A meta-cognitive approach to gifted education practices

This post serves to present some of the pedagogical matters I seek to address in mentoring gifted students, and to demonstrate the methods by which these different matters may be achieved. For a word document version of much better presentation and formatting than what is shown here email me at angus@gbdeducation.com.au.

Van-Tassel Baska (1986) describes three valid models for gifted education programs (see Table 1a below), including: 1) the content mastery model; 2) the process/product research model; and 3) the epistemological concept model. There are clear distinctions between the three models that are not easily reconciled. As a mentor providing programs and services outside of the school I enjoy the grace of choosing to escape the disciplinary limits of the first model, and turn the described institutional limitations of the second and third models into opportunities to advance the learning of the students under my independent instruction, in part through dialectical inquiry (refer to Table 2 below). I find that such a practice regularly challenges the students in interesting ways to engage them in critical and creative thought.

Table 1a: Contrasting curriculum/instructional models for the gifted (Van-Tassel Baska, 1986)

1. Content

• fast-paced
• proficiency-based
• diagnostic  prescriptive
• mentor as facilitator

2. Process/Product
• in-depth
• product-based, resource-oriented
• scientific process
• mentor as collaborator

C. Concept
• epistemological
• aesthetics-based
• discussion approach
• Socratic method

Table 1b (below) presents the salient gifted student characteristics for each model that Van Tassel-Baska describes. These present an insight into the ways that certain skills and dispositions might inform instructional practice. It would be a great mistake to simply prescribe the use of one model over another on such simple distinctions! A mentor, however, must adapt to the student’s needs and context and so use the best model for the circumstances. In my role as a mentor I strive to identify the individual needs and goals of the gifted learner and to accordingly provide a suitable instructional service.

Table 1b: Salient gifted student characteristics (Van-Tassel Baska, 1986)

1. Content
• independent learner
• high achievement motivation

2. Process/product
• high interest in single topic
• task commitment

3. Concept
• high level verbal reasoning skills
• broad-based interests and reading behavior

The key difference to my practice as a mentor is not necessarily in curriculum differentiation, but in the instructional model used. The context of instruction as a mentor often realizes that “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question” (Ionesco, 1969). Indeed, as Perkins, Faraday and Bushey (1991) demonstrated, it is when a position is questioned or challenged that an individual can best demonstrate achievement of a strong position and disposition. Meetings with students thus always begin with discussions about their studies that practice meta-cognitive thinking (see Table 2).

Table 2a: Inquiry for the achievement of contrasting curriculum/instructional models for the gifted – Questions for the practice of the student

1. Content
 What have done/achieved this week? What will you/have you learnt?
 What were you trying to do well? What results have you achieved, and hope to achieve?
 What are the criteria you have met? What do such criteria mean and demand?
 What do you hope to improve upon? What is expected of you by others?
 What might you be asked to do in this unit of study? How will you be assessed?
 How do you rank your achievements against those of your peers? What can you do to improve?

2. Process/product
 How did you set about completing this task? How can you aim to organize your efforts?
 What were the advantages/disadvantages of what you are doing in your study?
 Did your research support your studies and provide you with certain new insights?
 How might you achieve a different result? Could you meet this task in a different way, or in a way that engages other skills, knowledges or collaboration with others?
 Could you conduct this study to realize an authentic audience?

3. Concept
 What are the challenges you hope to meet?
 What questions have not been asked yet?
 Why is this/was this worth your time? Why will you/did you do it?
 How does this relate to things you have done or learnt about in the past?
 How do you feel about your efforts and/or the products of your efforts? Are you ready to move on to another challenge?
 Was this fun, interesting, challenging or successful?
 How many different answers can you consider for this question? What other solutions are there?
 Can you make sense of what you have done, or how you did it, to reflect your improved understanding?

Table 2b: : Inquiry for the achievement of contrasting curriculum/instructional models for the gifted – Questions for the practice of the mentor

1. Content
 Does the student recognize the key knowledges and skills for the achievement of the learning outcome? What level of cognition are they exercising?
 Is the student using mastery learning practices to ensure success and progress?
 What do pre-tests and self-assessments present to the individual student in terms of learning outcomes?
 What models of achievement or learning activities does the student enjoy to assist their studies?
 How can the student perform at more advanced levels or in more advanced challenges than the curriculum demands to advance their present results? What is the next step?

2. Process/product
 How can the student study with more efficiency, complexity, abstraction, creativity or passion to the curriculum task?
 What might the student change in their process to enjoy a different result, perspective or experience?
 Does the student enjoy the benefits of research in their approach? Do they enjoy critical literacy?
 How does the student approach tasks, and what changes or improvements might they enjoy?
 What resources or opportunities does the student enjoy or lack for? What assistance does the student need, and who might best facilitate such learning? How?

3. Concept
 What skills or knowledges does the student demonstrate, and what strengths and weaknesses might be advanced?
 Is the student engaging a meta-cognitive disposition in their studies? How broad is their disposition?
 How does the student consider or judge their role as a learner? To what degree do they enjoy their studies, and is this internally or externally motivated?
 Is there potential for the student to realize a more rewarding perspective?
 What connections is the student making in their studies between inter-disciplinary concepts?
 What questions does the student ask?
 To what degree does the student understand themselves, their learning, and life? What strategies or experiences might make a difference to their self-concept?

Anyway, that’s what I always aim to do…

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