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Ages & Stages

When I first started teaching 15 years ago, I thought that teaching gifted students would be easy. All I’d have to do was create assignments and sit back and watch my students shine. The truth is gifted high school students need just as much guidance, support and structure as any other.

Sometimes adolescents often balk at any kind of encouragement or parental involvement in their academics. Here are three tips for parents who want to support a gifted high school student who might be struggling with a difficult class.

1 Encourage hard work over immediate mastery

How many times have you heard, “I’m just not good at [insert name of subject]?” Challenge this. Let your gifted child know that it's OK to struggle at first with advanced skills, concepts and material. At the same time, encourage her to put a little more effort into whatever it is she’s doing. The benefits can be great. It can relieve a little bit of pressure—students who no longer feel the need to do something perfectly the first time can actually relax and truly start to learn.

2 Foster Independence

Gifted students thrive on being able to do academic work on their own; however, that doesn’t mean they don’t need extra help from time to time.

If you’re comfortable with the material, try a scaffolding approach: show your gifted child how to do it with your own example, do one together, and then ask him to do it by himself. The idea is to create self-confidence and a strategy to use in the future.

If your son or daughter is OK with it, ask the teacher to schedule extra help. Some schools have added time built into the beginning of every day that teachers can use to provide extra instruction. If this isn’t the case at your child’s school, encourage your student to take the initiative and ask for some extra help after school.

3 Embrace Failure

It is hard to watch your gifted student fail a test or a paper, especially if he or she is used to earning good grades. Assuming that there isn’t a learning disability or mental health issue getting in the way, try not to think of a low grade as a complete repudiation of your child's giftedness. Instead, consider it a part of the process. Work with your child to evaluate what led to the low grade and come up with a plan to improve. Sometimes, part of a gifted class takes learning how to plan ahead and how to modify study skills.

Gifted students work hard and hold themselves responsible for their academic growth. They don't just achieve at high levels, but also demonstrate high levels of work ethic, individual responsibility and academic maturity, especially when faced with a class that challenges them. If your son or daughter is struggling in an advanced class, promote hard work over immediate mastery, foster independence and allow a low grade every now and then.

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