Understanding Giftedness
Understanding Giftedness

Teacher's Guide (2): Nurturing Gifted Students through Autonomous Learning to Address Their Needs for Intellectual Excitements | Understanding Giftedness | HKAGE

Gifted students, despite being labelled as such, can pose unique challenges for teachers. Even when schools have implemented ability-based placement, discrepancies in learning pace persist within the same class. Gifted students, with their heightened cognitive abilities, often grasp concepts more quickly than their peers. Consequently, they may get bored in class as teachers continue to explain materials that they have already understood. This boredom can lead to attention difficulties and even behavioural issues, causing these students to be perceived as "problematic" rather than "gifted."

To address the diverse learning progress of students in your classroom, adopting an Autonomous Learner Model can be highly beneficial. This approach encourages students, including gifted ones, to engage in independent research, allowing them to delve deeply into subjects according to their own interests and abilities.

What is independent study for gifted learners?

Independent study is a part of the Autonomous Learner Model1 by Betts in 1985, which is to develop independent, self-directed learners, with the development of skills, concepts and a positive attitude. It is important to gifted learners because their needs are not always fulfilled or they often feel unchallenged in the regular classroom.

Nurturing Gifted Students through Autonomous Learning to Address Their Needs for Intellectual Excitements

Further Reading: Teacher's Guide (1): Why is Question-asking so Important for Gifted Learners? 
Further Reading: Understanding Twice-exceptional Students 

To quench their thirst for knowledge, gifted students tend to persevere and pursue in-depth study on things and topics that interest them. Independent study is a student-centred learning approach that caters to the learning needs of the gifted. When designing learning and teaching activities, teachers may refer to Type III (Individual and Group Investigation of Real Problems) of Renzulli’s Enrichment Triad Curriculum (1977) and other related teaching models such as Betts’ Autonomous Learner Model or Problem-based Learning approach. Teachers may make use of those models flexibly in accordance with students’ learning abilities, areas of interest and preferred learning styles, thus helping students identify their areas of study interest and formulate appropriate study plans. With diversified learning strategies and relevant skill development, independent study allows in-depth learning of a self-selected topic within the area of study. (Education Bureau, 2003)

Why do we need independent studies?

The standards of the Autonomous Learner Model (Betts, 2003) are fundamental to the programme and underlie the basic principles for optimising ability. The aims are to:

  • develop positive self-esteem and self-concept
  • increase knowledge in a variety of areas and develop individual passion area(s) of learning
  • develop critical, creative thinking and problem-solving skills
  • comprehend one’s abilities in relation to oneself and society
  • develop skills to interact effectively with peers, siblings, parents, and other adults
  • integrate activities which leverage cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development
  • ultimately become responsible, creative, independent, life-long learners

Nurturing Gifted Students through Autonomous Learning to Address Their Needs for Intellectual Excitements

How can we conduct an independent study?

Teachers may use grouping strategies, such as “flexible grouping”, to place students with similar needs, abilities and interests in the same class and allow them to select topics of common interest for group projects or creative activities.

Teachers may refer to the following three examples of “independent study” (Education Bureau, 2003), which are appropriate for differentiated instructions:

  1. Thematic study: an exploratory study that aims at widening students’ horizons and/ or an exploratory study based on personal interests.
  2. Creative and innovative studies: aim to provide students with opportunities to develop and show their creativity.
  3. Investigation of real-life problems: an in-depth study of real-life problems and their solutions. While this kind of study requires rigorous steps and methods, it provides gifted students with a challenging learning opportunity.

Further Reading: Dispelling the 5 Common Myths about Giftedness
Further Reading: Nurturing the Emotional and Social Development of Gifted Students: Affective Education

Suggested procedures for independent study:

  1. Identify / choose a topic, issue, problem
  2. Plan the independent study (with timeframe, initial resources, hints)
  3. Uncover the information: the research
  4. Put it together: the findings and the product (giving choices of report format)
  5. Present the independent study (giving choices of presentation ways)
  6. Evaluate the independent study

When guiding students to conduct individual/group projects, teachers need to remind themselves that they are facilitators rather than instructors and their role should switch from more leading in nature at the beginning to more facilitating later.

Student choice of learning outcome

  1. Editorial
  2. Survey
  3. Drama
  4. Written report
  5. Individual/Small group presntation
  6. Web Page
  7. Podcast
  8. Sculpture
  9. Leaflet
  10. A set of bookmarks
  11. Poetry
  12. Song
  13. Poster
  14. many others ......


Betts’ Autonomous Learner Model has five dimensions, including:

  • Orientation
  • Individual development
  • Enrichment
  • Seminars
  • In-depth study

Further Reading: Teacher's Guide (1): Why is Question-asking so Important for Gifted Learners? 



  • Betts, G. T. (1985). Autonomous Learner Model for the gifted and talented. Greeley, Colorado:
  • Autonomous Learning Publications and Specialists.
  • Betts, G. T. (2003). The Autonomous learner model for high school programming. Gifted Education Communicator, Fall/Winter 2003, California Association of the Gifted.
  • Renzulli, J. (1977). The Enrichment triad model: A guide for developing defensible programmes for the gifted. Mansfield Centre, CT: Creative Learning Press, Inc.
  • Education Bureau. (2003). Teacher training package in gifted education on project learning. Hong Kong: Education Bureau, Hong Kong.