Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Myth #4: Gifted Education and Accelerated Programs

Contributed by Katherine Varga, M.S., CCC-SLP

MYTH:  Our district has a gifted educational program; we have advanced placement courses.

TRUTH: Gifted education tends to be a very misunderstood fraction of our academic system.  True gifted education does not require only advanced material or a simple increase in knowledge base.  A gifted brain does not grow connections in just one direction or on one plane. Ideas jet out in several dimensions, making true gifted education difficult to provide, but also necessary.  All directions of thought should be encouraged, corralled and pruned to produce the best outcomes for students.  In 2012, the University of Alberta published an excellent article titled, “Learning Characteristics of Gifted Students:  Implications for Instruction and Guidance.” As the title suggests, it provides a clear and concise list of characteristics likely to be found in a gifted learner.  Compared to their typical peers, gifted students tend to have the following advanced capabilities: 

  • Recognize the problem to be solved
  • Readily and spontaneously generate a series of steps to a solution
  • Set priorities for the direction to take in solving a problem (working with a plan)
  • Select representation of information more like an expert would
  • Decide which resources to allocate to a problem solving task
  • Monitor solutions systematically, rather than guessing
  • Execute analogical thinking
  • Execute problems dealing with memory and attention
  • Organize and use prior knowledge
  • Use regulatory (metacognitive) processes (Yewchuck, 2012)

These characteristics, among others, create several potential challenges for teachers in the regular classroom setting.  The article highlighted several areas of strength found in gifted students and the corresponding challenges likely to occur within a typical classroom model.  These highlights are taken directly from the article mentioned above. 

Verbal proficiency:
  • Has advanced vocabulary for age or grade; uses words easily and accurately; language characterized by fluency and elaboration; reads independently a great deal; enjoys difficult reading material.
  • The educational needs of verbally proficient students include sharing ideas verbally in depth, using and exploring increasingly difficult vocabulary and concepts, working with advanced reading materials and working with intellectual peers.
  • Possible problems include difficulty restraining desire to talk and developing listening skills and habits, dominating classroom discussion, using verbalism to avoid difficult thinking tasks, and being perceived as a "show off” by classroom peers.

Reasoning skills:
  • Ability to abstract, conceptualize and synthesize; can see similarities, patterns and differences; can generalize from one situation to another; finds pleasure in intellectual activity.
  • In the classroom the gifted student needs exposure to a variety of materials and concepts, opportunities to pursue multi-disciplinary topics and themes ("big ideas") in depth, and access to a challenging and varied curriculum at many levels.
  • Possible problems include boredom with classroom instruction, unresponsiveness to traditional teaching methods, being judged as "lazy" and "unmotivated" by the teacher, and considered too serious by peers.
Knowledge base:
·         Knows a great deal about a variety of topics; has quicker mastery and recall of factual information than other children of the same age; interested in "adult" topics such as religion, race relations, peace and disarmament, politics, the environment.
·         Instructional classroom needs include early instruction of basic skills with minimum of repetition and drill, and exposure to new and challenging information about cultural, economic, environmental, political and educational issues.
·         Possible problems include rebellion at having to work below one's level of competence, development of poor work habits because of lack of challenge, peer resentment of skills and achievement.

Learning efficiency:
  • Can process a great deal of information quickly; has rapid insight into cause-effect relationships; is very observant.
  • Quick learners need an accelerated pace of instruction.
  • Possible problems include dislike for routine and drill, frustration with inactivity, lack of challenge and absence of progress, and impatience with "waiting for the group".

Intense curiosity:
  • Questioning and inquisitive attitude; asks many unusual or provocative questions (not just informational or factual questions); interested in the "why" and "how" of things; concerned with what makes things right or wrong; has areas of "passionate" interest inside or outside of school.
  • Educational needs include opportunities for active inquiry, and instruction in how to access information and conduct research.
  • Possible problems include stifling of interests, lack of opportunity to pursue areas of interest, pressure towards conformity, perception by teacher as being "smart alecky".

  • Ability to generate original ideas and solutions; can reason out problems logically; finds new and unusual ways to approach and solve problems; can analyze complicated material into component parts; enjoys difficult problems and puzzles.
  • Instructional needs include opportunities to solve problems in diverse ways, to build skills in problem solving and productive thinking, to explore alternative ways of conceptualizing problems (for example, metaphorically or visually), to attempt solutions to real-life problems; and to develop tolerance for ambiguity.
  • Possible problems include tendency to have a critical attitude towards oneself and others, poor interpersonal relationships with children of the same age, rejection by peers as being "different" and nonconforming.

Power of concentration:
  • Persistence in achievement of self-determined goals; has long attention span; when motivated works on tasks until completion; needs little encouragement from others when working on areas of interest (intrinsically motivated); sets high personal standards.
  • Educational needs include opportunities for expression of personal preferences and choices, freedom to pursue "passion" areas beyond normally allotted time spans, and instruction in setting realistic expectations, setting and evaluating priorities.
  • Possible problems include resistance to interruption and following a schedule, stubbornness, difficulty in accepting limitations of space, time or resources for activities, and pursuit of activities that are not "on task" from the perspective of the teacher.

Often students found in advanced placement classrooms are a combination of hard working, highly motivated students and gifted students (not to say these are always mutually exclusive). The gifted students are often those struggling as a result of challenges mentioned above. I believe it is important for every student to expand their capabilities to their highest potential regardless of their innate intellectual capacities. I believe we are doing our children a disservice when we assume that typical classrooms, even those with high achieving students, are likely to provide the flexibility needed for exceptional gifted education. 

If you would like to read the article in its entirety, it can be found here:

Yewchuk, C. (2012) Learning Characteristics of Gifted Students: Implications for Instruction and Guidance. The New Zealand Journal of Gifted Education, 11/12(1). Retrieved March 25, 2013, from http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/v12art06.php.

Mark your calendars for our next guest lecture!

Thursday, April 11, 2013 – 7pm at the Pioneer Elementary School library in Gilbert
DeeDee Aboroa, gifted educator, will speak about Underachievement, a common issue for gifted students.