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.

What’s the state doing for your student?

Colorado Department of Education (CDE) has done an amazing job setting up the rules and regs for school districts across the state in order to help gifted and talented students become identified, have programming options, and encourage parent involvement in their child’s programming. They have one of the best set ups when it comes to identification of gifted and talented students and provide gifted and talented specialists with in-depth training on how to properly find gifted students. But what about programming for gifted students?

CDE requires all students who are identified as gifted and talented in any area (Specific Academic, General Intellectual Ability, and Specific Talent Aptitudes) are placed on an Advanced Learning Plan (ALP). The ALP is “a written record of a gifted student’s strengths, academic and affective learning goals and the resulting programming utilized with each gifted child and considered in educational planning and decision making. 12.01(2)” (CDE, 2018) This is a legal document in which programming is described and tied to standards for the students ability level and grade level. So what does this mean for you as a parent? What does this mean for you as an educator? A student?

Well the answer is simple, but the implementation is difficult. Here is why.

The Code of Colorado Regulations requires each school district has gifted and talented programming in place including having all gifted students on an ALP. Once the ALP is in place, it is to be used by schools (teachers, administration, and specialists) to help make decisions in educational programming and decision making in order to meet the unique needs of a gifted student. Another major piece of the ALP is the Affective Development (12.01(3)) and is a required piece of programming for gifted students. This means finding ways to help gifted students understand themselves as gifted learners, the implications of their abilities, talents, and potential for accomplishment. The Affective Development programming also requires programming centered around interpersonal (empathy, leadership, teamwork, active listening, etc.) and intrapersonal (self- esteem, ability to learn, self-confidence, etc) development. These plans are all tied to standards so teachers and parents know how the programming will happen.

Now as far as implementation, the state requires that an ALP is created and updated yearly. Every school district in state will have different requirements on how often the plan is updated throughout the year. (Personally I do one mid year update with students, unless their plan is different and requires more check ins.) At a minimum, parents and teachers should have access  to the ALP as well as have the ability to help create programming plans for the ALP. When the goals are being written, they should be aligned with tired classroom instructions and expanded learning opportunities for supplemental programming (12.02(2)(g)(ii). This is supposed to be a combined effort from the specialist, parent, and teacher with the support of administration.

(CDE, 2018)

Yes, I said, “supposed to.”

While the state has these guidelines in place, ALPs are often filed away and not looked by the classroom teacher who should be helping provide supports for your gifted student. The GT specialist should be following up with teachers on how they can help support the classroom teacher with their GT students. The reality of it is across the state of Colorado there aren’t the same opportunities or support staff available to help implement and support ALPs for gifted students. Some districts have one GT specialist for their entire student body, and some don’t have anyone to help with GT services. There are districts that are overcrowded and have multiple specialists who split time buildings and end up with caseloads of 135 gifted students to keep track of… (Something that would be unheard of in Special Education.)

The state of Colorado does not require a GT specialist in every district, they simply require someone to take on the responsibility of creating ALPs for students. The state also only requires teachers who are in charge of classroom instruction in core academics meet the requirements under federal law for highly qualified teachers. So if a gifted student is in a classroom with a highly qualified teacher and they have access to their ALP (with the possibility the teacher didn’t read the ALP), that school is technically meeting the requirements on serving gifted students.

So what can you do? Ask if you have a GT Specialist in charge of ALPs. Request access to your students ALPs so you know how to help make sure appropriate programming is in place for your student. If you are a parent, follow up with teachers to make sure they have seen your student’s ALP and ask how they are implementing it in the classroom. Remember it is a legal document, meaning it has to be followed for the best interest of the student. It is not something to be filed away and forgotten about until the end of the school year.

Check on your school’s programming options, and ask for updates on your students progress. It most likely won’t happen unless you ask.

Resources: Colorado Department of Education: https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt

ALP Resources from CDE: https://www.cde.state.co.us/gt/alp-0

Laws and Regulations for GT (page 98): https://www.sos.state.co.us/CCR/GenerateRulePdf.do?ruleVersionId=6251&fileName=1%20CCR%20301-8

About Me

My name is Lindsay Bohlinger and I am a Gifted and Talented Specialist in Colorado, a PhD Student and an advocate for providing opportunities to empower parents to know what their student needs in the classroom and how to advocate for those needs.

I am also a wife and mom. I am an avid hiker and reader. I am always trying to learn more about myself and gifted education. I have worked in the public school setting for five years and in a charter school for one year. I have a BA in English Education for Secondary Education (2011), a MA in Special Education with an emphasis in Gifted Education (2013), and my PhD will be in Special Education with an emphasis in Gifted and Talented Administration.

In my time as a gifted and talented specialist, I have started to see how much work our gifted programs need across the state of Colorado and the nation. Every state and district is different in their requirements for gifted education and the requirements for programming, but there is one common theme I see in getting things accomplished with gifted and talented programming changing in a postitive directions. That is helping empower parents to know they have the ability to ask for things for their gifted child. I have also seen the lack of understanding from administration and teachers across grade levels about what gifted education is and how to work with gifted students in their classrooms.

This is where the idea for “Elevated Giftedness” came to me. I want to provide you with the tools and resources to feel empowered when working with gifted children. I want to encourage parents and teachers to fill up their tool boxes in order to feel confident in their own knowledge of asking for support with their gifted students needs. I want parents to know they have the right ask questions and give input on their child’s learning plan. I want teachers to feel confident in working with gifted students in their mixed level classrooms. I want administration to feel like they have access to a knowledgable person who simply wants what is best for these unique students.

I want to empower you.

Thank you for checking out my site and I encourage you to like and subsribe to keep up with the latest happenings in the gifted world!

L. Bohlinger