Equity for Twice-Exceptional Students: Part 2

Dr. Deanna Westedt on serving gifted students with learning challenges.

Posted Jul 21, 2020

Deanna Westedt, used with permission
Deanna Westedt
Source: Deanna Westedt, used with permission

In Part 1 of this interview, Deanna Westedt, Ed.D., shared how schools can best serve students who are 2e, which means being intellectually gifted but also having challenges such as learning disabilities or lacking English language proficiency. Westedt is entering her 21st year in education and has a doctorate in curriculum and instruction. Westedt developed presentations for parents, educators, and students on providing accessible learning to all students and conducted a research study on the impact of flexible differentiation as a way to address the needs of students' overlapping identities, including the twice-exceptional population. Here Dr. Westedt shares more insights into how schools can best serve students who are twice-exceptional.

Jenny Rankin (JR): What are some characteristics of a twice-exceptional population, and how might a classroom teacher recognize a student who falls into this category?

Deanna Westedt (DW): A student who falls into this category will be one who, in addition to gifted markers, does not necessarily present academically “pretty” work. Or their social interactions may be outside the developmental norm of their peers. It is important to note that students with ADHD often present with up to a four-year maturational delay. They may be the student who is struggling with reading at grade level, but their ability to participate in class discussions, especially when the text has been read aloud, is extraordinary. Organization is very often a challenge in this demographic, too. And it is not to say we do not need to attend to their challenges. Our goal is to make them well-rounded and prepared human beings, of course. Too often, though, we only respond to the deficits. Instructional strategies that efficiently address both need to be in place.

JR: Please share some common misconceptions about our gifted and twice-exceptional populations and how we might disrupt that narrative.

DW: Some common misconceptions include that most assume gifted markers are easily detected. There is a stereotypical vision of what a gifted child looks like. Many do not realize that giftedness and learning disabilities coexist, creating a highly unique dynamic or that most gifted children experience asynchronous development in which they display developmental characteristics of many age categories. Another misperception about giftedness is the way that race, culture, and gender interact with this identity to create specific barriers. We know that our Black students are highly under-represented in our gifted population, but not because they are not there. It is connected to the deficit model and the way that normative values grounded in cultural characteristics are used to incorrectly define what gifted looks like or impact how it is tested. Our gifted boys are up against a heteronormative dialogue that dictates what is OK and not OK for them to be interested in. Gifted girls who are outspoken or interested in particular subjects are given a message that this is not accepted or normal. We like to think we are past those types of things happening, but they are very much a part of our normative-based society. On the flip side, a girl who is quiet and daydreaming and reads well above grade-level might have incomplete classroom assignments overlooked. All of these students deserve to have their strengths and challenges recognized and addressed in a way that esteems the child’s unique multicultural fingerprint.

JR: As teaching practitioners, what is our role in addressing the needs of the twice-exceptional learner in the self-contained classroom?

DW: We have a hugely impactful role as teaching practitioners. Our unspoken dialogue with these children every day can make or break them. Remember, these children spend so much of their time hearing what they haven’t done "right," which in the adult world typically means meeting societal norms. Children are immensely in tune with what we don’t say, as well. We need to find strategies to help their brains build neuropathways that address their delays, rather than punitive or traditional behavior systems, because I guarantee they are some of our most promising youth. Trust me, these kids don’t enjoy their challenges, but they’re stuck. It is our responsibility to help identify delayed social-emotional and executive functioning skills and change the trajectory of students’ lives in a positive way. The brain research is in and there is most definitely hope for these kids.

JR: What instructional methods best address the needs of the twice-exceptional population, in addition to the wealth of diversity we encounter in our classrooms?

DW: Truly addressing the needs of the twice-exceptional and gifted populations requires an integrated model of flexible differentiated learning in our self-contained classroom. The beauty of this is that it simultaneously addresses the needs of all the different intersectionalities we encounter. Grounding this instructional method in ongoing formative assessment allows the teaching practitioner to identify areas in which a student needs additional support or already has a good grasp on a case by case basis. In my study, up to 68% of students were found to have discrepancies between their academic achievement and their true ability in a skill. This is where traditional grades can fail us because they only tell us one part of the story. If we place students according to our perceptions of them based on these grades, we risk creating gaps in their learning or missing opportunities to address strengths.

We also must be careful with the assumption that a gifted student can work independently in order to meet their differentiated learning goals. In particular, the twice-exceptional category may have other asynchronous development that prevents them from accessing curriculum at a deeper level if left to do so independently. We also need to communicate the value of musical and artistic gifts to our students through our unspoken dialogue and by giving them opportunities to shine in these areas.

What Next?

In my next post for this column (Part 3), Westedt will provide more insight into how schools can best serve students who are intellectually gifted but also have challenges such as learning disabilities or lacking English language proficiency.