By Emily Kircher-Morris, author of Teaching Twice-Exceptional Learners in Today’s Classroom
Allowing gifted, general, and special education classrooms to exist as islands in our schools is not a viable option for our twice-exceptional (2e) students. The movement toward inclusive education has increased communication and collaboration between general and special education classrooms, and some schools provide excellent support for gifted students in their general classroom environment in addition to their gifted education classroom. However, 2e students are often left without supports or accommodations in their gifted and general classroom settings. Or they are denied the opportunity for appropriate cognitive challenge when they are placed only in general or special education classrooms.
Twice-exceptional students report dissatisfaction when they receive services aligned only with remediation, without the opportunity to foster more challenge.¹ And gifted education teachers often have a greater understanding of twice-exceptionality than special education teachers do.²
How can school personnel work together to bridge the gap between these environments to support the diverse needs of 2e learners? There are several strategies schools can employ to make certain that 2e students don’t fall through the cracks.
1. See 2e Students in All Settings
Train special education teachers, classroom teachers, counselors, and other educators to look for signs of giftedness in assessments and classwork to identify 2e students. Additionally, train gifted education teachers to look beyond apparent lack of motivation or underachievement for possible twice-exceptionality. Specific training on understanding and recognizing the unique implications for 2e learners from culturally and linguistically diverse homes should also be a part of this.
2. Include Educators from All Classroom Settings in Assessment and Accommodation Plans
Twice-exceptional learners deserve advocacy for all of their needs when accommodation, learning, or behavior plans are created. Every educator brings value to the team when working to support 2e learners, no matter which environment they primarily work in.
3. Use Universal Screening Tools
Don’t rely on teacher recommendations to find 2e students. Their classwork and behavior may not be the best observational evidence for giftedness. Universal screening tools of cognitive ability provide the opportunity to catch giftedness in places where it may be unexpected.
4. Use Response to Intervention (RTI) But Recognize Its Weaknesses
In some ways, RTI can be beneficial in providing additional support for 2e learners since a formal accommodation or education plan is not needed to access the extra instruction provided through the RTI model. However, 2e students who would benefit from an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) may go unnoticed if the RTI model is used as a starting point for special education referrals because they may be able to compensate for their difficulties with their cognitive abilities. A formal assessment can identify their weaknesses that may not reach the threshold within the RTI model.
5. Provide Training and Opportunities for Collaboration for Educators on Best Practices to Support 2e Learners
Strengths-based accommodations, abbreviated assignments to show mastery, and opportunities for challenge can help support 2e learners in all environments. Gifted education teachers may be unfamiliar with the tools special education teachers use to accommodate and modify instruction; special education teachers may be need support in developing ways to raise the bar to meet a child’s cognitive ability while still providing remediation. Giving teachers from different domains time to collaborate, brainstorm, and learn from each other can help target the needs of 2e students.
6. Work to Destigmatize Twice-Exceptionality
The barriers created when there is a fear of labeling or diagnosing a child only prevent the child from accessing services and accommodations that can benefit them. Normalizing neurodiversity in the educational setting is good for all students, not just neurodivergent or 2e learners.
Twice-exceptional learners are complex and multilayered. Like all students, they deserve to be taught at the level that is appropriate for their unique abilities and learning needs. Using the experts already in your building to develop ideas and plans for supporting these students through partnership and cooperation will provide 2e students the opportunities they need for success.
¹ Wu, I-Chen, C. Owen Lo, and Kuei-Fang Tsai. “Learning Experiences of Highly Able Learners With ASD: Using a Success Case Method.” Journal for the Education of the Gifted 42, no. 3 (2019): 216–42. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162353219855681.
² Foley-Nicpon, Megan, Susan G. Assouline, and Nicholas Colangelo. “Twice-Exceptional Learners.” Gifted Child Quarterly 57, no. 3 (2013): 169–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986213490021.
President and founder of the Gifted Support Network and inspired by her own experience as a twice-exceptional (2e) learner, Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., L.P.C., is dedicated to supporting 2e children in a way she wasn’t during her academic years. She has taught in gifted classrooms, has been a school counselor, and is now in private practice as a licensed professional counselor, where she specializes in helping gifted and twice-exceptional kids. Emily lives near St. Louis, Missouri.
Emily is the author of Teaching Twice-Exceptional Learners in Today’s Classroom.
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