What all teachers in regular classrooms can do for the gifted … # 1

gifted education blog
Making learning different and meaningful for all.

Teachers often think they just haven’t got time to differentiate the curriculum for gifted students. They may not use these exact words, but they look at all the other things they have to report on each week, and doing something extra on top of that for a small minority is beyond them. Besides, if they don’t really have training in teaching gifted students, what should they do?

Here are a few things that could be done in the regular classroom that would help gifted students and not hinder the rest of the class along the way. And it won’t take too much extra time, but will probably save you much stress and time in the long term. It is the start of an ongoing set of ideas especially helpful when getting started with meeting the needs of gifted children in the regular classroom.

  1. Accept there are gifted students, even if you don’t know what they should look like. If a parent tells you their child is gifted, it is usually not out of pride or bragging. It is because they have lived 24/7 with this child for their entire life, and they know there is something different about the way they think and do life. Being accepted as they are is one of the best things you can do for a gifted student, and it doesn’t take you any time at all, short of a thank you or a smile when parents offer you advice that might help you with their child.
  2. Think about what sort of investigations could be done at a deeper level right at the planning stage. This is the time you should be thinking about your gifted students, not just when they finish early or start to cause you challenges in the classroom lessons. Just as you have to think about ESOL or physical disabilities when you are planning, so you should consider how what you are planning will affect the child who might already know what you are planning to introduce to everyone in your classroom.
  3. Use labels  and practices that will not alienate your gifted child from their peers. If you say “Extra for experts” you imply that only those who complete the task at hand are experts, and worthy of a greater challenge. Gifted students are worthy of a challenge all the time, as is every student in the classroom. If they already know what is being taught, they should not have to repeat it just to earn an extra challenge. Try finding out what level each child is at before you start a topic; pretest, or maybe challenge them with the “Five most difficult first” strategy. If anyone is already familiar with the difficult level, then they should have an advanced level made available to them, or something that will challenge them to apply this knowledge in a new way.
  4. Choice is paramount for gifted students. This involves being flexible in what you will accept as an outcome that displays what the student has learned. It might be negotiated individually with the gifted student, or be part of a whole class choice system. Having a variety of products based on learning preferences, or Bloom’s taxonomy, or The Six Thinking Hats, or allowing a different context for a standard problem will accommodate the needs of gifted students to work on meaningful tasks that they are passionate about.
  5. Have a variety of question starters at all levels of thinking displayed prominently in the classroom to provide the opportunity to “differentiate on the spot” when challenged by a student needing something extra “now”. Ask the student to reword a topic with a particular question starter, or decide it yourself.   Useful starters are … In what ways could you…? Thinking about this from the …’s point of view, how else could you …? Show how many different ways it might be possible to …? From your experience, how has this helped you …? If you are not very creative, ask someone else in the school who is, or brainstorm some good question starters at your next syndicate or staff meeting.
  6. Ask your gifted students what they are interested in – it could be Antarctica, Roald Dahl books, Science Fiction, trains, aliens, or anything that they can sit and learn about for hours. Try to incorporate these passions into the curriculum they do at least once a term. Ask them a question about it at least once a week. Give them a smile at least once a day, especially when you see them reading or hear them talking about their favourite topic.

Try these six ideas out over the next few weeks, or whenever the time is appropriate, and let me know how you get on.

Gifted Resources for the Regular Classroom

A reminder here for some interesting, higher order thinking, inquiry learning for your students.

Here is a link to the books I have written for teachers to use within their regular classrooms, to help broaden inquiry learning topics for their gifted students. See them at the Essential Resources website, or at your local teacher resource centre.

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Each book (9 in total) has between six and twelve units that address specific aspects of giftedness or topics that interest gifted students. The Teacher Notes page addresses some of the issues gifted students encounter in the classroom, and give you ideas on how to deal with them.

Here are some of the Units covered in each of the three levels:

Juniors (Ages 5 – 7)

Feelings and Opinions
So Many Questions
Having the Choice
Working Together
Tenacity and Compromise
Overcoming Frustration


Middles (Ages 8 -10)

Caged, But Free
Extreme Work Environments
Seasons and Cycles
Secret Places
From My Perspective


Senior (Ages 11 – 13)

Beyond the Atmosphere
Tipping the Scales of Justice
DNA Discovery
Living in Cultural Harmony
Following the Evidence
Search for the Truth
Sustainable Choices

The Dichotomies of Giftedness

blogtour21It is Gifted Awareness Week again in New Zealand and time to give the readers a glimpse into the lives of some of our most precious students. I chose this particular title because it reminds us of the contradictory nature of some of the traits of gifted students.

Another more subtle reason is the astronomic definition, given below (#4).

di·chot·o·my   [dahy-kot-uh-mee]   noun, plural di·chot·o·mies.

1. division into two parts, kinds, etc.; subdivision into halves or pairs.
2. division into two mutually exclusive, opposed, or contradictory groups: a dichotomy between thought and action.
3. Botany . a mode of branching by constant forking, as in some stems, in veins of leaves, etc.
4. Astronomy . the phase of the moon or of an inferior planet when half of its disk is visible.
The inferior bit has nothing to do with my reasoning! Its the half invisible” that I want to point out, specifically.
When we discuss the gifted, children or adults, there are often two seemingly opposite sides to their personalities. Strategies we use can sometimes be contradictory to the uninformed. This may be best explained using some common dichotomies I have noticed when teaching and living with the gifted. Research over the years has shown how different, varied and unique* the gifted are, so these are not applicable in all situations, but serve to help understand the ‘least understandable’ aspects of giftedness.
*Sally Reiss’ ever resonant explanation

Knows, but doesn’t like to show
This is not just referring to showing of the final product. Some gifted have such a perfectionist tendency, they find it difficult to complete tasks to their own satisfaction, and are loathe to show you something they feel is not quite ready (or perfect!). Others, especially in calculatory subjects like mathematics, may ‘get’ the answer and then not be keen to ‘show their working’, or simply not be able to explain how they ‘worked it out’. They find explaining their answer, something they have already finished in their own mind, frustrating or a waste of time. The ‘invisible’ aspect can so easily be thought of as the student just being ‘cantankerous’.

Segregate them to help them feel accepted
The education ministry in New Zealand is keen to mainstream most students, thus putting the burden of responsibility for catering for the many individual needs squarely onto the local schools’ and their restrictive budgets. Research has shown the gifted benefit from attending withdrawal classes comprising like-minded gifted individuals. In this sort of atmosphere they are welcomed for who they are, not shunned for their eccentricities or held back with the classroom ‘norms’ of achievement. They can be given a chance to truly excel and use their gifted minds which, incidentally, don’t switch off after they return to their normal classroom environments. So, at least they will get their abilities catered for about 20% of their school life, (since many of these withdrawal programmes operate for one day a week), which might stretch out a bit more if they have an understanding teacher. This ‘invisible’ aspect can too easily be thought of as ‘elitism’.

Group them to encourage their ‘selves’
This is connected to the point above. By grouping gifted with other gifted students, there is a chance to see and get to know how they are different from other age group peers, but similar as well. To meet other individuals who experience their same trials at school, have similar emotional intensities as they do, and enjoy the company of others similar to themselves is an enormous asset. They can see their ‘self’ identities are acceptable, and not in any way subservient to anyone else. They can form a good self image, so necessary for their future walk ahead in the world. This ‘invisible’ aspect can change the ‘lonely outsider’ into an ‘accepted’ member of the group.

Teaching the basics to those so advanced
A common dilemma for gifted students, who have cruised through primary schooling without being challenged sufficiently, is that they have never learned how to fail or handle struggles to learn. They can be quite deficient in some of the resiliency skills that others have built through having to work hard to understand, all through their school years. This sets them up for failure when the curriculum becomes more  challenging at secondary school. An astute teacher, who understands this, needs to ensure these students are given challenges that will cause them to stumble, and teach them how to move forward towards success. Asynchrony is another trait of giftedness, and it is common for gifted academics to be less well-developed in some other areas, e.g social-emotional issues. Just because a student talks with the vocabulary of an adult doesn’t mean they will necessarily have the social skills to match. The ‘invisible’ knowledge needs to be made ‘visible’ to these students.

Differentiate to specialise
Students who have work that is tailored to their own needs (differentiated) can help build their areas of expertise and therefore lead to outstanding specialist outputs. In gifted education students are too often held back and asked to patch up their gaps in education (their weaker subjects) rather than spend the time to advance their gifts. This is very frustrating for them. It is a bit like asking the sprint champion to train with the marathon runners so that he is better able to run longer distances. He will likely never want to compete in a long distance run, so why bother? If each distance specialist trained for their own specialty, there is more likelihood of success for them all. If we continue to keep their talents ‘invisible’ they may eventually disappear into mediocrity.

Sheltered to make them more autonomous
Gifted students need a good advocate; someone who can bat for them when there is resistance to meeting their needs. The better we educate gifted students about their different educational needs, and celebrate these differences, the more likely they will be able to advocate for themselves as they join the world of business or academia later. We are not being ‘pushy parents’ or ‘sheltering them from the real world’ as some may suggest. But we are trying to make others aware of the less obvious differences that arise. It is generally so easy to accept difference and accommodate for it when it comes in the form of physical disability, but not when it is an outstanding academic difference. Let us work together to make these ‘invisible’ needs ‘visible’ and prepare our gifted students to impact the next generation!

Life at the Edge

Many gifted students live life right at the edge – pushing the limits in all directions. This is the type of personality that pushes through to achieve great things, but sometimes also experiences great resistance.

If you are the out-going, talkative, questioning, and creatively-productive type, your effervescence will probably alienate you as a demanding individual. If you are the serious thinker, poor writer, and deeply absorbed type, you could possibly be considered disinterested or distant (or even lazy!) Continue reading “Life at the Edge”