On Gifted Readers: My Personal Experience

Tonight’s #titletalk on Twitter really got some gears turning for me, and it looks like for many others as well. The conversation was lively, smart, and FAST, as it always is. Thanks to Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller for putting that chat together and hosting it tonight.

The topic for tonight was on gifted and talented readers. Not just those students who are marked as gifted and talented across the board, but specifically those gifted in reading (gifted readers, or GR). This is actually a larger population than we might think, because those gifted in reading might not be gifted in mathematics.

In the conversation, several things came up, often in the forms of questions: how do we identify our GR? How do we teach them? How do we meet them where they are without just piling on more work?

This brought to mind my own experiences growing up. I was identified as a GR when I was in Kindergarten. I was in gifted and talented classes, and my elementary school experience was unlike what I hear from many of my peers. It was exploratory. We had choice at almost every turn. We had time to sit — wherever we wanted in the classroom — and read. Every day.

Once, we were instructed to write a note to our student teacher, whose last day was coming up. I forgot to write mine (for reasons we don’t need to get into here, but keeping track of homework was never one of my strengths), so I wrote it during recess. When the teacher asked when I had written it (I didn’t have it at the beginning of the day and then it magically showed up a few hours later), I told her during DEAR (Drop Everything And Read). My punishment was that I had to stay in from second recess and read, since I skipped that portion of the day’s work. [Looking back, I’m pretty sure the teacher knew I was lying, and that’s not unimportant] Clearly, this reading thing was important.

Besides that, I did not look at it as punishment. I got to read again! Haha! I mean, sure, I missed out on the football game that day, but I got to read more! I even to this day remember what I read: Freckle Juice by Judy Blume.

That doesn’t have a ton to do with tonight’s post, but I think it’s important. My school, which was dedicated to serving the gifted and talented population of my city, made choice and reading time a priority in the very core of the curricula.

Then I got to middle school, where I was in advanced language arts courses and they were more of the same: read, with choice, and we’ll do a lot of activities to help us explore these books and make meaning of them.

Then: high school. This is where the wheels fell off for me as a reader. I wasn’t taking the honors English courses, as I didn’t really want to and wasn’t pushed to do them. In the standard courses, there was very little differentiation going on, and no choice. You know what we did?

  • We read the same text as a class, whether it be a novel or a selection from the 15,000-pound textbook.
  • We spent about 50 times longer than necessary answering the questions at the end of the reading, half of which I felt I could have answered just by reading the title of the selection

That’s about all I remember of English instruction aside from my creative writing class. In fact, I remember spending most of my time writing notes in between the pages of the books, and talking to the person behind me. Seriously. I can tell you where Dave and I sat and I told him about my first girlfriend (in the back, towards the left of center). I can tell you what Christina was wearing when we were supposed to be discussing Frankenstein (an Aerosmith t-shirt). I can tell you what Nelson was planning for his presentation (interpretive song and dance). And I can tell you that I yawned through each class that the teacher was leading, did enough of the reading to pass, and then fell into a dislike for reading.

It seems this could have been easily avoided.

It would take maybe two things:

  • Choice
  • Not turning reading into something that is done to answer stupid questions

I’m trying to be objective as I think about this. But I look at it this way: I was labeled as gifted — something I had no control over — and I found the work given to me so banal that it turned me off from reading all together.

I know I’m not alone in this.

So what are we doing for our gifted readers to keep them interested and engaged? No, scratch that. What are we doing for ALL our readers to keep them interested and engaged? I know those comprehension questions can be beneficial to some, but what about something a little higher on Bloom’s taxonomy? Remember and understand should not be the thing we push on our students 90% of the time. I mean, 90% of the time, they’re already doing that. What are we doing so that all of our students are receiving an education that is going to push them a little beyond where they already are, to something that they will appreciate, and maybe even enjoy?

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2 thoughts on “On Gifted Readers: My Personal Experience

    • Not necessarily that they didn’t handle GR well as a school, but that within the non-honors courses, there wasn’t much in place for gifted readers. Not all gifted students will be in honors courses, and I think because my school had so many honors courses, they may have lost a sense of that. At least in my experience.

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