EDUCATION: Dealing with gifted students in the class
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Abdulkarim Mugisha, now in senior three at Riviera High School, Kigali, was the best pupil countrywide when he sat his primary exams in 2014. Even after joining high school, he continued to come top in class and was always ahead of his fellow students and sometimes the teachers.
For instance, while in Senior Two, according to his former mathematics teacher, he did a mathematics paper meant for Senior Three and passed even better than those in S3.
Boniface Onyango, the principal at Riviera High School, believes that children like Mugisha require a lot of tact and preparation from the teachers when it comes to handling them.
He says that so much emphasis has been placed on struggling/slow learners that it is assumed that gifted students can take care of themselves, which is not the case.
“Just like teachers put more effort in helping slow learners to cope, working with gifted students also require strategies to ensure they are motivated to work harder,” he says.
What are best strategies?
Onyango notes that before a teacher goes to class, they need to make sure they have enough content and be prepared enough so that they don’t find themselves being challenged or ridiculed by the gifted students.
“It’s because most of the time such students always tend to read ahead of teachers, and more often they do a lot of research. Being prepared is important as it helps the teacher to respond to their questions better,” he says.
Onyango points out that creating a gap between slow learners and gifted students ought to be avoided.
“Find a good balance to engage them in different academic activities so that each student is comfortable and able to understand what they are taught. Arranging the class so that every student fits is recommended to avoid others being left out,” he says.
Onyango also says encouraging such students to explore various aspects of life is important.
But Theogene Hakizimana, a parent and a motivation speaker, explains that, gifted students always have answers, and as a teacher being honest with them is important.
“Teachers should be ready to learn or be corrected, especially when they are challenged by their students about different topics. When they fail to do that, a gifted student will always feel inferior and never want to inquire more especially where they feel they are correct, diminishing their potential to explore their gift,” he says.
Fredrick Karakire,a teacher at Apaper Complex School, Kicukiro, says generally each and every child is talented in something, but depending on how a teacher sees a particular student, they should have strategies to help the extra ordinary students to get better.
“For instance, the best way is a teacher being able to help such students at a young age. It gives them the necessary resilience to persist even in the difficult learning tasks as they move through the different levels of learning,” he says.
Karakire also believes that for a gifted student to prosper, it also requires a gifted teacher.
“The teacher should be in a position to teach in an intuitive manner. This is because such a teacher will be in a position to help a student grow their natural gifts. Such a teacher will push gifted students to higher personal standards, rather than just giving them more work to do or asking them to tutor other students who are slow learners,” he adds.
A Kigali based counsellor, Joyce Kirabo on the other hand, says teachers have been equipped with a wide range of skills that enable them to handle each and every student.
“First of all, the best way to go about it is a teacher giving such students special activities that will be able to always keep them pre-occupied. This is because most of the gifted students are always ahead of others in terms of assignments and even responding to questions in class,” she says.
Kirabo adds that this will make them not to feel bored.
“A teacher should also be in a position to repackage special activities to the gifted students, which suits their level of intelligence so that it can motivate them to work harder.
“Organizing group work is vital. This will help the gifted student play the role of a leader and guide their fellow students in the assignment they are doing,” she says.
Kirabo notes that asking them to play such roles makes them feel that their efforts are being recorgonised, and it will motivate them to work harder.
Education experts also say parents of gifted children are often active advocates for their children. If you are not prepared for this, it can be a bit unnerving. Therefore, they advise teachers to collaborate with them, rather than resist them, to work together to see that their child’s needs are met.
For example, if they want their child to have more challenging experiences in math, enlist their help in finding better curriculum options.
Gary A. Davis explains in his book, Gifted Children and Gifted Education: A Handbook for Teachers and Parents that teachers must engage gifted students at different levels according to their needs. This is often an ignored spectrum of differentiation.
“Some teachers view gifted students as nuisances, while other teachers are intimidated by them. In truth, the effective instruction of gifted students requires a gifted teacher. This does not mean that the teacher has to be smarter, more talented or more able than the students. It means that the teacher must be able to teach in a gifted and intuitive manner,” he explains.