Catering for Gifted Students in the Classroom

I was recently speaking with a student who stated she did not like working collaboratively in groups.

“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.

I have previously observed this student flourishing in a collaborative environment, so I was interested to learn why her attitude had changed.

I began to wonder how the collaborative groups were being created, whether they were based on ability or peer-tutored dyads, or if the learning task was being adapted to enrich learning for certain students.

How do we consider the ongoing instructional needs of gifted students through diverse curriculum approaches that incorporates opportunities for collaboration with like-minded peers, yet also develops students’ social skills at a level conducive to their intellectual intelligence?

Research in this field of the best educational practices for gifted students shows there is no benefit to peer-tutored dyads – neither the lower achieving dyad member, or the gifted member of the dyad, made any academic gain (Rogers, 2007). The effect of like-ability groupings were positive where co-operative learning tasks were completed together, however, it’s important to note that materials and tasks should be differentiated according to the abilities of each student. 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. They often have difficulty connecting to their same-age peers because of their asynchronous development. Their heightened intensity and advanced cognitive development create an awareness, or experiences, that are quite different to the norm. These difficulties making friends during childhood and adolescence can have lasting social and emotional effects. When gifted students are grouped with peers of like mind, ability and performance, and given differentiated learning tasks and higher expectations from teachers, powerful academic effects, and moderate affective effects, can occur.

The Australian Curriculum identifies the need for learning for gifted and talented students to be flexible and to include “rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning activities drawn from a range of challenging curriculum that addresses their individual learning needs” (ACARA, 2016, p.1). The Curriculum states teachers are required to “Differentiate teaching to meet the specific learning needs of students across the full range of abilities” (ACARA, 2016).

While some teachers already do this well, 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 programs to support their development. These need to enrich student learning by exploring concepts in depth, stimulating their curiosity.

The student I was speaking with said she was finding herself teaching her peers, rather than extending her own capabilities, and thinking critically about the challenging subject matter. The groups she was working with included a broad spectrum of learning abilities, compared to previous collaborations with like-minded peers. When working with these students of similar ability, she was challenged, inspired, encouraged, and discussions were fast-paced with each learner showing fierce engagement.

We need to cater for gifted students in our classrooms by supporting and developing their intellectual, social, and emotional needs. We need to provide opportunities for each individual learner to flourish cognitively depending on their individual characteristics and allow gifted students to collaborate with peers of like mind, ability, and performance in our classes to increase their social and emotional intelligence. We need to utilise the Australian Curriculum resources available and ensure gifted students have a voice and can explore subjects they are curious about in greater depth to stimulate their minds.

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
  • 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.