Across the state, students and teachers are getting ready to head back to the classroom. Typically, the first days of school are dedicated to reviewing previously covered material. While this review can be tedious for many students, gifted students often face additional challenges throughout the year when it comes to staying motivated in the classroom.
It’s easy to forget that gifted students are special needs students when so much comes easily for them, but the reality is that many gifted students fail to achieve their full potential. The majority of gifted students spend most–if not all–of their day in regular classroom settings. Teachers are faced with the challenge of having to develop instructional plans that challenge students of different abilities, while parents have to advocate for their children and help them stay involved.
Characteristics of Gifted and Talented Students
Teachers commonly cite three observations about gifted students. First, they finish their work quickly, and sometimes seek further assignments or additional direction. Second, they often ask more abstract questions than many of their peers. Finally, they have interests that are more typical of older, more advanced students. In addition to indicating potential giftedness, these characteristics also present a challenge for classroom teachers.
Many school districts automatically test all students for the gifted and talented program in or around the second grade. In some cases, a teacher will make a recommendation to a student's parents based on their classroom observations and the student's performance. Other times, a parent can request an evaluation if they suspect their child might be showing signs of being gifted.
Edmond parents Ian and Deanna suspected their son, Will, was gifted from an early age. “In first grade, Will spent most of his time drawing, reading, or doodling while the rest of the kids were finishing their work. He already knew most of the curriculum. He would ask his teacher for something to do, and she would often tell him to turn over his paper and draw her a picture,” says Deanna. His parents laugh, fondly recalling the awesome cache of first grade artwork they have saved. “We talked to his teacher and requested he be tested, and she agreed, but the public school he was in doesn’t allow for testing until second grade.” When Will was eventually tested, his IQ was off the charts. “He was testing at high school level in certain subjects.”
Will began the Enrichment Program in second grade and has done well since. However, his mother notes that, “While we appreciate the opportunity he has with the Enrichment Program, it’s a pull-out class once a week. I think he would do better if it were incorporated into his regular day.”
Will is fortunate to have involved parents who work with him to help him achieve his potential. Taft Middle School counselor Amber Dubuc has worked in several schools in the Oklahoma City Public School district. “Kids in low-income households might have two parents working hourly jobs who don’t have a lot of extra time to work with their child at home,” she notes. Typically, gifted students are more successful when parents are involved in their education and supplementing them at home.
Teaching Gifted Students
High school teacher Jeffrey Pate has taught both science and English classes, and knows what a challenge it can be to motivate gifted students. “Even in AP level classes, each student or class may need more or less [motivation]. It's so easy for them to get bored when they think they know the material already. They may blow it off and not do it, or they can become easily distracted or act out in class,” says Pate.
“It's important to make it challenging and to make the challenge worth the effort. I try to give them more difficult concepts or start a lab with the tools they need to work it through without telling them the conclusion first. I also think having advanced classes work in teams is important.”
At the high school level, many districts offer honors and AP courses in place of Enrichment or Gifted and Talented programs. However, Dubuc admits that “every school is hit or miss. In some districts with a low performing population and high turnover rate for administrators, those advanced students can be overlooked, because classroom teachers may focus on the ‘middle’ population of students. Honors and AP courses help, but not all districts offer that, so teachers really need to be astute to meeting those students’ needs.” Private schools and tutors are often better equipped to meet those needs. “Unfortunately, kids that are functioning on a higher level are more likely to be labeled as ADHD. When these kids get bored, they may be easily distracted, which puts them at a disadvantage,” says Dubuc.
Pate tries to keep it interesting by incorporating other subjects, such as art and literature into his biomed and biology classes. “I love to have them create a human heart out of clay or read a novel that goes along with a science theme, such as Jurassic Park.” Pate also encourages his high school students to engage in debates over issues. “I want them to be able to clearly and fluently state their opinion on subjects, so if something comes up in the news that can be tied into those subjects, I encourage discussion, and even debate.”
The bottom line is that gifted children are very much children with special needs. Parents, teachers, and administrators often have to work together to help gifted students achieve their potential and prevent boredom by recognizing those characteristics and taking steps to fully engage gifted students. If you suspect your child may be showing signs of giftedness, take some time to discuss it with his teacher, so you can make any necessary changes.
Tips for Keeping Your Gifted Student Motivated
- Help your child set both short- and long-term academic goals for themselves, focusing on accomplishments that are meaningful to them. Goals set by parents or teachers for them may have little meaning, so allow them to weigh in what their goals and ambitions will be.
- Talk long term. Help your child to understand the long-term benefits of school and the daily responsibilities it requires. While one particular assignment or project may not seem all that important now, teach them that it will help them to be successful in school now—leading to things that they may value in the future, such as acceptance at the college or university of their choice, scholarships and more.
- Follow your child's passions. Find the things that your child is naturally excited about and allow them to explore those interests.
- Encourage your child to track their progress throughout the year, either by charting/listing important milestones or making videos of them performing certain tasks. It's rewarding for gifted students to see how they have developed and mastered different skills throughout the year.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and single mom to two girls. An Edmond resident, she graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma and is an HR manager in the medical field.