by Candace Grantz
When one hears the phrase "special education," thoughts turn to students with learning disabilities or students who cannot keep up with the pace of the classroom. However, a certain group of special education students is often overlooked. These children are indeed in need of special education but not in the manner to which we are accustomed. These are the gifted students, who, since they do not show traditional signs of academic distress, can be overlooked. Although they are often thought to be relatively self-sustaining in the classroom, gifted students deserve special education to meet their individual needs.
If we were TV sets, some of us would only get five channels. Others are wired for cable (the general population) and some of us (the gifted) are hooked up to a satellite dish. That makes these gifted children capable of making connections that others don't even know exist! Teaching those types of voracious minds in a regular classroom without enhancement is like feeding an elephant one blade of grass at time. You'll starve them. – Elizabeth Meckstroth
Recognizing Gifted Students in a Classroom
Over the years, as the issue of gifted students in the classroom has earned increased attention, the definition of a gifted student has evolved. As author Sandra Manning investigates, in her article "Recognizing Gifted Students: A Practical Guide for Teachers," in the past, the definition of a gifted student has focused on everything from a student's high IQ test scores to a student's exceptional performance in life situations (Manning, Sandra 2006). Now, the popular use of the title "gifted" is for students with a high academic or intellectual ability (Manning 2006). Although Manning admits that definitions of the word "gifted" carry much ambiguity, she asserts that these gifted students exhibit certain characteristics that can be identified by instructors in the classrooms (Manning 2006).
The first group of characteristics that the author examines is the set of "cognitive characteristics of intellectually gifted children," characteristics in how the students think and learn (Manning 2006). According to Manning, gifted students often exhibit strengths in reception, processing, and retention of information (Manning 2006). They possess the ability to comprehend materials at higher levels, and their abstract thinking skills are usually more developed than those of their peers (Manning 2006). Gifted students not only possess stronger abilities to take in information, but they also have the desire to pursue studies in specific areas that interest them (Manning 2006). These students can see connections and relationships between ideas and are creative in their ideas and problem-solving techniques (Manning 2006). Gifted students tend to be high-energy learners, who can focus longer and investigate deeper into a project (Manning 2006).
Manning goes on to address a second aspect of recognizing gifted students in a classroom: the "affective characteristics of intellectually gifted children," behavioral characteristics of the students (Manning 2006). She explains how gifted students often possess a strong desire to share their knowledge with other students (Manning 2006). They tend to be more conscious of the emotions of others, have an unusual sense of humor, and have a stronger sense of self-awareness (Manning 2006). These students also exhibit advanced emotional depth, moral judgment, and ideas of justice (Manning 2006). All of these characteristics are common in gifted students, but that is not to say that every gifted student will exhibit all of these characteristics.
The last group of characteristics that Manning discusses is "characteristics of atypical gifted students", or students who are gifted but whose talents for some reason have not emerged in the traditional manner (Manning 2006). Characteristics of atypical gifted students include logic skills and an ability to understand and utilize analogies, as well as an easily overlooked ability to manipulate a symbol system (Manning 2006). Atypical gifted students can display their abilities in a broader array of subjects, such as creative arts (Manning 2006). Also, these students tend to be adaptive in their families, be capable of taking on leadership or parenting roles in a troubled family, and possess a strong sense of self-worth and pride (Manning 2006).
Special Needs of Gifted Students
Gifted students may ace the tests and boost up the class average on standardized tests, but are their scores true indicators of their academic success and fulfillment of their learning desires? Although their test scores may be high, gifted students have special needs of their own that possibly cannot be met by the day to day runnings of a classroom. In her article, author Karen B. Rogers introduces five "lessons" about the needs of gifted students (Rogers, Karen B. 2007). First, she explains that in order for gifted students' talents to flourish and grow, they need to be presented with a daily challenge that will enhance their particular strength (Rogers 2007). With progressively more difficult challenges, the students will grow intellectually in their areas of strength and will learn to connect old and new ideas (Rogers 2007). Rogers goes on to assert that gifted students need opportunities for independent work pursuing their specific areas of interest (Rogers 2007). Opportunities like that are not easy to create in the structure of a traditional classroom, depriving gifted students of that need. Another great need of gifted students is advanced instruction in a subject area in which they are exceeding (Rogers 2007). They need the opportunity to learn at their own levels; how can a fifth grader who is reading on an eleventh grade level be appropriately challenged in her fifth grade class? In addition to academic needs, Rogers explains that gifted students need opportunities to spend time with other students with abilities similar to theirs (Rogers 2007). This gives the students an opportunity to work with their peers and spend time with students who think how they do. Gifted students sometimes feel isolated because they are different from the other students in the classroom; this gives them a chance to work with students who are similar to them. Lastly, gifted students need to learn at their own pace. Just like any other students, in order to be academically challenged, they need to work at a pace that matches their learning styles and abilities (Rogers 2007). Gifted children tend to learn and retain information at a much quicker rate. If they experience too much down time while the rest of the class is reviewing, they will become bored and lose focus. They too need to learn at their own rate in order to maximize their learning abilities (Rogers 2007). School systems have many different ways of dealing with their gifted students. One of the most popular ways is grade skipping. Sometimes parents think this is appropriate because their child is smart enough to be moved up a grade or two. Other times it’s the school system that feels grade skipping will benefit the child but is this true? Davis and Rimm identify the two major concerns for grade skipping in their Education of the Gifted and Talented book. The first concern is missing critical basic skills. For example “many teachers feel that if a child is not taught an important math or reading skill, he or she will be at a great disadvantage in later grades”(p. 125) The second problem is social adjustment. It is a myth that gifted children are more adjusted socially and emotionally than average students. The truth is gifted students have a harder time adjusting because others do not relate to them.
In the article Differentiation: Asset or Liability for Gifted Education?, Sandra N. Kaplan examines what she sees as the ubiquitous classification of differentiated learning. Kaplan suggests that a rather broad definition and assignment of the term differentiation has posed a potential problem for gifted education. The author implies that because the definitive idea of differentiated learning has “lost its vitality,” its significance to gifted instruction has consequently waned.
Kaplan states that gifted education programs, falling under the scope of differentiated learning, require explicit and unique curriculums that distinguish them from general education studies. She claims that constantly shifting educational practices and their overreaching classification and application of “differentiated” have resulted in the failure to adequately define unique instruction that specifically addresses the needs of the gifted learner. Says Kaplan, “When differentiation is used to justify educational practices that alter the ends or goals of learning rather than the means to these ends, it has the potential to become a deterrent rather than a facilitator to the education of gifted students.” Problems arise, as Kaplan views it, when teachers categorically allot set tasks for the whole of an identified group without the flexibility and options of projects that assist the abilities and weaknesses of the individual student
The Effects of NCLB on the Gifted
Differentiation is strongly emphasized in the educational system, but the gifted student is often overlooked. These students could be the ones that make that marked invention that changes society and need to be challenged to reach their maximum potential. One problem on the horizon is the No Child Left Behind act. Now teachers are so focused on bringing up scores and differentiating to accommodate the struggling child that the gifted student faces no challenges in his environment. School systems are happy with their scores and feel no need to stretch their abilities further. According to an article by Henley, McBride, Milligan and Nichols, there are three significant problems associated with NCLB and the gifted student. First, the gifted students that had little or no attention before are ignored now; secondly, teachers are being taught that they need to focus on bringing the low end students to proficiency and the average to advanced; therefore, the gifted are not even in the consideration. Thirdly, students that had been receiving gifted services were being retained in the classroom for test preparation and basically eliminating any special services they had been given. It is a great concern for the advanced students to receive little or no formal services due to the emphasis on the lower end child.
Twice Exceptional Students
Some gifted students have additional issues that impede their success. They may be rapid learners who need very little repetition while at the same time they may have a learning disability or physical challenge. These types of learners are known as Twice Exceptional because they sit on both sides of the normal bell curve of students. And it can be a challenge to meet their needs. Educators need to know that these students exist and they must be identified early in order for them to be successful and reach their potential. A young man I know did not learn to read fluently until he was ten years old, in the fourth grade. He said that the letters and words moved around on the page and would not sit still as he tried to read them. He had known all of his letter sounds by the time he entered kindergarten because he was a speech student due to a genetic tongue thrust that caused a mild lisp. Because of this, and the fact that he could remember and recite poems the first time he heard them (a skill that is one of the markers for a reading disability), his learning disability was compensated for by his strengths until he was in the second grade. That was when he was finally identified as having a form of dyslexia, or as stated on his IEP, a nonspecific learning disorder. It is not politically correct to use the term dyslexia on IEPs in the state of California, which is where he was identified. He was and is an excellent listener and could correctly answer all the teacher’s questions during group discussions. But he could not read the tests, they had to be read to him by the resource teacher, and he was placed in a pullout program for reading. His IEP has been modified as necessary through the years as his needs have changed. He has progressed from one on one testing assistance to small group testing to full inclusion. He earned a perfect score on his Earth Science SOL as an eighth grade advanced science student. According to Jean Stropp, this young man may be successful because he had support consistently and early in his school career (Stropp, 2002). This young man is now a 16 year old gifted vocalist and musician currently taking 8 high school classes as a dual strand sophomore in a Performing Arts Academy Program in Virginia Beach. Some of his classes are Algebra II/Trig, Chemistry, Academy Orchestra, Comprehensive Musicianship and the advanced academy chorus, Vox Harmonia. According to Stropp, twice exceptional students face many obstacles to success caused by being gifted and having challenges (2002). With early identification, intervention, guidance, and support, these students can become successful and thrive in a high expectations educational environment.
After outlining some of the major concerns regarding educating gifted students, the question arises of how these issues can be addressed. After outlining some of the major concerns regarding educating gifted students, the question arises of how these issues can be addressed. There are some who will suggest that the best solution is advancing the child ahead in grade level, while those who oppose claim that the student will not necessarily be emotionally and developmentally ready for this advance. Others promote grouping students within the grade level by their academic ability, so they will be in classes with their academic peers. The gifted students will be able to cover the standard material more rapidly and have time to further investigate topics of interest to the students. At the same time, the slower learners will be able to take the material at their own pace, avoiding the stress of not keeping up, and students of all levels will have the comfort of a classroom environment with other students at their own levels. Opponents to this idea fear that the slower and average students will feel bad for not being in the gifted class. A third option is to have an extra program in addition to the normal school day for the gifted students. However, this type of program would not be able to meet frequently, being limited to either during the school day, causing the students to miss instructional time, or after school, which eliminates students who do not have transportation. Some schools unfortunately do not offer any type of gifted education program. However, it is doubtful that any school would be permitted to operate without a Special Education program. In conclusion, due to the specific needs of gifted students, it is up to every school system to make proper accommodations for these students to make sure that they, like every other student, reach their full academic and developmental potential.
Davis, G. A. , & Rimm, S. B. (2004). Education of the gifted and talented. Boston, Va: Pearson Education, Inc.
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Rogers, Karen B. (2007). Lessons Learned About Educating the Gifted and Talented: A Synthesis of the Research on Educational Practice. Gifted Child Quarterly. Retrieved February 3, 2008, from http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com.proxy.lib.odu.edu/hww/results/getResults.jhtml?_DARGS=/hww/results/results_common.jhtml.12
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K., Carolyn. (2008). Gifted Education Quotes. Hoagies' Gifted Education Page. Retrieved February 3, 2008, from www.hoagiesgifted.org/gifted_quotes.htm
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