Review: Challenging Units for Gifted Learners

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Photo: Prufrock Press

Some schools and teachers have a hard time teaching gifted kids, especially if there is little budget for it. Either the kids are done with their work early and have nothing to do, or they aren’t challenged by the work so they appear lazy. Or perhaps they’re just aching for something to challenge them without talking over their heads. Finding the proper materials to use to teach gifted kids can be difficult. Their intellect is more advanced and can handle more complex thoughts than their peers, but they are still kids, and want things to be as interesting as possible. If you’re in a location where gifted education isn’t well funded, your kids may not be challenged enough.

Perhaps you don’t know where to look to find gifted materials on your own. Or perhaps what you find costs too much. Well, there is help!

Prufrock Press is a publisher that carries educational materials for gifted kids. I love perusing their site for teaching ideas. One useful series of books that they carry is called Challenging Units for Gifted Learners: Teaching the Way Gifted Students Think by Kenneth J. Smith, Ph.D. Currently, there are two books available in the descriptively titled series covering Language Arts and Social Studies, and a Math edition will be out at the end of this year. They are intended for grades 6-8.

Why are special materials required for gifted kids? Some of the books’ marketing material perhaps say it best:

Gifted students have the potential to learn material earlier and faster, to handle more complexity and abstraction, and to solve complex problems better. This potential, however, needs stimulating experiences from home and school or it will not unfold.

So merely giving gifted kids a larger amount of conventional schooling materials isn’t always helpful.

These Challenging Units books aren’t self-help books, or merely philosophical books on how to teach gifted kids. They contain teaching units and lesson plans that are immediately applicable to teaching in the classroom. In addition, the books tackle how to find the gifted and how the gifted learn. The text is definitely aimed at the teacher or parent and is densely packed to necessitate close study. The books cover much research and scientific studies for their information. A thorough reference section in the back of each book gives more information. These aren’t books to browse, but ones to study and use as tools. Their intent is to present challenging material to kids who have yet to reach AP classes. Challenging Units teaches advanced concepts on a Junior High gifted interest level.

Each book in the series lays out in-depth units of study including both principles and problem solving. The units teach kids to take their knowledge and skills from one situation and be able to apply them to another. This is akin to the old adage that if you can teach an idea or skill to someone else, then you really understand it.

Who are the gifted? How do they learn? Early reading and the ability to retain knowledge are just two early signs. But just because a child doesn’t test well or doesn’t do their work doesn’t mean they aren’t gifted. Some kids don’t do well with conventional teaching methods or materials because they are gifted in certain ways. Gifted kids may be smarter than their peers, but they will thrive best if given proper guidance. They may not know on their own how to best develop their talents. We need to stimulate gifted kids’ potential, or this potential may not be realized. Challenging Units will help to not only teach kids expertise, but to help them generate their own new ideas.

Each book contains four unit lessons to do with your kids or your students. Each of those unit lessons is broken into several sections, to be done over several weeks. The lessons are adaptable to different grade levels, and are also adaptable for using in different ways for different educational situations.

The four units in the Language Arts book are:

  • Mystery Writing Project
  • A Freudian Analysis of Literature
  • The Point of View Writing Project
  • Poems from Nature

Each of these units addresses a different part of language arts, so you can use them as applicable in your teaching. Each one contains step-by-step, in-depth lesson plans to use with your students. For those so concerned, the pertinent national education standards are also detailed. The “Cognitive Connection” part of each unit shows the teacher just what is being taught and why and how. Each unit gives you all the information you need to teach it, but in one unit, for example, you’ll need to get your own copy of Lord of the Flies.

These aren’t just high school or college lessons dumbed down for the grade 6-8 set. These are created for this age group’s gifted members to keep them engaged. They will learn about things they don’t usually learn at this age, and in unusual ways that will keep them interested.

Looking at the Social Studies book, the first two chapters are the same as in the Language Arts book. The information in these introductory chapters is important to have if you just buy one book, so I can see why the author includes them in each book.

The four units in the Social Studies book are:

  • It’s Not Easy Being Queen: The Story Behind America’s First Colonies
  • Competing Voices: A Simulation of Antebellum America
  • The Supreme Court: A Simulation
  • An African Economic Summit

Each is laid out similarly to the units in the Language Arts book, and four different aspects of Social Studies are addressed.

While Challenging Units for Gifted Learners is designed for use in classrooms, it is easy to use for homeschool, too, especially if you have more than one child and they are relatively close in age. I really like that the lessons are all laid out for you, planned out ahead of time, so it is easy to grab and go with minimal amounts of preparation on my part. My homeschooled kids are only in 4th and 1st grade so they aren’t quite ready for this level of challenge yet, but I have enjoyed reading through these books, and I can’t wait to use them for school.

The Challenging Units for Gifted Learners books each retail for $19.95 and are available on Amazon or through Prufrock Press.

Note: Copies of the Social Studies and Language Arts books were provided by Prufrock Press for review purposes.

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