By MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
TRAVERSE CITY -- A decade ago, funding for the gifted was assured. Then came No Child Left Behind.
In its wake, funding for gifted students has shrunk and teachers are struggling to meet basic requirements. That leaves them little time to cater to the needs of bright readers, who "wilt on the vine if they're not reading something that's a challenge," said Judith Halsted.
Halsted is author of "Some of My Best Friends Are Books," created to help parents, teachers and librarians bring books and gifted kids together. Now in its third edition, the book was first published in 1988 as "Guiding Gifted Readers" and is still a top seller for publisher Great Potential Press, said Director of Marketing Kristina Grant-Reid. The 2009 edition won an iparenting Media Award and a National Best Books Award in the parenting/family category from USA Book News.
In the new edition, Halsted suggests more than 300 books for readers of all ages, selected to promote intellectual and emotional development. The book also includes information on how to encourage reading, how to organize book discussions and how to use books to address issues and characteristics common to gifted readers such as identity, aloneness, differentness, creativity, perfectionism and the drive to understand.
"There's been a lot more research on social and emotional needs of children," said Halsted, a librarian-turned-gifted educator-turned-certified educational planner. "Now there's more awareness that everybody needs to be recognized as the individual they are." Instead of "squelching themselves to fit in, which puts them in a box and curtails what they're able to accomplish," gifted children should be encouraged to accept and celebrate who they are, she added.
"I think a lot of it depends on how adults respond. If an adult can welcome a child who may know more than they do and encourage that, the child is in a healthy atmosphere," she said.
Among Halsted's favorite books for gifted readers are "Year of Hangman" (grades 9-12), "Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two," (grades 6-8), "Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta, 1325-1354" (grades 3-5) and "City Signs" (preschool: 2- and 3-year-olds). All offer potential for targeted discussion, a key element in reading, she said.
Teachers in Central Grade School's Talented and Gifted program have begun using a literacy curriculum developed specifically for gifted readers at the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary. A similar curriculum is being considered for area middle schools next year.
"It's a very rich and in-depth program that teaches our children to be critical readers, to respond to reading through writing," said Beth Still, TAG coordinator for Traverse City Area Public Schools. "It's a beautiful mix of poetry, classics, contemporary essays, novels, articles."
Educating a gifted reader doesn't mean giving them a harder book, Still stressed.
"It means you ask them to do different things with a book so that they are engaged, they perform, you take them to a level they didn't think they could go," she said.
Bright readers at TCAPS Montessori are challenged through guided reading groups, reading circles, book clubs and other activities, said Director Angela Camp.
"We continually assess their reading level using Developmental Reading Assessment so we know exactly what level they are at and what strategies we need to focus on at their level," Camp said.
"For a higher reader, if they are in a literature circle delving deep into the material, we want that child to really discover that author's purpose, analyze character development, work with profundity or higher thinking skills when working with text. The approach to keeping those readers in small groups has been key because then depending on how much the reader advances we can create flexible groupings so we can move children into different groups if needed."
Advanced readers in lower grades can be placed with readers in higher grades for reading activities and then return to their regular classroom, she said.
"There is a lot of opportunity to work together and with other age groups because if they're the only child in their class that's reading at an extremely high level, they need a cohort to read with. We want them to continually be challenged," she added.
As the coordinator of youth services at Elk Rapids Township Library, Sue Pride guides gifted readers as she would adults.
"I dip into my past and the books kids have loved and suggest books that coincide with their interests," Pride said. "I think that they're not afraid of a challenge and if it's a book that they really love, they'll read it over and over again."
The retired teacher said she reads Book List, Internet and other book reviews to keep on top of new offerings and often recommends them to the library for purchase.
But "the best expert on good readers and what they like are good readers," she said.