Benefits of Gifted Education

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Benefits of Gifted Education

While the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 defines gifted students, there’s no federal mandate for gifted education in public schools. Instead, it falls to individual states to define gifted education, outline the program requirements, and provide funding for teachers and students.

In 2018, Illinois joined many states requiring gifted education in public schools, and the Illinois Association for Gifted Children maintains a summary of legislation and policies that have been introduced or established since.

However, program quality varies and a “gifted track” in a public school district may just provide accelerated content and not an enriching learning environment. Additionally, the classroom teachers may not have training in gifted education or understand the unique learning needs of gifted students.

Dr. Vicki Phelps, a gifted education expert and Quest Academy’s Head of School, discusses the advantages of quality gifted programs and highlights the potential drawbacks of a traditional path for gifted learners.

Five Advantages

1. Applying Knowledge, Not Just Learning It

At first glance, a gifted classroom may resemble a traditional classroom, but it’s less about the tools and materials and more about the educational philosophy and learning applications for students.

Dr. Phelps explains that all students move through a learning hierarchy called Bloom’s Taxonomy that has six levels of thinking skills. Gifted students have strong memories and need fewer repetitions to master understanding, so they want to move on quickly to the upper tiers of the hierarchy. “The highest order of thinking in Bloom’s Taxonomy is creating,” says Dr. Phelps. “Gifted learners quickly master the ‘remember, understand, and apply’ stages, and in a gifted learning environment, we see children doing much more analyzing, evaluating, and, ultimately, creating.”

Dr. Phelps continues, “One of the things that really sets our gifted early childhood programs apart is that we teach through complexity. Gifted children are challenged when they have to think through more than one piece of information at a time. Instead of teaching things in isolation, they are given multiple pieces of information to solve a problem. This allows them to learn how everything is interconnected, and they continue to build upon that foundation of interconnectedness, which leads to greater understanding of concepts.”

In contrast, traditional classrooms often find gifted students finishing work early and being asked to help others. Dr. Phelps argues that gifted students should not have to tutor their peers, and all children deserve to learn something new every day. “In a gifted school environment, students are appropriately challenged, meaning they aren’t asked to hold back and wait for others.”

2. Embracing Mistakes as Learning Opportunities

Gifted students often fear being wrong, but in a gifted school, teachers encourage students to find value in making a mistake. Dr. Phelps says, “A mistake is a celebration because it’s an opportunity for us to learn!”

This approach is a cornerstone of gifted education because unhealthy perfectionism can set up gifted learners for challenges in the future. Dr. Phelps explains, “If a student has not had to work through what I like to call the’ productive struggle,’ then they will get to a point where they either refuse to do work because it will never be good enough, or they procrastinate until the last second before something is due and use the rush as an excuse for a less-than-perfect score, or they fall into what we call being underachievers where they just fly under the radar. Ultimately, that ends up having an extremely negative impact as they get older because they have never had to work through that productive struggle and learn how to build resiliency, tenacity, and perseverance.”

In a traditional school setting, a teacher might penalize a student for solving a math problem differently even if the student shows all the work and has the correct answer.  “In that moment, a child’s ability to problem-solve and think outside the box is squashed by that teacher’s response. The child slowly learns that it’s not safe for them to take a risk or to think of new ways to do things.”

Dr. Phelps continues, “At a place like Quest Academy, gifted-trained teachers understand that gifted minds work differently, and they encourage students to think outside the box. We cherish, value, and encourage opportunities for students to think in different ways; it’s how we unleash their potential.

3. Providing the Right Supports

Gifted learners don’t always excel in every academic subject, and gifted educators understand and address these learning variations. “Our teachers understand each child’s personal strengths, areas for growth, and motivations to learn,” says Dr. Phelps. “One of the greatest things about being an independent school like Quest Academy is our small class sizes provides an opportunity for more one-on-one instruction to meet children where they are.”

She goes on to explain that at Quest Academy, students are pre-assessed before moving into different units of study to identify where they might need extra support. If the assessment shows a lack of background knowledge, scaffolds are used to help a student move their learning forward. For example, a graphic organizer may be used to break down a complex concept into smaller parts to allow a gifted learner to see how all the parts connect to a big idea.

Conversely, gifted education programs can offer extension activities or accelerated learning for students who have already mastered the content. Dr. Phelps stresses the importance of challenging gifted students early on. “One of the worst things that can happen is for a gifted child to go through elementary and middle school unchallenged. They may struggle in high school and college with massive amounts of work and fast-paced abstract content. When a gifted learner’s needs haven’t been met early on, they may not know how to study, prioritize assignments, and manage their time – these are all soft skills needed to propel them forward in adulthood.”

4. Following Individual Interests While Building Skills

A common trait of giftedness is hyperfocusing on a specific topic. Gifted programs ensure that learners are getting the benefit of a well-rounded education while still following their passions. For example, a student might be learning how to build their research skills within a research topic of their choice.  Dr. Phelps says, “We look at the skills and the standards that are imperative for our students to learn and allow students to apply them to their individual areas of interest.”

Dr. Phelps also emphasizes the importance of building social connections with like-minded peers. “Gifted children can feel isolated and cut out of the friend group if their interests aren’t shared by classmates,” she says. In a gifted school, two students may not share the exact same interests, but they share the same level of curiosity and desire for deep learning. “By being with others who process information in the same way and who think as disciplinarians, it helps gifted children create meaningful, long-lasting friendships.”

5. Developing Leaders, Not Followers

“As parents we all want our children to be confident, have lots of friends, and grow as leaders,” says Dr. Phelps. “Understanding who we are is paramount to how we communicate, resolve conflict, problem solve, adapt to change, and ultimately advocate for ourselves in a respectful and purposeful manner.”

Dr. Phelps continues, “At Quest Academy, we prioritize self-awareness first and foremost, even with our youngest learners.” Students first need to grow their intrapersonal awareness, and that helps them develop strong interpersonal skills, which directly correlates to how they interact with others. “We know that confident and secure gifted learners communicate more effectively and resolve conflict more successfully,” says Dr. Phelps.

For parents who still aren’t sure if they want to forgo traditional education for their gifted child, Dr. Phelps advises them to monitor their child’s behavior. “You know your child, and if you see the joy of learning fading and the spark in their eyes is gone, it may be a sign that your child’s needs aren’t being met in the current school environment.”

Some gifted children excel traditionally without exhibiting any red flags, but they may be underachieving and taking the path of least resistance because it’s easy. Dr. Phelps cautions, “In adulthood, life isn’t always easy, so it’s important not to limit opportunities for students to face challenges. Life is always sending curveballs, and children need to know how to adapt confidently and still feel empowered to make it a great day.”

Learn more about how Quest Academy takes gifted students and makes them into gifted learners.