Gifted children have distinctive learning needs. Many come to school with very advanced knowledge in certain subjects, strong areas of interests, the facility to think critically and the ability to learn more quickly than their peers.
To learn at their challenge level, these students may require structures and supports in school that allow them to move beyond the regular curriculum. Parents of gifted and talented children recognize this need and frequently find themselves advocating for differentiated learning opportunities at their schools.
The following points provide suggestions and cautions for parents to consider when advocating for appropriate educational opportunities for their gifted children.
- your homework
- make connections and seek suggestions
- use data to advocate
- stay positive and tread lightly
- offer to assist
- be afraid to speak up
- accept or request a grade skip without guidance
- fear being the squeaky wheel
- change schools unless necessary
- give up
Check out available resources for parents and teachers of gifted students. Many state gifted associations provide ideas and suggestions when seeking services for your gifted child. These resources include local conferences, workshops or newsletters that can guide your efforts.
The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) offers parents and educators key advocacy tips. The Hoagies Gifted website provides a free, massive repository of information, resources and suggestions for parents, teachers and school administrators. In addition, Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) and the 2e Newsletter have archived articles that focus on the unique social, emotional and academic needs of gifted students.
Learn from the experiences of others. Go online to see what is occurring in other schools. Look for blogs where you can learn about possibilities to suggest to your school. Hear what other parents are doing to provide additional enrichment opportunities for their gifted children. Check around for gifted parent groups that you can join.
Use achievement test results to show evidence that your child has already mastered grade level content. Use ability test results to show that he or she has high potential that requires differentiated curriculum and instruction. Request that your child take out-of-level tests to accurately assess academic needs and growth. This will build a strong case that he or she needs above-grade level work or enrichment to gain skills and knowledge.
Refer to your school district’s funding allocations. Find out what amount of resources is dedicated to gifted students. Promote the notion that the school’s general fund exists to educate all students, including those with exceptional learning needs.
When speaking with teachers and administrators, state your concerns in a positive manner. Educators face numerous challenges and obstacles in their efforts to provide appropriate education for students. Many are acutely aware that they are not doing enough to challenge their students with the highest potential. Reminding them of this will not endear you to them. Approaching school district staff in a supportive manner is usually more effective.
Accompany your requests for services with offers to provide assistance. Perhaps you can volunteer to work with student groups, contribute resources or make introductions to local professionals who can mentor or present to students.
Many local corporations have mentoring or funding programs for schools that can be of great appeal to gifted students. Ask around. There are likely other parents who are willing to collaborate with you.
Begin by sharing your concerns with your child’s teachers. Find out how he or she is trying to provide academic enrichment and challenge for your gifted child. Share your thoughts on your child’s learning needs and work together to devise a plan. If you do not see results after an initial conversation, meet again to follow up.
If necessary, request a meeting with the school principal to see how he or she can support the teacher. Ask the principal what the school district has in place to ensure that all students are learning and being academically challenged. Consider asking the principal for suggestions on how to best advocate for gifted services at the school district level.
Grade skipping is a poor excuse for a gifted program and should only be used when gifted services are missing or insufficient. Instead, advocate for grouping gifted students together in one classroom with a teacher who has training in gifted education. Bring the challenging curriculum to them. It costs nothing for schools to do this, and it costs your child a year of childhood when a grade is skipped. Consider the ramifications. Accelerating a grade level in specific subjects is usually the better solution. If a full-year grade skip is suggested, request using the IOWA Acceleration Scale to obtain an objective recommendation.
When advocating for gifted services, you are only requesting what all children deserve: Equal opportunity to learn every day and every year they are in school. Approaching schools in a positive and proactive manner will gain you respect and make change more likely to occur. Encouraging other parents to adopt a similar approach will show the school and district that your efforts are in earnest.
Remember the adage, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” Know that stability is important in a child’s education. Changing schools may solve one problem yet introduce others. Leaving your school only to learn that the situation is the same or worse at the new school can be disruptive to your child’s education. If you feel your school has good things to offer, work with them to improve in their provisions for gifted children.
Understand that change takes time. The attitude of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is strong and alive in many schools. Implementing effective gifted programming involves numerous factors, such as gifted testing and identification processes, methods for placing students into classrooms, grouping practices, curriculum, professional development, staffing, and philosophical viewpoints to mention a few. Changing institutional practice involves weighing the needs and benefits of all students, staff and resources, and requires considerable planning and commitment.
The following resources can help in your journey:
- The National Association for Gifted Children
- NAGC Programming Standards
- State of the State Report for Gifted Education
- Hoagies Gifted
- Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted
- The 2e Newsletter
- Guiding the Gifted Child by James Webb, Great Potential Press
- Reforming Gifted Education: How Parents and Teachers Can Match the Program to the Child, by Karen B. Rogers, Great Potential Press
- Teaching Gifted Students in Today’s Classroom by Susan Winebrenner and Dina Brulles, Free Spirit Publishing
- The Cluster Grouping Handbook: How to Challenge Gifted Students and Increase Achievement for All, by Susan Winebrenner and Dina Brulles, Free Spirit Publishing, Free Spirit Publishing
- Beyond Gifted Education: Designing and Implementing Advanced Academic Programs, by Scott J. Peters, Michael Matthews, Michael McBee, Betsy McCoach
Parents advocating for improving educational opportunities for their gifted children find success when sensitive in their approach. Educators face numerous obstacles in their efforts to provide an appropriate education for their students. Additional hurdles exist for gifted students, as there is no federal mandate or funding for gifted students and little to no funding in most states. This lack of policy and funding underscores the need to advocate gently at the school level in a positive, yet steadfast manner.
The good news is that schools can successfully serve their gifted using existing resources. With an informed approach, parents of gifted children can be the impetus–or serve as the support–that schools need to increase and improve education for your gifted children.