I read this account (via Quartz) of a NYC public school student who is exceptionally gifted intellectually, but (in part because of his intellect), was really struggling with attention on class, interacting with and understanding his peers emotionally, and otherwise doing "school" activities. Ordinarily, these behaviors would sound alarm as a child probably in need of an IEP and special accommodations, but because of his strengths elsewhere, the necessity for services and supports are either masked or compensated for by the student, or ignored by his teachers.
This boy's experience was a representative anecdote for what educational psychologists are calling "twice exceptional" children - children who may be traditionally "gifted" in one area, but in desparate need for interventions and supports in areas of the school environment. (Special Ed Manual from Idaho Dept of Education) This boy's story went on to recount bullying the boy ended up enduring even in a "gifted" classroom and a general dislike and failure of school. He had taught himself to read before he was 4, but was regressing in a classroom setting he struggled to adapt to and cope with.
Do you have any students like this?
Have you ever assumed that a bright student must also work well and lead in a group setting? If you've seen the Steve Jobs biopic or are familiar with his story, you've experienced this fallacy)
Have you ever been surprised that a student on your IEP list in a co-taught special ed classroom might be need the most support emotionally or behaviorally, but ALSO be the most gifted intellectually? (That IEP stigma can stick hard, can't it?)
Do you ever find yourself giving "gifted" students a free pass on other aspects of learning and growth?
Thinking through my own experience working with these students (and maybe even reflecting on myself as a student), let me share with you some tips for supporting the needs of "twice exceptional" students and engaging them in your classroom.
1. Don't assume that your "smart" or "honors" students must also have the best behavior.
Honors students may need your PBIS measures and expectations reminders, too.
If you're struggling with a student's behavior, you may be particularly frustrated that he or she isn't being a "leader" for the others. Thy may really WANT to be "good," but be unable to for some reason (and this probably frustrates the student, too.)
2. Focus on educating the WHOLE student.
Kids that are exceptionally gifted in one subject math give up or accept that others are (and will always be) weaknesses. As the student stresses one and ignores the other, the divide between strength and weakness will only widen. Find nuggets a student can mine and go further. If you really believe that your students should be life-long learners, then no matter how bright your student may be he or she STILL has things to learn - things to learn from YOU.
3. Have a conference with parents early I'm about ways they would like to see their child receive extra support or be challenged to improve.
Whether or not they can EXPRESS it in edu-speak, they have goals for their child's interventions. One of the most shocked/delighted reactions I can remember at parent-teacher conferences was when I told the parents of a student with a 36 on the math portions of the ACT that I was really wanting to work on his writing and communication of all the math he could perform operationally.
4. Let the genius/crazy happen as it wants to.
Resist the urge to fit your twice exceptional students into whatever mold you want to see them in as "successful." If they're introverted, don't force group work on them. (But find ways to force interactions on them in more digestible nuggets). If your student has noise or sound sensitivities, be prepared to adapt your lecture/lesson to that student being able to isolate themselves when they're overwhelmed, but still continue learning activities. Give a student's work time to bloom and come to a full realization before you shoot it down. I've dismissed several "bad" drawings from my 4year old in this manner that after I listened to her explain it, I saw her reasoning and artistry more clearly.
5. Be proactive in your support.
Conference ithat he student and acknowledge that you understand and are aware of their needs, but also that you have a plan of x, y, z for them as a student in your classroom and in your subject. Engage them in that journey.