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Understanding Gifted Needs in Academic Settings

by Caroline Daniel
understanding gifted needs in academic settings

When you think of gifted learners, who comes to mind? A specific movie character, person, or your own child? For me, the first image that pops up are the characters from X-Men. They are such a unique group of teenagers who have special abilities with grand dreams of pursuing harmony, peace, and equality within multiple dimensions. Although I don’t mean to compare gifted students to highly skilled mutants, their unique abilities and desire to solve world problems resonate as typical characteristics and the nature of gifted students. As we try to understand the needs of gifted learners, just like the characters from X-Men, it is important to understand and have empathy for the incredible potential, high-functioning abilities, and specialized needs that gifted students demonstrate, which can lead to important and exciting contributions in our society.

How can we meet the intellectual and social needs of gifted students in academic settings?

Let us explore 10 ideas to help students succeed.

1. Pay attention to questions.

Curriculum for gifted students should help them think conceptually, broadly, and through open-ended opportunities. One way to explore these paths are to provide questioning at higher levels of thinking that involve them to apply, analyze, evaluate, and synthesize. 

2. Focus on solving problems.

Gifted students should be involved in authentic problem-solving experiences. Gifted students are driven to seek out real-world solutions to questions and current issues. Understanding convergent and divergent processes of problem-solving are unique lessons that will give them an advantage to think and act as leaders.

3. Let them explore creativity.

Gifted students should be given opportunities to practice traits of creative thinking such as fluency, flexibility, originality, and elaboration. They have the mental resources to innovate and create new ideas and solutions. Allow them to showcase their creativity.  

4. Challenge them.

Curriculum for gifted students should go beyond the grade-level standards. In most academic settings, gifted students already know or can quickly master basic skills and content. Challenge is crucial! Sandra Kaplan’s concepts of depth and complexity and content imperatives are great starting points to build gifted differentiation to existing curriculum.

5. Give them choices.

Choice is great for any learner, but with gifted students is essential. Gifted students have intense areas of passion or interest and thrive when working within those constructs. When gifted students can follow their self-selected paths, they demonstrate their gifted potential more intentionally.  

6. Encourage independent thinking.

It is important that gifted students have the independence to think and act based on their convictions and strengths. Self-directed learning allows them to lead their learning paths. It not only cultivates academic freedom but offers relevant engagement in processes beneficial for their future lives.

7. Let them set their own pacing.

Gifted students often know many of the foundational skills or key objectives at the beginning of the year or at the start of new units. Flexibility to showcase mastery before the start of the units such as the use of preassessments will help provide guidance into meaningful and relevant learning paths. Can gifted learners move past designated lessons for guided practice if mastery is demonstrated? Absolutely! Find out what and how much they know. Then, guide them into new learning.

8. Encourage self-reflection.

Gifted students should be given multiple opportunities to reflect on their thinking, learning preferences, and ideas. Give them guided opportunities for thoughtful problem solving and to conceptualize learning.

9. Use external resources.

Gifted students should go beyond being topic experts in their interests. There should be opportunity to self-evaluate and showcase new learning through professional products. Gifted students should gradually mature into their passions by understanding the tools and processes utilized in the industry. How would a civil engineer view this problem? What tools and brainstorming methods do medical researchers use in the field to tackle unanswered questions? These types of inquiries will lead students to propose products reflective of real-world solutions.

10. Foster social and emotional growth.

For gifted students, asynchronous development is an important element of their nature. Essentially, it means that although their intellectual ability and needs are advanced beyond their chronological age, other traits may be slower to develop and at times even lag behind. In such cases, it is important for gifted students to engage with like-minded intellectual peers and develop coping strategies to manage social-emotional intensities.

At SIG, these 10 ideas are reflective of not only our academic approach but they also serve as anchoring values for how our courses are built and implemented. As advocates for gifted pedagogy and practice, I encourage you to continue reflecting on how we can improve upon educational settings for gifted students. Gifted students not only need a different educational experience, but they are also counting on us to make it a reality for them!

Learn more about our programs for summer 2021 here.

Caroline Daniel
Director of Academics
Summer Institute for the Gifted

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