How to Maximize Remote Learning for Gifted Students
Being gifted isn’t always easy
Being a gifted child can often be fraught with difficulty. Many adults reject gifted children because of what they see as aberrant behavior. Peers may view them as weird and seek to exclude them. But, embracing the gifts of the gifted helps them blossom. This is especially important in a remote learning environment. The gifted child, who is already potentially experiencing emotions on a deeper and more intense level than their peers, is placed in a more isolating environment, which can exacerbate their alienation. Here are a few ways to help your gifted students flourish—not flounder—during remote learning.
Seek to understand giftedness
To teach the gifted student effectively, especially in a remote learning setting, first, seek to understand gifted children and adults. A great place to start is a theory of giftedness. A classic is Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration, discussed in detail in the outstanding book, Living with Intensity, which consists of five levels of self-development that are not necessarily progressive, from the self-centeredness and lack of concern for others often demonstrated by young children to a Mother Teresa level of selflessness and concern for humanity.
Have you ever interacted with a gifted child who seemed to have the most outsized imagination you have ever seen? Seemed to have a motor that never stopped running? Excitedly shot their hand up into the air every time you asked the class a question? Demonstrated hyper-competitiveness that sometimes bordered on—or crossed into—social inappropriateness? Understanding Dabrowski’s related “overexcitabilities”: intellectual, emotional, imaginational, sensual, and psychomotor, may help you genuinely understand gifted students for the first time and accept rather than reject what they bring to the table.
There is no one-size-fits-all definition of giftedness, which may include general or specific intellectual ability, giftedness in the performance, visual, and creative fields, and psychomotor ability, among others. Whether positive, incorrect, or otherwise, expectations of gifted children can have a significant impact on a gifted child. Be the educator that seeks first to understand, then act according to the needs of the individual gifted student in mind. Leave preconceived notions at the door and meet them where they are.
Differentiate for the “overexcitabilities”
Instead of finding frustration in the aforementioned “overexcitabilities” of gifted students, embrace them. Carol Ann Tomlinson reminds us that differentiation typically occurs in terms of content, process, and product. The remote learning environment is compatible with this differentiation, while a quality learning management system (LMS) is designed for it.
For example, let’s say you’re thinking through ways to differentiate a history lesson for the remote gifted learner. Instead of assigning online textbook content and focusing on developing basic vocabulary and a rudimentary timeline of events, you could provide content resources that “focus on the overall trends, patterns, and themes” instead. It can be as simple as the difference between reading a textbook paragraph describing the development and use of the atomic bomb to end World War II or immediately engaging the gifted learner in a value debate regarding the weapon’s use, linked to today’s debate over the legalities and merits of cyber warfare.
The above would be a prime example not only of differentiating for content but also addressing intellectual overexcitability. Gifted learners often like to read voraciously, think about morals, values, ethics, truth, and, well, thinking itself.
What should the product of the learning be? For the remote gifted learner, it’s hard to imagine that a traditional multiple-choice summative assessment would be very meaningful or demonstrative of the student’s depth of knowledge. Going back to our atomic bomb example, what if you provide your learners with a choice regarding how they would demonstrate mastery of the content? The remote gifted learner is ready to blow you away with a digital mash-up presented via the LMS that effortlessly explains the timeline and relevant issues of the atomic weapons debate, or to write, act in, direct, and produce a short film on the topic, or … you get the idea. Gifted learners—and, arguably, all students—would benefit from their choice of meaningful assessment versus more traditional methods.
There is often a temptation to push content with gifted students and focus on accelerating learning instead of pursuing enrichment. As the National Association for Gifted Children points out, however, this can represent a missed opportunity. Instead of increased volume or acceleration of work, consider using remote learning as a golden opportunity to do a deep dive into the material by providing students with voice, choice, and engaging learning opportunities, like “virtual field trips, videos, articles, mini-projects, and podcasts.” Gifted students crave stimulating exploration. Provide it for them.
The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enrich a gifted child’s experience in the remote learning environment. Think of your LMS as a library or, better yet, a learning portal, and yourself as the curator of all kinds of incredible content—content that you don’t have to take responsibility for creating, thanks to 21st-century resources. For example, various public media outlets have already created entire sites full of family enrichment activities for learners of all ages. All you have to do is guide your gifted learners to these resources and provide meaningful follow-up opportunities in the form of one-on-one coaching conversations or “here-are-some-cool-things-I-learned” class presentations.
Remember, enrichment should take advantage of the natural curiosity and wonder inherent in the gifted learner. It shouldn’t feel like extra work. Too often, we get bogged down in rigor in gifted education, especially when we conflate rigor with “more.” I would wager that the vast majority of gifted learners—and their families—don’t want more. They want more in-depth, authentic, meaningful experiences that turn their innate talents loose.
Keep giftedness part of the special education conversation
Imagine going through school (and life) wondering if anyone really understands you or feeling out-of-sync with your peers—feeling things more deeply than others—often in ways that may make others uncomfortable or result in your being labeled over-emotional. These are typical concerns of gifted children (and gifted adults). By tapping into 21st-century tools and resources, you can maximize the remote learning experience for this special population of students, and you can be the educator who helps unlock the blessing and the promise of giftedness for them every single day.