Effective instruction for gifted/advanced learners requires purposeful planning with the individual student in mind. Creating an environment in which the needs of every child are addressed helps gifted students realize their full potential and remain engaged throughout the learning process. It is our duty to ensure that the curriculum meets the needs of gifted learners and to avoid practices that force students to fit into a packaged curriculum; instead, it should help them leap into new knowledge that produces growth. Van Gemert (2012) explains that “differentiated instruction is not dessert; it is the main course for gifted children, the right of the child, and the responsibility of the educator,” and therefore, important to understand ways an individualized curriculum is provided for gifted learners.
The following is a list of 10 effective instructional practices that can provide an opportunity for gifted learners to showcase their talents and foster growth.
Often gifted students have already mastered content covered by yearly national/state standards or educational experiences teachers have planned. Pre-assessments can range from checklists, observations, paper-pencil activities, or conferences with students. The purpose of this practice is to understand what knowledge the gifted learner has in the subject matter prior to instruction so the educator can develop a customized learning path that leads to new knowledge and experiences.
2. Sophisticated Depth and Complexity with Content
A focus on depth and complexity with content is a key component of differentiation for all learners. Specifically, for gifted students, the emphasis on depth and complexity should allow students to move into unique learning experiences that help them develop sophisticated solutions for real world problems.
3. Flexible Grouping
An effective way to address learning needs is to group gifted/advanced learners based on readiness, skills, interests, abilities or learning preferences. Strengths in one subject area may not correlate with advanced skills in other areas, so pre-assessments and formative assessments are key when addressing the needs of gifted learners.
When working with gifted learners, questions should be open-ended and designed to elicit higher-level responses. Open-ended questions should lead learners to additional questions and meaningful and differentiated learning.
5. Tiered Assignments
Tiered learning experiences allow for varied levels of depth and complexity of content based on the readiness level of students. Tiering assignments is an easy tool to use when gifted/advanced learners are in heterogenous ability groups because the educator can work with similar skills with all learners, but tier learning for gifted/advanced learners through complex processes.
6. Curriculum Compacting & Learning Contracts
These two practices complement each other. Initially, pre-assessments are used to determine the mastery level of content. From this information, the educator can ‘compact’ or provide alternative activities in lieu of gifted/advanced learners sitting through the instruction they have already mastered. Once a learning path is identified for these learners, a learning contract is a great tool which provides support for learners with process management and progress monitoring tasks.
7. Creative Problem Solving (CPS)
There are several models of problem solving processes and most involve an identification of the problem, gathering data about the problem, and finding effective solutions to address the problem. These experiences are paramount for gifted learners because they are the future of innovation for their generation. The CPS process provides a forum for learners to tackle real world challenges which can shape their future.
8. Independent Study
Deemed as the most effective instructional practice for gifted/advanced learners, independent study has the potential to provide learners the opportunity to conduct authentic investigations in areas of interest and strengthen affective needs. However, it is important that appropriate guidance, checkpoints, and accountability are provided by the educator to ensure that the independent study is meeting the needs of gifted/advanced learners. Learning contracts serve as effective practice to direct learning when utilizing independent study practices.
Early admission to kindergarten/first grade, grade-skipping, subject matter acceleration, concurrent/dual enrollment, and early entrance to college are all examples of acceleration methods available for gifted/advanced learners. Educators and parents must ensure that these choices are based on evidence, through formal or informal assessments, which indicate a need for acceleration methods.
10. Technology Integration
With technology access at our fingertips, integrating technology into learning experiences should be a common instructional practice used with gifted/advanced learners. Using technology as a means for product differentiation purposes provides an engaging way to guide learners to explore relevant products for their generation.
Planning instruction that targets the needs of gifted learners is not easy but well worth the investment. We want to ensure that talent and promise are not wasted due to the lack of time, but that time is used effectively to ignite purposeful learning experiences that help gifted learners reach their maximum potential.
Van Gemert, L. P. (2012). Adaptive giftedness and the power of connection. TEMPO, 33(3), p. 22-29.