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Teaching the Gifted in After School Sessions

by Maureen Hall, NJLA Board Member

A few months ago Dr. Ken Kunz called to ask me to work with him on something neither of us had ever thought about offering before. Due to the Covid19 pandemic, teaching shortages, and virtual schooling, a district in north Jersey needed someone to provide after-school teaching to three groups of gifted students in upper elementary school. As representatives of Dr. Ken’s LLC, For the Love of Literacy, and of NJLA, we were enthusiastic about this opportunity to try something new. Having completed the work with the three student cohorts, we are excited to share the results.

Before we began, the children who would be involved in the program had been surveyed about topics, which included Everyday Heroes, Protecting the Environment, and Mindfulness. A book was chosen for each theme and books were distributed by the district. We read all three books and began working together on Google slides that would be the framework of our services. Slides each week included a welcome and quick thinking/writing activity, a vocabulary piece, a central student lesson, and a wrap-up with a reminder of responsibilities for our next session. Each cohort met four times over the course of a month for about an hour each time.

Children were asked to identify an area of interest to them within the topic. We asked them, “What are you passionate about?” Their responses were fascinating. We created groups based on their interests and provided a work document that asked them to devise research questions and allocate work. Each week we conducted a short read-aloud from the book which led to something important to think about and discuss. We chose one or two interesting vocabulary words to study in depth. Each time we met children had time to work within their break-out rooms and also time to discuss ideas with us and the entire cohort. The wrap-ups served as a subtle reminder to the kids that there was more to accomplish each week on their own.

In the Heroes cohort we began with an exercise that asked students to define a true hero. Their responses were deeper than we might have expected; they decided that a real hero has greatness of soul, bravery, and has done something incredible. They were interested in people who had responded to the Covid19 crisis, and in ordinary people who had become heroic only when circumstances demanded it. On our last day with each group, everyone presented their findings, based on a research question they had designed. When a group offered a slideshow about first responders, we advised them to replace their pictures with those of local first responders and to share it with their community to increase its impact.

At the start of the unit called Protecting the Environment we asked the same question: “What are you passionate about?” The whole group (a small and very quiet one this time) came up with six areas of interest, including ecosystems, saving animals from extinction, health and poverty, world hunger, clean water, and world health. When we ran our Zoom poll to determine groups, one boy struggled to define what he wanted to study. His statement, “There’s such an intersection with world hunger, clean water, and world health,” made all of us think. Of course, that intersection was what we urged him to base his work on.

Our final cohort, Mindfulness, was a very big one, and several children told us that they were interested in this work “to see if there’s something that can help me with my nervousness.” We began (or ended) each session with an exercise from Headspace; not everyone ‘got it,’ but it was a start! Students chose to follow their passion in one of the following categories: yoga, breathing, exercise, meditation, or general mindfulness. On presentation day Robbie told us, “I used what I learned about mindful breathing today. We took a test online, and our score would be ready immediately. All I had to do was hit the button. I was nervous. I told myself to take a deep breath and let it out - three times. I was able to click on the button. I got a 93 on the test!”

Below, Claire reminds us that, even though it is not always easy to be mindful, it is very helpful for us and those around us. Her research question was, “How can we remember to be mindful in everyday life?”


Research provided by: Claire Yoon

How can we remember to be mindful in everyday life?