During the middle of last school year, I heard from one of our staff meetings that a teacher was upset that my third grade gifted students were saying they were smarter than other students.

Quick Side Note: I have a LOT of very strong thoughts on the treatment of the word “gifted” in schools. I hate that people find it “elitist” for gifted students to call themselves gifted (is it elitist for a student with dyslexia to say they have dyslexia?!). I use “the word” with my students, even thought among my school it has turned into a sort of curse word. But this post is not about that, it is about the lesson I created based on this feedback.

I did not hear my students say any of these things, and when I spoke to the teacher she didn’t give a concrete example. But it did bring to my attention the fact that these students had never truly learned what it meant to be “gifted.” They were slapped with a label, tossed in a small group, and then expected to just go along with it.

I decided to create a lesson that touched on two main components – the basic physiology of the brain and Howard Gardner’s theory of intelligence. My goal was twofold. I wanted the students to understand what it meant to be gifted and to recognize that there are multiple ways to be gifted (not all of which are measured in school) .

The result of this lesson was more than I had bargained for. The students were enthralled, and I even had another teacher who shared my classroom and overheard the lesson comment on its value in all classrooms (GT or not). I ended up giving the same lesson to my second graders and my fourth graders.

As a result of this lesson my students…

  • Recognized their own strengths
  • Understood that they had weaknesses
  • Realized that others could be “gifted” in different areas, regardless of whether or not they were pulled out in a small group
  • Understood what happened in their brain as they learned new information
  • Recognized the importance of challenging their brain
  • Continued to refer to this lesson throughout the entire school year
  • Made connections to different forms of intelligence with different characters in our novels

Intrigued? Read below for the step-by-step guide to implementing this lesson in your own classroom!

Step One – Brainstorming

Have students brainstorm what they think “Gifted” means by writing their definitions on a sheet of paper. A safe environment should be established so they feel free to write their true feelings. Allow students to share, but try to limit comments. Notice which definitions are similar, and acknowledge students who had no idea.

Step Two – Review Vocabulary

Explain that there a many, many, many definitions of what gifted means. Then, choose one that your district follows. I tell my students that “gifted means that your brain thinks differently – not better, not worse. You can think about things from different perspectives so you can catch onto concepts quicker or understand ideas that are unique or complicated then others of your age.”

Step Three – Direct Instruction

Show a graphic of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Intelligence. Go through each intelligence briefly so students understand the vocabulary he used. This website does a nice job of breaking down each type of intelligence to give you the background info you need to explain it to your students.

This infographic that I use with my students can be found here, where there are more resources explaining the types of intelligences

Step Four – Guided Discussion

Students will be eager to discuss these, so now is their chance. Allow them to choose ONE intelligence that they feel is a strength and to discuss it.

After they have had a chance to verbalize their personal connections, explain that you want them to think of someone not in this room (therefore some not in the GT cluster). Have them raise their hand if the person they are thinking of is strong in any of the intelligences that have been discussed.

Ask students if they have ever taken a test for “Intrapersonal Giftedness” or for “Kinesthetic Giftedness.” Most students will say no. Ask students what tests they have taken and some might remember taking a reading test or a math test.

Here is the key point: People can be gifted in many different ways, but most schools only offer tests to label giftedness for math, reading, or creative thinking. Just because a person does not have a label of giftedness, it doesn’t meant they don’t have a strength in a particular area. It could just mean they haven’t taken a test for that area. Similarly, even thought your students may only receive services for math or reading, they might find other areas (naturalist or interpersonal) that they feel they are gifted in.

The purpose of connecting this to someone not identified as gifted is to lead them to the understanding that people can be gifted in different areas even if they are not labelled as gifted. This doesn’t take away from their own label of giftedness because you should have already established their own strengths, but it does teach them to look for strengths in others

Step Five: Show The Brain

Now that students understand that giftedness is having an area of strength, they need to understand why they benefit from differentiated instruction in their area of giftedness. I show this video of neurons making connections in vitro. I want studetns to have a visualization of what is physiologically happening in their bodies as they learn. Explain that as they learn new information, their brain creates new pathways.

Step Six: Drive Home the Importance of Being Challenged

The last point I make in this lesson is that in order for our brains to continue to make new connections, we need to give it opportunity to learn new things! This results not just from reading new concepts, but by thinking about things in a new way. This means being challenged, but working through the challenges. If we are never challenged, our brains will maintain their number of connections, and our poor neurons will have no new connections to make.

This video from Khan Academy is a fabulous tool to help demonstrate this point

Step Seven: Tie it All Together

Being “gifted” means that your brain works differently than others – not better and not worse. You are able to understand concepts quickly and from multiple perspectives. However, you need to keep challenging your brain in order to make more connections. While you can’t “lose” giftedness, your brain can remain stagnant.

I know that this was an extra long post, but I hope that you are able to pull out a nugget (or seven!) of helpful pieces of information to include in your own classroom. While this post was written in the lens of a GT classroom, it could really be applied to any class.

Please leave a comment because I would LOVE to know your thoughts – do you think students should learn about giftedness?