SEM-R and Talented Readers

One important aspect of the SEM-R study involves our commitment to provide appropriate levels of challenge for talented readers. Little research has focused on challenging talented readers or using strategies that are an important part of gifted education (e.g., critical and creative problem solving and thinking, curriculum modification and differentiation, independent study, self-selected products) to encourage talented students to pursue challenging reading both in school and in their spare time (Jackson & Roller, 1993; Reis & Renzulli, 1989).

Current research indicates that many talented readers have already mastered the majority of comprehension skills but are often required to study them again as part of the regular curriculum. The SEM-R was developed to increase reading challenge and enjoyment in all students, but one important goal of this approach is to challenge talented readers.

Characteristics of Talented Readers

As a group, talented readers are characterized by

  • reading earlier than their peers,
  • spending more time reading,
  • reading a greater variety of literature, even into adulthood (Collins & Kortner, 1995; Halsted, 1990),
  • reading at least two grade levels above their chronological grade placement,
  • demonstrating advanced understanding of language,
  • having an expansive vocabulary,
  • perceiving relationships between and among characters,
  • grasping complex ideas (Catron & Wingenbach, 1986; Dooley, 1993; Levande, 1999),
  • having skills are advanced in relation to their peers,
  • possibly not profiting from conventional instruction in reading (Levande, 1999),
  • benefiting from diagnostically based instruction to ensure that their skills continually improve.

Needs of Talented Readers

Researchers who have examined practices for talented readers agree that regular reading instruction is often too easy for talented readers (Collins & Aiex, 1995; Dole & Adams, 1983; Reis & Renzulli, 1989; Shrenker, 1997) and that talented readers need different reading instruction. The appropriate match between a learner’s abilities and the difficulty of the instructional work must be sought, and the optimal match should be instruction that is slightly above the learner’s current level of functioning. As Chall and Conrad (1991) state, when the match is optimal, learning is enhanced; however, "if the match is not optimal [i.e., the match is below or above the child’s level of understanding and knowledge], learning is less efficient and development may be halted" (p. 19).

Talented readers have responded well to

  • high interest literature geared toward the students’ reading levels rather than age (Renzulli, 1977)
  • instruction geared toward the students’ strengths (Renzulli & Reis, 1985; 1997)
  • focus on developing higher level comprehension skills (Collins & Kortner, 1995)
  • use of higher level questioning and opportunities to incorporate prior knowledge in reading experiences
  • book discussions can also provide talented readers with the opportunity to interact with intellectual peers and to discuss their ideas in greater depth
  • reading conferences facilitated by a teacher and focused on themes and ideas rather than on facts and plot summaries (Halsted, 1990).

Unfortunately, using textbooks, basal readers, or even self-selected reading material that may be several years below students’ reading level may create both halted development as well as motivational problems for talented readers. Some of your most talented readers may have learned to be lazy readers and may not react well to your attempts to challenge them to read at higher levels. The emphasis in school, however, must be on finding books that challenge and help talented readers to make continuous progress.

The following strategies can be used to challenge talented readers in your reading classroom and are an integral part of SEM-R:

  • Modification of the regular curriculum to eliminate skills and work that talented readers have already mastered
  • Acceleration of content
  • Substitution of regular reading material with more advanced trade books
  • Use of technology and the web
  • More complex assigned reading and writing
  • Challenging group novels assigned for discussion to two or more talented readers
  • Independent reading and writing choices
  • Reading on-line from some of the advanced choices provided in the SEM-R intervention
  • Independent study opportunities in an area of interest


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Chall, J. S., & Conard, S. S. (1991). Should textbooks challenge students? The case for easier or harder textbooks. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
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Shrenker, C. E. (1997). Meeting the needs of gifted students within whole group reading instruction. Ohio Reading Teacher, 31, 70-74.