Have you ever taught a child who is easily frustrated by assignments in your class? Perhaps they are frustrated because the content is too easy, or perhaps they are frustrated because you are challenging them and they’re not used to that. Either way, the social-emotional needs of a gifted learner can be a roller coaster!
The myth that gifted students are easy to teach, or that they are people pleasers… dare I say teacher’s pets… is completely wrong. There has been a multitude of research studies (read HERE) indicating that students who are gifted often have some of the most difficult social-emotional challenges.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my gifted learners to PIECES!!! I teach gifted on purpose, because I love what I do and I love working with them.
However, it is no secret that sometimes, those students get frustrated, melt down, and don’t want to continue working on what we’re asking them to do. So how do we take our students from frustration to success? Here are six tips to help your gifted learners – and many of these will apply to your other students – avoid frustration, or know how to deal with their challenges.
Tip #1: Give assignments with the idea that the child is helping YOU.
I have a handful of kids who don’t want to ‘do’ for themselves… but they will ‘do’ for others. For these students, if I know I am giving them a challenging activity, I tell them that I need their help to create an assignment for me (for the rest of the class). My kiddos who I use this tip with know that it’s not because I can’t… but because I just don’t have the time to do it all. Some of my gifted learners LOVE LOVE LOVE to help me. It takes the pressure off of them and instead they want to help me!
- When To Use This Strategy: Kids who love to help others.
- DON’T Use With: Kids who ARE teacher pleasers. This might stress them out even more.
Tip #2: Let your gifted learners choose their own path.
Some of your kiddos are creative and smart enough that they can come up with their own assessment. Maybe you have two or three options ready to go, and they can choose the one they’d like. This allows your student to take back some of the control, something that sits well with many gifted learners. They thrive on feeling like they have a little control of their learning, and you’ll be able to learn even more about them based on their choices. A ThinkTrix is a great strategy to accomplish this with your kids.
- When To Use This Strategy: With your most creative, think-outside-the-box kids. Your artists, musicians, and kinesthetic learners will especially thrive.
- DON’T Use With: Students who are indecisive.
Tip #3: Take grades/scores out of the equation.
Often, your gifted learners have already demonstrated to you that they can complete activities well enough to demonstrate mastery of a concept and/or a skill. However, they can be hypersensitive to grades. In the mind of some of my gifted learners, earning a B is just as awful as being stung by a bee. In a case like this, work with your administration to find a way not to give grades. For example, in my classroom, I do not put grades on papers. I record them for myself, obviously, but my kids don’t see them. Instead, they keep a Progress Journal and reflect on the progress they made in terms of their learning and understand. Sure, I have kids who will “figure out” their grade, but they know it doesn’t matter to me. I want to know if they feel more confident, or that they’ve picked up new learning and new understanding during the unit.
- When To Use This Strategy: Use this tip with kids who worry about grades (though I recommend this strategy for your entire class).
- DON’T Use When: You don’t have permission or support from administration to do this.
Tip #4: Only assess when you need to.
Going along with Tip #3, assessments often cause stress in our gifted learners. Use your professional judgment in determining if you already have evidence of their mastery of a skill. If your gifted learners have already demonstrated to you at a learning station, in a small group, 1:1 with you, etc. that they can fluently multiply 2 digit numbers, don’t formally assess them on 2 digit numbers. Again, you might need to work with your administration on this one to develop a policy or a plan for situations like this, but it’s definitely in the best interest of the kids. Their social-emotional health will change for the better with this implemented.
- When To Use This Strategy: Whenever you have a child who has proven mastery of a concept.
- DON’T Use When: This is good for all students, as long as you have the data to support your decision.
Tip #5: Give breaks, choice time, and/or allow for a fun activity.
Your gifted learners can easily burn out. Often, their minds are going in a million different directions, and it can sometimes become exhausting to have a brain that doesn’t stop thinking. Gifted learners often have this problem. Sometimes, what looks like a frustration meltdown is actually just the kid trying to tell you they are burnt out and need a break. Think of it like the breaks between sets in a workout… you need them to keep your stamina up, let your heart rate regulate… our brains need the same love. These breaks don’t have to be long or entail a lot of work; sometimes, I just have my kids walk and talk for two or three minutes. I also allow individual breaks with some of my students; as long as they don’t disturb people working nearby, they can take a minute or two to breathe. Let their brains take a chill pill, and watch their social-emotional needs diminish.
- When To Use This Strategy: For all students!!!
- DON’T Use When: This is good for all students; however, you may need to monitor some more closely than others while they take a break.
Tip #6: Fill your social-emotional toolkit.
If you know your gifted learners well enough, you know that they can be an emotional handful. Research shows that students with gifted tendencies have some of the highest emotional stressors in our society. We often see things like anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem, perfectionism, and even OCD in our truly gifted learners. Many of our brightest students struggle with social interaction, and they don’t always make the best decisions when it comes to their character. Here are some things you can do to assist your gifted learners with some of these traits:
- Find what works for each individual student as far as de-escalation techniques go. Practice these techniques. Slow breathing, meditation, muscle relaxation therapy, walking the perimeter of a room, using a fidget… whatever works! Let them know that taking a break is not only OK, it is encouraged!!!
- Chat with your gifted learner to see if the frustration is systemic; in other words, is something else causing the frustration, but it is coming out as frustration with the assignment or workload? This could potentially be an easy fix for your students who are frustrated by a challenge.
- Work in tandem with your school counselor to talk about self-esteem, perfectionism, being kind to themselves, etc. Sometimes, just this simple practice is all that your kids need.
- Talk growth mindset with your kiddos! How can they change their negative thoughts and/or frustration into more positive thoughts? Challenges are meant to improve your kiddos, and just that simple reminder is sometimes all that they need. 🙂
There’s no magic bullet that works for every child, because each child is undeniably unique. As teachers, it is our job to figure out how we can best support our students in all aspects of their life. For many gifted learners, struggles in social-emotional health exist and can be detrimental to their learning. You now have the tools to assist your gifted learners in overcoming these hurdles.
With each blog post, I end by giving you a resource or two that I think are just phenomenal! Since this blog post focused on social-emotional needs, the resources below focus on that topic.
- Byrdseed. Byrdseed is a fantastic website developed by a world-renowned educator by the name of Ian Byrd. Ian is an expert in gifted education, and he has provided a ton of information on the social-emotional needs of students. You’ll want to bookmark the entire website – he is phenomenal!
- Hoagies. Hoagies (sorry if it makes you hungry!) is another fabulous website that focuses on the gifted child and their teachers. There are a ton of articles here that can provide you with even more awesome information on meeting the needs of your gifted learners.