Our biggest priority in the writing program is to build confidence in our students in their ability to write as we build skill and stamina. Teaching gifted children to write presents with a set of unique challenges. In many gifted children, writing lags behind their math and reading skills. In the early years, their vocabulary is frequently much further ahead of their spelling skills as compared to peers – for example, they may be 3, with a vocabulary of a 12 year old – might be a while before they could express themselves to their satisfaction in written form. Their sentence complexity in thought is much ahead of their grammatical writing skills. Their ability to formulate ideas is much faster than far ahead of their physical writing skills. When a child is concentrating on the mechanics of writing and remembering letters, ocular motor coordination, it may be hard to hold on to those big ideas. Even the stamina to write may take a while to come in. And how frustrating it is when you have a complex sentence in mind and it just took you all the effort and a long time just to write the first word. Therefore, we teach everything at the speed available developmentally to each child, without pressure for when the skills do come in, in separate tracks until the child is ready to put it together. We won’t put an age to any of those skills as the gifted developmental profile is all over the place with this. Coupled with developmental differences presenting themselves in many gifted, the asynchrony calls for care and patience. We have a unique program to address these various challenges.
We built our program out of several components. The most important component of the writing program and the focus is the ability to organize thought to achieve the writing purpose. The focus of our most important program is not the ability to get thoughts down on paper but to get the thoughts out period.
Because many children are not ready to write at the level at which they are thinking, we use assistive technology: in the early years, there is a lot of student dictation where the teacher is writing and reading back and helping with the formulation of ideas, which in itself is an important skill, and AI dictation as well. We then work on play back and revision of ideas, as just some of the methods used. Parents may be invited in the classroom to volunteer periodically to help collect dictation in the early years, depending on each classroom’s needs.
“Voice dictation will overtake typing as the main search input method by 2022, due to advances in voice-recognition technology says Ben Wood, a tech expert at market analysis firm CSS Insights.”
For the writing program, we meet the requirements of two curricula, US Common Core and British National Curriculum – we blend them in our teaching and our skills matrix. We decided to not model our school after the IB PYP program because it is not articulated enough. The students produce a variety of writing which is usually tied into student inquiry, of different sizes and scopes, for example: Personal study notes, labels for diagrams, lists, letters to authors, elected officials and children in other schools, instructional manuals, poetry, whole books, essays, web sites. Older students may be learning how to start a practice business and have to write proposals and business plans, and apply for “grants”.
We teach the production of words on paper in two different ways. The first is to ensure that there is adequate ocular motor control and the child is ready to write. We develop this in a highly personalized way. We use time in physical education to strengthen muscles required to coordinate writing, we use lots of sensory motor activity as well, especially in the early years, but really as appropriate for each student.
If they are ready to engage in the writing, after they learn the letter matching to sounds, they will be taught to print using Handwriting Without Tears. Once we feel their printing reaches mastery, parents can choose if they want their child to sit the printing certification, at the teacher recommendation. They would be able to create a formal sample of their printing and receive a certificate for completing this important milestone. Once this milestone is completed, we do teach cursive writing – parents have control if their children are even taught this piece. Again, an optional certification process follows.
The second way we work on teaching writing is by teaching touch typing. Frequently, this is faster for many students. We provide an optional certificate of mastery when a child can achieve 20 and 40 words per minute touch typing skills. The second certification may be useful in the teenage years for finding summer jobs, or once college level classes are taken it comes in handy to type well. The sooner the skill is acquired, the more time there is to generalize and practice. Since everyone learns at their own rates, we introduce keyboarding right away and progress the children at their own personal rates. The idea of this program is only for students that are emotionally ready for the certification – it is a way for them to celebrate their mastery at this level and is not required.
Our spelling curriculum is separate and we consider it a component of our word work. We blend a variety of techniques, from a curated list of frequent spelling words that need to be memorized (we are not handing a list to the students to memorize words off of, we are using the list to make sure we provide exposure to the words at the staff level), to spelling bee curriculum which puts some fun into the process. As much as possible, games and natural learning are incorporated. As part of our word work, with an overlap with our reading program, we build up the vocabularies by introducing and discussing rich texts and exploring Latin and Greek roots.
Another component of our writing curriculum is grammar. Starting with simple punctuation and moving on through grammar rules for specific purposes, such as letters, annotation, bibliography, Again, there is an overlap with the reading program as well as science. Learning about author intent in the later years helps us teach the students how to color and flavor their writing. Knowing how comma use can change sentences makes an impact on the ability to solve mathematical problems.
The last component of our writing program is the tie-in to the executive functioning skills and study management. It is one thing to be able to complete exercises and another thing all together to work towards a deadline and to complete a specific assignment or project. Working with our social and emotional curriculum staff, we scaffold each student as we increase their stamina and skills when it comes to the actual execution of those tasks as they are applicable to the writing process. In the early years or as children need it, we provide pacing for projects and provide specific feedback. As the students gain skills and are ready for the next level of challenge, that challenge may lie in the executive functioning, not in the mechanics or the content or quality of the writing. We want to help our students move at their own pace through this process and work closely with the parents to find the just right balance in this area of teaching for each student.