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Steve Haberlin's picture
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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Twice Exceptional- Emphasize the Strength, Compensate the Weakness

If your child is weak in mathematics and strong in music, we usually get him a math teacher and not a piano teacher. If you did in fact focus on his strengths and not his weakness, that same child could become a great musician, and then he can hire an accountant to do his math.
Deepak Chopra

According to Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis in their book, Light Up Your Childs Mind, the student was a young boy, who loved taking nature photographs, but he also had a disability that made writing and spelling very difficult.

Utilizing his strength and interests, yet compensating his disability, the boys teacher required him to write reports on natural phenomena that interested him. While getting to express his photographical skills, the boy still had to write descriptions of his project, stretching himself in the process. The boy took photos, connected with a local photographer, who mentored him, and went on to win a state science fair medal. He learned in a way that accented his talent rather than be punished for his apparent disability in writing.

Twice-exceptional students are those that have been identified as having gifts or above average abilities but also possess a learning disability. These students prove a challenge since their giftedness can often overshadow their disability, or vice-versa, making them harder to identify. However, once a student is identified as twice-exceptional, a decision must be made by schools as to the best way to educate the child. While there are a number of approaches to serving gifted learning disabled (LD) students, one method has shown promising results: emphasizing a students apparent strengths and talents while helping them to compensate for their weaknesses.

This strength-based approach has shown to not only help students improve their academic shortcomings, but in the process of developing their strengths, has shown to boost the childs often-damaged self-esteem. With the surge of interest in the Response to Intervention (R.T.I) program, the need for a strengths-based approach for serving the twice-exceptional student has become magnified.

Emphasizing Strengths

Gifted LD students are those that exhibit above-average abilities in some area (allowing them to qualify for gifted program services), however, they also exhibit some academic weakness. For instance, a student might have a strong interest and natural affinity for science but have difficulty with spelling and conventions when writing papers. The fact that a child possesses giftedness in some area provides teachers with the opportunity to capitalize on that particular strength or strengths when designing the appropriate level of services. Studies have found the philosophy towards how to best instruct the twice-exceptional student is critical. For these students to thrive academically and remain challenged, it is helpful to first view them as being gifted and see their disability as secondary. The focus, therefore, must be placed on developing the strength while appropriately compensating the weakness .Not the opposite.

While having merit, the danger of programs like R.T.I., which provide various levels of interventions for students, is that gifted LD students are mainly serviced in areas of disability and lack opportunities to explore and develop strengths and talents. These students require access to remediation for their difficulties as well as enrichment opportunities. One reason is that failing to allow students these much-needed opportunities can have implications among gifted students, extending far beyond academics. Studies have shown that when provided such opportunities, and when twice-exceptional students were treated as other gifted students, they made strong gains in their self-concept and attitude toward school. Dont get me wrong: educators must address a students disability and teach them to successfully compensate itbut there different ways to reach that goal.

Workable Model

A greatexample of how we can emphasize gifted LD students strengths while addressing their weaknesses came from a study conducted by Susan Baum. She followed the course of seven gifted LD students, who were instructed using Renzullis Enrichment Triad model, which involves students participating in three phases: general exploratory, skills training, and independent and small research projects. According to Baum, six of the seven students in the pilot program showed gains in self-esteem, learning behavior, and creative productivity. Other similar ventures had also proved successful with twice-exceptional students. Renzulli and Reis write about how several gifted LD students with a love of Legos were taken to the Lego headquarters, where they spoke with engineers and learned about various structural designs. The boys ended up accepting a challenge to design and build original structures for a museum display planned by Lego. These students not only received a boost in self-esteem but willingly took on long division, spelling, and other academic tasks that were normally met with a negative reaction.

If you take anything away from this blog, I hope its that when working with twice-exceptional students, you try to accentuate their strengths while effectively compensating their disability. When designing interventions, you first start with their strengths, talents, and passions, and use that as to context to accommodate their weakness. Remember, as Deepak Chopra likes to point out about a math student who loved tennis, maybe the childwill win Wimbledon someday and then he or shecan hire an accountant.

Wishing you success,

Steve