When I think of those who are gifted, I do not think of students who are “smart” and make straight As. I think of students who are different, students who indeed march to the beat of a different drummer. I think of the Lord Byrons, Mary Shellys, Einsteins, Disneys, Thoreaus, Dickinsons, Poes, Oscar Wildes, Thomas Hardys, Galileos, and others who in one regard or the other were seen as social outcasts, oddballs, or perhaps even insane. In our more modern times, I think of the Robin Williams, the Martin Lawrences, the Robert Downy, Jr.s, Curt Cobains, Jim Morrisons, Jimmy Hendricks, Janice Joplins; individuals whose minds were/are so bright, so different, so busy they use(d) and abuse(d) substances to curtail their mental activity- to feel normal.
I often told my high school students that the mind of a brilliant individual is like a Ferrari, if not taught the dangers as well as the thrills, it can become deadly to the individual and even those around him or her. There has often been stated a fine line between genius and insanity. Hitler, Manson, Stalin, and others come to mind. If we continue as educators only to see those who are as researcher Renzulli (2012) notes, “school house” gifted as our brightest and best, we might find we are losing great minds, or either allowing them to run amuck.
I also feel that in order for these students to be identified and nurtured that our teachers need to, as I have stated before, not just be gifted certified teachers, but gifted teachers themselves. Too many teachers obtain gifted certification because they, “…cannot teach ‘these’ kids another year.” These kids being on-level students. That is not a very reliable prerequisite for obtaining a certification to teach students how to operate their Ferraris.
I find that in a standardized world teachers are not equipped or supported in the teaching of truly gifted students to color outside the lines. Teachers who become gifted certified so that they do not have to deal with discipline problems or have to differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of students who need more support than others are generally rudely awakened. These teachers are ill-prepared for the emotional intensity of the truly gifted child, and may find themselves, as suggested by Grant & Piechowski ( as cited in Sword, 2001), unwittingly damaging the child by fueling anxiety in the child’s need for perfection. How does one perfectly color outside the lines? As a teacher of on-level students, I was often chastised, threatened, and cajoled due to my “unorthodox” teaching methods. They were considered unorthodox because I challenged my students to question everything, everyone. Even those considered off limits.
One of the statements I made often in conversations with administration is that we cannot expect to teach our students to think critically if we lead them to believe either by commission or omission that there are certain tenets that are to never be questioned. Recent researchers (Corriveau, Chen, & Harris, 2015)studied the performance of students who have been taught Bible stories as fact vs. those students brought up in non-religious homes and found that students who are taught such stories as the creation story, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, Samson and the Philistines, have difficulty distinguishing between fact and fiction. If we want our students to fully develop their intellectual gifts, we must first stop insulting their intelligence.
The most important action I could take as a teacher of students identified as special education or non-identified at all, was to lead them in the direction of finding their talent, their gift and to develop it. The hardest part of that for any teacher is breaking through all the scar tissue formed over the years to protect the child’s esteem.
Some ways in which I help my students find their gifts. If a child is good at art, some assignments should be tailored to draw (pardon the pun) upon that talent, and it can still meet the standards. If a child is talented in music, that child can create a composition that identifies the mood, tone, theme, and action of a work of literature. If a child has a flair for the dramatics, then he or she should be given the task of creating a skit or a one man/woman show to demonstrate mastery of a concept.
One of the ways I differentiated was through tiered assignments. Each tier was worth a different point value, so each student has an opportunity to make an A. 250/250; 150/150; 75/75, for example. Students perform better when given choices that allow them to draw upon their talents, interests, ability (Beckley, 1998) and yes, even to some degree work ethic. These projects each have a rubric and students are given that rubric with the minimum expectations stated, and that to meet these means a C for that project. When given these clear expectations – with Ds and Fs not even offered, students seem to naturally strive towards the A. Imagine that.
Teachers need to unlock their own Ferraris and get back in the driver’s seat when it comes to educating students. Administrators need to break down this word and do what literally translated it means. It does not mean to rule or govern, it means to provide care. Care and nurture to teachers, means they in turn can care for and nurture their students.
Beckley, D. (1998). Gifted and Learning Disabled: Twice Exceptional Students. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED424711
Corriveau, K. H. ., Chen, E. E. ., & Harris, P. L. . (2015). Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds. Cognitive Science, 39(2), 353–382. https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12138
Renzulli, J. S. (2012). Reexamining the Role of Gifted Education and Talent Development for the 21st Century: A Four-Part Theoretical Approach. Gifted Child Quarterly, 56(3), 150–159. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986212444901
Sword, L. (2001). Psycho-social needs: Understanding the emotional, intellectual and social uniqueness of growing up gifted. Victoria, Australia: Gifted and Creative Services. Retrieved from http://www.darshana-ganatra.com/files/Psycho_social_Needs_of_Gifted_Children_Kopie.pdf