Challenging the Gifted Learner

One of the common criticisms leveled at gifted programs administered through public schools is that, rather than challenging gifted students, they merely give them more work to do. The "smart kids" have finished their grammar worksheet? Never fear, here's another one! While homeschool parents usually manage to avoid the most egregious examples of this, in practice it can be difficult to challenge a gifted child without accidentally slipping into merely requiring more work.

Smrt Mama and I discussed this recently. While some skills do need practice and repetition (even for gifted students), it can be all too easy to throw content, content, and more content at a child. Despite my love for most of The Well-Trained Mind, at times I think SWB's recommendations with regard to history and literature can fall into that trap. And, of course, there is more knowledge in this world than any one person can master, so there is going to always be an idea for another subject or another area of study that could be added, in yet another attempt to challenge a student.

Ultimately, though, more work does not challenge a student intellectually; it merely challenges a student's time management skills. Challenging a student while maintaining an appropriate workload may require more work on the part of the parent-teacher. A gifted reader doesn't need to be required to read two, three, or four books in a short amount of time; a gifted reader needs a book with vocabulary, sentence structure, and content that will stretch him or her, without being developmentally inappropriate. A gifted writer does not need to write more essays, stories, or poems, but he or she does need to be challenged to improve the organization, clarity, and depth of the essays, to tighten the narrative of the stories, and to enhance the imagery and language used in the poetry. A gifted mathematician does not need to do sixty-four similar math problems instead of just sixteen or thirty-two, but he or she does need to see multiple ways of approaching the problem and thinking about math.

The challenge, as it ever is, is finding the appropriate resources and curricula to accomplish these goals. It is harder for the parent-teacher to go deeper and wider. Compression and additional work are far easier responses. While compression may at time be appropriate (one common example of this is First Language Lessons; many have shared their experience in covering the first two levels in just one school year, for instance), additional assignments rarely are. Additional work may approach the material from a different angle, require a slightly different set of skills, or increase understanding in some way; in these particulars, additional work may in fact be appropriate. In many cases, however, these benefits could possibly be acquired through a different approach, rather than merely through further assignments.

Some of the resources I have discovered and have either used or planned to use:
Michael Clay Thompson's language arts curriculum If you watch a video of this man speak, you can see that he really gets it. These materials are exceptional! I also cannot wait to see him speak in person next March – I'm planning to drive to Greenville for the chance to see him & Susan Wise Bauer in person.
Art of Problem Solving mathematics resources. AoPS publishes mathematics resources for approximately sixth grade and up, as well as providing online classes to correspond to the textbooks as well as classes to prepare for prestigious math contests. Also available from AoPS are a few resources for elementary-age students. We have two of their books so far (Introduction to Number Theory and Introduction to Counting & Probability), and plan to have EG participate in some of their online courses in the future.
TIP (Duke's Talent Search) store I am most familiar with TIP because we are in their geographical region; I'm sure other regional talent searches have similar resources. There is an in-depth study of Greek mythology available, as well as one for the Arthurian legends. Actually, I think all of it looks excellent; those are just two I plan to purchase for use later this school year.

What are your best resources for challenging students?


jonnia said...

Going deeper & wider and fighting the urge to gallop ahead is most difficult for me in math, for some reason. This is a priority for us this year.

We are using the MCT Island level materials. I love the fact that he conveys such a sense of wonder and appreciation for the beauty of language! Love it! I've already got the Greenville convention on my calendar, too.

Some of the materials from Prufrock Press do a great job of challenging gifted learners with a richer offering. They are designed for the classroom, though, and require a hefty bit of adaptation for home setting.

Honestly, the most effective things have been the result of following rabbit trails at any spark of interest my son shows. I have also learned not to hesitate when it becomes clear that any curriculum needs to be tweaked to fit him better!

Smrt Mama said...

This is the very problem with giftedness in public school. I know you've never experienced it firsthand, but Captain Science and I both did. Teachers misunderstand what giftedness is, so instead of providing more challenging materials, they either double the workload (and expect it in the same time period) or set different, higher standards for the same workload. Both are incredibly frustrating for the gifted child, who doesn't understand why s/he is being punished with extra work or being given a low grade for better work on a paper where an average student was given a high grade. This fosters a "eff 'em all" attitude.

Amy said...

I agree with Smrt Mama 100%. This is why we pulled the kids out of PS. Well that and the "pullout" gifted program was a joke. When the kids came home and told me they were playing Webkinz in seminar that was the end for me!!

Trying to chose curriculum to challenge yet not bog them down and overwhelm them has been my greatest struggle.

Anonymous said...

Along Smrt Mama's lines: Our district has a K-8 gifted school, which teachers can recommend students be tested into or parents can request it. My 11yo Matt was never recommended for it and I never requested it because my understanding is that written expression is weighed very heavily and writing is Matt's biggest struggle. But I've heard from so many parents whose children have been students at that school who have pulled their kiddos out. Why? Because the workload is so heavy. It's quantity over quality.

In our own experience last year, Matt's math teacher gave him a 4 in math first semester and second semester chose him and a few other kids to pull out and give advanced work to. So spring semester he got a 3 in math. I don't really understand that. If he's doing work above that of his classmates, doesn't that automatically rate a 4? Not that it's something that I care about particularly (I found that both this year and last year his grades meant nothing to me, which is just part of the reason we're hs'ing this year); I just thought it was rather curious.

Thank you for the recommending Art of Problem Solving. :)

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