Gifted students have a range of intellectual, academic, social and emotional needs, according to Emeritus Professor Miraca Gross, the founder and Director of the Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre (GERRIC), at the University of New South Wales.
It is important to select a school for your gifted child where teachers understand the needs of gifted students and the school has the professional resources to provide appropriately at each stage of a gifted student’s development to ensure they are really helping gifted children. When exploring what a prospective educational setting can provide to challenge and extend gifted students’ learning or when advocating for an existing student’s needs, it is critical that parents investigate beyond the school’s glossy brochure, ask targeted questions and consider how the school might provide for a student’s educational and psychosocial needs.
What do gifted children need? | Really helping gifted children!
Gifted children require sufficient stimulation to focus their attention; higher levels of challenge to personally engage with new material; and an understanding of their emotional sensitivities and psychosocial needs, in order to experience a learning environment that provides a nurturing, supportive climate to ignite a child’s learning.
John Feldhusen, an educational psychologist and specialist in gifted education at Purdue University, Indiana, often referred to the need for schools to provide a ‘smörgåsbord of options’ for gifted students. Feldhusen recommended having a range of provisions available in schools to allow teachers, parents and students to select from a wide array of options, in order to stimulate tastes; satisfy appetite; fulfil learning needs; nurture abilities and develop specific areas of talent. A student, who develops intrinsic motivation, has a high level of involvement and participates in learning with intense fervour, becomes passionate and productive.
Some schools provide educational opportunities for gifted children; however these may only be offered from a certain stage or year level, located part way through primary or secondary schooling. Gifted children demonstrate advanced milestones and precocious learning patterns from infancy; they do not become gifted at grade 5 or grade 10. Schools that fail to identify and provide for gifted children from the time the student enters the school are missing a critical opportunity to stimulate and engage gifted students throughout their education. Many students have already disengaged from learning by the time a school finally introduces provisions that are designed to extend gifted students.
Gifted children need support designed specifically for them
Parents frequently comment that their child’s school does not have a program for gifted children, while school administrators often cite a lack of funding as the reason why a school cannot provide programs for gifted students. It is important to note that a ‘program’ for gifted children is not required in order to address the needs of gifted students; rather, it is the way that gifted students are taught, extended, questioned, assessed; the way that curriculum is differentiated, compacted, accelerated according to the student’s learning needs; how gifted students are grouped in class; what year level they are placed in and what opportunities are provided in and beyond class to extend gifted students’ learning. Appropriate provision for gifted students involves teaching differently; it does not require a ‘gifted program’.
Parents who ask schools to provide a ‘gifted program’ may inadvertently be requesting a highly visible, although largely ineffective, option for their gifted child. Schools may provide a withdrawal program for gifted students; however this might be what Miraca Gross refers to as a “forty minute solution to a twenty-four/seven issue”. There are some benefits associated with withdrawal programs; however, unless these are accompanied by within-class provisions for gifted students, withdrawal groups may provide limited educational benefits for gifted students.
Gifted students need to be challenged – not just given more
Providing additional work – whether at a similar or more advanced level – for gifted students, who complete classwork more quickly than others, is likely to be counterproductive. Gifted students should be provided with appropriately challenging work at the outset to stimulate, engage, challenge and extend their learning within class and through assessments. Students provided with additional work (especially if this is perceived as ‘more of the same’) quickly regard this approach as patently unfair. Gifted students require work that challenges them; they should not be given additional tasks at (or following) work that is below their current level of intellectual ability and academic skill.
To provide for gifted students’ learning needs, curriculum should be differentiated, the pace of learning varied and academic expectations increased. Gifted students thrive when there are extended opportunities to learn with others of similar ability; in topics and subjects that engage them; at a level that optimally challenges them; in a manner that nurtures their intellectual abilities; in ways that enable them to develop academic skills; within an environment where teachers understand and support their psychosocial needs. Gifted students have specific learning needs. These must be understood and appropriately addressed if they are to be engaged learners who achieve personally and academically.
Michele Juratowitch is Director of Clearing Skies; she provides professional development for teachers, seminars for parents and students. She was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to investigate the needs of gifted students. Michele is co-author of Make a Twist: Curriculum differentiation for gifted students and the research report, Releasing the brakes for high-ability students. She works with teachers and parents of gifted students, advocating for the needs of gifted students.
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