The Ten Commandments I Teach By:
Optimizing Success for 2e Learners
By Susan Baum
To optimize learning in today’s classrooms, we must first create learning communities that respect the intellectual, physical, and emotional needs of students. This is especially true for twice-exceptional students. Because of their constant struggle with the little things that others do easily, their sense of self is fragile and their academic self-efficacy is compromised. (Self-efficacy is belief in one’s own ability to successfully organize and carry out some behavior.)
Over the years, I have found opportunities to create positive learning environments that nurture the emotional and intellectual development of these special youngsters. In this brief article I will share the ten commandments that guide my efforts to create this vital learning community. For me, these are nonnegotiable in offering a comprehensive educational opportunity to twice-exceptional students.
Twice-exceptional students need to learn at a rate commensurate with their ability. Many have advanced interests, talents in specific areas, or great capacity to think critically and creatively. To meet these needs, I do four things.
- Provide a challenging curriculum. These bright youngsters need a curriculum that engages their advanced-level interests and problem-solving abilities. Watering down the curriculum serves no purpose and, in fact, does harm to these students’ fragile sense of academic self-efficacy.
- Allow access to the curriculum. Many twice-exceptional students fail because they have difficulty obtaining information through reading or listening. Offer them opportunities to access content by using books on tape, technology, websites, video or DVD representations, experiential learning, demonstrations, etc. Offering all students in the class choices of how to achieve learning objectives has two advantages: it optimizes learning in general; and it allows the twice-exceptional student to accept accommodations without feeling different or inferior.
- Provide ways for twice-exceptional students to communicate effectively. Putting ideas in writing is often problematic to these youngsters. Handwriting and spelling challenges are obstacles to recording ideas. Difficulty in organizing information also taxes short-term memory, making it difficult for them to concentrate as they complete writing assignments. These students should always have access to technology for putting ideas on paper, taking notes, completing writing assignments, or making presentations. Use programs like Inspiration™ or Kidspiration™ for pre-writing opportunities and planning.
When assigning written research reports or essays, allow these students to first create a PowerPoint presentation, and then have them talk from the slides. Turning the slides into a full report or essay is much easier; the slide show becomes their outline.
- Use instructional strategies to enhance student engagement. Look for teaching and learning activities that allow twice-exceptional students to focus and sustain attention during the learning process. Helpful instructional strategies include using moral dilemmas, simulations, Socratic questioning, project-based learning, and creative problem solving, to name a few. An excellent resource for engaging strategies is the book Models of Teaching (Joyce, Weil, with Calhoun).
The physical environment of a classroom can contribute to or inhibit classroom success. Many twice-exceptional students have difficulties attending and focusing in highly stimulating environments. They need opportunities for quiet as well as opportunities to move about. The following accommodations work well in meeting these needs.
- Provide office space. Some students require quiet space where they can collect their thoughts and focus on the task at hand. Create a private office in a corner of the room where any child can sign up to work. In this space should be a computer or AlphaSmart™ (an electronic keyboard), headphones, and music. (Yes, many students with AD/HD focus better while listening to music.) Have sketch pads and building materials available as well. Many of the more spatially gifted students - those with Asperger Syndrome, AD/HD, or dyslexia - need to draw before they write. They literally sketch out their ideas. Others build models to create meaning.
- Create a reading corner. We have found that some students with reading or attention difficulties are overwhelmed and debilitated by fluorescent lighting. Have a comfortable reading chair and a lamp with soft light available for students who suffer from light sensitivity.
- Provide grouping arrangements. Twice-exceptional students fare much better in classes with fewer students. For me, small class size is a major contributor to the success of these students. Unfortunately, schools are not likely to have options in terms of class size. Thus, it becomes imperative that we keep whole-class teaching to a minimum. Use interest or talent grouping to allow these students to be with others with whom they share ideas and skills. Pair-share activities as well as small groups of students at an interest center provide opportunities for more active participation by twice-exceptional youngsters; these arrangements enhance their ability to sustain attention.
For many twice-exceptional students, school becomes a matter of survival. These students, many of whom are overly sensitive about their differences, use their creativity and intellectual energy to navigate the hostile waters of school. They need to feel valued and smart. I offer two ideas to support these students emotionally.
- Use differentiation and strength-based opportunities for all students in your classroom. No child likes to be different. Offering choice to all students for how to learn and for how to be assessed allows any student, including the twice-exceptional student, to feel smart and to take responsibility for learning. By showing that we value a three-dimensional model of the DNA molecule equally as much as a well-written essay about the molecule, we empower students to learn. More about strength-based learning can be found in the book Multiple Intelligences in the Elementary Classroom: A Teacher’s Toolkit (Baum, Viens, & Slatin with Gardner).
- Teach the skills of emotional intelligence. Hold class meetings where students talk about social and emotional issues. During these meetings, teach strategies in time management, communication, and self-understanding. Cover learning styles, personality profiles, and individual talents. When twice-exceptional students see that all of us have emotional issues, strengths, and interests, they can better understand themselves and learn how to advocate effectively for themselves.
And the Final Commandment
- Empower these students through talent development. If I could do only one thing to help twice-exceptional students on their journeys, it would be to identify and develop their talents. It is their talents that will provide them a pathway to success in life. It is through the rigors of talent development that they will become self-regulated and goal-directed. It is through talent development that they will develop positive identities and like-minded friends.
Talent development opportunities can include advanced classes in their talent areas, opportunities to work on creative projects with other talented students, mentorships, and competitions. It is our responsibility to match the student with the opportunity. For more on the promise of talent development see the article “The Promise of Talent Development for Twice Exceptional Students.”
I hope these ideas will help you develop you own set of commandments to meet the unique needs of those students whose gifts and talents are compromised by their academic, social, or emotional challenges.
Baum, S, (2005). “The Promise of Talent Development for Twice-exceptional Youngsters.” Gifted Education Communicator, 35, 13-16.
Baum, S., Viens, J., & Slatin, B., with Gardner (2005) Multiple Intelligences in the Elementary Classroom: A Teacher’s Toolkit. New York: Teachers College Press.
Joyce, B., Weil, M. with Calhoun, E. (2000). Models of Teaching. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Susan Baum, Ph.D., co-authored one of the seminal books in the 2e field, To Be Gifted and Learning Disabled. She consults internationally and is co-founder of AEGUS, the Association for the Education of Gifted Underachieving Students. She serves as the director of the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development at Bridges Academy, Studio City, California.
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