Educational Practices For Students With Gifts and Talents (page 2)
Evidence-based educational practices are recommended for addressing the instructional and social needs of students with gifts and talents. We first address the thorny issue of early intervention and then focus on strategies for providing academic and social support.
Early intervention for students with gifts and talents is not mandated by law as it is for students with disabilities. Early identifications are usually made when a young child demonstrates very atypical performances that alert or even alarm their parents. Parents often seek interventions when children learn to read without instruction at 3 or 4 years of age, when they are able to solve problems adults do not expect them to perform, or when they have rapidly expanding and astonishing supplies of knowledge. Keep in mind that the absence of these kinds of behaviors doesn't mean a child is not gifted. However, when such evidence is observed, it is a signal to parents and educators that some unusual and rather immediate efforts may be needed. Early intervention for students with gifts and talents, however, is rare. Schools in most states are not required to provide services, and parents are generally unaware of potential need and benefit. Hence, most instances of these services revolve around prodigious achievement. Many districts actively discourage parents from pursuing any service. When suggestions are made, they generally revolve around some form of acceleration (e.g., early admission or grade skipping).
As students progress though school, the pressure for services generally increases for those who have mastered the curriculum or for those who are not adapting to school-related provisions. These students are mismatched with the curriculum (see the "Site Visit" feature). Various other issues may come into consideration, but choices of whether to offer accelerative options or enrichment options generally revolve around the following five factors.
- Adequacy of general education curriculum. In some cases there may be serious questions about whether or not the curriculum is too "dumbed down" (Renzulli, 2002) to be of significant value even if the student could proceed through it rapidly.
- Ability of student to handle the demands of more rapid presentation of content or placement in higher-level classes. Determine if the student can adapt to the rapid pace of instruction and the increasing complexity of the material being presented.
- Separation from age-level peers. If parents or educators think that there is too much risk to social/emotional adjustment, accelerative options such as grade skipping and early entrance are rejected in favor of options that allow the student to remain with age-level peers.
- Skepticism about accelerating the curriculum. If school personnel are opposed to acceleration, they may consciously or unconsciously place road blocks in the way of the intervention.
- Missing important instruction. Not having certain instruction could disadvantage the student during future learning activities (Shore, Cornell, Robinson, & Ward, 1991).
For students with gifts and talents, academic interventions center on six dimensions: content, complexity, abstraction, pacing, documenting achievement, and choice and independence (Maker & Nielson, 1996).
Content Students who are identified as gifted require advanced content instruction either because they have generally mastered content at earlier ages or because they can master content at a faster pace. Perhaps the most easily identifiable characteristic of such students is their vast store of information. It is critical that a teacher offer greater and more varied academic content to such learners.
Complexity The content for students with gifts and talents should be more complex. It should include multiple perspectives, multiple implications, and advanced demands on the learner to see interactions with other areas of study. Compared to students with more typical academic capacities, students with gifts and talents are capable of considering more variables as they contemplate problems. They are also capable of understanding abstractions to a greater degree than other children of the same chronological age. In fact, most gifted children relish this capacity. Unlike children with cognitive deficits, they are capable of intuitive leaps. However, without providing gifted students with access to opportunities to demonstrate their capacities, their teachers will not be able to observe the facility with which they can learn. Limits to opportunities will be repaid with limits in achievement.
Abstraction For many children with exceptionalities, a major challenge for educators is to provide concrete instruction that avoids ambiguities and abstractions. With children who have gifts, differentiation of instruction requires efforts to allow increased abstraction of principles, ideas, and examples. These students ask a great many more questions, such as
What if the events in history did not happen?
Why were the outcomes of the War of 1812 so beneficial to the status quo?
What would have occurred if steam had become the predominant motorcar fuel in the 1920s?
Pacing If the most apparent trait of children identified as gifted is their ability to learn quickly and easily, then the most important implication is that they should be provided a rapid or accelerated pace of instruction. Teachers must be aware of the need to quickly and efficiently assess the current state of learning for their students. They also need to adequately assess this learning and to document it for the next levels of instruction.
Documenting Achievement The teacher has to prove that the student has met achievement criteria. In our age of accountability, this is difficult. In order for a third-grade teacher to assure a fourth-grade teacher (or a fifth- or sixth-grade teacher) that a student is truly competent, he must provide very thorough documentation of curriculum compacting and must participate in consultations during the process. It can sometimes be a challenge to collaborate and to document achievement across grade levels.
Choice and Independence Nearly every theorist in gifted education suggests that student choice is extremely important. Four variables are key in exercising choice (Treffinger & Barton, 1988):
- Content, or the area of interest to be studied
- Process, or the way one should pursue the investigation
- Product, or the way one will show the results of the investigation
- Evaluation, or the way one will view the success of the investigation
Treffinger and Barton (1988) note that students are not generally encouraged to make choices. Teachers generally provide the content to be studied, the media for learning, and the product to be delivered. Students with gifts and talents, however, should be given these choices.
© ______ 2008, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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