In this June 15th EdWeek article, Do We Know How to Teach Highly Able Learners?, Peter DeWitt explores approaches to teaching students with advanced learning needs. He recommends that teachers focus on individual student growth rather than achievement, as many highly able learners may achieve high or adequate grades without growing or stretching themselves at all. Here’s an excerpt:
Good teaching for gifted learners happens at a higher “degree of difficulty” than for many students their age. In the Olympics, the most accomplished divers perform dives that have a higher “degree of difficulty” than those performed by divers whose talents are not as advanced. A greater degree of difficulty calls on more skills–more refined skills–applied at a higher plane of sophistication. A high “degree of difficulty” for gifted learners in their talent areas implies that their content, processes and products should be more complex, more abstract, more open-ended, more multifaceted than would be appropriate for many peers.
Good teaching for gifted learners requires an understanding of “supported risk.” Highly able learners often make very good grades with relative ease for along time in school. They see themselves (and often rightly so) as expected to make “As,” get right answers, and lead the way. In other words, they succeed without “normal” encounters with failure. Then, when a teacher presents a high-challenge task, the student feels threatened. Not only has he or she likely not learned to study hard, take risks and strive, but the student’s image is threatened as well. A good teacher of gifted students understands that dynamic, and thus invites, cajoles and insists on risk-but in a way that supports success”(National Association for Gifted Children).