Social and Emotional Curriculum for Gifted Students: Author Q&A
Social and Emotional Curriculum for Gifted Students: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, May 26, 2021 by Stephanie McCauley

The Social and Emotional Curriculum for Gifted Students series provides the gifted resource specialist, regular classroom teacher, or counselor with the tools they need to help gifted students in grades 3–5 develop interpersonal skills, reflect on their often intense emotions, and express their creativity. Learn more in this interview with the author, Mark Hess. 

Q: What subjects/cross-curricular connections are covered in the lessons in these books?

A: Name a subject, and it is probably covered. Unless a teacher of upper elementary gifted students teaches in a magnet school or a fully immersed classroom, we often get to work with our students only an hour or just a few hours a week. There is so much to do, so many lessons to share, so much creativity, and so many passions to explore in such a short time. So how can we make the most profound impact in the short amount of time we have with these kids? How can we engage creativity, stretch academic standards, and grow at the same time? Let’s put our hearts and hands into cross-curricular projects designed to meet gifted students’ thirst for self-expression and provide opportunities to understand themselves a little better in each lesson. We cannot possibly do everything we want to do with our students, and partly because of this, I began to design lessons that delivered key social-emotional content in a dynamic, creative, and engaging way through design, language arts, social studies, art, and science. 


Q: How do gifted students benefit from social-emotional curriculum?

A: Teaching and loving gifted students helped me understand that being gifted goes far beyond creative expression and passion projects. Giftedness often means leading with the heart. My students tended to lead with their kindness and compassion, were guided by a full range of feelings and emotions, and were often very hard on themselves. Gifted students are able to make connections others cannot, are able to see another’s perspective at a young age, can understand struggles other people experience, and are masters at pinpointing injustices. Because of these intensities—most beautifully—gifted children carry a vast capacity for empathy. This aspect, like no other, is who gifted children are. This aspect, like no other, sets the course for these books. Too often, gifted learners feel alone, and through these social-emotional lessons, I want to not only build understanding and provide guidance for tendencies like perfectionism, intensities, and multipotentiality, but also help provide a place where gifted kids feel accepted and understand their gifts a little bit better.


Q: Who is the target audience for this series, and how can they use these books in different settings (gifted groups, regular classroom, enrichment program, etc.)?

A: The target audience for this series is gifted learners in grades 3, 4, and 5. The lessons and units are highly adaptable to the myriad programming opportunities we share with gifted learners—from independent explorations to whole-class magnet programs. The lessons within the units themselves are adaptable to any time frame as well. As a gifted resource teacher, I needed units that could easily be tracked into segments from 20 minutes to hours upon hours. Teachers need to be able to both pick up where we left off and dive deeply into content when the students lead us there.


Q: How did you develop this series? How have students responded to these lessons?

A: This series was developed in the most practical way—literally a collection of units I’ve taught over the past 11 years as a gifted resource teacher. They’re all kid-tested and revised . . . and much more than that. Many times, the classroom synergy has led us in a direction I did not expect (the wonderful beauty of teaching gifted kids, right?), and these new directions often became parts of the lessons. With these social-emotional units, I never wanted the kids to feel like they were immersed in a counseling session. I had always hoped the kids would respond with their natural passion and creativity and thirst for knowledge. They have! The students don’t simply walk into our gifted and talented classrooms; they leap and run and gallop. They appear in the doorway almost like the stereotypical flourish of a stage magician: “ta da!” And yes, I know there is no running allowed in a hallway, and flourishes—even smiling ones—may be disruptive. I’ve never claimed to be the best at keeping kids in line; maybe that’s why I excel at teaching gifted kids.


Q: What is one of your favorite units or lessons included in this series, and why?

A: That’s a tough choice. I have had so much fun teaching these units—just watching the kids and how they react, seeing the headlights go bright, the unexpected wisdom coming from the voice of a 9 year old, the sense of humor . . . all of those things. That said, I choose “Breadcrumbs and Balloons: Curiosity and Talent Development” from the Grade 5 book. This unit is unique in that it is the only unit I did not first develop in the classroom. It was developed for my presentation at the Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) national conference in 2018. I wrote the unit to demonstrate ways to engage gifted learners in social-emotional curriculum that went beyond discussion—curriculum that was playful, creative, and full of little mysteries. At the same time, the unit manages to touch on so many issues through critical thinking and metaphors: identity, perfectionism, compassion, hope, multipotentiality, resilience, achievement, and intensities. Who doesn’t love a little mystery? And, hey, who wouldn’t want to learn how to make an origami balloon?


Mark Hess has spent more than 33 years teaching gifted learners. He is a gifted programs specialist in Colorado Springs, President-Elect for the Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented, and a member of the National Association for Gifted Children’s advisory committee for Teaching for High Potential and NAGC’s social-emotional needs committee. As a director on Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted’s board, Mark is the senior associate editor of the SENG library. Visit Mark’s website at to find free resources for parents and teachers to help meet the needs of gifted learners.