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For this column, I have been asked to share the “philosophical” aspects of my approach to reading for gifted readers, including those who are twice exceptional. These thoughts and concepts have been developed over a lifetime of reading and a long career in gifted education. My thoughts and my approach have been influenced by many scholars in the field, too many to be listed and perhaps some too far in the past to be remembered. However, a few who have made a major impact on my thinking should be mentioned: Louise Rosenblatt, Richard Abrahamson, Kenneth Donelson, Judith Halsted, Robert Probst, Nancy Atwell, and Teri Lesesne.
Since the mid-1980’s, I have been presenting a session at NAGC, and at state GT conferences, that I call What’s New in Young Adult Literature. In these sessions, I build a rationale for using young adult literature with gifted learners, share classroom strategies, and review a new list of current literature each year. I will again be presenting this session at NAGC in Orlando this Fall.
I was first introduced to young adult literature when I was teaching an eighth-grade language arts class for identified gifted learners. As part of our curriculum, we read and studied William Sleator’s House of Stairs (1975). I was hooked! (This novel is now available from Puffin Books in a 1991 reissue.)
About the same time, I “took” a class in young adult literature from Richard Abrahamson, University of Houston. This class was being taught in an area adjacent to where I was taking one of my first classes for my doctoral program. By strategically placing myself, I had a good view and was well in listening range to hear Dick’s lectures and discussions. It was much more interesting that the class I was taking — which to be honest, I can’t remember! Later, I was able officially to take a class from Dr. Abrahamson, an experience that prompted a long-time love affair with YA lit and the study of the instruction of reading, especially for gifted learners.
As I began to develop my “program” of reading, I investigated the gifted characteristics most related to reading. Judith Halsted offers a list of verbal characteristics in the first edition of her book, Guiding Gifted Readers (1988), which has since been retitled Some of My Best Friends Are Books, (2009, Great Potential Press) and is now in its third edition. According to Halsted, gifted children:
From these characteristics comes the importance of challenging the verbal abilities of gifted students by doing the following:
With this in mind, I reviewed the literature to see what the authorities have said about the characteristics of gifted readers. I found that these readers:
This list of characteristics was developed from my quick review of the literature (Halsted, 2009; Gross, 1994; Hawkins, 1983; Whitehead, 1984). More recent studies continue to support these characteristics (Reis, 2011).
If these are our readers, then we must guide them to appropriate literature that reflects who they are. Again, Halsted (2009) has been more than helpful. Through her research and experience, she has provided a list of characteristics of books best suited to gifted readers. These books:
In my studies and experience with gifted readers, I have found that young adult literature provides a rich resource for their reading. In studying the characteristics of this genre, I noted that young adult literature met and spoke directly to characteristics of gifted readers and books most appropriate for them. The characteristics of this literature have been defined by several scholars. Perhaps the classic in the field is Literature for Today’s Young Adults, now in its ninth edition (2012, Pearson). This book features this widely accepted list of characteristics of young adult literature:
Other lists have been created as well. I am especially partial to Monseau and Salvner’s 1992 list, Elements Displayed by YA Lit Today, which certainly reflects Donelson’s list but updates it as well. These authors begin by saying:
Young adult novels have come of age because they have demonstrated the same skillful craftsmanship employed in all good literature and because they have translated to the world of the young adult the same conflicts and issues with which all humans struggle. (Monseau & Salvner, 1992)
The elements they list are:
In short, these are thesame elements we find in all masterfully crafted works of fiction!
My basic premise is that when you compare the characteristics of gifted readers — especially their verbal characteristics, the characteristics of books most suited for gifted learners, and the characteristics of young adult literature, you have an almost perfect match. This leads me to the conclusion that young adult literature is highly appropriate for gifted learners, a conclusion that will guide us in making the match between readers and books. This approach has indeed led many gifted readers into positive reading experiences.
When dealing with twice-exceptional learners, then, the process is even more acute, especially if the problem is reading. Whatever the situation, we teach to their strengths to support and strengthen problem areas of learning. At Liberty School in Durango, Colorado, a school for dyslexic, gifted, and twice-exceptional learners, the reading program relies heavily upon young adult literature and we have had some rather excellent success. This genre provides the high-level interest and the appropriate challenge that these students need. Because some special learners, especially older ones, are turned off by “baby” books, the selection of books and literature for these readers becomes even more specialized.
I have found that young adult literature is a very rich resource, and I conclude with my suggestions for making selections from this genre for gifted and 2e readers. First, know your literature as you help make the match. Remember that YA lit ranges in level from about 8th grade through high school, and the content of some books may be inappropriate for younger gifted readers. Second, consider the interests of the students for whom you are selecting books and be guided by the basic criteria of appropriateness and challenge. Finally, consider the importance of personal choice in determining what a young person will read. (This, in itself, is the topic for another article!)
I think we can readily agree that our goal should be to help gifted and 2e readers — and all other readers — become skilled, passionate, habitual, critical, and creative readers. To do this, we must guide our students into positive reading experiences, taking into consideration their interests and abilities, appropriate challenge levels, and appropriate content.
Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. He has been 2e Newsletter's children's book columnist since 2007. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.