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Challenging Gifted Students

by Eddie Rayner

Why is it that teachers tend to avoid challenging their more able students? All too often gifted students are under identified, under supported and under achieving. Catherine O’Farrell, Group Head with Bloom Education and experienced senior and corporate leader, explains about this dilemma and how teachers can respond.

Understanding what Giftedness Looks Like

Gagne (1991) defined ‘giftedness’ as above-average competence in human ability and ‘talent’ as above-average performance in a particular field. Research shows that, conservatively, these students make up at least 10% of our population.

There are many characteristics of highly able students, including:

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

It is worth remembering that able, gifted and talented pupils can also be:

  • Good all-rounders
  • High achievers in one area
  • Of high ability but with low motivation
  • Of good verbal ability but low writing skills
  • Very able but with a short attention span
  • Very able but with poor social skills
  • Very able but with a learning difficulty or disability that masks their skills (dual-exceptional)
  • Expressing behavioural difficulties

These key indicators are often the trigger for a more in depth analysis of a student to identify them as gifted.

Triangulating data from formative, summative and observational assessments is also key in identifying these students in the classroom.

Very often, gifted students feel different, ashamed, bored or disenchanted in the classroom.

Now we have identified them – then what?

First – Wellbeing

Very often, gifted students feel different, ashamed, bored or disenchanted in the classroom. It is vital to support them by offering them the opportunity to celebrate their abilities and have a peer group with whom they can interact at their own level.

Facilitate Independent Learning

Engaging the flipped model of teaching is an excellent way of challenging more able students and allowing them the opportunity to really dive deep into their learning at their own pace.

You can set up Teams, Google Classroom, Edmodo, Moodle etc.  To track students independent progress through content through access, quizzes or attendance. This promotes self-management, interactive learning and provides the student with data on their own strengths and areas for development.

Modifying the class provision through accelerated learning enables students to access work that would typically be for older pupils, this can be done by moving students up a grade or simply giving them more challenging work.

Enrich their Learning

Enrichment consists of broadening the student’s education. This can consist of enabling a student to study aspects of a topic that there would not normally be time to study or adding extra subjects to the curriculum. In the US curriculum, this can be done through Advanced Placement AP courses.  These are designed to expose able and motivated high school students to college-level academic material. In the UK curriculum, allowing access to B-Tech courses can provide a broad range of challenges.

Students learn a great deal through competition

Delve into the expertise in your local community; engage parents or business to facilitate mini internships in areas of interest to the student.

Engage the student in competitions both locally and worldwide. Students learn a great deal through competition, they are challenged at their own level and experience failure in a safe environment. It can improve teamwork enhancing social and emotional skills while increasing intrinsic motivation.

Extend their Learning

Extension occurs when pupils are encouraged to develop more sophisticated thinking and reasoning skills. This can be achieved through allocating leadership roles or asking the student to lead a project that could be school wide or beyond. An enrichment activity can be any activity that promotes critical thinking, listening, memorisation, visualisation and concentration. The activities might involve multiple rubrics or tiered projects/assignments.

Engaging the flipped model of teaching is an excellent way of challenging more able students

By utilising these multiple means of challenge, we can encourage learners to challenge themselves, be more transparent about their abilities and create a culture of high achievement.

“What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, not knowledge in pursuit of the child.” (George Bernard Shaw)