Blessed Rage for Order: The Evolution of a GATE Educator

Blessed Rage for Order: The Evolution of a GATE Educator

Lara Walker Russell (College of Charleston, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5879-8.ch011
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This chapter tells the story of one GATE educator's early quest to satisfy what poet Wallace Stevens called a “blessed rage for order.” It describes the patterns she discovered and turning points she experienced as an undergraduate student, a Peace Corps volunteer, a first-year teacher in a diverse Title I high school, a doctoral student of curriculum and instruction, and an advanced student and teacher of underrepresented gifted populations. At its heart, it is an ethnography of the catalysts—the individuals and experiences—that helped transform a troubled, high school dropout's raw gifts into talents, enabling her to use her creativity, intensity, and love of complexity to do the one thing she swore she'd never do: teach.
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When I was invited to submit a proposal for this chapter, “an autobiography tracking a Gifted and Talented Educator’s journey to becoming a teacher,” I instinctively felt compelled to remind one of the co-editors that I was never formally identified as “gifted and talented.” The vestiges of imposter syndrome chewed relentlessly at my ear, chattering “You’re not truly a GATE person. You’ll be found-out!”

Given that much of my life’s work has been teaching predominantly underrepresented and not yet identified gifted and talented students, who have given me over ten years’ evidence that all students can succeed with GT curriculum, I am embarrassed by my initial fear. I share it with you today, not as a mea culpa, but as a grounds for mutual inquiry and exploration because it warrants further investigation.

At front and center the question is this: If a reasonably confident, middle-class, white woman with successful experience and exposure to the field of GT struggles with the question, “Can a person not identified as gifted and talented speak as a GATE person,” what must the African-American teacher with no formal background in gifted education be thinking when handed a curriculum designated for “advanced” or GT learners? What must the English language learner from Guatemala be thinking when included in a GT class despite being formally unidentified as Gifted and Talented? The rural Caucasian learner from an economically disadvantaged background? The dual-exceptional child? In other words, if a woman of privilege with extensive training in the field finds herself questioning her ability to speak to GT education because she was not identified as being GT, what must a person from a historically marginalized population feel when invited to the table? Can it be done–can we, the “non-identified” speak as GATE people?

It’s possible that these questions are unique to me, given my background (my initial hatred of education, my psychological make-up). I’ll let you be the judge of that. My hunch, though, is that there are others who question their inclusion in what historically was, and still is in many cases, an “elite” crowd–those who may, in fact, find themselves puzzling over the same questions. This chapter traces the evolution of my personal inquiry and is written for all individuals who may be wondering whether they belong at “this” table. It is written in the hope that they, too, will arrive at a resolution similar to my own–a resounding “YES”–and enjoy the subsequent feast.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Underrepresented GTs: Underrepresented gifted and talented students are those whose gifts and talents all-too-frequently remain masked and unidentified given their lack of access and opportunity to advanced curriculum and instruction. These students are typically from lower socio-economic backgrounds and frequently include those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

Multiple Menu Model: Created and popularized by Joseph Renzulli, the Multiple Menu Model is a guide curriculum developers can use to better understand the principles and foundational knowledge upon which unit content and/or standards are founded. By deeply exploring these principles and foundational knowledge, curricula developers are better able to create more authentic learning activities and products.

Differentiation: Popularized by Carol A. Tomlinson and Joyce VanTassel-Baska, differentiation for gifted and talented students refers to the modification of instructional processes, products, concepts, and learning environments in order to more responsively address the advanced learning needs of individual gifted learners and/or small groups of advanced learners. By utilizing features for instructional adaptation such as acceleration, complexity, depth, challenge, creativity, and abstractness, teachers can better meet the unique needs of gifted, talented, and advanced students.

Complexity: Defined by and expanded upon by Sandra Kaplan, Joyce VanTassel-Baska, and other gurus in the field, complexity is another of the GT differentiation features or ways in which teachers can modify content, processes, or products for advanced students. Teachers can add complexity to their instruction by providing learners with the opportunities to explore authentic resources from a variety of perspectives using higher-level skills.

Abstractness: One of the ways in which teachers can modify instruction for gifted and talented students, abstractness refers to the use of overarching, cross-disciplinary concepts to guide inquiry or exploration of content.

Overexcitabilities: Defined and explored by Kazimierz Dabrowski, an overexcitability is an individual’s stronger than average response to a thing or event occurring in one or more of the senses. For example, a child with an imaginational overexcitability might be so engrossed with his/her imaginary friend that s/he refuses to interact with individuals who fail to recognize that imaginary being. Similarly, a child with an intellectual overexcitability may wish to study a topic (e.g., dinosaurs or tessellations) to the exclusion of all other content.

Depth: Depth is another differentiation feature for teachers of gifted and talented learners and refers to providing learners with the opportunities to apply a concept or overarching idea in a variety of ways in order to create original research or an authentic product.

Integrated Curriculum Model: A responsive model for curriculum development, created by Joyce VanTassel-Baska, the integrated curriculum model seeks to address GT learners’ love of complexity, their intensity, and their precocity via three overlapping dimensions: 1) advanced or accelerated learning standards or content, 2) higher-level thinking models for processing content and for product development, and 3) the incorporation of an overarching concept, issue, or theme to filter and understand advanced content.

Social-Emotional Needs of GTs: The unique social-emotional challenges facing gifted learners due to their being advanced beyond their age-level peers in one or more domains. These include but are not limited to perfectionism, anxiety, and fears of not fitting in with one’s peers.

Talent Development: A newer model of serving and developing gifted students and students of promise that focuses on the transformation of student potential into giftedness or talent in one or more domains. Traditional programs for gifted and talented students typically focus solely on students already demonstrating talent, particularly via intelligence quotients, generally in the academic areas of verbal or mathematical skills alone.

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