Students of color in America are 20 times less likely to be identified as gifted and talented than their classmates.
Too many students aren’t getting an opportunity to reveal their strengths says Nancy Hertzog, a University of Washington College of Education professor, and as director of the UW Robinson Center for Young Scholars she’s working to change the status quo.
Each year, dozens of Washington teachers participate in Robinson Center professional development activities, including this summer’s workshop “Highly Capable Learning Labs: Addressing Diversity in the Classroom.” The lab focused on developing teachers’ ability to address the diverse needs of learners in the classrooms to challenge all students.
“There’s no one group of gifted learners,” Hertzog said. “Our students are diverse in so many ways—cultural, ethnic, religious—our focus is to make learning meaningful and relevant for all students in classes. We want teachers to look at their classrooms as places where students grow, rather than having preset limitations. We want teachers to think about how they can challenge all of their learners.”
During “Highly Capable Learning Labs,” teachers observed classes offered by the Robinson Center to more than 600 highly capable students in grades 5 through 10 participating in its summer programs. After observing classes, the teachers discussed how to enact strategies for meeting the diverse needs of learners in their own classrooms.
Laura McGinty, a 7th science teacher at Seattle's McClure Middle School who participated in the lab, noted that students in her school aren’t tracked into different classrooms based on identification as being high achieving.
“The classroom is a spectrum of people,” she said, “you need to meet the needs of every single student.”
McGinty said she looks forward to implementing strategies such as pre-assessment to better determine what students already know and restructuring classroom time to focus on activities that will be highly engaging for all students.
“It’s so important to put the onus on the student for taking charge of their own learning,” McGinty said. “Students get a sense of power with that responsibility and a great sense of pride.”
Diversity can play a crucial role in enhancing student learning, Hertzog says. In the Robinson Center’s summer philosophy classes, for example, students who engage in discussions about the meaning of life each bring different family and cultural perspective to the conversation, offering everyone a broader set of perspectives to hear and consider.
Encouraging students to share diverse perspectives is crucial to engaging all students and fostering a passion for learning, Hertzog said.
“Having students express their own ideas—whether they’re making representations, whether they’re problem solving with other students, whether they’re in group discussions—that’s something I’d like all teachers give students the opportunity to do,” Hertzog said. “That really gives students an opportunity to show and reveal their strengths.”
About the Robinson Center
The Halbert and Nancy Robinson Center for Young Scholars is a leader in the nation for developing programs and supporting teachers that serve highly capable young pre-college and college students. The center offers early entrance programs to prepare younger students for college, outreach through enrichment and summer programs for Puget Sound students, and leads research and discovery of best practice in supporting highly capable young students.
Nancy Hertzog, Professor of Education
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications