Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Gift of Giftedness: Effectively Teaching Gifted Students

I despised my elementary classes. I had to do additional work on topics I had no interest in.  I preferred reading a text of my choice, working on a project related to my interests, or researching something I enjoy.  These academic-related activities still would've developed me as a student, but the program didn't provide me with the freedom to make my own choices.

 Instead, I learned the content required for all students in my grade.  Then, once my teacher had covered the material, the other students practiced the new concept or skill.  In the meantime, a group of us, the AIG students, left the classroom to expand on what we had just learned.  We had to complete the same homework as the other students, but had additional homework from the separate lesson.  My teachers realized we, the AIG students, mastered new content more rapidly than other students, so they 'rewarded' us with more work.

My experience in elementary school didn't make me want to go to class.  I learned under the accelerated or AIG student program at my school, but the program didn't provide me with a desirable experience.  I spent most of my time in a normal classroom, but there were periods of additional lessons in a separate classroom.  Another teacher would take us in a separate room to learn different content.  These lessons were extremely structured, built around rigid content requirements.

I didn't enjoy my classes as much because I felt punished for my abilities.  Slowly, assignments changed from opportunities to explore and discover into tedious, unwanted work.  AIG students have certain characteristics leading them to be AIG.  These characteristics set them apart from their peers.

All students should enjoy the content they learn, but AIG students enjoy seeking out new knowledge in topics that interest them.  As a child, I enjoyed writing stories about sporting events, reading science fiction and sports books, and working with numbers as they related to sports statistics.  No one asked me or told me to do these activities; I took part because I wanted to.

A better understanding of AIG students and their approach to learning will help teachers better serve these students.  Each student deserves an enjoyable, adapted education experience and teachers can help provide their AIG students with this positive experience by getting to know more about AIG students and following the best practices for teaching AIG students.

AIG is an acronym for 'academically and/or intellectually gifted' and labels students who excel in one or more subject areas more than just being a good student.  These students shouldn't be defined by this broad, scientific definition.  The characteristics of AIG students set them apart from their peers, leading them to require differentiation.  Teachers with AIG students need to better understand this group of students so they can better adapt their instruction to their students.  There are instructional strategies better fitting AIG students, which, when implemented, significantly influence growth and achievement.

The major educational differences between AIG students and regular students can be divided into two categories, their interests and their learning approach.  First, AIG students are more likely to enjoy learning and the activities leading to learning.  According to a study conducted by Lu, Li, Stevens and Ye (2015), AIG students find greater joy in reading, read more often and read a greater variety of texts than their peers.  Perhaps, this greater enjoyment of learning stems from having stronger teacher-student relationships than their peers.  Second, AIG students tend to use higher level thinking strategies than normal students.  AIG students find analyzing through discussion and creating summaries as more effective strategies than other memorization strategies including reading the easy part and repeatedly reading.  Additionally, when learning new materials, AIG students prefer to make connections and develop understanding instead of just memorizing the new material.  These differences between students should direct teachers' instruction.  Understanding that AIG students enjoy reading and learning eliminates the necessity for mandated reading time.  The desire to understand and connect to new information means beginning at a simpler depth, like memorization, isn't functional (Lu et al., 2015).

Educators acknowledge AIG students have different educational needs than students labelled 'normal' or 'struggling' or 'learning disabled'.  However, there are differing approaches to addressing these needs.  Research supports simple changes to much more drastic changes (i.e. changing instruction styles) and addresses some common misconceptions regarding AIG students.

One often debated option for AIG students is pull-out programs or separate classrooms for AIG students.  In the spirit of inclusive classrooms, AIG students more commonly find themselves in a classroom with other students of different ability levels.  According to Scott Willis (1995), AIG students can be divided into subcategories.  Students with IQs above 145 require separate learning environments because their learning so too accelerated for a normal classroom.  In other cases, AIG students can be educated in a normal classroom.  When in a traditional classroom setting, the growth and learning of AIG students falls on the teachers in the class.

Teachers of AIG students have several strategies they can employ to challenge their AIG students and continue the growth of these students.  The main concept all teachers need to implement in their classrooms for AIG students is differentiation.  Despite the need for differentiation, the majority of teachers don't know proven differentiation strategies and techniques.  A few possible differentiation ideas are:
flexible grouping: different grouping for different assignments to enhance the learning experience
tiered assignments: upper level students do upper level thinking on an assignment while other students have other questions to respond to
ability-based reading groups: grouping students by reading level
ability-based discussion groups: grouping students by comprehension skills
learning centers: having different projects/questions for different students to complete
student contracts: working independently on a project created through student-teacher collaboration
research projects: independently, or in a small group, researching an academic topic
mentorship programs: a specialized education program for AIG students (Willis, 1995)

A study performed by Yuen et al. (2016), in Hong Kong illustrated the lack of knowledge related to differentiation and differentiation techniques.  Teachers in Hong Kong primary schools underwent training on differentiating instruction in their classrooms.  Following the training, the majority of teachers in the study reported an increased understanding of differentiation.  Additionally, these teachers felt more well-equipped to teach students with the unique academic needs of AIG students.

Another, more drastic, option for meeting the learning needs of AIG students is a learning model called REAPS.  REAPS stands for "Real Engagement in Active Problem Solving" and is an "evidence-based teaching-learning model ... designed to serve gifted and talented learners" (Maker, Zimmerman, Alhusaini, & Pease, 2015, p. 2).  This learning model combines three learning models, Problem Based Learning, Thinking Actively in a Social Context, and Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities while Observing Varied Ethnic Responses, to create a newer, more dynamic model (Maker et al., 2015).

Problem Based Learning, PBL, uses complex, real-world problems to educate students on academic topics.  Teachers choose problems with multiple factors and multiple stakeholders.  From there, students must analyze the problem from multiple perspectives and create multiple realistic solutions to the problem.

Thinking Actively in a Social Context, TASC, gives students a process for solving real-world problems.  The process isn't linear.  Instead, students learn the process as a wheel with eight steps: "Gather and Organize, Identify the Task, Generate, Decide, Implement, Evaluate, Communicate, and Learn from Experience" (Maker et al., 2015, p. 3) The students learn through solving problems using these eight steps.

Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities while Observing Varied Ethnic Responses, DISCOVER, focuses on diversity and development of well-rounded students.  The DISCOVER learning model uses a problem-solving continuum to develop multiple abilities.  Through this learning, students identify their strengths, develop multiple skills/abilities, solve a variety of problems, work hands-on, and integrate culture and community while learning the required standards and themes (Maker et al., 2015).

All three of these learning models have flaws and weaknesses, but each model offers something new to REAPS, strengthening the REAPS model.  AIG students require a strong learning model that provides freedom, allows for creativity and discovery, and builds upper level thinking skills.  Students have the freedom in REAPS because the students have a voice in identifying the problems, designing the solutions, pacing of the project and the method of presentation.  The REAPS model creates variety and upper level thinking because they are real-world problems.  Real problems have multiple aspects, factors, and possible solutions allowing for creative minds to flourish and grow.  Lastly, the DISCOVER model focuses on discovery in its name, demonstrating the importance of discovery in REAPS.  The other models also promote discovery because students gather information or conduct research related to a problem, discovering new knowledge.

Research does support REAPS and each component of REAPS as valid, effective approaches to teaching AIG students.  Additionally, any of these learning models can be differentiated to meet the learning needs and goals of different students in a classroom of mixed abilities.  Each problem created for students can be developed to different levels of complexity and expectations set at different levels of achievement.  A teacher following any of these models would push AIG students and other high-achieving students to dig deeper and explore upper levels of thinking.  Students following a normal curriculum are still encouraged to dig deeper, but the expectations aren't for them to reach the same depth or complexity as the AIG students.  This differentiation allows for all students to gain the same base knowledge through the same problem, but gives AIG students the freedom to explore the complexities of real-world problems and develop high level solutions through their thinking (Maker et al., 2015).

In conclusion, AIG students can be a challenge for teachers in mixed ability classrooms.  When these students find themselves in mixed-ability classrooms, teachers need to understand their students' needs.  AIG students find joy in learning and exploring new information.  When teaching AIG students, teachers must differentiate their instruction to fit the AIG students in their classrooms.  One of the options for differentiating instruction in a classroom is the REAPS learning model.  This model is supported by research and contains all the components AIG students desire from their education experience.

Noah Diebel is a junior at High Point University in High Point, N.C.   He is studying Elementary Education, and he is originally from Buffalo, New York. Following undergraduate graduation, Noah plans to continue at High Point University in the Master's degree program for STEM Education. His long-term plans are to pursue teaching either abroad or in the southern United States.

Holloway, J. (2003). Research Link / Grouping Gifted Students. Educational Leadership, 61(8). Retrieved from

Lu, J., Li, D., Stevens, C., & Ye, R. (2015). Comparisons and analyses of gifted students’ characteristics and learning methods. Gifted Education International, 0261429414565160.

Maker, J., Zimmerman, R., Alhusaini, A., Pease, R. (2015). Real Engagement in Active Problem Solving (REAPS): An evidence based model that meets content, process, product, and learning environment principles recommended for gifted students. APEX: The New Zealand Journal of Gifted Education, 19(1). Retrieved from

Willis, S. (1995). Mainstreaming the Gifted. Educational Leadership, 37(2). Retrieved from

Yuen, M., Chan, S., Chan, C., Fung, D. C., Cheung, W. M., Kwan, T., & Leung, F. K. (2016). Differentiation in key learning areas for gifted students in regular classes A project for primary school teachers in Hong Kong. Gifted Education International, 0261429416649047.

No comments:

Post a Comment