There are two basic kinds of gifted students, those who display schoolhouse giftedness and those who display creative/productive giftedness. Both kinds of giftedness are equally important. They share some commonalities. In the book Conceptions of Giftedness, Catya von Karolyi describes how gifted children are different: "The most obvious way in which gifted children are different is that they are precocious. They are ahead of schedule in their interest in and mastery of a particular domain or domains." (Think math, reading, art, music etc.) She goes on to say, "They grasp and apply underlying principles of a body of knowledge much more quickly than do their peers. This rapid progress can manifest itself either in breadth or depth of understanding, or both....Gifted children are driven by a rage to master materials in their domain(s) of giftedness, and this rage typically makes itself known in the first few years of life." (1)
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Students with the schoolhouse-type of giftedness can show talent in all school subjects or just one subject. These students excel in the school setting, often scoring high on tests and getting good grades. I call them "Curriculum Eaters," because they can quickly devour curriculum and have an appetite to learn more and more.
Joseph Renzulli, who is one of the leading voices in Gifted and Talented Education has a wonderful article about giftedness here. In the article he says, "Schoolhouse giftedness might also be called test-taking or lesson-learning giftedness. It is the kind most easily measured by IQ or other cognitive ability tests, and for this reason it is also the type most often used for selecting students for entrance into special programs. The abilities people display on IQ and aptitude tests are exactly the kinds of abilities that are most valued in traditional school learning situations. In other words, the games people play on ability tests are similar in nature to the games that teachers require in most lesson-learning situations. Research tells us that students who score high on IQ tests are also likely to get high grades in school. Research also has shown that these test-taking and lesson-learning abilities generally remain stable overtime."
Students with Schoolhouse giftedness generally do well in school, but they may quickly master the curriculum for their grade level and need more. There is a large body of research supporting the idea that there must be a match between curriculum assigned and the ability of the student. Gifted students who are given a steady diet of curriculum well below their ability may become underachievers. We will discuss this more in a further post. I love how Catya von Karolyi puts it, "All children deserve an 'equal opportunity' to struggle to learn." (2)
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So what do your do? How do you meet the needs of a student in third grade that already knows most of the third grade math or language curriculum?
One option to meet the needs of high ability students is to modify the curriculum.
There is a wonderful article about this, written by Laura McGrail, which you can access here.
McGrail states, "Many educators have become well-versed in modifying the regular classroom curriculum to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Educators are not as experienced, however, in meeting the instructional needs of high-ability students... For many educators, services to gifted and talented students may seem to be elitist. However, public education is founded on the belief that all students (including those with high abilities) have the right to instruction appropriate to their needs. Gifted and talented students, like all students, should learn something new every day. "
McGrail suggests that modifications can be done on several levels:
Lesson Modifications--by designing lessons that use extended or enriched curriculum, open-ended questions and higher level thinking skills.
Assignment Modifications--"High-ability students are often expected to complete assignments that they find boring or irrelevant because they represent no new learning for them. Allowing them to reduce or skip standard assignments in order to acquire time to pursue alternate assignments or independent projects is called curriculum compacting. The curriculum for a gifted student should be compacted in those areas that represent his or her strengths. When students “buy time” for enrichment or alternate activities, they should use that time to capitalize on their strengths, rather than to improve skills in weaker subjects. For example, a student advanced in math should have a compacted curriculum in that area with opportunities given for enriched study in mathematics"
Scheduling Modifications--grouping students with other students of similar ability. Cluster grouping is one option: 4-6 gifted students are placed together in a classroom with a teacher that is willing to modify the curriculum.
Another strategy not covered by Ms. McGrail is grade level acceleration, where the student goes to the next grade for the subject he is advanced in.
Children who show schoolhouse giftedness will not be "fine," if no interventions are made. (See the article by Carrie Bailey above.) They deserve to have a steady diet of new and exciting things to learn, they need to learn how to work hard and how to do new things, and they need accommodations to help them have a positive school experience. Parents can have a profound affect on the programs offered at their local schools. Mothering a gifted child is not easy, but it can be extremely rewarding--they are the future!
von Karolyi, C., & Winner, E.(2005). Extreme Giftedness. In R.J. Sternberg & J.E. Davidson, (Eds.), Conceptions of Giftedness,(1: pp. 378-379, 2: p. 385). New York: Cambridge University Press.