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‘Gifted’ program revamped

Students in Amanda Shaver’s fourth-grade class work with Tracy Marsh. Students are working on a small group novel study of “A Cricket in Times Square.” Students pictured are Sabel Mattingly, Forrest Godshall, Dov Polsky, Roshan Varma, Hannah Varner,- Photo submitted
Knox County Schools recently eliminated its Talented and Gifted program and replaced it with a more inclusive program utilizing a gifted and talented coaching staff.

Tracy Marsh, full time GT coach at Farragut Intermediate School, said the revamped program will give more students the opportunity to receive special attention and access to a more rigorous curriculum.

“We went from a pullout program, where the very top percentage of students was pulled out for an extra hour a week of enrichment,” she said. “Now the focus is a little bit different because kids are not gifted just an hour a week.”

“My focus is to work with the teachers so that their instruction can be elevated with the new rigorous curriculum to meet the needs of those more advanced students throughout the curriculum, not just the pullout program,” Marsh added.

FIS is the only school in Knox County that utilizes a full time GT coach.

Marsh said this is because there are more advanced students at FIS than any other school in the system.

“We can identify more gifted students at Farragut. For one reason because of the size of the school, but also a larger percentage of the students are advanced, achievement-wise,” she added.

KCS identifies students as advanced based on their Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test scores and teacher observation, but the new program allows for a larger number of students to be identified because they no longer have to be advanced in both reading and math.

“With the old program students had to have a high percentage on the TCAP test in both math and reading, whereas now, a student who is gifted in math but not in reading could benefit from that advanced work,” Marsh said.

“It gives them more flexibility now; kids are not left out of this program, whereas they were potentially left out of the TAG program,” she added.

Part of Marsh’s job under the new program is to help teachers restructure their curriculum in an effort to give specialized attention to students of all abilities.

“Not all classes are ability-grouped, but some are, for certain subjects only. Like there may be a reading class that moves a little faster. We do not call them advanced classes because they still follow the same state curriculum that is mandated, but what those kids have to handle is that the reading material they use is a little more advanced or they may focus more on problem solving or writing that a student who is just proficient or below proficient,” Marsh said.

“The teacher has autonomy to give those students more rigorous activities and we use a lot of small groups. If it is a non-ability grouped class she may have a reading group that is above level, a group that is on level and a group that is below level and their activities would be differentiated,” she added.

Knox County’s effort to produce a more rigorous curriculum utilizes teaching the children to use critical thinking skills rather than rote memorization.

“We are working on higher order thinking using Blooms Taxonomy, where kids have to justify their answers. It is no longer, ‘the answer is … blank,’ they have to tell why that answer is what it is. They have to take it to a higher level, they have to be able to infer and reason more than in the old curriculum,” Marsh said.

Marsh uses tools such as simulation exercises to reinforce critical thinking.

“I did a lesson with all of third grade and we did a simulation of an oil spill and the kids had to problem solve what material would be best for cleaning up an oil spill. So they had to do some higher level thinking and some inference, and then we worked on the scientific method, like how to perform an experiment.

“Those are some of the things we are trying to get teachers to utilize in their classrooms as we are working on this more rigorous curriculum,” she said.


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