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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Knowledge + Skill Meeting Student Needs = Success

I definitely wasn’t ready to meet the needs of my first-ever self-contained class of gifted fifth-graders. Twenty-something intellectually advanced, highly creative –and often misbehaved—students spending the entire day with me. After teaching middle school in the general classroom for several years, I accepted a position teaching gifted students.  I had no formal training in gifted education (something that the students’ parents were quick to point out during open house) but was allowed to instruct in this area with the promise that I would take five, gifted education endorsement courses offered by the school district; in other words, I learned as I went along.  Maybe not the best strategy, but they needed teachers. 

            Making matters worse, due to some clever scheduling by my colleagues, I wound up with a majority of gifted students, who had histories of underachievement and behavior problems. So, I wasn’t just faced with figuring out how to teach gifted kids---but the most challenging gifted kids. I (barely) survived the school year, but overtime, grew in experience as well as in formal education (completed my master’s degree in gifted education). Looking back, however, I realize that I just wasn’t at a point in my career where I could adequately meet those particular students’ needs.  I lacked the skill, the experience, the know-how, to design the appropriately challenging curriculum these kids needed and to address their social and emotional needs (of which this class had plenty). Without getting too detailed, that year, I worked with gifted children who had serious moral dilemmas, socialization problems, motivation issues, and other challenges.  They needed a master teacher of gifted—I just wasn’t there yet.

            The good news is, after considering some challenging gifted students I presently work with, I feel confident saying that I am much better prepared to meet their needs.  I can skillfully modify instruction to meet academic needs, and I can address, with the help of counselors, teachers, and other adults, their affective development. The difference, I believe, comes down to this formula:

Knowledge + Skill Meeting Student Needs = Success

            That means that when a teacher has the necessary knowledge and skill for working with gifted students, and when that experience and knowledge comes in contact with the needs of these students, success is the result. The formula also suggests that, until a teacher obtains the necessary knowledge and skill, they are unable to sufficiently meet the needs of their gifted students.  This also why I think it is almost impossible for general classroom teachers—who is tasked with meeting the needs of students on all academic levels- to successfully meet the needs of their gifted students, and therefore, should not be expected to meet those needs without the help of a specialist such as resource teacher or they must be provided the proper training.

So how do you use this formula? Well, the second half of formula will never change—gifted students will also have needs. That’s given. The only part of the formula you can change is to increase your knowledge and skill to the point where you can effectively meet those needs.

The following is my best advice on increasing your knowledge and skill level within the field of gifted ed:

  • Study the experts. There are researchers who have dedicated their careers to discovering how to meet the academic and affective needs of the gifted. Read the work of Joseph Renzulli, Sandra Kaplan, Susan Baum, Jim Delisle and others (there are many others, too many to list here).


  • Frontload your training. If possible, take gifted certification courses or get a master’s degree in gifted before entering the field. I know teachers, who have completed their endorsement courses while teaching general ed students then made the switch to teaching gifted. Learning initially about the characteristics of gifted children, academic needs, screening and identification, and other topics would have made a world of difference for me.


  • Collaborate with other teachers of the gifted. You will learn so much from just talking with colleagues about what projects and lessons they are using with their students.I teach at a summer program for gifted and advanced students, where I work with other teachers of gifted in the school district, and I always pick up new ideas and methods from hanging around them.


  • Teach. Experiment. Reflect.To gain true skill, you need experience. It’s one thing to read about what works with gifted students, it’s another to actually have implemented models, strategies, and information. Also, what might work in one school or with one particular student may not work with another, so you have to learn from the experts and adjust your methods to fit your particular situation.


        How do you know when you are on the right track? Use the formula. Once you gain the skill and experience you will meet student needs, and success will be the result. That success might translate to academic success, but it might surface in other ways. For example, a child struggling to make friends could become more socially adept or a child dealing with perfectionism might begin to set more realistic, healthy goals. You will know when you start producing results with students, and at times, parents and teachers will also start noticing your power. Stick with it—you will only get better with time.