Gifted Readers and Reading Instruction

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Jul 26, 2007

Questions about gifted readers and how best to teach them have been posed since the inception of gifted education. Do gifted readers require distinctive educational programs?
In the opinion of Margaret McIntosh (1982), an educator who reviewed the history of gifted education in the United States, the gifted reader, often overlooked in traditional reading programs, is in need of a specific kind of reading instruction. McIntosh reports that able readers have interests in reading that distinguish them from other readers--their preferences include science, history, biography, travel, poetry, and informational texts like atlases and encyclopedias. Current research reported in "USA Today" (30 March 1995) indicates that gifted elementary school children who participate in special programs do better academically than their gifted peers not in any program. This is one of the reasons that gifted readers should have a differentiated reading program. This Digest will discuss some of the aspects of differentiated reading instruction for the gifted.

In reviewing the professional literature on reading instruction for gifted readers, several salient points about gifted readers emerge. They are that (1) gifted readers usually master basic reading skills by the time they come to school and are ready for complex concepts at an early age; (2) gifted readers tend to have an internal locus of control--they believe that achievement is the result of their own ability and behavior; (3) gifted readers need instruction in reading that is different from a regular classroom program; (4) instruction for very able readers should focus on developing higher cognitive level comprehension skills; (5) teaching reading to gifted readers requires more than a skills-oriented approach; (6) books for gifted readers should be selected on the basis of quality language--books that use varied and complex language structures are a primary source of cognitive growth; (7) reading programs for gifted readers should foster a desire to read; and (8) a reading program for gifted readers should include a variety of reading materials and strategies which are based on the present needs and demands of the reader, not on the chronological age or grade level.

Jackson (1988) concluded that precocious reading ability is a complex skill, and that levels of specific subskills vary widely among individuals. She urges parents to encourage their gifted readers to pursue natural and enjoyable reading activities. When the gifted reader enters school, instruction must go beyond the traditional basal program, and the focus of reading programs for gifted readers should be on critical and creative thinking.

Critical reading goes beyond the level of comprehension--it requires the reader to evaluate material and ascertain its worthiness, reasonableness, and usefulness. Through critical engagement with text, gifted readers are encouraged to view reading as a thinking process, as well as a language process.
Creative reading is the epitome of higher level reading. Going beyond critical reading, creative reading invites an imaginative interaction with print. New ideas are originated, examined, and applied. Teachers of gifted readers can help readers interact with texts in ways which will promote critical and creative reading. Encouraging wide reading confirms for the gifted reader that reading is for learning and enjoyment.

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