What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach Gifted Students: Author Q&A
What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach Gifted Students: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Thursday, February 20, 2020 by Andilynn Feddeler

Teachers new to gifted education face unique challenges and often don’t receive the proper support they need to implement advanced curriculum that still meets gifted students’ social-emotional needs. What to Expect When You’re Expected to Teach Gifted Students: A Guide to the Celebrations, Surprises, Quirks, and Questions in Your First Year Teaching Gifted Learners is a practical, easy-to-read guide that reviews expectations versus likely classroom realities that first-time gifted teachers may face. It includes real-world advice for navigating the joys, surprises, and frustrations in those first years. Learn more about the book in this interview with the author, Kari Lockhart.

Q: What do you remember being the most surprising thing you learned when you started teaching gifted students?

A: I was probably most surprised by the variability in my students. Although no teacher expects a one-size-fits-all class, I was surprised at some of the things my students didn’t “get.” I was also surprised at just how advanced others were. When I began working with gifted students, it was in a once per week pull-out model. It was tricky to create activities and learning experiences for students at such different levels, that only took a short period of time to execute. If something wasn’t challenging enough, the kids got bored quickly. If it was way over their heads, the lesson was a flop. And when you flop for the week, there’s no way to get that time with the kids back. 

Q: What are some of your favorite go-to classroom strategies for teachers new to gifted ed?

A: In that same vein, I would definitely recommend the use of student interest surveys. If you know what their interests and passions are, that’s a great place to begin designing instruction. There’s nothing worse than working really hard on a lesson or activity, only to have your kids zone out or disengage because it’s not relevant or appealing to them. When the learning appeals to student interests, you have immediate buy-in. I know that sounds simple, but keeping the students at the heart of the lesson is the best way to support authentic learning that “sticks.” 

Once you know what your students’ interests are, you can work on incorporating those into the learning activities. I would also recommend using formative assessment strategies to help you make the best use of your time with the students. Quick, purposeful formative assessments (i.e., entrance/exit tickets, quick writes, most difficult firsts, etc.) help you to appropriately scaffold instruction. If I had used formative assessments and student interest surveys when I first started teaching gifted students, I could have made the learning way more fun and engaging for kids. I would have been able to maximize the time spent developing key knowledge and skills, rather than taking shots in the dark at what they might or might not know or care about.

Q: What’s your top advice for teachers new to gifted ed on talking to administrators who might not view gifted services as “important”?

A: Let’s be real: Gifted education is not “fluff” or extra. Gifted education classes help advanced students make appropriate academic progress. Without gifted education, students with advanced learning needs would fail to meet appropriate learning goals or develop new knowledge and skills. That type of stymied, halted progression would not be acceptable for any other group of students, so why is it acceptable for gifted learners? 

When students are identified for gifted services, they have a documented need for differentiated learning opportunities and experiences. It’s critical for teachers to help other educators understand that when we fail to support our advanced students in making appropriate progress, we are not providing equitable opportunities for all student populations. Gifted education is a matter of meeting the needs of students who learn differently, and ensuring that all kids have what they need to make appropriate academic gains. 

Q: Why should teachers new to gifted ed seek professional learning opportunities? What qualities should educators look for in these opportunities?

A: Professional learning opportunities are so important to educators. Current, relevant learning helps us stay current and relevant with a student demographic that is constantly changing. The students you taught 10 years ago are very different than the students in your classroom today—keeping up with current best practices and new ways to engage students helps to keep your teaching fresh. 

When teachers of gifted students look for professional learning opportunities, they should look for learning that is rooted in best practices. Professional learning should also provide participants with both theory and practice. It’s not enough to give the why; the how must also be included. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to implement any new strategy or structure in your classroom. Finally, look for learning that might challenge you a little. It’s easy and feels good to spend a day of professional learning hearing about things that you already do—it’s harder to spend that time taking new knowledge, deconstructing what’s familiar, and redesigning new practices. The latter will help to develop your professional skill set, though, and broaden your professional capacities. 

Kari Lockhart has worked in education for 10 years and has spent a significant portion of that time in the gifted field. She is currently a doctoral student studying educational psychology with a focus on gifted and talented populations at the University of North Texas. She hopes to be able enjoy a lifelong career in education and be an advocate for gifted students and their families.