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How to Support Gifted Learners

For some, the idea of a gifted child awakens a sense of empathy for unique learners who live and cope with asynchronous development. Others may think of a student that lacks diversity in school settings.  And finally, others may see “gifted” as either a label or a badge of honor.  The term ‘gifted’ has different meanings to different people but for those children who live their life being gifted, it means something personal.

What does it mean to be gifted?

Across the decades, the idea of giftedness has been closely associated with intelligence. From Lewis Terman’s introduction to the intelligence quotient to Joseph Renzulli’s schoolhouse and creative-productive models of giftedness, the term ‘gifted’ has evolved and remains abstract to many. One thing is evident, there are specific characteristics that define gifted individuals, and these traits require a need for differentiation and targeted services.

In 1972, the Marland Report defined the term gifted, and since then, it is what many states and local districts use to identify and service gifted students:

Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons, who by virtue of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance. These are children who require differentiated educational programs and/or services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize their contribution to self and society.

Children capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas, singly or in combination:

  • General intellectual ability
  • Specific academic aptitude
  • Creative or productive thinking
  • Leadership ability
  • Visual and performing arts

So, what is the application for a child who may demonstrate gifted potentiality or is already identified for gifted services? The answer is advocacy! Advocacy is necessary to identify and discern gifted traits and to facilitate appropriate educational programming for gifted learners. Both are essential helping these children reach their potential.

How to Support Gifted Learners

 Below are some ways to support gifted learners and their potential.

1. Seek out opportunities for enrichment or acceleration.

The day-to-day mainstream educational experiences for gifted children are often inadequate to meet their cognitive needs. Due to the focus on the mastery of minimum standards, the intellectual growth for gifted children takes a back seat. In these cases, online learning, summer programming, and extracurricular opportunities can serve as enrichment or acceleration options to develop their abilities and talents.

2. Ensure students are grouped with like-minded, intellectual learners.

Imagine being in a learning environment that is easy year after year, and the only challenge may come from becoming a peer tutor for the person next to you. That can be an excruciating experience for gifted learners! There is value in gifted students working with different types of learners, but research recommends that gifted learners benefit from engaging in learning opportunities with intellectual peers for exposure to new content and for areas of interest.

3. Differentiated curriculum is paramount!

Students with gifted potentiality and high cognitive ability compared to chronological peers need different, not more. Often, instruction resorts to adding to rather than evaluating how the curriculum needs to look different and move into depth and complexity instead. Once relevant curriculum based on individual readiness is identified, differentiated instruction will follow.

4. Support for social growth is key.

Many times, the priority is to meet the cognitive needs of gifted learners, but don’t forget to support the social needs as well. Students need a variety of experiences and opportunities to engage with their passions, explore curiosities, build friendships, and work with multi-age peers.

Advocacy is demonstrated in many forms. It could be a referral of an unlikely student or your own child who showcases creative thinking for gifted services. It may even mean exploring new programming options such as enrollment in summer programs or online courses such as options through SIG to meet the needs of gifted learners. Additionally, networking with gifted state associations or social media groups can offer new channels to increase awareness and partnerships. No matter the route, know that being gifted is personal and nurturing gifted cognitive and social needs will increase self-awareness, self-esteem, and promote confidence.

Caroline Daniel
Director of Academics


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