Winning Teachers Q&A

Insights from the 2015 Guilford County PAGE Teacher Appreciation Contest Winners:

  • Brandy Jo Brehm (AG Teacher at Gibsonville Elementary and Washington Montessori)
  • Elizabeth Ellison (7th Grade math teacher in the VS program at Academy at Lincoln Middle)
  • Amanda Stone (Math teacher at Grimsley High)

What instructional technique(s) do you find consistently helps gifted students succeed?

Ms. Brehm: Many gifted students need help with thinking through a problem, to get it down on paper so they can analyze it. Especially in multi-step problems, students want to go straight to solving instead of really thinking about what they are solving. One strategy I learned from another 4th grade teacher is acronymed QISS. Students have to identify what the Question is asking, what Information will help solve the problem, how to Solve this problem and show my thinking, and then ask whether the Solution make sense and does it answer the original question. This technique slows them down and makes the kids analyze their thinking and problem solve along the way.

Ms. Ellison: Flexibility is the key for any successful classroom and teaching AIG students is no different. Having a set lesson plan in theory is great, but any teacher will tell you that often lessons are driven by students. I have found with the gifted child that they tend to keep me on my toes, so the plan that looks great on paper may not be that fantastic in the classroom, so you must be ready to go with the flow of the classroom.

Ms. Stone: Gifted students need to understand how math works. This is accomplished in my classroom by breaking down each major concept into small parts. I provide my students with the small pieces and they are encouraged to build the puzzle. I use a variety of instructional techniques such as color coding steps, questioning of students and detailed notes to help students learn the basics. I also try to make sure I can explain each concept with at least one example that can be applied in the real world but that is often difficult.

What trait of gifted students is the most challenging for you and why?

Ms. Brehm: In elementary school, most AG kids, up until we identify and start to challenge them, easily get all the answers in their heads. It is challenging to get them to cope when they don’t “get it” the first time. Many students get very flustered or insist that they are correct and shut out any other reasoning that there may be a different answer. I try to teach them different ways to carefully analyze their work. Putting their thinking down on paper is sometimes a challenge.

Ms. Ellison: Oh wow…my students this year are just awesome, but they are such high level thinkers that I always have to make sure that I try to stay one step ahead of them. The types of higher order questions they ask can sometimes set me back, but this goes back to being flexible. I always tell them that in math that there is always more than one way to solve a math problem, and I love it when they share their ways with me.

Ms. Stone: Gifted students are always thinking of another way they can solve math problems. This is challenging because you have to be able to follow their train of thought and be able to explain where they might encounter errors with different questions. The thinking used is important and you don’t want to stifle the accelerated learner, but you have to make sure that they don’t omit key points that can change the outcome of the problem.

What one piece of advice do you have for parents of gifted kids so that their kids reach their full potential?

Ms. Brehm: Get involved with your kids….read aloud to them and talk to them about their interests and desires and help them to explore their goals. For example, one of my student’s bucket list items includes skydiving. I printed off articles for him about places that you can experience skydiving indoors and the regulations for skydiving. He was so excited. Another student wanted to be a ninja…. so I found a cool website that taught her some techniques to apply in her daily life that would help her improve her ninja skills. These didn’t involve fighting, rather being a good listener, moving quietly about, observing her surroundings, planning her moves or making careful decisions.

Ms. Ellison: My advice is simple: let your children be children. Academically gifted does not mean more work, it means different work. My teaching philosophy is, a child learns best when they do not know that they are being taught anything. Let your students have fun and be silly sometimes. As a teacher of AIG students, I want my parents to know that I will love their children, protect their children, and I will provide them with the best education possible.

Ms. Stone: I would encourage parents to never let their children slack off because they see others that do not put forth quality work. It is easy to compare yourself to others and think, “They didn’t work as hard but got the same end result.” That may be true on some assignments, but students that strive for excellence will be noted and eventually rewarded, just as in job situations. A boss that looks for someone to promote will have to make a decision from someone that completes the tasks at hand and the one that goes above and beyond. Parents need to encourage their students to only compete with themselves.

If you could change one aspect about public education to help gifted students reach their full potential, what would it be?

Ms. Brehm: I would require all teachers to let the kids get more creative as they learn. Many of my students, AG or not, have loved the project learning. Whether it is making an electric house, designing their own board games with rules, making a movie, acting in a wax museum, or building a longhouse out of materials the Native Americans had, taking time away from the textbook, pencil and paper, students will blossom and a lot of creativity and problem solving will take place.

Ms. Ellison: As with anything in public education, funding is key. In a perfect world, AIG students would receive the appropriate services that they need, there would be no part time AIG teachers, every school would have a gifted program and funding would be unlimited.

Ms. Stone: I don’t think that our public school system does enough to prepare our students for the real world. ALL students need to be ready to perform at a job. Most jobs do not allow you to get away with not doing your work or to show up late. There are many gifted students that do not like to show their work or complete homework because they “already know how to do it and don’t need more practice”. Being able to read through your own work is a critical part of learning. If you don’t show your work, you miss out on that.

Additionally, work ethic is crucial to being successful in society and we have let that slip in our system. Most gifted students will rise to meet your expectations. If you allow them to get away with not doing their work, they will continue that pattern. They will not learn to continuously work for more.