I was having lunch with a friend recently (she is in her 3rd year of teaching) and she talked about the difficulty of dealing with students who “already know everything.” I think this is something that almost every teacher has faced at some point and subsequently asked themselves: “How do you teach a child who already knows the material?” The following are my thoughts on this common classroom issue:
First and foremost: Acknowledge their level of expertise! This student is obviously interested in the subject, the last thing you want to do is stifle that excitement. Therefore, instead of feeling that they are encroaching on your territory, as the expert, accept them as a child who is ecstatic about what you are teaching. Hopefully, they can pass their enthusiasm onto the other students. Does this student keep interrupting you? Kindly remind them to raise their hands (if that is your policy) and then address their comment/question. Praise them for their interest in the subject and thank them for their comment. If you put them down or allow yourself to become annoyed with this student, not only could you potentially harm their intellectual curiosity, but you have also just taught the rest of the class the wrong lesson: that displaying excitement for the lesson is not good. If you embrace it, you will be teaching that excitement in school is a good thing and that more students should be displaying it.
Acknowledge your own level of expertise to help find common ground. Remember that you are an expert in your field. Rather than feel threatened by your students’ level of knowledge compared to your own, use that shared knowledge as a common ground for bonding with your students. Sometimes these high-level-learners can struggle to feel a connection with someone at school; although age appropriate connections are preferred, a teacher connection is better than none at all. Once a connection is made, the student is more likely to behave for you in class if you request it and it should hopefully open the door to others being accepting of the student and connecting with them.
Talk to them about the subject outside of class. If the student is having a particularly difficult time controlling their outbursts of information during class, you may want to start engaging in conversations with them outside of class. This would allow them to share facts and tid-bits with you one-on-one, so they are less likely to take time away from your teaching. This would also allow you to call upon them to share specific information, and thus, keep control of the room.
Help all of your students feel like they are an expert by prompting them to do their own research based on personalized interest. It is possible to have more than one kid interested in what you are teaching. Sometimes you can use the excitement of one to help ignite that same passion with your other students. I understand that balancing chemical equations (or Jane Austin, the Revolutionary War, conjugations, rational numbers, badminton) is not for everyone. However, there should be a way in which to engage them. Find that connection, and give them the freedom to do their own research. Allow them the autonomy to discover, for themselves, why this subject matters and how it connects to their life. That is the spark that can ignite their excitement for learning whatever you are teaching
I hope this post was helpful to you. I hope it gave you some ideas on how to handle the possible challenge of a gifted learner in your classroom.
-The Ardent Teacher
Photo Credit: Tom Woodward (https://www.flickr.com/photos/bionicteaching/)