When my eldest sister was in grade four, she was placed into a program through the Calgary Board of Education called “Code 80.” Code 80 is a code entered into the evaluation of the students that signifies that the student is, for lack of a better word, gifted. (Code 80 Information, 2012) Her grade three teacher had seen that she performed exceptionally well in the grade three class — far beyond the likes of any of her classmates. The grade three and four teachers had a meeting with my mother and grandmother (our caregivers), and together they decided that upon her entrance into grade four, she would be granted an aid to offer her more challenging work to do during and outside of class time, as my sister always finished assignments four times faster than the rest of her peers, and would spend the rest of her class time reading and for the most part, wasting her time. When grade four started, she was hauled into a room with three other students in her grade to explain the code 80 program that they were now a part of. From grade four on, my sister was in and out of the class room, working on advanced book reports, designing a mathematics curriculum that suited her intelligence better, and ultimately working on assignments that were different from the rest of her peers.
Much to my Mother and her teachers’ surprise, my sister hated the Code 80 program. It was designed as though other students wouldn’t even notice when she left the room, and yet, children are not stupid. To her, especially as she was entering junior high in Grades Seven and Eight, it felt like social stratification. Peers and friends alike would realize she was going out during class time, and they became petty that she was not stuck in the same class room working on the same work with the rest of them.
The purpose of this long-winded introduction is to illustrate what this program looks like when it is applied to actual students. This is very much a perspective piece, as I know that administrators are very proud of their Code 80 program. It is my belief, and also backed by solid scientific research, that the Code 80 programs, as well as other gifted child programs across Canada, the United States and the UK are counterproductive for the child’s actual learning. Extra assignments and projects catered to children who need more than the curriculum set up for them do not help the gifted children to learn more if the child them-self feel socially separated.
Sternberg and Davidson wrote a book called “Conceptions of Giftedness”, which covers the way Gifted Children programs are viewed by administration, teachers, parents, and the gifted students themselves. This book is definitely pro-gifted children program, but the authors present perspectives on gifted education from both sides of the proverbial fence of the argument. Chapter Six is titled “Permission to be Gifted” and shows how gifted students who are identified and entered into these programs feel about being labeled “gifted”. Data collected in high, or medium income communities varied drastically from children who were from more humble upbringings. Children that were taken aside from their peers and friends in low income communities and proclaimed gifted faced trouble – especially at the onset of puberty – when it came to fitting in with their peers. When a child is proclaimed “gifted” among a group of children who dislike school, it can create isolating barriers between students and cause a depletion to the child’s self-esteem. As mentioned in my last blog, low self-esteem can lead to disinterest in school, which is the opposite outcome of a gifted program. (Sternberg, 2005)
Being a gifted child in a group of friends who are non-academic can lead to underachievement by gifted students. In an article by Dowdall and Colangello, it was revealed that the group’s with the highest incidence rates of underachievement in gifted students were by females in male dominated classrooms, and by males of colour. A chart below shows the difference in attributes between underachievers, average achievers, and gifted underachievers. Gifted underachievers are dubbed socially immature, anti-social, and have low self-esteem. (Dowdall & Colangelo, 1982)
After researching and analyzing the information on gifted programs, such as the Code 80 program here in Alberta, it became clear that the problem in administration is not getting gifted children the extra stimulus they need to fulfill their intellectual buckets, but the way “gifted” students are separated from the rest of the class and made to feel as if they are odd or disliked because of their differences. So how do we re-frame Code 80 to ensure a positive outlook on students who take part in it? In the article by Dowdall and Colangello, there were two experimental tools for underachieving or disinterested gifted children. The first experimental tool was to seek counselling for the students with low self concept. This was a direct method of solving isolated problems, but it doesn’t solve the institution already in place. The second experimental tool was to manipulate the classroom environment. This experimental tool is more in line with what we are trying to do in this course. It involves A) intervening in elementary school (before the child has a chance to get too comfortable in their self doubt) and B) altering attitudes of collective students on how they view both gifted students, and students with low academic success alike. By fostering a classroom model based on kindness, acceptance, and acknowledgment of intellectual ability (such as the Value Education Program mentioned in my previous blog) Gifted, regular, and under-performing students alike can all find self confidence that comes from respect, or validation.
An interesting development in this area of education would be to put these tools to task in elementary and junior high schools. By no means should students who require additional assignments and materials be denied the chance to learn beyond the curriculum — I believe any initiative to break the bonds of standardized curriculum to be a good thing. The challenge is to continue the work being done in the Code 80 program, while still allowing students to maintain self-confidence, a positive self concept, and the ability to continue their intrinsic motivation to learn.
Code 80. 2012. “Code 80 Information”. Retrieved from: http://www.lss.ecsd.net/gifted/code80.html on August 18, 2017
Marsh, H. W., Chessor, D., Craven, R., & Roche, L. (1995). The Effects of Gifted and Talented Programs on Academic Self-Concept: The Big Fish Strikes Again. American Educational Research Journal, 32(2), 285.