It’s back to school time across the country, and for gifted kids who are in schools with no gifted programs or acceleration policies, it’s time to worry. Each new teacher and classroom presents a new challenge to the gifted child who is markedly different in his academic and sometimes social development from his peers.
Most teachers receive little or no training for integrating gifted children into their classrooms, yet it is statistically likely that they will get one or two gifted kids in a general education classroom. How can teachers with no gifted training help those students thrive in their classrooms?
1. Learn to identify your gifted students
Gifted students are not always the quiet, studious, high-scoring students, though those students might be among them. Gifted students also include the child who has exhibited behavioral problems throughout his elementary years. Gifted students include the daydreaming child who forgets to do homework but thrives at home programming computers, building machines, or writing stories. Gifted students include the kid who acts like an obnoxious know-it-all but is really lonely and confused. Read the National Association for Gifted Children’s Frequently Asked Questions page.
2. Communicate with your gifted students’ parents and previous teachers
You may be surprised to find how relieved parents will be upon your using the “G-word” about their children. Many parents, unwilling to stick their necks out and ask for “special privileges” for a child, just hope that their child will eventually fit in or find his niche. In showing specific interest in how a child learns and what her interests are outside of school, you will become an ally for the parents, and the information they can offer you will be invaluable to integrating their child into the classroom. Read The Teacher-Parent Connection from the Davidson Institute.
3. Understand that it is actually harmful for gifted students not to be challenged academically
Though our present academic focus is to bring all children up to a minimum competency, this focus can hurt gifted students, who will probably enter your classroom with the year’s curriculum mastered. Acting as a classroom aide to tutor other students or sitting alone in a corner reading both hinder the gifted student’s healthy development. Studies show that as gifted students are offered less and less challenge, they start to aim lower and lower, and by middle school, often become poor, unmotivated students. Download a free copy of A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students.
4. Go beyond test prep
Although most gifted students perform very well on standardized tests, there are those who will seem disinclined to learn the skills they need to perform at the level you know they are capable of. But in both cases, a focus on test preparation will alienate your gifted students. Those inclined to act out will do so; those inclined to internalize will withdraw. Be prepared, when other students need test preparation, to offer a project-based learning opportunity that will allow prepared students a chance to work independently. Read The Dos and Don’ts of Instruction from the NAGC.
4. Use cluster groupings in class projects
Traditionally, when teachers create small group projects, they are likely to put a wide range of students in each group. Research has shown that such groupings can result in difficulties for students on both ends of the spectrum: the gifted students feel put-upon by having to help the struggling students or they just do the work themselves; the struggling students feel hopeless that they can perform at the same level. Instead, try groupings that include students of a narrower learning range, and give assignments more closely correlated with the abilities of the group’s members. Read the Ability Grouping Position Statement by the NAGC.
5. Create open-ended assignments
Once they leave school, your students will find that life presents all sorts of challenges that they will never “finish.” But many teachers focus on creating assignments that have a clear end point that all students are expected to attain. This focuses on the lowest common denominator rather than on challenging all students. Consider expanding your assignments so that gifted students can go further and deeper. A student who has mastered a math concept can be given a real-world problem to solve with that concept. A student who immediately “gets” the concept of a Venn diagram can go on to create a short essay based on the diagram. Read Modifying Regular Classroom Curriculum for Gifted and Talented Students from Prufrock Press.
6. Maintain a positive social atmosphere
Remember that singling any child out because of a difference can be hurtful, even if your singling out is in praise. Use of Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences can help you celebrate all your students’ abilities in a positive way. Gifted students are also likely to exhibit a higher level of overexcitabilities, and learning about them can help you understand your students’ unusual behaviors. Learn more about Dabrowski’s overexcitabilities.
7. Encourage pursuit of outside interests
Consult with your gifted student and his parents to come up with an acceptable outside project he can work on during classroom time covering material he has mastered. He could do research on an area of interest or work on a science fair project without disrupting other classroom activities.
8. Offer praise for hard work rather than level of knowledge
A growing body of research shows that how we talk to children frames their world view. A child who is praised often for “being smart” will believe that if she fails, she is “no longer smart.” However, a child who is praised for hard work will see a reward for work that does not necessarily succeed or achieve a goal. This is a healthier way for a gifted student to perceive her successes. Read How Not to Talk To Your Kids.
9. Make good use of modern technology
In this day and age, there is no reason for an advanced math student to be doing the same work as his classmates. If your school has no provision for accelerating a student in your class into a group at his ability level, work with his parents and the administration to provide him the opportunity to study math online while the rest of the class is working at grade level. Read Disrupting Class: Student-centric Education Is the Future.
10. Appreciate your gifted students
Gifted students come in as many packages as other students. Some of them will be a joy to work with; some will be a challenge. In this age of testing and focusing on attainment of basic skills, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that your quirky, unusual students are in need of a very different sort of nurturing. The adults who grow from these gifted children remember with appreciation those teachers who looked forward to the challenge of working with and inspiring them.
For more information: Read Tips for Teachers from the Davidson Institute.