Introduction to Promoting PLACE in Rural Schools

Amy Price Azano and Carolyn M. Callahan

Gifted Education in Rural Schools: Developing Place-Based Interventions provides a thorough and in-depth overview of a five-year (2014-2019), $1.9 million United States Department of Education Jacob K. Javits grant, “Promoting PLACE in Rural Schools” (Promoting PLACE). Our goal was to investigate gifted education realities in rural schools as a result of challenges uncovered in a previous grant project, “What Works in Gifted Education” (see Callahan et al., 2015). The previous study evaluated the effectiveness of the CLEAR curriculum (see Chapters 8-11, this volume) and found that students in classrooms where teachers had higher fidelity to the curriculum outperformed students in classrooms with teachers who had lower fidelity (Azano et al., 2011)—with one exception. An anomaly among the findings suggested that rural teachers were overrepresented in the “low fidelity” group; however, their students were not outperformed by their non-rural peers. The very small student sample and the voices of the teachers in these districts led us to question what circumstances caused teachers to make more modifications to the curriculum and how students responded. After an in-depth follow-up study (see Azano et al., 2014), we found that rural teachers had unique circumstances, such as providing services to many schools across a vast geography, being the only gifted education personnel in their division, confronting biases related to goals of gifted programming perceived as encouraging students to leave their communities, limitations in the general education curriculum, isolation of students with concomitant hesitation to be identified as different, serving an underrepresented population of students who are gifted in high-poverty schools, and a lack of resources. On the basis of these findings, we sought to investigate how we might provide focused support for rural schools related to gifted education.

Even Earlier Beginnings

Long before we embarked on our scholarly pursuits, we were rural kids, too. Amy grew up in Luray, in the heart of Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and a large (loud) family. One of her most formative educational experiences was being a part of the small gifted program. While in elementary school, the program mainly consisted of sitting in the back of the classroom with two or three peers and engaging in other tasks or reading alternate texts. Then, in the eighth grade, the gifted program traveled to see a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s work performed during a dinner theatre at the University ofVirginia. Charlottesville is less than two hours from Luray, but the distance between these two places was not easily defined by geography. It was an early experience about the possibilities of a life beyond her insular, rural beginnings. When Amy was a high school English teacher in a suburban “Blue Ribbon School of Excellence,” she was astounded by the number of advanced courses available to students. She returned to the University ofVirginia to pursue her doctorate with the intention of addressing equity issues for rural learners.

Carolyn grew up in rural upstate New York and graduated from her K-12 single-building centralized school with 48 classmates (all but two had been in her kindergarten class). Students just “moved down the hallway” as they progressed through the grades. Gifted education was not even an option in her school, but an attentive librarian made sure students she identified had access to advanced reading in their areas of interest, and high school teachers promoted post-secondary education as an expectation for students in their high-poverty mill town, which was surrounded by a farming community. The proximity of “the city” (New York City, of course) meant that field trips opened up a world of possibility and planted seeds of motivation to go beyond the limitations set by the community. Carolyn was only the second of more than 45 cousins to go to college and then graduate as one of only two female math majors. Her decision to pursue graduate study as soon as she began teaching was considered an odd choice by her peers, but observations of the lack of females in her advanced classes set in motion a commitment to gifted education for students, regardless of gender, ethnicity, geography, or income status.

For both of us, we (unfortunately and inadvertently) learned along the way that in order to “achieve” we would need to leave our rural communities behind. Promoting PLACE felt a bit like a homecoming for us both. Yes, we academically engaged with the empirical work, but in countless meetings and conversations, we found ourselves reflecting on our own beginnings. We checked our biases and assumptions repeatedly but allowed our kinship with our rural upbringings to guide our resolve: that rural students deserve equitable opportunities and that place matters. We endeavored not only to expand gifted programming in rural schools but also to consider rural contexts and how students might learn that they can be gifted and rural.

As our work concluded we found such heartening results that we were determined to share the project in its entirety in a way that could not be achieved through isolated journal articles. Hence, we created this research monograph as a way of telling the story of Promoting PLACE in Rural Schools.

Goals of Promoting PLACE

PLACE serves as an acronym for place, literacy, achievement, community, and engagement—the core tenets underscoring our endeavors. Promoting PLACE used place-based language arts instruction to promote literacy skills with historically underserved high-ability rural youth. Promoting PLACE focused on the following components:

  • 1. An identification process employing Lohman’s (2013) concept of opportunity to learn
  • 2. Curriculum developed in accord with the CLEAR curriculum model and modified to incorporate the principles of place-based education
  • 3. Interventions to reduce stereotype threat (Aronson & Steele, 2005; Steele, 1997) and increase student engagement, self-efficacy and a growth mindset (Dwcck, 2000, 2006, 2008).

On the basis of these core components, we identified specific goals related to developing and scaling up effective identification procedures, curriculum implementation, and intervention strategies from cognitive psychology by applying them to rural populations. In particular, the goals we identified were:

  • 1. To develop and implement a process to increase numbers of gifted students in high-poverty rural school districts
  • 2. To develop and implement high-quality, place-based language arts units for third- and fourth-grade gifted students in high-poverty rural school districts
  • 3. To adapt effective strategies developed by Carol Dweck and Joshua Aronson (and their colleagues) to increase belief in a growth mindset and reduce the impact of stereotype threat among identified rural gifted students
  • 4. To increase achievement in reading and writing by the identified rural gifted students
  • 5. To increase student engagement and self-efficacy in identified rural gifted students.

These goals were designed to support gifted education in rural schools by increasing representation and supporting identified students with appropriate curricula and instruction, while also attending to the affective domains related to learning for rural students. This research monograph provides a comprehensive look at each of these core components as they relate to our work. However, here we provide a snapshot of what this looked like in practice.

Promoting PLACE was a randomized control trial with 11 school districts completing the intervention (7 treatment; 4 control). All districts (in both conditions) received the alternative identification process, but only the treatment districts received the curricular and mindset interventions. This means that all second graders (» = 3,945) across the 11 districts were assessed on a universal screener and all students were rated by their classroom teachers on a scale measuring gifted behaviors, thus providing an opportunity to be identified for gifted education services to all, resulting in a total student sample of 529 students (more than half of which were identified by the Promoting PLACE process). The pre/post assessments (detailed in later chapters) allowed us to (a) measure the effectiveness of the alternative identification process and (b) measure the effectiveness of the curriculum. In evaluating the identification process, we looked within condition ¿/roups and were able to assess whether the students identified by the Promoting PLACE process were able to “keep up” with the students identified by more traditional means (i.e., the process used by districts before our involvement). With pre/post measures, we looked at these two groups (district-identified and Promoting PLACE-identificd) in both control and treatment groups. We found, indeed, not only that the alternative identification process identified more students for gifted education services but also that the students identified with the process (e.g., using local norms as a defining criteria) made significant gains and performed as well as traditionally identified students. In evaluating the effectiveness of the curriculum, we looked across condition groups to look for differences between identified students who had access to the place-based language arts curriculum and those in the control group who did not. While we did not see measurable gains in affective domains, the treatment students did outperform control students on achievement measures.

In the chapters that follow, we go into greater depth about these topics to tell the story of how we developed the work, what we learned, and ways for extending the work into other rural communities.

Using This Text

We have organized this monograph to walk readers through the various aspects of our project, including theoretical frameworks, methodologies, curricular philosophies and implementation, outcomes from our work, and how others might extend this work.

Part I: Place-Conscious Work in Rural Schools

The first chapter provides a foundational overview of Promoting PLACE. Following this introductory chapter, Rasheed and Callahan offer “A Focus on Rural Gifted Education: Integrating the Literature,” in which they situate Promoting PLACE within the larger contexts of rural education and gifted education literatures. They offer a socially constructed understanding of “rural gifted education” and operationalize that term with regard to project activities. In Chapter 3, “Stereotype Threat for Rural Students,” Azano, Bass, and Wright discuss stereotype threat as a construct used to explain underachievement and identify the ways Promoting PLACE specifically sought to address

Promoting PLACE in Rural Schools 5 stereotype threat throughout the project. As co-principal investigators and editors, we (Azano and Callahan) provide an overview of research design methodology centered on place in Chapter 4, “Place as Context and Content: Project Design.” We also discuss the ways we planned for place-conscious methods to honor local contexts and address educational inequities for rural students.

Part II: Place-Conscious Methods

Part II provides readers with more specific information about place-conscious methods used throughout the project. The primary focus of the grant was to expand opportunities for historically underrepresented rural students in gifted programs. This part begins with an exhaustive explanation of the place-conscious identification process developed and implemented in the study. In Chapter 5, “Developing a Place-Based Identification Process,” we (Callahan and Azano) provide a thorough description of a defensible process designed to address opportunity gaps for rural students in high-poverty districts. Brodersen and Callahan elaborate on a critical aspect of the process in Chapter 6, “Using Teacher Rating Scales: Professional Development,” by describing the rural-focused professional development dedicated to preparing teachers to complete rating scales for all students. Then, in Chapter 7, “Understanding the Sample,” Noel and Dmitrieva provide a description of the school districts in the sample, including geographic and demographic data with information about how districts implemented the local process for identifying students for gifted education.

Part III: Curricular and Mindset Interventions

Part III provides the reader with a thorough description of the interventions used in the research. The first three chapters are written by the authors of the three gifted education models from which critical elements were selected for integration into the CLEAR curriculum. In Chapter 8, “Differentiated Instruction in Rural School Contexts,” Tomlinson discusses Differentiated Instruction, an instructional model designed to guide educators of learners at all grade levels, and shares how the model has been used with rural students. Following Tomlinson’s chapter, Kaplan discusses the need to accommodate gifted students who learn in diverse environments in Chapter 9, “Depth and Complexity for Rural Learners.” Then, in Chapter 10, “The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: A Talent Development Approach That Works for Rural Schools,” Reis and Renzulli discuss their fundamental premise that schools should be places for talent development, their four decades of work in the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, and the importance of its application in rural settings. These chapters are then followed by an overview of the place-based CLEAR curriculum. In Chapter 11, “Place-Based CLEAR Curriculum,” Callahan and Missett demonstrate how the place-based language arts units were built from the foundation offered by CLEAR.

Following the curriculum chapters, Caughey provides an exploration of fidelity of implementation in Chapter 12, “Fidelity of Implementation in Rural Studies,” as a way of understanding how the curriculum was implemented, why modifications were made by teachers, and the common themes that emerged. Understanding how and why teachers adapted the place-based curriculum allows us to better understand how teachers’ choices can be influenced by context. Part III ends with an exploration of the “Growth Mindset Intervention.” In Chapter 13, El-Abd discusses the theories used to create the mindset intervention and the process by which it was developed for Promoting PLACE to help gifted children in high-poverty schools adopt a stronger growth mindset, as well as the importance of such an intervention in promoting greater academic achievement.

Part IV: Promoting PLACE Outcomes

Part IV focuses on outcomes from the project. Chapter 14, “Affective Outcomes: Instrument Development and Validation,” provides an overview of instrument development and validation in the non-cognitivc domain. The project targeted four non-cognitivc outcomes—student engagement, self-efficacy, growth mindset, and stereotype threat. In their chapter, Callahan and Park describe how instruments were developed, modified, piloted, and validated. Following the description of instrument development is a key chapter on outcomes. In Chapter 15, “Impact: Student Outcomes,” Callahan and colleagues discuss findings related to the overarching goals of the project. Chapters in this part share findings of micro-level analyses. For example, in Chapter 16, “Place-Conscious Writing Tasks,” Bass looks specifically at one measure used to understand treatment students’ use of place in pre/post writing tasks. Similarly, in Chapter 17, “Rural Families Through the Eyes of Fourth-Grade Fiction Writers,” Kuehl examines family relationships as depicted in treatment students’ fiction stories. Chapter 18, “Case Study in Rural Appalachia,” concludes Part IV as Matthews, Azano, and Rasheed provide an in-depth, qualitative case study on the grant’s implementation in one rural Appalachian school district.

Part V: Conclusion

The book ends by providing key takeaways for readers of this monograph. In Chapter 19, “Expanding the Promoting PLACE Model,” we (Callahan and Azano) also provide practical applications for extending this work, including a discussion of acceleration strategies for rural schools.

The work we describe in the chapters that follow is offered to all scholars, rural school leaders, teachers, and other educators committed to rural gifted education as a resource that will support their efforts to maximize the development of gifts and talents.


Aronson, J., & Steele, С. M. (2005). Stereotypes and the fragility of human competence, motivation, and self-concept. In C. Dweck & E. Elliot (Eds.), Handbook of competence and motivation. Guilford.

Azano, A. P, Callahan, С. M., Missett, T. C., & Brunner, M. (2014). Understanding the experiences of gifted education teachers and fidelity of implementation in rural schools. Journal of Advanced Academics, 25(2), 87-99. https://doi. org/10.1177/1932202x14524405

Azano, A. P., Missett, T. C., Callahan, С. M., Oh, S., Brunner, M., Foster, L., & Moon, T. R. (2011). Exploring the relationship between fidelity of implementation and academic achievement in a third-grade gifted curriculum: A mixed-methods study. Journal of Advanced Academics, 22, 693-719. https://doi. org/10.1177/1932202x11424878

Callahan, С. M., Moon, T. R., Oh, S., Azano, A. P., & Hailey, E. P. (2015). What works in gifted education: Documenting effects of an integrated curricular model. American Educational Research Journal, 52, 137-167. https://doi. org/10.3102/0002831214549448

Dweck, C. S. (2000). Self theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Psychology Press.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Dweck, C. S. (2008). Can personality be changed? The role of beliefs in personality and change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 391-394. https://doi.Org/10.l 111/j.1467-8721.2008.00612.x

Lohman, D. (2013). Identifying gifted students: Nontraditional uses of traditional measures. In С. M. Callahan & H. L. Hertberg-Davis (Eds.), Fundamentals of gifted education: Considering multiple perspectives (pp. 112-127). Routledge.

Steele, С. M. (1997). A threat in the air: How stereotypes shape intellectual identity and performance. American Psychologist, 52, 613-629. https://doi. org/10.1037/0003-066X.52.6.613

Part I

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