On March 26, Barbara Branch spoke to parents and educators at Pioneer Elementary School on the needs of children identified as academically gifted. Her talk, titled “You Can’t Fit A Square Peg Into A Round Hole: Helping High Potential Children Flourish,” focused on the educational and emotional needs of high academic potential children.
Branch is the incoming executive director of the California Association for the Gifted with more than 40 years of experience as a former teacher and principal.
She emphasized that every child should learn something in school every day. This simple maxim poses a challenge for schools with heterogeneous classrooms that have to focus on teaching material that is already known to intellectually talented students, who are capable of performing academically well beyond their chronological peers. Like many states, California calls these students “gifted.”
Branch described the social and emotional needs of these children and how they differ in learning styles from their peers. She presented research and examples of why academically gifted students do best in self-contained classrooms. If a district has smaller numbers of academically talented identified students, then cluster grouping is the next best option.
She pointed out that academically gifted children often tune out and disengage when they are left unchallenged in regular classrooms. She noted that a significant percentage of high school dropouts nationwide are intellectually gifted children, who were left unserved by the school system.
Branch agreed that no screening method is perfect but that using tests, recommendations by classroom teachers, the possibility of retesting for students who may be missed by one test, and an appeals process is a balanced method in identifying these children. She observed that having a high proportion of the students in the district identified as intellectually gifted is not unusual in towns like Davis.
Branch spoke about distinctions that are made between intellectually gifted students and high-achieving students. Students identified as intellectually gifted have a different way of processing information and need greater depth in the curriculum. High-achieving students also need in-depth leaning instruction styles to be properly served.