Strategies for Teaching Gifted and Talented Students

When my son was two years old and could name every state flag for every state in the union just by looking at the flag, I knew he had above-average intelligence. What I didn’t know was how many challenges having a very intelligent child would pose.

When I was pregnant with him, my first, I was terrified that I would have a child with a disability. I worked with disabled children and I was convinced that working with those kids was God’s way of preparing me to have a special-needs child. When he was born and he was fine I breathed a heavy sigh of relief and thanked God.

I now realize that I DO have a special needs child. It’s just a different set of special needs than what I anticipated. Along with being very gifted and having a genius level IQ, my son also has an Autism Spectrum disorder called Asperger’s Syndrome. To put it quite simply, he’s very, very smart, but he lacks common sense sometimes and he has trouble verbalizing his emotions.

Now my son is in fourth grade. He makes the A Honor Roll every grading period. He receives special pull-out services and stays in a regular education classroom. He receives a modified curriculum to encompass both his higher-level education needs and his slower-paced work needs.

As a parent, I feel both blessed and frightened by my son’s special needs. He’s extremely advanced in math. As smart as I believe I am and as well as I did in school, I am TERRIBLE with math. I fear the day he starts bringing home his trigonometry homework and gets stuck on a problem. I’ll be useless to help him. It’s intimidating to have a child who, in some ways, is smarter than yourself.

As for teaching my gifted child, I’ve learned the best thing for him is to let HIM guide me. I don’t push him because he’s smart. He is a slow-paced worker. He knows the stuff backward and forward, but he takes his sweet time getting everything done. When I start pushing him, he gets frustrated and the learning halts. When I back off and let him know it’s okay to work at his own pace, he gets excellent grades.

In class – Very gifted children are often very imaginative and creative children and their minds can be functioning on several different planes at once. The teachers at my son’s school have developed a picture schedule for him that is taped to the top of his desk. Since he has trouble staying focused on one task at a time, he has his schedule there to keep him on task. Also, much to my surprise, his teacher developed a little system that only my son, the teacher and I knew about. She kept a little device that made a loud clicking sound in her pocket. In all honesty, it’s used to train dogs. When she is teaching or working at her desk and notices my son drifting off into his own little world, she reaches into her pocket and clicks the device. He, and only he, knows that click is for him. It brings him back to focus and the teacher doesn’t have to constantly call his name out in front of the class and draw attention to him. When the other students ask what the clicking sound is, she plays it off as nothing, they accept her answer and everyone moves on. Eventually the other children stopped noticing the clicks.

Reading – My son is an avid reader and absolutely loves the written word. I feel that, in part, this is due to the fact that I used other things he loves, like playing Nintendo, as bait to get him to read. Early on I created a rule that exists to this day. For every hour of Nintendo he wants to play, he has to read for half an hour first. For about one week I had to remind him to read first, but now, several years later, he reads all the time, Nintendo or not. He never tries to sneak to the Nintendo without doing his reading.

Creativity – The most important thing, I’ve learned, to remember with your gifted child is to NEVER discourage his imagination. I’ve learned ways to work around all the imaginary friends and games and wonderlands. For example, my son used to have a big problem with taking his imaginary friends to school with him. His teacher would tell me that he was stuck in his fantasy world all day. So, I began a routine of “dropping off” his imaginary friends and their worlds at the stop sign near the school. In the morning I’d say, “Okay, here we are. Let’s say goodbye to ……..” We’d go through the exhaustive list of friends and we’d leave them all to play at the stop sign and wait for our return. At the end of the day we’d pretend to open the car door and let all the friends back in. We’d spend the rest of the drive home saying “Hello” to all the friends and asking each other how everyones’ day went. It took alot of extra time and involvement (and imagination) on my part, but it worked and it was worth it. This method allowed my son to still use his imagination to the fullest, but to learn when it is and isn’t appropriate to act out fantasies.

In the school system – It is your job as the parent to never forget that you are your child’s biggest and most important advocate. If you feel like your gifted child is slipping through the cracks in his school system, don’t sit by and let it go on. Don’t jump to drastic conclusions and suddenly yank your child out of his environment and put him in a special school. Give the school system you are in a chance to meet his needs. You have rights as a parent. Politely and firmly demand that they be respected. Call for meetings with the teacher(s), the principal, the counselor, and any other support staff that might be able to assist with your child’s needs. I learned that, when my son’s school would give me an answer that just didn’t fit or make sense, I would just tell them, very nicely, that the answer wasn’t good enough and the matter needed to be examined further. Eventually I got my way every time without having fights or losing the respect of the faculty.

In conclusion, never leave the education of your gifted child fully to others. YES teachers are professionals and yes that is their job, but YOU are your child’s greatest teacher. You may not have the skills to educate him in book matters, but educating him about life, the world, respect, and loving himself and others are things that just can’t be found in books.