Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Strategies for Working With Gifted Kids in Early Childhood

I know we are probably few and far between-but I know we are out there. I think every Kinder teacher has some GT or at least academically advanced kiddos in their classes that need to be catered to differently.

Gifted identification processes are different everywhere. We test 4-year olds with an oral administration of a spatial reasoning test and the WIATT. If they qualify, they can be placed in a stand-alone GT Kinder class (well, that is if we can recruit enough kiddos, this year my class was about 1/2 GT). Many people have raised concerns at identifying them at such a young age and to be honest, it's not always accurate. Some kids are GT and don't qualify (although they can reapply the next year with standardized test scores) and some qualify that turn out not to actually be GT.

However, I think the benefits far outweight the potential pitfalls. A student can be challenged right out of the gate. No sitting through classes where they are coloring a picture of the letter "A" when they can already read 30 wpm fluently. No having to simply learn how to count to 10 when they can add 10+10 in their heads. Nothing like creating 5-year old school burnouts! :) They also can have that foundation set for thinking skills that they might have an innate ability for, but haven't yet learned how to apply.

So, my strategies for working for young GT kiddos:

1) Be patient, be very, very patient. I can't even articulate how frustrating our first compare and contrast lesson is. What's different about these two concepts--"they are different". Yes, but how are they different. "I don't know". Ok, what's the same about them. "They are different". (Do I have to tell you how many bottles of hair dye I go through each year because of all the extra gray hair they give me :). Don't give up. They will get it, they just need a lot of practice.

2) Be flexible with your grouping. This is a no-brainer when working with any group of kiddos, but you would not believe how quickly these kids can grow. I will never forget the student-I'll call her Alexa-I was doing assessments the 1st week of school and she couldn't identify any letters-not even the "A" that began and ended her name. Fast forward to 3 months later and she was reading, writing things like "the lake glistened" (in phonetic spelling and that was a vocab word, but still!). When I pull kids to work with me in small groups they can change groups from week to week-nothing is set in stone in my class.

3) Don't push too hard. I am all for high expectations. I have written about it before-I use my regular vocabulary, not talking to them like babies. I read to them above their grade level. But when it comes to academic expectations-(and now the expectations are more stringent than ever)-I really try not to make a big deal out of Johnny not being able to read his sight words or Mary not being able to add. They are so, so sensitive and see those differences come up quickly, I don't want to add to those feelings.

4) Let your parents know how they can help their kiddos at home. Give them examples of the activities you are doing in class, websites where they can find similar ideas. Sometimes parents don't even realize they need to be challenged at home as well. It really surprises me how many kids-these kids with wonderful imaginations and outstanding critical thinking skills spend a good portion of their time watching cartoons and playing video games.

5) You have to teach them practical emotional responses. How many times I will hear a blood-curdling cry thinking Mary broke her arm only to find out Jessica wouldn't let her play the game with her. That's it, that's the big trauma. They are super-emotional and super-sensitive. Just giving them some tools in using words to express themselves can go a long way.

6) Depth not breadth. I was helping interview for a new Kinder teacher and she was going on and on about how she challenged her kids by teaching them multiplication. While I think you can teach kids to memorize the multiplication tables (they can memorize just about anything) I don't believe those students really had any real understanding of the processes of what multiplying meant. It's much more important to work on number sense and have the student do a lot of mental math to work up to a more complicated process like multiplying. Same goes for reading a student may read at 100 wpm but not be able to answer a single question or understand what he's read. That commercial for "My Baby Can Read" frightens me when the little 3-year old is showing off how she can read Charlotte's Web and the how the father is wielding the axe! Just because they can read the words, doesn't mean they should be reading those words.Many times they haven't developed the vocabulary to comprehend advanced texts.

I know in this test-driven world of education that we work in, it's easy to kind of set these kids aside--they'll do well on the test, I have to help the ones who are struggling. Or worse, you have these kids teaching the ones who are struggling and calling that their differentiation! :( But with just a few extra steps you can help set these kids off on an academic journey that can really help them develop a passion for learning.

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  1. Great thoughts! I really love the idea of teaching to the highs. We had one kinder this last year that was so bright, he was a bit odd. Somehow, I could connect with him. He made a really cool pattern with unifix cubes--he had an ABBA pattern then the middle section was an AB pattern, then he went back to the ABBA pattern. I pointed out that he made a sandwich--with cheese in the middle. I think that stretched his brain more than saying: "you aren't doing what I told you."

  2. Thanks for the comment. Yes, I love to see how their minds work-they impress me every day!

  3. Love your #6!!!!
    Cindy @ love2learn2day

  4. Can you offer some suggestions for parents in regards to #5? Websites, examples...thank you!

  5. Yes-- I am a big fan of Ian Byrd at Byrdseed and he writes a lot about the emotional-ness of these kids:

    Any time you can get them to verbalize what they are feeling and why they are feeling that way-it helps them identify triggers. Giving them tools like, next time Sally doesn't let you play, what could you do? You could play with another student or you could play by yourself, that's fine too.