Education of the Gifted and Talented Student

The term "exceptional child" is a broad and inclusive label that refers to a significant
percent of the child population. Quite generally, it includes any child who exhibits
attributes, characteristics and/or abilities that fall significantly above or below the norm.
These are students which, due to their levels of ability, demonstrate the need for special
education and educational services that they would not ordinarily receive in the regular
classroom. The federal government has officially recognized the necessity of our
educational system to meet the needs of such students, and has passed legislation
mandating policies to accommodate them. However, a great deal of inequality exists in
our special education system. Most interest, attention and concern is geared toward
educating the retarded and/or disabled, while neglecting to recognize the equally
important needs of our gifted and talented students. I feel that our education system is
doing unto these children a grave injustice.
First and foremost, who are our gifted and talented students, and for what reasons do
we classify them in this way? There is great diversity among gifted and talented children,
and as with any child, each exhibits unique qualities. Yet, there are fundamental
characteristics that are commonly associated with giftedness and are generally observed
in different levels in most of these children. An article in the Instructor categorizes these
qualities as "..creative, perfectionistic and intellectual" and asserts that gifted and
talented children exhibit advanced development in these general areas. Through my
research I have found that there are general consistencies among these students, and
many do fall under these basic categories.
Many gifted and talented students use and demonstrate an understanding of an
advanced vocabulary and display an outstanding and precise memory. They might
exhibit very efficient thought processes with a quicker understanding of concepts and an
ability to make sense of new and unfamiliar information. Often, they are highly
perceptive to subtleties and able to make connections between apparently unrelated
concepts. These intellectual qualities often assist the student academically.
Many gifted and talented children are perfectionistic, meticulous and precise, often
paying close attention to detail. The Instructor suggests that these students are easily
frustrated in their quest for perfection, and that they often tend to seek approval and
reassurance. Many gifted and talented students are highly creative, display original ideas
and a colorful imagination. Some demonstrate confidence and leadership qualities.
Many seem to have a thirst for knowledge which results in an inquisitive nature and a
general interest in many areas. Many of these qualities are generally observed in the
gifted and talented child in a consistent pattern in many aspects of life, however apparent
or subtle. Still other students exhibit such advanced development, characteristics and
natural talent in only specific areas.
I believe that it is absolutely essential that educators be qualified to recognize patterns
and consistencies among their students, gifted or otherwise, so as to monitor the progress
and development that is or is not being made. Through varied approaches teachers
should observe the learning patterns of his or her students and adapt a method that is
receptive and accommodating to each student's needs, talents and limitations.
Gifted and talented students need a curriculum that will challenge their skills and
abilities and will be appropriately modified to accommodate their individual and
advanced "pace of learning" (Silverman, 1995). Far too many gifted and talented
children become stagnated in the regular classroom with consistently no intellectual
stimulation. There are many productive methods of educating the gifted and talented
child, each with a platform to provide a curriculum that will cultivate the natural abilities
of each child in organized, efficient and lasting ways. Some basic platforms are
acceleration, enrichment and curricular compacting.
Acceleration is a plan that "provides a student with opportunities to move through the
required curriculum at a faster [more appropriate] pace" (Heward, 1996, p. 564).
Acceleration is implemented through a variety of methods. According to Heward, the
many acceleration options include "...grade skipping, dual enrollment in high school and
college, early admission to college, subject acceleration and advanced placement
testing," to name a few. Each method allows both, teacher and student to find the most
appropriate and comfortable level of learning. The benefits of correctly implemented
acceleration have most often outweighed concerns of any potential social and emotional
underdevelopment. Many students benefit from acceleration in greater academic
achievement and advances in creative development.
Curriculum compacting is another method that allows the gifted and talented student
to follow a regular classroom curriculum, but provides a "compresses instructional
content that allows for more