Teaching English to Gifted Students
ERIC Identifier: ED400561
Publication Date: 1996-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
This Digest reviews the literature on the subject of teaching English to gifted students,
examining how to identify students who are gifted in the areas of English and language
arts, outlining some principles for developing effective programs in English and
language arts for the gifted, and suggesting possible methods of evaluating gifted
students and programs.
HOW SHOULD GIFTED STUDENTS BE IDENTIFIED?
Definitions of gifted/talented students are numerous. Many are similar to that in the
1978 House of Representatives resolution on education, which defines gifted students
as "children, and, when applicable, youth, who are identified at the preschool,
elementary, or secondary level as possessing demonstrated or potential abilities that
give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative,
specific academic or leadership ability, or in the performing and visual arts..." (Nazarro,
The use of only grade point averages and IQ scores to classify students as
gifted/talented has led to growing concern about procedures for identifying gifted
students. Howard Gardner, noted Harvard neuropsychologist, has suggested that
although the IQ test measures the linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligences, it
does not account for at least five more: (1) the kinesthetic, (2) the musical, (3) the
spatial, (4) the interpersonal, and (5) the intrapersonal (Scherer, 1985). Clearly,
methods other than IQ tests and grade point averages must be used for identifying
gifted/talented students for English and language arts programs (Collins and Aiex,
1995). Warnock and Holt (1985) and Delisle and Berger (1990) further note that
gifted/talented students include not only students who do well in school but others who
may not do well and who may not display easily observable talent.
William W. West expresses a similar point of view. In Teaching the Gifted and Talented
in the English Classroom (1980), West not only identifies obvious characteristics of the
verbally gifted, such as reading avidly, writing frequently and fluently, and participating
in oral communication activities, but also stresses the importance of observing students
who exhibit signs of disruptive behavior, pointing out that these students may simply be
bored or unchallenged.
Criteria for determining gifted/talented students for exemplary programs vary, as may be
seen in two programs cited in 1985 by the National Council of Teachers of English as
Centers of Excellence. Students identified as gifted/talented for the Eleventh Grade
Honors Program at Temple High School (Temple, Texas) are selected chiefly by means
of grade point average, writing skills, and teacher recommendations, although IQ scores
are also considered (Post, 1986). At Princeton High School (Princeton, Illinois),
admission to the five-course Independent Study Curriculum is based on a number of
criteria. These include not only grade point average and an intelligence test, but also a
critical thinking evaluation (Watson-Glasser Thinking Appraisal), achievement test
scores (SRA and Gates-MacGinitie), and two teacher evaluations (Scher, 1986).
Clearly, some successful programs for the gifted in English and language arts do not
restrict admission criteria to IQ scores and grade point averages.
WHAT ARE SOME KEY PRINCIPLES IN DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE ENGLISH AND LANGUAGE ARTS PROGRAM FOR THE
Frederick B. Tuttle, Jr. (1979), writing about English programs for
gifted students, identifies four principles for developing an effective program.
These principles may be applied to the development of English and language arts
programs for gifted students. As Scher (1986) points out, "A gifted program not only
gives students a sound foundation in verbal, reading, and critical thinking skills but
allows them to use these skills in an interdisciplinary fashion." Or, as another teacher
puts it in a slightly different way: "The time is ripe for teachers to work relentlessly to
create classroom situations in which students are tempted, cajoled, seduced, provoked
and firmly rewarded not for being excellent, but for thinking" (Peterson et al., 1992).
- Design a curriculum that builds upon the characteristics of the intellectually gifted.
While all students need to develop "basic skills," gifted students can often acquire these
as they develop their other, more advanced abilities.
- Provide for continuity. Teachers and administrators at all grade levels should arrive at
a consensus regarding the different components of the program and the procedures for
carrying it through the grades.
- Select teachers on the basis of their ability to work with the intellectually gifted and
the talented. These teachers should be vitally interested in the gifted, highly intelligent,
and emotionally secure, and possess advanced knowledge of their subject matter.
- Evaluate success within the program on the quality of the work produced rather than
by tests of mastery of lower level skills. This will often necessitate the design of new
evaluation instruments and procedures, since most of the tests currently being used
measure acquisition of knowledge rather than ability to apply knowledge in creative
WHAT SPECIFIC RESOURCES EXIST FOR TEACHING ENGLISH AND LANGUAGE ARTS TO GIFTED/TALENTED STUDENTS?
A number of publications
may assist the English and language arts teacher in identifying gifted/talented students
and developing an appropriate program for them. For example, the aforementioned text
by West explores the identification of gifted students' verbal fluency, originality,
flexibility, and ability to elaborate, synthesize, and reach closure. A design for a lesson
sequence and an example of a teaching sequence are included, as well as suggestions
for selecting unit themes.
Jane D. Reed's Teaching Gifted Students Literature and Language in Grades Nine
through Twelve (1978) discusses topics related to English programs for gifted high
school students: philosophical principles, the study of literature, specific examples of
subject matter content in literature, the relationships among various phases of
language, descriptions of kinds of gifted English students, procedures for conducting
literature and language programs for the gifted, and the evaluation of English programs
for the gifted student. Looking for a practical way to help gifted English students in a
lower socioeconomic high school setting, Alice Shipman-Campbell (1994) developed a
practicum to increase the number and success rate of junior Honors English students
taking the English Advanced Placement (AP) examinations. The majority of the students
were Latino and African American and somewhat fearful about tests.
Shipman-Campbell designed test-taking strategies to allay students' fears and held
academic pep rallies to motivate the students. Meanwhile, she taught them style
analysis of language and literature. Other key elements that contributed to student
success were daily collaborative learning groups and motivational guest speakers in the
classroom. Outcomes were positive--not only did the number of juniors taking the test
increase, but students also demonstrated more confidence in themselves as English
students and as test takers. An added benefit was the students' newfound pleasure in
reading, analyzing, and writing about literature.
HOW SHOULD GIFTED STUDENTS AND ENGLISH AND LANGUAGE ARTS PROGRAMS FOR THE GIFTED BY EVALUATED?
Gifted students, like any other
students, must be evaluated. Although it is possible to use traditional methods of
evaluation, more innovative methods are also appropriate. Not all practitioners agree,
however, on the best methods of evaluation. Scher says that students in the Princeton
(Illinois) High School program are not given objective tests, since they have already
demonstrated their ability to do well on such tests. Instead, evaluations are based on
the writing process, with precision and accuracy as primary evaluation criteria. Students
enrolled in a research and analysis course must apply their knowledge of logic,
reasoning, and research methods to an investigation of their choice and produce a
project in a form compatible with the topic.
Reed (1978) notes a method of evaluation in which the teacher evaluates not only
individual students but also the program itself by carefully observing the class during the
course or during a unit to determine whether or not students are progressing
satisfactorily. One technique involves having each student maintain a manila folder
containing descriptions of projects in progress or completed, lists of things read, and
written papers that have been graded. These folders will allow the teacher to do a
simple check of the accomplishments of each student.
Program evaluation is often conducted through external tests, from standardized
achievement tests, to SAT verbal test scores, to advanced placement tests. Reed
cautions, however, that such tests are imperfect tools in the evaluation process and so
should not be heavily considered.
Evaluation can also be conducted by having students evaluate a course while they are
participating in it. Although student surveys may exhibit some bias, they are worthwhile
because gifted students tend to be able to cite strengths and weaknesses of programs
in which they participate. Finally, program evaluation may be conducted after students
leave school by sending evaluation forms to former students or by interviewing them.
This publication was prepared with partial funding from the Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract number
RR93002011. Points of view or opinions, however, do not necessarily represent the
official view of the Office of Education.
Collins, Norma Decker, and Nola Kortner Aiex (1995). "Gifted Readers and Reading
Instruction." ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English,
and Communication. [ED 379 637]
Delisle, James, and Sandra Berger (1990). "Underachieving Gifted Students." ERIC
Digest #E478. Reston, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children.
[ED 321 483]
Nazarro, Jean, Ed. (1978). "ERIC/EC Newsletter, 2." Reston, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Handicapped and Gifted Children.
Peterson, Nancy Ruth, et al. (1992). "Being Special (A Symposium)." English Journal,
81(6), 34-43. [EJ 451 323]
Post, Linda Williams (1986). Telephone interview, March 4, 1986.
Reed, Jane D. (1978. Teaching Gifted Students Literature and Language in Grades
Nine through Twelve, updated edition. Sacramento, CA: State Department of Education.
[ED 157 075]
Scher, Bruce E. (1986). Telephone interview, March 4, 1986.
Scherer, Marge (1985). "How Many Ways Is A Child Intelligent?" Instructor, 94(5),
32-35. [EJ 310 778]
Shipman-Campbell, Alice (1994). "Increasing the Number and Success Rate of Junior
Honors English Students in Taking English Advanced Placement Examinations." Ed.D.
Practicum, Nova University. [ED 376 496]
Tuttle, Frederick B., Jr. (1979). "Providing for the Intellectually Gifted." SLATE Starter
Sheet. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
Warnock, John, and Sue Holt (1985). "Gifted and Talented Education." SLATE Starter
Sheet. Urbana, IL: NCTE. [ED 263 624]
West, William W. (1980). Teaching the Gifted and Talented in the English Classroom.
Washington, DC: National Education Association. [ED 197 521]
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