Student Advocating Tools

It is often intimidating to speak with teachers about students learning to advocate for themselves. I get it. Even as an advocate for GT students I am intimidated to ask veteran teachers to come up with alternative assignments for students who need more of a challenge. The important thing to keep in mind is making sure you let the teacher know you appreciate the work they put into creating the assignment and you want to do the work for the grade, but would they be willing to work with you on a different level. 

If you let it be known that you are willing to partner with them to create the assignment and it will be able to be graded against an existing rubric, they will be more willing to consider it. (If not, then I would get in contact with the GT specialist in your building to help you work with this teacher.) 

The other thing to consider is to ask the teacher if you could take the tests to show you know the material. This way you can still get the credit for the class and not worry about not having enough credits to graduate (if you are in high school). The other reason you might consider asking the teacher if you can test out of a unit is so you can move into a class that is better suited for your ability level. The pro of this for the teacher is you won’t turn into a behavior issue later in class when you are bored. 🙂 

Sometimes in class you are inspired by a concept or theory where you want to dig a little deeper or create some sort of informational piece. When this happens, tell your teachers that you want to take a different approach and learn more in order to gain knowledge on the bigger picture. Ask the teacher if you can create your own assignment if you are inspired to look at the problem differently. It might be taking a concept or theme of a book and expanding on how it relates to our world today versus finding the theme of the book and supporting it with textual evidence. If you are artistic, ask if to create a piece that encompasses the overarching concept the teacher is wanting you to show along with a written explanation. 

Let’s tackle  probably the hardest situation. Let’s say you are given a baseline assignment at the end of a unit, and you think to yourself “This is a joke, I could do this in my sleep.” While it may be tempting to do the assignment in your sleep, you probably should ask your teacher for an assignment that makes you think. Ask the teacher if there is something more challenging you can complete rather than the baseline assignment in a polite way. Approach the teacher about the assignment and say something like, “I really like this assignment and I am wondering if it’s possible for me to do _______ for the assignment. I think it would add to me knowledge of the subject and provide me an opportunity to complete the project in a new way.”  If they agree, make sure that it doesn’t feel like more work. It should be something that challenges your thinking and your skills in that area rather than the generic assignment given to the rest of the class. (If it feels like more work, you need to say something.) 

Again the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to make sure you are polite about how you approach the situation and how you react to the teacher’s answer. While most schools or districts have a gifted and talented specialist, I want you to go to them as your last option. As a gifted student and eventually a gifted adult, you have to learn how to stick up for your needs now, because it gets much harder in the real world when people might think you are just being demanding or non-compliant. A GT specialist is there to help you, when you feel you’ve exhausted other options, and also to make sure you are getting the appropriate amount of challenge in your assignments – so use them when you have to.

Teaching gifted students- no, it doesn’t mean more work.

While working on my bachelors degree and minoring in special education, I read three short paragraphs about gifted education in a book and wanted to know more. So, naturally I asked the professor of the class, “What else can you tell me about gifted education?” Her response was, “You have to go and get a masters degree if you want to know more about that.” So that is exactly what I did.

Many teachers are required to take several special education classes in college; however, none of them deal with gifted education. There is a major focus and push in most educational colleges for there to be a thorough understanding of special education, individualized education plans, and teacher responsibility in order to prevent parents from taking schools to court for violating IDEA. While this is good and necessary to protect all involved in the education of a student with special needs, there is not enough emphasis put on the needs of our gifted students in undergraduate programs.

Gifted education is a branch of special education; however, the right of these students and parents is limited state to state. In the state of Colorado, gifted education services are full mandated but only partially funded. So what does this mean? It means that my students should receive services and differentiated instruction in the classroom but with limited resources it’s nearly impossible to make sure my gifted students are pushed past the ceiling the general classroom teacher is expected to have her students meet.

So how can a general classroom education teacher help? What can they do with limited support? Here are some of the top things teachers can easily do with a little bit of planning and coaching from their GT Specialist:

  1. Allow the student differentiate the project or assignment
    1. Getting the student’s input is huge because they probably have an idea of how they could take a step further to be more challenging (not more work)
  2. Create tiered assignments
    1. Have several levels of difficulty for your whole class and allow them to choose the assignment they feel like would push their higher level thinking skills.
  3. Work with a GT Specialist to differentiate group projects to help break the ceiling effect
    1. Specialists in GT are willing and more than happy to help you figure out what would challenge your students thinking. All you have to do is ask! (Plus it’s kind of their job.)
  4. Don’t be afraid to challenge your whole class.
    1. I was a Language Arts teacher before becoming a GT Specialist, and I used to create assignments that challenged all of my students. I made three levels of assignments or projects, but the catch was the “lowest” assignment would be considered your average assignment. My lower level student would often choose this level, but remained challenging.
  5. Offer to help students find the resources for projects or encourage them to think outside the box for assignments.
    1. GT students don’t fit a box. They like to break that box and create a triangle. Let them. When you let them break that box show encouragement and trust in them that they can complete the project.