Teaching and Reaching Gifted Kids

I have been teaching gifted kids for over a decade, consulting with families of gifted children for the last couple of years, and raising gifted twins for the past eight years. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I would like to share some of the personal and professional lessons I have learned about how gifted kids learn. Here are some general guidelines: - Do not hold them to a sequential, comprehensive curriculum. Let them explore the big picture first and fill in the details as needed. Gifted children are voracious, curious learners who can cover a whole year’s curriculum in a matter of weeks when they see its relevance. Many parents and teachers panic when they see how fast these kids learn. It is intimidating if you are not well versed in that topic yourself; but there are many good online  programs and websites that can be used to meet a gifted student’s needs. Ideally, these programs should be supported by a mentor who meets with the student in person on a regular basis.

- Do not be afraid to radically accelerate them in their areas of strength. They should be allowed to work with a gifted teacher who can follow their thought processes and help them weave their scattered learning into a logical format. Gifted children need a knowledgeable mentor who is not intimidated by their ability and can keep up with them academically and intellectually.

- Provide the opportunity for them to work with other gifted children. It is essential that they have the experience of exchanging ideas, solving problems, and learning to work in a collaborative group with other children who are their true intellectual peers.

- Don’t let asynchronous development or a learning disability bar these children from pursuing their passion. It is not unusual for a gifted child to have difficulty writing or reading. They may have social issues or trouble dealing with sensory stimulation. Gifted children are often unidentified because their disabilities are more visible than their abilities.

- Teachers, work with the parents. Several studies have shown that parents are correct about 80 percent of the time in identifying their child as gifted. They have intimate knowledge of their child’s strengths and weaknesses and they are a great resource in designing a program that works for their child.

- Make sure the student is challenged. They have incredibly strong memories and ability to conceptualize and synthesize information at high levels. Boredom is a major factor in underachievement for these children.

- Be aware that gifted children are perfectionists and tend to be very self critical. You can help by listening to their concerns and empathizing with their feelings. Help them see that mistakes are an organic part of the learning process and often lead to discovering of more sophisticated methods or solutions. “The principle mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.” (Arthur Koestler)

- Identify them early. Use multiple measures of ability to identify gifted children. Be willing to accept non-conventional indicators of intellectual talent. Standardized methods of identification tend to under-represent girls, children with behavioral problems, children with disabilities, children from low income families, children from minority cultures, active/energetic boys, and children who have difficulty concentrating and performing when stressed or under time constraints. “Test scores should never ‘define’ a person, no matter what they may reveal about his or her intellectual or achievement potential…All tests are imperfect measures.” (Jean Peterson, Department of Educational Studies, Purdue University)

- Avoid sex-role stereotyping and provide gender role models that reflect great thinking and discovering from both sexes.

- Encourage independence and risk taking in their quest for knowledge. You don’t have all the answers and your approach is not necessarily the best method. Give your children opportunities for high-level abstract thinking and discussion, active inquiry and experimentation, and a creative approach to problem solving. “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” (Albert Einstein)

- Individualize the pacing and curriculum to match each child’s ability and interest. Let the child have input on how, where, when, and what they learn. Promote self direction and intrinsic motivation.

- Be emotionally supportive. Gifted children are highly sensitive to your emotions, words, and judgments. Model positive dialogue, respect, and kindness in your interactions.

- Offer options that enable students to use their strengths and preferred methods of learning.

- Help your child use their intellectual strengths to develop coping strategies in dealing with stressors and insecurities.

- Teachers/parents, create a classroom/home environment that celebrates individual differences, acceptance, and respect. Foster positive peer and family interactions.

- Teaching gifted children is an extremely demanding job. They have tremendous physical and intellectual energy and stamina. Get support from others in meeting the needs of these precocious children.

- Teach them how to point out mistakes, look at differences, and disagree in a positive, supportive manner.

- Empower them to question authority. Teach them that there are errors in print; just because something is published, does not guarantee it is true.

- Don’t focus on competitive activities, comparison to others, or your own aspirations. Let these children grow and learn in a cooperative environment that focuses on their needs and desires.

- Traditional education does not adequately value or nurture gifted children or their abilities. We must advocate for change in this arena.

- These children must be allowed to use their vast knowledge bank as the springboard for unlimited learning.

- Don’t assume that parents have pushed their children to grow their intellectual talent. The opposite is usually true; parents are just trying to keep up with their child’s quest for knowledge.

- Gifted learners have the right to an appropriate education. They must be given intellectually stimulating educational experiences appropriate for their abilities. This is a critical element to helping them realize their full potential.

- Match the teacher to the student. In Judy Galbraith’s book, “The Gifted Kids Survival Guide,” she asked gifted children what they value and desire in a teacher or mentor. Some of the traits they listed were: understands them; has a sense of humor; supports and respects them; flexible; intelligent; open to exploring new ideas; and resourceful.

- Gifted children should be valued for the thinkers they are and the doers they will become. They have the potential to solve world problems, make our lives better, and open the future to untold possibilities. We, as teachers and parents, have the privilege and responsibility to nurture their learning and help them find their way to success. “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” – Albert Einstein

(The ideas suggested above are a compilation of my personal experience and research of some excellent publications listed below.)


Developing Math Talent, a Guide for Educating Gifted and Advanced Learners in Math, Dr. Susan Assouline and Dr. Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik Exceptionally Gifted Children, Dr. Miraca U.M. Gross Defining the Few: What educators and parents need to know about exceptionally and profoundly gifted children, Dr. Linda K. Silverman and Annette R. Sheeley, MA, Communicator (California Association for the Gifted), 2000, 31(4), 1, pp 36-37 When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers, Dr. Jim Delisle and Judy Galbraith, MA The Gifted Kids Survival Guide, Judy Galbraith, MA and Dr. Jim Delisle Social Development of the Gifted, MENSA Journal, 2000 (Winter) pp 31-38 Smart Girls, a New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness, Dr. Barbara A. Kerr A Mind at a Time, Dr. Mel Levine Genius Denied, How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds, Jan and Bob Davidson with Laura Vanderkam Handbook of Giftedness in Children, Psycho-educational Theory, Research, and Best Practices, edited by Steven Pfeiffer