Gifted Learning Needs: Strategies to Promote Success
All students with Gifted abilities are exceptional learners. This is defined as such by most Special Education guidelines within our school systems. If you are a Regular Classroom Teacher, chances are, you have students with Gifted abilities in your classroom. It is essential that all Educators become prepared arsenal of strategies on hand to support our Gifted learners.
Barriers: It is unfortunate that this exceptionality is given the label ‘gifted’ however. There are many educators who do not understand this, and the word giftedness can sound rather elitest at times. Further, depending on what filters you are using to read the word ‘gifted’ and look at pictures of the brain — well, they look and sound very value-laden toward being ‘better’ than other students’. Unfortunately, many educators may also assume that if someone is ‘gifted’ they can be left to their own devices in a classroom and do not need help. This is a fallacy of our education system. Further, if you are a proponent of brain based theories, you will often hear that students who are ‘gifted’ have different ‘wiring’ of neurons. So, just how are gifted students identified?
How are Gifted Students Identified?
Traditionally, Giftedness has been defined based upon anecdotal reports from parents, teachers, doctors, and also standardized intelligence tests scores. However, parents, teachers, students, and other educators will also attest to abilities that are not measured on a 40 minute test. Further, the test can ignore other factors including ethnicity, socio-economic status, and multiple-diagnoses. We must research this more, and understand it, because giftedness is real. It is not better or worse than any other special need, and can cause many problems in a child’s life if we do not address the exceptionalities.
In many regions, Parents and Educators have the option to nominate individuals for Gifted Testing in Grade 3. However, this can become problematic when nominees for Gifted testing are those students who typically display ‘good behaviour’, neatness, and conformity within the classroom.
Unfortunately, these variables often overlook those students who may fall into categories of stereotypical ‘bad behaviours’, disorganization, clumsiness, or other exceptionalities that may elicit bias on behalf of Educators, who will therefore choose NOT to consider for Gifted testing or programming.
In terms of standardized testing, we also have to ask ourselves about possible bias in the Gifted testing itself, as many Gifted Classrooms are underrepresented in terms of minority groups including First Nations, Metis & Inuit; individuals with low Socio-Economic Status, and females.
Further, Standardized testing may demonstrate that students may have high Gifted abilities in some areas, but average to lower scores in other areas. These students will often not receive a ‘Gifted’ label, merely because they do not meet ALL of the criteria. However, this is not an excuse for Educators to ignore the ‘Gifted’ areas.
Regardless of whether students with Gifted exceptionalities receive the ‘Gifted’ label or not, Teachers need to be able to Differentiate Instruction enough in any classroom to promote their students’ high academic abilities.
Let’s move past the label of ‘gifted’, and any elitist values that may be attached, even moving past the issues with our IQ tests , and look at what we know.
4 Ways to Address Gifted Needs in the Classroom:
- Promote gifted children to the level that they should be working at in their areas of Giftedness, but also keep them with their same-age peers during the day.
- Provide Students with Enrichment activites that elaborate on the content learned in class, and provide opportunities to work with a) curriculum-related Abstract concepts or b) Novel Content. NOT EXTRA WORK!
- Provide Special opportunities for clubs, seminars, and field trips for exceptionalities.
- Provide homogeneous high-ability groupings such as Gifted Classrooms.
Five Practices of Highly Effective Educators for Gifted Students:
- Take the time to build rapport with your students and get to know them. Always strive to understand the culture of the student and how it has affected their development and behaviour. Find out what is important to them!
- Differentiate your Instruction. What instructional methods do you value, and what would work best for your individual students?
- Analyse your own attitudes, and cultural expectations of others. If you understand what your bias is, then you can acknowledge when it may be in conflict with someone else. Understanding your personal bias does not necessarily mean that Educators need to change their minds, but acknowledgment of bias is important to develop an awareness that there are other ways of viewing the situation. It is also respectful to the students to acknowledge when changes are warranted.
- Understand your school’s culture, and compare this with the expectations of your students and their parents. This can go a long way for Educators to understand, and help parents understand, where differences in expectations lie.
- Always strive for Strong Working Alliances with your students and their Parents. Educators are in effect working for the students and parents. Be flexible, understanding, and open to learning more! Listening, and reflecting back the needs of families with Gifted children goes a very long way to helping families and their children feel valued and cared for.