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The DISCOVER Project: Improving Assessment and Curriculum for Diverse Gifted Learners

C. June Maker

C. June Maker, Professor at the University of Arizona, has developed a unique performance-based assessment in which children are observed by teams of teachers, counselors, paraprofessionals, administrators, specialists in education of the gifted and bilingual education, and local community members. The assessment, designed initially to increase the participation of students from diverse groups in programs for the gifted, was later expanded to include the identification of the strengths of all children so their positive traits could be recognized and developed. This assessment and the corresponding model for designing appropriate curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of diverse groups are consistent with research in cognitive science and an emerging paradigm in the field of education of the gifted. These approaches are based on the theories and research of Stephen Ceci, Howard Gardner, and Robert Sternberg; and represent Maker's synthesis during 16 years of research and development through the Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities (DISCOVER) Projects. Maker is extending this work by integrating it with the work of educators in Europe and Asia, and has developed a new classification of human abilities based on her research.

In this monograph, an Introduction provides readers with a context for the framework Maker has developed. She cites research from cognitive science, psychology, cultural anthropology, education of the gifted, and bilingual education—and combines this with personal experiences in teaching and studying in the field—to support ideas for changes needed to improve programs for gifted students from culturally, linguistically, economically, and geographically diverse backgrounds. In the second section, "Setting the Stage," in a personal way, she describes her own thinking and research process as the framework evolved and was tested. The assessment and curriculum models are described briefly in this section and results of research on their use and effectiveness are presented in a readable style. Following the "Setting the Stage" section is a descriptive account of the assessment, along with many ways the curriculum principles of DISCOVER can be implemented in general classrooms or classrooms for gifted students. This is the "Practical Applications" section, and in it she continues with real examples by presenting six case studies of schools, school districts, a state, and two other countries using the models. She concludes the practical applications section by presenting the new framework developed with colleagues in Europe and Asia.

The "Conclusion" is a synthesis of ideas; and here Maker presents specific, clear recommendations for policy-makers, coordinators, principals, and teachers interested in using her ideas and research. Additional resources are listed in this section, and practical materials to assist various audiences and practitioners are included in the Appendices: an annotated bibliography of publications about DISCOVER (Appendix A), correlations between DISCOVER activities at different grade levels (Appendix B), an interview format to use with teachers instead of written forms for rating student characteristics and making referrals (Appendix C), suggested activities for teachers to use to provide a setting for observing children's problem solving in different ability areas (Appendix D), checklists of observable characteristics to use with these activities (Appendix E), and three teaching units based on the DISCOVER Curriculum principles (Appendices F, G, and H).

Reference:
Maker, C. J. (2005). The DISCOVER Project: Improving assessment and curriculum for diverse gifted learners (RM05206). Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.


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The DISCOVER Project: Improving Assessment and Curriculum for Diverse Gifted Learners
C. June Maker

Conclusions

  1. Policy-makers should implement pilot programs in which the progress (success in the program or in regular classrooms) of students identified by various instruments is monitored, analyze these data, and report the results to others using or considering these instruments.
  2. Policy-makers should change existing or create new policies to require that all students be served in ways that are consistent with their strengths and challenges identified during assessments.
  3. Program coordinators need to create partnerships between bilingual education and education of the gifted so that efforts to identify and serve children are coordinated and resources are combined.
  4. Program coordinators should include many types of screening and referral procedures (such as performance-based measures like DISCOVER) to supplement teacher referral as a first step in deciding which children to test or examine further.
  5. Funding is needed for long-term research and evaluation of alternative methods for identification of students from underrepresented groups so they can be evaluated and their success monitored on a long-term basis.
  6. Vocabulary about giftedness should be changed-from talking about "the gifted" to talking about "students/children who are gifted in ________" (e.g., language, math, dance, music, visual arts, leadership, emotional competence, or other categories a given school district believes are important).