Gifted 101 for Teachers New To Gifted Students

So you just got your new class list for the upcoming year and as you are looking through it you notice that there is a Code 80-Gifted and Talented student on it. What do you do?

1. Don’t assume they will do well on their own. There is a very good chance that this student is not your only coded student. Over the past number of years the practice of inclusion, access to more and more testing as well as a changing demographic in our communities has meant that we have more students coded with learning, cognitive, physiological and behaviour challenges. The expectation that we differentiate to meet the needs of all students can feel overwhelming and you might be inclined to think that the gifted student will be fine. They’re gifted right? Please remember that gifted students carry a code because they are a special needs student and educational practices that may work for a majority of your students may not meet their needs. If their needs are not met they may respond through withdrawal or acting out, or never finding the confidence to grow to their potential due to lack of challenge. The impact of this on their lives can be profound.

2. Get to know them and their interests. While all children need to know that they are liked by their teachers, gifted students can be especially sensitive to this. If they are precocious there is a good chance that they’ve experienced a variety of reactions to their unique interests, exuberant responses and abstract thinking and ergo may have learned to protect themselves in a variety of ways: withdrawing, underachieving or acting out. Focusing on developing a strong relationship with them will allow you to see many things starting with the true breadth and depth of their abilities and where they will need to be challenged. If they struggle with forming relationships with other students due to asynchronous development, connecting with you may make it easier to come to school each day and be open to instruction in both the academic and affective curriculum. It is also important to note that their giftedness may not be “visible” in ways that you might expect. Betts and Neihart have created a number of gifted profiles that you can explore here. There are also a number of recommendations for school support with each profile that you might find helpful.

3. Connect with their parents. All coded students are required to have an Individual Program Plan (IPP) and these documents need to be developed in collaboration with parents and students. Parents can provide you with great insight into developing a meaningful IPP. I have often heard teachers telling parents that their gifted child was doing very well in their classroom while at home the parents were struggling with tears and outbursts to get them to come to school. Gifted students can be very good at “holding it all together” at school and then releasing their frustrations in the safety of their homes. There have also been situations where IPP goals have focused on perceived weaknesses which were areas in which the child was of average abilities, in favour of supporting the area of giftedness where the student really required challenge. In my experience parents have been anxious to collaborate on these documents but can also be wary as they know their children have special needs but have not always received a positive response when advocating for their gifted child.

4. Ask for support. The gifted specialist, academic support teachers and instructional coaches all have supports that they can offer. The gifted specialist can help with insight into the unique needs of gifted students, goal setting for IPPs as well as support with parent meetings. If you are wondering if acceleration is a good intervention for a student, it is important to speak with your principal and the specialist prior to implementing an accelerated program. Academic support teachers are sometimes available to assist gifted students with individual projects as well as working one on one with students who may be twice exceptional and require support for a learning disability. Instructional coaches are able to provide broader classroom support through assistance with setting up differentiated instruction and small group instruction designed to individualize programming for all students.

5. Have a great year with all of your students. There is an expression that goes like this: All students have gifts but not all students are gifted. As a classroom teacher I often felt like a treasure hunter as I got to know each of my students and discover the qualities that made them unique and special. I believe unequivocally that all children have gifts that make them unique. However, the term gifted refers to a cognitive difference that identifies a special need, and this cognitive difference means that this student may struggle because their abilities do not match the abilities of their age mates in your classroom. In a curriculum designed to meet the needs of the average student at a particular age, this difference can become a detriment and requires understanding and support. The result of this effort? The discovery of yet another treasure among the many in your classroom.

For more Gifted 101 insights, follow the link below!

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20 responses to “Gifted 101 for Teachers New To Gifted Students

  1. Nice list. I’ll add: Please do not use your gifted student as a peer tutor/junior teacher. Every child has a right to learn and move forward in their education each year. Having the gifted child tutor your slower students does nothing to support the gifted child’s learning needs.

    • Excellent point. While having students teach others can be an excellent strategy it needs to be employed thoughtfully with students as a means of helping them clarify and potentially reframe their own understanding but definitely not as a way to keep your gifted student busy. Thank-you for including this!

  2. Great advice for teachers – such an important message to get across to them. Great article.

  3. Great suggestions. Good to hear them from a teacher. Thank you for caring so much for your students!

  4. I love this list, and would love to learn more about IPPs (wish they were required in all states!). Thank you so much for encouraging teachers to connect with parents! ❤

    • I have worked with some incredible parents over the years, all who have been key in developing a great program for their child. I really appreciate when they contact me to follow up on specific programming as there are times when I have so much going on that the reminder keeps their child on my radar!

  5. Thank you for bringing attention to the misconceptions about gifted children in the classroom and the gifted student’s true needs! So important for all of us to truly understand.

    • Thank-you for the feedback. While I’ve had many diverse conversations with teachers over the years over how to support gifted students, there are some basics that provide a great starting point.

  6. I enjoyed reading it very much as we had various levels of relationship with our teachers so far – from very good to extremely poor. I wish this post was some sort of required reading for all of them 🙂

  7. Great tips for educators. Thank you for sharing these and for shedding light on the needs of this unique population. Well-informed and caring teachers can make such a positive difference in the lives of their gifted students.

  8. “I have often heard teachers telling parents that their gifted child was doing very well in their classroom while at home the parents were struggling with tears and outbursts to get them to come to school. Gifted students can be very good at “holding it all together” at school and then releasing their frustrations in the safety of their homes.” <—This point is so IMPORTANT. It likely had the most effect on our advocacy efforts for our youngest. I had more than one teacher at the last three schools my child attended tell me that he "was just pulling the wool over my eyes." He would hold back tears and the nausea, and tremble and shake the entire ride to school. The instant the first front tire of our car hit the pavement of the driveway at his school, his demeanor completely changed. I'd swear I could touch, see and hear the change, like a theater curtain opening and closing between scenes of a play.

    This is an excellent post. My middle son's girlfriend is beginning her first year of teaching this year and I am forwarding this to her right now!

    Thank you!

    • Thank-you for sharing your story and reinforcing what I have seen many times. While learning to adapt and cope can be very useful skills, we want so much more for our children from their educational experiences.

  9. This is so interesting. While gifted students are far less common in my school compared to other special needs students, I think I could still apply many of the points.

    • I have heard an expression that what is good for gifted students is good for all students and many of these points would support that. Differentiation, whether for a gifted student or an “average” student, rests on getting to know the individual student and forming a relationship with them. These foundational pieces are so important yet sometimes get overlooked when we focus on the code or label. Thank-you for your observations!

  10. The link to the Betts and Neihart profiles resource appears to be broken. I found an alternate resource through an internet search.

  11. Great list! I would also add the peer tutoring bit Alessa mentions. My oldest loved being a tutor, but cried in Kindergarten when the young lady she was tutoring just “didn’t get” the math she was trying to explain. Peer-tutoring can be very frustrating for the tutor, and young kids aren’t prepared for that!

  12. Great tips — Hopefully other teachers can find this. 🙂 It’s a fabulous resource.

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