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How should we approach reading for gifted students?

The gifted child in the United States can be underserved. Once their exceptionally high reading levels are identified, gifted students tend to be given books and left alone. People think gifted students are okay because they are already above benchmark, but they deserve to be learning at the same rate as their peers. In fact, there may be many activities that can help gifted students read more broadly so that they are not reading books intended for much older students. Reading levels for gifted children are not necessarily a good gauge for what they should be reading. Gifted students are inclined to be more sensitive as well as being intelligent. This means that they may not be able to tolerate books written for a more emotionally developed audience. Instead, teachers should focus on enrichment activities for gifted students, which help them read more broadly.

Strategies for supporting gifted readers

Gifted readers often read more books at higher reading levels, and they read more quickly than their peers. This means that they need different challenges in their reading. One of the worst ways to support gifted readers is to give them more work. Gifted children often have the same stamina as their peers, so more work is defeating. There are other great ways for teachers to support gifted readers. Differentiated instruction is one way to support these students. Regardless of the books gifted readers read, materials designed for deeper thinking and more advanced research can support them more individually. Gifted students should be given choice in their reading. They may choose to read at lower reading levels because of their delight in one topic, but their deeper understanding of that topic will be how they expand their literacy development.

Enrichment activities for gifted students

All teachers can be great teachers for gifted students. It starts with understanding and differentiation. This means that the teacher has researched ways to support gifted learners through their academics, as well as their social and emotional development. The teacher then shows understanding by making purposeful, appropriate curricular accommodations for that student. What these students need most is for teachers to recognize what they need and take action.

Reading levels can only tell us so much. Enrichment activities for gifted students can help them reach higher targets. Common instructional programs for gifted readers include opportunities for self-directed reading and independent study. Gifted children are given exploratory activities in which they investigate avenues of interest and then decide on a topic or problem to study in depth. Next, teachers provide students with technical skills and thinking processes necessary to investigate the research topic or problem selected in step one. Finally, teachers give students investigative activities wherein they explore their topic or solve their problem through individual or small group work. Students then develop an end product that reflects their learning.

Other ways to develop enrichment activities for gifted students include discussing literary classics as part of the Junior Great Books Reading and Discussion Program. Junior Great Books is a highly developed, structured program encouraging careful reading of complex materials. Discussions of the readings are designed to be challenging and interesting and to focus on the universal themes that are present in the books.

Ultimately, giftedness is more than a reading level or an enrichment activity. When teachers look at a gifted student's needs, they need to assess the whole student. Regardless of how smart a student is, there is still a student who needs the time to develop social, physical, and emotional skills. There are more books than ever being written for children that help them identify strong emotions, challenges, and consequences. Helping gifted readers identify how they learn and fill in the holes that their giftedness has overcompensated for can be the greatest gift a teacher can give.

Learn more about UTA’s online Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with an Emphasis in Literacy Studies.


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