Catering for Gifted Students in the Classroom

 

Recently I was speaking with a gifted student who asserted she didn’t like working in groups, specifically the collaboration aspect. “It seems to be all about the process of collaborating, rather than the task or the learning outcome. I am an independent learner; I prefer to work by myself, not with other students,” she said. Having worked with this student previously, I had observed her flourishing in a collaborative environment and was interested to learn why her attitude had changed. I wondered how the collaborative groups were being created? Were the groups based on ability or peer-tutored dyads, where high ability students are grouped with lower achieving students for cooperative learning tasks? Was the learning task differentiated to enrich learning for students in the class?  I wondered, how do we consider the ongoing instructional needs of gifted students through diverse instructional curriculum approaches that incorporate opportunities for collaboration with like-minded peers which, in turn, develop students’ social skills at a level conducive to their intellectual intelligence?

Rogers (2007) synthesis of the research on educational practice for gifted and talented students identifies the effect size of peer-tutored dyads as null; neither the lower achieving dyad member or the gifted member of the dyad made any academic gain. Effect sizes for like-ability groupings were positive where cooperative learning tasks are completed together, however, it’s important to note that materials and tasks should be differentiated according to their specific intention with rigorous, compacted, beyond grade-level curriculum provided for high ability learners. When differentiated work is utilised, specifically catering to students’ learning potential, the effect size can average up to four fifths of an additional year’s academic achievement (Rogers, 2002; Slavin, 1987).

How then does this relate to gifted students social and emotional intelligence? When gifted students are not engaged in their work, they lose motivation and switch off. Their self-concept and positive outlook towards their learning diminishes. Gifted students often have difficulty relating to their same-age peers because of their asynchronous development where their heightened intensity and advanced cognitive development combine, creating an awareness or experiences that are quite different to the norm. Difficulties in making friends and connecting with other students during their childhood and adolescence can have lasting social and emotional effects. The development of social and emotional intelligence depends on the student’s ability to relate to and connect with other students. When gifted students are grouped with like-minded, like-ability, like-performing peers, along with differentiated learning tasks and higher expectations from teachers, powerful academic effects and moderate affective effects ensue.

Gifted and talented students are a diverse group of students who require differentiated educational provisions. The Australian Curriculum identifies the provision of learning for gifted and talented students as requiring flexibility, with “rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning activities drawn from a range of challenging curriculum that addresses their individual learning needs” (ACARA, 2016, p.1). Whilst some teachers do this better than others, post graduate study or professional learning seems to be the key feature in understanding the unique characteristics of gifted students to then create and implement holistic programmes to support their development.  Programmes need to enrich student learning by exploring concepts in depth, stimulated by their curiosity on the topic being covered.

Further questioning of the gifted student identified the collaborative groupings she was working in contained a broad spectrum of learning abilities within each group. She found herself teaching and scaffolding her peers rather than extending her own capabilities, by thinking critically about challenging and complex phenomena related to the subject matter. Previously, when working with like-minded, like-ability, like-performing peers she was challenged, with the complexity of the task inspiring and encouraging the collaboration aspect. Discussions were rich and fast paced with their learner behaviours showing fierce engagement.

Differentiation for gifted students is acknowledged in the Australian Curriculum (ACARA, 2016) and the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (AITSL, 2017) through Standard 1.5 where teachers are required to, “Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities”.  Gallagher, (2015) discusses the influence of social policy on educational policy with social policy addressing the most critical of needs before resources are expended. Australia’s recent PISA results have declined whilst other countries have improved. Australia’s focus has been on ‘closing the gap’ with remedial support for students not achieving ‘at’ or ‘above’ the benchmark whilst other countries who are improving, encourage students at both ends of the learning spectrum. Professor Patrick Griffin (AITSL, 2016) asserts, “Schools are held accountable for the number of students who reach or surpass that level at the bottom, so what’s happening is the system is lowering its sights.”

We need to ensure that gifted students are being catered for in our classrooms by supporting their intellectual, social and emotional needs in our increasingly competitive world. We need to consider each learner in our classroom and provide opportunities for them to flourish cognitively whilst developing their social and emotional intelligence depending on their individual characteristics. We need to utilise the resources we have through the Australian Curriculum to delve deeper into concepts through the general capabilities and cross-curricular priorities. We need to allow our gifted students to have a voice and identify themes within subject matter they are curious to know more about, exploring these in greater depth and breadth to stimulate their minds. We need to ensure we provide opportunities for our gifted students to collaborate with like-minded, like-ability, like-performing peers in our classes to increase their social and emotional intelligence.

How do you cater for gifted students in your class?

 

References

Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2016). Australian curriculum: Student diversity. Retrieved 9 August 2017 from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2017). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Retrieved 9 August 2017 from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/teach/standards

Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2016). Leading Voices: Professor John Hattie and Professor Patrick Griffin. Retrieved 5 August 2017 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8JGuDZWdIU

Gallagher, J. J. (2015). Political issues in gifted education. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 38(1), p.77-89. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0162353214565546

Rogers, K. B. (2002). Re-forming gifted education: Matching the program to the child. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.

Rogers, K. B. (2007). Lessons learned about educating the gifted and talented: A synthesis of the research on  educational practice. The Gifted Child Quarterly, 51, 382–396.

Slavin, R. E. (1987). Ability grouping: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 57, 293-336.