Reading Instruction for the Primary Gifted Learner

Bertie Kingore, Ph.D.


What are some appropriate reading strategies
for advanced readers?

Differentiating reading instruction to match the individual differences and readiness levels of all children is a demanding task facing teachers. Advanced and gifted readers have the ability to read beyond grade level, and thus, they risk receiving less instructional attention when concerned teachers struggle to meet the needs of students performing below grade level. While it is critical that all children receive the support necessary to read at least at grade level, students who have achieved this goal must be challenged to continue developing advanced proficiencies. We would be remiss if we failed to make appropriate provisions to accommodate the needs of at-risk readers. We are equally remiss if we do not offer appropriate instructional differences that respond to the needs of gifted learners.

Teachers require support and strategies to challenge advanced readers at their highest readiness level and most appropriate pace within the diversity of a classroom that includes a wide range of abilities. The Advanced Academic Division of the Texas Education Agency created a task force to investigate the reading needs of gifted students and produced a publication, Reading Strategies for Advanced Primary Readers, designed to provide teachers with alternatives and replacement tasks to use in differentiating lessons for advanced readers. This book of interactive, practical strategies includes compacting, tiered assignments, flexible grouping, graphic organizers, thinking prompts, and vocabulary techniques assembled from teaching experiences based upon research and responses to the nature and needs of gifted learners. (Contact Evelyn Hiatt or Ann Wink at <> for more information about the process or materials from this reading initiative.) This article incorporates some of the recommendations of that task force.

For decades, educators assumed that children who read early or at advanced levels had been pushed by a well-intending adult.The accompanying conventional wisdom has been that these students plateau and read at grade level by third or fourth grade. Indeed, advanced readers who are limited to a grade-level reading program can regress in their pace of progress. However, when advanced readers are taught with resources and instruction commensurate with their needs and abilities, regression need not take place. By eliminating work on skills already mastered and progressing through the language arts curriculum at an accelerated pace, students generally continued to extend their reading proficiency (Gentry, 1999; Kulik & Kulik, 1996).

The lack of challenging materials is one factor that discourages the continued reading development of advanced readers. However bright students may be, they are less likely to demonstrate advanced or gifted performance if learning experiences are limited to the regular, grade-level reading curriculum. Duke (2000) found informational texts almost nonexistent in first grade classrooms, yet gifted readers demonstrate a voracious appetite for nonfiction. Chall and Conard (1991) continue to research the match of text difficulty to reader readiness. They found that the reading texts for advanced readers "...provided little or no challenge, since they were matched to students' grade placements, not their reading levels." Chall, who also researched text difficulty in 1967 and 1983, noted that "This practice of using grade-level reading textbooks for those who read two or more grades above the norm has changed little through the years, although it has been repeatedly questioned" (111).

Another factor that discourages the continued reading development of advanced readers is educators' attitudes regarding gifted students right and need to learn differently. Adjusting instruction to match the needs of gifted readers involves more than flexibility in methods and materials; it requires a belief that each child has the right to progress as rapidly as he or she is capable. Teachers must be committed to responding to the reading interests and needs of learners that extend beyond grade level. Indeed, Jackson and Roller (1993) commented that the most sophisticated, enthusiastic, and precocious readers are those children who have driven their parents and teachers to keep up with them. Consider the Staff Discussion Questions posed here. The insuing information may prove enlightening and productive toward change.

Staff Discussion Questions: Advanced Readers

Schools determined to meet the needs of their brightest readers may find these questions a useful focus when assessing attitudes and most appropriate strategies.

1. What does the term "advanced reader" or "gifted reader" mean to you?

2. How do we identify advanced readers or advanced potential in reading?

3. What instructional needs do you think are unique to advanced children?

4. How do we challenge advanced children academically in this school?

5. Which social and emotional factors are crucial to consider when challenging advanced readers?

6. What are the classroom management implications?

7. What grouping considerations do we need to address?

8. What human and material resources can we draw upon?

9. What additional resources are needed to ease implementation?

10. How might we appropriately inform and involve parents of advanced readers in this learning partnership?



Assessment is a key component when instructing advanced readers. Assessment guides advanced instructional objectives and documents that an appropratie pace and level of learning has occurred. Reading instruction that matches the individual differences and readiness levels of all children involves preassessment, authentic analysis of reading comprehension, students' self-assessments of learning, and the development of portfolio products that substantiate advanced performance.

Preassessment. Preassessment is vital when addressing advanced reading needs. Results from preassessments must be employed to guide teachers' use of curriculum compacting, tiered assignments, and flexible groups. Preassessment is needed to accomplish the following:
• Determine students' instructional reading levels and skill needs.
• Group students flexibly by readiness and the skills that need to be learned.
• Analyze students' application of reading strategies.
• Provide information for selecting and pacing appropriate instructional materials.

Types of assessment that can be used as preassessments are:

• Checklists,
• Interest inventories,
• Observations,
• Performance tasks,
• Process interviews,
• Reading tests,

• Records of independent reading,
• Running records,
• Students' self-evaluations,
• Teachers'-selected reading samples, and
• Writing samples.

Reading comprehension. Comprehension of the gifted primary reader should largely be assessed authentically. A test in which students list the name of the main character and bubble-in the main idea limits the gifted student's opportunities to demonstrate more advanced interpretations. Comprehension tasks are more likely to engage high-level thinking when they require students to generate responses rather than choose among descriptors, as in a forced-choice response. Oral summaries via tape recorders, creation of a hyper-studio stack for use by other students, reading/writing logs, and other creative, open-ended options provide broader opportunities to demonstrate comprehension depth and complexity.

Metacognition. As children read in school, they need to be guided in their development of metacognitive or self-monitoring strategies so that these important skills become an internalized part of their regular reading behavior (Cecil, 1995). Metacognition is referred to as thinking about thinking. It invites children to bring their thinking to a conscious level and provides a window that increases adults' understanding of students' behaviors. A parent reported that her gifted second-grade daughter did not want to participate in a discussion about a book she had immensely enjoyed, because "I have already discussed it with myself." Since gifted readers are so consciously involved in introspection, teachers should continually analyze students' behaviors and talk with them to make sense of what is occurring in learning situations. (Abilock, 1999)

Teachers prompt metacognitive responses through reflective questions, such as the following. Children respond orally to these metacognitive questions or write brief responses to explain their thinking. The last four questions approach a more complex interpretation particularly appropriate for advanced and gifted students.

Metacognitive Questions

• What can you tell me about your reading?

• What did you think was easy to do and hard to do?

• What changes would you want to make?

• What is the most important thing you learned from this?

• What do you do when you are reading and you find a word you do not know?

• When might it be a good idea to reread something?

• Why do you think that is so?

• How did the author cause you to infer/conclude that?

• What evidence can you use to support that?

• If you did not know, what would you do to get the most information?

Self-assessment through rubrics. Rubrics increases students' responsibility for their own learning when they assess their work before it is graded or shared with others. Rubrics are guidelines to quality. They provide a clearer view of the merits and demerits of students' work than grades alone can communicate. Rubrics show students how they are responsible for the grades they earn rather than to continue to view grades as something someone gives them.

The criteria on a rubric should inform students what attributes to include in a product to demonstrate their understanding of the information they acquire. Each level should communicate to students what to do to achieve at a higher level. Criteria must accent content rather than just focus on appearance and how to complete the product. With advanced and gifted learners, the emphasis should include depth and complexity, as exemplified by the following chart. Teachers fill in their preferred grade scale or an evaluation scale, such as less than expected, appropriate work, very well done, and outstanding work as the level of proficiency develops from low to higher.


Too simple or not appropriate

Simple information; limited critical thinking

Information showscritical thinking; compares and contrasts

Beyond expectations; analyzes from multiple points of view

Content depth

Needs more information or more accurate information

Needs to add depth or elaboration

Covers topic well; develops information beyond facts and details

Precise; in-depth; supports content

Teachers continue to be pleasantly surprised at the accuracy of students' self-assessments. When clear targets are provided through rubrics, most students understand what to do to achieve. After modeling and successful experiences with multiple rubrics, some gifted learners may be able to develop their own rubrics and other methods to assess their independent reading and study projects.

Portfolios. Portfolios offer a concrete record of the development of students' talents and achievements during a year or more. In classrooms where all students develop portfolios, the portfolio process enables each student to be noticed for the pace of learning growth and the level of products he or she produces. In this manner, portfolios increase inclusion instead of exclusion by providing multiple opportunities for children from every population to demonstrate talents and gifted potential. Portfolio assessment allows schools to honor the diversity of students and discover the strengths of each learner.

Primary-aged children can learn to be responsible for organizing and managing a portfolio of their work that documents agreed-upon criteria. Children learn to file their selected work in the back of their portfolio so it approximates a chronological order and clarifies growth over time. Increasing emphasis on students' self-reflections and making judgments about their products is one of the values of portfolios for all children.

Values of Portfolios for Advanced and Gifted Children

• Products can be assessed for a level of depth and complexity appropriate for advanced-level products.
• Products can demonstrate all areas of giftedness.
• The portfolio can be shared with parents or other professionals to document the growth and achievements of gifted students.
• Portfolios provide examples of superior work for gifted students to share among themselves as models to challenge ever-increasing levels of excellence.


However, portfolios will not document achievements of advanced and gifted children if they are limited to grade-level tasks. Only to the degree that portfolios include children's highest levels of performance on a wide array of challenging, beyond grade-level tasks can the portfolio process substantiate gifted-level work. Negotiate together a short list of response products advanced students can select among to demonstrate their interpretation and understanding when they finish reading fiction or nonfiction text.

Gifted Readers Like...

A classic study by Dole and Adams (1983), surveyed gifted students to elicit their perceptions of the most important attributes of good reading materials. A summary of those findings is included here.
• Sophisticated beginning-to-read books
• Nuanced language
• Multidimensional characters
• Visually inventive picture books
• Playful thinking
• Unusual connections; finding patterns and parallels within and among books
• Abstractions and analogies
• A blend of fantasy and non-fiction
• Extraordinary quantities of information about a favorite topic
• Books about gifted children

Use this information as a guide to prepare questions for surveying gifted students in your class or even all of the gifted students in your school. What do they most like or dislike about reading? What do they most want in books and stories? What makes them pick up a book and want to read it? We can better customize reading instruction to challenge advanced readiness levels and motivate gifted learners when we understand how to more closely match their preferences and interest.

The result of ignoring gifted readers is educationally and emotionally unjust to these children. The Gifted Reader's Bill of Rights is posed here to prompt your thinking about the reading rights and needs of gifted students.

The Gifted Reader's
Bill of Rights

The right to read at a pace and level appropriate to readiness without regard to grade placement.

The right to discuss interpretations, issues, and insights with intellectual peers.

The right to reread many books and not finish every book.

The right to use reading to explore new and challenging information and grow intellectually.

The right for time to pursue a self-selected topic in depth through reading and writing.

The right to encounter and apply increasingly advanced vocabulary, word study, and concepts.

The right to guidance rather than dictation of what is good literature and how to find the best.

The right to read several books at the same time.

The right to discuss but not have to defend reading choice and taste.

The right to be excused from material already learned.


___________ References ___________
Abilock, D. (1999). Librarians and gifted readers. Knowledge Quest, 27, 30-35.

Cecil, N. (1995). The art of inquiry: Questioning strategies for K-6 classrooms. Winnipeg, MB, Canada: Peguin Publishers.

Chall, J. & Conard, W. (1991). Should textbooks challenge students? The case for easier or harder textbooks. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dole, J. & Adams, P. (1983). Reading curriculum for gifted readers: A survey. Gifted Child Quarterly, 27.

Duke, N. (2000). 3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of international texts in first grade. Reading Research Quarterly, 35, 202-224.

Gentry, M. (1999). Promoting student achievement and exemplary classroom practices through cluster grouping: A research-based alternative to heterogeneous elementary classrooms. Storrs, CT: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.

Kingore, B., Ed. (2002). Reading Strategies for Advanced Primary Readers. Austin: Texas Educational Agency. In press.

Kingore, B. (2002). Assessment: Time-saving procedures for busy teachers, 3rd ed. Austin: Professional Associates Publishing.

Kulik, J. & Kulik, C. (1996). Ability grouping and gifted students. In Colangelo, N. & Davis, G., Eds. Handbook of gifted education, 2nd ed. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.


Bibliographies of Books for Gifted Readers
Halstead, J. (2002). Some of my best friends are books, 2nd ed. Dayton, OH: Ohio Psychology Press.

Kingore, B. (2001). Gifted kids, gifted characters, & great books. Gifted Child Today, 24 (1), 30-32.

Polette, N. (2001). Non fiction in the primary grades. Marion, IL: Pieces of Learning.

Polette, N. (2000). Gifted books, gifted readers. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.

Kingore, B. (Fall 2002). Reading Instruction for the Primary Gifted Learner.
Understanding Our Gifted, 15 (1), 12-15.