Tracy Cross, also a professor of education at William and Mary, believes that too much is expected of teachers. "It is the only profession that expects each person to be an expert at everything," he said. "It defies logic," agreed Tieso. "Doctors specialize but we expect teachers to be equally good with special needs children and gifted learners." Inclusion can work if teachers understand how to teach gifted students, said Sally Ries, "and most teachers don't."
Options for the gifted
While parents of gifted children have plenty of cause for concern, the situation isn't all bad, Tieso said. New computer-based math programs are designed to be sensitive to the needs and abilities of each student. Those who struggle receive extra time to practice, while those who don't are able to move through material quickly.
"We've seen 12-year-olds who score at or above the 700 level on the SAT doing two years of calculus in three weeks," said Cross. "They need the opportunity to work as fast and as hard and they can," he said. According to Tieso, individualized approaches to material can make mixed ability classrooms friendlier for all students.
Teachers can also learn techniques to better serve the needs of gifted children. Professional development programs, such as a week-long summer program at the University of Connecticut, instruct teachers on curriculum enrichment and acceleration for gifted students.
"With a trend toward regular classroom services for all students, it is vital that all teachers be prepared and willing to serve the needs of the gifted appropriately," said Catherine Little, professor of education at the University of Connecticut.
Parents also need to think about how they can provide an enriching home life for their gifted children. "It is our role to challenge our kids," said Reis, who is also the mother of a gifted daughter.
"We have a responsibility to nurture their talents, to expose them to interesting problems and to ensure they have opportunities to be challenged."
Brynes has taken this responsibility to heart. Her son Riley participates in the activities and camps put on by Destination Imagination, a national non-profit organization that provides educational programs for kids. "It's a place where he can be who he is with other kids," said Brynes, "where he can be a geek among geeks and he doesn't have to downplay who he is to fit in."
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