Gifted children present us with a challenge: Part three

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gifted children with teacher

In Parts 1 and 2 of this featured post, Midlifexpress spoke to Allison Cornish about identifying and helping gifted children. In this final instalment, Allison discusses funding issues and misconceptions about gifted programs. She also helps you to identify if  you were a gifted child.

Allison says:

Little funding is given to establish gifted programs, mainly due to the commonly held misconception that ‘gifted students will succeed anyway’ (regardless of their educational experiences). Gagne’s DMGT (mentioned in Part 2 of this series)  stresses the importance of intrapersonal and environmental factors — including chance — in turning a natural ability (or potential) into a demonstrated skill or talent.

I firmly believe every student has the right to learn at school. The curriculum is aimed at the average student. Teachers know very well that there are many students who need special support to achieve the curriculum standards and many students in classrooms will be working up to a year or two below the class level, but still making progress and achieving at their own rate.

In the same way, the curriculum fails to meet the needs of gifted students with many spending much of their schooling simply repeating things they can already do.

This is not learning.

Some gifted students can be achieving ‘A’s  and still not  learning anything. Others see little need in repeating what they already know and don’t bother trying. They can be underachieving but still have unfulfilled  potential.

Better training

However, gifted program funding would not necessarily make a significant difference to gifted students. Instead, teacher training in gifted education needs to be mandated and a public awareness campaign aimed at changing our cultural understanding of giftedness is more what’s needed.

I believe mandated teacher training in learning difficulties and other differences (such as children on the autism spectrum) would assist the large number of school students who do not fit the norm. In general, schools are underfunded and have to incorporate an increasing number of curriculum areas and extra curricular opportunities with very little support.

Schools must find creative ways to work smarter rather than harder and we also need to consider employing highly skilled leadership in our schools, (both in business and personnel management) rather than promoting people who are essentially skilled in teaching – which I see as a different skill altogether. We also need to look at the real research and data about how schools are getting good results internationally and be careful not to jump on the latest bandwagon without proper consideration of the implications, or a proper understanding of the underpinning concepts.

Misconceptions about giftedness

At first glance, some of them even seem to make sense and they include beliefs that:

  • Gifted students don’t need any help, they will do fine on their own (they usually don’t)
  • All children are gifted (all children are certainly a gift, but the definition of giftedness only covers 10-15% of the population)
  • Gifted education programs are elitist (surely gifted students have a right to have their different learning needs met too?)
  • Gifted students are happy, popular and well adjusted (not always)
  • This child can’t be gifted, he has a disability (Twice exceptional children have a learning difficulty or disability as well as being gifted in one or more domain – their needs are even less well understood and are more challenging to cater for in the classroom)
  •  This student can’t be gifted, he is getting ‘C’s and ‘D’s (underachievement is a problem when gifted students tune-out or are  unsupported).  It’s important to know that some students are only gifted in one area and may need extra assistance or support in others.
  • Acceleration options are harmful for students. (I really believed this myself for many years but current research shows overwhelmingly positive outcomes when students are placed at a learning level matching their abilities. Also, the students are often happier. There are a wide range of acceleration options which don’t all involve grade skipping. I believe they should be considered for gifted students).
  • Teachers challenge all students so the gifted should be fine in the normal classroom. (Teachers often do not easily identify or understand the needs of gifted students. They have very little training in this area and often are unskilled in identifying and providing academically challenging material to suit very high ability learners).

There are other misconceptions. A good explanatory reference can be found here:

Were you gifted?

So how do you know if you were a gifted child?

Here are the following tell-tale signs:

  • Did you find school easy (or perhaps even boring?)
  •  Did you find mixing with older peers easier and more stimulating?
  •  Did you possibly struggle in your last year of secondary school because you’d never never really had to work at learning before then?
  • Did you purposely “dumb down” at times to avoid attention  and to “fit in”?

Of course, none of this means you haven’t gone on to lead a happy and fulfilled life, but for some of you there may be a  sense you could have achieved more (and this can be quite depressing). For some, the frustration of never fitting in, missing out on making good friends or interacting with like-minded people, or simply having their own abilities undervalued, misunderstood (or even being deliberately berated and bullied for being too clever), can have devastating life-long effects.

I don’t claim to be well read on the personal difficulties that can result when gifted children are not properly catered for, but there is a certainly some academic research dedicated to this topic.

For adults wanting to know if they fall into the (academically) gifted category, full scale IQ tests are available. However, I like to think that perhaps just wondering what we could potentially achieve if we set our standards higher may be enough to push us on to unimagined goals, and allow us to take real pride in our hard won accomplishments.

What an amazing world we would live in if we removed the barriers of age-related curriculum expectations  and instead set the goal as ‘reaching your full potential and doing the very best that you can do’. I feel sure that many students would surprise us and force us to reconsider the true meaning of ‘education’.

Related Posts:
Gifted children present us with a challenge
Gifted children present us with a challenge: Part Two

Sue Bell

Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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