What to Look for in a Gifted Program
Finding the Right Fit
How can you be sure that your child's class or school is the right fit? This series of questions will help you decide. If you don't know where to begin, here's a tip: Start by thinking about your child's habits, strengths, and interests, then pay a visit to the classroom.
Your Child Comes First
No two gifted kids are alike! A program that's the best match for your gifted child might be entirely unsuitable for another. So the first rule is know your child.
What are your child's academic strengths?
Are there subjects that are more difficult for her?
How does he learn best -- step by step or by taking huge bites of a subject?
Does she prefer to learn when the room is quiet or full of life?
Does he "get the job done" when he works alone or with others?
With a good handle on your child's personal strengths and style, you're ready to visit the school and classroom. Listen to what is said, look around carefully at the learning environment, and examine the curriculum with these questions in mind.
As a silent observer, you'll get a good sense of the classroom environment.
Try to visit the classroom before it's filled with kids. Listen carefully to what is said about gifted kids and their learning. Your goal is to find out if the program has the support of the principal as well as the teacher.
Is there an obvious commitment to cultural diversity? Will they be studying civil rights, Native American cultures, or celebrations from other countries? Your child's need for diversity in the learning environment is directly related to views on differences and tolerance.
Visit again when the kids are there. Does the classroom sound happy? Are kids listened to and treated with respect by both their peers and the teaching staff?
With just your eyes, you can tell a lot about how well your gifted child will be received and educated.
Is the classroom a warm, friendly place to be? Is it interesting?
Do you see work hanging in the classroom that reflects children's individual interests?
Does the amount of structure in the classroom match your child's needs? Can all of the students see the blackboard and other material from their seats? Is work on the blackboard structured so that students have to read and work in a specific order? Are homework assignments and time lines displayed clearly?
Are there materials and resources for different styles of learning: looking, talking, writing, doing? Are sequential and spatial learners considered? Lists and pictures can represent the same information for both types of learners.
Are specialized materials (books, software, etc.) available for gifted learners?
Is your child grouped with other kids by interest or ability for at least part of the day?
The curriculum -- what kids study and how they study it -- has to be changed and individualized for your gifted child. These steps are the primary tool, the heart and soul, of any gifted program. A curriculum can be changed in three ways: through the content, the process, and the product.
The topics and subjects can be modified to keep your gifted student challenged. He can go deeper into the topic and subtopics at hand; study more on related, spin-off topics; or learn at a faster pace.
How subjects are learned can also be modified. Many gifted kids get impatient with too much drill and rehearsal when they can already visualize it all in their heads. They often think abstractly, in tangents, and relate the details to the big picture. Finding the right way to frame questions is often the key to challenging their critical and creative thinking. A great example of open-ended questions can be found in our article, Improving Your Child's Thinking Skills.
The product, or the way students show the teacher what they know, should be each student's choice from a project list developed by the teacher. The list might include individual or group projects such as a diorama, an original rap tune, a game or story board, portfolios, subjective and objective tests, oral presentations, simulations, or other ways that a student can show her knowledge and skills, and reflect her strengths and interests. When teachers are flexible and creative, their students are likely to develop products that truly reflect the knowledge and skills that they've gained.
Finally, the larger-picture questions for a gifted program are:
How much time will my child spend in receiving gifted education services?
Can the regular education students do this work? If the answer is yes, the program or modifications should not be considered exclusively for gifted students.
Above all, share your child's and your own excitement and enthusiasm for learning with your teacher. Let the teacher know you are supportive. Knowing that most classrooms include a wide variety of abilities and needs, ask this final question of the teacher in the spirit of that support:
"How do you plan to manage this wide variety of needs?" Listen carefully and thoughtfully to the answer, then ask, "How can I help?"
When all of your questions are answered, and you've become a resource for your teacher, you'll be off to a great school-year start.
Brought to you by the
Council for Exceptional Children