Units of Instruction for Gifted Learners
Brigham, D., Fell, J., Simons, C., Strunk, K., & Yodice, A.
ISBN: 1-59363-196-0
Prufrock Press Inc.

BOOK REVIEW (Davidson Institute) - This teaching unit, which covers aspects from the language arts, math, science and social studies disciplines, is an excellent resource for teachers interested in a constructivist interdisciplinary approach. There is a clear focus on active learning, that children should be taught to learn in a deeper context. Units of Instruction for Gifted Learners is designed for students in grades 2-8.

Reviewed by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

This 168-page collection of interdisciplinary teaching units includes five separate units, which combine skills from the disciplines of math, science, language arts and social studies. Standards for math, science and social studies are explicitly represented in the objectives and rationales of these lessons while the language arts potential is implicit in a “writing across the curriculum” manner.

Learning activities based on constructivism stress individualized processes in which learners actively construct rather than passively receive knowledge. Following from the closely related educational philosophy of John Dewey, constructivist pedagogy favors “real life” tasks and materials within a socially interactive environment and contends that authentic learning builds upon what students already know and care about as individuals. All of the teaching units in the book consistently reflect well-conceived constructivist pedagogy and utilize progressive methodology like project-based learning, divergent questioning, cooperative learning and reader response theory. The units are highly detailed, easy to follow and each lesson plan includes an approximate duration, prerequisite knowledge, rationale, standards addressed, objectives, materials, procedures, assessments and extensions. The evaluation piece includes both formative and summative assessments, while outcomes, objectives and rationales reflect pedagogy that is mindful of multiple intelligence theory.

In keeping with constructivist methodology, rote learning is de-emphasized in this text. For example, in a social studies unit on slavery, students are not given a discrete vocabulary list to memorize; they are instead instructed to use contextual clues to determine the meaning of target vocabulary words. In this same unit, students form groups and use direct quotes to make predictions about the story (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt) based upon their own prior knowledge rather than answering convergent, teacher directed questions.

Overall, Units of Instruction for Gifted Learners is a well-articulated, complete set of units very likely to appeal to elementary teachers who adhere to a constructivist interdisciplinary approach. Although the text lists grades 2-8 as the target levels, its strongest application is likely to be with elementary students. In order to utilize these lessons in a middle school environment of highly capable students a teacher might need to make some modifications such as adding more stringent criteria to the rubrics or more analytical depth to some of the composition questions. Likewise, teachers who are looking for units that explicitly meet language arts standards may find some of the lesson plans require adaptation as well. Despite these minor limitations, the text would make a valuable addition to a busy teacher’s repertoire of instructional materials for gifted students.

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