Sunday, May 4, 2008

Gifted (Jen Zawis)

Jen Zawis- What a challenge to work with gifted students! I know that their quirks can be hard to decipher. How do you keep students focused when they are all so different? No child left behind is applicable to our high-level students as well. What suggestions do you have for regular education teachers to differentiate our instruction? (Kristin Shannon)

Dear Kristin,
I absolutely agree with you- teaching gifted children can be quite challenging and they certainly are a quirky bunch at times! I have to say, however, that those idiosyncrasies are what fascinate me and often what I love most about gifted children.
As you mentioned, it is so important to address the fact that NCLB is applicable to gifted students, and that they too must receive differentiated instruction in the classroom. I think that so often we fall into the habit of assuming that these children will just “get it” and manage to stay afloat on their own. I certainly have been guilty of thinking that way in the past without even really being conscious that I was doing so, and therefore likely not met their needs as individuals.
Fortunately, the more time that I spent working with them and additionally through the certification classes that I am currently enrolled in, I feel that I have gained so much insight into the nature and needs of the gifted learner.
I taught a lesson early on this school year in which my students played a game that allowed them to discuss their feelings in small groups about the pros and cons of being gifted. I’ll never forget that one student remarked, “I hate when everyone, even the teacher, thinks that I understand everything. They always say oh, call on her or ask her- she’ll know the answer. They say that because I’m gifted. I’m afraid to show when I don’t understand something." Admittedly, I froze upon hearing this as I knew that I had probably been that teacher in the past. Worse yet, I knew that I sometimes figured that these kids weren’t answering questions out of boredom or lack of interest- forgetting that it might be that they didn’t understand something altogether.
Coming to understand their nature and needs has really allowed me to grow so much professionally as well as personally. Below is a list of a few ideas that I compiled in response to your question about some suggestions for regular education teachers in regard to your gifted students.
aGifted students are simply on the other end of the bell curve- ESE students are two standard deviations below the mean and gifted are two standard deviations above the mean. Many of their needs can be addressed in a similar fashion.
aThey often need small group instruction- either to challenge them further or to reinforce a concept that they may have missed but were too afraid to reveal their lack of understanding.
aGifted students need to feel that they are in just as safe an environment to make a mistake as do your most academically needy children.
aWhen these students leave for the day, the regular teacher is not responsible to re-teach the whole day BUT bear in mind that gifted students may need to be pulled in a strategy group the following day and a brief recap of the new concepts when they return.
aTry really getting to know their interests- maybe in the form of an interest survey or just listening to their ideas. This enables you to give them the opportunity to further explore these interests at appropriate times. Helps with the “I’m finished, now what?” syndrome.
aTry to make any extra activities that you give them meaningful, not just busy work, because they need that and can really tell the difference.
aGiving them opportunities to work with others in groups is essential, as social situations are often an area they struggle with.
aThese really are amazing children and each individual can bring wonderful perspectives into your classroom.
aEncourage them as you would any other student. Even those “quirks” can bring meaningful and powerful teaching and learning into your classroom.
I hope that I addressed some of your concerns and questions. I am always eager to share more ideas, if need be. I consider it a privilege to work with this population and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. I continue to learn an incredible amount from them each and every day. They have so much to offer.


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