Educating High Ability StudentsI'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...

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)?

Asked on by dmcgillem

13 Answers

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pacorz | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

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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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

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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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

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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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

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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stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

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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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

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. 

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

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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wannam | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

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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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

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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mizzwillie | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

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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wanderista | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 2) Valedictorian

Posted on

Students with high ability should be given more material that extends their knowledge of the subject. It's unfair to let them drag on with a syllabus that isn't challenging them, when they can give so much more to the classroom. Maybe, students with high ability should be put up a class. So say a student is in Year 9 English, and wishes to be extended, they should be given the opportunity to go to Year 10 English and try it out.

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najm1947 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted on


I have always enjoyed the mixed-ability classes both as a teacher and a student at all levels from elementary to university. High-ability students are an asset to the class and keep the interest alive. They not only stimulate the teachers to come to the class well prepared to face tough questions in the class about the subject but also help in creating a real learning by student participation by presenting alternative solutions to specific problems and by asking questions that would lead to further elaboration of the subject topic.

The average or low-ability students benefit from these discussions and have a better understanding of the subject in such environment. However, I must say that I have observed this only in subjects that are more analytical like Math, Science and Engineering subjects. I don't know about other subjects like language and literature whether the high capability students can be advantage in the mixed ability class.

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teach21st | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

All that was said makes sense as every case has unique needs. These are valuable tools. I would add cultivating the artistry of the achievement for the gifted students, not just achieving the goal, but also nurturing other qualities that can translate it into a well felt, enriching experience, be it artistic, or social-humanitarian. In that way the glass ceiling is removed and the fruits of their efforts can travel much farther and gather extra meaning. The world needs their gifts.