Using a gifted curriculum for high needs kids is HIGHLY effective.
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21st Century Skills
Rigor- Research shows that the rigor of curriculum is one of the top indicators for whether a student will graduate from high school and earn a college degree. In fact, a study by the U.S. Department of Education found that the rigor of high school course work is more important than parent education level, family income, or race/ethnicity in predicting whether a student will earn a post-secondary credential. Relevance - Relevant learning opportunities may include in-depth projects that take place both in the classroom and the work place and internships or community partnerships that provide students with a vision of their future and an understanding of how their school work is linked to what they will do after graduation. Relationships -Research shows that students perform better when they are in schools where they have a personal relationship with a caring adult. “The most important factor affecting student learning is the teacher.” (Marzano). Northwest Education Magazine, Winter 2003 National Conference of State Legislators.
The Parallel Curriculum Model (PCM) is an instructional model developed by six authors working in conjunction with the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC). It is not a defined curriculum where every teacher teaches the same thing on the same day. It is a framework for high level, effective instruction. Although it was developed for gifted and talented students, Sky Vista uses PCM school-wide because we believe every student should be challenged at a high level and have the opportunity to receive the finest education possible. It makes no sense to expect every child to achieve at a high level if we don’t teach them at a high level.
There are four parallels that give the model its name: Core, Practice, Connections, and Identity. The Core Parallel is the foundation of learning. It is exemplified by the State Standards and the specific subject area curriculum. However, for teaching and learning to be done at a high level, it is important to also ensure that the instruction and resulting student tasks reflect high levels of academic rigor and discourse. Without this, the Standards and curriculum are just words on a page. At Sky Vista we also believe that much of knowledge is connected and universal. To this end, we have developed the Big Ideas. These are six universal concepts that help our students focus on larger questions and deeper understandings. The Big Ideas are Power, Identity, Communication, Change, Conflict, and Systems. For example, students in the 8 th grade study the American Revolution. In addition to studying the actual event, students must meet the State Standards of using historical inquiry, understanding historical chronology, and analyzing civic responsibility. Using the Big Ideas, students might also study revolutionary identity, the role of conflict in creating change, how power is transformational, or how systems change. In this way, student thinking and analysis are taken to a much higher level. These Big Ideas are discussed in all classrooms throughout the building, no matter the content area.
The Parallel of Practice asks students to become practitioners in the different disciplines. It is not enough to just study history, language arts, science or math. PCM asks students to think and work as historians, writers, mathematicians, and scientists. It emphasizes the vocabulary of the discipline as well as patterns of thought and practice that are discipline specific. Using the American Revolution example from above, students would examine how we know the details of that historical period and how they could contribute to that specific body of knowledge as working historians. In science class, students become chemists working on real life problems and experiments. Math students work as mathematicians using mathematical patterns of reasoning and the language of the mathematician. Becoming a practicing member of a discipline is a powerful tool for truly understanding the subject matter.
The Parallel of Connections asks students to connect knowledge across disciplines. Connections are made at a universal level rather than just within a subject area. The Big Ideas provide ample material with which to connect lessons and units. For example, students studying poetry learn that, at its most basic level, poetry is simply an expression of a person’s voice and identity, no matter the format or topic. With that foundation, it is easy to connect to other disciplines and subjects. For example, Chemistry is about the identity and interactions of elements. Art and music are rife with expressions of identity and voice. Algebra is about the identity and interaction of variables. In this way, students can engage in very high level discussion of the true nature of identity or relationships and start to see that much knowledge is connected in various ways.
The Parallel of Identity engages students at a personal level in the learning. This is an essential component to any learning. If a student is to remember anything we teach, it must have meaning to them! Identity seeks out avenues of connection to self. Students in the American Revolution unit may not find it to be the most interesting topic, but they can connect to the learning by examining their own lives and interests and looking for commonalities. What revolutions have they witnessed? When have they felt they were treated unfairly? What types of revolutions have occurred in music, or sports, or fashion, or within a certain culture? Seeking out ways for students to examine who they are in relation to the world around them becomes a powerful learning tool for themselves and for the topic at hand.
PCM is a very complex instructional model. It requires an astounding amount of teacher planning and thoughtfulness, and it is very hard to master. However, the rewards are well worth it. Sky Vista students enjoy the classes they take and find the level of thought and academic discourse to be challenging and engaging. We certainly have not perfected the model, but we will continue to work with it because we believe it is the way to engage every student in a rigorous and engaging middle school experience. Inspire Excellence in Every Student, Every Day. That is our mission. PCM is our path.
For additional reading:
The Parallel Curriculum Model (PCM): The Whole Story
By Jeanne H. Purcell, PhD, Deborah E. Burns, PhD & Jann H. Leppien, PhD