What can be done with gifted students who learn quickly and finish long before the rest of the class? Let’s look at some of the ways schools deal with such students. Let’s also consider some more creative and productive options.
Busy Work or Engaging Activity?
Gifted students are often bored in a regular classroom. One typical response from an overworked teacher is to simply assign busy work to the students who have finished the regular work. Capable students do not need “more of the same”; rather, they need different, more advanced work. Students who must work day after day, year after year on skills they have already mastered will grow to hate school. School is like a prison to them, and they simply mark time until they can escape and do something interesting and worthy of their attention.
Instead of busy work, students should have the option of engaging in more advanced work. For example, an advanced reader may enjoy reading A Girl of the Limberlost while the rest of the class is still finishing Sarah, Plain and Tall. An advanced grammarian could learn to diagram sentences (a dying art) while the rest of the class reviews nouns and verbs. Make the work worthwhile rather than useless repetition of material already mastered.
Free Labor or Apprentice Teaching?
Because gifted students have already mastered the material the rest of the class is learning, these students are sometimes used as unpaid tutors. When teachers assign “group projects,” these capable students must do most of the work or must try to help the struggling students-a job for which the child did not apply; neither is he trained or paid to do the job.
A better alternative is to have some of the most talented students trained in tutoring. These student apprentices could spend a few hours each week presenting a science lab, using math manipulatives with a struggling student, or reading to kindergarten students. The gifted student is introduced to the art of teaching and may even be inspired to consider a teaching career.
Learning Time is Valuable
Students should not be simply marking time until graduation. There is so much to be learned that it is almost criminal to make a student sit through material that is too easy for them; instead, redeem that wasted time by turning it into learning time. At the very least, advanced students should be able to go to the school library and do independent reading on topics of interest.
Better yet, relax mandatory school attendance laws so that high achievers have flexibility to graduate early or to spend part of their school day studying outside a government-mandated setting. Students could study independently for CLEP or AP exams, earning college credit and saving their families thousands in tuition dollars. Students could spend time apprenticing with a parent, librarian, minister, or artist. Setting these advanced students free would benefit them as well as the average and struggling students, for whom more resources would be available when advanced students graduate early or receive instruction outside the government system.
MacLachlan, P. (1985). Sarah, plain and tall.
Stratton-Porter, G. (1909). A girl of the Limberlost.