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Teaching gifted children with learning difficulties inwritingMarion Milton a & Elaine Lewis ba Edith Cowan Universityb Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences , Edith CowanUniversity , 2 Bradford Street, Mount Lawley, Western Australia, 6050 Phone: (08) 92736200 E-mail:Published online: 09 Dec 2009.
To cite this article: Marion Milton & Elaine Lewis (2005) Teaching gifted children with learning difficulties in writing,Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, 10:2, 79-88, DOI: 10.1080/19404150509546792
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19404150509546792
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Australian Journal of Learning DisabilitiesVolume 10, Number 2, 2005, pp. 79-88
Teaching gifted children with learning difficulties inwritingMarion Milton and Elaine LewisEdith Cowan University
AbstractThis study investigated the teaching of gifted children in a Montessori school, with particular reference to gifted students with learning difficultiesin writing. Within an action research context, the teachers participated in professional development in the education of gifted children andwere provided with ongoing curriculum and resources support. The teachers made modifications to their gifted students' programs after thisprofessional development. Positive outcomes in aspects of writing, such as punctuation, spelling, sentence control and text organisation, aswell as improved social outcomes, were achieved by the gifted students with writing difficulties.
Teaching gifted children with learning difficulties inwriting is a major challenge for classroom teachers.These students are a recognised, hidden, under-served,sub-group of the gifted (Cooper, Ness, & Smith, 2004;Fox, Tobin, & Schiffman, 1983; Kyung-won, 1990;Starnes, Ginevan, Stokes, & Barton, 1988; Whitmore,1988). Research has been conducted using intelligencetests in an attempt to identify the unique characteristicsof gifted children with learning disabilities, but no clearpattern has been found (Fox & Brody, 1983; VanTassel-Baska, 1992).
The field of learning difficulties is littered withdifferent definitions (Elkins, 2002; Louden, Chan,Elkins, Greaves, House, Milton, et al., 2000). However,in the current study the Louden et al. (2000) consensusdefinition of learning difficulties was adopted: childrenexperiencing learning difficulties are "... those students,excluding students with defined disabilities, who havesignificant literacy and [/or] numeracy problems with ahistory of learning difficulty".
A study at a Montessori primary school in Perth,Western Australia, with 150 students, investigatedprograms and strategies used by teachers to supportgifted students with learning difficulties in writing.In this research, writing is recognised as a multi-taskactivity, involving handwriting, spelling and numerouscompositional skills (Huxford, 2004). The presentstudy also investigated the teachers' attitudes toward thegifted. However, only the learning difficulties aspect ofthis research is reported in this paper.
Some overseas studies have investigated gifted students
with learning difficulties in writing (Ingleheart,1998; Kokot, 2003a; Liddle & Porath, 2002). In alongitudinal case study of a gifted Texan boy withwriting difficulties, Ingleheart (1998) followed theprogress of the student from primary to tertiarylevels of education. This student received remedialeducation support throughout his primary schoolyears, but access to computers with spell checkingcapability at high school enabled him to show hisgiftedness, and ultimately undertake engineeringstudies at university (Ingleheart, 1998).
Another case study examined the neurobiologicalissues impacting on a 7 year old South Africangirl, who was dyslexic and gifted with severelearning difficulties in writing (Kokot, 2003a). Aneurodevelopmental approach to learning, knownas HANDLE, an acronym for Holistic Approach toNeuroDevelopment and Learning Efficiency, wasemployed. Part of the initial assessment includedobservation of the girl, considering for example,things that distracted her attention, the child's mostsuccessful learning modalities, and the physical-environmental conditions that affected her learning.HANDLE practitioners developed a plan thatincluded specific, sequenced and prioritised physicalexercises to address the neurobiological weaknessesin the girl's vestibular system, as well as specificexercises to develop the visual functions of trackingand binocularity. This training program resulted inoverall improved literacy outcomes for the student(Kokot, 2003a).
Research has shown that written expressionis a very poor indicator of giftedness in children(Liddle & Porath, 2002). Thus, gifted students with
Correspondence: Elaine Lewis, Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences, Edith Cowan University, 2 Bradford Street,Mount Lawley, Western Australia 6050, phone: (08) 9273 6200.Email: email@example.com.
ISSN 1324-8928 2005 Learning Difficulties AustraliaPublished by Learning Difficulties Australia
80 Marion Milton and Elaine Lewis
writing difficulties may not be identified as giftedby the teacher, if other identification criteria are notemployed. In the Liddle and Porath (2002) study,data was obtained from a sample of seventy Canadianchildren, aged 6-15 years, and scoring greater than120 on at least one IQ or achievement subscale. Theresearch found that this sample of children displayedspelling (transcription) skills that were significantlydepressed compared to their word reading (decoding)skills. Furthermore, the research provided evidencethat there was a:
"... greater prevalence of decoding-transcriptionoutput discrepancies in young gifted children thanin the general population ... reflecting an asynchronybetween accelerating decoding skills and the morelinear development of transcription skills" (Liddle &Porath, 2002, p. 18).
In addition, it was found that these discrepancieswere particularly marked during the primary schoolyears, reaching a maximum around 12 years of age(Liddle & Porath, 2002). Recommended strategiesto support these students included, for example,the use of other modes of presentation such as oralreports, information technology skills and audio-tapes (Liddle & Porath, 2002). The findings of thisresearch also suggested that writing difficulties in thegifted could be an indication of other problems, suchas a phonological awareness difficulty, and that suchproblems required identification and specific targetedintervention (Liddle & Porath, 2002).
The current study employed action research (Cherry,1999; Grundy, 1995; Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988,2000) and case study (Merriam, 1998; Stake, 1995,2000; Yin, 1994) methodology.
All 12 teachers at the Montessori school participatedin the study. Nine taught at pre-primary, juniorprimary or upper primary levels, and three were part-time specialists.
Six gifted children with learning difficultiesin writing were identified. An EducationalPsychologist or other related professional made theformal identification of giftedness. The writingdifficulty was identified from the results of theWestern Australian Literacy Assessments, that is, thebenchmark testing for Years 3, 5 and 7 (Associationof Independent Schools of Western Australia, 2003b);the South Australian Spelling Test (Westwood, 1999)
and Student Outcome Writing (EasyMark, 1997), aswell as in the psychological assessments.
Although literacy outcomes for these six studentswere examined, the focus of the investigation wason the types of classroom programs in which two ofthese students were engaged. One student was in anupper primary class (Year 6) and the other in a lowerprimary class (Year 4).
A range of instruments was employed in the broaderstudy. However, the learning difficulties componentof this research mainly utilised teacher interviews,classroom and participant observation, anecdotalfeedback from parents and teachers, and recordssearches. Stakeholder checks were conductedthroughout the study.
Information in the current study was collected froma number of sources, settings, time frames, researchmethods, instruments and theoretical perspectives(Author, 2004). This triangulation of data wasundertaken to increase the validity and reliabilityof the research. Data for the study was collectedthroughout the school year of 2003.
At the beginning of the study the teachers attendedin-house professional development which includedthe identification of gifted students with learningdifficulties and suggestions regarding classroomprovision for these children. The research investigatedwhether teachers changed, over time, their programsfor gifted children with learning difficulties in writing.Throughout the study, curriculum and resourcessupport was available for the staff by the researcher.
Teacher interviews, records searches and a seriesof classroom observations were undertaken at thebeginning of the study and repeated twelve monthslater. The interviews investigated the strategiesteachers used to support their gifted students withlearning difficulties in writing. The records searchincluded an examination of the gifted students'school reports, work samples, standardised and non-standardised educational assessments and reports byother relevant professionals (such as OccupationalTherapists). The classroom observation sessionsprovided additional data on teachers' provision forgifted students with difficulties in writing. Theseobservations involved a total of ten hours in twoclasses, with different half-hour time slots on differentschool days.
Teaching Gifted Children with Learning Difficulties in Writing 81
Results and Discussion
Identifying gifted students with learning difficulties
At the start of the study teachers expresseduncertainty about how to identify children who weregifted yet were also experiencing learning difficulties.However, twelve months later, after professionaldevelopment and curriculum and resources support,the teachers were more confident in naming studentsin this group. Seven of the teachers stated that theyhad identified between one and three gifted childrenwith learning difficulties in their classes. The othertwo teachers said there were no gifted students withlearning difficulties in their classes.
The identification of gifted children with learningdifficulties in writing is not straightforward. Someteachers in the present research were aware of otherstudents who could be gifted, as determined by criteriaother than IQ testing. Furthermore, these studentsgenerally manifested serious attention difficultiesand did not fit within the formal diagnosis of giftedwith learning difficulties, such as WISC Verbal orPerformance scores in the superior range, with adifference of-at least 15 points between these scores(Fox, 1983). Thus the identification of gifted childrenwith learning difficulties in writing remained an issueof concern for the teachers in this study.
Interviews to determine support strategies
At the beginning of the research, teachers outlined
a wide range of classroom strategies employed tocater for the needs of the gifted. These were groupedinto five categories: teacher attitudes toward giftedstudents, type of tasks, grouping, acceleration, andstaffing issues (as shown in Table 1). Representativeexamples of these strategies are given in the followingquotations.
All the teachers felt these strategies worked well,some unequivocally, others with reservations. Most,however, had reservations about the effectiveness oftheir classroom strategies in catering for the needsof gifted children in their classes. Their commentsincluded: "works well but not enough time forindividual attention", "need more time and support"and "multi age groupings place huge demands onteachers".
At the end of the study, teachers again listed awide range of classroom strategies to cater for theneeds of their gifted children. Responses in thesame five categories of strategies given in Table 1were enunciated in the second interview. However,within these categories some new strategies werementioned, such as, increasing the challenge tothe students through their participation in FutureProblem Solving (Future Problem Solving ProgramAustralia Inc, 2002) programs and the involvementof mentors. When teachers were asked how wellthese strategies worked all were reflective and raisedvarious concerns. As indicated early in the study,they still had reservations about the effectivenessof their classroom strategies, stating, for instance,teaching gifted children with difficulties is "very
Table 1 Teachers' Pre-test Classroom Strategies Employed to Cater for the Needs of Gifted Children
Strategy category Teacher stated classroom strategy
Teacher attitudetoward student
Type of tasks
"Expect excellence.""Encourage children to work out of their...