This year I decided to do a focus group with my 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students. It was the best, honest look at our program that I’ve received in 24 years of teaching G.T.. The students were both insightful and full of relevant ideas; their discussion was eye-opening, showing me definite areas of weakness in our program that surveys never revealed. The questions were based on the program goals, ranging from identification to community involvement:
1. When asked, “How are students selected for the program?
“They take a creativity test and that decides.”
“It’s about grades. You have to be recommended by a teacher.”
“ Mrs. Hesse and the principal decide.”
“They take a test after they are recommended by teachers, parents, or other students.”
"You have to have certain grades.”
“It’s based on your creativity.”
“You have to make a certain score on the test to get in.”
“ Mrs. Hesse decides who gets in”
“If you’re in G.T. in another school and transfer, you are in it here as well.”
“You have to be nominated by a teacher or parents. Students can also nominate.”
“ Unbiased people either accept you or reject you”
“It’s about your level of creativity and problem solving.”
“ Ms. Hesse makes a decision on who gets in”
“There is a cut off score on a test.”
“The test has to fit a standard.”
“The test is a big factor but what you’ve done throughout the years is also considered.”
OBVIOUSLY THIS IS A WEAK AREA!!! THESE SAME STUDENTS EVERY SINGLE YEAR MARKED “VERY STRONGLY AGREE” ON THE DESCRIPTOR THAT SAID, “I UNDERSTAND HOW STUDENTS ARE CHOSEN FOR THE PROGRAM AND HOW THE IDENTIFICATION PROCESS WORKS.
2. When asked, “What can be done to make people better aware of the identification procedures?” (this question was asked after I explained the identification process in-depth to this group) their ideas were:
“Conduct a mock identification selection meeting with us where you make up scores for imaginary students and let us experience the decision making process.” *** “Remind us by going over it again before we are asked about it.”
“Make a 'GT Selection Process' tab on the school website main page.” *** RECOMMENDATION: IDEAS *STARRED* WILL BE IMPLEMENTED THIS YEAR --
3. What kinds of students do you think slip through the cracks and are not identified for the program, and what do you think can be done to keep this from happening?
“Have Miss Hesse speak at the first day of school assembly and explain about how identification works, and that if you are interested in the program to talk to her.” “Kids that don’t have good grades, but are really intelligent or creative are overlooked.”
“Quiet kids and the kids that get in trouble are overlooked.”
“You could talk to teachers about these types of children.” ***
“Slackers, the ones who don’t try but are very creative; quiet and shy, ones who get in trouble a lot”
“Let them know that they can recommend themselves.”
“Have kids in all classes answer questionnaires.”
“Give a easy to do creativity test, like the circle test we did, to classes of kids to find the creative ones.” ***
RECOMMENDATION: IDEAS STARRED ***” will be implemented this year, including a teacher workshop on negative characteristics of gifted students.
CURRICULUM / INSTRUCTION
4. In what ways, if any, is the curriculum and instruction different in the gifted and talented program --in what ways, if any, does the G.T. curriculum help you to be more responsible?
“AP prepares me for college, but G.T. prepares me for life.” “You get to do things you can’t do in other classes.” “Discover who you really are.”
“Helps you learn to think outside the box.”
“Discover things you like that are never brought up in other classrooms.” “We get to do plays/drama.”
“Teaches you to keep up your grades.”
“Helps you be creative.”
“Prepares you for life.”
“—Working together with others such as we did at Excel.” “Helps you get scholarships.”
“We get to go places we’d never go.”
“It’s a faster paced class.”
“It adds extra tasks. Eye opening experiences”
“It makes you push yourself.”
“GT gives you a push in the direction you want to go.”
“It isn’t the same curriculum, it broadens your knowledge of different things.”
“Learn a lot more than just math and science.”
“Acting, getting involved with our community, Excel program.”
“Stepping out of our comfort zone.”
“Learned a lot about leadership. Started creative writing at a young age.”
“More opportunities with technology.”
“Teaches you to take a step back and look at the actual situation.”
“Use all the technology, more in depth discussions, is more down to earth, more open ended, more independent.” “Trips. Projects. Plays. Discussions.”
RECOMMENDATION: Continue same programming strategies for students.
PROGRAM ADMINISTRATION / MANAGEMENT
5. The Program Handbook contains all the policies that are followed in administering and carrying out the workings of our gifted program. How effective do you feel the Handbook is in letting people know how our program works? What do you see as ways of making people aware of our program’s workings and procedures?
“I don’t think anyone reads the handbook.”
“Let people know there is actually a handbook. Put one in the library at school and in the town library.”
“It’s there if they want it, it’s there if they have questions.”
“It could be very effective --if a certain situation comes up they can refer back to the handbook.”
“Post it to the website. If people want it, it’s there.”
“I don’t think most people really care about knowing all that information.”
RECOMMENDATION: The Handbook is posted to the web and widely distributed --this area remains problematic and will be discussed by the Advisory Committee
6. What are ways we can better involve parents and the community in our program?
“Use texting.” ***
“Put a G.T. calendar on the main school website.”
“I think there is always more parent involvement with the younger kids. They help with G.T. plays and projects, however we are old enough--we need to be doing the things that parents of younger students typically do.”
“My parents love helping with plays.”
“We do a good job of involving everyone in our G.T. projects!”
“Elementary students have more parent involvement, in high school we are more independent.”
“Use a Twitter account, Facebook account to keep them informed, my mom reads nothing on paper.”
“Text messages, emails, etc.”
RECOMMENDATION: Ideas “starred ***” will be implemented this year.
7. What are some ways the program can assist you or perhaps your teachers in the regular classroom?
“Help them learn to do more creative projects in assignments.”
“Send them over here to observe sometime.”
“Encourage them to teach at a faster pace. Break us up into different groups.”
“Put more creativity into learning. More technology.”
“Integrate some of the GT teaching methods.”
RECOMMENDATION: The G.T. teacher did a workshop of "Differentiation" for all regular classroom teachers and plans to do one at the beginning of next year on "Bringing Creativity into Your Teaching!"
8. What do you think about using a Focus Group for program evaluation rather than a survey?
“I like this method a lot better, hated the other.”
“Bounce ideas off of others.”
“This way of evaluating would work with parents and teachers as well”
“Effective because of discussion.”
“You get more details when speaking.”
“Everyone’s thoughts are said and examined.”
RECOMMENDATION: Next year conduct another focus group discussion with stakeholders in the community, targeting the area of community involvement.