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Characteristics of a Gifted Learner and Ways of Enhancing Them

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Meeting the needs of gifted learners poses a challenge for most educators, thus gifted leaners need to be identified and nurtured for the benefit of gifted learners, educators and the community at large. This essay is going to examine 3 blanket characteristics of a gifted learner and suggest strategies to enhance giftedness in teaching and learning process. Eric (1985) groups characteristics of gifted learners into general behavioural, learning and creative features. A variety of approaches can be used to meet the needs of gifted learners in the classroom. The teacher or educator has the following our areas when developing the curriculum: * The content of the curriculum subject * The processes that engage the students * The products of their studies * The learning environment
Definition of terms
Giftedness
Definition 1: Giftedness is ‘a synchronous development’ in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counselling in order for them to develop optically (Columbus Group, 1991)
Definition 2: Giftedness is the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed natural abilities (called aptitudes or gifts) in at least one ability domain to a degree that places a learner among the top 10% of his or her age peers. (Gagne, F. 1985)
Definition 3:
Teaching
Definition 1: Teaching is an arrangement and manipulation of a situation in which an individual will seek to overcome and from which he will learn in course of doing so. (Brubacher)
Definition 2: Teaching is a form of interpersonal influence aimed at changing the behaviour potential of another person. (Cage)
Definition 3:
A gifted learner’ behaviour differs from their age-mates in several ways. The general behavioural traits of a gifted learner include learning to read early , with better comprehension of the nuances of language ;reading widely, quickly , intensely and have large vocabularies; learning basic skills better , more quickly, and with less practice ;able to construct and handle and handle abstractions; they often pick up and interpret nonverbal clues and can draw inferences that other children need to have spelled out for them ; taking less for granted , seeking to know the “hows” and “whys” ; working independently at an earlier age and can concentrate for longer periods ; their interests are both wildly eclectic and intensely focused ; they often have seemingly boundless energy , which sometimes leads to misdiagnosis of hyperactivity ; relating well with parents , teachers , and adults ; learning new things , are willing to examine the unusual , and are highly inquisitive ;tackling tasks and problems in a well-organized ,goal-directed , efficient manner ;exhibiting an intrinsic motivation to learn ,find out , or explore and are often very persistent.
Highly gifted learners are natural learners and their learning characteristics are as follows: showing keen powers of observation and a sense of significant; reading a great deal on their own , preferring books and magazines written for children older than they are ; often taking great pleasure in intellectual activity ;having well-developed powers of abstraction , conceptualization , and synthesis ; readily seeing cause-effect relationships ; often displaying a questioning attitude and seek information for its own sake as much as for its usefulness ; they are often sceptical , critical ,and evaluative ; they often have a large storehouse of information about a variety of topics ,which they can recall quickly; readily grasping underlying principles and can often make valid generalizations about events, people, objects ; quickly perceiving similarities , differences and anomalies ; and often attacking complicated material by separating it into component and analysing systematically.
The last group of characteristics are creative ones which are summarized below. Creative abilities of gifted learners which set them apart are fluent thinking , ability to generate possibilities , consequences ,or related ideas ; flexible thinking ,seeking new unusual, or unconventional associations and combinations among items of information ; seeing relationships among seemingly unrelated objects , ideas, ideas , responses , or other embellishments to a basic idea , situation or problems ;willingness to entertain complexity and see to thrive on problem solving ; good guessing skills and can readily construct hypothesis ; gifted learners are aware of their own impulsiveness and irrationality , and they show emotional sensitivity ; extremely curious about objects , ideas, situations ,or events ; displaying intellectual playfulness and like to fantasize and imagine ; less intellectual inhibition than their peers in expressing opinions and ideas , and they often disagree spiritedly with others’ statements.
The Intelligent Quotient of gifted learners is above 140. Profoundly gifted learners can score in excess of 170IQ may be prodigies in some particular areas like mathematics, sciences, languages and /or the arts. These unique characteristics increases young gifted learners’ risk of boredom, frustration and depression .Giftedness therefore needs to be recognized so that it can be natured for continuity.
“Gifted learners are likely to be the next generation’s innovator and leaders – yet the exceptionally smart are often invisible in the classroom, lacking curricula, teacher input and external motivation to reach full potential.” (Kell, Lubinski D; Benbow PC –Vanderbilt University).
The essay is now going to discuss ways which can be used to enhance giftedness in the in the teaching and learning process.
The content of a curriculum subject consists of facts, concepts, issues, problems and themes that students study to pursue knowledge. Gifted learners have unique advantageous learning traits; there they will need to work at higher instructional levels, quickly and with a variety of materials. Strategies for providing content at such levels as their requirements are acceleration, telescoping, compacting, independent study, tiered assignments and learning centres.
Acceleration involves placing learners at higher level instruction to meet their needs. This can be done through skipping some forms for example writing ‘O’ levels at form 3.In order for this strategy to be done successfully some activities like advanced extra lessons during school holidays and dual enrolment can be made avail for students identified as gifted. “Acceleration has been shown to be positive for both achieving and underachieving gifted learners in the majority of documented cases.”(Benbow and Stanley 1983; kulik and Kulik 1992)
Telescoping is reducing the amount of time a gifted learner needs to complete a particular level. It is evident in the majority of curriculum subjects in schools for example English that content covered at form 3 and form 4 are a mere repetition of form 1 and form 2 work with little traces of additional content . Therefore telescoping can be introduced to gifted learners as an opportunity to do more demanding work hence reducing boredom, frustration and boredom. Telescoping can work in conjunction with acceleration.
Compacting is a strategy designed to have a student spending less time on regular classroom work and have more time on application of concepts learned in class. This method can be applicable to gifted learners for example gifted students doing sciences at Advanced level. Students doing chemistry for example spend time in class studying physical chemistry in class and taking on more complex areas organic chemistry at their individual education plan. However compacting will need guidance of the teacher so that he can guide the gifted learner to take a direction that will make him/her cover syllabi content.
Independent study is a strategy in which a gifted learner moves from being teacher –directed to student-directed. The student practices to develop an action plan which he/she goes through and uses the teacher as a mentor in the process. This strategy can prove helpful to gifted learners because most of the time teachers would need to focus on a group of 30-50 students, thus a gifted learner’s ability to undergo independent study fruitful and beneficial to both the learner and teacher.
Tiered assignments can be useful in a classroom where there are gifted learners and regular learners. Tiered assignments are whereby learners are given assignments/activities according to their abilities. This is a very useful strategy especially if “the teacher works with student in deciding which questions they will be responsible for completing and in setting evaluation criteria.” (Trefinger, Hohn and Fieldhusen, 1989)
Using learning centres where gifted learners can go to indulge in activities designed to enhance learning. Activities they can indulge in include working on individual / group investigation, watching a video tape, working on computer activity and so forth. Learning centres provide a better environment for students than their communities( high density suburbs /home setting) which are full of activities like drug abuse and other recreational activities that disrupt learning process of gifted learners.
The way in which information obtained by student is put into use is called the learning process. In a usual classroom setting students usual take down notes which they use accordingly to solve problems. Due to learning characteristics of gifted learners such as their ability learn reading early , reading widely , learning basic skills better and more quickly , amongst others mentioned earlier in this paper , it is imperative that a learning process they engage in has to be designed carefully. Einstein and Infeld (1938) says “the formulation of a problem is often more important than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions , new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle , requires imagination and marks real advance in science.” Therefore an educator/teacher should consider the process skills that include higher level thinking , creative thinking , problem solving and research skills when preparing a lesson plan for gifted learners so that their giftedness can be enhanced.
To promote higher level thinking many teachers use Bloom’s Taxonomy to develop curriculum for gifted students. Bloom’s taxonomy is a model frequently used as a guide when designing themes , units , lessons assignments that promote higher level thinking. Bloom proposes educational objectives that have two levels, basic levels and higher levels. Basic levels engage learners in activities that examine their knowledge, comprehension and application of facts and concepts of a particular subject. Whereas higher levels thinking involve analysis , synthesis and evaluation of fact and concepts of a particular subject in order to solve problems and situations . Hence questions that can be asked gifted leaners to promote higher level thinking are those that reveals personal opinions ideas and thoughts which are beyond content perhaps provided for by the teacher. These questions are usual there to allow student to think out of the box, encourage originality and promote creativity.
Creative thinking is a characteristic of gifted learners that should be enhanced during teaching and learning process. Some characteristics of creative people include flexibility, fluency elaboration and originality. Educators can deploy SCAMPER strategy to enhance creative thinking. When thinking about a particular topic of discussion as a teacher ask yourself , “ to create a impacting solution to gifted learners what can i Substitute?
Combine?
Adapt?
Modify?
Put to other uses?
Eliminate?
Rearrange?
The skill to solve problems is key for gifted learners. Their giftedness can be enhanced if the teacher makes use of creative problem solving process initially developed by Parnes and Osborne. This six stage model require that each stage has a (D) – Divergent phase , when many ideas are needed and a ( C) -convergent phase , when decisions are made to choose ideas acceptable. Treffinger, Isaken and Dorval (1994, p.19) modified the model as below so that it could be flexible.
Understanding the problem component * Mess finding
(D)- seeking opportunities for problem solving.
(C) - Establishing a broad, general goal for problem solving. * Data finding
(D) - Examining many details, looking at the mess from many viewpoints
(C)- Determining the most important data to guide problem development. * Problem finding
(D) –considering many problem statements
(C) – constructing or selecting a specific problem statement (stating the challenge).
Generating ideas component * Idea finding
(D) – Producing many, varied and unusual ideas
(C ) – Identifying promising possibilities alternatives or options having interesting potentials.
Planning for action component * Solution finding
(D) – Developing criteria for analysing and refining promising possibilities
(C) - Choosing criteria and applying them to select, strengthen and support promising solutions. * Acceptance Finding
(D) – Considering possible sources of assistance / resistance and possible actions for implementation
(C) – Formulating a new strategies
The above problem solving process can be taught to gifted learners especially for their project. For example during the Science Exhibition (SEIT) for secondary and primary schools. A teacher in charge can propose students to use this process so that they can come up with better solution to problems of major concern. SEIT is a programme that challenges students to come up with models that seek to address problems faced by the community at district , provincial and national level . Gifted learners usual take part in these kinds of activities general behaviour traits. This problem solving technic should be learnt by all gifted learner if they want to be achievers as adults because their journey to success as leaders , innovators , inventors in the community solely depends on their ability to solve problems.
Developing Research skills as a learning process is also key to enhancing giftedness in learners. Besides finding information from books gifted learners should practice interviewing and surveying as methods of finding facts about their projects. Interviewing is a simple technic that requires them to go into the field where experts are. For example computer studies students used this technic to do their projects write ups paper 2 of their Zimsec final exam. This would project would require them to develop a system that could be used in a particular business entity. Thus, developing interviewing skills came in handy for gifted learners who exceled in their projects.
These computer studies projects are examples of activities that give students an opportunity for gifted learners and non-gifted learners alike to use their learning style strengths and personal preferences to represent their knowledge. So , in order to enhance gifted learners products that include models , stories , systems , displays and so on have to be incorporated into the curriculum. The learners’ products should be allowed to reach a broad audience in order to stimulate their interest or as a push factor.
Lastly the essay is going to dwell on the environment as area to be changed if giftedness in gifted learners is going to be enhanced. The Learning environment consists of the physical as well as social and emotional environment that the teacher and student create. A physical environment conducive for learners include interest centres , a variety of working spaces , and a full range of learning material so that students can exposed to new topics and challenges. A social and emotional environment is an environment that is free from emotional and social abuse no bullies, no recreational drugs, no loud music. The environments of learning affect all learners. However, highly gifted learners often feel different and isolated , thus their environment should have information about some famous people ( people like them who have made it) so that they can study them through bibliography and other things. The environment they are in should also promote grouping by ability for example mathematics Olympiad in Harare province where representatives (gifted learners) from several schools participate in solving math problems at district and then provincial level. This gives gifted learners to meet other like-minded people hence get the much needed motivator.

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