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!