To dive deep into teaching Gifted and Talented students, I felt it was best to subcategorize my steps into, planning, instruction and assessment. To grow as a professional, I have chosen to deepen my knowledge and share my research on the topic with other teaching professionals. I will link my research below; this will allow others to read further if they wish too.
In order to address my current areas of growth and that of my observed peers, I thought it would be best to highlight a few common myths/ problems many teachers face within the classroom setting. Dispelling the myths will help provide a bit of background and a basic understanding of the students I intend to investigate.
Common Myths and Problems Within the Classroom:
- Gifted and talented Students are always high achieving. In fact, gifted and talented students range in abilities, interests and behaviours. Some high achieving students love to learn and demonstrate these skills. However, not all gifted and talented students wish to learn or are intrinsically motivated. Therefore, the careful consideration of these students is critical for any teacher.
- Differentiated worksheets easily cater for gifted and talented students. Not necessarily, gifted and talented students need to have active learning at their level. By teaching a concept to the whole class, then providing differentiated worksheets, doesn’t necessarily mean these high achieving students are learning or being actively challenged.
- If the student is gifted in literature but not math; this means (s)he is not gifted or talented. Not true, gifted and talented students come with a variety of different skills and knowledge. If a student is strong in one area and not another, that doesn’t mean (s)he is not gifted, it merely means they are human. They too have strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else.
- The student doesn’t speak English, so they can’t be gifted if they can’t read. Not true, students from all cultures, regardless of their language skills, can be gifted and talented. It’s the role of the teacher, to help decode the student’s ability and cultivate different forms of growth regardless of the student’s barriers.
- The student has a disability; therefore, they can’t be “gifted or talented”. Not true, students with disabilities can be gifted and talented; all individuals are unique with different circumstances surrounding our abilities.
- Gifted and talented students don’t want to be recognized. Not necessarily true, students are children, and they too want to be encouraged and supported in their growth. This recognition may look different however; some may enjoy more “limelight” whereas others may prefer a personal conversation about their work. Students range in their comfort level; therefore, it is the teacher’s responsibility to build a working relationship with the student in order to find the best form of recognition.
- I am not an “expert teacher” I don’t think I can cater for these students. To be an influential gifted and talented teacher, Hansen and Feldhusen, “ found that there were eight desired characteristics that were repeatedly identified in those who were perceived as ‘excellent’ teachers for the gifted and talented students and they are as follows: flexibility, enthusiasm, self-confidence, high intelligence, appreciation for giftedness, broadly cultured background, ability to foster higher-level thinking and problem solving, capacity to meet personal and social needs of gifted students” (Rowley, 2008, pp.36). Overall, it comes down to a teacher’s attention to planning, instructing and assessment, but most of all they care. Students need to be cared and catered for to the best of the teacher’s ability.
- Students are strong in school; it means they will be successful in life. Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily the case. Students who are labelled as gifted and talented occasionally encounter learning environments that are not challenging for them, and this lack of challenge underdevelops their resilience and instead can produce feelings of anxiety. To explain further, if a student performs consistently at the same level, they begin to build their self-esteem in their grades and the impression of being smart. Then when they encounter a challenge, they can become lost or anxious about seeking help because, until that point, they were known to always have the answers. Therefore, the challenge helps to extend the children’s academic but also aides in the development of their self-esteem, communication and resilience skills.
- Girls are more likely to be gifted than boys. False. A student’s gender does not influence their prospects of being identified as “gifted or talented”. According to Jennifer Peterson who conducted a study on the identification of gifted students, she states, “current study indicated that boys and girls are equally likely to be identified as gifted” (Peterson, 2013 p.348). Instead, she suggests societal stereotypes and their impacts on a student’s sense of “self”, as well as cultural influences, may provide more opportunities for one gender to be stronger in a particular area. Which is only reinforcing the stereotypes and myths around “giftedness” we see within our society.
Now that we have a very brief understanding of who these students are, let’s look at how to prepare a compelling lesson for these children.
As a teacher, lesson planning is a critical part of the job, however academic, Jennifer Rowley suggests many teachers are “under-trained to appropriately meet the learning needs of gifted and talented students and more than likely, the curriculum is underprepared for the students who require a faster pace or a depth of challenge to meet their developmental advancement” (Rowley, 2008. pp.36). Reflecting on this statement, as a practising teacher, I can’t help but agree. Through personal experience and observation of my peers, many teachers either give gifted and talented students more work, rather than challenging or overlook these students needs altogether because they are functioning competently within the classroom.
However, according to Jennifer Rowley, planning challenging work for these students is not enough. To be a more effective teacher, the teacher needs to understand the developmental needs of these students. Often people believe because these students are intelligent, the students should also be mature in their emotional and social interactions. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Gifted and talented students are children first and fourth-most. They too need all their needs considered. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, students need to have their physiological needs, their safety and a sense of belonging before they can develop their self-esteem and the self-actualization. As a teacher, your drive is to support these students to nurture their self-esteem and self-actualization because this is where the students develop their creativity and problem-solving skills.
It is not just the characteristics of a teacher but also their ability to tailor the curriculum to the correct pace for these students. Unlike mainstream children, gifted and talented students move through the curriculum rather quickly. For example, if a teacher was to use a more “subject-matter curricular design”, meaning a very rigid, organized and teacher instructed lesson structured approach many gifted and talented students would lose the opportunity to cultivate their natural talents. This traditional form of teaching still appears to be a common form of practise, often because it allows teachers to “tick box” the learning students need to achieve. But as we develop as teachers and as a profession, it seems there are more approaches to education other than just “ticking boxes”.
Many teachers are moving toward a learner-based design approach to teaching, and from my research, this learning style best aligns with the needs of the gifted and talented students. This more contemporary approach to learning allows students to be more experimental, highly creative and provides a level of student choice. As the Gifted and Talented Education Professional Development Package for Teachers states theorist, “Gagne’s view of giftedness is that it defines outstanding potential rather than outstanding performance” (Gifted and Talented Package, 2004, pp.12). This striking statement highlights the need for teachers to move away from traditional forward map planning and instead look at the possibility of what the students can do and work backwards from there.
This sounds great, but how do teachers plan for this? And what are the common challenges they need to consider or overcome? To address these questions, I have created a small cheat sheet for teachers to use.
|When do I have time to create ‘another lesson?”
||Collaboration with other teachers is the best way to combat “time” issues! We are all working with the same curriculum and are often driven with the same goals in mind. So, reach out and ask to work with a friend to develop some material that will deepen your lessons. Focus on broad concepts or problem-based challenges that connect to the curriculum. By opening up the planning, this will later cultivate opportunities for higher-order thinking.
| How do I identify of a gifted and/or talented students?
||Pretesting is key! You need to be aware of what the students know beforehand and their depth. By pretesting students, you will be able to understand where their gaps and strength in their knowledge is.
|What is backward planning?
||Ask the students what they are interested in. This strategy does take more time; however, it engages and provides a student voice to their learning. This opportunity to have a voice provides students with more intrinsic motivation. Once you know what your students are interested in, find connections to the curriculum. Together as a class, you may even wish to co-create a project. This may help build clarification as well as model how to construct a substantial work product.
|How do I best differentiate the levels and be aware of the amount of work I am giving?
||Often students are aware of their ability and will choose the appropriate level of work, but of course, this should be monitored by the teacher. However, a common mistake teachers make is to give the class a worksheet than provide an extension worksheet after. This means high achieving students are stuck completing more work rather than growing or challenging their ability. So, allow capable students to work at their appropriate level from the beginning. Not all students need to complete the same worksheet.
How do I plan for Active Teaching time/reflection time?
|Attempt to build-in time throughout your day to instruct the gifted and talented students. This doesn’t necessarily mean every lesson, but there should be regular moments within the day where a teacher can help model and provide individualized care for these students. It can range in time depending on the work or needs of the student. Often best practice is to create a rotating student one to one conference time for all students regardless of their ability. This time allows all students to have some insightful feedback and conversation time with the teacher in a more constructive manner.
|How do I address students who claim they are “bored” or “they already know this”?
||The answer is curriculum compacting. Which “is a technique for differentiating instruction that allows teachers to make adjustments to curriculum for students who have already mastered the material to be learned, replacing content students know with new content, enrichment options, or other activities”(National Association or Gifted Children). Meaning, find out what areas of the curriculum students have already mastered through a summative assessment and move on to the unknown. If students are learning about a specific topic or material they already know and they are able to score above 80% for example, they will most likely disengage and become bored. As a capable teacher, we want to encourage curiosity, questions and growth. So feel free to change it up if the students require it. No one says you need to complete ten pages of addition and subtraction to prove you understand the concept!
Planning a wonderful lesson is only one element in good teaching; next is the instruction. An active teacher knows how to unpack the information and scaffold learning for their students effectively. For some teachers, this is a natural step; occasionally, a few teachers can cater to some of the gifted and talented students through discussions, probing deeper and deeper in conversation. However, not all teachers can do this, and not all lessons allow students to have these conversations.
As mentioned earlier, teachers of gifted and talented students need to have a level of flexibility and knowledge. Now we must admit, teachers are not “all-knowing creatures”. We do not possess all the answers. Therefore, it is best to cultivate skills and nurture the growth of the student’s natural curiosity and resilience.
Here are a few “tips” on how to best instruct students who are gifted and talented.
|I’m worried I am a teacher without the answers.
||Use student collaboration as a strategy. Research shows that students learn best through collaboration in most situations because they receive more individualized learning time, direct interaction with their peers and most of all, students who teach demonstrate their deep understanding of the concept. Use a variety of experiences, you may wish to use discussions, small groups or even whole group think tanks.
|I’m concerned differentiation may separate the students within my class.
||Design lessons that are problem-based with different forms of assessment and depth. For example, some research projects provide a full degree of depth and breadth to them. Perhaps a circular approach would be best for all students. Alternatively, create a “book club” session, where students can choose different books based on their interest and level that best suits the individual. From here, you can instruct students on different levels.
|I do not know where to start.
||It’s best to start with developing student critical thinking skills. Introduce the topic and allow students to learn some information but quickly focus on the more profound questions that analyze, evaluate and create new material. Consider Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning; this can be an excellent reference for teachers; it provides a style guide for different questions that build upon each other, which allows for strong scaffolding.
|How do I let go of the control?
||Many teachers find it hard to “let go” and hand over more responsibility to the student. In this case, it’s essential to “loosen the reins” not “let go”. Remember, all students are learning, and excellent learning requires challenges and failures. As a teacher, it is best to create checkpoints and conference with the students along the way. This provides opportunities for the students to share their process and receive any critical feedback where necessary. Some students may be so invested they even begin working on projects at home!
Moving toward a more learner-based curricular design does have it’s challenges. For many teachers, this can be within the assessment process. For example, if students are producing widely different projects, how can they be assessed relatively? I have again created a little cheat sheet to help guide and support teachers with some common problems.
|If students create different projects, how can they be fairly assessed?
||Rubrics and self-assessments are a reliable way to incorporate a wide variety of work products. Students who are gifted and talented often crave the opportunity and are encouraged to “think outside the box”. Therefore, the rubrics need to reflect this. Perhaps working as a whole group, the students could help co-construct the rubric. This may provide a deeper understanding of the expectations and give a self-reflection opportunity.
|Will standardized tests work for these students?
||Yes, you will need to still have a standardized test periodically throughout your time with them. By having a standard test, this can help be a formative or summative assessment. This data will help the teacher assess where the needs of the class are as well as comply with the reporting responsibilities. Remember gifted and talents students are still required to be assessed on their grade’s curriculum level, even if they are being extended above in some areas.
|Which assessments should I use for their parent-teacher interviews?
||Self-directed portfolios are significant. They provide the student with an opportunity to be reflective of their learning and to showcase what they believe is their best work. Referring back to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, the process it’s self in creating a portfolio is evaluative. One in which the student needs to consider and judge their work. According to research, being a reflective learner is one of the most vital skills in developing a student’s more in-depth knowledge.
|Some projects may take weeks but I want the data of their learning sooner.
||Again, create project checkpoints. As a teacher, sometimes, the best form of assessment is teacher observation and direct feedback. Through observation, you can know and understand your student. This understanding of them as a person helps to develop a strong rapport and make the response you provide them with more meaningful. Students want feedback and appreciate constructive criticism when they feel comfortable in their learning environment.
Teaching students of all kinds takes a lot of effort and careful consideration. From planning to instruction and assessment, all the elements of the student’s ability should be taken into account. I feel Jennifer Rowley best summarises my thoughts in her statement, “[t]he effective teacher of the gifted does not teach, but rather s/he facilitates learning. The teacher is an essential factor in the success of an educational program for gifted students and the instructional skills and strategies identified as successful in facilitating learning for gifted students who aim to address their developmental advancement” (Rowley, 2008, pp.36). Meaning the impact a teacher has within a classroom is unprecedented. We have a responsibility to understand, plan, instruct and assess the student in a manner that is not only equitable but also at an appropriate level. Students need challenges, and they need useful feedback in order to grow. Therefore being reflective as a teaching professional is essential to understand and tailor our abilities to best support those around us.
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Photo (Girls at the table) by Alexis Brown on Unsplash
Photo (Boy Writing a Test) by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo (Girls at Computer) by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash
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