Strategies for Teaching Twice-exceptional Students

By Susan Winebrenner

October, 2003

This article is a condensed version of an article by the same title from Understanding Our Gifted, Winter 2002. Reprinted with Permission, Open Space Communications. www.openspacecomm.com

 

The field of gifted education has discovered ways to create and maintain optimum learning conditions for twice-exceptional students. It is impor­tant for parents and teachers of twice exceptional students to teach compensation strategies. Specific teaching and learning methods enable such students to successfully progress on their learning journeys.

Twice-exceptional students cannot improve by simply “trying harder.” Their learning challenges often emanate from a series of neurological twists and turns as messages try to make their way to the brain from the source of the stimulus, be it seeing or hearing or some other perceptual sensation. The good news is that these students have above-average intelligence and can be taught specific compensation strategies that can allow them to make significant progress in their productivity in school.

While planning and teaching these strategies, it is helpful to remember the words of Kenneth Dunn (1987): If they are not learning the way we teach them, let’s teach them the way they learn! When we keep trying to teach kids in ways that have repeatedly failed, discouragement soon replaces optimism. Furthermore, we want to send messages full of hope and confidence to the stu­dents. Rather than implying there is something wrong with the kids themselves because of their repeated failures, we can change methods of instruction until we find one that is a “good fit,” and learning success can be achieved.

The rule to follow when teaching students who are twice exceptional is simple. When teaching in their areas of strength, offer them the same compacting and differentiation opportunities available to other gifted students. When teaching in their areas of challenge, teach them whatever strategies they need to increase their learning success. Never take time away from their strength areas to get more time to work on their deficiencies. Never remediate their weaknesses until you teach to their strengths!

Guidelines for Teachers Who Work with Learning-Disabled Students

1. Take time at the beginning of every school year to help all your students appreciate and support individual differences. The more you demonstrate that diversity is a good thing, the more your stu­dents will learn to accept individual differences in positive ways. Teachers and schools must enforce policies that do not allow teasing, name calling, or other practices that demonstrate rejection of kids because they are different. The more a teacher pro­vides differentiation opportunities in her class, the more she sends the message that being different is natural, and that all differences are valued as part of being human.

2. Make sure students see the “big picture” before they try to learn its pieces. Strategies that are helpful include watching a video before and after studying a novel or other unit of work, hearing a story read aloud before reading it individually, and working from graphic organizers that fit on one page so the whole “picture” of the entire unit content is visible at once.

3. Teach students how to set realistic, short-term goals and to take credit for reaching those goals, even if they represent only a portion of the entire task.

4. Make everything visual. Use graphic organizers, charts, graphs, timelines, vocabulary maps, other types of learning maps, and any other tool that condenses lots of words into a few pictures or graphics. If you are lecturing, supplement your words with visual organizers as you talk. Stop frequently to check for understanding with group response methods, rather than simply accepting one or two verbal responses from volunteers.

5. Use musical chants, raps, rhymes, or rhythms for students who respond to those methods.

6. Build lots of movement into the learning tasks. Many students with learning challenges are very kinesthetic in their learning and truly appreciate movement opportunities. Ask students to stand or jump to indicate their responses to questions. Use team games where kids get to walk to differ­ent areas of the room to indicate a response. Allow students to hold onto squeezable objects to enable them to keep moving their hands such as Kush balls. Guard against the impulse to label highly kinesthetic learners as ADHD.

7. Understand that these students often prefer “hands-on and experiential learning situations. They love to do projects, to construct models and visual representations of what they have learned. Unfortunately, such students are often prevented from this type of learning activity as teachers fear that students with learning difficulties will “lose control” of their behavior. The irony is that acceptable behavior is much more likely to occur when students are interested in what they are learning.

8. Allow struggling readers to listen to the books on tape before the class reads a designated story or novel. Listening to one chapter at a time allows these kids to be much more active participants in class discussions and activities in reading and even in content areas. An agency called Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic has recordings of almost every book used in American classrooms. They have a plan where individual families can borrow the taped books for a nominal fee. All that is required is a letter from a medical or educational professional.

9. Provide specific instruction in organization. Provide color-coded notebooks by subject areas, and two sets of texts, one of which can be kept at home. Teach kids to keep charts for supplies and homework. Post reminder notes on the door through which the child passes on his way to school.

 10. Use technology that will improve the student’s productivity. It is not “cheating” to use calculators, tape recorders, word processors, and spell-check programs for a student with learning weaknesses.

11. Allow students to take tests in separate, super­vised environments so they can either read the test aloud themselves or have someone else read it to them.

Guidelines for Teachers Who Work with Gifted Potential

 1. Allow students to experience compacting and differentiation in their areas of strength. Offer pretests to document previous mastery of a subject area. Allow students to move through new content at a faster pace and to use some of the remaining time to work on projects in their areas of interest.

2. Don’t worry about the “fairness issue.” If you are worried that other students will resent the options available for your gifted students or students with learning challenges, simply offer the same options for the whole class. The same methods you have devised for exceptional learners may benefit many other students as well.

Guidelines for Parents

1. Understand that many children who are twice exceptional have uneven standardized test scores. This is a common profile, and it paints an accurate picture of the very definition of this condition–strong highs and significant lows. Often, the learning disability “depresses” the gifted ability so the child scores in the average range. Teachers may perceive that parents are looking for status by insisting their child has exceptional abilities. Keeping a journal of exceptionally capable behaviors you observe outside of school may be helpful.

2. Ask that your child be able to participate in activities in his areas of strength. Be prepared to support the school’s efforts to assist your child in her areas of weakness. Above all, resist efforts by school personnel to limit your child’s profile to either gifted or learning challenged. Schools may focus on the disability and stop looking for any other exceptionality once the disability is documented.

3. Seek out the best available services for diagnosis based on neurological assessments, rather than simple behavioral checklists. Proper diagnosis, combined with effective learning plans, go a long way toward learning success for your child.

4. Find all the information you can about learning styles, and share that information with your youngster. Help him learn how to use his strength areas to compensate for tasks he finds particularly difficult.

5. Advocate for your child to use any technology that increases his learning success. It helps some students to make tape recordings of teachers’ lectures.

6. If all else fails, consider homeschooling. This “field” of twice exceptional education is fairly new, and many educators are unaware of its content and implications. In some cases it is impossible to get schools to recognize the gifted aspect of this condition. On the other hand, be as realistic as possible when you make this decision. Homeschooling is not always easy.

7. Understand the special challenges that come with the quest for friends. Recall from your own experiences how much easier it is to relate to people with similar needs and interests. Encourage your youngster to join clubs or groups that share her passionate interests. Do not be concerned if your child chooses friends of different ages. A 10-year-old with the mind of a 12-year-old has very little in common with his age peers in many areas. Ask yourself how many of your own friends are within one year of your present age–then relax!

The Challenge

Teaching or parenting children who are twice exceptional is very challenging. The most serious challenge is making certain that the giftedness is recognized. Any efforts parents and teachers can direct toward understanding and teaching the whole child, with all his complicated learning needs, will go a long way toward creating optimum learning conditions for these very interesting and challenging youngsters. Happily, there are many more resources available now than ever before.

 

Susan WinebrennerSusan Winebrenner writes on topics related to teaching gifted students and students with learning difficulties. She is the author of several books, a speaker at conferences, and a columnist for the journal Understanding Our Gifted. She works as a consultant with individual schools and districts, helping them apply current educational research to classroom practice.

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