Beyond a doubt, teachers want all kids to learn. But since many pre-service programs include only a passing glance at the needs of gifted learners, many educators may not realize how to create and maintain a gifted-friendly classroom.
When I first began exploring giftedness, Dorothy Kennedy was director of the Network for Gifted Education at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. I learned much from her years of experience and have kept this gem since it was first published in The Roeper Review in 1995. Her list below is as pertinent today as it was 18 years ago so I'm adding it to the teacher support side of the right triangle.
- Resist policies requiring more work of those who finish assignments quickly and easily. Instead, explore ways to assign different work, which may be more complex, more abstract, and both deeper and wider. Find curriculum compacting strategies that work and use them regularly.
- Seek out supplemental materials and ideas which extend, not merely reinforce, the curriculum. Develop inter-disciplinary units and learning centers that call for higher level thinking. Don't dwell on comprehension-level questions and tasks for those who have no problems with comprehension. Encourage activities that call for analysis, synthesis, and critical thinking, and push beyond superficial responses.
- De-emphasize grades and other extrinsic rewards. Encourage learning for its own sake, and help perfectionists establish realistic goals and priorities. Try to assure that the self-esteem of talented learners does not rest solely on their products and achievements.
- Encourage intellectual and academic risk-taking. The flawless completion of a simple worksheet by an academically talented student calls for little or no reward, but struggling with a complex, open-ended issue should earn praise. Provide frequent opportunities to stretch mental muscles.
- Help all children develop social skills to relate well to one another. For gifted children this may require special efforts to see things from other viewpoints. Training in how to "read" others and how to send accurate verbal and nonverbal messages may also be helpful. Tolerate neither elitist attitudes nor anti-gifted discrimination.
- Take time to listen to responses that may at first appear to be off-target. Gifted children often are divergent thinkers who get more out of a story or remark and have creative approaches to problems. Hear them out, and help them elaborate on their ideas.
- Provide opportunities for independent investigations in areas of interest. Gifted children are often intensely, even passionately, curious about certain topics. Facilitate their in-depth explorations by teaching research skills as needed,directing them to good resources, and providing support as they plan and complete appropriate products.
- Be aware of the special needs of gifted girls. Encourage them to establish realistically high-level educational and career goals, and give them additional encouragement to succeed in math and science.
Dorothy M. KennedyRoeper Review, May/Jun95, Vol. 17 Issue 4, p232