“The gifted learner continues to be underserved in classrooms across the country”.
I heard this comment often from presenters at the PAGE Conference that I attended a few weeks ago. Pennsylvania’s Gifted Education Conference, PAGE, is an annual conference that brings together gifted educators, school administrators, and parents to learn how to best support gifted children in classrooms and at home. These presenters continued to discuss how gifted students are not receiving an optimal education within the regular classroom primarily because emphasis is placed on low performing subgroups. How can school districts better serve these learners?
Some school districts maintain a pull out gifted support program, that many times, a non-gifted certified teacher may be assigned to teach. Most gifted students are taught in regular classrooms using the same standards to teach regular education learners. Research strongly suggests that a gifted learners’ motivation and performance declines after prolonged exposure in an unchallenging environment and curriculum. It is this very scenario that is most concerning to me. Why are teachers missing the mark in providing challenging opportunities to their gifted learners?
We spend much time helping our struggling students, more often than not our gifted students are getting left at the wayside. Why isn’t our focus, as educators, on gifted learners who are already performing above the threshold? Does differentiation provide enough latitude to reach these learners? Why do educators hesitate to approach the gifted learner in their classroom? How can we be sure we’re meeting their unique needs? Indeed, it’s the gifted students in our classroom that require the constant redirection to keep their intelligent minds engaged.
There are many obstacles affecting the education and differentiation of gifted learners in the regular classroom. One being the lack of unfamiliarity teachers have with giftedness. Much of the problem may in fact lie in the lack of training for pre-service and practicing teachers in gifted education. Some teachers may feel that because they differentiate that they therefore are providing a challenging environment to their gifted learners. Often times this differentiation does not focus on the enrichment opportunities our gifted learners need, but rather additional busy work. How is your district addressing professional development for teachers in regards to the gifted learner?
A second area of concern in differentiating for the gifted in the regular classroom is that many teachers believe and require gifted students to keep pace with the rest of the class. They explained that if gifted students are not exposed to the same basic information, they will not perform well on state assessments. Some teachers also cite difficulty in finding and utilizing resources, lack of planning time, and lack of administrative support for differentiating practices as obstacles. I can find a slew of books that focus on innovation, tech tools and growth mindset. But very few on addressing the gifted child. Why is that? What resources do your teachers use to approach the gifted learner? How much planning time is devoted to the gifted learner in your district?
Implementing a few teaching strategies into your daily routine can greatly assist the gifted learner.
Customize with Bloom’s Taxonomy
As teachers, we know that time is not on our side. We don’t have the luxury to customize every learner’s curriculum. Bear in mind, this doesn’t mean that you should be giving gifted children more work—no student wants that. These learners want meaningful, challenging work, oftentimes in ways that won’t call too much attention to their slightly different activities. Essentially all assignments should offer the student the opportunity to utilize higher level thinking skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation, as defined by Bloom. By using Bloom’s Taxonomy, we can engage gifted learners and cater to their higher-level thinking skills to keep even the most advanced students on their toes.
Pace is related to rate of instruction and management in the classroom. An increased pace does not mean talking fast or moving through core content more quickly. Again, it does not mean adding more activities. It’s about adding greater complexity in thinking and providing depth. It’s about spending less time on background knowledge, offering fewer examples on how to do a task, and giving less teacher led practice. An accelerated pace gives gifted students the opportunity to become independent, and thrive while completing a more rigorous activity.
Education is about building relationships. The relationships between learner, teacher and parent is one that is of most importance. Most of the time you’ll find that parents are their child’s biggest advocate. They want to see that their learner is being challenged. Take the time to show parents your informal assessment, how you determine what information their child will learn, and the pace you associate with each achievement level. By incorporating other adults into your academic game plan, they can also play their part in ensuring their child is maximizing their learning at all times. Work closely and collaborate with parents to see that their child’s needs are being met. Flexibility and a willingness to think differently can create win-win situations.
Gifted students need teacher advocates that care about them, understand them, and can provide differentiation in the classroom, that will help them feel challenged and achieve success. By implementing these suggestions, you’ll do more than meet their needs. You’ll be setting them on a path toward developing their talents.