Research has shown that around 10% of students have a heightened aptitude in one or more areas of their learning. These are the children we label as “gifted”.
These gifts have been categorised into six key areas: intellectual, creative, social, perceptual, muscular and motor control.
Catering to gifted students helps them reach their potential and can even raise the level at which other students in the class perform.
Here’s how to identify and enrich the learning experience of a gifted student.
Every new topic area should start with a pre-assessment of some form.
Pre-assessments are not only an excellent way for teachers to gather knowledge about the students in their class, they’re also a way for students to understand what will be taught, as well as gain insight into how much they know about a particular topic.
Pre-assessments don’t always need to take the form of a pen and paper test, and they shouldn’t just contain closed or fixed choice responses.
For example, if you’re about to begin a unit on the lifecycle of animals and plants you could try the following pre-assessments:
- Give students a blank sheet of paper and ask them to write/draw anything they know about lifecycles.
- In groups or individually, ask students to map a lifecycle and discuss why they chose this cycle.
- Ask students to not only describe a lifecycle (written, drawn or spoken) they already know about, but also why we need them and the differences between two different lifecycles.
Along with each of these assessments, you could develop a rubric that aligns with the outcomes and indicators from the syllabus to ensure that students are achieving each outcome.
Different types of pre-assessments offer insight into the varying levels of understanding each child has. You’ll glean information and gain a better understanding of how to support students at an individual level.
Your gifted students will be able to show you what they can do and what they know. The data collected means that you can challenge them, rather than put them through tasks they already have a sound understanding of.
Differentiate the curriculum
Once you’ve collated the information from your pre-assessments, it’s time to plan different learning activities for the different needs of your students. You can do this in the following ways:
Add depth and complexity to your classroom
This can be done through various models of thinking that have been developed with gifted students in mind. Each of these models not only challenges gifted students, but also gives teachers a range of ideas on how to turn simple knowledge questions, such as “What is a life cycle of a caterpillar?”, into a more complex, “How have the life cycles of caterpillars changed over time with the urbanisation of bushland?”
Add a challenge
Gifted students don’t need more of the same. Don’t give them extra worksheets or ask them to write two paragraphs instead of one. They also shouldn’t always be the students who get to create a life cycle out of LEGO, use technology or present their findings to the class.
The challenge isn’t always in the final product (although it can be); the challenge is in the thinking.
Gifted students need to compare and contrast, they need to analyse data and form conclusions based on a thorough understanding, and they need to be able to use their new knowledge in different contexts.
Modify core tasks and projects
Give gifted students the chance to delve deeper into topic areas they feel passionate about. This could be a topic of choice or one that fits in with the core class content.
However, these projects need to challenge.
The content needs to extend their thinking, challenge them, encourage risk-taking and build on their knowledge.
The process to work towards the final product should focus on higher order thinking skills, depth, complexity and deeper knowledge.
The product should be real — this could mean going beyond just presenting to the class to presenting in front of parents, a local council member or a letter justifying a point to someone from a large company.
Finally, the learning environment in which your gifted students thrive should be student-centred. Give them a voice in the development and implementation of the project. Make it open-ended so they can create whatever works with the content they find and encourages skills of either independence or collaboration.
The three key questions you need to ask yourself when assigning activities to a gifted student is:
- Would all students want to be involved in the learning experience?
- Could all students participate in the learning experience?
- Should all students be expected to succeed in these learning experiences?
While we might be aware of gifted students in our classroom, we also need to be mindful of the different approaches that help or hinder their learning.
Students can be grouped in many different ways that will allow them to work with like-minded learners on different tasks at varying levels, or to use different tools to demonstrate learning.
On any given school day, students should be able to work independently, in small groups or as part of a larger discussion.
In each of these groupings you can embed social and academic skills to ensure that students learn to work with others, as well as on their own.
Flexible and carefully planned groups are essential for the growth of any gifted student. By using pre-assessment, differentiated curriculum and Passow’s test, you can work out which grouping works best for different subject areas and tasks.
Students who are achieving beyond their grade level should be able to access a more complex curriculum in any area of schooling.
There are different types of acceleration that will work for different gifted students, and also the school at which they’re learning.
This type of acceleration works best for students who understand the concepts and skills of their current grade. During this time the student may move classrooms so they’re working with children in the grade above them on tasks that will enrich, challenge and extend them.
This type of acceleration is best for students who are exceeding most subject areas of their current year group. In grade acceleration, students will skip a school year and move into the grade above. These students will need a thorough profile with data from both objective and subjective tests, checklists and observations. From this data the school will know the best way to support the student as they progress. Many students have a positive experience from grade acceleration when the child, parent and teachers are aware of their emotional, social and academic needs.
There are many different ways teachers can support gifted students. The five outcomes listed above will help the gifted students in your classroom enjoy a challenging and enriched learning experience.