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Why I Don’t Give My Gifted Students “More” Work

In today’s educational world, gifted education comes in many forms: inclusion, cluster grouping and pull out are the three most common models. They vary widely across the nation due to the funding structure of gifted education. Most states do not require schools to service gifted students. {Ohio, for example, requires that we identify gifted students, but we do not have to serve them}. In many schools, general education teachers have the task of educating gifted students in their classroom through differentiation.

As someone who watches gifted education closely, I have witnessed the gamut of ways that general education teachers try to handle this in their classrooms; however, they often have to do this without much training in gifted education. This blog post is designed to help ALL teachers, but especially general education who serve gifted students in their classrooms, understand the Do’s and Don’ts of Gifted Education when it comes to the academic workload we assign them.

What does it mean to be gifted?

Gifted learners are considered gifted because they can demonstrate mastery of their current grade level skills (and often certain above-grade-level skills) as a result of the uniqueness of their intelligence. In most states, students are assessed using an IQ test, a skill-based assessment, or some other diagnostic assessment designed to identify intelligence. {You’ll need to dig into your own state’s laws in this area, as they all vary}.

I won’t speak for us all, but nothing bugs a gifted specialist more than walking into a classroom and seeing a gifted learner being given the same skills as their on-grade-level counterparts where the “modification” that was made is that they need to complete 30 math problems instead of 10. Or, they need to answer 24 synonym and antonym questions instead of 8. This is?not best practice for these students.

The Don’ts

Giving our gifted learners more work to complete, or work that is lower than their current skill level, can do much more harm than good. Let’s examine what happens with our Gifted Learners when we shove more work at them:

  1. Your gifted kiddos are intuitive. Most of them will figure out that if they work slower, they will avoid having the teacher bring them 20 more fraction problems.?Over time, this becomes a practice of the gifted student, and they will slow down in other areas of their academics and in life.
  2. Not all of your gifted students are emotionally ready for more work. In fact, MIT’s research indicates that approximately 37% of gifted students have some form of mental illness – with anxiety and Asperger’s being the most prevalent.?Throwing more work at a mentally healthy child is frustrating enough – throwing more work at a child struggling mentally is like throwing ignition fluid on a bonfire.?
  3. Asking a child who can already add fractions with unlike denominators to continue to add fractions with unlike denominators does not advance the child’s learning. In fact, studies have shown that students can actually?lose knowledge when this practice is implemented.?It is important that we, as educators, meet the students at their level and instruct at their level.

OK, so what do we do to help these gifted learners?

The Do’s

Let’s go back to the example of fractions with unlike denominators. I know that Yolanda, one of my gifted mathematicians, can already add fractions with unlike denominators. I have several options for Yolanda:

  1. I can find time to move her onto subtraction, multiplication, and/or division of those fractions with unlike denominators.
  2. I can show Yolanda how to complete the addition of fractions when I have mixed numbers or negative integers.
  3. I can give Yolanda an authentic task that involves fractions with unlike denominators. Perhaps I need to add a fence to a yard, and the landscaper gave me measurements with fractions of differing denominators. Yolanda can find the perimeter (and maybe even the area!) of this yard.
  4. The most beneficial task to implement with Yolanda might be to ask her to create her own story problem or real-world adventure using fractions with unlike denominators. If it’s a good problem (and chances are it will be), you’ve just gained another questions for your class assessment.?Remember, however, not to announce this “new question” to the class as Yolanda’s creation! Many gifted learners?do not like for attention to be drawn to them!
  5. Another idea is to give Yolanda a “Math Challenge” of sorts. These can be math puzzles, higher-level thinking strategies, or other engaging activities. They?do not need to cover the same content. For example, with Yolanda, if she can demonstrate mastery of adding and subtracting fraction with unlike denominators, I don’t need to assess her on this topic anymore. I can give her any kind of challenge she might be able to handle at this point. {Check out the very bottom of?THIS BLOG POST for ideas on what I might use with her.}

What about Grade Acceleration? Or Content Acceleration?

Two ways that teachers, schools, and districts can assist their gifted students is through acceleration.?Grade acceleration is the process of acceling a student to a new grade level in one subject area. For example, my district has a handful of 5th graders who “skipped” 5th grade math and go to the middle school for 6th grade math. Their teachers plan lessons so that the 5th and 6th grade content are both covered, but this allows for students to get what they need in terms of math instruction at their grade level.?This needs to be a district decision, because there might be variables you’ll need to address. How do we get them to our middle school? What is their course plan through high school? What qualifies them for this acceleration??

The other method of acceleration, content acceleration, is used a bit more frequently throughout the nation. Using this model, students do not move grade levels, but they might be learning math standards that are at a higher grade level. This method works because you’re able to push your students onto content that is appropriate for their skill level;?however, this also needs to be a district discussion.?Let’s say that the 4th grade teacher does content acceleration, but the 5th grade teacher isn’t going to. We’ve created a huge problem for our gifted learners.

If you do decide to do content acceleration, it is vital to take and keep anecdotal and skill-based notes on content you covered and their mastery of those skills and concepts.?Any great teacher should keep records of skills their students have mastered. You can use the notes and records you collect to show the teacher(s) at the next grade level what the gifted students already know. I use this wonderful Data Tracking Set from the amazing Kristine Nannini.

This is not to say that my 5th grade colleague won’t formatively assess (or pre-assess) the students for her own data. However, now she knows to expect which skills she may be able to breeze through, or she has advanced notice to plan to make more authentic and meaningful lessons in those areas.

Need More Ideas?

Let me give you another example. I had a student (we’ll call him Keyshawn) who could do synonyms and antonyms in his sleep. One day, while walking through our Primary hallway – which was labeled from top to bottom with sentence strips that say ‘water’, ‘door’, and ‘desk’ – Keyshawn jokingly said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we switched certain words to confuse the little kids?”?My first thought was no… but then I thought, “WAIT! Genius! Keyshawn is genius!”

That day, I had him (in our 4th grade hallway) go and label objects he saw. However, he couldn’t label them as their actual name. He had to name them with a synonym and an antonym instead. (His favorite, and mine, was naming the water fountain a ‘sludge human’.)?I was able to assess his skills, and Keyshawn was doing an authentic activity that kept him out of the boredom zone!

Listen, I won’t lie… is it a lot of work? Sometimes, it sure is. But what keeps me going – and what should we ALL remember as teachers??It’s about the kids. Sometimes, we have to modify like crazy for our gifted learners.

Resources!

With each blog post, I end by giving you a resource or two that I think are just phenomenal!

  • AIMS Divergent Thinking Puzzles: This blog has a bunch of divergent math puzzles for your gifted learners who have shown mastery on your current concept. They are great extensions!
  • Learner.org Interactives: This website has interactive activities for all subject areas, and the search tools allow you to find the grade level and skills appropriate for your students. These are great extension activities for students who have mastered your grade-level content already.

How do you modify for your gifted learners to make their learning more relevant? More authentic? OR, what questions do you have that I might be able to answer? Let me know by commenting below! I love to hear from y’all.

Check out the other blog posts in this series by clicking HERE!

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