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How to Engage Gifted and Talented Students in the Classroom

By Cathy Weselby October 8, 2014

Giftedness is an intellectual ability significantly higher than average. The federal government defines gifted children as “those who give evidence of high achievement capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields.” However, there aren’t any national standards for identifying gifted students, and it’s usually left to states or school districts to recognize gifted children and determine what programs best meet their academic needs.

Characteristics of gifted students

Gifted students learn at a faster pace than regular students and also tend to finish their assignments more quickly and crave more intellectually challenging assignments. They also may act out in class if bored or understimulated.  Gifted children span all races, genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic levels. According to the National Association for Gifted Children, six to 10 percent of the student population is academically gifted or talented.

Gifted and talented students in the classroom

Gifted learners are least likely to receive special attention from teachers. Research shows when teachers differentiate instruction, they are most likely to do so with students who are struggling academically, because they perceive this group to be most in need of help. Additionally, not all teachers are prepared to support gifted students. A national study by the Fordham Institute found that 58 percent of teachers have not received training focused on teaching academically advanced students in the past few years.

Lesson plans for gifted and talented students

Here are a few instructional strategies and activities to use with gifted students:

  1. Design your lessons with Bloom’s Taxonomy in mind. For gifted students, construct activities from the two upper levels: creating and evaluating. For example, activities could include conducting an experiment, designing a game or musical composition or writing an editorial about a current events topic.
  2. Assign independent projects. When your gifted students finish class assignments early, allow them to work on special projects. Assign topics that are of special interest to your students and have them explore the topic in depth.
  3. Ask intellectually stimulating questions. When constructing your lesson plan, write questions that are open-ended and require more thoughtful responses.
  4. Find mentors. Gifted students need guides just like other students. Find an adult who can help your student explore a subject of interest more deeply. This mentor can serve as an advisor, counselor and role model to the student. Ask other teachers and parents for recommendations or contact a local organization.
  5. Organize cluster groups. Research shows gifted students of the same grade benefit from being grouped together. As a way to combine resources, teachers can shift gifted students from different classrooms into one group to learn about a specific topic in more depth. This method works best with teachers who are specially trained to work with gifted students and have minimal distractions from other students in the class.

Related: 4 Tips for Teaching Gifted and Talented Students

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