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How to Support Gifted Students in Your Classroom

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Technically all students, according to developmental psychologists Abraham Maslow and Howard Gardener, are gifted at something. But within the realm of what happens in the classroom, a teacher can help those superstars shine even brighter by simply adding a few additional strategies to their teaching repertoire.

Super heroes see through walls, lift cars, jump high, and even fly. What amazing things can our students do? Are we helping them to see through the unimportant? Do we assist them in lifting their standards from the minimum to their maximum? Do we teach them how to jump over educational obstacles and hurdles? Do we show them how high their imaginations can fly?

Identify the Gift. Recognize it. Accept it and Utilize it.

In order to do this, we have to be observant enough to notice student potential in what ever form it is demonstrated. Teachers in general are aware that giftedness is not always found in the eager beavers of the class. Identifying the student gift for what it is takes a teacher that is not so concerned about controlling student behavior but rather is more concerned about channeling it.

A simple statement of fact, "Your ideas seem to flow easily from one to the next" will have a powerful effect on a student. Aiding a student to identify and recognize their academic gifts early on gives students the necessary resilience to persist in the difficult task of learning.

Accepting that the student has a gift is somewhat more difficult. In this age of equality, teachers feel that praising a student above others is detrimental to the other students. This could not be further from the truth. Students have a need to exceed and innately understand that each exceeds differently. The detriment of this mentality is that the truly gifted students are shackled and not allowed to explore their gifts, or even worse, accept them.

A student who believes he has a gift will pursue it, regardless of whether he, in fact, has a gift. Gary A. Davis explains in his book, Gifted Children and Gifted Education: A Handbook for Teachers and Parents that teachers must engage gifted students at different levels according to their needs. This is often an ignored spectrum of differentiation.

Best Teacher for the Job?

Some teachers view gifted students as nuisances, while other teachers are intimidated by them. In truth, the effective instruction of gifted students requires a gifted teacher. This does not mean that the teacher has to be smarter, more talented or more able than the students. It means that the teacher must be able to teach in a gifted and intuitive manner.

Such a skilled teacher will help the student utilize his own giftedness and will channel resources and enhanced learning opportunities towards that student that will enlarge the student's natural gifts in ways that the students did not even realize existed. Such a teacher will push gifted students to higher personal standards rather than just giving them more work to do or forcing them to tutor other students who are less capable.

I thank the teachers I have had that were able to do that and gave me the resilience to keep going in school and my education. For example, I had a college teacher that noticed my writing ability and encouraged me to continue. Her simple statements are engraved in my memory and serve as a motivation even today.

How do you identify, recognize, accept and utilize giftedness in your classroom?

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Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator


Joy is what is is all about. I would like to get to know your PLC. It appears that you are all quite attuned to individual student needs. I would caution you about nosing into the lives of students so much that you become social workers instead of teachers.

When a student already knows the materials and has met your goals, you make them go deeper into the topic rather than going on to something new? Isn't that just keeping the student busy? Being an educator does not mean that we construe our lessons and plans to be easy for us to employ. If we have students at different skills and levels, it is unreasonable that we assume that all can study the same subject at different levels for the same amount of time. As teachers we have to come to grips with the idea that not only are students going to be at different levels of understanding, but they are necessarily going to be studying different things. The time for lock-step learning is past. Individual Learning Plans, here we come!

Thanks for the post, and you must keep your Teacher Professional Learning collaboration going and improving so your student learning collaborations can improve also.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Ben Johnson's picture
Ben Johnson
Administrator, author and educator


You are right. All students have gifts, unfortunately the loudest or most obnoxious ones get noticed and either minimized or enhanced. Those students who are quiet get ignored--which is what they want, by the way. By the way, fourth grade is the best grade to teach-- students are uninhibited, curious, intelligent and capable and they have not been affected by peer pressure, or hormones yet. Have a blast with your class.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Stacy Martinez's picture
Stacy Martinez
I'm a third grade teacher from Wyoming.

I like how you point out the fact that ALL students are gifted in at least one thing. This is SO true! I had a student one year (I teach 3rd grade) who was reading at the first grade level. However, he was (and still is!) an amazing artist! He could sketch and draw with the best of them! I tried to remind him of this often--because I know that we, as teachers, should find what motivates students and use that to our advantages! So, even though he was struggling with reading, I would let him hone his artistic talents. I also agree that the tiniest of comments we make to our students can last a lifetime, much like it did for you. Thank you for your insights!

Shanna's picture
2nd grade

This year I have four students who have been identified as gifted. Another student is waiting to be tested. For some of these students, it has been easy for me to find ways to utilize their gifts. Then there is this one student. Each time I think I have found a way for him to excel, he turns his nose up at it. What advice would you give me for him?

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

If all students are gifted, then all students are also disabled. Saying "everyone" nullifies each one. I've been in gifted education for more than 20 years and nothing aggravates me more than that statement. All people have personal strengths and weaknesses but they only occasionally rise to the level of giftedness or having a disability. I celebrate every child's strengths, but a truly gifted child is as much an anomaly as a truly disabled child. It is insulting to both to pretend that those terms apply to everyone.

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

Two of my favorite quotes:

You don't have the moral right to hold one child back to make another child feel better - Stephanie Tolan

Some degree of 'labeling' is essential of gifted children are to grow up understanding how and why they experience the world differently from others - Draper kauffman

Cindy Dwyer's picture
Cindy Dwyer
Elementary Enrichment Facilitator & Gifted Education Specialist

Although all people have their own strengths & weaknesses, not everyone is gifted. Gifted, when used in education is defined as having an IQ of 130+ and an academic performance several grade levels above age level. Saying a child has a "gift" is not the same as saying the child is "gifted". Only a very small percentage of children are gifted, and they have special needs just as much as learning disabled children do.

Yes, all students would benefit from an Individual Learning Plans (mentioned in one of the comments you wrote to someone else) customized to meet their individual needs. Identifying, recognizing, accepting & utilizing student strengths are good steps in helping teachers make a connection with a student, inspire them to do better, and encourage their learning. But, that does not even scratch the surface of what "gifted education" is all about.

George Peternel's picture
George Peternel
Retired Principal

Neither Gardner nor Maslow consider all students "gifted." Technically speaking, either would view such an interpretation of his theories as a misinterpretation.

Cindy Johanson's picture
Cindy Johanson
Executive Director, Edutopia

Hi Ben, I loved this particular blog post and the conversation it has generated. The comment about not all students being gifted reminded me of the time I was at a parents meeting for "gifted and talented" students. My son who was in 4th grade had been designated to participate in CA's GATE program. The facilitator asked the parents to describe a particular moment when their child had done something extraordinary. My immediate thought was about my older daughter who was not in G&T - as a matter of fact she was receiving special ed support. She was the one who at age five created a 3D tiger -- figuring out on her own how to create a 3D drawing that would work with the special glasses we had brought home from the movies. I was amazed by her creativity and ingenuity -- and how she was gifted and talented. Over the years, it has been fascinating to observe the teachers who know how to embrace these unique skills and motivate my children to learn.

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

George is absolutely correct. I was going to point out that when the opening sentence of an article is so fatally flawed, it is difficult to give credence to what follows.

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