“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
Teachers are responsible for providing every student with a challenging education. In the case of gifted learners, however, fulfilling this task can prove difficult. Gifted students demonstrate significant scholastic, creative or leadership abilities above the norms of their age. To successfully educate these individuals, teachers of gifted learners must employ special methods into lesson plan design, curriculum preparation and management of these students’ academic careers.
Adapting Lesson Plans for Advanced Students
According to the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC), teachers can modify their lesson plans to better serve gifted students with a number of tactics:
Tailor Lesson Plans to Students’ Individual Needs
This often means providing instructional content at a more rapid pace. It might also mean finding ways to encourage further advancement of student strengths while helping them improve academic weaknesses.
Increase Academic Difficulty
Since advanced learners are usually able to process material and make connections faster than their peers, they should be exposed to appropriately challenging content and instruction. This might mean working with increasingly open-ended questions that encourage inquiry, offering self-directed study, and emphasizing analysis and evaluation over memory recall.
Provide “Supported Risk” Challenges
Advanced learners are often accustomed to making high grades and excelling easily. When faced with truly difficult academic tasks, therefore, they often feel threatened or unprepared. Teachers must work to provide academic content that both challenges students and helps them feel safe taking risks.
Overcoming Pitfalls in Lesson Plans
When teaching gifted learners, teachers may commonly hit certain pitfalls. Some include:
Allowing Students to Work on Areas They’ve Already Mastered
When gifted students demonstrate competency, instructors sometimes require them to continue working on the same material while they wait for classmates to catch up. Solutions may include offering pre-assessment and moving gifted learners to more advanced materials when necessary.
Repeating Assignments at a Faster Rate
Doing this provides no challenge to students and thus dampens their motivation and interest in the subject matter.
Asking Students to Serve as “Junior Teachers”
While it’s often beneficial for students to help each other learn, requiring a gifted learner to assist others in class on a regular basis takes away from their own learning time. Teachers should remember to prioritize students’ instruction over their ability (or even willingness) to assist others.
Developing Lesson Plans Based on “Enriching Activities”
It is detrimental to students when, instead of learning subjects with increased degrees of complexity, they are instead asked to complete activities that may be related in subject but lack substance and challenge. NAGC uses the example of musical aptitude. Students who demonstrate the ability to play piano will not improve their skills by doing word-search puzzles about composers or building musical instruments.
Tailoring Lesson Plans for Individual Strengths and Weaknesses
Tailoring lesson plans is another effective way of teaching gifted students. Advanced learners often struggle with issues such as disproportional advancement in certain subjects over others and failing to develop good study habits. Tailoring lesson plans can help mitigate these problems. When lesson plans are adapted to individual student needs, each one can receive the exact type of instruction and content they need to move ahead.
Creating and maintaining individualized lesson plans in the classroom may require some or all of the following, reports Scholastic Administrator:
- The collaboration of teachers to track student progress and discern individual requirements.
- Creating unique academic goals for each student, instead of requiring them to meet a common level of proficiency.
- Allowing students to choose how they want to demonstrate their competency in a subject. (For example, writing a report vs. completing a creative project.)
- Requiring a “study skills” course, in which students discover their learning style and how to develop their study skills accordingly.
Understanding the Types of Student Acceleration
Yet another way of tending to the needs of advanced students is through acceleration. With this method, students are sent through traditional curricula at faster rates than normal. The National Work Group on Acceleration explains that there are two commonly agreed upon forms of acceleration: content-based and grade-based.
In content-based acceleration, students learn advanced content or skills before the normally considered age. Although they may stay in their peer group for most of the day, they spend a portion of their instruction time learning above their grade level. Types of content-based acceleration include:
- Single-subject acceleration. Students attend class elsewhere to gain advanced instruction in a single subject.
- Curriculum compacting. After being tested for grade-level proficiency, students work on advanced content while remaining in the same classroom as their peers.
- Dual enrollment. Students enroll in higher-level coursework that supplements normal studies.
- Credit by examination. Students are pre-assessed and required to have a reduced amount of introductory-level instruction.
Grade-based acceleration is characterized by a reduced number of years a student is required to be in K-12 instruction. With grade-based acceleration, the focus is on placing students in an advanced full-time educational setting, rather than exposing them to advanced content while they remain in their peer group. This type of acceleration can occur in a number of ways:
- Early entrance into school. Although this most often means early entrance into kindergarten, some students may enter directly into first grade.
- Whole-grade acceleration. Students may be placed in a semester or grade above their average level. This may happen at the beginning or middle of the school year.
- Grade telescoping. This refers to an entire group of advanced students accelerating through more than one year’s curriculum. This type of acceleration applies to all academic areas at once.
- Early college admission. Students are admitted to college early. This occurs when high school graduation requirements are met, either by taking dual credit classes or simply leaving high school without a diploma and entering college.
Although there’s much to learn about how to teach advanced students successfully, ensuring that all students succeed is a result that is truly worth the effort. When students excel in school, they can contribute more fully to society as adults and reach their highest potential possible.
Your Career in Gifted Education
All teachers want their students to succeed. For educators who seek to specialize in supporting gifted students, the online M.A. in Education from the University of Findlay can provide the training they need to reach their goals. The program is offered fully online, allowing educators to earn their degree on a schedule that fits their lives.