Teachers and academic leaders have a responsibility to instruct students with a wide variety of skills and abilities. Some students work far below grade level, and others surge ahead. Some schools model all-inclusive classrooms, in which teaching teams address the needs of students with disabilities as well as gifted students. In others, specialists gather students with similar disabilities or gifts for instruction and support outside the general education classroom. One group of students, however, needs particular care and attention in the classroom: twice-exceptional students.
What Makes a Student Twice-Exceptional?
A student with two exceptionalities, or a twice-exceptional student, is one who demonstrates remarkable learning abilities in particular areas of study while simultaneously experiencing one or more learning disabilities. For instance, a student may highly excel in creativity and verbal communication — making them star pupils in curriculum dealing with history or literature. However, the same student may also suffer from federal or state-defined learning disabilities, emotional or behavioral disorders, autism, or physical disabilities, hindering their performance in other content areas. Beyond academic performance, the disabilities may also affect their personal development by impacting their motivation to interact, abilities to self-express or confidence levels.
What Challenges Do Gifted and Talented Teachers Face When Teaching Twice-Exceptional Students?
Gifted and talented teachers often face one of two unique challenges when instructing students who are both gifted and have a learning disability. Sometimes, a twice-exceptional student’s gifted capacities stand out above their learning disabilities. In these situations, students unfortunately go without the special education resources they need to truly excel in the classroom. Unfortunately, the opposite may also be true — a student’s learning disability is severe enough to hide their gifted competence. Again, these twice-exceptional students are left without the opportunity to cultivate their strong interests and capacities.
How Can Teachers Most Effectively Teach Them?
In spite of the challenges of instructing twice-exceptional students, there are several ways teachers can minimize the obstacles students face in the classroom. To most effectively teach these students, it is important that both the strengths and challenges of twice-exceptional students are identified as early in their academic journey as possible. Once a teacher has a clearer understanding of a student’s abilities and interests, they can offer as many learning accommodations as possible while still meeting academic objectives.
For example, instead of traditional methods such as essays, quizzes and exams, teachers may facilitate opportunities for twice-exceptional students to learn through role-playing, creative outlets or hands-on activities. When traditional methods are needed, reducing the length and volume of work or incorporating visual elements into the assignment are just some of the alternatives available. Whatever approach a teacher decides to take, however, it is important to foster a positive social and emotional learning environment and avoid singling out twice-exceptional students from their peers.
What Can School Leadership Do To Help?
While teachers must ensure twice-exceptional students receive appropriate instruction to meet their academic objectives, school leadership also has the challenge of providing the appropriate support and environment for each student to excel.
First, school leadership must create holistic testing mechanisms to accurately assess the academic, physical and social/emotional needs of every student. All students should then have access to both gifted and talented and special education resources.
Next, teachers must have the flexibility to alter the curriculum or delivery as needed depending on the child’s interests and abilities, while meeting the education requirements as set forth by state or federal mandates.
Finally, leadership should instill a collaborative environment where the responsibility to meet the needs of twice-exceptional students is shared among teachers, psychologists, curriculum coordinators and principals.