Teaching English to the Gifted Student
ERIC Identifier: ED270782
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Fox, Deborah
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills Urbana IL.
A recent upsurge of interest in gifted students has prompted parents, teachers,
administrators, and students themselves to inquire about relevant programs in English.
This digest examines both earlier literature on the subject and two current programs
designed to discern
HOW SHOULD GIFTED STUDENTS BE IDENTIFIED?
- criteria used for identifying gifted students for English and language arts programs,
- particular resources and programs in English and language arts for gifted students, and
- possible methods of evaluating gifted students and programs.
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, where applicable, youth(s), 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. . ." (ERIC
Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children 1978).
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 intelligences:
Clearly, methods other than IQ tests and grade point averages must be used for identifying
gifted/talented students for English and language arts programs. Warnock and Holt
(1985) 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
- the kinesthetic,
- the musical,
- the spatial,
- the interpersonal, and
- he intrapersonal (Scherer 1985).
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 English 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 Critical 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 average.
WHAT ARE SOME KEY PRINCIPLES IN DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE ENGLISH
AND LANGUAGE ARTS PROGRAM FOR THE GIFTED/TALENTED?
Tuttle (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 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."
- 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
- 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
- Evaluate success within the program by 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 we currently use
measure acquisition of knowledge rather than ability to apply knowledge in creative
WHAT SPECIFIC RESOURCES EXIST FOR TEACHING ENGLISH AND LANGUAGE
ARTS TO THE GIFTED/TALENTED STUDENT?
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 text by West mentioned above not only explores the identification of gifted students,
but also suggests classroom activities that will allow teachers to gain insight into
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.
HOW SHOULD GIFTED STUDENTS AND ENGLISH AND LANGUAGE ARTS
PROGRAMS FOR THE GIFTED BE 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. Students must also make
public oral presentations of their findings and answer questions from the audience.
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 past students or by inteviewing them.
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under OERI contract. The opinions
expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or
the Department of Education.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children. ERIC/EC NEWSLETTER,
ed. Jean Nazzarro, 2 (Spring 1978).
Post, Linda Williams. Telephone interview, March 4, 1986.
Reed, Jane D. TEACHING GIFTED STUDENTS LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE IN
GRADES NINE THROUGH TWELVE, updated edition. Sacramento: California State
Department of Education, 1978. ED 157 075.
Scher, Bruce E. Telephone interview, March 4, 1986.
Scherer, Marge. "How Many Ways Is a Child Intelligent?" INSTRUCTOR 94 (Jan.
Tuttle, Frederick B., Jr. "Providing for the Intellectually Gifted." SLATE STARTER
SHEET (Oct. 1979).
Warnock, John and Sue Holt. "Gifted and Talented Education." SLATE STARTER
SHEET (May 1985).
West, William W. TEACHING THE GIFTED AND TALENTED IN THE ENGLISH
CLASSROOM. Teaching the Gifted and Talented in the Content Area Series, Fred B.
Tuttle, Jr., editor. Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1980. ED 197 521.
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