Educating the Gifted and Talented

“People should be free to find or make for themselves the kinds of educational experience they want their children to have.” -John Holt-

Friday, June 22, 2007

Focus on intellectual development!

Many parents whose gifted kids excel in school with straight A's are not aware of special needs besides academic challenge. Others whose equally gifted kids are failing likely believe it is their child's fault! Teachers who do not understand what giftedness is often believe this also. They see no reason to offer the gifted student support; in fact they do not really believe some students are "more gifted" than others. Wanting to appear politically correct they will say that all kids are gifted. “Turn this around”, says psychologist and giftedness expert Linda Silverman, “and see how much sense it makes if they were to say, all kids are retarded!”

Kids who lag far behind average students in their understanding and in the speed and ease with which they can process information need adaptations. The same is true for students who are mentally advanced, the ones we call the gifted. They are far ahead of average students in their understanding and in the speed and ease with which they can process information. They too need adaptations!

Most regular classroom teachers still do not have training in meeting the needs of intellectually advanced students, so it’s up to parents to help bring about the much needed changes. Parents should inform themselves about the various effective strategies in which their children can and should be taught. For example they can and should insist that a school make use of cluster grouping, compacting, cross grade level grouping, subject or grade skipping and in some instances even allow their child to attend school half-time.

Due to the competitive nature of high school and the ensuing track to college much revolves around high GPA, ACT and SAT scores. Few people, whether they be parents, teachers, community members or the students themselves, realize that straight A's can actually hint at debilitating underachievement. Underachievement because the student is usually capable of more challenging material and debilitating because the student does not want to risk losing perfect grades by actually doing more challenging material. So, grades remain more important than nurturing the intellectual and social-emotional development of students.

Academic challenge is very important, but not enough for the few GT kids who are non conformist and who, through observation and analytical thinking, are likely smarter than many adults around them! These students, the brightest among the bright need help not hindrance in pursuing their goals and fulfilling their potential.

Due to the reorganization that has taken place in District Six it is important that parents’ voices for the support of gifted education are heard. They need to find out what sensible options there are for gifted children whose talents and intelligence should be seen as a valuable resource to the community but who often end up as “the forgotten”

What Gifted Students Need

By listening to many gifted high school students I have come to the following beliefs:

--There's still a strong need for staff development so that regular classroom teachers get an understanding of the needs of, and an appreciation for, GT students as a whole but in particular for those who do not excel or who are at risk of failing and dropping out of school.

--It's important to promote cluster grouping of GT students at all levels and place such clusters only with those teachers who are knowledgeable about GT needs, who like these students or who are actively showing interest in learning about GT issues.

--Many GT students do not possess an appreciation for their talents, strengths and interests and often feel insecure about themselves. Although many do remember participating in pullout programs at the elementary level, they do not know they were identified as GT or what that implies. Some believe that they are not gifted anymore when they enter middle and/or high school if no GT program/guidance is visible or available.
As a result, many GT students do not receive guidance to choose appropriate courses when they start high school. A majority do not realize that they may be able to skip introductory courses such as Composition I or Integrated Science I, etc., in order to be challenged at a level that is better suited to their needs.

--Often GT students believe that accelerated classes or AP courses are too difficult and they'd rather not take those out of fear it may lower their GPA. Many feel they have to get straight A's and often their parents expect them to get A's as well. There's a need for appropriate counseling of these students (and their parents) regarding this drive to “succeed” at all costs.

-For some students alternative schooling ( the Aims Diploma Program or the GED exam) is and should remain an option which should be presented to them, their parents and also to our community in a positive manner so that students feel comfortable to pursue such option without shame or loss of self-confidence.

--In middle and high school a lack of socializing with intellectual peers may make these students feel different from the norm and can cause disfranchisement from school. Promoting discussion groups or a "mandatory" elective in "GT 100" where students can learn about characteristics related to their giftedness, where they can meet others like themselves and where they can learn self advocacy for their needs would be a way to instill and nurture self esteem in GT students.

--At the very minimum schools should create an electronic discussion board for their GT students as a means to get in touch with others like themselves, to inform them more easily about issues that pertain to them and to give them an opportunity to hone their reasoning and discussion skills.

--Schools should also promote a GT area on their websites with information regarding giftedness, identification, and available services and books for students and parents.