The Gifted Exception

For some teachers, having a gifted child (or children) in the classroom may be just that, a gift, but for others, it can be a source of anxiety if they feel unprepared to plan for a student with advanced abilities. This wiki will help provide information for teachers and parents of gifted children, exploring various aspects of The Gifted Exception: what is giftedness, how can one be gifted, and how is giftedness determined; the social impact of/on gifted students; curriculum compacting and its potential; placement options for gifted students; and 5 KEY implementations that teachers can make in planning for a gifted or talented child (identified or not). Before we begin, however, consider the following cases. Would you identify these children as gifted, talented, normal, or just passionate about a hobby?

  • Jamie is a very well-spoken grade 6 student. He excels in language-based areas, and this enthusaism has led him to start a Poet's Corner club at his school, and a mock U.N. Debate club (although most other members are in grade 8). He does tend to get along better with older students, but much of his sense of humour can only be appreciated by adults. His teachers say he would be the ideal student if he didn't talk so much in class, learned to follow directions, and didn't interrupt their lessons with so many questions.

  • Ella began her schooling in kindergarten with a great advantage, or so her parents thought. She learned to read picture books very quickly, asked questions about everything around her, and always spoke effectively in full sentences. In grade 1, she struggled a bit more with reading, but her teacher remarked she had a very large sight-word vocabulary for her age. By grade 2, her love of books all but disappeared, except for a few old favourites. Now, in grade 3, she has average achievement, but is often inattentive during lessons, and the teacher complains about her lack of organization and the fact that Ella is so stubborn and impulsive.

  • Kailey is described by most of her classmates as "out there". She seems to reinvent herself weekly, and is always discussing the newest things. She performed well on her Literacy Test last year, which surprised her teachers, since she performs at a minimal level in her grade 11 classes. She is a skilled artist, as anyone who has been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of her "doodles" knows. Kailey plays 3 instruments and has started a garage band with 3 other students. When asked about her plans after next year, she tells of her dreams to leave her "hick town" behind and go explore the big city with her band's demo CD.

  • Abdallah, now 14, has just entered high school. He doesn't ever seem very present in class, nor does he turn in much work. His previous teachers have attributed his attitude toward learning to his "ESL" status, even though he moved to Canada when he entered grade 1. He does, however, appear to have a mathematical mind, and grasps new concepts quickly. His friends call him a genius, since they've seen the structures and mechanisms he builds at home out of scrap material--including a Rube Goldberg machine designed to turn on the sprinkler that takes up 75% of the backyard. After just two weeks of being in Mr. Jones' shop class, Abdallah has the teacher questioning the previous refusals to refer him to a gifted and talented program.

What exactly is 'giftedness'?
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What does it mean to be 'gifted'? Often when considering a gifted child, a stereotypical image comes to mind of a child who is able to recite the entire periodic table by the age of 5, or who can compose entire sonatas in an afternoon. These may be examples of gifted children, but they do not explain what it means to be gifted. The difficulty in defining giftedness is that there is no one definition that is used by all jurisdictions in education. One of the most cited definitions comes from Sidney Marland, the former U.S. Commissioner of Education, in his 1972 report to Congress:

"Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons who by virtue of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance. These are children who require differentiated educational programs and/or services beyond those normally provided by the regular school program in order to realize their contribution to self and society. Children capable of high perofrmance include those with demonstrated achivement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas, singly or in combination: general intellectual ability; specific academic aptitude; creative or productive thinking; leadership ability; and, visual and performing arts."
This definition notes that gifted children must be identified by professionals, they have high abilities and great potential, and they require specialized educational programs. Although similar, the following is the definition of giftedness of the Ontario Ministry of Education, which adds a key standard in most definitions:

"[Giftedness is] an unusually advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided in the regular school program to satisfy the level of educational potential indicated."
(Special Education: A Guide for Educators. 2001.)
Because of the variance in definitions across jurisdictions, it is often said that one child may be gifted in one province or territory (or state), and not gifted in another. For example, the incidence of gifted identification in North Dakota and New Jersey is 0.7% and 9.9%, respectively. Clearly, it is better to be a gifted child in New Jersey. The Ontario definition brings in the most common standard in the definitions of giftedness: intellectual ability. The incidence of giftedness is estimated to be about 2-5% of the general population, so how do we determine which children are gifted? Intellectual ability, or academic ability, generally translates to a high IQ score, which seems easy enough to test. But is everyone gifted in the same way?

How can one be gifted? And how are gifted students identified?

Not all gifted students are gifted in all subject areas, or even gifted in a given academic subject area at all. Students can be gifted with high general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative/productive thinking, leadership ability, and/or visual and performing arts abilities (for specific characteristics of each subgroup, see the following section: The Social Impact on Gifted Students, part 3). The methods of identifying gifted students include different quantitative and qualitative tests and assessments, generally used in combination. The following is a brief overview of the types of quantitative and qualitative assessments used and some examples.

Quantitative Assessments
  • rating scales
  • achievement tests [note: most achivement tests fail to have enough ceiling to identify gifted students, i.e., they do not have enough difficult items]
    • Canadian Achievement Test (CAT/3)
    • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT)
  • aptitude, intelligence, and ability tests
    • Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV (WISC-IV)
    • Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT)
    • [Canadian] Cognitive Abilities Test (CCAT)
    • Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale V [note: the Stanford-Binet, LM, although long outdated, is the only test that discriminates well for highly gifted children]
    • Raven's Progressive Matrices (RPM)
    • Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT)
[Note: norm-referenced tests are typically used for testing for giftedness; criterion-referenced tests are not usually recommended when testing for giftedness; individually administered tests are greatly preferred over group administered assessments.]

Qualitative Assessments
  • performance-based assessments (e.g., portfolios)
  • interviews
  • observations
  • nominations (parent, teacher, peer, or self-driven)

The identification process across Canada is not uniform. Even from one school board to another in the same province, there may be notable differences in how gifted children are identified. Typically, a high IQ score--the top 2.28% of students, or a score two standard deviations above the mean, IQ over 130--combined with demonstrated high productivity in one area or another is a good solid indicator of giftedness. In general, most gifted students will exhibit the following intellectual characteristics:
  • a superior ability to learn, retain, and manipulate vast amounts of detailed knowledge very quickly and easily
  • heightened and rapid cognitive functioning in many areas
  • efficient learning strategies and metacognitive awareness
  • early reading, and advanced comprehension (but note that Einstein didn't learn to read until the age of 8!)
  • high motivation and persistence in advanced, wide-ranging interests
  • good questioning and verbal expression with advanced vocabulary

And the following affective characteristics:
  • socially well-adjusted (problems do appear in those with extremely high intellect, IQ of 145+)
  • heightened awareness, seem overly sensitive (mental and emotional overawareness)
  • keen humour, great imagination
  • high moral thinking, empathy, and a concern for social justice
  • perfectionistic, with high expectations of self, yet bored with routine tasks

The drawback is that no one identification method is perfect, and not all students with potential can or will be identified by the above noted methods. Artistically gifted students may go unnoticed, since they may not do as well on IQ tests (the typical deciding factor in giftedness), since the tests require verbal and mathematic skills which artistic children may not possess at the same level of ability. Likewise, students who are gifted in spatial, leadership, and creative areas are not easily identified by the typical battery of quantitative tests. Other, more specific tests, such as the Fundamental Interpresonal Relations Orientation Behavior (FIRO-B), which assesses leadership, and divergent thinking tests (like the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking) may be used to try to identify students gifted in ways other than intellectual ability.

In addition to the drawbacks and limitations of some of the testing methods, there are some subgroups of gifted students that are typically underidentified or missed entirely for one reason or another. As educators, we must be aware of the gifts that go unnoticed.

The "Hidden" Gifted: Hard-to-Find and Underachieving Gifted Students
As educators, the thought that some gifted students are not reaching their potential because of one reason or another is a hard pill to swallow. Sometimes, these students are missed because they are not able to demonstrate their abilities in formal identification procedures. Other times, there are the more difficult issues of test fairness (assessments with high language demands, item bias, etc.), deficit-based paradigms, exclusive definitions (e.g., a student with an IQ of 130 qualifies as gifted, but what of the student with the IQ of 129?), and, perhaps most troubling, low teacher expectations and teacher bias. The "hidden" gifted subgroups include: underachieving gifted students, culturally and linguistically diverse students, economically disadvantaged (low-SES) and rural students, and twice-exceptional gifted students (gifted + a learning or physical disability). Sometimes young males and adolescent females may also be among the "hidden" gifted.

Underachieving Gifted Students
Underachieving gifted students may or may not be formally identified as being gifted. Underachievement is defined as a discrepancy between performance and some index of the student's actual ability, intelligence, acheivement or creativity scores, or observational data. Sometimes, underachievement is caused by school climate, inflexible or competitive classrooms, negative expectations, or an unrewarding curriculum. Some characteristics of underachieving gifted students are:
  • low self-esteem
  • academic avoidance behaviours
  • poor study habits
  • unmastered skills
  • social or discipline problems
If you do suspect a student to be underachieving, Rimm's TRIFOCAL model can be used to help the student reach their potential (Underachievement Syndrome. 1986):
  1. Assessment (use the right assessments to determine the giftedness of the child)
  2. Communication (communicate between parents and teacher to help develop a plan)
  3. Changing Expectations (alter the expectations of important others: parents, teachers, peers, siblings, and self)
  4. Role Model (underachieving students do well to have a role model to identify with, one with a similar background to the student)
  5. Correction of Deficiencies (provide the skills and strategies and a proper education plan to meet student's needs)
  6. Modifications of Reinforcements (revise the program as necessary)

Furthermore, some gifted students who are underachieving may also fall into the categories of culturally and linguistically diverse, economically disadvantaged, or twice-exceptional (see below).

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Gifted Students
Minority students are underrepresented in gifted programs, due to cultural and language differences, lack of family and/or peer support, and bias (teacher nominations tend to favour students of the majority culture). Due to test bias, some students do not perform well on IQ assessments, and low test scores may be misused to "prove" the absence of giftedness. These students may be capable, but they can lack the experiences deemed necessary for school success.

Economically Disadvantaged and Rural Gifted Students
These students often suffer from a lack of resources or a bias from educators, family members, and/or peers. Children from low income backgrounds are among those who have the most difficulty in being identified. Gifted students in rural areas may not have access to gifted programs at all, due to smaller budgets and fewer support personnel. Like underachieving gifted students, these children need the support of school staff, family members, and a strong model, along with a belief in themselves.

Twice-Exceptional (Gifted + LD) Students
The term "twice-exceptional" was coined to describe students who are both gifted and have disabilities. The incidence of learning disabilities (LD) among the gifted population is at least as high as in the general population (10-15%). Giftedness can co-exist with nearly all disabilities (including retardation, if one includes savants). The identification of these students is hindered by the fact that giftedness typically equates with academic achievement, and that like other students with LDs, attention is paid to the deficiencies rather than the abilities. The most common LDs among gifted children are:
  • sensory integration dysfunction (fine/gross motor difficulties, sensory modulation issues/defensiveness; for gifted students, the typical symptoms tend to be more subtle)
  • ADHD (sometimes the debate is between gifted or ADHD)
  • auditory processing disorder (hearing may be fine, but listening skills can be impaired)
  • visual processing deficits (this child typically succeeds in early grades, escaping detection)
  • dyslexia, often accompanied by dysgraphia
  • spatial disorientation
Often, the reason why it is so difficult to diagnose a twice-exceptional child is that their abilities mask their deficiencies; they have learned how to cope and accomodate their environment and tasks on their own by compensation. There is a case of a gifted child who, as a toddler, held his mother's face with his hands when she spoke, and in school, would watch his teacher's face very intently. It wasn't until grade 2 that he was identified as having a hearing loss of 98% (Handbook of Gifted Education, p.535).

In order to identify twice-exceptional students:
  • look at school records longitudinally (is there a pattern of decrease over time?)
  • conduct classroom observations (evaluate difficulties in the class environment, any observable compensation strategies)
  • conduct individual intellectual assessments, and the student's processing using other tests
  • conduct an interview with the student to assess any perceptions of difficulty he or she may have
  • interview other educational staff and parents
The keys for twice-exceptional learners to reach their potential are early identification and intervention, assistive technologies, and compensation strategies. For a full list of the characteristics that may reveal the hard-to-find gifted and talented student, see pp.22-29 in Identifying Gifted Students: A Practical Guide (Susan K. Johnsen).

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Gifted Identification: Best Practices

After the discussion above, have your opinions about Jamie, Ella, Kailey, and Abdallah changed? In case you were still wondering, yes, they are all gifted. Jamie may be the closest to a "typical" gifted child. He thrives in academic intelligence, but also demonstrates great leadership potential by creating clubs at school. However, chances are that he is unchallenged in class if the teacher's complaints are to be believed (or he may be twice-exceptional, but has masked his disability thus far). Ella likely suffers from a language-based LD, and as her instruction in school has progressed and language demands have overtaken the oral/aural tasks, she is unable to maintain the high performance of her earlier years. Kailey is clearly gifted in the arts, musical and visual, but she has missed out on opportunities for gifted programming likely due to the fact that she pursues her interests in a private manner (outside of school), and she lives in a rural area, so programming may not exist to cater to her abilities. Finally, Abdallah is clearly gifted with creativity, possibly in mathematics, and certainly in technological construction (i.e., spatially gifted). He has been hindered by teacher bias against his cultural and language background.

As educators, we must remember that gifted students must have an opportunity to perform in order to demonstrate their abilities. Without a challenging environment, they are less likely to exhibit their potential. Ensure that the tests that are performed for gifted students are designed to assess the talents you are trying to measure; select multiple tests/assessments to best ensure proper identification; be aware of test bias and educator bias (professional development is needed to learn how to identify "hidden" gifted students); and finally, review the assessments and materials in a sound and responsible manner in order to determine the best placement and programming options for the student in question.

"If we were TV sets, some of us would only get five channels. Others are wired for cable (the general population) and some of us (the gifted) are hooked up to a satellite dish. That makes these gifted children capable of making connections that others don't even know exist! Teaching those types of voracious minds in a regular classroom without enhancement is like feeding an elephant one blade of grass at time. You'll starve them." – Elizabeth Meckstroth

Sources (Print & Online)
Davis, Gary A. & Rimm, Sylvia B. 1994. Education of the Gifted and Talented (Third Edition).
Edmunds A. & Edmunds, G. 2008. Special Education in Canada.
-----. 2010. Educational Psychology: Applications in Canadian Classrooms.
Johnsen, Susan K. 2011. Identifying Gifted Students: A Practical Guide (Second Edition).
Lupart, Susan J. & Pyryt, Michael C. 1996. "'Hidden Gifted' Students: Underachiever Prevalence and Profile." Journal for the Education of the Gifted 20: 36-53.
Marland, S.P., Jr. 1972. Education of the Gifted and Talented: Report to the Congress of the United States by the U.S. Commissioner of Education and background papers submitted to the U.S. Office of Education.
Newman, Tina M. & Sternberg, Robert J. [editors]. 2004. Students with Both Gifts and Learning Disabilities.
Rimm, S.B. 1986. Underachievement Syndrome: Causes and Cures.
National Association for Gifted Children.
National Association of Parents with Children in Special Education: Gifted and Talented
The Association for Bright Children of Ontario

Section 2
The Social Impact On Gifted Students

It is generally acknowledged that gifted and talented students, despite their generally high cognitive abilities, are not immune to social and emotional problems similar to those experienced by their non-gifted age peers (see Blackburn & Erikson 1986; Pfeiffer & Stocking, 2000; Piirto, 1992, Robinson & Noble, 1991; Webb, 1993).

Gifted students often have a difficult time adjusting and settling into social settings. Although a diverse number of issues come into play when considering this concept, 4 main ideas can be used:

1. Adjustment to Being Gifted
2. Quality of Education
3. Personal Characteristics
4. Family Environment

Adjustment to Being Gifted
Gender and Adjustment:

  • majority of studies of gifted boys and girls show girls adjust quicker to being gifted
  • girls display fewer traits associated with poor adjustment such as depression or anxiety
  • fewer girls are referred for behaviour problems than boys (Kerr 1985)
  • only in the matter of self concepts did results show that girls often have lower self image than gifted boys-- maybe due to the fact that girls view being gifted as a social handicap (Kerr & Gaeth 1987)
  • most studies show that boys and girls have same academic self concept
  • several studies show that gifted girls who are less likely to conform to social norms tend to be psychologically healthier

Age and Adjustment:
  • only a few longitudinal studies exist on this topic
  • most found that over a lifespan, gifted individuals end up very well adjusted
  • Preschool and kindergarden can be difficult times for gifted students-- "Guiding the Gifted Student" - younger gifted students often struggle with the fact that peers their age cannot play the same games or read the same books they do (Webb, Meckstroth, & Tolan 1982)
  • many young gifted students are bored and disappointed after their few months of school
  • gifted 4-7 year olds struggle with reasoning as to why others can't keep up and why teachers are challenged to stimulate them
  • another critical period is end of senior year/ beginning of college--many gifted students become stressed with indecision and fear of the future
Source: Psychological Adjustment of Gifted Students

Quality of Educational Match for Gifted Students
Before getting started, here's a site to check out for teachers and students: Gifted Canada Index
  • teaching gifted students is a large challenge faced by teachers today
  • creating a stimulating environment for the gifted while still providing proper attention to other students in the classroom can be a difficult task.
For Educators
Check out the following links to aid you in the classroom:

Personal Characteristics of Gifted Students
General Intellect
  • Able to grasp concepts, generalize, analyze or synthesize easier.
  • Have concerns for values, ethics and justice, excellent memory, and ask a lot of questions.
Specific Academic Aptitude
  • Have unusual aptitude in specific scholastic areas such as verbal or mathematical reasoning.
  • High ability students with language, hearing, visual, or physical disabilities may have a notable difficulty in one area, but show specific academic aptitude in another.
Creative Product Thinking
  • Appear to be more adventurous, independent, curious, spontaneous, flexible, sensitive, intuitive, and insightful, with little tolerance for boredom.
  • Class clowns may actually display characteristics that have been linked to giftedness throughout history.
Leadership Ability
  • Display well developed social skills, empathy, ability to motivate others, ability to keep others on task/united, and communication skills.
Visual and Performing Arts
  • Shows creativity, general intellect and specific academic aptitude, including rapidly mastering a subject matter.
  • Possess highly developed nonverbal communication skills, physical coordination, and exceptional awareness of relationships between self and others/objects, specific skills in music, dance, mime, storytelling, drawing or painting.
Source: Partners in Learning
Family Environment of Gifted Students
  • According to Hammer (2003), home environment is as important as what goes on in school.
  • Important factors include: parental involvement in children's education; how much parents read to young children; how much TV children allowed to watch; and how often students change schools.
  • Parental influence has been identified as an important factor affecting student achievement. Results indicate that parent education and encouragement are strongly related to improved student achievement (Wang, Wildman, & Calhoun, 1996).
  • Phillips (1998) also found that parental education and social economic status have impact on student achievement.
  • Students with parents who were both college-educated tended to achieve at the highest levels.
  • Income and family size were modestly related to achievement (Ferguson, 1991).
  • Peng and Wright's (1994) analysis of academic achievement, home environment (including family income), and educational activities demonstrated that home environment and educational activities explained greatest amount of variance between top and bottom levels of the achievement spectrum.
Source:The effect of motivation, family environment, and student characteristics on academic achievement.

Curriculum Compacting for Gifted Students

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Curriculum compacting is one acceleration method used for gifted students. It involves compressing instructions to move students through the education program more quickly than regular, and it offers other materials/activities that can be completed in the time saved through the compacting (Hurwitz & Lacalamita, 2006). If done correctly, it should match the level, complexity and pace of the curriculum to the readiness and motivation of the student. There are two types of compacting:
  1. Basic Skills Compacting: that eliminates specific skills that students may have already acquired. Examples of this can occur in spelling, math, or grammar where pretests can indicate whether the particular skill set has been mastered. This type of compacting is easier to document more objectively with scores from tests.
  2. Content Compacting: where students may already know the objectives or may be able to read the material and master the objectives in a shortened time frame compared to the rest of the class. Examples of this can occur in social studies, science, and literature. This type of compacting allows for more flexible evaluation (e.g. essays, interviews, or open-ended tasks). (The National Resource Center on the Gifted and Talented)

For educators to use this method, we need to consider four questions:
1. Why do we need curriculum compacting?
2. How can we implement the curriculum compacting process into our classrooms?
3. What are the pros?
4. What are the cons?

Why Do We Need Curriculum Compacting?
Researchers have found that not only is our differentiation for gifted students lacking, but the course content is becoming easier and easier with more repetition. Taylor and Frye (1988) note that up to 90% of students who are average or above average readers could pass a comprehension skills test before being taught the material. Similarly, the Education Products Information Exchange Institute (1979), a nonprofit educational consumer agency, found that 60% of students were able to achieve a score of 80% or higher on a math test before opening their textbooks in September! For the past 30 years the readability level, difficulty of questions and even the illustrations were becoming easier (Chall & Conrad, 1991). In our quest to leave no student behind, we have added increasing amounts of repetition to ensure the greatest opportunity for students to master the concepts. In grade 2-5 students start out with 40-65% of new content, but by grade 8, that number has decreased to 30% (Usiskin, 1987; Flanders, 1987). Although this has been beneficial to many students who were originally struggling with the concepts, what about those students who had mastered them from the first day? Do we really expect them to repeat the same thing over and over again, and then become surprised when they act out or become disengaged from school?

As educators, we cannot sit by any longer and watch our brightest students lose that intellectual spark. We need to be differentiating for our lower and our higher academic ability students. One method that teachers can use is curriculum compacting. A student who might need compacting may exhibit behaviours such as:
  • Consistently finishing tasks quickly
  • First to finish reading assignments
  • Appears to be bored during instructions/lessons
  • Brings in additional reading material
  • Creates their own puzzles, games or distractions in class
  • Always daydreaming
  • Consistently scores high in one or more academic areas
  • Asks questions that indicate advanced insight into the material
  • Other students constantly come to them for assistance
  • Uses vocabulary and expressions ahead of grade level
  • Expresses interest in pursuing different or more in-depth topics

Although these behaviours do not directly indicate whether a student requires a curriculum compacting program, they may indicate that it is worth looking into.

How Can We Implement the Curriculum Compacting Process into our Classrooms?
The first thing to remember is that compacting a curriculum does NOT mean more work for the student, it just means different work. There are three phases of this process:
  1. Defining goals and outcomes for a particular unit or segment of instruction. Teachers will be required to examine objectives to determine which ones will require the student to learn new content or thinking skills.
  2. Determine and document which students have mastered most or all of a specific set of learning outcomes. Scores on previous tests, assignments and classroom participation will help identify those students who will be able to keep up with the compacted speed. Unit pretests or end-of-unit tests can be given to the identified students to assess their basic skills. This helps the teacher document the expertise in a specific skill of the student.
  3. Providing acceleration and enrichment options. Materials for this can be gathered from teachers, librarians, media specialists and content area/gifted education specialists. The activities/experiences chosen should be challenging and represent the students' strengths and/or interests.

In the United States, they use a form called "The Compactor" to outline/guide the compacting process (Reis & Renzulli; Winebrenner, 2001) but here in Ontario, we just follow the student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) (Hurwitz & Lacalamita, 2006). The Compactor is very similar to page 3 in Ontario's IEP form, with three columns and three very similar headings. Both forms lay out the changes being made to the student's instructions, so that everybody - teachers, parents and students - knows what is planned and how the student will be evaluated. On the IEP the teacher is expected to document the learning expectations in the first column (this may just be a modified pace but no change to the curriculum content, or different outcomes if the student will be pursuing a topic not normally taught in the curriculum); teaching strategies in the second column; and assessment methods to be used for each learning expectation in the last column. This form acts as a guide for the rest of the year, and will be reviewed during each reporting period to ensure that the student and teacher are on track, and whether or not the program is still a good fit for the student.

What are the Pros?
Curriculum compacting has had several studies prove that gifted students in a compacted program do not have significantly different marks than those not in the program, yet the students' and parents' attitudes towards school is significantly higher in compacted programs (Reis et al., 1998; Renzulli, Smith, and Reis, 1982; Stamps, 2004). The students find the work more interesting and challenging, and the parents find the students communicate with them more about what they learned in school and they could see the progress their child is making. Further pros indicated are:
  • Allows students to stay at their home school with their age peers and establish friends.
  • Allows the teacher to address the needs of all students in the regular classroom.
  • Self-esteem is increased due to the students realizing their academic potential.
  • Results in significantly positive academic efforts, especially in math.
  • Eliminates already mastered content.
  • Allows for challenging replacement activities in increased options for academic exploration.
  • Advancement of student's decision-making skills.
  • Recognizes a student's large collection of knowledge.
  • Students are able to learn more about self-selected topics.
  • Encourages independence, learning efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Eliminates boredom from unnecessary drill and practice questions.
  • Increased time for career planning.
  • Economical advantage (reduces schools' extra need for special and additional resources for the high achievers, since there's more flexible and effective use of community resources).

What are the Cons?
Although curriculum compacting is a great differentiation tool for teachers to use with gifted/high achieving students, it is not for everybody. It requires fast-paced learning with more independence (though obviously the teacher is still there for support and guidance). The cons associated with curriculum compacting result from if a student isn't ready, or whether they are choosing curriculum compacting over other placement options. They are:
  • More work and time required by the teacher (for planning and possible time table coordination if working with another teacher or school).
  • The student may feel isolated (not working on the same thing as peers; the student may be doing the program alone so they don't have other gifted students around them to share, compare, challenge and understand themselves; the student doesn't get to see themselves as normal in a setting where they have the potential for full development of personal and academic abilities).
  • Over focus on academic development.
  • Frustrated with pressure and demand.
  • Reduced co-curricular opportunities.
  • Lack of prerequisite skills (if the compacting was not done correctly).
  • Setbacks in academic performance.
  • Early commitment to career decision.
  • Defeated self-confidence (student may not be getting perfect on the tests/assignments anymore).
  • Negative labeling effect (may be labelled as a "nerd" or may also develop a superiority complex over those who aren't as fast of learners).
  • Deprived of childhood.
  • Tension in parent-child relationship (if parents have unrealistically high expectations for the student).

Most of these problems can be avoided by careful planning and sufficient follow-up. If teachers make sure that there are:
  • Clear procedures and criteria for identification,
  • Careful selection of the students,
  • Carefully planned, differentiated and monitored course content,
  • Good understanding of the student's needs,
  • Good follow-up monitoring in the early stages of acceleration,
  • Well balanced support for the growth academically, socially and emotionally for the student,
  • Good communication and team work between the parents and the school,
then the compacting program will be sure to be a success.

Overall, if curriculum compacting is used effectively, then it is sure to benefit those advanced children in need. Teacher's can read about success stories by other teachers, enroll in PD sessions about curriculum compacting, talk to other teachers about it or talk to specialists for materials/activities that are enriching, and how to implement curriculum compacting effectively. It is important to keep in mind that this is just one option for in-class differentiation, and there are other options out there, in and outside of a regular classroom.

Sources: (Print and Online)
Association for Bright Children of Ontario:
Gifted Child Quarterly:
The Elementary School Journal:
The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented:
On Teaching Gifted Students:
Reference Manual for Implementing GE in School: Acceleration Programmes
Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom

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Section 4

Placement Options Available for Gifted Students

Research indicates that there are many different placement options that would benefit a gifted student in their academic endeavors. According to the student and their needs, it is up to the parent, teacher and student to choose an option that best suits their strengths. Highlighted below are five placement options available to gifted students.
They include:
Elementary Gifted ClassInternational Baccalaureate ProgramPrivate SchoolHomeschoolingArts Schools
Intertwined in the research are key questions that parents must ask themselves and the schools before they choose a placement for their child. It is imperative that research be conducted by the parents in choosing a school because not all are designed specifically for a certain child.

Elementary Gifted Class
  • This class provides the "ongoing interaction with intellectual peers required by gifted students, in a manner that facilitates the compaction, enrichment and extension activities that will enable them to reach their full potential. Boards across the province offer these classes but they are not in every public elementary school" (SCDSB Special Education Report p. 13).
  • Choosing a gifted classroom is a great option for a child if it exists. The curriculum is designed for the typical gifted student with material meant to help the student excel. Not being challenged enough in a regular classroom can make a gifted student become bored--this often leaves them with a negative attitude towards learning. Since the work is challenging, the students can develop a strong work ethic and the organizational skills to handle their work. Being surrounded all day and stimulated with similar students can be beneficial to the gifted learner because they can challenge each other.
  • To be enrolled in this class, students need to be identified as gifted and need to have an IEP developed for them. An advantage to being in this class is that fewer accommodations need to be made by the teacher for the student.
  • Parents need to ask these questions when considering this placement option: Is the school that offers a gifted program in close proximity to their residence? Does the curriculum match the strengths of the child? Will the child be disappointed at leaving the 'regular' classroom? Will the child be affected socially from leaving the 'regular' class?

Simcoe County District School Board
Section from Barbara Gilman's book Empowering Gifted Minds: Educational Advocacy That Works

International Baccalaureate Program
  • This program was founded in 1968 and it is only offered in certain schools within a community. The IB program helps to "develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world" ( website).
  • Their Mission Statement is: "The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programs of international educaiton and rigorous assessment. These programs encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their difference, can also be right" ( website).
  • The Primary Years Program- this program is designed for students age 3-12 and focuses on the development of the whole child in the classroom and in the world outside. The curriculum is balanced between learning about and beyond subject areas. This program highlights six transdisciplinary themes: who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves and sharing the planet. These themes help students be exposed to important ideas that require a high level of involvement on the part of the students.
  • The Middle Years Program- this program is designed for students age 11-16 which is academically challenging and incorporates life skills by going beyond traditional subjects. Within the curriculum, students will focus on eight subject groups. Students will study mother tongue, a second language, humanities, sciences, math, arts, physical education and technology.
  • The Diploma Program- this two-year program is designed for students age 16-19 and is demanding. It leads directly to final examinations and ultimately to university prospects offered from around the world. Students study six courses at a higher level than the public education system. The program has three core requirements, which "broaden the students' educational experience and challenge students to apply their knowledge and understanding". These include: extended essay, theory of knowledge and creativity, action and service. Students are assessed through written examinations at the end of the program, which are marked by external IB examiners.
  • All of these programs are rigorous in their design and implementation. They are meant for students to excel. Choosing this program for a gifted student could potentially be the right fit for them because the material and level of the work is so demanding.
  • Parents need to ask these questions when choosing this placement option: Since the school work is more challenging will it meet the needs of the child? Are the parents concerned about the child learning a second language? Will this program 'squash' their gifted mind because of the work load?

International Baccalaureate Website

Private School
  • To have a child entered into one of these schools, parents must pay a demanding tuition each year and then be picked by the school to study there.
  • Parents of children who attend these schools have extremely high expectations from the school, teacher, principal and their child. Some private schools place emphasis on test scores to bolster their reputations within the community. Many are also heavily rooted in tradition and can have a mentality of 'if you enter into our school, you are accepting our program'. Since tuition must be paid, the classroom sizes are considerably small which can be beneficial to the learning environment. There are advanced placement options (AP) in Canada in which a total of 500 participating schools offer this placement for gifted students. These programs are designed to prepare children for life in college or university and challenge them along the way.
  • Parents need to ask these questions when choosing this placement option: What is the philosophy of the school? How are the children assessed? Is tuition cost an issue?

Links to different private schools, programs and cost throughout Canada


  • For some parents, perhaps the only option is to homeschool their child because of cost, location, beliefs, etc. According to Ontario Gifted Home Schooling, it is challenging, demanding, requires patience, persistence and an ability to network and have one parent stay home part time.
  • Some advantages to home schooling: A lot of people decide to homeschool their children if they are religious and they hope to pass down their religious beliefs to their children. Many people like the idea of homeschooling because it is essentially a 'tailor-made education'--the parent[s] set the rules, timetables, field trips, etc. The curriculum is also tailored to suit a child's needs. If the child excels in math then more focus and attention in the day can be granted to improving these skills. High standards are placed on academic and accelerated learning which could prove to be quite beneficial for a gifted student. As a student, being home-schooled occurs in a nurturing environment where the child is comfortable (because it's their home). In addition, schooling your child at home gives a lot of flexibility and choice to the curriculum--students can decide what they want to study or not study. There is a freedom in a sense to choose to learn what interests you which often does not happen in the public education system.
  • Some disadvantages to home schooling: A parent does not get paid to homeschool their child so it is a risky investment that a family must decide to take. In addition, it requires a lot of time, patience and energy to learn the curriculum and teach it to their children. The students have a lack of competition because they are not around peers their own age. Children do not socially interact with students their own age on a regular basis which can be hard for some.
  • There are many support groups for home schoolers throughout the province where other families get together to do field trips to socialize their children.
  • Parents need to ask these questions when considering this placement option: Can one parent stay home--is it in the budget? Does the parent feel secure in teaching subjects that aren't necessarily their strong suit? Will their child be affected socially?

Overview and Guide to homeschooling in Canada
Policy/ Program Memorandum No. 131--Home Schooling
Socializing a home school student
Bell, Debra. The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling. Tommy Nelson Publishers: U.S.A. 2005.

Arts School

  • School for the Talented and Gifted (TAG), grades 9-12 are available in certain locations across Canada. These schools are for children who will realize their full artistic potential. Focuses are placed on music, arts, dance and drama.
  • If parents see that their child is talented/gifted in one of these disciplines then a public education system may not be enough to stimulate their creative senses. If the child is specifically gifted in music, art, dance, or drama, then they can be sent to a specific school where much of the focus is placed on that subject area. Many of these schools, if they are private, require the parent to pay a hefty tuition for their child to attend. There are however,, some public arts schools that are offered around the province which do not require parents to pay tuition but these schools can be few and far between.
  • Parents need to ask these questions when considering this placement option: Is the proximity of the school going to be a factor? Will the child receive a well-rounded education at a school like this? Will the cost of tuition be an issue for the family?

Provides information on how to choose a school for a talented/gifted arts student
Recognizing that a child is gifted in the arts

In the end, society has given parents 'choices' of where to send their gifted child to learn. How do you best choose the right school/program for them? The parents must first decide what strengths the child possesses (creativity, math, language etc.), determine the proximity of the school, if cost is a factor or if a demanding/ rigorous program is at the forefront. Once these questions have been addressed, then the parent can determine certain placement options for the child. Parents want to see their child succeed and they need the guidance and comfort of educated professionals to help them along the journey.


Making Your Classroom Gifted-Friendly

Busy Brain.gifI'm Not Weird, I'm Gifted.jpg

5KEY Classroom Implementations for the Gifted Student

Think you have a gifted child in your class who’s yet to be graced by an official statement?

Then you should try to implement these 5 KEYs into your classroom so that any gifted (or simply advanced!) students may be able to learn and grow to their utmost potential…however and whenever they come along!


1. The Never-ending Journey- Imagine you are a student who for many years has always finished assignments first, gotten perfect or near-perfect grades, and so forth, but slowly so slowly…has stopped caring a bit because, well quite frankly, who cares if I get perfect in grade 9? I can afford to slack off and get 80%, what does it matter? As the teacher of this formidable youth, there is one way you might appeal to greatness: competition and lacking that, self-competition. Let me break it down:

  • Create a high-quality work station where you teach students to go when they say, “I’m done the work, now what?” And make sure you establish it thoroughly into the daily routine from Day 1.

  • This work station should not be called a work station, but rather something like: Through the Wormhole; Medieval Times; Around the World in 80 Days; The Final Frontier; HMS Quaff the Pierian Spring; or The Story of a Thousand Endings. It needs to catch the imagination and trust me, even grade 12ers like’em, do not fear.

  • The student(s) who are able to make this “journey” get their efforts duly noted by the teacher on their “journey chart”. This could be simply a folder or a Prezi that gets updated every week or so, depending on productivity.

  • There needs to be regular “pay-outs”. This means just what you thought: there needs to be rewards, prizes, incentives – of course there does! This can mean personal time in the library, a "trip" somewhere like the ROM, choice of movie for the whole-group reward, interest-specific incentives, etc. Ask your school/board for what is considered appropriate!

  • The element of class-competition, but more importantly self-competition, means that gifted students might remain engaged, even when another A+ fails to engage them. There can be nothing worse for a blazing inferno, than there being nothing else left to consume.

  • The “journey” might consist of enrichments, riddles, IQ tests, cross-curricular activities intimately related to the relevant (advanced) subject, rote tasks, speed tasks, elaborate homework assignments, tasks that involve adults/community members, and so much more.

  • Obviously you need to be age-specific when you create this work station, but that is half the fun! And remember: ALL young people are children at heart (and in fact).

2. Tiered Assignments You have all read the Ministry of Education’s 2010 masterwork “Growing Success”, so you know what I mean when I refer to Assessment of Learning (Summative assessment for you ‘others’). I am asking that you ‘tier’ every summative task you set, every time, no exceptions. Here is what I mean:

  • Asking the class to take their knowledge of researching an environmental topic of their choice and articulating the information in a leaflet for public consumption, ensuring that at least 80% of the text features you taught them, along with the persuasive writing techniques, are present in the final product? Sounds excellent, but you better ratchet up the expectations for the able (even if they are not willing!). For Tier 2, expect the leaflet plus a counter-leaflet arguing the opposite viewpoint (of solar panels, for instance). For Tier 3, expect all of the above, plus a presentation to the class with a Media outlet included (i.e. PowerPoint or Prezi on the whiteboard). The last one is for the advanced young-ens.

  • Do not assume any student will “think outside the box”, even if they are gifted. As the trend-setter, the goal-setter, the teacher, you must include everyone in the “educational plan” from the beginning. Plan for exceptional giftedness, plan for extensions, plan for enrichment – do not be caught slow-footed!

  • Bored, under-challenged gifted students can be even better at disrupting the class than their compatriots, for obvious reasons. They are justified somewhat, too, especially if they have finished your “challenging” task handily and in short-order. Don’t become a sitting duck – keep your keener well engaged!

3. Assessing for Next Level- Have a student who keeps bursting off the rubric? Does he or she consistently or very often achieve A++, 4a and/or 100% plus bonus questions? Inventing new ways of telling a student, "You're simply amazing! Off the charts!" Perhaps it is time to start looking ahead to the next set of expectations and assessing the student from there. Here's what this might look like:

  • Can this refer to acceleration? No! That involves moving your student into an upper age-group and without proper documentation, that’s just not going to happen. See Mentoring for further ideas on this topic.

  • Extension: be flexible ‘vertically’ with expectations, as in move quicker through curriculum and may include ‘compacting’. This is dipping into “modification” territory but as long as you are hitting their regular goals, don’t feel guilty. How many times do you hear from a student: “I'm not supposed to learn this yet! Why are you getting me ahead!?."

  • Enrichment: be flexible ‘horizontally’ with expectations, or in addition-to mandatory work.

  • Curriculum Differentiation: This one really steps on the toes of an official IEP and should be used only when extending the complexity of summative tasks, when you have time to ask the student for “more”, and when an Assessment for Learning (Diagnostic) reveals a student who really does not need to go through all the ‘scaffolded’ paces of writing an expository paragraph/essay with the rest of the class. This can also be the time to plan for mentoring, volunteering, the Never-ending Journey, and so forth.

4. MentoringYes, consistent and thoughtful and well-planned out in advance – in-class 1 to 1.This can include the teacher or a TA brought in part-time, or it can be a volunteer from a higher age-group. Here are some points relating to mentoring gifted students and the benefits you can expect from implementing this key:

A) Benefits

  • A Mentor sees things in you that you may not see in yourself.

  • Since a gifted student may develop more or less in one area or another (asynchrony), an older mentor will more likely be able to cope and assist with any disparities in emotion vs. logical skills, for instance.

  • Mentors can help raise self-confidence and personal aspiration in an individual who doubts him/herself. Juxtapose this with placing these students in “helper” roles, which may dampen ambitions over time.

  • As the school environment may be boring and limited, offering a new perspective might be refreshing

B) Models

  • Buddy System – This could mean several things: pairing an older student with the gifted younger student in elementary; placing the gifted secondary student with a (gifted) elementary student;

  • Academic Monitoring – Someone with a particular knowledge or shared interest with the gifted student’s career choices (likely guidance counsellor in Ontario). This individual speaks with the child regularly regarding what courses need to be undertaken, where it is best to volunteer, and so forth.

  • Volunteering – Get thee out of the classroom! Gaining real-world experience is quintessential to the brain’s development and the advanced individual will rejoice in this. This may be short-term or long-term.

  • Teacher – Don’t take advantage of this “gift”, you ought to be spending just as much time with him/her as you would any other student. Really challenge.

  • Other – Make connections with professionals in the community, either taking class/individual trips to see them or by having the professionals visit the classroom from time to time. Don’t be intimidated – people love talking about themselves to a willing (or unwilling!) audience!

5.Differentiation!!!Yes, I’m talking about how you teach the things that you want students to learn. Here are some suggestions, culled from the depths of time!

  • Task: higher-order thinking tasks
  • Outcome: different assessment expectations on common stimulus
  • Pace: time allotment provided varies
  • Support: more or less where required
  • Resources: given different set of resources to push learner
  • Grouping: like-kind and/or used as a ‘helper’ in a meaningful way.
  • Information: more or less information given for same task
  • Role: more challenging roles given
  • Homework: more and/or more complex
  • Dialogue/Using Questions: differentiation of language is part of expectation

BONUS.Challenge!!!Don’t make it so easy! You knew there was going to be a bonus section, didn’t you? Well, here you go:

  • Plan/do/review: teach high self-regulation skills
  • Working from more difficult texts: it is inappropriate for every student to be reading the same thing (think Literature Circles)
  • Using a wider range of information/resources: higher expectations and complexity
  • Recording in alternative or more imaginative ways: different, perhaps unorthodox expressions of learning
  • Role-play: acting out learning and empathy with others
  • Problem-solving and enquiry tasks: alternatives to problems
  • Choice in how to handle content: greater motivation through choice
  • Decision-making: given skeleton outline but must create own expectations, etc.
  • No correct answer: open-ended tasks, critical thinking and personal growth highlighted
  • Using one text or artefact: limit stimulus to inspire closer, more careful consideration

Remember: “Entertainment should not be mistaken for educational value”! (Sawyer, 1988)


The British National Curriculum:
Gifted Education: The English Model
Growing Success:
Mentoring the Gifted:
The National Association for Gifted Children:
Ontario Gifted:

Smarter than the Teacher.jpg

Created By:
1. Ashley Skinner
2. Kirsten White
3. Megan Matsubayashi
4. Tara Johnson
5. Jonathan Urie