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Chapter 3: Teaching Is Adapting to Student Diversity - page 7 / 16

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general strategies for dealing with a wide range of students of varying level of ability.

Gifted/Talented Students.  About 3% to 5% of students are identified as being gifted (Elliott et al., 2000).  Although there is considerable debate about just how exceptional one needs to be (and on what dimensions) to be considered gifted, there is agreement about the essential nature of the concept.  In particular, gifted students are those who evidence performance in the areas of intellectual, creative, artistic, or academic functioning that is so high that their continued development requires services substantially different from those typically provided by the schools (Elliott et al., 1996).  Note that a gifted student need not demonstrate exceptional ability in all areas; instead, his or her talent may be limited to a particular domain, such as the visual arts or mathematics (Elliott et al., 2000).  Gifted students are often bored by the regular curriculum, which simply fails to challenge them.  This can lead them to exhibit behavioral problems, particularly in the classroom, and to put minimal effort into their academic work (Borland, 2003).  As a consequence, some gifted students may never be identified.

Efforts to meet the needs of gifted students often involve the assignment of extra work -- an approach that has been termed enrichment (Elliott et al., 2000).  Unfortunately, this additional work is often not selected to challenge the gifted student but rather to keep them busy (Renzulli, 1986).  In addition, teachers sometimes feel threatened by gifted students and thus, may harbor hostility and resentment toward them (Elliott et al., 2000).  Moreover, few teachers receive training in gifted education; thus, most are at a loss to know how to teach these students, which no doubt intensifies teachers’ negative feelings toward these students.  In short, there is a need for teachers to monitor their attitudes toward gifted students and to seek additional expertise in dealing with them (as well for teacher education programs to provide more information and experience relevant to this category of students).

Cognitive Disabilities.  Cognitive disability, also know as developmental disablities, is characterized by a pervasive, generalized delay in functioning.  In the most common current definition (American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disablities, 2002), it is defined by three criteria:

1.  Significantly below average intellectual functioning, which is defined as an IQ on a standardized test of 70 to 75 or lower;

2.  Deficits in two or more domains of adaptive functioning, such as communication, socialization, self-help, which means that the individuals in question is unable to meet the requirements of important, age-appropriate tasks of daily life;

3.  Onset before the age of 18 years.

As a group, individuals with cognitive disabilities are substantially impaired in virtually all areas required for academic success, including speech and language, abstract reasoning, memory, and interpersonal understanding (Rosenberg & Abbeduto, 1993).  It is important to recognize, however, that there is considerable heterogeneity (i.e., difference, or variability) among people with a diagnosis of cognitive disability.  There is heterogeneity in the severity of the impairments characterizing individuals with this diagnosis and thus, the level of support or intervention required for their optimal functioning (American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disablities, 1992).  There also is heterogeneity in the etiology (i.e, cause, or origin) of their disability; for example, some cognitive disabilities can be traced to environmental conditions (e.g., poverty) others to genetic problems (Zigler & Hodapp, 1986).  Moreover, the pattern of impairments varies somewhat depending on the etiology of the disability; for example, persons with Down syndrome -- a genetically based disability -- often have language problems that are more severe than their cognitive problems, whereas persons with Williams syndrome -- another genetically based disability -- have less severe language than cognitive problems (Rosenberg & Abbeduto, 1993).

Until recently, students with cognitive disabilities (as well as those with other forms of developmental problems) were educated apart from other, more typically developing, students. It was assumed that not only did students with cognitive disabilities need special education services, but that these services could not be implemented in the regular classroom.  Changes in federal laws (e.g., Public Law 94-142) as well in attitudes borne of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's and 1970's have led to a dramatic change in special education.  The emphasis now is on inclusion, or inclusive education (Siegel, 1996).  At a minimum, inclusion involves educating students with cognitive disabilities in the least restrictive environment possible, which generally means the regular education classroom.  Ideally, however, inclusion

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