Keeping Gifted Students Engaged

Gifted students have a lot to offer society, but too often they fall through the cracks. It’s not easy for gifted students to find mentors or stay engaged in their education, as they often don’t feel like they fit in with their classmates. However, these challenges can be overcome by arranging specific and tailored interventions. By taking these steps, we can help gifted students reach their full potential and contribute to society.

The Challenge of Keeping Gifted Students Engaged

Gifted students often find themselves facing a challenge when it comes to finding and maintaining engagement in their education. They may feel out of place or misunderstood in their classes, and may lose motivation as they feel like they are not making enough progress. To keep gifted students engaged, educators must find ways to connect with them on an individual level and provide opportunities for personal growth.

Why Differentiation is Difficult for Educators of Gifted Students

It can be hard for educators of gifted students to differentiate themselves from their peers, as many gifted programs are modeled after regular school curriculums. Differentiation for gifted students includes;

  • Providing students with more individualized education.
  • Allowing them to work at their own pace.
  • Providing them with more challenging material and learning experiences.
  • Utilizing diverse media, technology, and learning style methods in the classroom.
  • Including more diversity in the curriculum.

As you can see, this is a tall order. Most teachers do not have the resources to incorporate all of these factors on a daily or weekly basis. The process is difficult for educators because a customized curriculum comes at a premium- of both time and money. It is not sustainable to have multiple curriculum choices in one classroom. And the gifted student? They may take advantage of moments to disengage from or disrupt the learning environment.

When Rigor is Not Reality for Gifted Scholars

Many gifted scholars and parents are not as interested in the idea of ‘rigor’ as much as it is thrown around. Although it is technically meant to distinguish between critical thinking and skills development, it has become a buzzword to indicate high expectations and high activity.

Busy work is boring for many gifted students. They will check out and rebel in a heartbeat.

Most parents prefer to know that a school, curriculum, or program is the ‘right fit’ for their child. Each student will develop at different paces, and gifted students may have uneven growth. This means that they may have high acceleration in one subject, like math, but lack skills in another area, like writing. Engaging gifted scholars is a challenge, but assuming that rigor will address those challenges can cause a backlash.

Why Creating Careless Challenges Agitates Inadequacies

When educators first deal with gifted students, they often think that challenging the student is the normal course of the day.

Bad idea.

Really, really bad idea.

Gifted students have different preferences for how they like to consume new information. Some are contemplative, mulling over new concepts for weeks or months before producing a world-class masterpiece. Others are driven by collaboration or competition, which has a defined beginning and end result. When adults find that a child enjoys math, they may throw out a careless challenge that does not match their core math competencies.

Not only is this careless, but it is harmful. The young gifted child may perceive that the careless challenge is one to aspire to, and may be left with feelings of inadequacies. This can lead to anxiety and social withdrawal, which are far more difficult to overcome. The gifted child already feels different, so it is best not to agitate that emotion with random questions in a learning space. They would rather engage in conversations for which they can have some control and contribution. Careless challenges can feel like an unwarranted interrogation.

Inequalities in Peer and Age-Based Interests

Some gifted children will politely entertain age-based interests for academics. However, some educators assume that their interests may not be the same as their peers.

There are many factors to discuss, but here are a few reasons to keep gifted children’s engaged through their interests;

  • Gifted children are usually curious, so they will be fascinated by their peers’ interests.
  • Incidentally, the peer group will also benefit from your children’s interest in their unique subjects of study.
  • Talented children’s interests can be different and unique, but they still have the potential to be socially acceptable. They can be a great asset to their peers and the classroom environment.
  • Gifted children are capable of learning more complex information at an earlier age than the average child.

Immature Fun is Part of the Package

While adults often picture a gifted child as a young Sheldon, walking around with a bowtie and button-down shirt, disengaged with normal play, understand that this is just a stereotype. Most young gifted children enjoy the same games, recreational play, and conversations with their age-banded peers. Just conduct an online search of students who graduated college early. You will find more stories of gifted scholars whose advanced academics remained anonymous. Their peers did not know they were dual-enrolled in college until they graduated, because they lived a ‘normal’ social life.

Most adults are frustrated with the idea of “academic ability does NOT equal maturity level”.  It is hard ideal to break because of our mental connections. However, an 11-year-old boy who has passed a semester of college courses will still enjoy falling in the mud playing soccer with his friends on a rainy day.

Academic maturity does not equal social maturity. This makes it difficult to safely monitor and engage the gifted child because they can simultaneously be consistently clever AND incomprehensibly incompetent.

Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students

Strategies for engaging gifted students

Gifted students often have difficulty engaging in traditional classroom activities. Some strategies for engaging gifted students are as follows:

1. Create a stimulating environment for the gifted student by using a variety of teaching strategies, such as active learning, hands-on projects, and group work.

2. Encourage gifted students to be self-motivated and take pride in their own accomplishments.

3. Manage stress levels by providing opportunities for relaxation and fun, such as playing video games or taking part in extracurricular activities.

4. Be patient with gifted students and provide frequent feedback on their progress to help them grow and improve.

5. Respect the individual differences of each gifted student by providing guidance tailored to their specific needs and interests.

Types of engagement

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, there are now three types of engagement: passive, active, and engaged.

  • Passive engagement describes people who consume media but do not participate in it.
  • Active engagement is when someone engages with media on their own behalf or as part of a social activity.
  • Finally, engaged engagement describes a full-time interest or immersion.

Varying types of engagement can be applied to all students.  It is most helpful for educators to keep this top of mind when developing enrichment activities to engage the gifted student.

How to Engage Your Gifted Student

Gifted students often have a lot of pressure to succeed in school and meet high expectations from their families and peers. Some gifted students feel like they can’t do anything right, so they give up. But there are ways to help gifted students reach their potential. Here are 5 tips to incorporate the three types of engagement:

1. Provide a Journal or Dream Board

Encourage your student to keep a journal or diary to reflect on their thoughts and experiences. This can be a valuable tool for self-reflection and emotional healing.

2. Get Counseling

Let your student know that they are not alone in feeling overwhelmed or struggling with schoolwork. There is support available, both from family and teachers.

3. Provide Resources

Providing appropriate materials and resources can be key in helping your student succeed academically.

4. Encourage Daily

Encouraging your gifted student’s love of learning is important. A child who enjoys learning will succeed academically.

5. Connect Locally

Be involved in your student’s school and community life.  This can help them feel connected and valued, which can also improve their academic performance.

In summary, Gifted students need extra help with child and young adult development. Navigating academic acceleration and maturity will not be a lifelong adventure, as they will soon enough be adults. However, they need special attention and protection from biases that can tarnish their self-esteem and good intentions.

They are just like you and me with some extra abilities that make them successful in school. We should all work together to help our gifted students succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.