Teaching Twice-Exceptional Students

By Susan Winebrenner, M.S., author of Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom

Teaching Twice-Exceptional StudentsDo any of these kids remind you of students you have taught over the years?

Consider Jon, whose oral storytelling skills create vivid images in the listener’s mind, but who absolutely refuses to write anything down.

Or Achmed, a walking encyclopedia who starts every conversation by saying, “Do you wanna know something?” If you say yes, you may find it impossible to get away because he fills you in on a topic he’s currently into with reams of information. But responding with “no” makes you seem like a teacher who is uninterested in new learning!

Or how about Alyssa, who is creating a book of her own illustrations that clearly connect all the information you’ve covered in a particular unit, but who simply can’t remember her number facts?

Or even Jared, who was born with muscular dystrophy, is totally dependent on a wheelchair, and requires a full-time assistant to complete a day of school, yet he knows a huge amount of information about the biology of mammals.

For decades, educators did not know what to do with these students who were often given labels such as “Absent-Minded Professor” or “Not Working Up to His/Her Potential.” However, with our developing understanding of the brain issues experienced by these students we know that their strengths are authentic and are not compromised by their learning challenges, which require more sophisticated interventions than simply telling students to “try harder.”

Therefore, to best support twice-exceptional students when working with them in their strength areas, make sure they:

  • Experience the appropriate compacting and differentiation opportunities required by their advanced learning capacities
  • Are never limited to grade-level standards
  • Are allowed to work on an ongoing independent study linked to a topic they are passionately interested in, whether or not the topic is directly connected to a required standard

When working with twice-exceptional students in their areas of challenge, be sure to:

  • Present content in a format that relies mostly on their visual, tactile, and/or kinesthetic modalities, and much less on their listening abilities
  • Allow them to work at their own challenge levels using their preferred modalities without waiting for them to fail at grade-level standards first
  • Never take time away from their areas of learning strength in order to provide more learning time in their areas of supposed weakness

When you follow these guidelines, your twice-exceptional students will make noticeably faster progress in areas that have formerly been extremely frustrating for them.

Finally, for all students who are twice- or multi-exceptional, provide ongoing opportunities for them to understand their special learning strengths and needs. Reading biographies of people they admire and then discussing how those people encountered and overcame their own learning and life challenges is a very powerful tool.

Author Susan WinebrennerSusan Winebrenner, M.S., is a full-time consultant in staff development. She presents workshops and seminars nationally and internationally, helping educators translate educational research into classroom practice.


Free Spirit books by Susan Winebrenner:

Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s ClassroomTeaching Kids with Learning Difficulties in Today’s ClassroomThe Cluster Grouping Handbook


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