Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 4/4.8.2

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Withering Houseplants and Other Forgotten Verdure

By: Votecoffee

Learning Targets

  • The reader should be able to describe strategies used to provide for the needs of gifted students
  • The reader should be able to identify indicators of gifted students
  • The reader should be able to name three obstacles that can interfere with accommodating gifted students

Introduction[edit | edit source]

It's easy to neglect the gifted student. In a classroom of students, battling against learning disorders, behavioral disorders, and even personality disorders, it's easy to forget the gifted one. He meets his benchmarks, turns in all his work, entertains himself when he's finished his work without disturbing the others. And then there are those others. A raging unending war. All your energy and emotions gone, and almost no difference whatsoever. Johnny knows not to throw his green crayon at Susy again at least. Only 63 colors to go. It's easy to forget the gifted student. And yet, although he's not crying out desperately for attention, you notice him over the course of a month, maybe just in the back of your mind. He reminds you of something. The way he slouches lower in his chair each day, looking a little more lifeless as the time passes. Aha! The house plants you used to have! That's it! The ones that you bought the week before you began teaching and haven't had time to water. Well, no matter, you'll water them in about a month or two, or whenever. You'll get around to it.

Assuming that gifted students will care for themselves can be a big mistake. The temptation as a teacher is to put your efforts where they are most obviously needed. But gifted students, though quiet and unobtrusive, have needs as well. By failing to understand and meet these needs, teachers not only rob the gifted student of fair treatment, but the class and themselves of the potential motivation and energy that incorporating that child could bring. But is it fair that he receives special attention when he's doing so well? How is he different from his peers? What needs does he have that one can reasonably accommodate? Hopefully, by looking deeper into these questions, a foundation can be laid for the uniqueness and importance of the gifted child within today's classroom.

Understanding Giftedness[edit | edit source]

The first step in discussing the needs of gifted children is providing a basis for giftedness. To do this, one must understand that there is a limited understanding of what is considered gifted, that there is a foundation for enabling giftedness to stand out, and there are specific limits for those concepts.

Giftedness is a term that lends itself to broad personal interpretation. And within this ambiguity, many are temped to call everyone gifted, thereby enabling those who posses extraordinary potential to be swept under the rug of uniformity. The problem arises because giftedness is not a black and white issue. It is easy to recognize that many brilliant and talented individuals fail to meet their capacity to achieve. Are they still gifted? What about the people who have little natural ability, but because of their efforts and perseverance become far more than anyone could have imagined? What about the person who excels far above his peers in art, but fails to do so in math or English? Against what standard is a person measured, and how should they be measured? No test could possibly be so accurate as to identify giftedness with no room for doubt. But simply because there is no perfect way to establish giftedness does not mean that we should declare all people equally capable. The purpose of establishing a limited understanding of giftedness is to enable us to study and accommodate the needs of individuals within that group.

A compromise is reached within these difficulties where giftedness is determined by how an individual does as compared to his peers in individual areas, either in testing or by the observations of those above them. By identifying giftedness in this way, it provides some objectivity, taking into account both effort and potential, and allowing for excellence both broadly and narrowly. The observations of those above them helps to catch individuals that posses talent but have not or are not able to apply it in common assessments.

After identifying these individuals, it often becomes questionable as to whether they should receive accommodations within their education beyond that of any other child. But just as a child who possesses certain disabilities needs special accommodations to reach his full potential as a member of society, gifted children also need to be enabled so that they can fulfill their part within the community. By doing this, society does not have to hold back the peers of the gifted, but rather has the opportunity to provide an environment where excellence is held high and all are encouraged to push themselves to the limit of what they can become.

However, conceding that some are gifted and should be accommodated, there are some important points to make so that these ideas are not abused. Gifted students should not be accommodated to an extent that their benefits come at the expense of the students as a whole. Providing for the needs of gifted students is not based on the idea that they are more important than other students, but rather that they share equal importance. And though there is a limited group specifically identified as gifted, it does not mean that other students should be clumped into a group lacking the ability to excel. The instructor should recognize what strategies would benefit each student, gifted or not, and apply them in such a way to help them reach their maximum potential. To reemphasize this important point, this article is written in such a way as to put a magnifying glass upon the gifted child. This should not be taken to mean that that child is a superior human being or more important than his peers, but simply that that child has special needs that differ from his peers. This article is written so that these needs may be understood and accommodated.

Recognizing Gifted Individuals[edit | edit source]

Identifiers of young gifted and talented children
  • Exceptional learner (acquisition and retention of knowledge
    • Exceptional memory
    • Learns quickly and easily
    • Advanced understanding/meaning of area
  • Exceptional user of knowledge (application and comprehension of knowledge)
    • Exceptional use of knowledge
    • Advanced use of symbol systems: expressive and complex
    • Demands a reason for unexplained events
    • Reasons well in problem solving: draws from previous knowledge and transfers it to other areas
  • Exceptional generator of knowledge (individual creative attributes)
    • Highly creative behavior in areas of interest of talent
    • Does not conform to typical ways of thinking, perceiving
    • Enjoys self-expression of ideas, feelings, or beliefs
    • Keen sense of humor that reflects advanced, unusual comprehension of relationships and meaning
    • Highly developed curiosity about causes, the future, and the unknown
  • Exceptional motivation (individual motivation attributes)
    • Perfectionism: Striving to achieve high standards, especially in areas of talent and interest
    • Shows initiative; self-directed
    • High level of inquiry and reflection
    • Long attention span, when motivated
    • Leadership: desire and ability to lead
    • Intense desire to know

Source: From Shaklee et al. (1989). Early assessment for educational potential and/or economically disadvantaged students. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education

Some cases of giftedness will be obvious. The student will do well on tests, show good behavior in class, and excel when given the chance. But other gifted students won't be identified by most people. They possess potential, but for a variety of reasons have turned it towards being disruptive or have given up trying within the classroom setting. The first type of student does not need to be examined as closely for one to see that he's gifted. But the second type takes an observant and unbiased eye. Why recognize and help the second type of student? Shouldn't his behavior be worked on first? When trying to address the behavior issue without addressing one of the root causes of the behavior, the instructor will find the passion and determination of a gifted student fighting against him. But if instead the instructor chooses to help that student focus his energies towards fulfilling his potential, he will find less resistance in accomplishing his other goal with regard to behavior. Therefore, learning to identify gifted children is important not only for the sake of the student, but also for the teacher and the classroom as a whole (Heward, 2003).

Identification and Assessment of Giftedness[edit | edit source]

Depending of the state and institution educators work within, there will probably be a process set up for identifying gifted individuals. It is important to be familiar with this system, but educators can also benefit by going beyond it and realizing that not all giftedness will be recognized by a mainstreamed system. These processes often include group and individualized tests, achievement tests, a portfolio containing the student's work, nominations by various individuals, and a record of extracurricular and leisure activities. Once there is a reasonable amount of evidence that the student could be gifted, a case study may be done, which could include special testing, interview sessions, and observations among other things. If a student is deemed gifted, an IEP is developed to accommodate his special needs (Heward, 2003).

Seeing that it is an important task, how can one learn to identify the more difficult of these students? One of the first steps is to try and examine the child without bias. Apart from negative behavior, does he exhibit signs of above normal intelligence? When he is confronted with a task that is interesting to him, does he perform in a gifted capacity? Does his speech often exhibit original thought or creative use of vocabulary? These are just a few questions to ask oneself. But by creating questions and asking them objectively, one can help account for biases and identify these students. The next step is to identify the student's areas of strength and weaknesses. Sometimes students do poorly in a subject area that holds them back from excelling in the ones they are capable in. A student could do poorly in English and not be able to read the tests well, thereby failing all his other subjects. Then, identify any social or cultural issues that may be causing the student to underachieve. Once there is an understanding of the conditions surrounding a student, an instructor can begin taking steps to help correct negative influences so as to put the child back on to the path of fulfilling his potential (Heward, 2003).

The Special Needs of Gifted Children[edit | edit source]

Strategies at the Instructor Level[edit | edit source]

It is common for gifted students to be taken for granted. Because they excel, they are seen as less needing of special efforts to motivate them to do more. As a result, gifted students are forced to accept what is left over after other students have had their fill. This problem has only been accentuated by the No Child Left Behind program. The neglect of the needs of gifted children flows mostly out of the misconception that by helping them the teacher would be required to take time from the instruction of other students. In reality, if done well, time spent on specialized instruction for the gifted will enhance the classroom as a whole and in some cases even help to reduce the overall load on the teacher. Experiencing a successful and energetic class excited about learning also has a profound effect upon the instructor's moral. The short and long term benefits of providing for the need of gifted children, though often overlooked, far outweighs the initial effort required by educators. Compiled below are strategies and concepts that other educators have found helpful in changing the shape of their classrooms.

Instructional Strategies[edit | edit source]

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in Gifted Students

Gifted students can be broken into 2 main groups, those that are mostly intrinsically motivated and those that are extrinsically motivated. Intrinsically motivated gifted students are driven by an internal motivation and enjoy learning for the personal satisfaction that it brings. They often exhibit independence, non-competitiveness, and prefer self-directed learning (Phillips et al., 2006). Extrinsically motivated gifted students are motivated by external motivations and learn because they will be rewarded or punished. They often exhibit competitiveness, dependence upon other students, and prefer teacher directed learning. It is important to recognize these traits and take them into account when deciding how best to motivate gifted students. (Phillips et al., 2006)

Goal Oriented Learning

Gifted students need a sense that their learning has purpose . Introducing course materials within a framework of its importance to future concepts and real-life applications gives significance to the material (Cleaver, 2008). And on an individual basis, by counseling gifted students so that they are thinking about the future, such as career and life goals, can give them a sense of working toward a definite end product. In fact, because many gifted students possess strengths in almost every area, a trait called multipotentiality, they are often overwhelmed by an array of future career choice (Achter et al., 1996). As a result, they often fail to develop their long-term goals into a concrete plan. With a little guidance, they can be helped along in their career/decision making process (Achter et al., 1996). And this can have results in their overall motivation to strive in learning.

Choosing to Learn

Although students often need to complete a standard set of coursework for school assessment purposes, students can still be given a sense of self-choice in deciding what work they will do. This sense of choice and independence can provide motivation for regular and gifted students alike (Cleaver, 2008). It is important to note, however, that there do need to be boundaries and suggestions to keep students from becoming overwhelmed by too much freedom. But by giving students choice, it allows them to set more challenging goals for themselves and to choose topics that interest them (Cleaver, 2008).

Above and Beyond

Gifted students learn quickly and easily (Thomas, 1976). If the material moves slow and fails to engage their attention, they will likely become bored and unmotivated (Hoekman et al., 1998). One result is that they tend to ignore class instruction they already think they know. By interjecting questions that require students to analyze and give critical thinking responses to the material, it is possible to keep the attention of those who would otherwise end up bored and distracted (Phillips et al., 2006). Students can be encouraged to dig deeper into topics, a concept known as enrichment, so that they can remain engaged with the material being taught while still satisfying their hunger for learning (Heward, 2003). Since they tend to complete work quickly, many opportunities occur where you can give them assignments that accomplish this goal (Cleaver, 2008). These extensions from the curriculum are not only beneficial for keeping them engaged, but if handled well, can lead to valuable contributions to class discussions and the learning experience of others.

Class Leaders

When bored, gifted students can hinder the learning process. But if properly utilized, they can be a valuable asset. Gifted students often have a strong desire to help their peers (Phillips et al., 2006). If paired properly, they can provide tutoring to other students that provide a basis for friendships, helping their emotional/social needs as well as taking the burden off of the teacher. They are also able to enhance and encourage class discussions, provide motivation for other students, and bring enthusiasm to subject matter. Don't be afraid to find ways to bring gifted students into your team, so to speak. But be cautious not to lift them above their peers in a way that produces jealousy (Phillips et al., 2006).

Seeing What Works A large portion of learning to work with gifted students is learning what works best with different individuals and the classroom as a whole. I think giving a pretest and benchmark tests that have no bearing on grades is a safe way for the students and the teacher to see not only that students understand the course material, but also to see on an individual level if students are reaching their maximum potential. Getting feedback is key to learning how to be successful in dealing with the specialized needs of students (Heward, 2003).

Creating the Right Environment[edit | edit source]

Creating a classroom environment conductive to learning will greatly enhance any strategies employed. It is important that learning, and even more so excelling, is encouraged and rewarded (Cleaver, 2008). But it is important that this encouragement is not done on a comparative basis that might cause resentment. Even competition can be done is such a way as to encourage those needed extrinsic motivation without making the losers feel like they are less than the winners. All efforts, not merely success, should be encouraged often and genuinely. Every student has unique abilities that can be encouraged, even if they are not academically assessed. The classroom atmosphere should be one that not only allows students to go beyond the course material required, but one that encourages and inspires it as a goal for all students (Cleaver, 2008). This is not unique to gifted students, but is worth mentioning considering its implications. If doing above average in a classroom will cost a student emotionally and socially, most will at least think twice before putting themselves at risk in these areas (Phillips et al., 2006).

Social/Emotional Considerations[edit | edit source]

Kindergarten or Special Education teacher - US Census Bureau.jpg

Because of their higher abilities, gifted students often experience greater stress and anxiety in certain areas than their peers do. Teachers and parents can overwhelm gifted students with high expectations for success (Phillips et al., 2006). This can result in a fear of failure, causing these students to shield themselves from taking intellectual risks. The fear of isolation and bullying by their peers can also have a negative effect on their motivation, as well as their social/emotional well being. Sometimes they develop defense mechanisms against this type of attack that encourages even more later. In some cases they fit into a group where they have a sense of belonging, but their giftedness is unpopular so they dumb themselves down and take on characteristics that are more socially acceptable. In all these cases, the instructor must learn to recognize signs of anxiety and intervene. This may involve changing how expectations are being presented to the student, counseling, modifying the classroom environment, or talking with parents. But if left unaddressed, these issues could blossom into long term behavioral patterns (Phillips et al., 2006).

Strategies at the Administrative Level[edit | edit source]

After discussing in length what strategies the instructor is able to employ, it is important to consider what is possible at the administrative level. There are a variety of programming options, that range from leaving the child in the classroom but providing extra assistance to sending them to completely separate schools.

Consultant Teacher Program

This option leaves the gifted students in with the regular students but provides a special consultant teacher to help the normal teacher in providing differentiated instruction. The benefit of this type of program is that it helps the student to develop varied social interactions. The drawback is that the student often does not receive as much specialized instruction as they need (Gallagher, 1985).

Resource Room/Pullout Program

Gifted students are regularly pulled out of the classroom and sent to a place where they are taught by specially trained teachers. The benefit of this program is that it provides a good amount of specialized instruction for the student. The drawback is that it makes the student stand out among his peers in a way that can promote jealousy (Gallagher, 1985).

Community Mentor Program

This program involves connecting the students with selected members of the community for an extended period to focus on a special topic of interest to the student. The benefits of this program are that it can be highly individualized and leaves the student ith his peers. The drawbacks are that it does little to change the student's situation within the classroom setting (Gallagher, 1985).

Independent Study Program

Students are allowed to pursue independent study projects supervised by qualified adults. The benefits are that this helps develop responsibility and does not require the student to be removed from his peers. The downsides are that not all students benefit from this type of program and that it can make the student stand out among his peers if not handled well (Gallagher, 1985).

Special Class

In this option gifted students are grouped into a classroom taught by a specially trained teacher. The benefit is that specialized instruction is provided to the degree that the student needs. The downside is that the students do not receive as broad of a variety of social interactions as they could otherwise (Gallagher, 1985).

Special School

Schools are set up that consist of only the gifted in this option. The benefit is that this environment is highly capable of providing for the intellectual needs of the student. The drawbacks are that students do not receive as varied social interactions as they could as well as providing more opportunities for intellectual failure because of the higher level of competition among peers (Gallagher, 1985).

Obstacles to Enabling Gifted Children[edit | edit source]

The Dangers of Standardization[edit | edit source]

Standardization has become a major issue in education. With the No Child Left Behind program underway, teachers find themselves under pressure to get all students to meet benchmark test scores (Apple, 2007). The problem is not the idea of the program in and of itself, but that by putting such concentration upon minimum scores, gifted students, who are well above that line, are the first to be ignored. But apart from the No Child Left Behind program, there are other issues related to standardization. Many schools still offer no alternatives to grade specific curriculum, which assumes that all students in a certain grade need to learn the exact same material (Heward, 2003). Standardization can also apply not only to students but to teachers. Although not a requirement, it seems to me that there is often an expectation that teachers are to perform within certain guidelines that can limit their potential effectiveness. This is not so much a spoken rule as it is something that flows down from administrative boards .

The Failures of Past Neglect[edit | edit source]

When gifted students have been left uncared for by previous teachers, they can become demotivated towards learning or develop behavioral problems. This can lead to them not being recognized as gifted by other teachers, the new behaviors being much more prominent and the giftedness more dormant. It takes a good deal more effort and patience to work with gifted children who have lapsed into these negative behavioral patterns. It is not uncommon for them to be left in that state until they reach the age where they can and do drop out of school indefinitely (Phillips et al., 2006). Children who were born with the potential to be highly productive members of society slip through the cracks and are left to continue down an unpromising path. It is very important that when a teacher recognizes symptoms leading in this direction they take action to do what they can to prevent this loss.

Cultural/Social Difficulties[edit | edit source]

All people need a sense of belonging among their peers. This need for acceptance often conflicts with gifted students pursuing their full potential. It can come in the form of peer pressure, bullying, loneliness, and in countless other ways. Sometimes students receive pressure to underachieve not through their peers but from home. Parents or siblings can create pressure to lower their personal standards. The family could encourage a child to pursue a technical track in high school instead of the college track because of a fear of college expenses. The family could possess prejudices against their child trying to be accomplish things they failed to do. Siblings can become jealous when the gifted student receives praise from his parents (Phillip et al., 2006). Although a teacher can never fully prevent these kinds of conflict, reasonable efforts should be made to limit the interference created by them.

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Gifted Students are an important and necessary part of the classroom that should not be neglected. By understanding giftedness and identifying those who posses it, one can begin to provide for and utilize the student as part of a flourishing educational environment. And when an understanding of the needs and abilities of one's students is thrown together with some classroom experience and a little creativity, it won't be long before a class is saturated with motivation and success.

Review Questions[edit | edit source]

1. Which of the following is not an obstacle in accommodating gifted students?

A. The student's social environment

B. The student's past experience with education

C. School Administrations

D. Effects of standardization

2. Which of the following is not an indicator that a student is an exceptional generator of knowledge?

A. Learns quickly and easily

B. Keen sense of humor

C. Highly developed sense of curiosity about the future

D. Does not conform to typical ways of thinking

3. A gifted student has finished an assignment long before his classmates. Which of the following is a good choice to occupy him until his peers are finished?

A. Give him access to a computer and let him browse the internet

B. Give him assignments that offer repetitive practice of the content just discussed

C. Let him occupy himself, as long as he is quiet

D. Give him assignments that go deeper into the content just discussed

4. You want to accommodate an extrinsically motivated gifted student. Which of the following would not be a good strategy to try?

A. Provide opportunities for him to perform independent study

B. Provide opportunities for him to compete with his classmates

C. Provide opportunities for him to work in a group of peers of similar interest

D. Provide opportunities for him to tutor other students

Answers: 1=C 2=A 3=D 4=A

References[edit | edit source]

Achter, J.A., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C.P. (1996). Multipotentiality among the intellectually gifted: "It was never there and already it's vanishing". Journal of Counseling Psychology. 43(1), 65-76.

Apple, M. W. (2007)Idealogical success, educational failure? One the politics of No Child Left Behind. Journal of Teacher Education, 58(2), 108-116.

Cleaver, S. (2008, Mar/Apr). Smart & bored: Are we failing our high achievers?. Instructor. 115(5), 29-32.

Gallagher, J. J. (1985). Educational strategies for gifted students in secondary schools. NASSP Bulletin, 69, 17-24.

Heward, W. L. (2003). Exceptional children: An introduction to special education-7th Edition. Columbus: OH: Merill Prentice Hall.

Hoekman, K., McCormick, J., & Gross, M.U.M. (1998). The optimal context for gifted students: A preliminary exploration of motivational and effective considerations. Gifted Child Quarterly, 43, 170-193.

Phillips, N., & Lindsay, G. (2006) Motivation in gifted students. High Ability Studies, 17(1), 57-73.

Powers, E. A. (2008, Summ). The use of independent study as a viable differentiation technique for gifted learners in the regular classroom. Gifted Child Today, 31(3), 57-65.

Shaklee, B., Whitmore, J., Barton, L., Barbour, N., Ambross, R., & Viechnicki, K. (1989). Early assessment for exceptional potential for young and/or economically disadvantaged students. Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education Grant No. R206A00160.

Thomas, D. (1976). Gifted and talented children: The neglected minority. NAASP Bulletin. 60, 21-24.