Uppervention: Meeting the Needs of Gifted and Talented Students
I've noticed in education the push to provide or sometimes require intervention programs for students who struggle in the classroom. These students struggling in math or language arts can sometimes become the focal point of school improvement teams and school-based content specialists. I realize that the joint effort of staff members to help these students has to do with standardized test scores -- but what about our gifted learners?
Instead of an intervention, they need an "uppervention." They need to be challenged in new ways and given the opportunity to explore their innate gifts. This requires not only student and parent involvement, but also a dynamic teacher willing to support his or her gifted and talented learners.
Recognize Their Talents
Each and every one of our students is unique. As classroom teachers, sometimes we can become distracted with our daily lessons and not fully recognize all the talents of the individuals we teach. I can remember an activity where I asked my seventh grade students to draw a medieval cathedral and label the important architectural features. Most of their projects turned out great, but one student's stood out from the rest. Her drawing looked like it belonged on the drafting table of an architect. I recognized her artistic talents and tried to modify future activities in order to challenge her natural skills.
Whether the student is talented in mathematics, music, drawing or reading, as educators we need to create opportunities for them to showcase their abilities. Differentiating curriculum to meet the needs of our talented students is critical for developing a stimulating learning environment. For example, if a student is gifted in math but you teach art, try to design an activity using the Golden Ratio or creating fractal art. Assembling small groups of students that are interested in the same topic is another great strategy to recruit interest and encourage collaboration. Look at your curriculum, and present them with a few different options to deepen their understanding of topics covered within your content.
Develop Deeper, Not Wider
Don't be the bearer of busywork! Just because a student is gifted in your content doesn't mean that you should swamp him or her with "extra" work. Engage your gifted students by allowing them to select a topic that they would like to learn more about. Design activities or projects that develop higher-level thinking around their selected topic. If these students still have an interest in the same topic after they have completed one project, continue to deepen their understanding before moving on to something else that sparks their curiosity. Don't forget to utilize the other staff members in your building. Media and content area specialists are an excellent resource when trying to develop independent or collaborative projects for your gifted and talented learners.
Sometimes gifted and talented students do not fully realize their skills until someone challenges them. As teachers, we ask hundreds of questions each day in our classrooms -- but are we asking the right questions? Are we encouraging our students to think critically and explore their interests? Have open debates in class that cover both contemporary and content area topics. Try to make connections between real-world events and what is going on in your class. This will encourage students to think critically about the world around them.
Be Realistic and Flexible
Not all of your gifted and talented students will get straight A's or be their class president. Some of my most gifted and talented students are those who come from complex home environments and have to deal with difficult emotional situations at a young age. These issues can lead to anger, frustration, isolation or depression. Remember that even though your student may be gifted academically, he or she is still developing emotionally and socially. Support your gifted and talented students by staying involved beyond just the content. You may need to scale back a project or take a break from it altogether for a period of time. Gifted students can sometimes become hyper-focused on their independent projects and develop unneeded pressure on themselves. Create learning opportunities that are realistic, measurable and within a set time frame.
Also, don't be afraid to use these strategies with all of your students. I've learned that what benefits a gifted and talented student can benefit every student in my class.