It’s the end of July and, though it seems early, kids are headed back to school very soon. This is an exciting time for some with eagerness to see their friends, wondering who is in class with them, meeting teachers, and getting new school supplies and clothes. For some gifted children, this time can bring up feelings of fear and anxiety. Will I make new friends this year? Will the other kids in class accept me for who I am? Will my teacher understand me? Will I be forced to sit through another year “learning” things I already know? Will I like school this year? Here is a guide for teachers of gifted children to help make their school year as good as it can be.
~Every gifted child is different. Take some time to get to know them. Talk to them. Talk to their parents. See what makes them thrive, what they enjoy, what topics interest them. Also learn what makes them nervous, what overwhelms them, what makes them shut down, what can you do to help.
~Watch for bullying. Gifted children are prone to being bullied because of how different they are. They are perceived as the “know-it-alls,” “weirdos,” “teacher’s pet,” “suck ups,” you name it, they’ve probably been called it. Watch for a change in their behavior. A bullied student will go from being confident in themselves and their abilities to slacking on purpose so that they aren’t seen as the “smart ones” anymore. They will pretend not to know the answers. They will stop asking questions they are curious about. They will purposefully miss problems on their math test so their grade lowers and they don’t appear as gifted as they are. It’s a slippery slope and once they’re on it, it’s hard to bring them back to their full potential.
~Statistically, a gifted child comes into a school year already knowing at least 50% of what will be taught in the coming year. Imagine having to sit through roughly 4 and a half months “relearning” things you’ve already known for years. I know I would become a grumpy mess and would probably cause a behavior problem. Boredom is an epidemic among gifted kids in schools. The only way to fix this is to stop classifying them by only their chronological age and put them in classes that meet their intellectual age. You may say “well…he’s not mature enough to be in class with the older kids.” Or “I don’t see him performing at the level of the older kids, so I don’t think he could keep up.” Try it…you’ll be pleasantly surprised. If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back.
~Some gifted children love being leaders. Use that to their advantage. If they know how to do something, let them teach it to the class if they want to. Let them help a friend if they’re struggling with a concept. Give them a special job in the classroom. Let them help you plan a lesson or dedicate who is in what small group. Some really enjoy feeling important or like they are in charge of something. However, only do this if they have shown interest in leadership. Some would rather not.
~Accommodate their overexcitabilities. Seat them in an area of the room where they can stand, rock, bounce, or fidget while they do their work without being a distraction to others. Provide a calming/quiet corner. Take occasional brain breaks, like music and movement time, restroom breaks, a few minutes of free reading time, etc. Try not to punish them for things they can’t control.
~Don’t give busy work. If a student finishes their work long before others in the class, do not burden them with more of the same thing. They finished quickly because they get it. It’s mastered. Let them move on to something else that interests them. Let them research something on the computer, or read something in a book, or let them complete a job for you that you need done.
~Above everything else, if you have a student that is classified as gifted you must know that they didn’t choose this for themselves. Their parents didn’t choose it either. Though some think “gifted” can be acquired by drilling with flashcards, nonstop activity books, and constant quizzing, that does not give them a gifted child. It gives them a bright child who knows a lot about certain subjects. There is so much more to being “gifted” that can’t be drilled into their heads.
Don’t be afraid to step outside of the box and try something different. Educating a gifted child can be a challenge, but it is also a privilege. Every day is a chance for both of you (teacher and student) to learn something new. Have a great year!