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High Ability Learners engage daily in enriched instruction

Every morning at 7:40 a.m., 42 students gather in the Rolling Acres cafeteria for their daily intervention class, the High Ability Learners (HAL) program at Rolling Acres Middle School. Up from 26 students last year, this year’s class meets with teacher Laura Bally and interventionist Kathy Freed, in a seminar-style classroom. Although the class is large, the teachers facilitate partner talks, table discussions and opportunities for both individual reflection and group work.
 
HAL classes start the school day at each of the District middle schools, fulfilling another of the District priorities: Provide daily enrichment services to High Ability Learners in 5th – 8th grade. HAL participants are chosen on the basis of NWEA math and reading scores.
 
“These are the kids who, in the past, may have just been coasting along, but someday they are going to be challenged academically and through this program they’ll be prepared,” says Von Steuben teacher Becky Donahue of the 19 Von Steuben 5th through 8th grade students who gather in her classroom during first hour.
 
Each District middle school follows a common HAL curriculum map. The curriculum map specifies one topic to be covered each quarter for each of the four grade levels. The topics and their treatment resemble those traditionally covered at the secondary level. For example, students are currently completing a Language Arts unit which uses Freud’s personality theory (Id, Ego, and Superego) to analyze William Golding’s classic novel, Lord of the Flies. “The subject matter is engaging, advanced, and challenging, and students are rising to the occasion to apply their critical thinking skills,” says Bally.
 
The HAL curriculum gives students opportunities for a more in-depth, experiential approach to curriculum areas. For example, during the first quarter, fourth-year HAL students studied a hands-on economics project involving small business administration, which flowed well into their social studies project for second quarter: An African Economics Summit.
 
Rolling Acres High Ability Learners  
Leading a discussion on Lord of the Flies gives students in the
Rolling Acres High Ability Learners class a chance to practice
one of the programs "Habits of Mind": Thinking and
communicating with clarity and precision.
 
 
Interwoven into all subject areas are “Habits of Mind,” soft skills students must master to be high achievers at the high school and college level. These include such attributes as managing impulsivity, taking responsible risks, striving for accuracy, persistence, applying past knowledge to new situations and gathering data through all five senses.
 
In addition, students are able to access online resources through Renzulli Learning by Compass Learning. Students complete a detailed online questionnaire that allows the Renzulli software to generate a personal profile matching the student’s interests, learning styles, and expression styles. This allows teachers to more easily become acquainted with each student and differentiate instruction. Once a profile is generated, students and teachers may use it to guide their exploration of the 40,000 online educational resources in the Renzulli database. Students can engage in self-directed learning by exploring safe, fully-vetted resources that have been specifically matched to their individual profiles, and teachers can browse the database of resources to find activities that align to specific objectives, skills or Common Core Standards.
Renzulli online resources also are used to help students:
• Analyze informational texts, argue and defend a point of view
• Research and draw information from multiple sources
• Use mathematics to describe and solve real-world problems
• Demonstrate deeper learning through projects and tasks
The HAL program places a strong emphasis on problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills to ensure that students become college and career ready and develop thinking and reasoning.
 
In January, all District HAL students will begin planning a project for the second annual HAL Expo at Woodruff Career and Technical Center (WCTC) Students will work individually or in pairs to research and present projects in all curriculum areas.