Monday, June 20, 2011

Motivating Gifted Students

I have a good friend who has several gifted children.  Her oldest daughter is extremely creative, as well as being gifted in Language Arts, but she struggles a bit with math.  At times, the little girl does not want to try hard things at school.  My friend and I have talked quite a bit about motivating gifted students, but it just occurred to me today, that part of what we perceive as problems motivating gifted students may have to do with our expectations of that student!
                                                              Image from:

Let me explain....
Many people think that giftedness has everything to do with intelligence, therefore, if a child has a high IQ, he is gifted and can perform equally well in every subject in school.  We take that a bit further when we assume that a bright child who struggles a bit with a subject and doesn't like it or doesn't want to do it, is an underachiever, or lacks motivation.  There are strategies to deal with unmotivated gifted students, but today I want to talk about the nature of giftedness itself, and some misconceptions that we have about gifted students.
                                                                        Image from

Misconception #1  Gifted students are gifted in all subjects.
Carol Bainbridge wrote a nice article about this misconception for  You can access the article here.  She says: One common myth about gifted children is that they are good at everything -- math, language, science. You name it and if they are truly gifted, they are good at it. The truth is that most gifted children have uneven abilities. They may be exceptionally good at language, but not particularly good at math. Some gifted children are, of course, good at everything and these are the "Globally Gifted"children.
The majority of gifted children, though, are either "Verbally" or "Mathematically Gifted." These domains, however, are the more academic, school-oriented domains. Gifted children can also be artistically gifted, which means they are exceptionally good in either art of music.

TheNational Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) supports the ideas set forth by Bainbridge, in their definition of giftedness:
Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains.  Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports). 

 Read more here.

Misconception #2 Gifted students need to be highly motivated in every area in school.
Example: One teacher felt that because his student was very bright and did well on the state testing, that he was slacking when he decided not to take Calculus in high school.  The student was verbally gifted and did ok in math, but really did not enjoy it, or plan to pursue a career that required math.

It is much easier to understand the folly of this thinking, when we look at it in a different talent area...A child who excels at the piano and loves it, would be allowed a lot of practice time, as long as her other tasks were completed, (homework, chores, etc.)  We would not ask her to stop her piano practice to practice the clarinet, just because somewhere down the road it might be nice to know how to play the clarinet.
The same is true of the Calculus scenario....the student obviously has a good handle on basic high school Math, but loves English.  Why should he have to spend time studying something that he does not plan to use.  Now don't get me wrong, I am not advocating that fourth graders do not need to take math if they are verbally gifted--all students need to have a grasp of basic math.  We do, however, need to carefully make choices about programming for gifted students.  I believe that if we choose wisely, some of the motivation problems we encounter could be lessened.  Perhaps a gifted fourth grader who hates math, would do better in the grade level math class, instead of the accelerated math class.

Grade level acceleration, grade skipping, and enrichment in the area of talent are all pretty common and well researched ways to "grow" a student's talent area. I think that realization by parents that students do not need to be talented in all areas is also a great strategy for growing talents.  Let your student focus on their area of interest.  Be aware of activities and programs that will further stretch the area of talent, and be satisfied with grade level achievement in the other areas. 
 Image from: 

Math Image from:                                                                

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Higher Level Curriculum vs. Higher Level Enrichment

                                                           Image from
We received a graduation announcement from the son of a good friend of mine.  He was not only graduating from High School, but from the local community college.  My son, who will be a senior in the fall, said, "I  admire the real scholars, and I always feel a little bit bad that I am not one of them."  This caught me off guard, because this particular son is about as gifted and talented as they come!  I decided that another post on the value of high level curriculum, AND the value of high level enrichment might be in order.

We live in a very rural area.  Our high school is small, but it offers some AP and Honors classes, all of which my children have taken.  The nearest university is 30 miles away, so dual enrollment is very difficult.

Our school does, however, have a plethora of activities going on, and students can be involved in many things at one time, (unlike my large city high school, where you could only do one thing at a time!)  
The son I mentioned, has taken great advantage of all of the activities, and has met the needs of his giftedness, through enrichment, quite well.

Just for an example...
Here is a list of what he did last year:
                                                                                     Image from
Started on the varsity soccer team; had one of the starring roles in the fall musical; sang with the school's premiere musical group, (which included trips, competitions, and activities); qualified at district drama to go to the state drama competition, and attended the state drama competition; was a male cheerleader and continued to take gymnastics weekly so that he could  learn more stunts, (they cheered at all of the varsity games); competed in district speech and qualified to attend the state speech tournament, which he attended; had a starring role in the spring play; participated in student government; continued to lift weights daily; took honors classes; ran for and won the position of student body president for next year, and got good grades.

                                          Image from:

 The point of all this is not to say that graduating from the Jr. College is not a wonderful thing,it is a great opportunity, but if you do not have access to higher level learning, do not despair!  Gifted students can prosper and even earn great scholarships to college, if they take advantage of theenrichment resources around them. (All 4 of my children who are old enough to go to college, graduated from our rural high school and attended the university of their choice on scholarship!)

I have mentioned Joseph Renzulli before, and his Schoolwide Enrichment Model.  Just as a review, this model for gifted programs relies heavily on enrichment for bright students.

                                                                          Image from:
The Department of Education wrote an article about Mr. Renzulli's Enrichment Program.  A portion of the article is quoted below.  You can access the entire article here.
"Joseph Renzulli (Renzulli, Sand and Reis, 1986) created this model specifically for the education of gifted students so that teachers could provide programs that are qualitatively different.
                    The Enrichment Triad Model consists of three types of enrichment:
  • TYPE I - General Interest / Exploratory Activities
These activities are designed to provide students with as wide a range of experiences as possible, and include excursions, club, interest centres, visiting speakers and brainstorming sessions.
  • TYPE II - Group Training Activities / Skills Development
These activities are designed to develop thinking and feeling skills and students are involved in designing, experimenting, comparing, analysing, recording and classifying. Skills to be developed include creative and critical thinking, learning how to learn, using advanced level reference materials and communicating effectively.
  • TYPE III - Individual and Small Group Investigation of Real Problems
Students apply the knowledge and skills they have developed while working through Type I and Type II activities. They become investigators of real problems, working on specific areas of study towards presentation to a real audience. Activities include researching, debating, surveying, making a presentation, writing a journal article or producing a book or play.
A significant feature of Renzulli's Enrichment Triad model is that all students can work at the first two levels, and the activities generated within these levels support the third level. Type III activities are more appropriate for gifted students, as they allow for the generation of creativity."

The enrichment activities that my son participated in throughout the year fit right into the enrichment triad activities suggested by Joseph Renzulli's model.  Summer is here and it is a great time to involve your children in enrichment activities.  Be creative, follow your student's interests, but most of all...have fun!  Enrichment can be exciting and great fun!


Read more here:
Vertical Enrichment
Enrichment for Gifted Children in Math
Ideas for Enrichment
Ideas for Enrichment for Younger Children
More Ideas From e-How Family
A List of Enrichment Websites