A Simple and Fair Approach to Keeping Gifted Kids Busy
Teaching Exceptional Children with FairnessMany teachers turn to projects for gifted students, thinking that adding extra work is a great method for keeping these kids both challenged and busy. My position on projects?
Not so fast! I do not believe in special projects for gifted students. Here’s why.
Teaching Gifted Students
First of all, as I outlined on this page, I believe in teaching curriculum at a high enough level and fast enough pace that it is rare for even gifted kids to become bored.
There shouldn’t be time for special projects if your gifted students are getting individualized, rigorous curriculum. But there are two reasons that are even more compelling for avoiding projects for gifted students.
Setting kids aside is setting them up (for trouble)
I do not believe in setting a student aside or making them special (as in, they get a “special” project). It’s not fair to the other students in the classroom who don’t get the same level of attention.
Extra projects can also add an unfair burden to gifted students as well. Sometimes they are doing their own special pullout programs for talented and gifted kids already, and adding projects on top of that…well, you can’t be surprised if they hit their breaking point and their overall performance declines.
They are children, after all…not little salaried workers!
Still…our highest-achieving kids will often finish their work early and it can be so tempting to point them toward an ongoing project to occupy their time. Let’s discuss some alternatives to projects for gifted students.
Effective Projects for Gifted Students
Let’s be honest: If you teach gifted students, you may be looking for activities that these kids can do automatically without a lot of oversight. I get that…but I can’t provide a totally hand’s off approach. Why?
Because to keep these students advancing, they need direction…just like the rest of your students. Still, you can put some activities on semi-autopilot.
Extend their learning in the current subject
This is the first, and best, activity because it keeps our gifted students working on the same lesson as the rest of the class and pushes them to perform at higher levels. It’s as simple as this:
- When they finish a 2 digit by 2 digit multiplication worksheet, challenge them to turn the page over and come up with some 3×3 problems.
- Choose a particular part of the action in fiction writing assignment and ask them to illustrate it.
- Ask them to draw/diagram and label the main point of their nonfiction essay.
You get the idea. It’s all Common-Core based; for these early-finishers, expand the standards you are focusing on for this lesson or push them to try the standard for the next grade level (easiest to do in math).
Encourage deeper learning with student-to-student teaching
Many of my students have always liked helping others, and so it’s a great opportunity for gifted kids to teach as a means of reinforcing skills they already know…thus deepening their understanding.
Set guidelines for how they should teach…ideally, they should model your approach of using questioning strategies to get the other students thinking. Watch closely to be sure they are not just providing answers.
Allow focused reading
Reading is not my first choice, but it is nearly always preferable to electronics (see below). Just remember: keep it standards based to the greatest extent you can, rather than a “free read.” My Reading Jedi reading advancement program is almost like an individualized project, and it allows these higher level students to use their spare time after finishing early to read books at their appropriately-challenging level. Reading Rainforest is another similar program I provide.
Sure, they may have already “checked off” their grade-level standard, but that’s no reason to left them drift away from the Common Core curriculum in their “free time.”
Electronics = Danger
How’s this for an awesome project for a gifted student: When they finish their assigned lesson, they get on a laptop or pull out an iPad and gain reinforcement using an appropriate website or app.
Well…here’s how it look to every other kid in the class:
Susan always gets to play on the computer when she finishes…so if I get done faster, so will I. Otherwise it’s not fair. I’ll hurry up and finish!
And if you hold your non-gifted kids to a high standard of what their finished work must look like (which you should), they’ll never get computer time…and resentment of Susan will grow.
This will hurt your learning community, which will ultimately hold back the gifted student along with the rest.
My experience has shown that other methods for challenging our gifted students trump computers and iPads in both fairness and benefit for the individual child. Proceed with caution, and try out some of the other ideas on this page first.