Supporting Students who Are Gifted and Introverted

caring-for-introverts-300x277Gifted intervention specialists have their hands full. Having a class with students who are gifted with many of these students having personalities that range from introverted to extroverted. Students who are gifted have unique needs that need to be supported, such as being multipotentiality, having perfectionistic behaviors, being twice exceptional, or having underachievement behaviors.  Not students who are gifted are the same, and therefore need to be supported differently and at times individually.

In this post we will explore a few ways to support our introverts. Many times just doing a few things in your classroom can have a big impact on their learning.

1. Create classroom spaces where introverts can feel comfortable. Having little nooks and crannies in your classroom can help introverts be more comfortable. Also, make spaces where small groups can cogitate to learn and discuss things. This will also introverts to socialize along with having some personal space they can feel comfortable in.

2. Incorporate short activities or games that encourage socialization in your classroom. By using activities such as chess, checkers, rubric cubes, or other board games it can take the stress out of socialization and forced conversation.

3. Post the schedule for the day and/or month. By posting your schedule you are using nonverbal communication which is a form of communication many introverts often use. On your calendar post tests, quizzes, due dates, and of you can when you will be out. This will help your introverts prepare for a different teacher who may not know them.

What do you do to help support your students who are gifted and introverted?


Allowing Collaboration in the Gifted Classroom

What I love about students who are gifted is that many of them can be so creative, and think much differently than their average learner peers. Sometimes that creativity doesn’t always work well with others. Sometimes due to their unique social and emotional needs such as perfectionism, multi-potentiality, and others can sometimes make working with a partner or a small group difficult. 

As a teacher, and a believer in developing 21st century skills, I had to at times, nudge and prod my students who were gifted to work together. I would work to develop relationships with my students. I also created an environment where all of my students could get to know each other, and start to build safe relationships with each other. Once this started, my students would begin to talk about what they liked, and what they had in common.

What I liked most about my classes was once I had my students collaborating on projects the discussions my students had were so productive. It was great to see my students interacting with each other. They would learn from each other how they learn, think, and process problems.  

What changed a lot of my teaching was a book titled Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st-Century Classroom by Todd Stanley. His book helped shape my idea of collaboration with students who are gifted. If you haven’t read this book, I would suggest getting it.

After reading this book, I started to format some of my units in the same style as Todd Stanley described. Feel free to check the out in the link provided.

How do you foster collaboration in your gifted classroom? What can be gained from students who are gifted collaborating with each other in different projects? If you aren’t incorporating 21st century skills in your classroom, what is keeping you from it?

Questions, Answers, Opinions, and Stretch

Asking questions is art. Being able to ask the right questions is an art form. I was sitting in the doctor office this week, listening to him ask a multitude of questions to get to the heart of the health issue I was having. It occurred to me that this is what teaching and assessing is like in a classroom.

Questioning skills is one skill I felt like I had a handle on, but not necessarily mastered. To get to the heart of teaching, gifted intervention specialists need to ask the right questions in order to challenge and stretch our students learning.

There are four types of questions that can be asked to students. They each have a function. They are:

  • Recall
  • Evaluative /Judgment
  • Convergent
  • Divergent

Recall questions are the type of questions that ask a student to reach into their memory and pull out some remote fact. Of the type of questioning this is simplest. There is no stretch here. There is no challenge here. Students who are gifted will get bored with this type of questioning very quickly.

Evaluative or Judgement type questions are where gifted intervention specialists ask the questions that will bring forth an opinion for a student to defend or explain. Since this is an opinion response, as teachers we are looking to see how these students structure the opinion or defend a position. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to an opinion, what matters is how the student who is gifted framed the opinion.

Convergent questions are the type of questions that have one right answer. This can be a simple question with a “yes” or “no” answer, or a one word answer. These are types of test questions found on a multiple choice test or quiz. There is no real stretch here. It is mainly the type of question that a student can answer but doesn’t have to elaborate on.

Divergent questions are some of the most difficult questions to ask. They can be in many forms. They can be the “what if” type question that stretches our students to answer further. These can be the questions with multiple answers or solutions to a problem as if part of a project based learning project. These questions are the ones that move students thinking further and stretch them, because it allows them to be creative, and come up with multiple answers to a single question.

Students who are gifted may struggle to answer any type of the questions listed above depending on their verbal skills, and thinking or reasoning skills.

Divergent questions is where the rubber meets the road in a classroom. It is a form of differentiation that is used in many classrooms, but not always well. I would suggest, as I did myself to write out many of the divergent questions that I would want my students to answer. I would read them out load, to see if they made sense. I would often write a few drafts to get the questions just right.

How are your questioning skills? Are you a skilled questioner? What strategies do you use to help improve your questioning skills, along with those around you?

Gifted Intervention Specialists Need to be a Visible Resource

The education pendulum has swung to side where collaboration and teacher teams are becoming more and more popular. Teacher based teams are the norm in many school districts across the country. These teacher based teams work to help improve curriculum and instruction for students in their classes.

As a gifted intervention specialist, I spent some time in some of these teach based teams giving my input. This wasn’t a common occurrence though. Many times, I felt like I have some expertise about a student population that I could give some insight, but it was not often sought after. So often I felt like I was on an island by myself.

I want to share a few ideas that gifted intervention specialists can use that can not feel like the only person on a deserted island.

  •  Be assertive: Have open discussions with your administrators, and general education teachers about the importance of students who are gifted being challenged and receive a curriculum that needs to be differentiated due to their abilities. 
  • Be a resource: Along with having discussions with administrators and general educators, ask to present to the staff during professional development days. Choose topics that could most benefit general education teachers in the classroom. The more visible you can be in your building, the more often you may be sought after when issues come up. I know some gifted intervention specialists who send out a weekly or monthly newsletter with gifted education information and other pertinent information such as testing, teaching strategies, curriculum compacting or acceleration benefits.
  • Build relationships: Communicate with your students’ parents often. Don’t wait until parent-teacher conferences to meet or talk to your students’ parents. Ask how they are performing in their general education courses. Let them know how their child is doing in your classes. With your students who are gifted, ask them how they are doing in their other classes. Let them know you are their advocate for an appropriate education that meets their abilities.
  • Be an advocate:  This is connected to the previous point. By building relationships with your students who are gifted, you build trust with the parents and their children. You are becoming the cog between the general education teacher and the home. Use Twitter, Facebook, a self built website, or other means to connect with your parents, staff, and students. For you colleagues who are tech savvy suggest people to follow on Twitter, or Facebook groups to join that are focused on gifted education.
  • Be supportive: If you can with the support of administration, I would suggest forming a parent support group made of the parents of your students. Present to them some information that would be helpful. Suggest books, magazines, websites, or people to follow on Twitter and groups on Facebook. Connect with your Education Service Center (ESC), gifted coordinator, or state gifted association for support in getting resources and guest speakers who can help educate your parents on gifted education. Invite general education teachers to join in so they can see different aspects of gifted education.

Now, this isn’t an exhaustive list. I would suggest looking at the climate of your building and school district to use and modify the few suggestions listed above to help you in your situation. What do you do to be active in teacher based teams, or being an advocate for your students?

Creating a Tribe Like Atmosphere in the Gifted Classroom

This week, I have started reading a book by Seth Godin titled Tribes: We need you to lead us. As I am reading this, I am thinking of all my friends who classroom teachers, not only just gifted intervention specialists. I find that many of the ideas that Seth is writing about can be applied to the classroom.

Seth writes that a tribe is “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, humans have been part of one tribe or another. A group only needs two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” As teachers in a building we can either be a group or a tribe. Which do you want to be?

I have said before, being a gifted intervention specialist can be lonely. You may know, I was the only one of three in my district. So I had to create my own tribe. My tribe members were my students. Seth writes that tribes “need leadership. Sometimes, one person leads, sometimes more. People want connection and growth, and something new. The want change.” As the leader of my tribe, I had brilliant students who had shared a label, but not necessarily shared the same interests, personality traits, and learning styles. I had to get us to a shared goal. That goal was to have and create some great moments of learning through some of the topics I would choose, and some they would choose. 

So I had, each of my classes become a tribe. To be honest it worked well, most of the time. I had my students for several years, most throughout their middle school years. So, I took advantage of that time frame I was given to create a culture that was tribe-like. I feel like I made a classroom where everyone felt like belonged, could contribute to the class in a meaningful way, and could help lead if the desire in them was there.

I didn’t think about the idea of tribes when I was in the throngs of teaching. I wish I had this idea then. A few weeks ago I read the book Relentless: Changing Lives by Disrupting the Educational Norm by Hamish Brewer. In his book he places emphasis on building relationships with students. He creates tribes for his students to belong. 

Students who are gifted, want to feel like they belong. We all want to belong. These students who are gifted want to connect with others they feel are like themselves. I felt like it was my job to encourage that feeling by creating a tribe they belonged to.

How do you see your classroom? Are you the leader of a tribe? Are you creating a culture where students feel like they belong?

Almost Gifted

Before the start of the school year, I would always go through my class lists of students to see what I need to know about them. I would look to see if any students had an IEP or a 504 Plan. I would look to see which students were gifted. I also checked on other things such as allergies, and other medical issues. If I had time, I would check scores on past district wide and state tests. I did those things, not because I wanted to make judgments, but to help my instruction.

As a gifted intervention specialist, I would only teach students who were gifted. In Ohio, a student can be gifted as Specific Academic in either an academic area (math, reading/writing, science and/or social studies) by scoring in the 95 percentile on an achievement test. A student can also be gifted intellectually by reaching the identification score on an abilities or cognitive assessment along with an identification score on an approved behavioral checklist. This would lead to a gifted identification of Superior Cognitive Ability or Creative Thinking Ability. Finally, a student can be identified gifted in the arts (Dance, Drama, Music, and.or Visual Arts). To see all the approved assessments, check out the Ohio Department of Education’s List of Approved Assessments.

Once a student has been identified as gifted, they can be serviced in the areas in which they qualify. These are the students I would see in my classroom. 

What about the students who were almost gifted? How can we teachers, support these students? These students still need to have a service to help them be challenged. These students aren’t gifted, but they are above average students. I would encourage general educators to collaborate with gifted intervention specialists to create talent programs for these students.

Talent programs can be very beneficial for those students who are potentially gifted. These programs can help to challenge and stretch these students. The district would need to decide which direction they want to go when developing talent programs. These programs can be very useful in urban areas to help develop talent in minorities, and in students in early elementary grades such as in grades K-3. 

In order to find these students, I would suggest looking at the whole grade screening scores, and referral scores and create your own locally developed norms. Looking at student scores where the student scored just under the identification scores is a great start. Again, having general education and gifted intervention specialists working together to challenge and stretch these students is a great aspect of talent development. These students may be retested later in the school year and score in the identification range to qualify for gifted services.  

Have you or your building thought about developing a talent development program to help raise identification rates? If so, what have you done that was successful? What advise would you give to a building or group of teachers who want to start a talent development program?

Unmasking Gifted Behaviors

Teachers have a lot of responsibilities and protocols to get through in the beginning of the year. Compound that with teaching many classes and collecting data to effectively teach our children. General education teachers have a tough job. They are the front line of helping find and identify students who may have learning disabilities to gifted and talented. In order to properly identify these students general education teachers need to have proper training.

As it relates to students who are gifted, I am outlining some of the behaviors that could mask giftedness. The behaviors listed below aren’t exhaustive, but if general education teachers can work with gifted intervention specialists, students who are gifted can be found and supported. These behaviors are not present in every student who is gifted, but can be seen in some. 

  • Social Isolation: Students who are gifted often  feel isolated from their peers. Their peers may not understand their interests, have trouble following their intricate games, and even have difficulty understanding their advanced vocabulary. Finding true peers can be a challenge as mental mates may be very different from age mates. Some students who are gifted find it easier to simply do things on their own.
  • Underachievement: According to Dr. Jim Delisle, students who are gifted can simply choose not to perform to expectations of either peers or the adults around them. Disengagement is easier than facing or dissecting that problem that leads to underachieving. Some children may have serious psychological reasons that prevent them from achieving. Proper diagnosis of the type and cause of non-performance is very important.  
  • Communication: This is connected to the social isolation. Age mates find it challenging to understand students who are gifted. Many times these gifted students use advanced vocabulary or discuss topics that far out distance abilities of their peers. They have the ability to think more critically or abstractly and feel misunderstood and unappreciated.
  • Misdiagnosis: With the lack of knowledge of many aspects of behaviors and characteristics of gifted education, it can be easy to attribute quirky behaviors of students who are gifted with learning disabilities. Over or under focusing, difficulty sitting still, or an overactive mind could easily be seen as ADHD. High sensitivity, intense fears, or the inability to relate to peers can even be seen as emotionally disturbed.
  • Perfectionism: We try to instill in children the goal of excellence. For some students who are gifted, this goal can become an obsession. Attention to detail can be taken to an extreme with homework or projects taking on monumental proportions in time and energy just to achieve completion. Moving onto another task may be impossible until perfection is achieved on the first task – not an achievable goal on a daily basis.
  • Multipotentiality: Being good at many things sounds great but it can be a real challenge. How do you pick one interest over another? How to schedule time appropriately? Decision making can become overwhelming and stress of outside parties (coaches, parents, and teachers) complicates the confusion further. Multi-potentiality can also leave them scattered as they are interested in so many things, making them appear unfocused and unable to stick to one interest at a time.
  • Impostor Syndrome / Chameleon Effect: For many students who are gifted reach a point in which they realize that it isn’t cool to be gifted. Some choose to hide their giftedness (typically in gifted girls) which is called the Impostor Syndrome. Like a chameleon they want to blend in with the crowd. The chameleon effect remains except in situations when the child perceives it alright to let go of their outer skin and reveal the real person in special situations. Many times these students let others know who they really are in small groups of other students who are gifted.
  • Skewed Self Concept: Students who are gifted can have a skewed concept of themselves. It could be over inflated if their reference point is their peers. It could be very low if their reference point is an expert in a particular area. Children have difficulty in their own self-perception when they only have peers as reference points. Students who are gifted can have trouble finding reference points.

As a former general education teacher and a gifted intervention specialist, I would have loved to have the knowledge I have now when I was a general education teacher. I know early in my career I may have missed identifying potential gifted and talented students. 

To assist you in identifying students who are gifted, what types of professional development do feel you need to participate in? I would suggest looking at the free resource Ohio Leadership Advisory Council’s course on Gifted Education. It is a free resource that can help shed some light on areas that you feel you may be in need of more information. There are many others as well, such as the Ohio Association for Gifted Children’s GT Ignite series. This series is continually growing in topics.