2e = TWICE EXCEPTIONAL

Addressing the Affective Needs of Gifted Students

by Kimberle Curtis

   The Best Practices committee surveyed KGTC stakeholders in April and May of 2014.  When asked how often research-based practices were being used to meet the needs of gifted students in their school, a high number of respondents answered Never or Unsure to the following:  differentiation within the general education classroom (31%) and affective curriculum and counseling (27%).   Here, and in upcoming Bugle issues, committee members will cite current research regarding these topics and provide information and strategies for practical application.

    In its position paper approved in March 2009, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) states, “Gifted education programs, teachers, administrators, and school counselors can and should intentionally, purposefully, and proactively nurture socio-emotional development in” gifted students.  (NAGC, 2009).   The structure of most gifted programs provides teachers with the unique opportunity to work with the same students for multiple years which supports the development of trusting relationships.  That relationship puts gifted teachers in a position to monitor their students’ social and emotional growth in order to develop meaningful learning experiences specific to their needs.  The NAGC warns that when perceptions of gifted students are based only on positive stereotypes, the unique affective needs of gifted students may not be addressed (NAGC, 2009).   Students need a safe place to acknowledge and discuss the difficulties associated with giftedness.  Gifted students’ affective needs include: the ability to understand and explain their gifts, the feeling that they are different than non-gifted peers yet they want to fit in, and mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

EXPLAINING GIFTEDNESS

    Jim Delisle is a strong advocate for talking to gifted students about giftedness.  He states that gifted students, “have a right to know why they are in the program they’re in, yet they need help putting the label in perspective and making neither more nor less out of it than is appropriate (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002).”    Gifted teachers must give students the tools and strategies they need to not only understand themselves, but also talk to others about being gifted.  A Gifted 101 program for new students should include discussions about the difference between ability and achievement, the identification process, high expectations versus perfection, and self-image versus self-esteem.  Group discussions of the “Eight Great Gripes of Gifted Kids” are an excellent way to explore many of the questions and concerns students have about giftedness.  In When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers, Delisle provides an entire chapter of discussion prompts on this topic (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002).  High school students feeling overwhelmed by high expectations may benefit from a discussion of the Bottom-of-the-Top Syndrome (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002).  For middle school and upper elementary students, Allis Wade’s novels Orientation (2012) and Revelation (2013) provide a myriad of opportunities for discussing gifted characteristics and overexcitabilities through the safety of fictional characters.  Finally, adapted from blogger Using My Teacher Voice, students can reflect individually on the following:  A Gifted Student Is… Does… Says… Is Not.  Then they can share responses on a class poster for display.  (http://usingmyteachervoice.wordpress.com/2012/10/12/freebie-friday-and-good-character-bingo/)

FEELING DIFFERENT AND FITTING IN

    As teachers of gifted students we know that, “Brighter doesn’t necessarily mean happier, healthier, more successful, socially adept, or more secure (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002).”  Part of our job is to help students understand and cope with this reality.  For high school students, learning to appreciate the differences between loneliness and aloneness, and popularity and friendship can ease the pressure to belong.  Read the short story “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut with your high school students and be ready for an intellectually stimulating, lively discussion on the price of individuality (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002).  For the younger crowd, “Mr. Singer’s Nicknames” by James Krüss is an excellent discussion prompt regarding changing oneself to fit in.  Or, from the movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, watch the clip where Sam gets her glasses.  Discuss with students what they are willing and not willing to give up to fit in (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXv4i3Hz2GQ)  And, for those struggling with friendships, take a look at school counselor Marissa Rex’s web page Making and Keeping Friends for fun, interactive lessons that could be modified for any grade level (http://www.elementaryschoolcounseling.org/sg-making-and-keeping-friends.html).

MENTAL HEALTH

 “Although research does not establish that gifted individuals are more or less likely to have mental health concerns, there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that those “gifts” can impact students in both positive and negative ways (Beasley, 2012).”    Teaching Tolerance magazine is a free resource for teachers that promotes open discussion about topics related to diversity (http://www.tolerance.org/).   The fall 2013 issue explored the stigma associated with mental illness among adolescents.  The article states that nearly two-thirds of teens with mental illness report being rejected by peers.  At a time in their life when acceptance is critical, acknowledging mental illness can be a social death sentence.   But, they also reported that negative stereo-types are diminished when people become aware that mental illness can be treated successfully.  So, knowledge is the key to making it socially acceptable to students to seek help for and admit to mental illness.  Including mental health topics in discussions and lessons about a healthy lifestyle and overall well-being opens the door to acceptance.  Middle and high school students could create PSAs, podcasts, posters, artwork, or poetry about mental health issues that affect them or someone they know.  A discussion of the Mental Health in Schools Act of 2013 (www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/s195) could also include a study of how bills are introduced and passed.  For resources for seriously at risk students go to http://www.morethansad.org/indextd.html.   Finally, for elementary students, Unstoppable Me! by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer is a wonderful way to introduce topics like anxiety, self-esteem, fear of failure, and making healthy choices for a happy self.  

Addressing affective education as needed, or when a situation arises, is not enough.  While we should always grasp teaching opportunities when they arise, we must also make affective education a priority.  Bate, Clark, and Riley (2012) note that without a comprehensive curricular model, gifted learners are at risk of unplanned, accidental, and coincidental learning that may not address all their needs.  Gifted facilitators must set aside time on a regular basis to address issues like perfectionism, depression, emotional intensity, feeling different from others, social skills deficits and peer relationship issues, and stress management (Elijah, 2011).  In 2015, acknowledge the importance of affective education by purposefully including it in your lesson plans.  Give your students the tools they need to not only tackle academic challenges, but personal and social ones as well.  

REFERENCES

Bate, J., Clark, D., & Riley, T. (2012). Gifted Kids Curriculum: What do the Students Say? Kairaranga. Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ994982.pdf

Beasley, J. (2012). Social and Emotion Needs: Is There a Curriculum Connection? Teaching for High Potential, 4-4.

Delisle, J., & Galbraith, J. (2002). When gifted kids don't have all the answers: How to meet their social and emotional needs. Minneapolis: Free Spirits Pub.

Dyer, W., & Tracy, K. (2006). Unstoppable me!: 10 ways to soar through life. Carlsbad, Calif.: Hay House.

Elias, M. (2013, Fall). The Shame Game: Reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Teaching Tolerance, 49-52.

Elijah, K. (2011). Meeting the Guidance and Counseling Needs of Gifted Students in School Settings. Journal of School Counseling. Retrieved December 8, 2014, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ933180.pdf

Nurturing Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children. (2009). Retrieved December 16, 2014, from http://www.nagc.org/

Peterson, J.S. (2009). Myth 17:  Gifted and talented individuals do not have unique social and emotional needs.  Gifted Child Quarterly, 53, 280-282.

Wade, A. (2012). Orientation: The school for gifted potentials (3rd ed.).   San Bernardino, CA.

Wade, A. (2013). Revelation: The school for gifted potentials book 2 (1st ed.).  San Bernardino, CA.