It is not a popular topic in education today, arguably it probably was not ever given attention by the demands of the masses. But, gifted and talented education (GATE) or talented and gifted programs (TAG) address the learning needs of the students at the other end of the spectrum. The educational spectrum. At one end of special education are the students with documented learning disabilities: autism spectrum disorders, cognitive impairments, physical disability, attention deficits, hyperactivity disorders, oppositional defiance disorder, and more. The media and even professionals engaged in the field of education choose to not focus public attention on the needs of the gifted student or those at the other end of the educational spectrum. Gifted and talented students have needs too. The needs are often unmet due to political climate, lack of funding, or just a misplaced belief that this subset of students will be fine “without” intervention, and that the common core will “be enough”. Both statements are wrong. TAG students need as much intervention to keep engaged and launch their learning from where they are (which might already be several grades above their current academic level) to where they need to or can be.
Why is this important to me? As a parent, educator, and student advocate I have worked with this group of students for over twenty years. Groups, such as Evergreen Garden Club, were started at our school to provide enrichment opportunities based on observations that more needed to be aimed at supplying students with additional experiences in life science, project-based learning, citizen science, service learning, and environmental education. Language arts groups were started as a need was noted in a first-grade classroom for above benchmark readers. A writer’s circle was started to support and encourage third-graders interested in becoming great writers when they were already writing well. And finally, a Parent Advocacy Group was started to answer the need to increase local awareness about GATE and student needs such as increased differentiation in individual classes, middle school honors classes in subjects other than accelerated mathematics, and educate district staff, the community, and parents on the emotional, social, and behavioral characteristics of gifted students and what we can do to support them. It is a myth that the gifted student will be alright without intervention. They need support from staff, administration, parents, and the community just as any other sub-set of students need support. Why we continually let this group of students down is beyond my understanding.
These experiences do not even encompass those I have had as a parent of students who fall into this category, complete with all the joys of prideful accomplishments as well as irritating frustrations involving the educational community and systems that are in place or lack of being put in place. Those experiences will provide additional posts at a future time.
Today, I am sharing resources I have used over the invested years working with TAG students. Since I have been visible in my advocacy for these students, I am often asked by parents where they can turn for advice and/or enrichment and even possible advancement opportunities. The following list includes many sources of reading which will increase one’s understanding of the gifted and talented student, as well as prompt ideas for meeting the needs of this special group of students that can be so easily overlooked.
SENG – Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted This is an organization with a website that offers a great deal of information on the emotional lives of gifted students. They offer a library of articles, conferences, and practical advice on how to help gifted students and their families deal with common issues like over-excitabilities, intensities, asynchronous development, “feeling different”, and being accepted.
Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page – Hoagies Gifted Education Page Another website with a wealth of information about giftedness. This organization has divided topics between parents, educators, and students. It has something for everyone. This was a page I visited often, early on in my advocacy for the gifted. In my opinion, it is a very good place to start to increase your understanding of these students.
Davidson Institute – Davidson Institute for Talent Development – The Davidson Institute offers conferences, scholarship and enrichment opportunities for students, as well as a database of information regarding GATE. Personally, I do not have much exposure to this organization. However, I know of some people who have really enjoyed their conferences.
Northwestern University – Center for Talent Development In our area of the country, the mid-west, Northwestern University, outside of Chicago, offers many opportunities for acceleration and enrichment from advanced coursework to civic leadership workshops in the summer. This institution provides NUMATS (Northwestern University Midwest Academic Talent Search) which allows regional youth to take standardized tests such as the ACT, earlier than normally scheduled. All three of my boys were eligible to take the ACT as early as 6th grade through NUMATS. There are advantages to testing early that will be the subject of subsequent postings. The major disadvantage to programs through Northwestern University is that they are expensive and some are only offered in the Chicago area.
Johns Hopkins University – Center for Talented Youth. We also have personal experience with the Center for Talented Youth through Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Like Northwestern University, Hopkins offers many opportunities for online coursework for credit or enrichment. Their admission guidelines are clearly stated and reachable for most gifted students. My youngest son took a summer course called Math Counts Prep two years ago and really enjoyed it. We liked it because it kept his math skills up during the summer and his professor was accessible and very supportive. It was a great experience. Again, the disadvantage is the expense.
Blogs – Of late, I have taken to reading blogs and have found some really great ones on giftedness. Through reading different blogs, families and students can know that they are not unusual or alone as they travel through the sometimes tumultuous waters of gifted education.
Here is a blog by the National Association for Gifted Children: Blog Page at the National Association for Gifted Children and one I just came across this morning but is supported by the Davidson Institute you read about above: The Gifted Exchange Blog
SENG also has recommended gifted blogs for teachers here: SENG Blog Recommendations for Teachers on the Gifted.
Authors & Speakers – There are many speakers and publications on the topic of GATE or topics related to the education of all students. Here are two I recommend:
Sir Ken Robinson – Sir Robinson offers enlightenment on why our current schooling system needs to change. His ideas clearly support helping TAG students to reach their potential through personalized learning. He is also a very engaging speaker and has numerous TED talks. Here is one of his more famous talks on whether schools kill creativity. Do Schools Kill Creativity? A TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. This is an important concept because students can be gifted in the arts like music and drawing as well as more the traditional paths of mathematics or language. Often, they go hand in hand. Again, something with which I have personal, parental experience.
Carol Ann Tomlinson – Ms. Tomlinson is the author of many books about differentiated instruction. Her described work could be used by any classroom teacher looking to challenge students by providing instruction to meet student needs using a number of different methods. I just finished reading How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-ability Classrooms (2001) and would highly recommend it to any teacher wishing to differentiate instruction. She is clear that differentiation meets the needs of all students, not just the gifted.
Local Universities – Often I am asked about local opportunities for gifted students. One such resource can be your local university. These institutions offer summer enrichment as well as an opportunity to take college courses while still in high school. We took advantage of classes at both University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Winona State University. Often, the universities provide need-based assistance too, for families that cannot afford the course fees for summer enrichment classes. If you are able to take a college class while still in high school, your resident district will often pay for the class. You need to check your local high school policies and programming for those opportunities.
Today, you have been provided with some resources for gifted and talented students. In the future, I will expand on this topic with additional information. It is a topic with which I have much experience. I hope you find the information useful, as we need to provide for the learning needs of all students, at both ends of the spectrum.