Usually, when people hear the word “gifted”, the first thing they think is that this person is smart. Typically this means that things come easily to them, and/or they’re particularly skilled in an academic subject area such as math or ELA. The problem with this characterization is that it often overlooks the fact that giftedness can also apply to creativity. These are students who may display a gift for thinking outside the box.
Here is what this creative thinking might look like. The teacher asks the class which one of these shapes has no sides:
Twenty-nine hands go up in the classroom with the same answer: the circle. Yet one student defiantly raises her hand and says, “They all have sides.”
The teacher does a double-take, looking at the shapes again and then at the student. “But dear, a circle doesn’t have any sides.”
“Sure it does,” the girl says, sticking to her guns. “There is an in-side and an out-side.”
It is this creative thinking that does not get much attention in the 21st-century classroom, with its focus on content standards that aim for skill mastery rather than levels of creativity.
This is why we, as educators of gifted students, need to make sure we are challenging our students not only academically, but creatively as well. You might be wondering what this looks like. Here are three things you can do to allow gifted students to use their creativity in the classroom:
1. Allow a choice of performance assessments – often when we’re assessing our students’ mastery of a topic, we use the very traditional method of pencil-to-paper responses. What if, instead, we let students choose the method they use to demonstrate their mastery, providing them with choices such as:
- Oral presentations
- Technology such as coding or creating a website
- Real-world products such as podcasts, newscasts, or vlogs
2. Design work that has no known answer or no ceiling – sometimes the most interesting creativity doesn’t manifest in an end product, but rather during the process of trying to problem solve. Give students a challenge to solve. A seemingly impossible problem such as world hunger, whether paper or plastic is better, or when will the Cincinnati Reds win another World Series, can really spark creative thinking.
- STEM challenges are a great way to do these in the short term. An example of this would be having students design a method for keeping track of books in a classroom library. There are many possible solutions, so students can develop all sorts of different answers. As a bonus, you could use the best one to organize your classroom library..
- Project-based learning and other authentic learning strategies are a good way to do this long-term. I did a Shark Tank-like with my students when they were learning about economics. They developed a product and a method for selling it to others. Students were accountable for showing the economic terms they were supposed to learn, but other than that, the options were endless.
- You can even have students participate in academic extra-curricular activities such as Model United Nations, where students must identify a problem facing a country and develop a feasible solution that others have not already thought of. Or you can try Invention Convention, where they must develop an invention that solves a problem.
3. Provide space for students to ask questions – gifted students are often so curious that they’re constantly asking questions. This is frequently shut down so that the rest of the class can move on, but we can provide opportunities for students to continue this line of questioning:
- Parking lot – this involves having a bulletin board or a space on the whiteboard for students to pose any burning questions they have. After accumulating a few of these, the teacher should take the time to address them individually or, if it would be beneficial to the class, as a group.
- Jamboard – this is a Google feature that allows people to create electronic sticky notes and post them for anyone with computer access to see. This enables the teacher or other students to easily comment on the questions.
- Queue – you can provide your students access to an electronic document where they can ask questions directly to the teacher which he or she can then get to later without compromising class time.
- Individual conversations – this involves connecting with that student later in an individual conversation and allowing her to ask all of the questions she has. So that students don’t forget, have sticky notes handy around the room and train them to jot these questions down if there isn’t class time to address them.
If you want gifted students to express their creativity, you cannot simply hope for it to happen on its own. You need to provide the space and culture that encourages students to express their creative thinking. How purposeful are you at doing this in your classroom, and what steps could you take to improve this?
- Many gifted students are creative thinkers. How many opportunities do they get in your classroom to show this?
- Identify those students who think a little differently and find ways to encourage rather than discourage their creative ideas.
- Methods such as assignments with no ceiling, a choice of performance assessments, and a space to be able to ask questions are all things you can provide in your classroom to foster this creativity.
Todd Stanley is a National Board Certified teacher and the author of many teacher-education books including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st Century Classroom (2nd Edition), Promoting Rigor Through Higher Level Questioning, and his most recent How the Hell Do We Motivate These Kids?
He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years teaching everything from 3rd graders to seniors in high school. He is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati. You can follow him on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at thegiftedguy.com where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given.
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