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Introduction to Teaching the Gifted–Culminating Project

By Arynn McKenzie

My project sought to meet the needs of gifted learners by literally drawing the correlation between creativity and giftedness. I used what I have learned about creating literal spaces for TAG (Talented and Gifted) students and apply it up grade levels. Most classroom design guides focus on lower grade levels. When it comes to creating a place for children to grow and explore there are many resources for the primary school teacher, but in secondary education there isn’t really a directive to create inviting environments. So the space children inhabit is often drab uninteresting cold and institutional. This should not be the case. I used my own classroom as a model. In essence, I meant to create a more inviting relaxing, anxiety reducing space, that engages student interest and curiosity.

I did this because If we believe that there are common things happening in any given accelerated classroom they are these:

  1. Gifted children are often dreamers and need fuel for their creative fires.
  2. Just like typical students the accelerated will learn at different rates. This means some will always finish before others.
  3. Enrichment and engagement are often the things lacking in secondary accelerated learning. Often Honors, AP, and IB designated classes simply mean more work.
  4. TAG children are more likely to experience anxiety and stress than other children.
  5. Relationship building is key to success with middle and high schoolers, making a room they want to be in means they will spend more time with you. In particular, in a school like mine where, the cafeteria is much too small to hold the student body and so children eat breakfast in classrooms, the hall, outside, in cars, and basically everywhere that isn’t the library.
  6. Happy teachers make for happy students. Bringing a bit of your own personal style to a room will improve your own mood.

 

If we believe these things to be true we can build spaces to help children through these challenges. Here are some scenes from around our building. Each room pictured hosts at least one International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, or Honors Course.

 

Classroom 1

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Classroom 2

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Classroom 3

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Hallway

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My Classroom:

As a kid I remember the school I began at being a bland uninteresting place. This was double in the TAG program I was in. The idea was that the material should be the most interesting thing in the room at any given point. I remember hating this more than anything else. The whiteness of the walls was oppressive. If you finished early there often wasn’t even a good window to stare out because someone had unhelpfully placed an anchor chart over it.

Although I wish I was not guilty of these crimes, I was:

Classroom Door

 

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The room was drab and impersonal, before you even open the door.

7Did you want an uplifting interesting poster?  Too bad. That one says, “None of these PCs print. Go to Library.”

8Oh snap! Is that some institutional butter cream under fluorescent lights? I am soooo engaged.

I would like to use what I have learned from this course, combined with what I know about differentiation to make the walls themselves an invitation to studying the material with depth and gusto and joy. I want to make a space which begs those with talent and ability to come and play and feel safe.

After Pictures:

  • Walls

In the end, I decided to create a timeline around the upper edge of my classroom. The timeline contains pictures (historical and comical), and covers a time period from the beginning of our curriculum (roughly 1350 CE) to the present. It is color coded by continent. Red is Asia, Green South America, Blue North America, Orange Africa, Purple Europe, Yellow Australia, and Black Antarctica.

9Yep, that’s the same ugly yellow corner with better light and a timeline. Notice the string lights and décor touches.

10The cool thing about making them as separate pieces was the ability to add more or swap them out as needed.

11Close up of the time line. Complete with joke about Tupac (1571)

 

  • Lighting

Here in the Pacific Northwest, November daylight lasts for a mere 8 hours, (an hour less than Iowa) fewer if it is cloudy, which it usually is. So I changed the terrible lighting. Installing string lights and acquiring a selection of odd and interesting lamps around the room, 5 lamps total.

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The lamps give the space a homey glow and just make the whole place more relaxing. 5 point if you get the pun.

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10 points for identifying the architectural style, and the archaic technology used.

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50 points if you noticed it is in two languages.

  • Wall paper

 

When I looked over the pictures of my classroom trying to decide how to handle the project, it hit me that the largest “wall” in my classroom was also the largest lamp. The screen dominates the space. For this reason, I decided it needed posters too. I made my own wallpaper by finding quotes on and about History and placed created a wall of posters for children.

15Here it is up on the screen. Centered it still gives me loads of space for icons and when projected each square is roughly poster size.

16Here is the clean copy, if you would like to use the image.

  • Skateboard, Cell phone, and Equipment “parking”

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I added student friendly signs and areas; like skateboard parking, cell phone parking, and ball storage. This is cool for two reasons. First it lets children know that they are welcome as whole people, not just students. Second, it keeps these distractions out of student hands during class.

 

  • Enrichment and Interest Texts

I used some PTA money and some favors to secure a cooler set of high interest history and social science monographs. Highlights from the collection include; comic books of historical events, encyclopedia sets on the paranormal and the occult, a robust collection on comparative religion, an interest geared section on local history.

18.jpgThe collection is set chronologically with human origns at the top left, and carrying on left to right onto the next shelf (not pictured) where it terminates in the 20th century.

19.jpgLocal history collection featuring stories about prostitution, liquor, gun fights, and Seattle’s founding fathers.

20.jpgComparative Religion Section looking empty because titles were checked out before pictures could be taken. Turns out kids are really into Hinduism, Sikhism, Atheism, Spiritism, Shinto, Zoroastrianism, Neo-Paganism, and Rastafarianism.

  • Just Gotta Be Me!

Lastly, I personalized the space to my own tastes. For me, that means extra plants, bats, spiders, skulls and the color red. I set up a wild bulletin board of my own interests (non-school) behind my desk. I features things I have drawn or collected, pictures of my family, thank you cards and drawings from children, along with the lists of phone numbers, maps and procedures I need on hand to do my job. At first I did it just to make myself happy, but it has become a wonderful conversation starter for the teenagers I teach. “Ms. McKenzie! You like Adventure Time/Marilyn Manson/Wonder Woman/can draw/celebrate Beltane!?!!” Yes, children. Yes, I do. Showing off that touch of yourself really helps with relationship building.17.jpg

 

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Consulting Resources:
           
Physical Environment

  • Brown pointed out that gifted children finish early, with this in mind I decided to make the walls a teaching and enrichment tool on their own.
Brown, D. E. (2015). Serving Gifted Students in General Ed Classrooms. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/gifted-students-general-ed-classrooms-elissa-brown
  • According to Dr. Phillips curriculum and environment need to match, in order for them to be effective. Humanistic lessons in a dehumanizing setting cannot work.
 
Phillips, M. (2014, May 20). A Place for Learning: The Physical Environment of Classrooms. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-physical-environment-of-classrooms-mark-phillips

Differentiation

  • Ryan Hannah noted that the choices teachers make for the walls conveys a great deal of information to the students, and sets the tone for the class. Hannah, R, “The Effect of Classroom Environment on Student Learning” (2013). Honors Theses. Paper 2375.
  • Differentiation is crucial and there are many ways to accomplish it.
Swicord, B. (n.d.). Differentiating Learning for Gifted Students. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from http://www.nsgt.org/differentiating-learning-for-gifted-students/
Engagement
  • According to Michelle Malone TAG students are more likely to be bored and under-stimulated in regular classes.
Manno, M. (2012, December 06). Engaging Gifted and Talented Students. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from https://teach.com/blog/engaging-gifted-and-talented-students/

Resource on Anxiety

  • TAG students are more prone to anxiety and sometimes have trouble socially. Making a comfortable (and possibly an intermittently social) area can help facilitate relaxation and interaction.
Foley Nicpon, M. (2014). Search Database. Retrieved November 29, 2016, from http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10750

Reflection:

In writing this assignment and creating this beautiful space, I began to see the results I was looking for. The time line squares just in a pile were a fascination for children. I started to think about my classroom as an extension of my home. It became my parlor with which to entertain  children.

As a teacher I am exceptionally strict. By creating this space I gave children a little more information about me and made a home for all of us. My student teacher called it, “A cozy room to study human sacrifice, colonization, and dynastic murder plots.” In a way he’s right, the past is ugly but the room we study it in doesn’t have to be.

 

Bye Everyone!

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