As a gifted educator, the past six years I have been called to pay attention to many aspects of my students’ development. My students’ academic and social-emotional developments are of equal value to me. In my experience, one directly informs the other. Over the years I have developed strategies to balance these academic needs while simultaneously attending to social-emotional development. My role is complicated, to say the least. I dedicate countless hours outside of instruction to education planning and behavioral support.
Gifted learners are defined by their asynchrony: one of my seven-year old students may be able to solve calculus problems but be unable to work on more than one per day due to their limited attention span. They may not yet read but can discuss the emotional nuances of Shakespeare. I have found that gifted children thrive in smaller learning environments where there is more ability for differentiated instruction. They alternately require more attention to share and guide their academic excitement and more freedom to pursue their learning interests at their own pace. The resources available online are a huge asset to these learners, both for the quality of content and flexibility in scheduling periods of focus and rest.
My students have outstandingly high needs for autonomy book-ended by very high needs for control. Online learning allows for easy individual differentiation; many academic content areas may come very easily to students, so they are embarrassed and frustrated when confronted with content with which they struggle. They enjoy this challenging work without the pressure of an audience of age-mates who may have more or less ease with the content than they do. My students have a sense of independence during this learning time with academic programs that I know match content to their learning needs, and they control the timing. Everybody wins!
A big part of my job is coaching behavioral learning with the students, such as how to manage peer interactions, while also providing coaching on executive functioning, including how to break complex projects into manageable steps. Students sometimes associate my voice with my interventions to challenge and guide intense behavior, and I do not want that association with behavior management to impede their academic focus. I join my students in watching educational videos, and we discuss the academic content as partners in learning. While I model academic curiosity and respectful collaboration, I also become more available to deal with student behavior.
I look forward to the time when my students fully connect with their intrinsic motivation for learning and discovery. Just as adults often use Internet resources, so will these children. I know I can increase my impact by helping them grow as independent learners. Online learning frees me from the burdens of direct instruction to focus on curriculum planning for project-based learning and the social-emotional development of the children. They are free to continue this work at home, but homework is a topic of a different article.
Here are some examples of online learning tools that I use. I value the free and accessible work of the Khan Academy because the academic explanations are generous and engaging. I particularly enjoy ALEKS for math learning targets and Starfall.com for reading/phonics instruction. ALEKS is a wonderful resource that allows students to work at their own pace, with detailed explanations and easy-to-interpret progress management. Starfall.com is an interactive, visually exciting and fun website for pre-readers to emergent readers. Not to mention most of the content on Starfall.com is available at the attractive price of free!