Teaching gifted students has been an amazing adventure. When I first began my quest as a teacher of gifted learners, I had no idea the learning that I was about to embark upon. It didn’t take long for my students to debunk the myths that sometimes go along with the idea of teaching the gifted population, and it took an even shorter amount of time for me to change my ideas about teaching gifted learners.
I teach gifted learners in an urban population. Our program is called CLUE, which stands for Creative Learning in a Unique Environment. We are a pull-out program that focuses on the processes of thinking, and not just the products of knowledge. Getting my students to a point where they understood that the process was just as important as the product was not an easy one. At first, students were reluctant to discover, because some were not used to making mistakes and many were fearful of the possible repercussions. It took a brainwashing of sorts, and an attitude change on my part, for me to help my students take a different approach to learning. This feat did not occur overnight and definitely continues to be a work in progress.
I consider my classroom to be a “thinking classroom,” and support is essential to its success. Although the support needed by those who are intellectually gifted may differ, gifted kids need support too! All students have thoughts, but some are not sure what to do with their thoughts, and some are not as eager to share their thoughts verbally. To support my students, I provide strategies that help them organize and make their thoughts visible. These three strategies also serve as structures that take students through a process that helps them to develop their thinking.
Reasoning About a Situation
One of my favorite strategies is called Reasoning About a Situation or Event. It’s based on Richard Paul’s Elements of Reasoning. This structure allows students to reason from the points of view of different stakeholders. It also allows for students to evaluate assumptions and implications of various points of view. Students brainstorm for all the possible stakeholders and choose a point of view from which to reason. Students record their ideas, post the structures in the classroom, and participate in a gallery walk. During our gallery walk, we observe the thinking of our peers and make comments based on what we noticed and wondered about. In this video, watch my students analyze points of view.
Chalk Talk is a Visible Thinking Routine based on the work of Ron Ritchhart. Chalk Talk is an amazing way to get reluctant talkers to document their thoughts. This thinking routine gives students the opportunity to engage in a conversation centered around an intriguing question on paper. The discourse on paper gives students the chance to see and respond to the thoughts of their peers. Both of these strategies serve as mentors or springboards for future writing activities and group discussion.
A strategy often used in our gifted program is Introspection. The “thinking classroom” is an introspective classroom. Although introspection involves reflection, the introspective classroom is not necessarily a quiet one, because it gives students the opportunity to cherish their voice and helps them to embrace their own thoughts. The first step to helping my students become introspective learners was to ensure that my classroom was a safe place where students have freedom to choose, and are not reluctant to try and discover. This was done by encouraging students to be thinkers that express themselves, and by creating a culture where all ideas are accepted.
Although my students wear the title of being intellectually gifted, they, themselves, are truly the gifts. They are extraordinary and their capabilities are endless. My classroom is designed for them, and in the words of one of my students, “It is a place where you can be more fluid and flexible, and never reach your character limit.”
Sherwanda Chism has been teaching for 18 years. She is a self-proclaimed information seeker who believes that a student’s knowledge base should forever expand. She currently teaches gifted and high achieving students in Memphis, TN. She has been a Common Core Coach for the State of Tennessee and is also certified to teach English Language Learners. Sherwanda prizes herself as being an advocate for underrepresented populations of gifted children. One of her proudest educational/professional moments was defending her research dissertation.