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Gifted children need teachers who set intellectual challenges

Amita Basu, Feb 21, 2013

Gifted Education (GE) is the umbrella term for enriching, diversifying, and modifying curriculum to meet the needs of gifted children: the need for stimulation and challenge. Because of their advanced cognitive development and (usually) rapid pace of work, gifted children in a typical Indian classroom spend lots of time unoccupied and bored. 

Unless gifted children are challenged in school, they may never acquire the attitudes and work habits to develop their potential.

There are two broad approaches to GE: providing something more than or different from the regular curriculum, or providing the same currriculum but allowing a child to progress through it faster.  


The simplest form of acceleration is grade-skiping or double promotion. Radical acceleration (skipping multiple grades) is much rarer in India.
Concerns of parents and teachers centre around the fact that while a child’s cognitive development may be advanced, his/her physical and socioemotional development may not be – leading to practical and social difficulties fitting in with older children. 
 While there is some basis to this fear, radical acceleration is an efficient way to cater to advanced academic needs.

Subject-specific acceleration, also rare in India, allows a child bright in a specific subject to study that subject at a higher grade-level, while studying other subjects as usual.  

How-To: If a child demonstrates content mastery (passes the qualifying exams for his/her grade in one or more subjects), s/he may not benefit from continuing at the current level. If acceleration is not possible or desirable, teachers should explore curriculum enrichment to provide advanced activities for such a child. 

Curriculum enrichment

Enriching the curriculum involves these concepts:

Connecting – Too often, what a child learns in Math is isolated not only from his experience outside the classrom, but even from what he learns in Science. An enriched curriculum transcends artificial boundaries between disciplines and allows children to explore relevant, meaningful themes or concepts.

How-To: Teachers of a particular grade can brainstorm about themes to link learning in different areas. E.g. the theme “money” can link basic operations/profit and loss (maths), precious metals (science), ethics around money e.g. charity, frugality (moral science), and money systems around the world (social science).  Brainstorming with colleagues is also an excellent way to pool best practices in handling gifted children.

Learning through problem-solving  Pedagogy in our classrooms typically relies on reading, copying, rewriting, and memorising.  An alternate way of delivering the curriculum is via problem-solving. Children are taught skills to identify, define, pose, and solve problems, and to devise, strategise, and evaluate solutions. Preferrably, problems should be open-ended and children should be able to generate their own strategies instead of following predetermined methods/formulae.

 Instead of telling children about money systems through history, ask them: “Why do we need money?  What problems does money solve and create?”  Instead of telling children “Gold and silver are precious metals,” ask them, “What determines the value of a material?”  

Learning through creating – Too often, assessment of learning simply means assessment of memory. One way of enriching curriculum is to teach and assess higher-order cognitive functions such as understanding, applying, analysing, evaluating, and creating (as per Bloom’s Taxonomy). Children should be allowed to create products that reflect their learning in multiple modalities (e.g. street play, science-fair model, illustrated storybook).  Evaluation should focus on content mastery and creativity rather than neatness.

How-To: Models such as Bloom’s Taxonomy, Group Investigations, and Creative Problem-Solving, accessible online, offer frameworks for redisgning how material is delivered and how learning is assessed.  Instead of testing children on facts about currencies around the world, ask them to identify other objects that could be used as money in different states (e.g. seashells, flutes, skulls), to justify their choices, and to create an integrated money system for India including rules of denomination, ‘minting’, and exchange.

Other Resources

Managing the needs of one or two gifted children in a class of forty or more is difficult.  Teachers commonly use two tactics that may not be advisable:

* Peer tutoring – Asking a bright child to help a slower one may seem like a good idea.  But it involves two things gifted children dislike: repetition and a slow pace.  
n “Check your work” – While self-correction is a good way to develop metacognition, a gifted child will soon learn that this is simply a way to keep him busy while peers catch up.  

Effective Alternative Methods 

Ability grouping: In some countries gifted children may be educated separately from other children, in special classes or special schools.  While grouping children according to ability may not appeal to our equality ideals, research suggests that it benefits children by allowing them to learn at their own pace.  

How-To: For group work, assign groups based on shared interests and similar ability levels.  Arrange an after-school or weekend class for a particular subject: e.g. if several bright children in your school are interested in astronomy, arrange an astronomy class on Saturdays.  The class can be open to all children, but should have a challenging curriculum and high assessment standards so as not to become purely recreational.

* Independent explorations: A child who has mastered the fourth-grade science curriculum may be allowed to explore a problem of his choice based on but beyond the curriculum.  The child may work with another teacher, an external mentor, or an older child to explore and present his project to his classmates.

Reading: One of the simplest ways to occupy a child is to allow him to read a book after he finishes work.