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Oregon Family Magazine

Adapting Curriculum for Your Gifted Learner

08/01/2019 ● By Sandy Kauten
As a parent of a gifted learner you know the problems involved in finding “just right” units of study for each subject area. And you also know that gifted children are not necessarily gifted in every subject area. Choosing the proper materials for each subject can be a daunting task.
In addition, some gifted children lag behind in other developmental areas such as social skills, emotional maturity and even physical skills. It can be challenging to select the proper curriculum to meet your child’s specific needs.

It’s important to understand, however, that gifted children don’t only need “more work” than other students; the kind of study they engage in must be different as well. The term used in the education world is “differentiated learning” which means, just as some children are visual learners and others auditory, gifted learners need curriculum that fits their unique needs.
Here are some key characteristics of learning you’ll want to include in the units of study you choose for your gifted child. Gifted learners benefit from:

  • Teaching in wholes. Inquiry-based or thematic units of study that give a broad overview of a topic are readily grasped by the gifted. For instance, when learning about the game of baseball, the student would have the chance to learn the rules of the game, understand important strategies, know the nine positions and get a chance to actually play the game. This is in opposition to many programs in which the child memorizes isolated bits of information such as statistics of famous players or a list of equipment needed to play the game. Gifted children want the whole picture, not just parts of it.
  • Material that is clearly well-written, while offering the chance to learn in depth and grapple with important issues and problems. Set individual goals for your learner. Allow him to stop and focus on a particular issue or topic of special interest. It’s important for a gifted learner to work with specific goals in mind. But flexibility is also key, because gifted learners can make connections between information across several subject areas.
  • A curriculum that lends itself to independent projects. Look for extension ideas that challenge the student to delve deeper into the subject. Encourage ideas for an independent extension designed by the student.
  • Real-life experiences that require problem-solving tasks. More than the average learner, the gifted thinker needs to apply learning to the real world.
  • Assuming ownership of his or her learning. This happens when higher level thinking skills are used for processing information. Skills such as synthesis when a child makes connections between different bodies of information to arrive at a new principle or generalization of facts. When problem-solving skills are in use and communication skills are taught along with subject matter, the gifted student can shine.
  • Respect for individuality. When he or she is engaged and focused on learning it’s a wonderful thing to see.
Since gifted children comprehend complex ideas quickly, learn more rapidly and in greater depth than their peers, they must be allowed to move through lessons at their own pace. They must be given the opportunity to show mastery of information and then move on. They need time to explore in-depth, manipulate ideas and draw generalizations. They need time and freedom to answer their own questions.

To modify or extend lessons there need to be changes in four major areas:


Gifted children must be allowed to skim material they already know well and move on to new. They must be allowed to take “side trips” when a topic captures their imaginations. They may be able to work several grades ahead in their special areas of expertise.


Gifted kids/people want to learn interesting information in a more in-depth way than other children. They may want to categorize, chart or graph related information. They may see relationships to knowledge in another field of study. They need time, materials and permission to follow a line of inquiry in an independent project of their own design. Cut and dried fill in the blank kinds of learning will bore and frustrate them.

Learning Environment

More than most, the gifted need freedom to explore, hypothesize, ask difficult questions and then create their own problem-solving plan. With guidance they can go much deeper and reach levels of learning in which they synthesize, and inter-relate, information into new wholes. They need alternatives to common paper and pencil learning. Gifted children can benefit from a mentoring relationship in their special area of expertise and interest. Middle school and High school level learning can be linked to higher education institutions in the area.

Product Expectation

As much as possible, gifted children need to demonstrate their learning in ways most comfortable to them. That may be in detailed written reports, but more often will be in hands-on projects and real applications. They may want to respond to learning through the arts or music.

The homeschool environment has potential to solve many problems gifted children encounter in the regular classroom, but homeschooling is not for everyone. Accelerated learners can study at various grade levels according to their skills in distinct subjects. They can show understanding and mastery in a unit of study and go on to the next unit. Parents can design projects tailored to their child’s unique interests and extend learning in creative ways. Properly chosen curriculum for gifted children will reduce the stress and frustration many gifted children encounter in traditional learning environments.

Jan Pierce is a retired teacher and freelance writer living in the Pacific Northwest. She is the author of Homegrown Readers: Simple Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Read, available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Find her at

Resources (search for 48 essential links for the parents of gifted children)


“Appropriate Curriculum for Gifted Learners” by Joyce Van Tassel-Baska
“How to Increase Higher Order Thinking Skills” by Alice Thomas and Glenda Thorne
“Lessons Learned About Educating the Gifted and Talented” by Karen B. Rogers
“Nurturing Giftedness in Young Children” by Wendy C. Roedell
“Your Child is Gifted, Now What?”  By Gail Robinson
Sidebar (optional)
What are higher order thinking skills? (from Higher Order Thinking by Alice Thomas and Glenda Thorne)
Higher order thinking is on a level beyond memorization. It is more than restating facts. It goes on to understanding, making inferences, making connections between facts, categorizing facts and manipulating information in novel ways. It leads to application in seeking new solutions to problems. It is the basis for important learning.
Higher order thinking deals with concepts, larger “idea families,” groups of related ideas in categories such as sports, or biology. Concepts may be concrete or abstract, verbal or non-verbal or may be process concepts about the way things work such as photosynthesis in science.
Schema is a pattern of knowledge already in place in a learner’s mind. It is the body of information one has on a certain subject or area of study.
Metaphors, similes and analogies are ways to explain abstract ideas. Visualization is the ability to think in visual images, for example mentally seeing maps, or settings from a novel.
Making inferences is the ability to draw conclusions. Problem solving is a complicated process which includes making decisions based on facts, logic, using various strategies and being willing to make mistakes in the process of reaching a conclusion.
Original ideas are thoughts unique to a learner and not copied from someone else. They require creativity and imagination. Original ideas may be generated by brainstorming with others and building on another’s ideas in a group setting.
Critical Thinking is using knowledge and point of view to arrive at conclusions. Moral decisions are made in this way.