There are times when I think that the ‘best practice’ for gifted education would be to hand the gifted child an iPad and walk out of the room! Of course, this would be the antithesis of what many believe to be education and far too many gifted children do not have access to this technology. Not to mention, every child … every child … learns differently. Gifted kids are no different in this respect.
So, what exactly does “best practices” actually mean and how does a parent determine if they are being used in their child’s school? Best practices imply that teachers are using instructional strategies that have been proven effective and are research-based.
If you have a good rapport with your child’s teachers, talk to them. They can tell you about the gifted program. Ask if they are being provided with professional development in gifted education. Sadly, we all know the answer to that question. In lieu of that approach, ask other parents who have already had children participate in programs in your school. They should be able to tell you how classes are conducted and how the program is structured.
Essential to a strong gifted program is the use of a research-based method of identification. Talent Searches have a long history of solid research to support their use as a means to identify academically gifted children. In the U.S., the Talent Search model is offered by NorthwesternUniversity, Johns Hopkins University, Center for Bright Kids – Western Academic Talent Search, University of Iowa (Belin- Blank), and Duke University as well as others.
Gifted education can be taught in a variety of settings. If the school is full inclusion with no separate gifted program, then your child should be given differentiated instruction within the regular classroom. This means ‘different’, not ‘extra’ work. The curriculum needs to be matched to your child’s abilities. To ease delivery of instruction, cluster-grouping should be used with differentiation.
Pull-out programs can give the gifted teacher a bit of leeway in how the classroom instruction is delivered. Teachers may use enrichment activities, independent studies (your child’s choice), Socratic seminars (teaching by asking questions and followed by discussion), and higher-ordered thinking skills exercises. Innovative approaches may include developing skills for mathematically precocious children through subject acceleration, learning journals, and exposure of younger children to discussion of special interests they may have.
In programs not constrained by prep for standardized testing, some practical strategies which can be used in the gifted classroom include providing each student with an individual challenge in their areas of academic strength, a rigorous academic curriculum, and presentation of above grade level content. Provision for prior learning should be assessed and credit granted for material already learned as an antidote to boredom for most gifted students.
In a perfect world, gifted children would also be able to work and learn with their ‘ability peers’. Multi-age gifted classrooms benefit both younger and older students. The older students peer-mentor the younger ones and the younger students share with those who are ‘on the same wave-length’! Even in a not-so-perfect setting, school districts can provide opportunities for elementary and secondary gifted students to socialize through participation in district-wide programs, field trips, and academic competitions with other schools.
Certainly one of the most researched and a cost-effective best practice in gifted education is acceleration. This can be achieved with early entrance to primary school, subject acceleration, full grade acceleration, ability grouping across grade levels, dual enrollment in university classes while still at the secondary level, and early entrance to college.
Another relatively new way of instruction is to use distance learning with a gifted teacher as a facilitator on-site or virtually. This provides high quality curriculum to students anywhere in the world ~ rural, inner-city, international. Programs are available from Johns Hopkins (CTY), Stanford (EPGY), Northwestern (
GLL), ALEKS, and
eIMACS; to name just a few.
Suffice it to say, there are many different ways to provide gifted learners with programs that can help them reach their full potential. Parents need to be knowledgeable about what is available (and you certainly should know after reading this post!), and then advocate for implementation of programs in their school district. You would be surprised at how many teachers simply never knew so many possibilities existed!
Yes … there will always be resistance on the part of some educators, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. One thing I can assure you is that parents must learn to take the high road – be respectful yet forceful – or you’ll never get anywhere. Treat decision-makers as you would like to be treated. If you don’t succeed within the system, consider opportunities outside the system. In the end, it is a parental ‘best practice’ to do what you feel is in your child’s best interest.