Exceptional students require specialized instruction to realize their full potential. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, between 6 and 10% of K–12 students in the U.S. are categorized as academically gifted.
But so-called gifted and talented students may not be easily identified in a classroom. While some may be the straight-A, hand-always-raised pupils that “gifted and talented” brings to mind, some might also be the kids who daydream in class, don’t hand in their worksheets on time or lose interest in lessons due to boredom. It is important to note that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has found minorities are significantly underrepresented in gifted programs, as well.
Often, gifted, talented and creative students do benefit from specialized instruction. When they don’t feel challenged by schoolwork, some may “check out.” Others will breeze through grade-level coursework until college, then struggle with higher education because they have not developed rigorous studying and research habits. However, gifted, talented and creative students can achieve at high levels and learn to their full potential with the right instruction.
The Master of Science in Education (MSE) in Gifted, Talented, and Creative (GTC) online program at Arkansas State University equips educators to identify giftedness as well as develop instructional models for effective teaching of these exceptional students.
A Tailored Teaching Model
The type of instruction that benefits gifted, talented and creative students also benefits all students: rich learning experiences tailored to their lives, interests and experiences.
Grade-level lessons for general education are unlikely to offer this stimulation and challenge to advanced students. Therefore, educators should offer them an accelerated pace of learning or the opportunity to expand on concepts beyond the grade-level curriculum. Simply speeding lessons up is not always sufficient; in fact, educators may slow down the curriculum for gifted and talented learners to allow them to explore concepts in greater depth.
Educators for these students will also want to evaluate not just their curriculum but also their teaching style. Gifted, talented and creative students can especially benefit from a “guide on the side” approach more than a “sage on the stage” approach. The latter refers to a teaching method that encourages students’ interaction with material and with each other in their learning.
Build in Flexibility and Community
Not all gifted, talented and creative students excel in the same areas. Some don’t excel at all subjects, either; one student may have outstanding mathematics and music skills but struggle with language or vice versa.
Krissy Venosdale, an innovation coordinator at The Kinkaid School in Houston, urges against separating gifted and talented students from general education students in the classroom. Instead, she suggests creating flexible groupings so some students can practice advanced lessons where appropriate while receiving general instruction in subjects where they are learning at a mainstream level.
This is also important for students’ emotional and social development. While gifted and talented students perform at an advanced academic level, their social or behavioral maturity may still need development. In fact, the National Association for Gifted Children notes these students may be at greater risk for specific kinds of social-emotional difficulties — like anxiety, stress, perfectionism and identity issues — if their needs are not met. Educators must address gifted and talented students’ socio-emotional needs and allow them to develop peer relationships by not isolating them from other students.
Let Them Take the Reins
Gifted, talented and creative students often thrive when they can self-direct learning or explore a topic through a lens of personal interest. These students especially benefit from the opportunity to dig deeper into a lesson, to find out the “why” or “how” behind something or find personal connections to projects.
Self-directed learning reduces boredom with concepts and creates connections between classwork and real life in a way that feels tangible and exciting to gifted students. Teachers could do this using technology or interdisciplinary projects, or a higher-level problem-solving task. However, that type of instructional approach can benefit all students, as long as self-directed learning is within their grade and ability levels.
If you are interested in refining your educator skills to best support gifted, talented and creative students, an advanced education degree in the field might be the perfect next step.