Recently I was called on twice in as many weeks to serve as an educational consultant. The topics in question were in separate disciplines but both have ties to my boys and their capacities as learners and individuals. Both instances made me feel good and reinforced what I believe is my true calling – teaching gifted students.
Continuing along this trend, last night I saw an article on my social media feed from the SENG organization. SENG stands for Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted. The article talked about how important it was to avoid giving too many writing instructions to gifted students. It was detailed and contained two examples of extremely high quality expository writing by high school students. In a nutshell, it told fellow educators to follow several simple guidelines when it came to teaching gifted high school students to write expository research papers. The suggested guidelines were:
- Do not load them up with unnecessary advice, but rather stay out of their way!
- Do not kill their motivation by front loading them with the paper requirements on conventions, bibliographies, footnotes, citations, etc. This can be daunting!
- Do use other exemplary peer examples to motivate them as to what they could produce themselves.
- Do realize gifted students can quickly pick up on the technical end of the paper requirements – this can be done later in the process, rather than front loading.
- Do realize that to be a great writer, the students must first be thorough readers of their chosen topic.
- Do allow them topics of their choice. (They will really be thankful for this!)
- Remember that the more interested in content the student is, the more likely they will be motivated and invested in producing a high quality, well-written paper.
- Do not place unnecessary limitations on length.
- Do not project your own limitations on their capabilities.
- Do be available for questions. Gifted students have a lot of them. Get used to it.
I read this article with interest for several reasons. One reason was that my eldest son, gifted in many areas, wrote a paper on Charles Darwin for his National History Day Project in eighth grade, many years ago. The following year, 2009, the paper was published on Teen Ink, and has had thousands of views through that website. When I read the caveats presented by this author, I could not help but wonder if he ever felt overwhelmed by writing instruction. My guess would be, yes!
More significantly, however, the article made me realize a mistake I made with a writer’s circle student I had last year. We were starting our poetry unit and I was giving instructions on writing haiku poetry. Our sessions were short (30 minutes) and I felt pressed for time. I literally blurted out the directions in a rapid pace and set the students to work. But, as I finished, I noticed one of my six students had his head down and appeared flushed. When I approached him, I could see he was close to tears. I asked him what was wrong, but he did not respond. I had him join me in the hallway. There, he burst into tears, claiming he could not do what I asked. Of course. he could and, he did. A week later, he produced some wonderful haiku and was published in a national compilation along with everyone else in my group. But, I realized when I read this article that I had overwhelmed him with my rapid fire directions and list of technical requirements for haiku writing. I think if I had approached him (and the group) with examples of student written haiku instead of starting with directions and the pressure of having a short group lesson, the tears could have been avoided.
It’s too bad that I don’t have a writer’s circle group this year. I could have put the lesson I just learned into practice. More reading, more examples, and more freedom to write topics of choice combined with less direction and less pressure to learn writing techniques up front might very well be the way to go with gifted writers, even if they are only eight years old!