Teaching gifted students can be both exciting and frustrating. Our gifted children have the ability to grasp, organize and apply abstract concepts quickly and more efficiently than other students which often leave teachers a little bit perplex about what to do with them. In a previous article I wrote about some blunders to avoid when teaching these students, here are some strategies you might find useful.
The most obvious strategy is to engage your gifted students into an independent project where they will be able to explore new things and use their creativity. Instead of giving extra worksheets to your gifted students have them to use their extra time into something that genuinely interest them and that can or cannot be related to the topic studied in class.
In terms of projects what we call “vertical enrichment activities” are projects or assignments related to the topic studied in the classroom but that go beyond the mere curriculum. These types of activities are aimed at challenging students in a range of subjects while enhancing their thinking skills.
High achieving students and gifted ones don’t often have the opportunity to compare themselves to others so having them involved in some kind of academic competition can be fruitful. It could be a reading challenge, a Math challenge, a Technology challenge, or a general knowledge quiz. Whatever the project these events can be highly motivating for gifted students.
As I wrote in a previous article, using gifted students as a tutors for less able ones is not such a good idea. We tend to believe that pairing gifted students with low attainders can be profitable for both but it’s rarely the case. Instead talk to your colleagues, contact organizations that deal with gifted students, find mentors for your gifted students, meet their parents and work hand in hand with them. Gifted students need tutors as well. It’s not because they are gifted that they are here to be teachers’ helpers.
Using technology is also great to help our gifted students so that they can reach their true potential. Through the use of technology, students can explore their abilities and find ways to work more independently. It is worth mentioning as well that they can build projects with other gifted students to go beyond what they already know.
Implementing leveling assignments can also be good. When using these you can use the same type of material and assess all your students on the same topics but the questions that you will use and the projects you will ask your gifted students to create will differ slightly to ensure that they are pushed enough.
Finally I would highly recommend some readings from Piaget and the Bloom’s taxonomy so that you familiarize yourself with some more techniques and ideas to pitch your lessons to the right level for these students.
As teachers we usually know quickly which students will need more support and which students will need more challenging tasks. The best way to ensure that we provide challenging material to our gifted students is to start the year with the conduction of whole class assessments. You could for example provide an assessment with different progressive stages according to the difficulty. If in the last part of the test that is supposed to most difficult some students achieve 80% or higher, then you know that these students should be given more complex tasks that will structure their thinking skills. You could for example suggest some independent projects with challenging topics related to the curriculum or you could ask these students to prepare a lesson to teach by themselves.
When you teach gifted students you need to remember that you are making special arrangements for these students. It doesn’t mean necessarily that you will create a completely different curriculum for them but it means that you will have to adapt your teaching style and resources for the benefit of your gifted students. This is what you will need to explain to their parents, which can be uneasy. I usually find that gifted children’s parents are quite worried and that they are not always sure that teachers make everything they can to improve their children’s learning. I suggest on that delicate point to offer to work collaboratively with them. They know best what their child needs so let’s make sure that you create a good rapport with them. They will understand that you won’t have time to prepare a whole syllabus for every single child but they will happy to hear that you are ready to help them unlock their children’s potential.
I remember that when I first had to face the challenge of teaching gifted students I didn’t quite know what to do but having myself suffered from all the frustration and boredom when I was at school there were some mistakes I could avoid.
The first blunder that I still often observe in lessons is that teachers give more work to gifted students. That’s counterproductive. Of course you give extension tasks to your gifted students but these tasks have to be meaningful and challenging. Instead of wasting their time completing more tasks, gifted students should spend their extra time developing their existing knowledge or exploring different ways of learning.
Another common mistake when teaching gifted students is to pair them up with struggling students. Apart if you have really kind and generous gifted students willing to help others remember that most gifted students are rather rebellious and the experience is often a disaster. How many times have I observed gifted students losing their temper and motivation because they were supposed to act as tutors for less able ones?
Last but not least don’t force them. Gifted children have needs and they know that their likes and needs are different from others. So instead of giving them tasks that they must do, give them opportunities to develop, to learn and to surpass themselves. Don’t assume that because they are gifted they don’t want to develop even more.
We spend a lot of time as teachers planning lessons, ensuring that we cover the curriculum. We also juggle with target settings, target reviews, reports, parents’ evenings and behavior management. Why am I writing about behavior management will you say? Isn’t it about teaching gifted students? You’re right. But it’s actually about both, as you will generally find out that if you feed your gifted students with the challenges they need then some of your classroom behavior issues will disappear as by magic.
How do we recognize gifted children?
From a teacher’s perspective a gifted child is hard work, as these children need constant redirection. When you give them a task to achieve it usually takes them no more than 5 minutes to complete it while other students will probably need 10 minutes. Students who are intellectually gifted will present a set of common features like the ability to think in an abstract way at an early age, the need for constant intellectual stimulation, an ability to grasp complex information within minutes and a true desire to explore things in depth. No doubt that these children can easily be bored and frustrated. Even if the word gifted didn’t exist while I was at school I think I would probably today fall into that category. Yes, it’s true that your parents are proud of your academic results but in terms of behavior that’s another story. I remember that once I had decided that a subject was worth the interest I would put all my energy to study it, which gave some more homework for my teachers who had to correct my personal projects. Not to mention that I was a headache for all the teachers who couldn’t provide me with enough challenge. The only way I had back then to avoid distracting my peers because of my own boredom was to be given either a book to read or essays to write which I absolutely loved. Can you just imagine the frustration when you know that you can deal with a topic better than your friends but that you will have to stay the whole hour listening to endless repetition and games? Well, then imagine yourself stuck at the photocopier while you know that you can achieve much more? That’s what gifted children feel: Frustration, boredom, isolation and angriness every single day.
With gifted students we need to go beyond the curriculum. Have them to feel responsible for their own independent learning and try to use every opportunity to push these students. You will not harm them by giving them more opportunity for learning! Far from it. That’s what they want and need even if they will pretend the contrary. What may be difficult when you have gifted students is that one activity won’t necessarily work for all your gifted students. Gifted students are good at thinking so train them towards that direction; give them the tool they deserve to perform to the best of their abilities. Think out of the box; try to be creative. If you have gifted students and you’re not quite sure how to handle them try to find out in your school who’s in charge of the gifted and talented students. In most schools now there should be someone in charge who will be quite helpful to help you with these students.
Teaching children can be extremely rewarding and you can see huge improvements quickly, which is what we look for as teachers. However there are some steps to follow to make your lessons successful with children as teaching little ones requires patience, energy and creativity.
As we know children are full of energy, curiosity and enthusiasm. At a young age children are also more sensitive to language learning and they are like sponges. To keep them interested and motivated in your lessons you will have to be enthusiastic as well and bring a wide range of ideas in your lessons. Your lessons need to be varied and fun for the benefit of the little ones.
When teaching children we also need to understand their psychology and what they can or can’t do. Things that are common sense to us will be completely unknown to children. For example they do no quantify the time the same way we do, they use their imagination broadly and can attribute human characteristics to inanimate objects – it’s not uncommon to see children speaking with their toys. Children are not ready either to take others’ point of view into consideration and their logical thought will seem illogical to us! However they can already classify objects according to their colors or shapes and they can also use some memory skills and language learning is what takes most of their attention. These types of information are invaluable clues that will help our planning.
Once we know this and that children have an attention span of 5 minutes it’s up to us to create the activities that will shape their learning. Games, stories, kinesthetic activities, use of toys and authentic material like songs and videos, flashcards and cooking utensils will be some of the tools that you will use to keep them motivated and inspired.
There are plenty of ways to keep them motivated as long as the activities are short and as long as they can manage to do them. Speak to them in English ALL the time, and illustrate what you are saying through use of visuals, drawings, videos or flashcards. You can also use a puppet to help you in your teaching. Most of the time you will find out that your students are capable to understand you and their learning environment but that they can’t respond to it. Well, it doesn’t matter as long as they are immersed into the language and as long as they repeat the structures over and over again. Repetition and having fun are the two key elements to ensure that your students will enjoy and learn the language. It goes without saying that teaching children can be quite physical so it may be good to feel ready for all the running, singing, hopping, jumping, dancing that will compose your lessons!
So, yes you will be probably exhausted some days but you won’t have to go to the gym to stay fit and the simple fact that children are so open to a new language, the fact that they are ready to do any kind of activities will just make your day.
Another point to consider when teaching children is their parents! Parents of young children are usually quite demanding and that’s great as it shows their interest in their children’s education but you need also to feel ready to answer some questions about your objectives as a teacher, the targets and progress of their children, the syllabus etc. Teaching languages has to be fun. Nonetheless there is a syllabus to follow and children will also have to understand that learning is not all about games and having fun. Teaching and having fun is great but we also need to be reminded to teach life-skills and this starts at a very young age too.
The topic about teaching strategies for students with learning disabilities is a wide and complex one. Students with learning disabilities usually struggle with basic physiological processes. Therefore they find it hard to focus and they have issues with different skills like listening, reading, writing, speaking, calculating, spelling, memorizing and/or thinking. The learning disabilities are so complex and misunderstood that it is often difficult for education practitioners to know how to provide the adequate support for their students. My article will just be limited here to average learning disabilities and it is aimed at giving you some guidelines in your classroom when you have students with mild learning abilities mixed with students with no learning disabilities.
The first thing to do when you have children with learning disabilities is to know where you want to take them. What are your teaching objectives concerning these children? This doesn´t mean that you will have to create a completely new curriculum adapted to their needs but it means that you will have to make adjustments to the curriculum. The content of the syllabus will be adapted but at the same time you need to have these kids meet the same standards.
Adapting the curriculum means first of all that you will need to complement the material you have –textbooks- with tailored worksheets to meet the needs of your students or find more accessible and readable documents. If you have visually impaired students try to present them clear worksheets with a font and size of font adapted to their needs. You may want to have some audiotapes or auditory presentations for these students. Try to modify the material you have. If you are using a text form a textbook, rather than having your students to read it, cut this text in paragraphs and have your students to reorganize these paragraphs. It will help your kinesthetic learners but it will also help your logical thinkers.
Differentiate the learning objectives, have your students to own their learning.
Once you know what kind of material you are going to use, make it readable. Break it to smaller units or chunks to facilitate the understanding of your less able students. You may choose to have most of your class to read a full paragraph and look for some grammar points while some of your students will be instructed to read just a couple of lines and they will look for vocabulary. What you need to do is to break up the material in achievable units that convey meaning.
Differentiate the learning objectives, have your students to own their learning. Because you have students with learning disabilities in your class, it doesn´t mean that they are not able to set targets to themselves. What I tend to do for each lesson and each unit I have 3 differentiated SMART targets on board and I give students the opportunity to write what their target is. You may decide to give suggestions to your students because you know them and you know what is achievable and what is not.
Be very organized. We should all as teachers be organized and have a clear vision of what we are going to teach and what the students are going to learn. With mixed learning abilities class, you need to be even more organized. Your students will benefit from an overview of the chapter you are studying, they will also get some valuable support through clear differentiated instructions which explain what you are doing, why you are going it and how you are going to do it. Last but not least be consistent with the material you use. We all have habits and our brain gets used to routines so try to use the same type of worksheets for your students with learning disabilities. Don´t confuse them is overwriting texts or none related decoration. Go straight to the point in the activities you present them and prefer using small activities if they have short-span attention.
Equality, equality, equality:
We always want to provide the best education for our students. However, no matter how hard we try to reverse things, boys and girls tend to always receive a different education at school and even within the same classroom.
We know that boys and girls are different and that their brains function also in a different way. Generally speaking girls tend to use more areas of the brain for emotive and verbal functioning and they try to counter balance opinions before taking a decision. As opposed to boys who are a bit more impulsive, girls are more likely to plan carefully for an answer to make sure that they are doing the right thing. We often say that girls are predisposed to languages because they are able to write in detail, are organized, visual and auditory learners, write neatly and are inclined to play language games earlier than boys. We also often see boys as brutish, impulsive, messy and enjoying a loud atmosphere. And as teachers we often fall into the trap to give our attention to these students while we tend to put aside our shy hesitant girls. Here is a chart about gender difference and learning
However here again this is a generalization and not all girls or boys would act like this. Let’s not fall into the trap of generalization and stereotype but let’s be aware that there are differences and that these differences need to be acknowledged for a better teacher-learning process.
As teachers, even without noticing it, we sometimes even widen the gap between boys and girls. For example when we group our students in teams we may have the tendency to have mixed ability groups with a gender mix. The idea is great,as it should avoid segregation. However you will soon find out that boys will take leadership roles while girls will be left in stereotypical roles like the one taking notes because she writes neater. Girls’ voices will not be heard by boys and therefore they will endorse a more passive role. One idea when grouping your students would be to give them predefined roles and when you are grouping boys and girls together you should ensure that you have more girls than boys to counter balance arguments.
One idea when grouping your students would be to give them predefined roles and when you are grouping boys and girls together you should ensure that you have more girls than boys to counter balance arguments
Seating plans can be also an issue. Some teachers even use girls to make the boys behave! We wouldn´t dare making such a clear separation between different ethnic or religious groups, would we? Well, that should be the same with gender. We should try to think about different ways to group our students so that it can benefit their learning.