English to Gifted Students
The Staff of the ERIC/REC Clearinghouse
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English,
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.
Should Gifted Students Be Identified?
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, 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
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.
Are Some Key Principles in Developing an Effective
English and Language Arts
Program for the Gifted/Talented?
Frederick B. 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)
Specific Resources Exist for Teaching English and Language Arts to Gifted/Talented
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 about literature.
Should Gifted Students and English and Language Arts Programs
for the Gifted
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 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 former students or
by interviewing them.
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
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]
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
Teaching the Gifted and Talented in the English Classroom. Washington, DC:
National Education Association. [ED 197 521]
publication was prepared (Digest #118, EDO-CS-96-12, June 1996) with funding from
the U.S. Department of Education under contract number RR93002011, and published
by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication.
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or
policies of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations imply endorsement by Learn2study.