Grades aren’t foremost on the mind of Laurie Abeel.
The College of Education associate professor focuses more on the journey for her graduate-level students.
“My approach in every single class deals with growth, not grades,” said Abeel, who teaches gifted education courses. “I’m more concerned with ‘do they understand what I’m trying to teach’ and ‘have they shown growth by the end of the course?’”
Some of her students have gone on to use her strategies and methods in their own classrooms.
Abeel credits much of her classroom philosophy to her involvement with Destination Imagination, known as DI, an international program focused on the creative process, critical thinking, leadership and team work. For almost the past decade, she has served as Virginia affiliate director of DI, volunteering to coordinate Virginia’s programs and the state tournament.
“It influences almost everything I do. All the skills we try to teach the kids [in DI], I use in my classes,” she said, noting the program’s emphasis on open-ended questions and taking risks.
In one of Abeel’s classes, students have the option of training to be appraisers, or judges, for a DI tournament. In her Characteristics and Education of the Gifted course, students view videos of DI teams on YouTube to jumpstart a discussion about the definition of creativity.
“It helps them open up their minds to different types of creativity,” she said.
Through DI, Abeel was introduced to the Center for Creative Learning, an organization for which she is now a consultant, and VIEW, an online problem solving assessment tool for which she is a certified administrator.
Three of Abeel’s students have used VIEW within their own research, she said.
Regardless of whether Abeel’s students end up working with gifted students or not, the skills she teaches are universal, she said.
“I model strategies in all my classes and explain how they can modify these for all levels in the classroom,” she said. “The strategies can be used for anybody.”
She hopes her students leave her classes empowered to create respectful and creative classrooms, where children can think and innovate.
“Everybody in your classroom has a right to learn and grow,” said Abeel. “That’s what I tell my students.”