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Jim Delisle, Ph.D. - Mentor Teacher

By: Jim Delisle

Jim Delisle, Ph.D., is a Professor of Special Education at Kent State University, where he directs the undergraduate and graduate programs in gifted child education.

Jim is a former classroom teacher, special education teacher, and teacher of the gifted and talented. In 1992, Jim took a sabbatical from university teaching to return to full time teaching. He taught a regular fourth grade class.

Also, he is the Co-Director of SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted), an international organization for educators, parents, and children. The author or coauthor of seven books, including The Gifted Kids' Survival Guide: A Teen Handbook, Growing Good Kids, Kidstories, Gifted Kids Speak Out, and Guiding the Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Youth, Jim has also published more than 200 articles in magazines, journals, and newspapers, and was chosen recently by his peers as one of the "Top Ten Authors" in the field of gifted child education. A former classroom teacher, special education teacher, and teacher of gifted children, Jim taught children in 4th and 5th grades in a rural South Carolina school during the 1996-1997 school year. He stays in weekly contact with these children, and is currently writing a novel about his experiences, titled "Turn Left Down the First Paved Road" (the directions he received to find the school where he would be teaching.

Gifted students have the potential for great success. Why should teachers and parents be concerned about them?

Gifted kids are so much more than high grades and test scores. It is sometimes difficult to get past all that achievement and potential to the child, adolescent, or teen who may be filled with anxiety, pressured to be perfect, lonely, alienated, confused, and unsure of what the future may bring.

Can you tell us about a specific student that made you especially aware of the learning needs of gifted students?

Craig entered my life and my classroom at the same time. A fifth grader, he was fascinated by anything intellectual, and his sensitivity often caused him to see life from an altruistic angle seldom observed in boys his age. He drove his teachers nuts, though. He seldom finished anything he started, for once his fascination for a topic was sated, he felt it was time to move on. For two years, Craig was enrolled in my gifted program, and for two years, I had to fight to keep him there. He wasn't your stereotypical high-achieving gifted child, but he was, indeed, a gifted child. I cam to realize that the greatest needs he had were not in academics, but in the social and emotional realms of growing up gifted. Craig, and others like him,have guided my life ever since, and they have shown me the importance of looking beyond high achievement and glossy projects to find the gifted child beneath the academic veneer.

You talk about a differentiated classroom. What is that and how does it work for gifted students ..especially gifted students with LD?

Differentiation means changing the pace, level, or kind of instruction to meet each student's individual learning needs. In a time when gifted programs are being challenged or eliminated, differentiation is a way of ensuring that gifted students are given the learning opportunities they need. Depending on your situation these opportunities may include curriculum compacting (compressing curriculum material into a shorter time frame, and allowing students to demonstrate mastery of content they already know); ability grouping (putting gifted students together for instructing in a particular subject area); flexible grouping Putting all identified gifted students of the same grade level in the same classroom, usually one led by a teacher with training in gifted education); or individualized instruction (independent study projects).

Are there some common pieces of wisdom about the socialization of profoundly gifted students that parents should know?

Here is a summary of points shared and gathered at a seminar I conducted at the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

  • Socialization is more of a problem in large groups than in small ones.
  • Gifted kids have more social difficulties with "age mates" than "peers."
  • Profoundly gifted kids need to understand that it is OK to preserve those parts of themselves that are more introspective and contemplative. Especially in the middle school years, when loud abrasive, in-your-face interactions are common and expected, profoundly gifted kids might think they are "weird" if the prefer quieter outings or relationships. They need to know they are not tiered, but just operation at a social level that, like their minds, outpaces itself.

Can parents unintentionally undermine a gifted child's sense of self worth?

Parents do not intend to undermine but here are some of the ways this can happen.

Many question whether a gifted child can really have a learning disability. As special education policies change parents are finding it more and more difficult to get help for the bright student who is achieving above grade level but not up to potential. As a former special education teacher is there any advice you would give parents or teachers about how to work with gifted students with LD?

First, thank you for recognizing that a child can have BOTH intellectual giftedness and a specific learning disability--many people, including teachers, think that such a combination can't exist. So . . .you're already on the way to helping the child by merely recognizing this dual exceptionality. The first thing I would do is to ask the child how he (or she) learns best--through listening, watching, reading, etc. Then, I'd ask the child if success comes more readily when working alone, with a partner, or in a larger group. Lastly, I'd ask the student how s/he can demonstrate to me that s/he has learned the material of the lesson--should I talk about it with you? would you prefer putting together a 3 dimensional project? would you like to talk with the class and share your insights? Very frequently, gifted children with learning disabilities DO know how they learn best, so you will probably pick up some valuable insights from the answers you received. If the child hedges--perhaps the question has never before been asked--ask your student to recall the "best experience" s/he ever had in school. Then, you may be able to tease out just how this able child can be successful in your classroom. Other accommodation strategies are those you might typically provide to children with learning disabilities who are not gifted--extra time on tests, providing notes, working with a tutor, etc. Lastly, I would inform the child about the characteristics of giftedness so that s/he can learn that just because difficulties arise in school, the heightened abilities and insights that exist due to the giftedness prove that they have a fine brain, indeed.

For more information on gifted students with learning disabilities and/or ADHD.

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