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Getting Help from Teachers for Gifted Child
Q: My second-grade son took the Otis Lennon School Abilities Test (OLSAT) and averaged 120 on school abilities -- 130 is needed to enter the gifted program. During our school conference, his teacher showed me a reading test that placed him at an eighth-grade reading level. He also has a wonderful understanding of science and is able to apply his knowledge to situations, even at an abstract level.
But he has always been scattered in his development. For example, his math and writing skills are on second-grade level. Can giftedness be only in specific areas? How do I approach his teachers and his giftedness?
A: Exceptional performance can manifest itself in many forms -- from an opera diva to a top executive. For many years, the field of gifted education used the term "giftedness" to describe individuals with exceptional performance. Today, the field is moving away from this term toward the view that there are multiple indications of high ability, some linked to a specific area of talent. Highly able children may indeed vary in their strengths and weaknesses.
Exceptional abilities, for example, in language arts may be matched with merely average or above-average abilities in social studies.
Work toward establishing a collaborative relationship with your child's teachers. Arrange to meet with them to discuss their educational plan for him. Even if your child is not identified for the gifted program, his teachers can develop a plan that draws on his strengths within the regular curriculum.
Ask the teachers what strengths and weaknesses they have noted in your son. Review his test scores and ask what adaptations, if any, are planned for his regular classroom work. Share examples of his superior performance outside of school with the teachers and discuss steps you have taken at home to encourage his learning. If you have samples of work he has done at home or a list of books he read within the last year, bring those with you.
Here are some options that draw on his strengths which you and the school might suggest:
Accelerate his work in a specific subject like science.
Work with the school librarian to identify challenging reading material.
Assign specific activities that accent abstract thinking.
Test out of material he already knows in science or reading.
Read to younger children on a regular basis.
Emphasize that you want to build a partnership with the school for your son's benefit. If you are able to volunteer in his classroom, ask how you might assist him and other children who need enrichment. After the conference, keep in touch with the school. Periodically review your son's progress and be prepared to modify your plans as needed. Remember that it's not about the program; it's about the learning.
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Rita Culross is Associate Dean, College of Education, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University. Culross has served as the consulting school psychologist for a public school elementary gifted program, and has written a book and several journal articles on gifted education.