I started my practicum placement at the Enrichment Centre and am absolutely loving it! It is SO different from regular classrooms, and I am really enjoying the change.
All of the teachers seem to really love what they are doing and really believe in the purpose of the centre. They seem to genuinely care that gifted students have the opportunity to learn in an environment in which they are comfortable (accepted) and challenged. The students are all gifted, so they don’t need to worry about looking ‘nerdy’ or like a browner (suck up, teacher’s pet, whatever else you call them); everyone is generally on the same page and eager to learn and enjoy the learning.
A lot of what the students do at the centre is fairly student-directed, independent inquiry. They do a lot of research and presentations, and use technology a lot in that process. For example, in one class, instead of doing a poster-board presentation, the students have to create a page on a wiki (some kind of a website-type thing – haha… I’m still learning!). The students have a lot more ownership over what they do here than what I’ve seen in ‘normal’ classrooms.
In general, I have been so surprised (I guess I was sort of expecting it, but not really expecting it – if that makes any sense…) at how focused the students are. Even the ones that are super chatty and “off the wall” are still focused (so for example, the students were so excited about the information they were finding about viruses and bacteria). All of the goofy things they were doing while researching and working on their presentations were things like writing skits wherein they get their disease of study, creating game show questions for their presentations, finding really gross pictures of people with their disease, and creating background music for their Keynote presentation in Garage Band. Everything was on task! These students accomplished so much in such a short period of time – I was really impressed. I’m not saying they’re perfect (I’m not that naive!) but it is really something to see the top students of every class all gathered together into one class.
Another really great thing about the centre is that it seems very open in that students can move from room to room as is necessary (for computers or to find information, etc). I overheard one teacher doing the orientation scavenger hunt with her class – the instructions were: if a door is closed, you can look in the window; if a door is open, you can go in and look around. What a friendly atmosphere! The teachers have all told me I am welcome in their classroom anytime, and I’ve already seen five different teachers (out of not very many) working with their classes. It is so inspiring to see all of the different approaches they use to cater their program to gifted students. And each classroom is like a huge collage of character building information. There are posters of inspiring people and quotations, etc, absolutely everywhere. The staircase and part of the front hall are painted with a mural, and the 7/8 area classes are going to paint a mural on the rest of the wall this year! I learned all about ArtsSmart today, as the grant for the mural project came from them. I loved reading through their information package (a report of some sort… haha, I read almost everything but the introduction!). It is so inspiring to think of all the different ways the arts (not just visual art) can be incorporated into the classroom.
One thing about the centre that I think I would find a bit of a challenge to get used to is that you don’t see the same students for very long, so you don’t (at least I think – I need to talk to some of the staff about this…) get the same level of student/teacher relationship that you would if you saw them for the whole year. Maybe you do, (I’ve only been there three days so far) but it seems like it would be harder to do. Mind you, that’s not the point – I don’t think this is a bad thing. It’s just sort of weird to think about teaching a student for three days and then never seeing them again (at least this year). That’s what I mean…
There are (from what I gather so far) two types of classes. There are area classes that take students from all over the district and meet for one day a week, for sixteen weeks. Marilyn was involved in these for grade seven and part of grade 8. Their time at the centre is real school time (not being pulled out just to play games or kill time), and, in theory, they shouldn’t have to do extra homework and get ‘grief’ from their home school teachers (though unfortunately some of them do). The group of grade 7s right now is doing a global issues focus (and the mural!). I believe area classes are offered for grades 4-8.
The other type of class is called a workshop, and is offered for grades 1-8. The workshops still meet only once a week for a full day, but they only meet for three weeks. The workshops are focused on a specific topic, such as Mysterious Diseases (like the one I was referring to above – viruses and bacteria), and Islands (which we’re starting next week with a new group of 3/4s).
For those students who are so gifted that even the area class does not enrich their program enough, there are a few full-time gifted classes offered around the district, one of them at Centennial (the middle school we all went to – though none of us were in this program). We don’t do this at the centre, but I’m adding it here because it’s another gifted program. They basically do their entire school year based on student-directed, independent inquiry. These students bring guitars to school (and play them throughout the day), design computer programs that win national and international awards (not exaggerating) and, in general, do everything with a little extra… something. I guess that’s what makes them gifted! At the school dance competition, the gifted class was always the one class that mixed their own music track and line danced in a circle… going two different directions. Yes, it was neat to watch! 😛
What I am enjoying most about my practicum right now is seeing that programs like this exist. What an encouragement! For so long, the prevailing thought has been that “gifted” learners are just really good students so they don’t need extra attention, and all the special attention was directed towards students on the other end of the exceptionality spectrum. However, this is totally not true, and gifted students DO need special attention and different/enhanced programming.
Gifted students need to be challenged and given the opportunity to explore and expand their horizons. Actually, all students need this, but gifted students do not get this in a class that caters to the average student. I think you really run the risk of losing those students if they are not challenged and encouraged.
There is so much more to say, but I’m on a time line right now! Basically, I’m having a great time and I love learning about the programming at the Enrichment Centre!
Have a great night!