Differentiating Instruction for Gifted and Talented Students
By Kim Jones

“A mind once stretched never returns to its original shape” (Oliver Wendell Holmes).

What does gifted and talented mean?

There is no one set definition for gifted and talented. The terms pertaining to students have evolved over the years. Although these terms are now combined in most settings, Gagne made the distinction that, “ giftedness is above average aptitude (as measured by IQ tests) in creative and intellectual abilities, and talent is above-average performance in an area of human activity, such as music, mathematics, or literature”(Sousa, 2)

Common methods of Identification

The most common method of identification used to be an IQ test. Now researchers and educators suggest that results of testing should be accompanied by teacher observations, a variety interviews with student, parent and teacher, and a student profile which should include examples of:
  • academic achievement,
  • learning styles and strengths,
  • interests,
  • special abilities, and
  • visions and goals for the future.

Important Contributions from Researchers

Many researchers have contributed to this research, but two really impacted be during my research. These researchers were Howard Gardener who developed the theories of multiple intelligences, of which we are all familiar, and Joe Renzulli who developed this three ring conception of giftedness.
Renzulli’s ideas are centered around the three areas of creativity, above average intelligence and task commitment, and that a gifted/talented person shows outstanding performance in all three of these areas.

Who are our gifted students?

Today, more is known about the brain and how it operates, and intelligences have evolved from standard “school smarts” to a variety of different intelligences outlined by researchers such as Gardner. Also, better means of identification are being put in place so students that may have been missed even ten years ago are now being recognized as gifted or talented. Our gifted students come to us from many different areas, just like other students. We must keep in mind these factors that have inhibited identification in the past:
  • language,
  • culture,
  • gender,
  • physical ability,
  • learning or sensory disabilities, and
  • personality style
How do we differentiate?

Following information is taken from BC Ministry of Education Gifted Education Document at

It is said that differentiation of the curriculum must happen in four main areas:

1. Content of Curriculum
2. Processes of Engagement
3. Student Products
4. Learning Environment

Within these four areas are several strategies that can be used.

1. Content:
  • acceleration,
  • telescoping,
  • compacting,
  • independent study,
  • tiered assignments, and
  • learning centers.

2. Process:
  • higher level thinking,
  • creative thinking,
  • problem solving, and
  • research skills.
  1. Products:
· Students must be encouraged to “represent their knowledge” in a variety of ways, such as models, letters, videos, displays etc.
· Students must be encouraged to “reach the audience” in a variety of ways such as, publishing works in children magazines, storytelling in the public library, dramatization of an issue in the community etc.
4. Learning Environment: ( Physical, Social and Emotional)
· Physical: interest centers, a variety of working spaces, full range of learning materials
· Social and Emotional: accepting, safe and supportive, promotes group planning and problem solving
A few strategies used:
· Study of famous people
· Bibliotherapy
· Grouping for Instruction
Common Myths of Gifted/Talented- (Sousa,3-5)
Myth#5:Giftedness in any domain requires a high IQ
Reality: there is little evidence that giftedness in music or art requires an exceptional IQ. Moreover IQ tests measure a narrow range of ability
Myth #4: Gifted students have lower self-esteem than nongifted students
Reality: The majority of studies indicate that gifted students have a somewhat higher level of self-esteem than nongifted. However, they are at risk for isolation and loneliness, and they can become arrogant.
Myth#12 All children are gifted, and there is no special group of children that needs enriched or accelerated education
Reality: Although all children have strengths and weaknesses, some have extreme strengths in one or more areas. Extreme giftedness creates a special education need the same way that a learning disability does
Why we need to Identify
As pre-service teachers today, we are at a time where it is encouraged to foster every student’s individual learning needs. With the appropriate tools in our toolbox, we can differentiate instruction for all levels of learners. Gifted students are at high risk for isolation, boredom and underachievement if measures aren’t taken to make necessary adaptations for them. Here is a exaggerated example of the need to identify.

Following Fable is from :http://www3.bc.sympatico.ca/giftedcanada/page6.html
A FABLE? --printed in The Instructor, April. 1968
One time the animals had a school. The curriculum consisted of running, climbing, flying and swimming, and all the animals took all the subjects.
The duck was good in swimming, better than his instructor, and he made passing grades in flying, but he was practically hopeless in running. He was made to stay after school and drop his swimming class in order to practice running. He kept this up until he was only average in swimming. But, average is acceptable, so nobody worried about that but the duck.
The eagle was considered a problem pupil and was disciplined severely. He beat all the others to the top of the tree in the climbing class, but he had used his own way of getting there.
The rabbit started out at the top of his class in running, but had a nervous breakdown and had to drop out of school on account of so much makeup work in swimming.
The squirrel led the climbing class, but his flying teacher made him start his flying lessons from the ground instead of the top of the tree, and he developed charley horses from overexertion at the takeoff and began getting C's in climbing and D's in running.
The practical prairie dogs apprenticed their offspring to a badger when the school authorities refused to add digging to the curriculum.
At the end of the year, an eel that could swim well, run, climb, and fly a little was made valedictorian.

Sources cited
Ansell-Shepherd, Lesley. Gifted Canada Index. Retrieved Dec. 3, 2007 http://www3.bc.sympatico.ca/giftedcanada/page6.html
B.C. Ministry of Education. Gifted Education: A Resource Guide for Teachers. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2007http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/specialed/gifted/
Sousa, David A. (2003) How the gifted brain learns. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press Inc.

Other Resources
Cline, Starr & Schwartz Diane. (1999) Diverse populations of gifted children. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall Inc.

Te Kete Ipurangi. G and T Related Reading: Case Studies Retrieved Dec. 5, 2007http://www.tki.org.nz/r/gifted/reading/casestudies/index_e.php

Nova Scotia Department of Education: Challenge for excellence: enrichment and gifted education resource guide. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2007 ftp://ftp.ednet.ns.ca/pub/educ/studentsvcs/challenge/full-web_withoutpancakes.pdf

Manitoba Education Citizenship and Youth. Manitoba K-S4 education agenda for student success. Retrieved Dec. 1, 2007. http://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/agenda/priority1.html

Northwest Regional Educational Library. Strategies for teaching gifted students in the inclusive classroom. Retrieved Dec. 3, 2007 http://www.nwrel.org/msec/just_good/9/ch4.html

Association for Educators of Gifted, Talented Creative Children of British Columbia. Brochures for gifted information. Retrieved Dec. 5, 2007. http://www.bctf.ca/psas/aegtccbc/index2.html