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How Can Educators Identify and Meet the Unique Needs of Gifted, Talented and Creative Students?

Identifying gifted, talented and creative students can be challenging for educators. These students may not fit into the traditional model of academic achievement, and their abilities may be overlooked or misunderstood. Teachers must recognize their unique characteristics, such as their high intelligence, exceptional creativity and motivation — but this doesn’t always translate into obvious classroom behavior.

The erroneous idea that gifted children will be straight-A students is one of the most common misconceptions about this group. As Meagan Gillmore writes in her article for Teach Magazine, “Some gifted students demonstrate their giftedness by quickly answering questions and participating well in class. Others withdraw and may seem unengaged with the material. They may be slow to respond.” What makes these students stand out from the rest of the class is how they evaluate and respond to certain situations and prompts. Therefore, being gifted has more to do with learning skills and, often, with specific subjects.

To identify these skills, ongoing observation, assessment and communication with parents and other educators are required. Schools may also use various tools, such as aptitude tests, performance assessments and portfolios.

Courses such as Identification, Nature, and Needs of the Gifted, Talented, and Creative from Arkansas State University’s online Master of Science in Education (MSE) in Gifted, Talented, and Creative program prepare educators to assess and meet these students’ needs. The course provides better insight into this educational population through a study of their characteristics.

The road, however, doesn’t just end in identifying such students — what comes next is the hardest part. “Teaching gifted learners doesn’t excite everyone,” writes Gillmore, “Resources for these students can be sparse. Assessments may take years to schedule, and not all educators agree on their effectiveness. Debates about whether these students are best served in mainstream or separate classrooms — or schools — can be intense.”

Considerations of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Part of these debates relates to the fact that clustering certain gifted students together can be seen as a form of segregation, especially considering that pupils from a diverse background – namely Black, Latinx and Native American – tend to be overlooked when seeking talent. This grouping can lead to gifted education programs that are inequitable and elitist. As a result, kids themselves may not want to be seen as talented.

As author Jeff Camp from ED100 points out, “Being gifted is a form of being different, which can also feel like being weird. Some gifted students underperform in school because they find it tedious. Some, bored, may fidget or disrupt class. Others, not wanting to be noticed, sit quietly in class, do what they’re told and endure the slow pace.” Therefore, teachers must unlearn their biases, broaden their idea of being a student with exceptional capabilities and advocate for those from marginalized backgrounds or other underserved groups like English-language learners. The fact is, though, that giftedness is not only inherent — it must also be developed.

Understanding and Developing Giftedness

It can be challenging to refer kids to gifted education programs, but it’s still possible for teachers in the regular schooling system to make better learning environments for these students. Contrary to popular belief, the first tip is not to increase their workload, but to challenge them, giving them material requiring higher levels of knowledge. Secondly, creating entirely new lessons for these students is unnecessary. Instead, Gillmore and the teachers she interviews suggest that it’s a much better idea to “mak[e] concepts more complex, or [allow] students to move through some material more quickly than their classmates.” If they are avid readers, for example, give them more books on the same topic or by the same author to read.

Lastly, being a gifted student can also be a con, as they are often seen as different from the rest and may have a slower social development than most. Trying to connect them with like-minded creative and smart individuals (possibly skipping them to a higher grade) can help, but reminding them that their talents are a gift and not a curse may make them feel less lonely.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online MSE in Gifted, Talented, and Creative program.

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