by Wendy VanderLinden
Picture receiving a beautiful plant. It grows faster than the others in your garden and is large and budding. If you assume that because it came to you strong and vibrant, it will continue to thrive if you tuck it into a shady corner and don’t water it, you will be very disappointed after a few weeks.
This metaphor applies to gifted students as well. They come to us full of potential and possibility, with deep knowledge and advanced skills, yet if we tuck them into a classroom and do nothing to feed and water their minds, we will not see the growth of which they are capable. As an educator of gifted students, I often hear, “Gifted students will be fine on their own” or some variation of that statement. But gifted students, like all of our students, deserve to learn something new at regular intervals. Daily exposure to material they already know or can learn quickly may lead to discouraged children rather than thriving, growing learners.
But what if we aren’t sure how to water their minds and help them grow? After all, sometimes it may feel as though a gifted student already knows more than we do. Consider that beautiful plant I mentioned. If it was in your garden, you would seek out appropriate plant food and the perfect balance of sunlight and shade, or talk to a Master Gardener friend. You might even sing to it if experts said it would help.
Are we giving the same kind of attention to the students in our classrooms with the greatest ability? Look for ways to nurture their minds. Seek out high-quality texts for them to read—literature that challenges and inspires them. If you don’t know what that might be for your students, reach out to those who do, whether it’s a knowledgeable librarian or a teacher a grade or two above theirs. Encourage gifted students to explore words by playing with figures of speech, poetry, root words, and complex texts. Allow them to experiment with different math concepts and puzzles. Give them a chance to pursue their passions and grow, even if it means they aren’t doing everything exactly the same as their classmates.
The needs of gifted students are very real, and they won’t just be “fine on their own.” Their needs are not more important than those of other students, but meeting their needs is just as necessary. As we seek ways to help those students who need extra support to bloom, we must find ways to help those who enter our classrooms flowering already. Taking the time to nurture all learners will result in a thriving classroom filled with students who are budding, blooming, and growing into lifelong learners.
* Wendy VanderLinden is the K-12 Talented and Gifted Coordinator in Greene County, Iowa.