Some children seem like they are born to read. They devour books and seem to understand them with ease. They may even be able to read texts that are well above grade level. While parents and teachers may be inclined to “not worry” about these children because they are well above where they should be for their age, it is important to provide them with reading experiences that help them to continue to grow and flourish.
Characteristics of Gifted Readers
While there is no finite set of qualities a reader must have to be considered gifted there are several characteristics that seem to be consistent amongst many of those identified.
- The child performs significantly above grade level on reading assessments
- The child shows strong commitment to and focus on reading tasks.
- The child is often highly creative or demonstrates creativity that is beyond that of their same aged peers.
- The child often enjoys reading for pleasure.
Many times parents and teachers wonder if children can gifted readers when they do not enjoy reading or resist completing reading assignments. Since most school districts use intelligence as the primary measure for determining giftedness, it is very possible that a child may score well above grade level on a reading assessment or evaluation, but not “appear” to be a gifted reader. The child may lack confidence in his reading ability and therefore will not challenge himself to read more difficult texts. On the other side of the spectrum, there are children who become bored with grade level reading because it is too easy. They simply stop reading because they are not being challenged by what they are being asked to read.
Strategies for Supporting Gifted Readers
Because they are often able to read more quickly and at higher levels of difficulty than their same aged peers, gifted readers need different challenges in their reading experiences. One of the worst approaches those working with gifted readers can take is to give these children more grade level work. “More of the same” does not help gifted readers grow. In fact, it may turn them off to reading and learning entirely. Here are some effective strategies for supporting the development of gifted readers.
As the name implies, differentiated instruction is “different”. When teachers differentiate they tailor their instruction to meet the specific learning needs of their students. This means that those working below grade level read texts that are accessible to them and complete work that supports their learning. Those students who are identified as gifted and are able to read above grade level are given opportunities to read more advanced texts and complete activities that encourage them to engage in learning that goes deeper or further than the grade level curriculum dictates. Differentiation can take several different forms in the classroom. What is most important is that teachers provide learning experiences that meet students where they are at and take them to the next level. Gifted readers should be given opportunities to read and work with advanced texts and concepts.
While most students enjoy being able to choose what they will read, gifted students absolutely thrive on choice. Because they are often self-motivated and disciplined, gifted students are easily able to work on activities that allow them to choose their paths for learning. Teachers can give students choice in the texts that they read or the learning activities associated with those texts. They can also offer choice in topics that the students may focus their reading on. The choice offered to students can be as open ended as the teacher feels is appropriate for the particular students s/he is working with.
Because many gifted readers already know or have experienced their grade level curriculum through other means, they do not need the same level of instruction as their same aged peers. One method for helping these students move forward is to compact their curriculum. The first step towards compacting is to assess what students already know about the topic the class is studying. In the case of a literature study, this would mean that the student has already read the particular book the class will be reading and understands it fully. Any areas that the student is not versed in need to be addressed. The student can either “join in” with the rest of the class when they are studying topics where the student has “gaps” in learning or s/he can independently study these topics and demonstrate learning. For the areas where the student has already mastered the material, the teacher should provide different learning opportunities for him. This may mean that the student reads more advanced texts about the topic or materials that delve deeper into the topic. The teacher and student(s) can tailor this experience to fit the student’s specific learning needs and interests.