Ways to Keep Gifted Students Motivated in the Classroom

Misty Hance
Misty Hance
Assistant School Principal; Ed.D. in School Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN
Young student looking bored in a classroom while a teacher helps other students.

One of the most overlooked groups of students within a school often times can be the talented and gifted students. The term gifted typically is considered to mean students whose IQ scores are two full standard deviations above the norm. For these students, skills come easily, and they can complete their work without assistance and often before others in the classroom are finished. In addition, sometimes the level of skills being covered in the class can seem mundane to these brilliant minds. Because of this, gifted students may appear compliant when in fact they may be bored and unmotivated to reach their full potential. This is why personalized learning is so important within the classroom. Many strategies can be implemented by the teacher and school to ensure that gifted students do not lose motivation and are provided with differentiated instruction to meet their needs.

Give Them More Challenging Work, Not More of the Same-Level Work

Very few people like to be given extra work just because they are good at it, and solving more math equations does not make anyone smarter. This is especially true for gifted students. Rather, students who are achieving above their peers need work that challenges them to think more deeply and apply their knowledge in different ways. Providing them with rigorous activities can stimulate their brains and help them develop a deeper understanding of already mastered skills. Technology is one means of differentiating work so that gifted students stay motivated. There are many educational opportunities through technology that allow students to connect with others and with real-world experiences.

Let Them Work with a Partner

Students with high IQs often become frustrated with students of average IQ. While it is good to teach them social skills to help them conquer this frustration, it is also good to give them the opportunity to work with a partner of similar ability. This does not necessarily mean an older student but could mean working with an older peer on a project so that ability levels are matched. It might also mean paring two similarly gifted students together. Providing enriching discussions through peer collaboration will prevent the gifted students from feeling isolated and help build relationships so that they develop interpersonal skills on their ability level.

Offer Them Choice in Enrichment Work

All students love the freedom to choose the work they will complete. This is a great strategy for dealing with all types of learners, especially the gifted. Because some are introverts and prefer not to socialize, they may choose activities where they can work independently. Other students may love the chance to collaborate on a project or read to younger students. Teachers who feel gifted students require additional work to keep their minds occupied will find it best to give the student a choice of activities. This will provide the student with a sense of ownership which maintains their attention to task completion.

Activities to choose from might include project-based learning activities where students can create and apply skills to a more rigorous task. Other activities might include research on a topic to be turned into a Power Point, writing task, or artwork display. Some might enjoy watching Miniscule clips on video platforms such as YouTube and creating an alternate ending or voice-over commentary for the short segment. Others might enjoy reading multiple books to compare for similarities in theme or character development. There are many ways to challenge a gifted student and provide enriching lesson extensions.

Get to Know Their Skills and Interests

The key to finding what motivates any child is a deeper understanding of the student’s interests and skill level. This is crucial for connecting with a gifted student so that he or she does not feel isolated at school. A quick survey or short writing assignment might allow the teacher to determine what enrichment materials would best suit the interests of the child, but nothing really beats an on-going conversation. Asking for the student’s input and feedback can allow both student and teacher to reflect on assignments so that the teacher and gifted student can find something to keep them better engaged. It also builds a relationship with an adult with whom the gifted child can build trust to share thoughts and ideas. Because social skills can be a difficult task, this also provides an opportunity to model conversation. Once the teacher establishes a connection with the gifted students, she will better be able to utilize their abilities to enrich the classroom.

Utilize Their Abilities

Some teachers believe that if a gifted student gets finished with an assignment, he or she would want to be the class helper, to run errands, or tutor a peer. While this might be true part of the time for some students, others may quickly tire of being the class helper. It is vital to ask students if they like to tutor others before assigning them a peer to support. Some students may become easily frustrated with a peer’s inability to comprehend at their own level and others may give answers rather than explain how a problem is best solved. This helps no one. Other ways to utilize the strengths of a gifted student includes allowing them to read aloud assignments to a classmate, lead a discussion, or do pre-research for an upcoming discussion topic.

Sadly, it is really easy for a gifted student to lose interest in schoolwork and become disconnected to classmates. Teachers can do a lot to curtail this by providing rigorous activities which the student choses to complete. By helping these students set personal goals, they will learn through self-motivation and personal connections. Most importantly, gifted students will learn to interact with others while reaching their full potential.

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