Gifted Readers and Reading Instruction
by Dr. David Levande,
Associate Professor of Education,
Southern Connecticut State University
Originally published in
CAG Communicator, volume 30, number
1, Winter 1999
Reprinted with permission of the author and California
Association for the Gifted (CAG)
Children who have exceptional ability in reading and working with text
information are considered gifted readers (Mason & Au, 1990). Gifted readers
read voraciously, perform well above their grade levels, possess advanced
vocabularies and do well on tests (Vacca, Vacca & Gove, 1991). They usually
have advanced language abilities in comparison with children of the same age.
They use words easily, accurately, and creatively in new and innovative contexts
and speak in semantically complex and syntactically complicated sentences (Bond
& Bond, 1983).
Their cognitive ability mirrors their language ability and therefore, the
cognitive abilities of gifted readers vary from the norm. Those gifted in
reading have a unique ability to perceive relationships, solve problems,
demonstrate observational skills, and to grasp abstract ideas quickly (Witty,
Cognitive needs of gifted Children
Clark (1983) outlined cognitive needs that differentiated gifted children from
- To be exposed to new and challenging information about the environment and
- To be exposed to varied subjects and concerns.
- To be allowed to pursue ideas as far as their interests take them.
- To encounter and use increasingly difficult vocabulary and concepts.
- To be exposed to ideas at rates appropriate to the individual's pace of
- To pursue inquiries beyond allotted time spans.
Many children later identified as gifted enter school knowing how to read.
Approximately half of the children classified as gifted by intelligence tests
could read in kindergarten, and nearly all of them could read at the beginning
of first grade (Burns & Broman, 1983). Their reading abilities develop
naturally, without formal instruction, in home environments where literacy is
valued and language usage is encouraged (Durkin, 1966). They have been immersed
in a print-rich environment and have "puzzled-out" for themselves how
to read (Teale, 1982).
Gifted readers are so advanced that they have little to gain from the reading
materials and activities normally given to others of their age and grade. They
require far less drill and practice than their peers (Witty, 1985). Gifted
readers have special needs just as other exceptional learners do. The greater
the ability in reading, the greater the need for a special program commensurate
with that ability (Hoskisson & Tompkins, 1987; Wallen, 1974). Gifted readers
benefit from special programs and may be penalized if not provided with special
attention to help achieve full potential (Tuttle, 1987). In short, they need the
same diagnostically based instruction that should be afforded to all learners
(Bond & Bond, 1983; Carr, 1984; Rupley, 1984).
Features of programs for gifted readers
A major concern of teachers of reading is providing quality differentiated
instruction for the highly able readers in their classrooms. A logical means for
providing such instruction is ability grouping. Gifted readers should be grouped
together so they can feel safe in verbalizing and sharing their insights (Sakiey,
1980). Students grouped by ability for reading instruction were found to have
increased understanding and appreciation of literature.
Guidelines for working with gifted students
Researchers, (Bartelo & Cornette, 1982; Bagaj, 1968; Cornette & Bartelo,
1982; and Sakiey, 1980) have presented some general guidelines for working with
- Instruction in basic word attitude skills should be kept to a minimum
- Challenging materials should be made available, especially to young gifted
- Instruction should facilitate critical and creative reading
- Use of analogies should be studied, especially in classes for older gifted
- Inductive, rather than deductive instruction should be provided
- Flexibility in assignments should be provided
- Unnecessary repetition in instructions should be eliminated
- Students' divergent and diversified interests should be nurtured
- Independent projects such as sociograms, time machine models, newscasts,
games based on story themes and simulation role-playing activities should be
Shaughnessy (1994) recommended expanded literacy activities for the gifted.
Guest speakers in the classroom, creative writing and connecting books with
television or movies are examples of recommended activities.
Four general options are available to meet the needs of gifted students: (a)
special classes or schools for the gifted, (b) accelerated programs (skipping
grades), (c) mainstreaming gifted students in regular classrooms, and (d)
enrichment programs for mainstreamed gifted students (Schwartz, 1984).
Acceleration and individual enrichment
Two avenues available to meet the needs of gifted readers in the classroom are
reading acceleration and individual enrichment (Johnson, 1987). Reading
acceleration involves placing students on their instructional level in reading
without regard to grade placement. Enrichment involves delving deeper into
reading material at the student's grade level.
Reading programs for the gifted should take into account the individual
characteristics of the children, capitalize on the gifts they possess, and
expand and challenge their abilities. Tasks should be commensurate with ability
Renzulli (1988) recommends that activities for the gifted emphasize higher
level thinking skills, controversial issues, and less structured teaching
strategies. Polette (1984) suggested heavy emphasis on the following factors:
higher cognitive levels of thinking, critical reading, vocabulary development,
wide exposure to literature, productive thinking, imaginative thinking,
visualization, exploration of values, and a language arts approach. Frezise
(1978) advised rapid pacing and timing: "going deeper" into a topic,
less rigidly structured learning environments, and provisions for critical
thinking, reading and writing.
Model reading programs for gifted learners
Specific instructional programs for gifted readers vary from school to school
and district to district. The most common programs specially designed for the
gifted are described below.
The triad enrichment model (Renzulli, 1977) provides gifted children with the
opportunity for self-directed reading and independent study. The enrichment
triad consists of three types of activities: (1) Exploratory activities in which
students investigate avenues of interest and then decide on a topic or problem
to study in depth, (2) activities in which students are provided with the
technical skills and thinking processes needed to investigate the research topic
or problem selected in step one, (3) investigative activities in which students
explore their topic or solve their problem through individual or small group
work. Students then develop an end product that reflects their learning.
Inquiry reading (Cassidy, 1981) also enables the gifted reader to conduct
research on topics of interest. In this four-week program for grades three and
up, students select a topic, carry out research, and present their finding to
others. The approach can be used by classroom teachers during the time usually
reserved for basal reading instruction.
Trevise (1984) recommended that teachers have gifted readers read and discuss
literacy classics as part of the Junior Great Books Reading and Discussion
Program. Junior Great Books is a highly developed, structured program
encouraging careful reading of complex materials. Discussions of the readings
are designed to be challenging and interesting and to focus on the universal
themes that are present in the books.
Other recommended instructional models for gifted readers include AIME (Swaby,
1982), reading-strategy lessons (Goodman, Burke & Sherman, 1980), DRTA
(Bates, 1984) and vocabulary development through literature (Howell, 1987).
Gunning (1992) provided an excellent summary of the characteristics of a model
program for gifted reader:
To grow intellectually, gifted students need challenging books. They need
fiction with complex plots and carefully developed characters, and
informational books that explore topics in depth. They should read books and
periodicals that spark their imaginations, broaden their horizons, and cause
them to wonder and question.
Equity demands that the exceptionality of gifted readers be recognized and
that appropriate programs designed to meet their unique needs be made available.
All students, including those gifted in reading, deserve an educational program
designed to help each individual achieve his or her full potential.
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Bates, G. (1984). Developing reading strategies for the gifted: a research based
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Bigaj, J. (1968). A reading program for gifted children in the primary
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defensible programs for the gifted and talented. Mansfield Center, CT:
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Renzulli, J. (1988). The multiple menu model for developing differentiated
curriculum for the gifted and talented. Gifted Child Quarterly, 32,
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Shaughnessy, M. (1994). Gifted and reading. Paper presented at the Annual
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gifted readers. Indiana Reading Quarterly, 270-277.
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(Eds.) Reading on reading instruction. New York: Longman.
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New York: Harper Collins.
Wallen, C. (1974). Fostering reading growth for gifted and creative readers at
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design for excellence. Newark, DE: I.R.A.
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Dr. Levande is in the Education Department of Southern Connecticut State
University, New Haven.
printed from Hoagies' Gifted Education Page,
Original URL is www.hoagiesgifted.org/levande.htm
Reprinted with permission of the author.