Every Student Deserves to Learn Something New Every Day

The following blog was contributed by Janette Boazman, M.S., Ph.D., associate professor of education at Constantin College of Liberal Arts, University of Dallas, and author of several NCEA Briefs on exceptional learners.

The last three months have been challenging, to say the least. I want to take this opportunity to commend the awe-inspiring work of Catholic educators and Catholic education leaders. The dramatic shift from in-class learning to distance learning forced upon teachers, students and families in March is unprecedented. Yet, as a collective body, Catholic school communities quickly orchestrated the change with determination, fortitude, resourcefulness, creativity and kindness. Catholic educators are beacons of hope for students and parents across our nation.

The summer months are upon us. As the summer season progresses and the carefree days of your well-deserved respite fade into planning for teaching in the fall, I challenge you to think about and plan for teaching and meeting the needs of the gifted learners in your Catholic school classrooms. During the recent shutdown, many students with exceptionalities, including gifted learners, have been without appropriate attention to their special needs. Not to anyone’s fault, these have been challenging times and there is a myriad of reasons educators and parents have had difficulty fully meeting all of the academic needs of all students.  Nevertheless, as a new school year begins in the fall, teachers must get back to attending to the various learner needs and meeting the needs of exceptional learners who have disabilities, who have gifts and who are twice exceptional.

It is not uncommon for gifted students to begin a new school year already knowing much of what will be taught in the months ahead. Teachers who find themselves with gifted students in the traditional Catholic classroom may have a tendency to subscribe to the myth that gifted students will be fine without attention to their special academic needs because they are smart. The truth is, when gifted students have to wait to learn because they already know what is being taught, or they learned what is being taught with little or no repetition, a window for potential motivational decline, development of poor academic habits and negative behavior opens for them. Moreover, when teachers observe students who are unmotivated, lack appropriate self-control and seemingly don’t study or do homework, they question and doubt the giftedness of the student. A gifted student’s potential can be permanently impacted if they lose motivation for learning, don’t acquire good study habits or get in trouble for acting out in school.

Another myth surrounding education for the gifted is the idea that it is more important to meet the needs of struggling students than it is to meet the needs of gifted learners. The truth is that it is important to meet the needs of both the struggling learner and the gifted learner. We strive for equity in Catholic education as schools increasingly work to meet the needs of diverse learners. An equitable learning environment is one where all students receive what they need to move forward in their learning. In an equitable learning situation, every student has opportunities to have new learning every day. There are common practices among teachers of having students who finish their work quickly read a book or help students who are struggling. We certainly want students in Catholic schools to develop a spirit of helpfulness, patience, acceptance and understanding of others but when gifted students spend most of their time in free reading, searching for something to fill their time or helping others in the class, the gifted student’s learning and development is not being advanced in a way that is equitable.

You are one teacher with limited resources, time, and energy. How do you rise to this challenge and meet all of the needs of students in the classroom? As you incorporate new teaching and learning practices into your work, especially if the practices may have some controversy attached, it would serve you well to share your plans with your principal so he or she can support you among your colleagues and in the greater school community.  It is beneficial to have coworkers who are like minded about differentiation and meeting the needs of gifted, not all of those around you will see things the same way. Seek out those people who have similar thinking and goals for their students, develop a support network for yourself and others, and share the information you acquire. Your colleagues will be appreciative.

Research based information and practices about teaching and serving gifted learners can be found at the websites for the National Association for Gifted Children, the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, and Hoagies Gifted Education. Lesson plans and teaching ideas for teaching gifted can be found at the Educational Resources and Lesson Plans page. Finally, NCEA has two briefs on gifted education and a large selection of books on topics surrounding gifted individuals is available at Prufrock Press.