Educating High Ability Students I'm curious to hear thoughts from a wide pool of teachers on the necessity of educating high ability students in a mixed-abilities classroom.  Do you feel that there is a need?  Does your corporation have a well-developed high ability program? What have been your personal experiences with teaching students who have been identified as high ability (gifted and talented)?

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I think it's important to recognize that very few students are actually gifted in all areas of the curriculum uniformly. In many cases a student's abilities are quite different in languages than they are in mathematics, for instance. Making sure that attention is paid to the student's progress in his or her weaker areas as well as in areas of strength is good practice, but is often overlooked.

Additionally, gifted students need to be pushed to develop a solid work ethic in school. I have seen many high school students who coasted through classes with  ease when they were younger; when these students finally reached a teacher who tried to challenge them, they became angry or insulted. We absolutely need to help the most gifted of our students to realize that, smart as they are, they still have a lot to learn to be productive and to reach their full potential.

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I think it's very important to educate such students, lest they become bored with schooling.  Lots of independent work, especially reading, is what I would recommend.  What grades are you thinking of?

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I have to say that my own personal experience, in the classroom, is limited in regards to "gifted" students. While I have some students who "get it," many in the district I teach in are simply happy to pass. Outside of that, my own children are both in advanced placement classes for English and Math. I feel like this atmosphere allows the students to negotiate the material on a more similar level than classrooms in which contain all levels of students.

As an example, I would point out the special education classrooms which teach to lower-level and lower functioning students. They are not in general education classes for a reason (meaning the focus is on the level of the students to which the teacher teaches). This alone is an example of why advanced, or gifted, students need a classroom of their own.

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We also tend to blanket classify students as gifted or remedial and place them in more or less advanced classes across the curriculum, where I believe it calls for a more nuanced approach.  I also think we don't do enough to recognize those that are gifted in the arts vs. those that are in math or science.  I wish our institutions did more to value and validate student talents and abilities in areas that often get overlooked, especially with creative talents.

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As a former resource teacher for gifted/talented students, THANK YOU for all the fabulous responses! Keep up the great work, being sensitive to the special needs of this often over-looked and frequently under-served segment of the population.

Educators say their goal is to challenge every student, to help every student become his/her best. When a student already knows the material being presented in a particular class on a particular day, that student is NOT going to be challenged and is certainly not going to have any reason to stretch or try to accumulate any new skills or knowledge. Differentiation is essential - the only way to provide these students with opportunities to grow and learn is to find out where they are and to help them go further from that point, regardless of where the rest of the class may be.

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I agree that most high-ability students are probably better off in a separate gifted classroom. It certainly is easier for the teacher, who does not have to deal with multiple assignments for different level students; and I believe the more serious scholastic aura of the classroom--without students who are uninterested or who are behavioral problems--is the proper structure for top students. 

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I think it would be better for high ability students if they had most of their classes (or at least those in which they are so advanced) with other high level students.  Being in a mixed-level class is a frustrating experience for so many of the people involved.  The high end students are often bored.  The teacher is frazzled trying to individualize the curriculum.  The lower level students know that they are way worse at the subject than the high level ones.  They don't want to have to participate and just look to the "smart kids" to answer all the questions.  I'd rather have more homogeneous classes.

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I agree with post 2 that gifted students don't always enjoy being identified as gifted. Unfortunately, some teachers just assign gifted students extra work rather than more challenging work. It is important, especially in a mixed abilities class, to assign students work that is geared to their personal level. As an English teacher, I often achieved this by assigning the topics students wrote about or worked on. Gifted students recieved a more complex and challenging topic. I also achieved this by offering a lot of projects that had choices within the assignment. For example, I might allow students to write a paper or complete a highly involved project. Each option required the same amount of research and preparation, but students were able to play into their strengths and complete the assignment they found more interesting. While group projects can be helpful in a mixed ability class, they can also backfire. A gifted student isn't necessarily a great leader or teacher. Placing them as a leader in a group of lower level students might work well but it might also lead to the gifted student simply doing all the work. Placing the gifted students in one group and the lower level students in another is sometimes a good option. Unfortunately, the lower level students tend to become resentful of the gifted students in this type of situation. As a teacher, I don't want any student to be bullied or teased. I think it is important to know your students and see what works best with each individual group.
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Post #2 is a great response, and my experiences with gifted students have been similar. Peer tutoring in small groups is one other way to help challenge gifted students. This often means grouping according (roughly) to ability when breaking off into small discussion or reading groups. Other ways I have handled it include assigning gifted students more challenging topics when doing the same assignments as others.

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Yes, there is a need to educate high ability students no matter what class they are in.  The idea that they can take care of themselves while teachers concentrate on the other levels in the class is a mistake.  Gifted students don't always like being gifted or being identified as gifted as some have had the experience of more work rather than different work.  I don't know what corporations do, but challenging high level students and letting them follow their interests while doing work for class is important.  My own personal experience runs the gamut of teaching from parental pushing to high flyers excited to be able to fly at their pace to groups of high level students talking about English class in the cafeteria trying to decide how to collectively work  to write a short story using their individual talents in the most effective way. Gifted students just need to know that they are  appreciated, can be challenged, can meet challenges they thought weren't probable for them, and that it was ok to be different while working on their group skills which is their greatest weakness.

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