Challenging Gifted Students

Q | I teach second grade. I have a couple of kids who can do multiplication and division and read Harry Potter. I worry they’ll be bored or restless during lessons. What can I do to challenge them?

A | You are right that boredom increases misbehavior. This is true for all children. The good news is that for more advanced students, you can often prevent misbehavior without having to introduce completely novel lessons or topics. Learning specialists like Ruth Lee, of the Child Mind Institute, say it is all about helping them “dig deeper rather than wider” on the topics the rest of the students are studying. In other words, challenging them academically is an effective prevention strategy.

What’s the best way to do this? Matt Cruger, a clinical neuropsychologist and senior director of the Learning and Diagnostics Center at the Child Mind Institute, says, “Unlike typical readers who are exerting more effort to decode passages, gifted readers have a higher capacity to think about the texts they are reading.” That’s why it’s a good idea to expose these readers to new strategies that will enhance their thinking. For example, they can learn the elements of a story and begin thinking about how things like turning points help characters solve problems. Stories can also be tied to a reader’s personal experiences; advanced students should be encouraged to think about those connections.

The time you take to help your gifted students delve more deeply into reading and math will likely be shorter than the time you have to take from instruction to manage misbehaving students.

Bully or Bossy?

Q | One of my third-grade girls is always telling the other students what to do. How can I tell if she’s a bully or just bossy? And what should I do about it?

A | First, it’s important to understand the difference between bullying and bossing. Bullying is recurring aggressive behavior. It can be physical or verbal, or it can be a subtle action. Bossing is habitually ordering others around. The important distinction is intent: With bullying, the intent is to hurt others or make them feel uncomfortable. With bossing, it’s generally to get one’s way. It sounds like your student might be bossy.

Even if she isn’t bullying, her bossy behavior could be alienating classmates. Have a conversation to figure out if she realizes how she’s coming across. Role-play some scenarios and ask her to take the perspective of the kids she’s bossing around. Use examples of situations where you’ve seen her act bossy, but do it so she doesn’t feel criticized.

Conversely, coaching the rest of your class to be assertive through role playing can be very helpful. You should also teach students to look out for one another.


Melanie A. Fernandez, Ph.D., ABPP, is board certified in clinical child and adolescent psychology and is director of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy Program at the Child Mind Institute.


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