Cathy Dial has a secret. She knows that when it comes to teaching gifted children, presentation is just as important as subject matter.
“Research has shown that the average learner needs five to eight repetitions of something before they fully learn it. More at-risk students may even need 20 repetitions, but gifted students only need one or two repetitions of something before they grasp the concept,” said Dial, a Mount Vernon Elementary School gifted teacher.
“So in many cases, the gifted students will sit in a classroom and become restless from hearing things over and over again. As educators, we have to find ways to differentiate how students are learning, so that we can ensure that everyone continues learning.”
For gifted students, Dial has learned that nontraditional approaches to teaching tend to work out best.
“I am a creative person, and I like being able to teach things differently. I like being able to bring out the humor in a lesson,” Dial said.
“Sometimes gifted students can come off as know-it-alls, but I can appreciate when my students do something clever.
Sometimes they aren’t motivated by grades, so you have to find unique ways to keep them motivated to learn and inspired to give you their best work.”
Whatever she’s been doing must be working because Dial has not only been recognized locally, but also on a state level. This year she was named the Mount Vernon teacher of the year and, most recently, she has been recognized as the 2010 Gifted Program Teacher of the Year by the Georgia Association for Gifted Children.
“This has been a really big surprise and I’m still in shock,” Dial said. “Although the (gifted teacher of the year) award is given to just one person, I wouldn’t be able to do many of the things that I do in the classroom without Pat Owens. We co-teach in the same classroom, which is a unique situation, so there’s always an extra set of hands.”
In her 29-year teaching career — the last seven have been devoted strictly to gifted education — Dial has seen a lot change in the educational system, especially when it comes to teaching gifted students.
“Today’s gifted curriculum is correlated to the Georgia Performance Standards and gifted standards. Teachers used to be able to plan lots of ‘fun’ activities in a unit, but now there is more emphasis on learning that enriches and supports the curriculum and should promote critical thinking and problem solving skills,” Dial said.
“Twenty-first century technology is being integrated into learning as this generation of students learn best using technology.
A big focus for (our) gifted program is to develop leadership and communication skills. I feel that bright children need these skills to fully utilize their talents. We have students as young as first-graders researching topics and presenting orally in front of authentic audiences.”
In the past few years, Mount Vernon has shifted from students going to the gifted class daily, to once a week — a change that Dial welcomes.
“This opportunity gives the students a full day to explore. Previously, they were only here for about 45 minutes and that doesn’t leave a lot of time,” Dial said.
“Now we have the time to go into deep intellectual projects. The full-day model gives us more time for exploratory learning and lots of hands-on stimulation.”