Gifted students think and learn differently than most children. They make cognitive associations that may appear off topic but, in reality, are simply more advanced. Gifted students are not simply smart; they have learning differences that require a different set of teaching skills. Statistically a child with an IQ of 135 is as different from standard learners as a child with an IQ of 65. When the standard IQ is 100, both sides of the spectrum demonstrate a notable exception from the norm. The difference between the two is that public perception favors special education for the lower end of the spectrum. Being gifted comes with a host of negative connotations. In general, people view gifted education as a pretentious luxury. However, making a career teaching gifted students is just as critical as teaching special education.
What Gifted Education Programs Look Like
Often, a new gifted and talented teacher has the authority to assess students and tailor a program to their needs. If, for example, the cohort includes many gifted math students, the teacher might emphasize higher-level or more complex math. If, on the other hand, there are a number of students gifted in reading or writing, the teacher might concentrate on those subjects.
For some students, a more creative approach might be necessary. Engagement is the most important factor in teaching gifted students. Many of these students do not find school interesting. For them, it is simply an environment in which they sit and wait for other students to learn what they have already mastered. Some teachers have an intuitive knack for teaching gifted students, but more often, it is necessary to pursue advanced training — a master’s degree in gifted and talented education, for example — in order to truly teach these students.
What Do Gifted and Talented Students Need?
The first step in learning how to teach gifted and talented students is understanding the many nuances of their learning styles. There are rarely two gifted students who present in the same way.
- Gifted students often have behavioral issues.
- They may require many different kinds of services.
- They are not always trying to please their teachers.
- Gifted students might be gifted in one subject but not others.
- The label “gifted” doesn’t change who they are.
- They mature at different rates, often showing asynchronous development.
- They need strong advocates.
There Are Many Ways Schools Can Serve Gifted and Talented Students
Since each gifted student is different, teachers should use multiple educational approaches. There are many ways schools can serve gifted students.
- Acceleration: moving student into higher grades.
- Differentiation: teaching all students the same subject but at varied levels of depth and complexity.
- Student-Teacher matching: students learn in classrooms with teachers whose learning and teaching styles accommodate their needs.
- Independent study: students develop their interests independently.
- Competitions: students compete to develop goal-setting and improve skill.
When teachers educate gifted and talented students in the ways they learn best, they are preparing the next generation of innovators and change-agents. Teaching gifted students involves some challenges, but the rewards balance them out.