ERIC Identifier: ED400561
Publication Date: 1996-00-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and
Communication Bloomington IN.
Teaching English to Gifted Students. ERIC Digest.
This Digest reviews the literature on the subject of teaching English to
gifted students, examining how to identify students who are gifted in the areas
of English and language arts, outlining some principles for developing effective
programs in English and language arts for the gifted, and suggesting possible
methods of evaluating gifted students and programs.
HOW SHOULD GIFTED STUDENTS BE IDENTIFIED?
gifted/talented students are numerous. Many are similar to that in the 1978
House of Representatives resolution on education, which defines gifted students
as "children, and, when applicable, youth, who are identified at the preschool,
elementary, or secondary level as possessing demonstrated or potential abilities
that give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual,
creative, specific academic or leadership ability, or in the performing and
visual arts..." (Nazarro, 1978).
The use of only grade point averages and IQ scores to classify students as
gifted/talented has led to growing concern about procedures for identifying
gifted students. Howard Gardner, noted Harvard neuropsychologist, has suggested
that although the IQ test measures the linguistic and logical/mathematical
intelligences, it does not account for at least five more: (1) the kinesthetic,
(2) the musical, (3) the spatial, (4) the interpersonal, and (5) the
intrapersonal (Scherer, 1985). Clearly, methods other than IQ tests and grade
point averages must be used for identifying gifted/talented students for English
and language arts programs (Collins and Aiex, 1995). Warnock and Holt (1985) and
Delisle and Berger (1990) further note that gifted/talented students include not
only students who do well in school but others who may not do well and who may
not display easily observable talent.
William W. West expresses a similar point of view. In Teaching the Gifted and
Talented in the English Classroom (1980), West not only identifies obvious
characteristics of the verbally gifted, such as reading avidly, writing
frequently and fluently, and participating in oral communication activities, but
also stresses the importance of observing students who exhibit signs of
disruptive behavior, pointing out that these students may simply be bored or
Criteria for determining gifted/talented students for exemplary programs
vary, as may be seen in two programs cited in 1985 by the National Council of
Teachers of English as Centers of Excellence. Students identified as
gifted/talented for the Eleventh Grade Honors Program at Temple High School
(Temple, Texas) are selected chiefly by means of grade point average, writing
skills, and teacher recommendations, although IQ scores are also considered
(Post, 1986). At Princeton High School (Princeton, Illinois), admission to the
five-course Independent Study Curriculum is based on a number of criteria. These
include not only grade point average and an intelligence test, but also a
critical thinking evaluation (Watson-Glasser Thinking Appraisal), achievement
test scores (SRA and Gates-MacGinitie), and two teacher evaluations (Scher,
1986). Clearly, some successful programs for the gifted in English and language
arts do not restrict admission criteria to IQ scores and grade point averages.
WHAT ARE SOME KEY PRINCIPLES IN DEVELOPING AN EFFECTIVE ENGLISH AND LANGUAGE ARTS PROGRAM FOR THE GIFTED/TALENTED?
Tuttle, Jr. (1979), writing about English programs for gifted students,
identifies four principles for developing an effective program.
Design a curriculum that builds upon the characteristics of the intellectually
gifted. While all students need to develop "basic skills," gifted students can
often acquire these as they develop their other, more advanced abilities.
Provide for continuity. Teachers and administrators at all grade levels should
arrive at a consensus regarding the different components of the program and the
procedures for carrying it through the grades.
Select teachers on the basis of their ability to work with the intellectually
gifted and the talented. These teachers should be vitally interested in the
gifted, highly intelligent, and emotionally secure, and possess advanced
knowledge of their subject matter.
Evaluate success within the program on the quality of the work produced rather
than by tests of mastery of lower level skills. This will often necessitate the
design of new evaluation instruments and procedures, since most of the tests
currently being used measure acquisition of knowledge rather than ability to
apply knowledge in creative ways.
These principles may be applied to the development of English and language
arts programs for gifted students. As Scher (1986) points out, "A gifted program
not only gives students a sound foundation in verbal, reading, and critical
thinking skills but allows them to use these skills in an interdisciplinary
fashion." Or, as another teacher puts it in a slightly different way: "The time
is ripe for teachers to work relentlessly to create classroom situations in
which students are tempted, cajoled, seduced, provoked and firmly rewarded not
for being excellent, but for thinking" (Peterson et al., 1992).
WHAT SPECIFIC RESOURCES EXIST FOR TEACHING ENGLISH AND LANGUAGE ARTS TO GIFTED/TALENTED STUDENTS?
A number of publications may
assist the English and language arts teacher in identifying gifted/talented
students and developing an appropriate program for them. For example, the
aforementioned text by West explores the identification of gifted students'
verbal fluency, originality, flexibility, and ability to elaborate, synthesize,
and reach closure. A design for a lesson sequence and an example of a teaching
sequence are included, as well as suggestions for selecting unit themes.
Jane D. Reed's Teaching Gifted Students Literature and Language in Grades
Nine through Twelve (1978) discusses topics related to English programs for
gifted high school students: philosophical principles, the study of literature,
specific examples of subject matter content in literature, the relationships
among various phases of language, descriptions of kinds of gifted English
students, procedures for conducting literature and language programs for the
gifted, and the evaluation of English programs for the gifted student. Looking
for a practical way to help gifted English students in a lower socioeconomic
high school setting, Alice Shipman-Campbell (1994) developed a practicum to
increase the number and success rate of junior Honors English students taking
the English Advanced Placement (AP) examinations. The majority of the students
were Latino and African American and somewhat fearful about tests.
Shipman-Campbell designed test-taking strategies to allay students' fears and
held academic pep rallies to motivate the students. Meanwhile, she taught them
style analysis of language and literature. Other key elements that contributed
to student success were daily collaborative learning groups and motivational
guest speakers in the classroom. Outcomes were positive--not only did the number
of juniors taking the test increase, but students also demonstrated more
confidence in themselves as English students and as test takers. An added
benefit was the students' newfound pleasure in reading, analyzing, and writing
HOW SHOULD GIFTED STUDENTS AND ENGLISH AND LANGUAGE ARTS PROGRAMS FOR THE GIFTED BY EVALUATED?
Gifted students, like any other
students, must be evaluated. Although it is possible to use traditional methods
of evaluation, more innovative methods are also appropriate. Not all
practitioners agree, however, on the best methods of evaluation. Scher says that
students in the Princeton (Illinois) High School program are not given objective
tests, since they have already demonstrated their ability to do well on such
tests. Instead, evaluations are based on the writing process, with precision and
accuracy as primary evaluation criteria. Students enrolled in a research and
analysis course must apply their knowledge of logic, reasoning, and research
methods to an investigation of their choice and produce a project in a form
compatible with the topic.
Reed (1978) notes a method of evaluation in which the teacher evaluates not
only individual students but also the program itself by carefully observing the
class during the course or during a unit to determine whether or not students
are progressing satisfactorily. One technique involves having each student
maintain a manila folder containing descriptions of projects in progress or
completed, lists of things read, and written papers that have been graded. These
folders will allow the teacher to do a simple check of the accomplishments of
Program evaluation is often conducted through external tests, from
standardized achievement tests, to SAT verbal test scores, to advanced placement
tests. Reed cautions, however, that such tests are imperfect tools in the
evaluation process and so should not be heavily considered.
Evaluation can also be conducted by having students evaluate a course while
they are participating in it. Although student surveys may exhibit some bias,
they are worthwhile because gifted students tend to be able to cite strengths
and weaknesses of programs in which they participate. Finally, program
evaluation may be conducted after students leave school by sending evaluation
forms to former students or by interviewing them.
Collins, Norma Decker, and Nola Kortner Aiex
(1995). "Gifted Readers and Reading Instruction." ERIC Digest. Bloomington, IN:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication. [ED 379 637]
Delisle, James, and Sandra Berger (1990). "Underachieving Gifted Students."
ERIC Digest #E478. Reston, VA: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted
Children. [ED 321 483]
Nazarro, Jean, Ed. (1978). "ERIC/EC Newsletter, 2." Reston, VA: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children.
Peterson, Nancy Ruth, et al. (1992). "Being Special (A Symposium)." English
Journal, 81(6), 34-43. [EJ 451 323]
Post, Linda Williams (1986). Telephone interview, March 4, 1986.
Reed, Jane D. (1978. Teaching Gifted Students Literature and Language in
Grades Nine through Twelve, updated edition. Sacramento, CA: State Department of
Education. [ED 157 075]
Scher, Bruce E. (1986). Telephone interview, March 4, 1986.
Scherer, Marge (1985). "How Many Ways Is A Child Intelligent?" Instructor,
94(5), 32-35. [EJ 310 778]
Shipman-Campbell, Alice (1994). "Increasing the Number and Success Rate of
Junior Honors English Students in Taking English Advanced Placement
Examinations." Ed.D. Practicum, Nova University. [ED 376 496]
Tuttle, Frederick B., Jr. (1979). "Providing for the Intellectually Gifted."
SLATE Starter Sheet. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
Warnock, John, and Sue Holt (1985). "Gifted and Talented Education." SLATE
Starter Sheet. Urbana, IL: NCTE. [ED 263 624]
West, William W. (1980). Teaching the Gifted and Talented in the English
Classroom. Washington, DC: National Education Association. [ED 197 521]