One of the earliest concepts I learned when training to be a new teacher was that early literacy is important to a child’s future academic achievement. Surprisingly, it also impacts the ability to effectively solve math problems (not just the “word problems”). The bottom line is that children need to be exposed to reading at an early age. Children of middle and upper class family grow up exposed to their parents reading. Children of poverty do not.
The Athena Project is a Javits funded program and is the brainchild of the William and Mary Center for Gifted Education. The Athena Project takes a four prong approach to addressing the development of advanced literacy in children of poverty: 1) development and implementation of a data driven curriculum model for primary school language arts and thinking skills; 2) development and implementation of a comprehensive professional training model; 3) development and implementation of appropriate identification instruments for students from low low-socioeconomic status; and 4) pursuing research on the short term and long term learning gains.
The early results indicate a favorable outcome. The evidence suggests a demonstrable and statistically significant growth pattern in the use of the “differentiation skills of critical thinking, creative thinking and accommodation to individual differences” (VanTassel-Baska & Stambaugh, 2005, p. 61) by the teachers who received the two-year training and differentiated curriculum. When the teachers were asked for feedback, they indicated they enjoyed the training and believed in its efficacy.
To measure success of the program, the Athena Project assessed both the students and the teachers. The students were assessed with Test of Critical Thinking (TCT), Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and performance-based assessments. The teachers were evaluating using the Classroom Observation Scale-Revised (COS-R). Based on the first two years of available data the project has promise. The student learning increased and the teachers appeared to be implementing the strategies they learned in the workshops.
The implications from this study are tremendous. Curriculum and teacher training models similar to the Athena Project could be the key to developing early literacy skills in minority and low SES students. More research has to be conducted on this project, but the Athena Project gives hope that verbal skills may no longer be the barrier gifted programs, but rather the gateway by which minority students enter new worlds of learning.
Research for this post obtained at: VanTassel-Baska, J. & Stambaugh, T. (2005). Project Athena: A pathway to advanced literacy development for children of poverty. Gifted Child Today 29(2), 58-63.