Instruction of Gifted Children and Adolescents

Eligibility for a gifted education program may be decided as a result of the process of identification, but the design of a program of instruction for each child is often a separate set of decisions, sometimes requiring further assessments. It must be decided whether a child who is nearing the end of first grade but who has performed at the seventh-grade level on a standardized achievement test should be promoted to a much higher grade next year. An adolescent who is writing commercial music, and who is successfully performing it on weekends, might be allowed to leave school during the day to make a recording. The programming decisions to be made are as diverse as the talents of the children themselves.

It is not surprising, then, that no single strategy for teaching gifted children has been found to be the best. Rather, broad strategies ofintervention can be classified as modifications in curriculum content or skills and modifications in school environment. Either of these strategies might be formalized by means of a written plan or contract, which is an agreement between individuals, such as the learner, the teacher, and (when relevant) others, including the gifted education teacher or the parent(s). Parents have the right to refuse special services for their children, but few do.

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Children who display advanced cognitive skills at an early age may need additional educational opportunities to maximize their potential. (CLEO Photography)

Modifications in curriculum content for gifted students might include content acceleration (such as early admission, grade skipping or "telescoping" two years into one); content enrichment (materials to elaborate on basic concepts in standard program); content sophistication (more abstract or fundamental considerations of basic concepts); and content novelty (such as units on highly specialized topics). Modifications in skills include training in component skills of problem solving; various forms of problem solving (such as creative, cooperative, or competitive); and development of creativity. A program for the first-grader who is performing on achievement tests at the seventh-grade level, for example, might call for placement in a higher grade level (grade skipping), although which grade level to place the child in would have to be determined using teacher observations, interview results, and diagnostic tests.

Possible modifications in the school environment include provisions for enrichment in the regular classroom (such as access to special equipment); a consultant teacher (who helps the classroom teacher develop lessons); a resource room (or "pullout" program); mentoring (often by a professional in the community); independent study (often a special project); special-interest classes (such as creative writing); special classes (such as advanced placement biology); and special schools (such as a statewide math and science school). A program for the musically creative adolescent might incorporate mentoring by a music professional, who would report to the school on a regular basis about work completed by the adolescent at a recording studio or while otherwise away from school during school hours.

Of all of these modifications, teachers and parents seem to be most concerned about content acceleration, particularly if it involves grade skipping. As long as children are not socially and emotionally "hurried" by adults to achieve early, research suggests that the impact of content acceleration is positive. Most children who spend all or part of the school day with older children have ample opportunities to socialize with age-mates (if they wish) after school, on weekends, and in their neighborhoods. Being gifted can imply a preference for working alone or with older children, but it does notim-ply being lonely, particularly for those who are moderately gifted.

Individualized education programs (IEPs) are especially important for highly gifted children, such as child prodigies, who have either an extremely high IQ (180 or above) or expertise in a domain-specific skill by age ten; prodigious savants, formerly known as idiots savants, who have an IQ below 70 but expertise in a domain-specific skill (such as calendar calculating); and gifted children with disabilities. Children with disabilities (some of them multiple disabilities) may represent several percent of those who are gifted. In the United States, an IEP for these children is mandated by law. The importance of an individual program is evidenced by the case of Helen Keller, whose home tutoring not only resulted in the development of her intellectual abilities but also enabled her later accomplishments as an advocate for the blind throughout the world.

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