for gifted learning is not just the level of complexity of the learning materials, but also the nature of the Internet and communication technologies. They present multiple levels of complexity in new source materials, but since not all sources are equally trustworthy, they add additional difficulty to the assignment through the need to evaluate the reliability or each source before making decisions. Also, the ever changing, deictic nature of the technology and the Internet presents new levels of challenge for the gifted student. As Leu, Forzani, and Kennedy (2014) suggest, “It may be that a continuously shifting landscape of new literacies means that learning how to learn becomes more important than mastering a fixed and static set of literacy skills that will need to be continuously updated as new technologies appear” (p. 11). Therefore, one should think of technology-based learning as a shift from understanding content to metacognition. Giving highly gifted students the ability to not only think about academic materials, but the process of learning them in a modern era may enough of an enhancement to make mundane academic tasks take on new significance for them.
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