Twice-exceptional students are those who are gifted and have a disability of some kind. It used to be accepted that if a student was disabled, he couldn’t be gifted. Now we know better. Students can have a reading disability and be gifted in math. Or students can have autism and be gifted (they are usually known as having Asperger’s Syndrome). What is most common about all these students is they are usually undiagnosed in one or both areas. They may seem bright, but lazy. Teachers struggle with these students because they “know” the kids can do the work, but usually it doesn’t get done, or it’s very sloppy. These students are usually very verbally articulate, but often have trouble putting their thoughts onto paper. They go unrecognized because their gifts mask their disabilities and their disabilities mask their gifts. Their grades make them seem average, when the reality is far from that. Some researchers suggest that as much as 10% of the gifted population is twice-exceptional (2E). In TSD, less than 2% of our GT population is also diagnosed with some form of disability, making this group of students one of our most under-identified.
The most typical areas of disability with twice exceptional students are ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism. Response to Intervention can miss most 2E kids with a learning disability because they usually can keep up with grade level work in elementary school, even though they are capable of more. These kids tend to show more of their disabilities once they are in secondary school and the ability to read quickly becomes much more important. Without a diagnosis, many students begin to believe they are stupid. They know their school work should be easier, but for some reason, they are having trouble with simple skills. This leads students to question their abilities and shut down in school.
Diagnosis is difficult because their disability interferes with testing for giftedness, but their giftedness masks their disability in the classroom, leaving identification of learning disabilities also almost impossible. So what can a teacher do if she suspects a student of being twice-exceptional? Take the student to the Problem-Solving Team in your school. Also, speak with the GT teacher and resource teacher. They will have resources that they can use to help determine whether the child exhibits common 2E characteristics. While testing may not be very reliable with these students, the GT teacher can also look at class work and other evidence that might support a formal identification.
Even without a formal ID, there is one thing that teachers will want to keep in mind. It is very important that these students be challenged with high-level, interesting, and relevant work. These students want to be intellectually stimulated. Forcing them to work on skills and denying them the opportunity to critically engage in content just makes their behavior worse in most cases. They need support for their low-level skills, but they also need time with intellectual peers and accommodations to help them complete higher-level work. Access to challenging content should not be a reward for good behavior – it is what will help these students connect to school and keep them engaged in learning.
For more information, see To Be Gifted and Learning Disabled by Susan Baum and Steven Owen. Copies are available for check-out in the Gifted Office’s Resource Library.
What is differentiation?
Differentiation is about altering the curriculum, teaching style, or pace of instruction based on student need. Each student comes to school with different background knowledge, learning style, and readiness level. It is the teacher’s job to determine how to present the information to be learned in a way that maximizes understanding. Differentiation can help teachers alter how they teach to reach more students.
Gifted and talented students come to class with their own unique learning needs. These students learn material after 1 -2 repetitions rather than the 8-12 repetitions most students need to lean new information. Also, gifted learners tend to already know about 50% of the material to be taught in a school year on the first day of school.
What does this mean for gifted students in your classroom? Teachers should plan lessons keeping in mind that some students may already know the information. An alternative assignment that goes deeper into the topic for these students should be part of the plan before the unit or lesson begins. Also, allowing students to move on when they can show mastery of new learning is important for these students. All students should be able to learn something new in school every day. When students are required to stay on a topic when they can show mastery, they are just wasting learning time.
This is a valuable fable I have found that explains why differentiation is so important for gifted students.
Have you been frustrated with the level of thinking and questioning your students are producing? Do you give them countless opportunities for deeper conversations only to have your students keep the discussion at the surface level?
Try using an exemplar. Many times, students have never had experience with developing their own deep questions or engaging in higher level conversations. They may not even know what that should look or sound like. By giving them an example, you are providing a model for them to emulate. By providing a range of examples, you are asking them to evaluate the variety of responses to see what a “good” answer looks like compared to a “great” answer.
Students will usually resist greater depth and complexity at first. After all, level 1 and 2 DOK questions are much easier than level 3 and 4 questions. Be persistent – they will eventually get better which will make it easier for them.