Gifted children represent both a challenge and a resource for schools. Educators have a responsibility to provide programs to meet the educational needs of gifted students who are capable of learning at advanced levels. Ideally, schools would have specifically trained teachers for gifted students who actively collaborate among classroom teachers, themselves and parents to create a challenging and supportive learning experience for these children.
While the criteria for identifying gifted students varies from state to state*, the following are characteristics these children commonly exhibit:
High intelligence test scores and other criteria used to identify gifted students do not guarantee that these children will be successful in school. Some gifted, underachieving students may exhibit the following behaviors:
- poor work habits
- skill deficits in at least one subject
- failure to respond to usual motivational techniques
Gifted children may also be learning disabled, or have another disability while being highly intelligent. Sometimes gifted children are not identified because their assets are used to compensate for their weaknesses. In a school setting, they may thrive on complexity, yet have difficulty with rote memorization. A gifted child may have superior understanding of the subject matter taught, but be unable to write legibly about it. Another gifted child may appear to be daydreaming, yet comprehend all that is being taught. Others may become disruptive when previously mastered subject matter is presented. Since gifted children's behavior and characteristics vary considerably, educators need to be open-minded when considering referring a child for testing to determine the best possible placement.
In many schools gifted students receive cluster or sometimes classroom grouping with teachers specifically trained in the area of giftedness. This allows the students to interact with peers of their approximate age and abilities, to be intellectually challenged, and to address their social and emotional needs. Meeting together in groups is a great stress reliever for these children because it affords them the opportunity for open discussion. Very often, gifted children are singled out as "the smart ones" who should know everything. Yet, being gifted does not mean they possess a greater storehouse of knowledge in every area. Meeting together can also be a humbling experience since their peers may know more than they do about a particular subject. When grouping opportunities are provided, gifted students are more likely to reach their full potential.
The difficulty is that many gifted children are not fortunate enough to have a specialized teacher to work directly with them, and a vast majority of gifted students spend most of their day in a regular classroom, even when a specialized teacher is provided. Since classroom teachers are obligated to meet the needs of all of their students including those who are gifted, they need to:
- Understand and acknowledge the various characteristics of gifted children. Be authentic and sensitive to the specific needs of these unconventional children who may learn faster or differently than other children. Show genuine interest in their distinctive abilities.
- Provide opportunities for them to be challenged and to learn at an accelerated rate in nontraditional ways by offering variety, choices, and a compacted curriculum. Determine gifted children's prior knowledge by giving an end-of-the-unit test as a pretest. Or, ask the children to list what they know about a particular topic and/or what they would like to find out. Allow them to research a topic in depth.
- Capitalize on the gifted children's interests by having them choose projects that will stimulate thinking and discovery. Help these children move toward setting goals for themselves and evaluating their work. Encourage them to share their projects with other students.
- Be flexible and foster further study by exposing gifted students to guest speakers and/or mentors who share a mutual interest with a child or children.
- Incorporate inquiry, creative thinking, and original thought in daily lessons by asking open-ended and divergent questions and by including problem solving in the curriculum.
- Know about the available school and community resources for these children: special programs, enrichment activities, support groups, advocacy groups for their parents, etc.
Teachers of gifted children and/or school counselors can assist these students in the following ways:
- Further their understanding of what being gifted means and help gifted students feel comfortable with themselves. Encourage them to set goals and strive to reach them.
- Since highly gifted children may have difficulty being accepted by their peers, help them recognize their individual differences as assets. Provide activities that assist them in identifying their strengths and weaknesses.
- Foster their social competence and emotional growth through readings, role playing and other activities that increase their self-awareness, character development, empathy, problem-solving abilities, and listening skills.
- Facilitate communication among parents and the teachers with whom the children have contact.
* Since states vary in their definition, criteria for selection, policies and regulations regarding gifted children, contact your State Department of Education or your local school system for further information.