[Classroom Strategies] Teaching Gifted Students
In a nurturing learning environment, students and teachers build a place of mutual respect and appreciation. When everything is working, all students feel valued, and teachers are aware of how developmental needs affect learning. However, some students may develop their gifts or talents ahead of their age or experience. It is our responsibility as educators to engage and build up these gifts and talents.
Sometimes, categorizing and labeling students can make you shrink a little. After all, you know that all of your students are special in their own way. Giftedness is not fixed—all students have the ability and the potential to excel, and all students have special talents and strengths. The important thing is finding a way to nurture those talents and strengths in such a way that students can develop their potential to the fullest.
All students have the right to learn new things every day, but managing the range of academic levels within a classroom is a formidable task. Often, gifted or advanced learners may be underchallenged or understimulated. There can be a mismatch between how they preferer to learn and how they are taught. This can potentially lead to a host of behavior, confidence, and peer relationship struggles.
So, how can you support these learners as an educator? Let’s take a look at a few teaching strategies and best practices!
Treat students as individuals
As you are building your approach and learner profile, keep in mind that exceptional students are unique. They may be twice-exceptional, intellectually gifted children who also have learning disabilities. They may be gifted in one area and not in another. Extraordinary talent in math does not always transfer to an equal talent in writing, art, or science. This can be frustrating for the student. Supporting gifted students usually involves a mixture of acceleration and enrichment of the usual curriculum. A first step is creating an interest survey for the whole class. By reviewing the results, a classroom teacher can personalize lessons and target topics of interest.
Let students explore their passions
Help students immerse themselves in a subject that sparks their passion by providing a topic library or by checking books and magazines out of the library and creating a resource of appropriate videos. Classroom teachers can structure art projects and writing activities about the topic of interest. There is no reason not to teach reading through the focus of trains or to teach math with counting marine animals with students. If they are older, why not explore impact of the topic on history? There are always opportunities to connect.
Infuse enrichment into activities
Students may speed through material as they master it. If the suggested pace is two chapters a week but your students can complete two chapters a day because the topic engages them, let them get ahead. Add to the instruction by allowing them to create a presentation, a project, or even a script for a podcast. Provide the space for deeper exploration and understanding. Arrange enrichment activities that gifted students can carry out by themselves at their desks. Allow students to do special projects. However, avoid finding busywork, as students will recognize it for what it is.
Build in time for flexible learning groups
You can intentionally create small groups for flexible learning with consideration of students’ readiness levels, strengths, and/or interests. This thoughtful planning tool can be used to create a more dynamic learning environment. Keep in mind that the groups continually change based on assessment data related to students’ needs. When the data are studied, students may bubble up and display previously hidden talents. Include identified gifted students in group work. Although gifted learners are capable of working independently, these students need opportunities to work with and socialize with their peers.
Embrace creative questioning
Gifted learners are often curious about the world around them, and they may ask detailed questions to satisfy their thirst for knowledge. This curiosity goes beyond simple interest in a topic and can extend to aspects that are seemingly outside of the scope of a lesson. Be respectful of your students’ curiosity, and encourage the search for answers to impossible questions. Students may ask unexpected questions, so try to leave room for exploration when a quirky question comes your way by asking where this question came from and what it is connected to.
Look for evidence of learning by encouraging students to share their intuitive theories about a topic and by completing open-ended tasks in which they extend or apply what they have learned. Gifted children need less drill to master them on fundamental processes; be comfortable in leaving some gaps for students to bridge themselves.
Encourage self-directed learning with your students
Self-directed learning is a skill that can be developed with all students. While some children are more self-motivated than others, self-directed learning is crucial to becoming a lifelong learner. Have regular conferences to help students plan their work, and provide support for difficulties and evaluation. Focus on meaningful and relevant content that enriches the topic at hand.
Interested in learning more about how you can support students with gifted abilities in your classroom? Check out our blog post, Classroom Strategies to Support Advanced Learners at All Grade Levels.