I Place-Conscious Work in Rural Schools

A Focus on Rural Gifted Education: Integrating the Literature

Integrating the Literature1

Michelle Rasheed and Carolyn M. Callahan

Because of the situated nature of Promoting PLACE, an exposition of the ways in which the constructs of rural education and gifted education are conceptualized and then operationalized in the project activities is fundamental, as is an understanding of the current research that informed project work. The development of the identification process and curricular intervention in Promoting PLACE rests on an examination of rurality as a context for offering gifted services. Hence, we first present a review of literature on the definitions and social constructions of rurality and then explore perceptions of giftedness. Finally, we summarize the scholarship related to the specific areas of curricula for students in rural environments (particularly place-based curricula) and curricula for students in gifted programs (particularly in language arts).

Rurality as a Context for Gifted Education

What Is Rural?

Corbett (2016) captured the complexities of ruralities as wide-ranging and difficult to define in his statement, “The more we know about rurality, the less we know, it seems, and, as the old saying goes, if you have seen one rural community, you have seen . . . well, one rural community” (p. 278). He further noted that “place-based education literature, along with much rural education scholarship, is beginning to show how in the complex rural context, place and school are not necessarily cozy and connected” (p. 278). Similarly, addressing the nuances of ruralities, Azano et al. (2017) cautioned researchers about the “risk of generalizing rural to all rural places” (p. 62).

The definitions provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2011), frequently used in the work of contemporary rural scholars, delineate categories of rural by population density and proximity from urban areas. NCES designates rural areas as fringe, distant, or remote, depending on distance from urban areas and population size. Communities are considered “most” rural when located farthest away from urban centers and sparsely populated, while the “least” rural places are closer to urban centers and are more densely populated. For rural advocates, these metrocentric codes

(e.g., defining rural relative to urban) are a point of significant contention because they are working definitions at best and do not readily serve all purposes in education research. The NCES designations make the case that rural-ity is not singular, and they provide easily identifiable categories. The NCES data also reveal the vast numbers of rural districts, schools, and students documented by U.S. census data.

Kettler et al. (2016) contended that definitions of rural such as the NCES locale codes are insufficient in conceptualizing ruralities, noting that there could be large rural schools with rich resources and small rural schools with poor resources within the same rural classification. They argued inclusion of school size could improve research design and generalization across studies involving rural schools.

Rural versus ruralities. Researchers currently focusing on rural education use the plural “ruralities” rather than singular “rural” to call attention to these complexities in rural contexts and to highlight the differences across rural places (Green & Corbett, 2013). This language shift reflects vast rural differences, including distinctions from urban/suburban areas, dissimilarities from one rural region to another, and variations within each rural place. Ruralities more accurately exemplify the complexities of rural places, including meanings—denotations and connotations—evidenced by evolving demographics of rural cultures, landscapes, and people.

The shift from singular rural to plural ruralities supports a move from reductive to affirmative language in referencing rural regions. Coladarci (2007) urged rural education researchers to portray the context of the sites of their inquiries fully rather than grappling with identifying agreement with a single definition of rural. Advocating for a more complete picture of rurality in education research, he noted that “the images, scents, tactile sensations, and assorted inferences about the participants’ lives, values, and sense of community” are essentials but missing in the research (p. 2). These missing components are what Richards and Stambaugh (2015) referred to as “the essence of rural places” (p. 3). C. Howley (2003) used the term “rural lifeworld” as a way of expressing that essence and characterizing the meanings of rural (p. 65). Rural lifeworld encompasses the multitude of influences and complexities of existing ruralities. Contextualizing ruralities for research requires a depth of understanding around the many meanings and variations of these rural lifeworlds.

Definitions of ruralities. Offering an alternative narrative to the deficit portrayal of ruralities, many contemporary rural scholars advocate for equity, access, and opportunities in rural regions. Understanding rural communities allows opportunities for educators and researchers to strive for equity in rural education (Eppley et al., 2018). To this end, Theobald and Nachtigal (1995) suggested that educational plans should focus on the local region. This shift toward more localized educational agendas and practices is further supported in place-based education research.

The Rural Imaginary. Partly due to images put forth by the entertainment industry, media, and idealized fictional novels, rural populations and

A Focus on Rural Gifted Education 13 regions sometimes evoke idyllic landscapes, complete with scenic pastures and livestock that conjure visions of rustic living and carefree days; this positive imagery of rurality is referred to as “the rural mystique” (Willits ct al., 2016). Historically marginalized and stereotyped, negative images of ruralities also exist in the news media, social media, and entertainment industry (Innes, 2012). These other portrayals are often more suggestive of isolation, even desolation, where countryfolk live rugged, meager lives. Hence, the context of rurality becomes more difficult to fully fathom across rural communities (Richards & Stambaugh, 2015). Stereotyping of rural inhabitants has systemically disparaged and oppressed a significant population of the United States (Innes, 2012). Perceived as uneducated, uncouth, and even unworthy, the message of rural as “not” (i.e., not urban, not suburban) continues to perpetuate a negative mindset (Kettler ct al., 2016).


Definitions of Giftedness

Just as definitions of rural take many forms, scholars offer multiple definitions of giftedness, which leads to wide variation in the process of identifying gifted students and many models of programming. A relatively narrow definition of giftedness based on assessment of students’ intelligence with IQ tests stemmed from Terman’s (1926) foundational longitudinal research on gifted students and dominated the field for many years (Warne, 2012). Even though identification using scores on IQ tests alone can still be found in some school districts, broader definitions of giftedness emerged (e.g., Marland, 1972; Ren-zulli & Reis, 1997). The definition offered by the Marland report (1972) and a revision later adopted by the federal government in the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act of 1988 (PL 100-297) to guide funding represent the definitions most widely adopted for current state policies guiding gifted education (Callahan ct al., 2017).

Identification of Gifted Students

Principles that guide the identification of gifted students include:2

  • 1. Every student must have an equal opportunity to be considered for services provided in the school district
  • 2. The data gathered on student potential and performance should reflect the definition of gifted adopted by the school division and will allow for and provide sufficient information to support an appropriate match between the student and curricular and programming options
  • 3. The identification system must be fair and equitable for all students, including groups of students historically underrepresented in programs for the gifted. In selecting instruments for assessing the various types of giftedness, reliability and validity are critical, but consideration ofnorms—both the populations on which the test was normed and when the norming occurred—is also very important
  • 4. Instruments and processes should be efficient, yet effective, in terms of the personnel time, group and individual testing costs, and other resources necessary to identify gifted and talented students. Both objective and subjective instruments can and should provide useful data in the identification process
  • 5. The system should be flexible enough to accommodate talent potential across all domains (e.g., music, art, drama, technology, and other nonverbal or mathematical talent) included in the definition
  • 6. The system must be flexible enough to make changes if student performance warrants a reexamination of inclusion or non-inclusion decisions.

Gifted Imagery

As with stereotypes and negative images of rural communities and students who live in rural communities, one of the significant deterrents to identifying and providing services to gifted students is the plethora of stereotypes, myths, and misconceptions about gifted students and programs for gifted students. (As just one example of these myths and stereotypes, consider the popular TV series The Big Bang Theory). Among these myths are:

  • 1. The gifted and talented constitute a single homogeneous group
  • 2. Giftedness equals high IQ
  • 3. There must be winners and losers in gifted identification and programming
  • 4. Gifted students do not need special programming; they will make it on their own
  • 5. Differentiation in the regular classroom is equivalent to gifted programming
  • 6. High-ability' students do not face problems and challenge or don’t have unique social and emotional needs (which is juxtaposed against the myth that gifted individuals are not mentally stable or socially adjusted!).

The importance of these myths is the obstacles they create for the acceptance of broad definitions of gifted students across all populations of students— particularly for students living in poverty', students of color, and twice-exccp-tional students—and for their application in making budgetary determinations about the importance of staff and resources for programming.

Inequities in Gifted Education

While Pluckcr and Callahan (2014) noted progress in the field of gifted education for “determining the types of programming to aid educators in planning effective interventions for advanced students” (p. 395), they concluded that there is an inequity in areas of focus in gifted education research. They noted few research studies on the gifted identification process relative to inequity

A Focus on Rural Gifted Education 15 and underrepresentation of diverse populations and in research on interventions successful with this population.

Curricular Modifications

VanTassel-Baska and Hubbard (2015) summarized the critical components for quality gifted curricula as identified in the research literature:

  • • supportive learning environments with peers;
  • • access to multicultural materials and resources;
  • • curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking and problem-solving skills;
  • • project- and problem-based learning;
  • • access to a range of education opportunities; and
  • • assessment of learning in a wider context (pp. 159-160).

Gifted in Rural Settings

Richards and Stambaugh (2015) note the importance of understanding “the essence of rural” to provide quality services to gifted students in rural environments. Recognition of and respect for geographic, cultural, social, and economic variations in rural communities also provide a critical lens for researchers in the field of rural gifted research. According to Yoder (1985), quality programming in rural schools should include advanced content, curriculum that is different from general education, and opportunities to work with peers of similar “abilities and interests” (p. 68). However, in reviewing decades of rural gifted research, recurring themes for quality programming exist, yet limited longitudinal data are available on the successes of program modifications.

Rural Gifted Education

Education researchers have examined a number of variables affecting gifted services, rural youth aspirations, and factors hindering rural gifted students from reaching their potential.


C. Howley et al. (1996) examined views of community and sense of place among students in an honors academy. They found that rural students were less positive about their communities than students from other locales. They further noted rural students identify both a push from dissatisfaction with their current communities and a pull from perceived modern opportunities elsewhere. The findings affirm the conflict for bright rural students contemplating whether to remain in their rural communities or to leave for academic pursuits. The researchers affirmed the value of place and “possibility ofsense-of place aspirations” as “rational and honorable” options for rural youth (C. Howley et al., 1996, p. 159).


The identification process is an essential step in gifted education, but current practices present equity issues in rural schools. First, due to funding restraints, many rural schools only test students who have been referred for the identification process. Relying on referrals rather than universal screening often results in overlooking qualified students, particularly minorities and economically disadvantaged students (Card & Giuliano, 2016). Second, identification of rural gifted students is often based on standardized test scores using national norms, resulting in very few identified gifted students in rural areas. Pcndarvis and Wood (2009), in a study of historically underrepresented gifted students (HUGS) in a high-poverty rural school district, found IQ differed between students who were economically disadvantaged and those who were more affluent and, subsequently, inequities in the identification processes. The researchers also found students from racial minority groups were underrepresented, and a combined plan of traditional testing with other measures such as referrals was more efficacious in identifying rural gifted students. These findings form the basis for the development of the identification practices described in Chapter 5.

Discrepancies in Resources and Opportunities

In a synthesis of research on challenges affecting rural gifted students, A. Howley et al. (2009) identified four areas of challenge adversely affecting rural gifted education: “declining population, persistent poverty, changing demographics, and ongoing accountability requirements” (p. 515). In another study, Azano et al. (2014) identified barriers to implementation relating to gifted programming in rural settings, including limited resources and the challenge of limited instructional time. Similarly, in another examination of rural gifted education inequities, Kcttlcr et al. (2015) found three variables—locale, school size, and economic disadvantage—were the most potent predictors of variance in funding and staffing for gifted education programs with rural schools receiving far fewer human resources and less money designated for gifted services than non-rural and more economically advantaged schools. Drawing on earlier studies, the researchers observed greater inequities in enrichment programs outside the school day and with those located off-site than in programs within the schools. In this study, locale was more influential on funding and staffing than variables such as race and ethnicity. Additionally, Puryear and Kettler (2017), using the NCES locale codes to classify Texas school districts (rural or non-rural with subcategories), found the farther away from metropolitan areas, the fewer opportunities for rural students.

Place in the Rural Gifted Curriculum

Plucker and Callahan (2014) concluded that the empirical evidence favored the implementation of prescriptive units over implementation of a descriptive framework in curriculum for gifted students. Likewise, Azano (2011) concluded that a critical, place-based literacy pedagogy benefits rural students as it offers “the potential to deepen student understanding of place and its importance in their lives” (p. 10). Place has the potential to garner students’ attention in the classroom and make meaningfill curricular connections to their lives outside of the classroom with associated benefits of making the curriculum relevant, and it provides opportunities for connections between the students’ futures and their rural communities. The data from the Plucker and Callahan review and the Azano study form the basis for the development and implementation of the prescriptive, place-based units developed for Promoting PLACE and described in Chapter 11.


The review of the literature in rural gifted education provides insights into various facets of the specialized field, including the benefits and barriers of rural gifted education. Continued opportunities for education researchers, policy makers, and practitioners to collaborate for effective identification, curriculum development, and instruction for advanced students in rural regions are imperative for the sustainability of rural communities.

Providing students with opportunities for growth is a foundational tenet of education, and such opportunities should be afforded to all students in all regions. There is promise in rural gifted education research for creating more equitable opportunities for advanced students, who, like their peers who struggle and their peers in the middle, need opportunities that will facilitate growth. Despite low prioritization in funding and other support at local, state, and national levels, rural gifted programming is essential for fostering the potential of advanced students. Rural gifted students, in fact, “may be at risk for not having their academic needs met” (Azano, 2014, p. 299). For rural researchers invested in education, opportunities for student growth create both a challenge and an opportunity for scholars. Indeed, the rural polemic and its implications as context for gifted education justify further exploration and study. Just as rural gifted scholarship underscores the potential for rural gifted students, the promise for potential in future rural gifted research is encouraging.


  • 1. Sections of this chapter arc edited and summarized versions of an article published in the Journal of Advanced Academics (Rasheed, 2019).
  • 2. Adapted from Callahan et al. (2018).

18 Michelle Rasheed and Carolyn M. Callahan


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