BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER MARYANN MOLISHUS
I have been an elementary gifted support teacher for five years. I’m not new, though, to supporting children who are gifted, both as a parent and as a general education teacher for over 20 years. Gifted support is not uniform across Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Gifted Education Guidelines require that children identified as gifted receive support, but a specific method of meeting the needs of the gifted is not defined.
Children who are gifted have strengths that are supported by gifted individualized education plans (GIEPs). Generally speaking, those who are gifted can creatively problem solve and have a unique perspective on the world. They experience intense emotions and an insatiable quest for answers to their many, many questions. They are fast thinkers and can see “the big picture.” They can devise solutions to problems they encounter, and they might assume the burden of fixing the problems even when the scope of the problem is beyond that which they can manage. They might be skilled artists, musicians, or athletes. Their abilities often exceed those of their typical peers. It is our job, as educators and parents, to provide guidance as they learn about themselves and about their world.
The last two years of learning through a global pandemic have been challenging for all of us, including our gifted children. We experienced teaching and learning in different ways and can now reflect on that time. The feedback I receive most often from my gifted students is that while they were learning from home they were glad, even grateful, that they could work at their own pace and not have to listen to lengthy explanations or wait for the rest of the class to finish a task before moving on to something else. They liked having choices and not having to stick to a rigid schedule. They did, however, seem to miss working with their classmates, and they did not always make the best choices of how to use their newly acquired free time or finish projects they started.
We are back to being in school full time, with most pandemic mitigation measures lifted. While we are getting back to normal, we should not ignore the feedback we received from our children about learning during the pandemic. Let’s not split back into pre-pandemic routines without considering what we learned during the last two years. Are we willing to use student feedback and make the changes needed in our schools to ensure we are meeting the needs of our gifted students?
We know the children can work at a faster pace when given the opportunity. How can we restructure school to allow children to work at their own pace? We know the children want time to work on their own projects but that they are not always able to follow through on tasks or complete projects they begin. How can we provide the proper guidance needed to allow children to make choices and be successful in completing tasks as well as provide an authentic audience for them to showcase their work? We know many children thrive in collaborative environments. How can we provide the space and opportunity for children to work with their peers? Are our gifted children receiving the resources, coaching, and space they need to be successful to the best of their abilities?
Today, I see that the learning environments and the experiences we provide for our gifted students do not always match the world in which they live, nor do we have the resources needed to design flexible learning spaces that meet the needs of our students. Let’s take this time to consider what an appropriate learning environment can and should look like for our gifted children, and, for that matter, for all our children.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee