Sunday, May 20, 2012

Teaching Gifted Students

I actually don't like the term gifted. Like every other label, the term gifted never fully and accurately describes a person. However, the term does give us trends, profiles and possibilities to consider as we teach.

Who are the gifted students in your midst? Simply, I identify the gifted students in my class as those that want more, do more and/or demonstrate specific traits and talents that match both the broad and specific attributes of giftedness.

When I set up learning endeavors I plan for the entire spectrum of ways students might interact with the information or task from a level of early teaching to advance mastery and creativity.  I never pose limitations on any child for any broad task--the entire spectrum of accomplishment is there for the taking and children can rise as high as they'd like with regard to that task, knowledge or concept. Thanks to the 50% one-to-one computer initiative at our elementary school's fourth and fifth grade, a successful RTI implementation, collegial collaboration, adequate staffing and the addition of wonderful technology tools, we are able to broaden our reach and focus with regard to serving students at all places on the learning spectrum.

For example in setting up the endangered species project outline, activities and resource website, I imagined how children might interact with this information. At a basic level, students will learn with the class about the reasons for endangerment through reading articles, watching films and classroom discussions.  Then they will read specific websites, collect facts and present those facts using a Google slide template guide.

If a student wants more, does more or demonstrates a specific trait or talent, that student might extend this project and learning in any combination of the following tasks:
  • A specific talent might be demonstrated by writing a song, creating an art piece, conducting extensive research or applying literary skill to the presentation text or prose.
  • Doing more might mean skyping with an expert in the field, conducting research at a zoo or museum, reading extensively about the species or creating a project which turns the information into a service learning project that combats endangerment in a meaningful way.
  • Wanting more may result in more targeted coaching from me or a project that is an offshoot of the typical endangered species project. In some cases, a child may quickly complete this project so he/she can work on a project that matters more to them.
All of the examples above put the child in the leadership role of their learning; the teacher acts as coach and mentor making sure that basic learning standards are met while children develop their ability to independently learn with engagement and success. 

NING, our social network, is the 24-7 communication piece that guides student work.  Well before the project began in the classroom, I posted the project outline, resource site link and introduction.  Students who wanted to get a head start used that information to work on their projects independently.  In one case, a highly artistic and creative student came to me and told me that she had completed all the required parts of the project.  I responded that I would soon edit with her, but in the meantime she should begin working on her public service message. The guiding information for that project was listed on the website.  

She took a computer and began reading and preparing for the message creation.  On a couple of occasions she came up to me and asked me for green paper.  I told her where she could find it.  Then she asked if she could leave the room to find more and I said she'd have to wait.  She responded by sneaking out or eventually convincing me (I can't remember which) to leave the room to find green paper.  I was busy working with a myriad of students on initial aspects of the project.  The next thing I knew the young girl had created excitement in the room.  When I looked up, I noticed that she had pieced together a large number of small green colored paper squares to create a green screen in the room.  She chose a place where she could prop up the computer to videotape herself "on location" using the green screen for her public service message.  It was an amazing example of independent, engaging learning.

As this example shows, setting the stage for all students to develop and demonstrate giftedness depends on thoughtful design of the classroom environment and program including the attributes listed below:
  • A social network to give all students a 24-7 voice when it comes to their education.
  • Online resource centers, links, blogs, images and videos that support and inspire independent learning, research and coaching.  I often post links to engaging videos, projects, organizations and problems that match my students' interests.  
  • Time to converse with and coach students online and face-to-face in order to understand and respond with care and focus.
  • Inclusive units and lesson plans that reflect a spectrum of interest and accomplishment from early teaching to mastery allowing all students to work to their potential.

It is also essential that educators take the time to read about giftedness and to understand both the challenges and advantages gifted children experience.  Defining giftedness however can be limiting because gifted programs are not inclusive.  That's why I prefer creating learning environments where all students have the chance to learn to their potential in real-world, diverse settings. This gives each child the opportunity to demonstrate and develop their areas of giftedness and passion in vibrant learning arenas.

How do you identify and respond to gifted students in your class?  In what ways do you create a spectrum of learning opportunities that maximize student potential and engagement?  What are your best resources for meeting the needs of students who display giftedness in one or more areas?  I look forward to continued study and exploration in this area.  When we nurture students' giftedness, we nurture the potential our world holds for positive change and endeavor, and that's a worthy pursuit.