Tips for Teaching Gifted Students

One of the most wonderful things about homeschooling is that it can accommodate the needs of students across the full spectrum of ability. One-to-one attention from home teachers can encourage and expand on individual strengths, and curriculum can adapt to address individual needs.  However, parents teaching gifted students can sometimes feel unsure about how to best nurture their child’s special gifts. These are usually groundless fears! With the right attitude and approach, home teachers can lead their gifted child towards educational success.

Finding The Right Approach For Teaching Gifted Students

There are two basic ways in which an advanced student can be encouraged. The first approach is to accelerate learning, and the second is to deepen the learning. Each option has its benefits and supporters, and since every child is different, no single option will work for every situation. Parents usually know their child best and are in the best position to make the right decision regarding educational approach.

Accelerating Your Student’s Learning

Oak Meadow gifted student studying at kitchen tableIn the acceleration model, parents might choose to have their child work at a different grade level in a single subject, or to condense two years of work into a single year. For example, a sixth grade student might take a full year to complete sixth grade material in English, social studies, and science, but work through sixth grade math by mid-year, and jump into seventh grade math right away, completing that by year’s end. This is not uncommon and can work very well to keep a student challenged and engaged.

There are concerns, however, in allowing a child to advance far above grade level. The first is that the content itself will be aimed at an older audience, and may not be appropriate for a younger student. In addition, just because a student can read and comprehend advanced work doesn’t automatically mean the child will be able to respond to it in a mature, complex way.

The second concern regarding acceleration is that often students will rejoin their peers in later grades, and if the accelerated student is suddenly in a classroom with a social atmosphere several years ahead of her, difficulties can arise. This sometimes happens when an accelerated 16-year-old find themselves in a dorm with college freshmen. Again, this is not a merely a question of intellect. The ability to work successfully within a group of colleagues is just as important as the ability to succeed on your own.

Deepening Your Student’s Learning

Many educators favor the second approach to serving advanced students: deepen the learning experience within a grade level. Extension activities provide opportunities to link related topics or explore different facets of a particular subject. Students can be encouraged to “own” their assignments by finding a personal connection to the material or by proposing additional ideas for projects.

Oak Meadow family studying map by a riverFinding ways to enrich the student’s exploration of grade level material results in a more complete, nuanced understanding and often helps the student create relevant connections across disciplines. For instance, when studying the discovery of electricity in science, your student might also write (and perform!) a speech announcing Thomas Edison’s newly patented light bulb. Your student could list ways in which electricity changed life in the late 1800s, and draw sketches of some of Edison’s other inventions. Math could be worked into the lesson by having your student calculate the additional number of hours worked per year after electric lighting lengthened the work day, or estimate the increase in factory output with longer hours versus the additional expense of electricity. This multi-disciplinary approach encourages a flexibility of thought and develops creative problem-solving skills.

Project-based learning also gives advanced students the chance to explore a subject from many different angles. Giving students the chance to develop long-term projects—such as building and installing bat houses, and then studying the bat population and its influence on the ecosystem—also helps sustain their engagement over time, which gives them more opportunities for mature thought and individual interpretation of the material.

Regardless of which learning opportunities a parent offers, there is an innate human need to explore the world and challenge oneself and homeschooling allows students to follow their education impulses wherever they might take them. This inner drive, paired with the many options available to the homeschooling parent, practically guarantees that a gifted child is bound to soar.

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