Supporting the Implementation of Individual Education Plans for Gifted Students in Serbian Elementary Schools: Insights From a Two-Year Project Paper Presentation
Ana Altaras Dimitrijevic
Author(s): Sanja Tatic Janevski, (Institute for the Improvement of Education, Serbia), Ana Altaras Dimitrijevic, (University of Belgrade, Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Psychology, Serbia)
According to Serbian educational policies, gifted students qualify for individual education plans (IEPs), tailored to suit their specific educational needs. The effective use of IEPs in gifted education requires, however, that educators be skilled at identifying gifted students and differentiating instruction. These skills are not part of standard teacher education in Serbia, so IEPs remain underutilized. In this project, we sought to support schools in exploring and exploiting IEPs as an option for gifted students.
Participants were school counselors and teachers (N=21) from 11 elementary schools in Belgrade. Over a two-year period (2012-2014) they were provided scaffolding in the implementation of IEPs for 22 students (2 from each school); this included an 8-hour seminar on giftedness, a 4-hour workshop on differentiation, and consultations with experts throughout the process. By using a qualitative methodology, including interviews and focus groups with participants, we identified several domains in which substantial improvements were made: (1) knowing the legal/administrative framework for supporting gifted students through IEPs, (2) identifying these students by using multiple sources of information and assessment techniques, (3) composing the educational profile and pinpointing the needs of a particular gifted student, (4) planning a coherent set of enrichment activities with respect to the student’s strengths and interests, and (6) providing occasional but meaningful differentiation. At the same time, difficulties were observed in (1) using the school library and librarian as important resources, (2) coordinating activities involving different subjects and teachers, (3) establishing stronger connections with relevant organizations, and (4) providing continuity in curriculum compacting. Despite these challenges, it remains our conclusion that IEPs are a feasible option for educating gifted students in Serbia, provided that schools receive the necessary expert support. Particular attention should be paid to outside-the-classroom communication and resources, and practicing subject-based acceleration complemented by enrichment during regular classes.