Now that school has started again students and teachers are getting to know each other, while parents are navigating a new school year learning about the children’s teachers, and everyone is getting back into a routine. Fall is a time of new classes, cooler weather, football, and sometimes, the beginning of learning challenges for gifted students.
Getting back into the swing of things at the beginning of a new school year is often challenging for many students, gifted or not. The freedom of summertime gives students a chance to unwind and learn in different ways. Gifted students often have the freedom to be themselves whether that means digging deeper into areas of interest or exploring new adventures on the spur of the moment. The structure of the school day confines subjects to specific periods of time whether that time is enough or not. For gifted students, having 30 minutes of science a few times a week may be woefully inadequate and may prevent the deeper exploration they crave. Most teachers also wish they had more time to allow students to explore.
Some teachers extract more freedom for student learning by tweaking a few things in their classroom. While it isn’t always easy, and doesn’t work for everyone, it is worth considering. The gifted student may want to ask their teacher about these practices if they are not part of the classroom.
Three ways to tweak a schedule full of mandated curriculum is to consider the following:
classroom layout, efficient schedule, and student free time. An effective classroom layout provides an environment where there are few classroom traffic jams when students are moving about the room, and where the resources are easily accessible. Many teachers (and students) try several setups before finding one that works well. Since some gifted students do not like change it is a good idea to give students notice before doing this.
An efficient schedule makes use of every minute during the school day, squeezing out time for student free time for deeper learning. Grouping similar subjects or learning tasks in the elementary classroom can cut down time for moving around the classroom and getting out new supplies. This may give a few minutes of extra time to use for further learning. In the middle or high school this is more difficult because of the school schedule, but there could be some time during a class to give students further exploration time. While these steps may not work for all classrooms, one or two may work for some and benefit all students in the class, including gifted students.
As I was writing this blog post I received a message of the passing of Dr. James Webb, a giant in the field of giftedness. He had such an influence on so many of us as founder of SENG-Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted, (sengifted.org) and President of Great Potential Press, among other professional pursuits, as well as a speaker at many, many conferences and parent/teacher training workshops.
I met Dr. Webb many years ago after meeting him at a SENG conference and have kept in touch at various times throughout the years. His humble, quiet demeanor was very calming to me as my family was trying to figure out how to maneuver school and life with a gifted child. I learned to be a trained SENG Model Parent Group Facilitator from Dr. Webb who taught me that parents supporting each other can provide some of the best encouragement available. I learned so much from Dr. Webb that I rely on regularly.
Some of the things I learned from him include:
* Give respect and patience to all people, including children, and especially gifted children and adults who often are not respected or shown patience.
* Accept that a gifted child or adult may have exceptional abilities in one area but not in all areas. Asynchronous development is part of who they are.
* Recognize that gifted children and adults are often very intense, sensitive, and caring while strong in their beliefs.
* Understanding often begins by asking the gifted child or adult about their thoughts, needs, desires and/or wishes, rather than assuming one knows.
* Nurture the creativity and vision of gifted children and adults, even if one does not understand it.
* Acknowledge the hardships gifted children and adults experience including bullying by peers and adults and help them to address the situation.
* Be willing to learn from a gifted child.
* Appreciate the joy that gifted children and adults bring to the world.
These lessons have influenced my work in education and with gifted children, adults, and their families. Perhaps one of the biggest things Dr. Webb taught me was that gifted students are often misdiagnosed so their giftedness is not recognized, and their needs as gifted people are not met. As a person who has worked in special education and the field of disabilities for many years, I saw this often but wasn’t sure what to do until I learned of Dr. Webb’s work. Many of these students are twice exceptional, meaning gifted and disabled, but many gifted students are misdiagnosed with disabilities such as ADHD or a form of autism, and that diagnosis is often incorrect. Informing educators, parents, and gifted students themselves about the differences between giftedness and disability is important work for all of us to help meet the needs of gifted students.
Dr. Webb said: “Our future depends on our brightest minds.” Our work together as parents, educators, gifted children and adults matters and will make a difference in people’s lives, one person at a time. Join me to continue the work of Dr. Webb and impact the lives of gifted children and adults where we each live and work.
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