Ten things to remember

Highly able learners are as diverse as any other group of learners. Therefore there is no one way to support learners who are highly able but the materials and ideas in these webpages will help you to plan challenging learning experiences in your school.  These ten key things to remember are adapted from a list developed for teachers in the USA. The examples are drawn from practice and experiences in Scottish schools.

Ten key things to remember

  1. Highly able learners are not all alike. They vary in respect to abilities, domain-specific aptitude, interests and predispositions, and motivation and personality. Thus there is no one way to respond to their diverse needs.
  2. Highly able learners benefit from interaction with intellectual peers. Intellectual peerage contributes to important growth patterns in all subject areas (Kulik & Kulik, 1992).  While it is good to experience cooperative learning carried out in heterogeneous classroom settings, they also need an intellectual peer. Think on your buddy system but for intellectual support. Pairing up younger highly able learners with older learners who have the same interests can develop skills and abilities in both.
  3. Highly able learners will need various forms of acceleration throughout their school years, including content acceleration and for some this may include working in classes or with year groups in advance of their chronological age (Renzulli & Reis, 2003; Clasen & Clasen, 2003). There is no point in asking a child who can add, subtract, multiply and divide before starting school to learn number bonds to ten. Using existing data about what the learner can do to plan next steps is crucial.
  4. Highly able learners are capable of producing high level products in specific areas of learning at the level of a competent adult.  For example, primary five learners can draft a policy for pollution that would rival an adult community committee. Allowing them to do this as part of their class work is important and, importantly, it allows them to feed the information they know back into the class setting.
  5. Highly able learners need to be challenged and stimulated by an advanced and enriched curriculum that is above their current level of functioning in each area of learning (VanTassel-Baska, 2003). Curriculum for Excellence offers great opportunities for providing this as there are no ceilings. Look across the E&O levels, look across the resources available and talk with your colleagues within the school to develop appropriate activities.
  6. Highly able learners need to be sufficiently challenged, exposed to appropriate level work, and motivated to excel (Croft, 2003). Staff could work with additional support for learning staff and/or psychological services to gain a greater understanding of this group of learners.
  7. Highly able learners at primary school will benefit from flexible scheduling to accommodate their needs. For example, in primary school they could work with associated secondary school staff; at secondary school level, they may require access to advanced materials through access to experts in the field/industry etc, online learning opportunities, contact with Universities (Feldhusen, 2003).
  8. Highly able learners will require the same ongoing psychosocial, academic, and career preparation as other learners (Colangelo, 2003; Greene, 2003; Jackson & Snow, 2004; Silverman, 1993).  Having one member of staff to work with e.g. the person coordinating additional support for learning, may be a good staffing model to employ as over time they will have built up a good relationship with the learner and will have in depth knowledge of their learning needs.
  9. Some highly able learners have affective characteristics that render them vulnerable in school settings such as perfectionism, sensitivity, and intensity (Lovecky, 1992; Robinson, 2002). Staff should be aware of this when working with them and should also consider how to support them in group and class settings.
  10. Highly able learners in general will often have healthy social relationships and adjust well to new situations (Robinson, 2002). This should be remembered when concerns for social development more than cognitive growth are discussed. There are many excellent programmes in place to support the emotional development of learners but these should not be at the expense of cognitive development. Cognitive and emotional social development need to be fostered hand in hand.

Adapted from Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Ed.D.; Center for Gifted Education; The College of William and Mary, USA

Clasen, D. R., & Clasen, R. E. (2003). Mentoring the gifted and talented. In N. Colangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed., pp. 254-267). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Colangelo, N. & Davis, G. (Eds.) (2003). Handbook of gifted education. (3rd ed). MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Croft, L. J. (2003). Teachers of the gifted: Gifted teachers. In N. Colangelo & G. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed., pp. 558-571). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Feldhusen, J.F. (2003). Precocity and acceleration. Gifted Education International, 17(1), 55-58.

Greene, M. (2003). Gifted adrift? Career counseling of the gifted and talented. Roeper Review, 25, 66-72.

Jackson, & Snow. (2004). Counseling Gifted Students and their Families. In Boothe, D., & Stanley, J. C. (Eds.). In the eyes of the beholder: Critical issues for diversity in gifted education. (Chapter 14). Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.

Kulik, J. A., & Kulik, C.C. (1992). Meta-analytic findings on grouping programs. Gifted Child Quarterly, 36, 73-77.

Lovecky, D. V. (1992). Exploring social and emotional aspects of giftedness in children.Roeper Review,15,18-25.

Maker, C. J., & Schiever, S. W. (2005). Teaching models in education of the gifted (3rd ed.). Austin, TX: PRO-ED.

Renzulli, J. S., & Reis, S. M. (2003). The schoolwide enrichment model: Developing creative and productive giftedness. In N. Colangelo, & G.A. Davis (Eds.) Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed., pp.184-203). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Robinson, N. M. (2002). Assessing and advocating for gifted students: Perspectives for school and clinical psychologists. Senior scholars series. Storrs, CT: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented, University of Connecticut.

Silverman, L. K. (Ed.). (1993). Counseling the gifted and talented. Denver: Love Publishing Company.

VanTassel-Baska, J. (2003). Curriculum planning and instructional design for gifted learners. Denver, CO: Love  Publishing.