Thrice Exceptional: Recognizing the Giftedness Within

Students sitting together and studying

Educators strive to meet the diverse needs of all students, including those considered twice exceptional (2e) — individuals who are academically gifted but also have a learning difference. However, a group within the 2e community adds another layer of complexity to this already unique profile: thrice exceptional (3e) students↗(link opens in new tab/window).

Defining Thrice Exceptionality

Thrice exceptional students are individuals who are academically gifted, have a learning difference, and belong to a minority group. This combination of characteristics presents a complex set of challenges and strengths that require a nuanced approach to identification and support.

Understanding Strengths and Challenges

Children with 3e possess a fascinating blend of abilities. They may excel in specific areas like math or science but struggle with reading fluency due to dyslexia. Additionally, cultural and linguistic differences can further complicate their learning journey.

One of the key challenges in working with 3e students is the intersectionality of their identities↗(link opens in new tab/window). Their giftedness can mask their learning difference, leading to under-identification and under-support in academic settings. Conversely, their learning difference can mask their giftedness, leading to missed opportunities for enrichment and advancement. Additionally, being part of a minority group can add layers of cultural and societal factors that can impact their educational experiences.

Empowering Students’ Potential

To effectively support 3e students, adopting a holistic approach that considers their strengths, challenges, and cultural background is essential. Here are some strategies for working with 3e students:

1. Early Identification: Be aware of the signs of giftedness and learning disabilities and be proactive in identifying students who may be 3e.

2. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs): Develop IEPs that address both the student’s giftedness and their learning difference, including accommodations and modifications that meet their unique needs.

3. Culturally Responsive Teaching: Incorporate diverse perspectives into the curriculum to celebrate 3e students’ heritage and foster a sense of belonging. It is also important to be sensitive to the cultural factors that may impact a student’s learning and tailor your approach accordingly.

4. Executive Function Support: Help students develop strategies to improve their organizational skills, time management, and task prioritization. This could include using planners, checklists, or digital tools to stay organized.

5. Collaboration: Work closely with parents, special education teachers, and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive support plan for the student.

6. Enrichment Opportunities: Provide opportunities for 3e students to explore their areas of giftedness and pursue their passions, while also providing support for their learning difference.

By understanding and addressing the unique needs of thrice exceptional students, we can create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

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About the Author

Caitlin Vanderberg, Ed.M., is a SMARTS Associate and an Educational Specialist. She leads the MetaCOG Surveys & Toolkit and provides academic support to students with learning, attention, and executive function challenges. Before joining ResearchILD in 2020, Caitlin worked as an assistant elementary school teacher and with many arts education programs. Caitlin holds an Ed.M. in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

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