George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Close up of girl at white board doing a math problem

Gifted students who are served in general education classrooms frequently finish their work sooner than other students. This can happen in one subject area, such as mathematics, or in all subject areas. Due to their rapidity of thought (VanTassel-Baska & Brown, 2007), they typically finish assignments before other children. Then they may act out because they are bored. What is really going on is a mismatch between the academic needs of the student and the pace and depth of the curricula and instructional program.

Following are suggestions for how to best serve these students -- and what not to do.

Don't. . .

1. Use these students, whether formally identified as gifted or not, as teacher assistants.

Using gifted students as tutors or teacher assistants for other students in the classroom is inappropriate and unethical, and it does not provide for their social-emotional or academic needs. When an appropriately differentiated education is not provided, gifted learners do not thrive in school, their potential is diminished, and they may even suffer from cognitive and affective harm.

2. Expect the gifted student to be well behaved.

Just because a student is smart does not mean that he or she is well behaved. Frequently, if there is a mismatch between classroom instruction and a gifted student's intellectual needs, that child may "act out" or misbehave. It's not because he or she is looking for attention, but because this student may be bored. Gifted students are developmentally asynchronous, meaning that their cognitive and emotional development are out of sync.

3. Give them more work because they finish early.

You are sending the implicit message, "Hey, you're smart, here are another 20 math problems," while everyone else is still working on the original set of 10. By giving gifted students more of the same type of work, you are penalizing them for being bright. If the child is intuitive, he or she will actually slow down and never finish early any more because that means getting more work. You want them to produce quality, not quantity.

4. Isolate them to work independently without oversight.

While independent research projects based on student interest may provide depth in an area, teachers assume that a gifted student is self-regulated and can work independently on a project without any guidance, oversight, or accountability. Sending them unsupervised to the computer lab, library, or back of the room to work independently may not produce the desired result.

5. Expect a gifted child to be gifted in every subject area.

Emerging research and new definitions of gifted speak to gifted students having an area or domain of high ability that generally is not across all areas. For example, even though a student is a gifted reader (able to read adult novels), he might not be a good writer -- reading and writing are different skills sets. Just because a student is highly precocious in math does not mean that she will be just as high in science.

Do. . .

1. Figure out in what area(s) students are gifted.

You can acquire this information through formal and informal assessments that will help you provide extension, enrichment, acceleration, and complexity in that student's specific area of strength. This may mean a different lesson plan or finding additional resources related to an area of study. You could collaborate with the technology specialist, explore related arts, or work with other teachers to find appropriate extensions. Often this can mean linking the assignment to the student's area of interest or giving him authentic problems.

2. Ensure that task demands and assessments are content rich.

Many teachers think that serving the gifted means providing them with thinking skills or creative activities in isolation. These are fine as long as they are linked to high-level content. Everyone thinks critically about something, and he or she can be creative as long as the work is built upon a solid content foundation.

3. Find other gifted students and create opportunities for them to work together.

Gifted students need intellectual peers to develop optimally. This can be achieved in a variety of ways, through ability grouping during school or supplemental programs, such as talent search programs like Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth, or Saturday or summer enrichment programs. These supplemental programs are imperative to the health and well-being each learner. Gifted students need to spend time with other gifted students.

4. Learn about this special diverse population of learners.

Take classes, get certified or licensed in gifted education, attend conferences, and become a life-long learner seeking out others who have a vested interest in gifted learners. You need to network with other people, who can converse with and support you so that you won't feel isolated in your attempts at meeting gifted students' needs in the classroom or at the school level. There are national and state gifted advocacy associations as well as partners available through university networks.

5. Implement research-based curriculum units.

These units, which have been found to be effective with gifted students while complementing state standards, can augment your curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and typically have efficacious results with different populations of gifted students. Seek out curriculum units that have been funded through the Javits program, the National Science Foundation, and other sources, because student learning results have to be documented. Moreover, there are additional methods and models that have been effective for use with gifted learners. Using these units of study will save you time that you might otherwise spend seeking resources, while ensuring that what you are using in the classroom is supported by research.

Gifted students need teacher advocates that care about them, understand them, and can provide differentiation in the classroom, as well as options and opportunities outside of the classroom that will help them achieve at levels commensurate with their abilities. By implementing these suggestions, you'll do more than meet their needs. You'll be setting them on a trajectory toward developing their talents.

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Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA's picture
Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA
Advocate, Lawyer, Teacher and Founder of Beyond Tutoring

Hi Ralph,

Great question. I am sure the blogger will respond but in the meantime I wanted to offer my perspective as to gifted students in your classroom and expound on points in the article. I would, as a new teacher, meet with your gifted student and give them choice in how to tailor content/lessons that you are already creating. Try showing them a unit of study and talk to them about how to make it more engaging for them.


Ralph Cena's picture

Thank you so much, Katie!

Do you think creating an after school program for gifted students would be a good resource as well?

Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA's picture
Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA
Advocate, Lawyer, Teacher and Founder of Beyond Tutoring

I think if you have the resources, students and interest that could be an amazing idea. It could also be a space for collaboration and honing your own teaching material. I hope if you do that you will be able to document it and write about it. Would love to see that develop!

If you need a space to think out your idea or want to document your idea, make sure you add a post here at edutopia so I can follow it!

Dr. Elissa F. Brown's picture
Dr. Elissa F. Brown
Director, Hunter College Gifted Education Center

Thanks for your question. And Katie, thanks for your response to Ralph. First, let's make a distinction between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.
If you want gifted students to increase intrinsic motivation-link whatever your activity is to student interest (passion) and use advanced content. They thrive on challenge, depth, complexity. Extrinsic motivation deals with outcomes (eg grades, competition, etc). Del Siegle from Univ. of Conn has an "achievement orientation" framework where students have to a) value the task, b) think they have the ability to DO the task, c) have the environment supports (family, school) and d) self-regulation to complete it. Students that are intrinsically motivated to achieve do those 4 things. You have to figure out which one your student isn't doing, then support it, which will then in turn increase their motivation.

Eugenia Papaioannou's picture
Eugenia Papaioannou
Head of Studies and EFL teacher at EDUC@TIONAL DYNAMICS Language Centre, author of ''Optimise your Teaching Competences - New Teaching Methodologies and CLIL Applications'', co-author of Culture Equity Model, ALMA-DC, 510658-LLP-1-2010-1-GR-GRUNDTVIG-GMP

Gifted students that is 'high-achievers' are hard to constantly motivate in a mixed-ability class especially when there is a quite wide gap. Pairing the gifted students with other gifted students is a fine idea, but what can a teacher do for the 'low-achievers' in the same class? Leave them behind? Pair them up with other non-achievers? Design lessons that will bridge the gap between the gifted and the non-gifted without sacrificing either of the TGs?

I would appreciate it if the EDUTOPIA community started a serious dialogue about this VERY CHALLENGING issue.

GiftedMarksMom's picture

I am so tempted to send my son teacher this article. As a single mom of 3 school aged kids and one of them being HIGHLY Gifted, it has been challenging trying to find a school that is not a private school which caters to Gifted Children or provides a functional and satisfying Gifted program. I had to relocate to Humble, Texas last year and my 3rd grade son journey at his new school has been horrifying. He was tested for gifted and passed for Math although his 2nd grade year at his formal school consisted of ALL gifted classes and subjects. The gifted program at his school isn't a good one at all. He only sees the gifted teacher twice a week for 30 minutes or an hour then its back to his regular class where he complains that the things which are being taught was taught to him in the 2nd grade. His teacher is constantly sending me emails about his behavior and how he is "losing friends" because of his correcting them when they are wrong. (Losing friends in the 3rd grade *sighs*) He completes his work in a matter of seconds basically then begins to disrupt the class. I have contacted the director of the Gifted program in his school district and I have yet to receive a call back from her. I am so frustrated that he isn't placed among peers who are also gifted and his skills aren't being challenged. Any advice?? Anyone?? Pleeaase Help!

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

GiftenMarksMom, I suggest you begin with a teacher conference to discuss the situation. I've had some similar experiences with my own children. Their gifted education program was simply being sent to the back table with the next grade's text book to learn the next level of math all on their own in a self directed way. It was quite frustrating that their teacher couldn't figure out a way to differentiate the math lessons to challenge them. So I understand where you are coming from and I believe both on a basis of academics and behavior you should request a teacher conference to discuss it further. Then you can decide based on your conference how to proceed from there. Good luck and keep us updated.

Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA's picture
Katie Schellenberg, JD, MA
Advocate, Lawyer, Teacher and Founder of Beyond Tutoring

Absolutely great idea, John! I echo all of his suggestions.

Let us know how the conference goes and we can help you even more (although we hope it isn't required). Remember you can always ask for an IEP meeting if your student is twice exceptional (you didn't mention that he is, just throwing that out there). I would also seek some enrichment activities for you son for when he finishes early. Maybe an extension or project of the unit of study? Keep us posted and we are here for you!


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