Inclusive Teaching Practices for Children with Special Needs

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Introduction

Autism Spectrum Disorders
Gifted and talented
ADHD: Emotional and Behavioural
Learning Disabilities
Hearing and Sight Impairments
Down Syndrome
Learning Difficulties

 

Gifted and Talented

 

Some people may wonder why we have included gifted and talented students in this website, alongside students with disabilities. We have done so because students who are identified as gifted or talented still need special education services (meaning services that are often not offered or different in the mainstream/general education classroom). Thus teachers need to know how to inclusively teach these students and modify the curriculum accordingly, to promote engagement and academic excellence.

Definition

A 1980 Schools Commission Report defined what Australia considers gifted and talented as ‘Gifted students are those possessing to an outstanding degree demonstrated competence or potential in intellectual, creative and/or other abilities and needing different educational services beyond those provided by the regular school (p. 12)’. Gallagher (1985, p. 6) goes further, identifying specific areas where gifted children are capable of high performance, demonstrated ability or the potential ability, these areas include:

  • General intellectual aptitude

  • Specific academic aptitude

  • Creative or productive thinking

  • Leadership ability

  • Visual and performing arts

One important feature to note about most if not all current definitions of giftedness is the mention of a students potential. This is important as it has been found that not all students who are gifted and talented will achieve or excel academically; this may be because these gifted learners also have a disability, those living in poverty, children for whom English is a second language, and boys and girls who, for reasons of their gender, are held back from achieving or do not want to achieve (Porter, 2005, p. 4).

Incidence and Prevalence

When considering and researching the incidence and prevalence of gifted and talented students, it is hard to find reliable quantitative or empirical data. This may certainly be due to the label of ‘gifted’ being different in many cultures and due to the fact that some gifted students go undetected for certain reasons. However, Gallagher (2003, in Colangelo & Davis) suggests that intelligence is malleable and capable of improvement if teachers and caregivers pay appropriate attention to it. Thus we are not limited to 2 percent or 5 percent of then population being gifted (p.12), it could be many more.

Characteristics

Simmons (1996) simplifies the gifted and talented students’ characteristics as including: having the ability to learn quickly and easily, able to see relationships between events and ideas that others may find more difficult to establish, often having a heightened sense of critical reasoning, (demonstrated through a greater depth of understanding issues), and having higher levels of abstract thinking than other students of their own age (p.11). Characteristics can be demonstrated through observed behaviours both positive and negative in nature (see table).

 

Characteristics

Observable Behaviours

Other Behavioural Indicators

Learns rapidly & easily

Memorises and masters basic facts quickly

Easily bored, disruptive

Reads intensively

Reads many books, uses library on own

Neglects other responsibilities

Advanced vocabulary

Communicates ideas well

Shows off, invokes peer resentment

Retains a quantity of information

Ready recall and responses

Monopolises discussions

Long attention span

Sticks with task or project

Resists class routine, dislikes interruption

Curious, has a variety of interests

Asks questions, is excited about ideas

Goes off on tangents, little follow-through

Works independently

Creates and invents beyond set task

Reluctant to work with others

Alert and observant

Recognises problems

Corrects adults

 

Good sense of humour

Able to laugh at self

Plays tricks or makes jokes at the expense of others

Comprehends, recognises relationships

Able to solve social problems alone

Interferes in affairs of others

High academic achievement

Does school work well

Brags, egotistical, impatient with others

Fluent, verbal facility

Forceful with words, leads peers in positive ways

Leads others into negative behaviours

Individualistic, challenges ideas

Asserts self and ideas, has own sense of uniqueness

Has few friends, stubborn in beliefs, non-conforming

Self-motivated, self-sufficient

Requires minimum direction or assistance

Is over aggressive, challenges authority

Table taken from Simmons, 1996, p.12

It is important to note that not all gifted students will exhibit all of the above characteristics as each child is an individual.  Indeed the students who have learning difficulties/disabilities accompanied with giftedness may not display many of these characteristics, hindering identification and implementation of services. The same may be true for students who are purposely underachieving and those with low motivation. 

Educational considerations/inclusive teaching practices

All gifted and talented students are unique and individual and the first thing a teacher needs to do is to treat these students as individuals. What educational consideration or inclusive practice used for one student, may not be beneficial to the next. Especially when considering the different areas these students may be gifted in. However, general consensus in the education of gifted and talented students details three major educational considerations: acceleration, differentiating curriculum and mentoring (Braggett, 1997, p. 5). Teachers also need to treat gifted and talented students with empathy as some experience a higher amount of emotional stress, often caused by feeling ‘different’ and ostracism from peers.

Over the past few years there has been increasing interest in the use of mentors in gifted education (Gallagher, 1985, p. 402-403). Gifted students may excel under the guidance of a mentor because gifted students are often capable of learning concepts that are more complex. Mentors could be the teacher themselves, uni students, other gifted peers (preferably older) or community members. Mentors though, should always be the same sex as the students due to ethical issues. Mentoring exposes gifted students to appropriate role models and for the students who are embarrassed of their giftedness, mentoring can provide a confidence boost and an opportunity for students to use/discuss their areas of giftedness with older and experiences mentors. Teachers would be inclusive if they let the mentoring sessions happed in the classroom and became mentors themselves.

Providing a differentiated curriculum in the classroom setting for gifted and talented students is great as students still feel like a valued part of the class and can still participate in classroom activities. Teachers would be promoting inclusivity by not segregating these students and encouraging them to participate and engage with their peers. Teachers can differentiate the curriculum by providing more challenging work on the concept/topic that is being explored and by promoting higher order thinking in their lessons. This may be of benefit for all students not just those who are gifted and/or talented.

Acceleration for gifted students can involve such things as grade skipping, doing three years in two, higher grade classes for extra credit and an extra work load. Teachers need to be careful (especially in relation to grade skipping) that students are comfortable in all situations as adverse effects may happen in relation to the students social and emotional lives. Teachers can promote inclusivity if they include methods of acceleration in the classroom but still make sure students are interacting with their peers in a positive way.

By valuing and treating the gifted and talented student as an individual at all times, respecting and showing concern for the students emotional health, promoting positive peer interacting and by promoting participation in class activities teachers are still promoting inclusivity in the classroom and with the curriculum. Such things as mentoring, acceleration and differentiating curriculum is often of benefit but the teacher needs to make sure that these happen in conjunction with inclusive teaching practices as by themselves they often seem at odds.

References

 Schools Commission (November 1980) The Education of Gifted Students: A Discussion Paper, Commonwealth Government Printer: Canberra

Gallagher, J.J., (1985). Teaching the Gifted Child, (3rd Edition), Allyn & Bacon Inc: Massachusetts

Porter, L., (2005). Gifted Young Children: a guide for parents and teachers, (2nd Edition) Open University Press, England

Colangelo, N. & Davis, G.A., (Eds) (2003). Handbook of Gifted Education, (3rd Edition), Pearson Education Limited: USA

Simmons, J., (ed) (1996). Understanding Giftedness: A guide to policy implementation, Department of Education and Children’s Services, Graphic Print Group: South Australia