Stuck in the Middle ?

Have you ever had a question that at 2 in the morning you happen to come up with another way of responding? Well it’s 2:29AM and here I am with another response to a question I was asked last evening at a forum for potential school board candidates. The question was posed, ‘Our school district provides excellent programming and support to our children at both ends of the spectrum, do we do enough for the middle of the pack?’ (I do not remember the actual wording but it was something like that.)

When I was thinking back on the question as I tend to do, I had a few different ways of approaching this response.

First, let’s think about how are children identified as needing support– whether it is support because they are deemed gifted and talented and therefore need to be challenged; or because they are not meeting grade level benchmarks and require additional support; or perhaps they are differently-abled and require a different style of teaching or assistive device. Maybe the children need behavioral support because they have a difficult time staying quiet in class.

So then who are the children in the middle of the pack? Are they the children who are not the best and brightest, not the academically challenged, not the differently-abled, or not the ones who cause disruptions in the class? Are these children average? Grade level? Above grade level but not gifted? The ones that are easier to deal with because they are not any of the above? Who are the ones considered to be middle of the pack?

Perhaps we need to rethink how we look at and define gifted and talented and needing support. My daughter is gifted and talented academically and socially. She is tall, lithe, and can dance. She is not at the top of the charts athletically, musically, or artistically. It is in those areas she could require additional support. My son was not identified as gifted and talented. He is very bright, does beautifully in his Honors and AP courses, but is not in the G&T or challenge program. He is talented athletically and excels on the playing field. At the time, my son was a little upset that he was not considered gifted and could not go to “challenge” classes. I suppose I would tend to say that he is the upper middle of the pack or the middle of the front of the pack.

Here are my questions that I am thinking about:

  1.  Should we pull children out for support and challenge, or special experiential programming, or should we bring that challenge, support, and experiential programming to all children?
  2. Should we as teachers just be better at identifying our students’ strengths and differences and support them in our classrooms by differentiating the curriculum?
  3. Couldn’t all children use support in some areas? I mean, everyone is not necessarily excellent in every area of the curriculum and we should not expect people to be great at everything, We do need to expect that they will work to their strengths.
  4. Is it fair to offer programs and opportunities to those deemed qualified and not to those who are just interested in these kinds of learning experiences?
  5. Are we offering the same learning experiences to some but not all? or
  6. Are we offering excellent academic and holistic experiences to everyone but in different places based on where students identify their strengths and talents?

Then I reconsidered and thought about the flip side:

  1. Is it unfair to keep students who need extra support in a classroom that might not move at a pace that is the same at which they learn whether it is more quickly or slowly?
  2. Is it unfair for all the students to have to move at a pace of learning that is different from their own?
  3. Is it unfair to expect that teachers can have a large class of students all needing different things at different times?

Thinking about this, all children are gifted and talented in some way, need support in others, and are middle of the road in still other ways. Perhaps what we need to be doing is finding out where the children are deemed gifted and help groom and nurture that gift whether it is in the classroom, the art studio, the music room, the stage, or the athletic field. And perhaps we need to see where the students could use a little more support and help them grow in those areas. Because if you think about it, all children deserve to be and should be challenged and supported, even if they are the middle of the pack.

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