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ERIC Identifier: ED270782
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Fox, Deborah
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills Urbana IL.

Teaching English to the Gifted Student. ERIC Digest.

A recent upsurge of interest in gifted students has prompted parents, teachers, administrators, and students themselves to inquire about relevant programs in English. This digest examines both earlier literature on the subject and two current programs designed to discern (1) criteria used for identifying gifted students for English and language arts programs, (2) particular resources and programs in English and language arts for gifted students, and (3) possible methods of evaluating gifted students and programs.


Definitions of 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, where applicable, youth(s), 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. . ." (ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children 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 intelligences: (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. Warnock and Holt (1985) 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 unchallenged.

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 English 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 Critical 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 average.


Tuttle (1979), writing about English programs for gifted students, identifies four principles for developing an effective program.

1. 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. 2. 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. 3. 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. 4. Evaluate success within the program by 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 we currently use 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 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."


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 text by West mentioned above not only explores the identification of gifted students, but also suggests classroom activities that will allow teachers to gain insight into 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.


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. Students must also make public oral presentations of their findings and answer questions from the audience.

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 each student.

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 past students or by inteviewing them.


ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children. ERIC/EC NEWSLETTER, ed. Jean Nazzarro, 2 (Spring 1978).

Post, Linda Williams. Telephone interview, March 4, 1986.

Reed, Jane D. TEACHING GIFTED STUDENTS LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE IN GRADES NINE THROUGH TWELVE, updated edition. Sacramento: California State Department of Education, 1978. ED 157 075.

Scher, Bruce E. Telephone interview, March 4, 1986.

Scherer, Marge. "How Many Ways Is a Child Intelligent?" INSTRUCTOR 94 (Jan. 1985): 32-35.

Tuttle, Frederick B., Jr. "Providing for the Intellectually Gifted." SLATE STARTER SHEET (Oct. 1979).

Warnock, John and Sue Holt. "Gifted and Talented Education." SLATE STARTER SHEET (May 1985).

West, William W. TEACHING THE GIFTED AND TALENTED IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM. Teaching the Gifted and Talented in the Content Area Series, Fred B. Tuttle, Jr., editor. Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1980. ED 197 521.


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