Supportive Environments for Gifted Learners

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Supportive Environments for Gifted Learners Spring 2012


  • Is It a Cheetah? by Stephanie S. Tolan
  • Parents as “Opportunity Makers”: Providing a Supportive Environment For Gifted Learners by Robin Schader
  • Gifted and Bullied by Daniel B. Peters
  • Tired Learning Stations: Enhancing Academic Rigor in K-8 Classrooms by Bertie Kingore
  • Classroom as Studio: Organized Chaos & Creative Production by Dan Nelson


  • Parent talk: Home- The First and Most Important Learning Environment by James Webb & Janet Gore
  • Administrator talk: Learning Environments that Stimulate Gifted Students’ Performance by Carolyn R. Cooper
  • RtI2 for Gifted Learners Appropriate Instruction and Intervention for Gifted Students by Beth Littrell
  • Web Watch: Creating Learning Environments for Gifted Children by Carolyn Kottmeyer
  • Tech Tools for today’s teachers: Khan Can and You KHAN Too! by Brian C. Housand
  • Technology Ideas for Home and School: Using Animoto to Differentiate – Instruction Ideas for Parents and Teachers by Barbara L. Branch


  • Gifted Education Programming Standards: A Guide to Planning and Implementing High-Quality Services edited By Susan K. Johnsen


How can we provide environments that support and encourage gifted learners to move unrestricted toward their dreams and goals? In this issue we include several approaches to the topic. But Tolan’s cheetah metaphor is so powerful in discussing learning environments for gifted learners that we are starting this issue of the GEC with her article. Tolan applies the cheetah metaphor specifically to highly gifted learners, but I hope she doesn’t mind having it extended to gifted children in general—especially those currently receiving most or all of their instruction in heterogeneous classrooms. Thank you, Stephanie, not only for writing such a stellar piece, but also for being so generous in allowing it to be reprinted freely. It is still as fresh and meaningful as when first created some 15+ years ago.

Learning begins at home so the environment parents provide is vital. Our regular parent columnists, Jim Webb and Janet Gore, stress this fact, as does Robin Schader, in her feature article entitled, “Parents as “Opportunity Makers”: Providing A Supportive Environment For Gifted Learners.” Schader identifies several elements she considers significant when parents are developing learning environments for their gifted children:

  • interest
  • work involved
  • enjoyment
  • effort and time
  • “zone” of learning

From there we look at environment from the standpoint of social and emotional comfort and encouragement. Often referring to school situations, psychologist Dan Peters focuses on gifted kids and bullying. He notes that, “their personality characteristics often make them vulnerable and targets for bullies. Gifted children often act different from the norm. They often stand out because of an advanced, adult-like vocabulary or a sophisticated sense of humor that is beyond their peers.” Peters specifies elements to look for when recognizing bullying and then shares strategies to deal with them. Of special note is that he provides separate suggestions to the various stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators.

Addressing the realm of cognitive learning in the classroom, Bertie Kingore recommends “Enhancing Academic Rigor Through Tiered Learning Stations in K-8 Classrooms.” It is imperative that gifted learners have choices when engaging in their classroom activities; tiered learning stations permit the flexibility needed to provide those choices and to support high-level thinking. Kingore comments, “To be appropriate for advanced and gifted students, the tiered tasks at stations must emphasize objectives that are integral to the curriculum and rigorous enough to elicit beyond grade-level responses.” Dr. Kingore includes specific information and illustrations for teachers in setting up tiered learning stations. This includes strategies for student self reflection with emphasis on how students can extend their own learning within an activity. Tiered learning stations seem especially important for heterogeneous classrooms where most gifted students spend their elementary years.

Another classroom environment to consider is setting up the classroom as a studio rather than as a traditional learning environment with seats in rows and an emphasis on whole-class activities. Dan Nelson says this is particularly important in the arts. In his article, “Classroom as Studio: Organized Chaos & Creative Production,” Nelson says, “In the creative world, there are two distinct spaces: the studio and the showroom. Both spaces are critical to the creative process, but they are very different from each other in structure.” Nelson uses two programs at his high school—one taught by a gifted visual arts teacher, and the digital photography class he teaches—as illustrations of both the advantages and disadvantages of the studio. I would venture that it could be (should be) used at least part of the time in academic classes as well. Who would argue that a history or math class cannot be creative?

And finally—though perhaps it should be firstly—we look at enhancing learning environments for young gifted learners at school, focusing on PreK–2 children. Joan Franklin Smutny has long been an advocate for the youngest learners in school systems—who often get overlooked since many school districts don’t begin addressing the needs of gifted learners until third or fourth grade. Her article, “Creative Learning Environments for Young Gifted Children,” contains myriad recommendations and strategies to provide supportive environments for young learners. She addresses both the physical space of the classroom and the social and emotional comfort of the children, and she also recommends using biographies, community resources, child-friendly institutions, and local cultural programs to extend the learning environments for gifted children.

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