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Strategies to educate gifted children

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  • 1. Teaching Strategies to Educate Gifted Children Pratiwi Wini Artati 1
  • 2. Introduction What is so special about gifted children? What is the most important thing in educating gifted children? How do gifted children learn? What can teachers do to educate gifted children? These questions have become the major issues in the field of gifted education and gifted children. The questions above will be the framework of discussion of this paper. The topic of gifted education is one that has always sparked debates among parents and teachers, and recent movements towards totally integrating classrooms have added to this debate. In America, the present strong and growing enthusiasm for gifted education began in the mid – 1970s. The strong and growing enthusiasm continued to take place in the mid-1980s by “detracking movement” as attempts to answer challenges to educate gifted children with customized programs (Davis, 2006). The movement has amplified further excitement of gifted education today in America and throughout the world: Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, England, Scotland, Ireland, Italy, Bulgaria, Poland, Russia, China, Taiwan, Japan, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Guam, Micronesia, Australia, and other locations (Davis, 2006). Towards the excellence of gifted education, there has been negligence to educational planning for gifted children as opposed to programs planned for disabled children with various handicaps. To illustrate, there were only five programs for the gifted from programs reported by 27 model districts in 5 states with superior programs for children with exceptional learning needs. Yet, there were 174 separate programs for disabled children. This illustration implies that “there has been a low priority for the gifted and few persons are aware of the tragic waste of human potential” (Ginsberg & Harrison, 1977, p. 8-9). 2
  • 3. There are several myths or false common assumptions why educational planning has had low priority: gifted children do not need help because they can manage on their own; they have fewer problems; their future is assured, they are self-directed, they know where they are heading; their social and emotional development is at the same level as their intellectual development; they must carry extra responsibility and serve average students as examples; they do not need encouragement because they are naturally creative; they are easy to raise and welcome as an addition to any classroom (Ehrlich, 1982). Considering the future potentials and contributions of gifted children, fortunately nowadays, the fields of education, social science and psychology have been collaborated to the mainstream of the gifted to help finding what has been missing in educating gifted children. The collaboration is believed to be the greatest attempt to really find the most suitable pattern to treat gifted children without losing and destroying their nature as children. To really find the most suitable pattern to educate gifted children, special teachers are needed. The term of special teacher refers to regular teacher with special ability and knowledge about gifted education. Based on a study of teacher competencies and training in 1981, there are certain competencies required to teach gifted children: Knowledge of the nature and needs of gifted, skill in promoting, higher cognitive thinking abilities and questioning techniques, ability to develop methods and materials for the gifted, knowledge of affective/psychological needs of the gifted, skills in independent research and study skills, ability to develop creative problem solving, skill in individualizing teaching techniques, knowledge of approaches to extension and enrichment of subject areas, and supervised practical experience teaching a group of gifted students (Feldhusen, 1985). 3
  • 4. As gifted children face unique challenges in their learning process, teacher as educators, in a similar fashion, are expected to answer these unique challenges by creating strategies to educate the gifted. Considering such challenges faced by educators, this paper suggests strategies to educate gifted children by incorporating teaching strategies to meet the learning needs of the gifted. It will discuss the characteristics of gifted children, the learning needs of the gifted, teaching strategies to educate the gifted, and finally key points of the overall discussion presented in this paper. The characteristics of gifted children What is so special about gifted children? The answer of such question always leads to the concept and meaning, commonly known as state of the art of the giftedness (Feldhusen, 1985). According to the U.S Commissioner of Education’s report to the Congress in 1971, gifted children are as “those who consistently perform, or are capable of performing, at a very high level beyond the level normally expected of a child at that age” (Ginsberg & Harrison, 1977, p. 1). Additionally, the high level capability of performance is further described as “independence of thought, perceptiveness, understanding, trustworthiness, consciousness, strength of influence on others, persistence, devotion to distant goals, and desire to excel” (Ginsberg & Harrison, 1977, p. 2). Despite the categorization of the gifted above, there is a warning stating that “some children can score A’s in their courses and still not be gifted because the child simply may do very well with the amount of learning required a person of his age and grade in school” (Ginsberg & Harrison, 1977, p. 1). Furthermore, gifted children are also known for their 4
  • 5. insatiable desire to learn and to explore. They learn with very little help from adults. They are also marked by their persistence, energy and obsessive interests. More detailed characteristics of gifted students shown by the table 1.1 below: Table 1.1. Common Characteristics of Gifted Students Unusual alertness in infancy and later Early and rapid learning Rapid language development as a child Superior language ability – verbally fluent, large vocabulary, complex grammar Enjoys learning Efficient, high capacity memory Academic superiority Keen observation Superior reasoning, problem solving Imaginative, creative High energy and enthusiasm Good with numbers, puzzles Preference for novelty High curiosity, explores how and why Insightful, sees “big picture”, recognizes Thinking that is abstract, complex, logical, patterns, connects topics insightful, flexible Manipulates verbal, mathematical, artistic, or Uses high level thinking skills, efficient other symbol systems strategies Wide interests, well informed Excellent sense of humor Inquisitive, asks probing questions Reflective Extrapolates knowledge to new situations, Expanded awareness, greater self-awareness goes beyond what is taught Advanced interests Multiple capabilities (multipotentiality) High career ambitions Overexcitability Emotional intensity and sensitivity High alertness and attention High intellectual and physical activity level High motivation, energetic, concentrates, perseveres, persists, task oriented High concentration, long attention span Active-shares information, directs, leads, offers help, eager to be involved Independent, self directed, works alone Aware of social issues, justice Good self concept, usually Shows compassion for others Prefers company of older students, adults Strong empathy, moral thinking. Sense of justice, honesty Early and enthusiastic reader (Davis, 2006, p.28-29) Although there are varying degrees of giftedness, it is widely recognized that the best method of gifted IQ testing is conducted by a qualified psychologist. Regarding this, the Stanford – Binet 5
  • 6. Intelligence tests and Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children are often administered for the test. In addition, the scale for gifted children is often score for over 130 (Davis, 2006). Despite the positive qualities of gifted children, they also display negative traits: they are less helpful; they often hurt themselves; and they are often confusing and frustrating. These negative traits often considered as irritating to teachers and parents (Davis, 2006). To examine further, below is a short list of negative traits of the gifted as shown in table 1.2. Table 1.2. Problems and Negative Characteristics of Some Gifted Children Uneven mental development in different cognitive areas Underachievement, especially in uninteresting areas Nonconformity, sometimes in disturbing directions Interpersonal difficulties with less-able students Self-doubt, poor self-image Excessive self-criticism Excessive sensitivity to feelings and expectations of others Perfectionism, which can be extreme Frustration and anger (e.g., from underdeveloped fine motor skills) Depression Rebelliousness, defiance, resistance to authority (e.g., verbally abusing a teacher) (Davis, 2006, p. 30) The positive and negative traits of the gifted may sometimes cause a conflict, especially in a heterogonous classroom. Within a heterogonous classroom, it is likely more often for the gifted to me misunderstood, misinterpreted, and mistreated. Unpleasant attitudes towards the gifted are closely tied to misplaced perspectives and treatments towards the gifted as described below: “Most gifted children tagged with the label of snob are victim of bad rap. Societal and peer pressures cause many gifted children to wish they could crawl into a corner and hide under a dunce’s cap. Since the gifted child has ability, he is already an outsider. The kids develop cruel names for him – the Brain, the Showoff, etc. Emotionally he is like any other kid; he wants affection. But there is a built in price he must pay for associating with other kids. He must pretend not to 6
  • 7. know. Also there are teachers who say, ‘put your hand down; I know you know’. So for hours he listens to things he already knows. He knows he’s different, and he becomes a troublemaker. Frankly, many people – including some educators – consider the gifted child and his parents to be snobs. Americans generally seem to have a knee jerk reflex to what is, or appears to be, snobbery. They won’t look up to anyone they think is looking down on them” (Ginsberg & Harrison, 1977, p. 11). Referring to such depiction above, it is clear that mostly, gifted children experience many difficulties, including loneliness and ridicule. They find difficulties to interact with friends at the same age because they have different level of communication over average children. The higher level of communication of the gifted is a paradox: admiration and rejection (Ehrlich, 1982). The learning needs of the gifted children What is the most important thing in educating gifted children? How do gifted children learn? To answer these questions, it is important to identify and understand the learning needs of gifted children, primarily in the school-based learning environment. According to Porter (1999), there are two important factors constitute the learning needs of the gifted; “atypical interests and a constellation of abilities and common environmental features. These two common features often refer to what can be called educational challenges for gifted children” (p.169 – 175). What is the most important thing in education gifted children? Related to the challenges faced by parents, teachers, and of course the children themselves, the most important thing to highlight are gifted children’s atypical interests and constellation of abilities: “reliance on adults, threatened self-efficacy, boredom, perseverance, and attention span” (Porter, 1999, p. 170-171). 7
  • 8. Reliance on adults Socially, gifted children often undergo conflicts and problems. The conflicts and problems arise because they are simply less connected with their same-aged peers in terms of communication rather than grouping along. To minimize this gap, it is suggested to engage them in general activities that will not recall their critical perspective: fun – physical activities such as sports or other play-like activities. The need of like-minded peer or companies of the adult influence their conception of group organization. In group organization, gifted children often find themselves to be more mature and two steps ahead of their peers. This concept becomes their pitfall because they will be perceived as bossy or snob. When they are not well-accepted by their same-aged peers, withdrawal will occur easily. According to Harrison (1995) in Porter (1999), “gifted young children crave high levels of stimulation. The further advanced their development, the less likely they are to receive this stimulation from peers and the more likely they are to learn to rely on adults to teach them directly (p. 170). Threatened self-efficacy As a child with unique traits and characteristics within their giftedness, often they show strong concept about whom and what they really want. This concept refers to what is termed as self-efficacy which is “individuals’ judgment about their ability to organize and execute a chosen action. Within this context of the individuals’ judgment, the focus is mainly about gifted children’s awareness about how and what to learn (Porter, 1999, p. 170). Yet, there is an issue about how children’s self efficacy mechanism because as what Delisle states (1992) in Porter (1999) that “this awareness may be impaired in gifted children because their learning can be so 8
  • 9. swift that they do not recognize the strategies they are using” (p. 170). Therefore, the need of gifted children in directing themselves as an individual depends on how teacher as an educator minimizing the swift within their learning process. Boredom Gifted children are complex thinkers and debaters. These characteristics may lead to a more complicated situation. Gifted children may be more stressful in making decision. Furthermore, gifted children are intellectual challengers. They will find routines as a disaster for their thinking and reasoning process. Whenever the gifted can not cope their boredom, they often get easily angry and resented (Ehrlich, 1982, p. 54). What is more, gifted children need to always be stimulated to do projects that challenge their intellectuality, yet does not destroy their capability. To illustrate, “often teachers only ask gifted children to do more and more works to keep them busy but actually, it is a handicap for their learning needs” (Porter, 1999, p. 170). Perseverance In a related manner, perseverance is another issue to overcome. Extreme gap in task – level of difficulty will affects how the gifted maintain their special capability without destroying their childhood characteristics. It is important to keep in mind that doing too difficult task will seclude them from their childhood moment because they will put too much precocity to finish the task. In the opposite, doing too simple task will just give them a sense of underestimating the task as a mere killing time activity (Ginsberg & Harrison, 1997). Hence, according to Mares (1997) in Porter (1999), to teach perseverance, it’s important to consider tasks that are “neither too easy nor too difficult so that the children can rise to an attainable challenge” (p. 171). 9
  • 10. Attention span According to Roeper (1995a) in Porter (1999), the major interest of the gifted children is often about global issues rather than fine details (p. 170). As described by their characteristic that gifted children tend to solve problems quickly that seldom weighing too much about fine details, the power of concentration doesn’t have a long sustainability (Ehrlich, 1982, p. 49). Braggett, 1994 in Porter 1999 described this attention span as follows: “Gifted young children appear to have a short attention span; in fact, they are refusing to repeat an activity which they were able to master the first time. Given that most gifted children concentrate well, if they are restless this may be a sign that they need more challenge. This, however, is not the same as needing harder or even more work, just more appropriate work. They are likely resisting if we insist that they do more than anyone else” (p. 171). Teaching strategies to educate gifted children What can teachers do to educate gifted children? This question will be the essence of this paper to answer. In the first part of the paper, the discussion about gifted children’s characteristics has been presented. The second part also has discussed about the learning needs of gifted children. In the third part of this paper, the discussion will continue to how teachers as educators, facilitate and bridge the unique characteristics of gifted children and their (unique) learning needs into a dynamic pattern of teaching that meet the learning needs of gifted children. The strategies implemented will closely related to desirable characteristics of teachers to educate gifted children and how those characteristics influence teachers in creating certain strategies needed to stimulate gifted children’s interest in learning process. 10
  • 11. As an educator in a school-learning environment, there are certain qualities or standards required in order to be able to educate gifted children. These certain standards and requirements are crucial to suggest ways that teachers can meet the needs of these students, and to provide resources to help them differentiate instruction. There is a strong relationship between teacher’s expected characteristics and the way to teach the gifted. According to Feldhusen (1985), there certain desirable characteristics in teacher’s personality to educate gifted children as shown by table 1.3 below: Table 1.3. Desirable characteristics for teachers of the gifted 1. mature and experienced; self confident 2. highly intelligent 3. avocational interests that intellectual in nature 4. high achievement needs; desire for intellectual growth 5. favorable attitude toward gifted children 6. systematic, imaginative, flexible, and creative 7. sense of humor 8. willingness to be a “facilitator” rather than a “director” or learning 9. hard working; willing to devote extra time and effort to teaching 10. wide background of general knowledge; specific areas of expertise (especially secondary teachers) 11. belief in and understanding of individual differences (p. 110 – 111) Certain traits as displayed above will place as a medium for teacher of the gifted children to really implement suitable strategies to bridge gifted children’s unique characteristics and their learning needs. Related to what teacher can do to educate gifted children, it is necessary to refer back to what they really need to learn in their learning process. According to Porter (1999), there are three important principals to implement strategies in educating the gifted: active learning, autonomous learning, and adult involvement (p. 188-189). These three areas represent principles 11
  • 12. that are needed to meet the needs of gifted children in the learning process, related to their prominent characteristics as displayed before. Active learning Children need to be active in their learning. As displayed by their common characteristics, most gifted children crave for high energy, enthusiasm, and inquisitiveness. In addition, gifted children also have to deal with the high possibility of irresistible boredom that threatens their process of learning. Therefore, as a teacher of the gifted, a strategy is needed to overcome such problem as in active learning. Active learning refers to learning method where a person is expected to actively engage in the process as the doer rather than just being an observer or listener. Teacher shall create strategies that “give children freedom to manipulate and explore worthwhile interests extensively and in depth” (Porter, 1999, p. 188). Thus, any programs designed for active learning should “encompass play as an outlet for expression and a vehicle for learning” (Feldhusen, 1985, 106 – 107). Autonomous learning Autonomous learning refers to independent mechanism of learning where curriculum is designed differently and separately from the regular and implement that in the classroom or any school – related environment. It is all about how to independently and specially design the learning mechanism for learning process such as curriculum, method, model, technique and implementation where are completely customizable. In other words, gifted children should be given an opportunity to have contribution about their curriculum in order to learn to be 12
  • 13. responsible for their own learning and be more motivated to develop their initiative (Porter, 1999). Adult involvement Another prominent trait of gifted children as displayed before is preference of the older company or adult. Since gifted children precocity in thinking reach the similar concept of the adult, they tend to seek company from older company. As a teacher, the role of facilitator and friend are more preferable than just being as their mere teacher – a person with bigger authority to tell them what to be and what to do. The main strategy is to interact with them actively and sincerely as a caregiver. Within this strategy, there are four dimensions of teacher’s involvement as described below: “The amount of time spent interacting with individual children; the role adopted during those interactions (e.g. giving directions, being co-players, or monitoring the children); the sensitivity, warmth or responsiveness of interactions with the children; and the intensity of involvement with them” (Porter, 1999, p. 189). By implementing three principals as explained above, as a teacher for the gifted, creativity and initiative have the major influence in implementing curriculum, designing study plan and incorporating the strategy to educate gifted children. It is important to keep in mind that there is no perfect pattern of curriculum or teaching styles that apply to teach gifted children as a whole but it is the way teacher recognize the specialty within every gifted children and customized certain pattern of learning with the most suitable strategy to educate the gifted in the most appropriate way (Ehrlich, 1982). Concrete manifestations of certain strategies - drawn from 13
  • 14. the three principals as mentioned before – suggested to educate the gifted are shown by the table1.4 below: Table 1.4 suggested strategies to educate the gifted 1. Ask the gifted the more difficult questions. Stretch their minds by asking for new ideas, different applications of a concept. 2. Let them carry out special research assignments related to class work 3. Let them follow through on special projects that interest them, and let them share their work with the class 4. Let them chair committees, direct plays, be the planners 5. Let them move on in the basic skills at their own pace and regardless of grade-level barriers. 6. Let them advance in subjects that are clearly hierarchical, such as mathematics and science 7. Let them be free to follow through on advanced work, while others do necessary, repetitive work. 8. Let them explain topics or procedures to the class. They frequently can meet fellow students at their own levels 9. Obtain tutorial services for them in special subjects from a volunteer parent, teacher, or local university colleague 10. Obtain local library cooperation in providing them with books of special interest to them. Let them have access to adult sections as well as to help children’s library 11. Help them to value their abilities and to feel that they, too, are worthwhile people 12. Let them know you care (Ehrlich, 1982, p. 117). Conclusion – Key points Excellent teachers understand that gifted students require challenge in the process of learning. However, incorporating planning and continuity within the teaching responsibilities to educate the gifted has never been easy. It takes concerned teachers who are willing to lead gifted children to the excitement of challenging learning. Considering the challenges faced by educators for teaching gifted children, this paper suggests strategies to educate gifted children by incorporating the challenges into teaching strategies. 14
  • 15. Concerning this issue, there are four questions raised as a basis of analysis in this paper: What is so special about gifted children? What is the most important thing in educating gifted children? How do gifted children learn? What can teachers do to educate gifted children? To answer such questions, it is important to refer to three major areas in this paper: characteristics of the gifted children, gifted children’s learning needs and strategies to educate the gifted. Thus, before implementing strategies to educate the gifted, there are initial steps taken: identifying gifted children’s characteristics and understand them; and identifying challenges as a result of their negative traits so that teachers of the gifted could be more aware of the situation. First, in identifying the gifted children’s characteristics, there are prominent traits stand out within the common characteristics embodied in most of the gifted such as high energy, enthusiasm and inquisitiveness, independent, self directed, and preference of older or adult company. Embodied by the special characteristics create its own challenge in the learning process, especially for teacher as the educator. Secondly, as a teacher of the gifted, it is crucial to recognize what gifted children really needs for their learning process. The need to learn is closely related to their atypical interests and constellation of abilities as a major consideration such as reliance on adults, threatened self- efficacy, boredom, perseverance, and attention of span. Finally, to be able to implement certain strategies into teaching process, there are three important principals in which that will give a major influence towards any strategies implemented in any of the designed curriculum: active learning, autonomous learning, and adult involvement. 15
  • 16. References Davis, Gary A., Ph.D. (2006). Gifted children gifted education. Arizona: Great Potential Press, Inc. Feldhusen, John (Ed). (1985). Toward excellence in gifted education. Ohio: Love Publishing Company. Ehrlich, Virginia Z. (1982). Gifted children: A guide for parents and teachers. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Inc. Ginsberg, Gina., & Harrison, Charles H. (1977). How to help your gifted child: A handbook for parents and teachers. New York: Monarch Press Porter, Louise. (1999). Gifted young children: A guide for teachers and parents. Buckingham: Open University Press 16