There has been a lot of buzz in the district about gifted and talented education (GATE) lately. I think I’ve made it pretty clear in a variety of posts (here and here) how I feel about honors classes–(I’m opposed). That said, I also am a BIG SUPPORTER of GATE education in our schools.
It is a myth that “gifted” students don’t exist, or that they don’t really need our support. I, myself, was high performing (I skipped a grade and was in gifted programs as well). I had both positive and negative experiences with school.
Now, that I’m a mom, I’m thinking about the ways to best support my kids experience as high-performing students in school.
And when it comes to academic abilities, most children, even those who are very bright or high-achieving, have a definite set of strengths and weaknesses.
We Need Specific Support for our Gifted and Talented students!
I’ve been doing some research on the topic and though it would be helpful to share some of the information I found on gifted students. I hope these resources prove helpful for parents looking to advocate at the classroom, site or district level for quality programming for high performing kids.
First, Let’s Define Gifted
Contrary to popular belief, giftedness has been hard to define. Some say truly gifted children only make up the top 2% of the student population, while others go as high as 20%.
Are all gifted students creative? good at math? good students? It turns out… no. But here is a good general working definition from Raising Lifelong Learners
One accepted definition of giftedness came from the U.S. Department of Education in 1993, “Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.”
Misconceptions of Gifted Kids
Teaching and parenting gifted kids is very rewarding! It is also very challenging as well.
The Most Troubling Myths About Gifted Kids—Debunked from Take Part
A major misconception around gifted students is that they are hardworking and motivated in classes. Teachers often confuse hardworking, high-achieving students with gifted students.
The author, Tammie Schrader, goes on to state that because of this misconception, gifted students are more often given more work (instead of more advanced or complex tasks) or they are given roles as mentors, tutors or translators for their peers. These roles can be developmentally inappropriate and can become tedious or boring for students.
She goes on to list the unique set of traits, that many (but not all) gifted students possess, including the following:
- Rapid mastering of the typical curriculum at an earlier age than classmates
- Exceptional reasoning ability and memory, often advanced over skill levels such as calculation or punctuation that require more direct instruction
- Ability to hold problems in mind that aren’t yet figured out, to ponder them from time to time until a solution emerges or an answer is found
- Frequent step-skipping in problem-solving and unexpected ways of solving problems or inventing strategies
- Advanced vocabulary and a love of words
- Interest in looking for patterns and relationships and explaining them
Gifted Kids Also Need Support
Giftedness can be as much a curse as a blessing. It depends a good deal on the environment within which that giftedness finds itself. To a harried teacher with lesson plans to cover before the bell rings, the seemingly incessant questions of gifted children can seem like a special kind of hell. Gifted children often find age-appropriate lesson plans boring because their cognitive skills may extend well beyond the schoolwork and lessons contained in those plans. On the playground, they can exhibit a trait termed an“unstoppable urge to create” by Dr. Joan Freeman(link is external), a specialist in the needs of gifted children. This “urge to create” makes it difficult for gifted children to simply “play by the rules.” Although they quickly learn the rules of a game, they just as quickly become bored with them and want to change them — frequently leading to consternation on the part of other children who often find solace and comfort in routine. As adults, the gifted can find the workplace, with its many rules and often rigid power hierarchy, a particularly stressful work environment.
What About 2E Gifted Students?
Just because a child is gifted, does not mean they do not need academic, social or behavioral support. It is possible to be gifted and also have a learning disability like ADD, ADHD or dyslexia. Gifted students can also show signs of Asberger’s syndrome, autism or social anxiety.
When some parents think of high-achieving or gifted students, what comes to mind is a child who shines in every aspect of life – one who can be expected to get straight A’s in school, have tons of friends, and be a star in sports. The idea is, if you’re smart, you’re smart, and you should be able to apply your mind and talents to just about anything and do well. Problem is, this idea just isn’t true. Yes, some kids and adults do appear to know it all and have it all, but this is really more the exception than the rule.
Can You Be Advanced and Behind at the Same Time?
Just because a gifted student is highly advanced in one academic area doesn’t mean they are not still developing (or even far behind) in another area of development.
Asynchronous development is the uneven development that we find in many gifted children. It just means that different domains don’t develop at the same rate. So a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual abilities are uneven, with one or more being more advanced than the other(s). Parents of gifted children recognize how difficult it is at times to cope with asynchronous development.
Here’s another great article on what it means to PARENT a gifted child:
In this blog post, the author describes putting her 3-year old boy to bed at night only to find him sobbing. He had been devouring information about dinosaurs and in learning about the fact that they had become extinct, had come face with some very advanced questions about death.
Her son asked:
“The dinosaurs are extinct and the scientists don’t know why. They are extinct for an unknown reason. What if we all die, and become extinct for some unknown reason?! What if we die and we’re gone forever?!”
I have had similar conversations with my then three-year-old daughters who had somehow put together two and two after our cat passed away. I told them our former cat “Muchie” had died. They asked what happens when people die. I then explained how some people get cremated or turned to ashes and some people choose to get buried.
One of my daughters immediately exclaimed, “I don’t want to be buried because I don’t want worms (maggots) to eat me! Please, Mama, I don’t want to die!”
(Flashback one week earlier, we had gotten into a conversation about the life cycle of flies. Little did I know it would lead to an existential crisis!)
Not All Gifted Students are High Achievers
What if your child is an under-acheiving gifted student (like I was at times..)? Sometimes gifted kids are the hardest ones to teach because they don’t want to follow rules or they refuse to be taught by teachers who don’t challenge them.
What about the gifted underachievers? Their label is derived from the fact that these children are gifted and are performing below expectations, not fulfilling their potential. There are many reasons given for gifted children who fall into this unfortunate category—lack of a challenging education, boredom, frustration, and not being understood as a gifted learner with unique social, emotional and cognitive needs. When traditional schools don’t deliver an education that meets the learning needs of this particular group of gifted learners, they become frustrated, demotivated and disengage from school. And then we cast on them a label that suggests they are not doing their part in school, they are not following the game plan.