Equity for Twice-Exceptional Students, Part 3

Dr. Deanna Westedt on serving gifted students with learning challenges.

Posted Jul 22, 2020

Deanna Westedt, used with permission
Deanna Westedt
Source: Deanna Westedt, used with permission

In Part 1 and Part 2 of this interview, Deanna Westedt, Ed.D. shared how schools can best serve students who are 2e, which means being intellectually gifted but also having challenges such as learning disabilities or lacking English language proficiency.

Dr. Westedt is entering her 21st year in education and has a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. Dr. Westedt developed presentations for parents, educators, and students on providing accessible learning to all students and conducted a research study on the impact of flexible differentiation as a way to address the needs of students' overlapping identities, including the twice exceptional population. Here Dr. Westedt shares more insights into how schools can best serve students who are twice-exceptional.

Jenny Rankin (JR): In your research, you coin a concept, “depth of knowledge equity” that is grounded in Webb’s framework for depth of knowledge. Can you please share a little bit about what that term means and how it is significant in the self-contained classroom? What are the implications of this concept in the classroom and how can teaching practitioners best provide this for their students?

Deanna Westedt (DW): This concept takes depth of knowledge one step further and explores its importance for providing equitable footing so students can access curriculum at the highest level possible based on their specific overlapping identities.

Data from my research indicated that students placed in groupings based on ongoing formative assessment were consistently able to experience higher levels of cognitive activity and engagement in their learning when compared to their peers placed in stagnant groups based on their GPAs. This is where the equity component comes in and the results were so exciting! The higher up the taxonomy level we went, the bigger the discrepancy between the group that received the instruction based on true ability rather than those who were placed according to overall or perceived ability.

For example, one second-grade student who I called Elizabeth in the study demonstrated characteristics of a highly gifted student. She also struggled greatly with staying on task and keeping track of assignments. These characteristics impacted her letter grades negatively and we worked continuously to help her develop strategies.

When she was placed according to her GPA, she grew frustrated because the students she was grouped with and the lesson for that group did not meet her cognitive level. She became disengaged, began to fidget, and otherwise demonstrated maladaptive behaviors. As teaching practitioners, we need to establish our groupings and instruction in real and ongoing data… living data. Otherwise, we risk wasting our students’ time and, at the very worst, setting them up for failure and discouragement.

JR: In looking at the way language learner status overlaps with other identities such as gender and giftedness, how does this impact the way students access important curriculum features, such as language of the discipline?

DW: During the study, I observed that students in need of peripheral participation opportunities due to their language learning status benefited from groupings that were established in a way that provided mixed-ability interaction. Quite simply, they needed the opportunity to absorb before participating. In some cases, students whose cultural-home influences encouraged reservation needed an opportunity to feel comfortable. The small group setting provided the opportunity for this interaction to take place in a less threatening environment than in a whole class structure. Such considerations are often overlooked, especially in the case of a student who is quiet, but they are the crux of culturally responsive teaching.

JR: What other benefits for these students, outside of academic gains (such as student affect and social-emotional well-being) did you discover when using flexible differentiation in the classroom?

DW: One of the biggest evolutions of my research was the way it developed from solely focusing on academics to providing a narrative snapshot of flexible differentiation’s impact on student affect. When I provided the students with a voice in my research through narrative inquiry and surveys, I discovered that students who were in the treatment group, meaning they were grouped according to their true ability on the skill being taught, reported significantly higher satisfaction rates with their small group learning and a more positive perception of themselves as learners. They felt good about their contributions and interactions with each other.

JR: Thank you for your time, and for all you do to help our field.