by Richard Cash, Ed.D., Free Spirit Publishing author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century
Last month I blogged about my serendipitous entrance into teaching gifted kids. I shared my top five lessons learned in working with gifted kids:
- They are kids first
- Don’t try being smarter than your students
- There is a difference between gifted and talented
- Not all gifted kids are creative and not all creative kids are gifted
- Teachers of the gifted need job-embedded sustained professional development specific to advanced learners
This month, I’m going to spell out the remaining five lessons I’ve learned through working with gifted/advanced learners.
Lesson Six: Some gifted kids can be socially maladjusted
Not all gifted kids have issues with being socially awkward or “maladjusted,” but in my experience, those who do have issues have them because they have not learned how to work with others of differing intellectual abilities. We learn our social skills from the people around us. In many cases, young gifted learners spend a great deal of time either associating with older students or adults, or self-isolating while in early grades (avoiding others who don’t think like them). This leads to learning more mature behaviors at a very early age. These behaviors may not fit with age peers or into an early learning setting, therefore further ostracizing gifted learners from the social setting. Young gifted children may also recognize themselves as so uniquely different from their age mates that they may identify themselves as “weird” or “strange.” Their social need for adjustment leads to lesson number seven!
Resources to assist in helping students with social adjustment issues:
Lesson Seven: Gifted students need personal social and emotional support
Gifted students need help adjusting to social settings and dealing with their own emotional asynchronous development. We all develop our emotional abilities in stages that correspond to our cognitive development. In many cases, though, gifted students’ cognitive progress is accelerated, thereby making their social maturation seem out of step, or asynchronous.
Gifted students will sometimes self-isolate or be shunned by their peers due to their increased cognitive abilities. In other cases, young gifted children may prefer older children or adults because they “speak the same language” or are interested in similar topics. Whether through self- or peer-isolation or the preference of older colleagues, gifted kids may not secure the social skills necessary to navigate the classroom landscape.
Gifted kids can also suffer from putting too much pressure on themselves to continually excel, stressing out over completion of work assignments, and feeling anxiety over perfectionism. Additionally, gifted kids can also be the target of bullying. I find it interesting that it’s in schools, where we go to become smarter, wiser, and better, that kids will bully each other about being smart! Some gifted kids are so emotionally sensitive that bullying can take a huge toll on them psychologically and educationally. Therefore, teachers would be wise to incorporate social skills lessons, relaxation techniques, and anti-bullying strategies into the daily routine of the classroom. If counselors, social workers, or school psychologists are available in your school, seek out their advice on nurturing the social development of your gifted students.
Resources that can assist kids in developing personal skills:
Lesson Eight: Parents of gifted children need support, too
Parents may need support in raising their gifted child. Some people believe that having a gifted child (or teaching gifted children) is easy. After working in this field for nearly a quarter-century, I can tell you that many parents struggle to find the right educational fit for their child and many teachers wrestle with providing the most appropriate curricular and instructional practices for the gifted students. Numerous support systems are available for parents from local or state networks of parents of gifted children to national associations for gifted children (such as the National Association for Gifted Children/NAGC or Social Emotional Needs of the Gifted/SENG). These agencies and associations do have text and website resources as well as meetings and gatherings to guide parents in making the best decisions for raising their gifted children. Teachers and school administrators can connect parents to these resources and also learn from these resources themselves.
Additional resources that can assist parents in raising their gifted child:
Lesson Nine: Teachers of gifted students need to be adept at offering advanced levels of differentiation
In my early years as a teacher of gifted students, I would pile on the work for my students, thinking they enjoyed doing more work. What I came to realize very quickly was that no one wants to be good at something if they have to do more of it. I slowly learned that gifted students need uniquely different curriculum and specific pedagogical approaches that stimulate their advanced abilities. All teachers should be differentiating for all learners. Differentiation for gifted students requires three specifics for modifying curriculum and instruction:
- Accelerated pace of instruction where students move more quickly through the introductory levels of content and on to more challenging material.
- Complex thinking that includes rigorous critical reasoning and creative idea production.
- Depth of content where students use more refined information to investigate issues that have relevance to students, so they are able to construct authentic products.
Dr. Diane Heacox, an expert in differentiation and gifted learners, and I are publishing a book on differentiating for gifted learners through Free Spirit Publishing. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements about this book next year.
Additional resources to assist teachers in differentiating for gifted students:
Lesson Ten: Teaching gifted students is a JOY
This brings me to my final and most important lesson: teaching gifted kids is a JOY. Just like any kid, gifted students can be frustrating and challenging. But at the end of the day they are a delight to work with. They can be very self-sufficient but also need our guidance. They love to work through stimulating problems but need our support and structures. They can be ambitious to learn but need our assistance in nurturing their abilities. Working with gifted kids has transformed my practice as a teacher. Through this work, I hope to be able to transform the teaching practices of every teacher I encounter so they too can change the lives of their students for the better.
Additional resources to assist teachers in working with gifted students:
I’d love to hear the joys, sorrows, excitements, and struggles you’ve encountered when working with gifted students. The more we share together, the better we become for our students.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., is an internationally known educational consultant and author of Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century. Dr. Cash has worked in all levels of education from a classroom teacher to district administrator and post-secondary instructor. Visit his website at http://www.nrichconsulting.com.
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