This upcoming school year I am embarking on a new journey. For the first time, I will be teaching three sections of Advanced Academics History 7, classes made up of students that have been identified by my school system as gifted. During my career, I've taught special education, general education. honors, and English language learners (ELLs) for years. It's time for something new. Teaching gifted students will undoubtedly bring new challenges (and new joys). I am spending some time this summer getting my head around what my own personal approach to teaching gifted students will be.
As a teacher and a parent, I am not a huge fan of the gifted label, because it seems to suggest that some students are not "gifted." How can that be? I feel that as a teacher every child has a gift and it is our job as educators to help them unlock it. I think of students I have had in my 15 years in the classroom who were not "gifted" and yet have gone on to do incredible things that showcase their talents. They are successful, they are creative, they are influencers. I replay conversations I've had with students who weren't in the gifted program and somehow as a result thought they were lesser than the kids who were. So part of my personal journey, will be to continue to teach all of my students - "gifted" or not, that every human being is gifted in their own way, and that every student deserves the best education out there regardless of their label. I had to get that off of my chest before heading further down this path of educating gifted students.
During my research, I've found a few articles that have stood out as particularly helpful. I started with this piece What it Means to Teach Gifted Learners Well by the National Association for Gifted Children. This article definitely squared with what I believe about gifted learners and it sets a high bar for instruction. I found this article, Six Strategies for Challenging Gifted Learners by Amy Azzam especially helpful because it offered concrete ideas for engaging gifted learners. For the same reason, I also recommend Tips for Teaching Gifted Students by Caralee Adams. I've ordered Teaching Gifted Kids in Today's Classrooms -- a book by Susan Winebrenner and Dina Brulles (more to come on that).
But beyond research, I also keep coming back to personal experience -- specifically my former elementary teacher, Ms. Reid. She was by far the best teacher I ever had. Just as people say I learned everything I needed to know in Kindergarten, I might be able to say that I learned everything I needed to know about gifted education from Ms. Reid. In grades 2nd-5th, I was included in a pull-out program with her one day a week. She taught in a prefab classroom removed from the building and in that small classroom she was able to open worlds to us. With her prematurely white hair often wrapped in a handkerchief, she taught us units on Inventions, Archeology, and Architecture. She connected math to the real world by having us create an exhibit on recent flooding in our hometown. Her lessons always included clear objectives, choice, challenge, and collaboration. She used lessons to teach us not only content but about how human beings learn (how the brain works, how to think, how to struggle). It was clear that her instruction was thoughtfully planned to meet us where we were as individuals. Moreover, Ms. Reid made us part of the conversation about our own learning. At her insistence, we attended parent teacher conferences (something that wasn't done in the 80s) and she zeroed in on what we were doing well and what we needed to work on. She talked TO us not AT us -- she was such a departure from the sit-and-get educational style that defined Oklahoma classrooms in that era.
But the best thing is that she made learning exciting by inviting us to engage deeply in inquiry. I remember one day getting home from school after a lesson with Ms. Reid and setting up an archeological dig inside a trash pit container in our backyard that dated back to the 1920s. I unearthed all sorts of things -- the most exciting being a marble. I remember cradling that marble in my hand like some kind of ancient artifact, wondering who the owner had been and what their story was. That marble made me ask so many questions. It was magical. Many years later, my mom recounted that she had run into Ms. Reid shortly after that day and talked to her about how much she had lit a fire in me about studying archeology. Ms. Reid laughed and said that she actually hated archeology, but was glad that she had been able to make us excited about it. As a teacher, oh, how I relate. There are units and lessons that I love and others that I dread, but I never ever want my students to know. For them this unit could be the one -- the thing that lights a spark. It could be the unit that causes a girl to find a marble in her backyard and to wonder who that marble belonged to and what their story was. It could be the unit that sparks a love of history and the discovery that history is all around us in big ways and small ones. It could be the unit that leads to the marble that lets a girl know that everyone has a story to tell, a lesson to learn, whether "gifted" or simply gifted.
So this year, I'll try to kindle the magic that Ms. Reid created. I'll keep reading the articles to expand my teaching, plan well, look for mentors, challenge my students and myself. I'll promote collaboration, choice. I'll find ways to help students take ownership, talking with them and not at them about learning. And I will do everything I can to keep learning about history exciting for all of my students by encouraging deep and meaningful inquiry-based learning.
Isn't it funny how favorite teachers can inspire us for a lifetime? Just like Ms. Reid encouraged me to dig in my fire pit, today I can still see her looking at me with her piercing blue eyes, patting me on the shoulder, and telling me that when it comes to teaching "gifted" students, I've got this. And you know what, I think she's right.
P.S. If you have resources or ideas about teaching gifted students we'd love to hear from you. After all, when teachers share, great ideas BubbleUp.
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