Ways to Keep Gifted Students Motivated in the Classroom

  (Updated March 15, 2022)
Shemmicca Moore
Shemmicca Moore
Director of Secondary Instruction; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from Gardner-Webb University
Young student looking bored in a classroom while a teacher helps other students.

What Challenges Do Gifted Students Face in the Classroom?

One of the most significant concerns among educators is closing the achievement gap for our struggling learners. We spend countless hours and resources attempting to locate the magic solution that will level the playing field. While our focus on lower-achieving students is needed and commendable, I believe that a greater consideration for the needs of our gifted learners is a must.

During data discussions, it has become common to have some educators make assertions that it is difficult to move the academic needle for extremely bright students or that higher achieving students will show the least amount of growth. If these limitations enter the classroom, we will have a nation of gifted learners with untapped potential.

Historically, it is possible that we have seen the least amount of academic growth among gifted students because we fail to keep them engaged in the learning process. Engaging our students academically will motivate them in wanting to learn new concepts. In turn, this motivation has the potential to fuel their desire to stretch the bounds of their academic and intellectual potential.

When it comes to motivating students, a one-size-fits-all approach will often not yield the desired results. Just as learners fill classrooms with varying academic abilities, they also have a range of unmet needs and personal desires. It is not uncommon to see school personnel devote tremendous amounts of time to meeting the needs of those students who are deemed struggling and have behavior concerns.

If the goal is to keep our gifted students motivated and committed to academia, we must be just as invested in meeting their needs. Once their needs are met, we can employ strategies to ensure their continued motivation. Through personal experience, I have found several strategies to effectively motivate gifted learners.

Strategies for Keeping Gifted Students Motivated in the Classroom

Choice

More than any other group of students that I have had the pleasure to work with, my gifted learners respond better when they are provided with choices on how to tackle a learning target. This limits the likelihood of students becoming disengaged in the learning process because they are no longer interested in the assignment. Student choice allows them to make decisions on the method that most interests them and fits their desired method of grappling with the concept.

When presenting assignment choices, choice boards have proven to be invaluable. They provide students with a board of choices to display their mastery of the content. Students are empowered to take ownership of their learning through choice boards because they have more of a vested interest. These boards allow teachers a way to differentiate based on students’ needs and learning styles.

Connection

As with most learners, gifted students benefit significantly from connecting with their teacher. The average gifted learner enjoys discussing those things which interest them. They are more apt to exceed academic expectations when they find that the person who is in charge of their learning is vested in them as a person.

Having a connection in the learning environment allows gifted learners to be themselves and engage in conversations that align with their interests. In addition, it helps them to build trust with the teacher which in turn allows students the space to be vulnerable in articulating their learning needs.

Collaboration

While peer tutoring is a valuable strategy, I think it has been inappropriately used with our gifted learners. Most times, gifted students complete tasks at a higher speed and with greater accuracy than the average student thus allowing them a great amount of free time. Some educators have addressed this by requiring gifted learners to function as peer tutors for students struggling with mastering content.

While our students who need additional support may benefit from this practice, there is little to no benefit for the gifted learner. Therefore, gifted students must be provided opportunities to collaborate with students of similar academic aptitude. This allows the gifted students room to challenge each other and engage in discussions and activities that push the envelope.

Collaboration among gifted students increases more excellent opportunities for them to tackle the subject matter with individuals who challenge their thinking and ideas about what is correct and incorrect.

Conference

Teacher-student conferences are invaluable in the learning process. This often-overlooked strategy has the potential to yield high results. Providing feedback to students is an area in which educational researchers John Hattie and Robert Marzano have stated produces high academic gains for students.

During conferences, teachers can discuss the students’ current performance and collaboratively set goals for improved achievement. Gifted learners will more readily buy into goals they have input in developing. This provides an opportunity for the students, with feedback from an adult, to map out strategies that will best help them meet their goals. Conferencing is a key strategy in allowing students to take ownership of their learning and develop independence. Both of the attributes above are essential to motivating the gifted learner.

Clear Instructional Plan

Students are more motivated to complete a task when can see the end product. Most gifted learners want to know the why and how of something:

  • Why is this important?
  • How does this impact me?
  • How do I achieve what you are requiring of me?

Having clear responses to these questions provides students with a roadmap to meeting and exceeding expectations.

If we want to motivate them to stay engaged in the learning process, we must show gifted learners how the lesson is essential to them and their environment. Moving in obscurity frustrates the gifted learner. It has the potential to push them into regression as it relates to their academic achievement.

When an assignment is clear, there is a greater likelihood that the students will remain in the learning process. Learning must make sense to the gifted learner. Through clear instructional plans, the learning process is outlined and scholars are able to see the end benefits.

There is no magic bullet to keeping gifted learners motivated. However, the steps outlined above have yielded favorable results. Good instructional strategies are effective not only for gifted learners, but for all students.

Through the 5Cs (choice, connection, collaboration, conference, and a clear instructional plan) students are more likely to remain engaged in their learning.

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*Updated March 2022
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