A Writing Lesson for Gifted Students SOL#18

A Writing Lesson for Gifted Students SOL#18

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!

Humiliation? Never.

Humiliation? Never.

Recently, my social media feed offered a repost of an edutopia blog article I had read last year. It is one of those articles worthy of re-reading, re-posting, and re-sharing. Previously, I had shared the article with an administrator in our school district.  The reason being is that we experienced some long-lasting effects of student humiliation.  A humiliating incident in a math class last year, early in the semester, in which a teacher called my son “stupid” in front of his peers basically caused him to “shut down”.  Consequently, he did not get much out of the class he was taking, had no interest in going to this very sarcastic teacher for help, and resulted in a year-long bout of lowered self-confidence, periodic anger, and self-doubt.

Last month, I thought we were “over the hurdle” as it had been almost a year since the incident and my son seemed to be “holding his own” in his subsequent, but now current, math class. However, after having to speak to the guidance counselor about changing  an elective, the past experience with this teacher was broached again, bringing about more tears, and a renewed sense of anxiety.  I think my son was thinking, “will they ever remember me for anything other than what happened last year?” Well, the  answer to that is they have and they will, as some other very nice opportunities have been sent his way by the same guidance office. In addition, the teacher he has for this year’s class in the same subject area projects a much different attitude, has gotten to know my son, and has taken steps to individualize his instruction. It appears he is a conceptual learner and approaches new information from a big picture vantage point, rather than spiraling up with details to understand the concept in the way most students learn. It is unusual, but can be worked with by a compassionate, knowledgeable educator.

So, why do I write about this today? There are several reasons. First, it needs to be said that as parents, we are very supportive of our childrens’ education. Academics come first in our house and our boys know that. However, with that said, we also believe that our teachers must get to know their students.  This was one of the most grevous errors leading to the experience of last year. Assumptions about our student were made. They were incorrect. This particular teacher taught one way, in a manner that was not conducive to our son’s learning style. However, instead of finding ways that might help him, she used sarcasm and humiliation. This was not acceptable. I do believe she might have been willing to help him by reinforcing what she had gone over in class, but would have not done so by using a different demeanor or by approaching him without sarcasm.  He was unwilling to approach her for help because of the way he had been treated in class – with humiliation.  It is due to the inappropriate use of humiliation in the classroom that I write about this subject today.

Finally, I will leave you with a few thoughts to consider as you teach.

  1. Do not humiliate your students, for any reason.
  2. Use a variety of teaching models/styles in your presentation of material.
  3. Connect with your students. Get to know them.
  4. Think about whether your teaching style is meeting the learning styles of your students. Work to reach as many students as you can using various models.
  5. As a parent, speak up if you find something does not seem right, using the chain of command, if at all possible.
  6. Do not be afraid to remove your student from a situation in which he/she is not learning, if you feel that would be best. We did not do this, as my son did not want to be removed from this class. In hind sight, we should have, as we have seen that he did not absorb much because he could not get past his feelings toward this teacher and her classroom style. However, our district policies state the a student will receive an “F” if the class is dropped after the first two days of the term. This was also a consideration in our decision.
  7. Work to change district policy to enable fair and reasonable choices for students, not only teachers, regarding course changes.

Thanks for the opportunity to share blog posts on Slice of Life Tuesday: TwoWritingTeachers!