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Visualize to Individualize in the Classroom

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Visualize to Individualize 3.31.16I’ve always felt that athletes have the best gifted programs. Elite athletes have the best coaches, best equipment, best funding, best training techniques, and so on. That’s wonderful for them. We see the outcomes of these programs in amazing human levels of performance across the globe. It’s frustrating that elite thinkers don’t always receive the same kinds of attention. However, one great tip that educators can gain from the field of athletics is the use of visualization. The same techniques that help athletes perform at their best levels of performance, create renewed mental awareness, and imbue a heightened sense of well-being and confidence can be used by educators to help us be better coaches for our gifted students.

One of the challenges teachers face in providing an individualized curriculum is simply the overwhelming hurdle that differentiation can appear to be within a large heterogeneous classroom. How do you consider everyone’s learning needs? How do you manage individualized programs effectively? How do you balance what you are expected to do with what you would like to do? These are not simple questions to resolve, particularly for teachers new to differentiation or to working with gifted children. So let’s begin by visualizing.

You might know of visualization as guided imagery, mental rehearsal, or a variety of other techniques. Basically, though, visualization is the process of creating a mental image or intention of what you want to happen or feel in reality. When you visualize images, you can also sense feeling or sounds as well to keep the image vivid.

As research is finding that both physical and psychological reactions in certain situations can be improved with visualization, educators can use this practice to improve their ability to work effectively with gifted students. When planning a lesson or unit, imagine seeing the students in small groups, working on tasks that interest and engage them. When planning to introduce a new curriculum topic, imagine what students who already grasp that information could be doing to better use their time. When thinking through the evaluation of students, visualize some students producing the unexpected product that surpasses your expectations and then imagine a way to give those students feedback from other experts. When thinking about discussing content, create a mental image of asking in-depth questions, providing time for thinking about the questions, see students asking intriguing questions of you and of each other, and then visualize them challenging each other in thinking through these questions. See yourself feeling comfortable with the pleasant classroom buzz that comes from interested, engaged, and excited discovery learning.

These are just some ideas to help educators gain confidence in their ability to differentiate curriculum and instruction for their gifted and talented students. If you have other ways that you have used visualization practices with your teaching methods, do share with the rest of us. Much like the athletes, if we can visualize it, we can do it.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
CEO, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

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