In Part 1 of this featured post, Midlifexpress spoke to Allison Cornish about the needs of gifted children. Here she discusses the difficulties faced by schools, teachers and parents in helping children fulfil their potential.
Despite the evidence around gifted education there is very little that mainstream schools are doing to cater for gifted children’s needs. It varies from state to state and school to school, and even from classroom to classroom within schools. Many schools do not have a gifted policy or have a plan for identifying and catering for gifted students. In fact, unless teachers have undertaken further professional development in this field, they are unlikely to have encountered any formal training during their teaching degrees. This lack of training has generally resulted in low levels of understanding about gifted children’s needs and teachers may also believe the common misconceptions that exist in the general community.
Some schools are actively seeking to identify talented students and to understand their needs. This pro-active approach is wonderful as gifted people make up 10 – 15 % of the population (ranging from the mildly gifted to the exceptionally gifted). When you think about it that is a lot of people! In a tiny school of only 200 students, there are probably 20 – 30 students who fit into this category.
Unfortunately, the term ‘gifted’ is often misunderstood and people tend to think only ‘Einstein-like’ people are in this category. Giftedness really just means an ability (or potential ability) that is significantly above that of age peers. For example, a child who is reading at four is doing what most of their age peers cannot do and will probably not do for another year or more. Therefore, the child could be called gifted in this area.
Schools can identify gifted students by including a checklist for parents with their kindergarten enrolment forms or their school newsletter. This helps to find early readers, mathematicians and scientists before they start school and an education plan to match their individual abilities can be created (saving an awful lot of time).
It is important for schools to be aware that gifted students will not always demonstrate what they can do. Many talented young children realise quickly that they are different to others and sometimes dumb-down in order to appear normal or to ‘fit-in’. Some get very frustrated with the mismatch between what they think they are capable of and what they can actually do (especially where fine motor skills are not yet developed).
This asynchronous development may lead to extreme frustration and tantrums. Similarly, a very young gifted child may throw a tantrum because they are so frustrated with their classroom peers and feel that they are not understood, or don’t fit in. This is often seen by teachers as a sign of social immaturity and used as a reason to hold them back or to focus on what they can’t do (which is to get along with peers) rather than their wonderful abilities.
Interestingly, many of these behaviours disappear when young gifted children are given the chance to interact with their intellectual peers (who may be from a higher age group) or a chance to do work that is appropriately challenging or relates to an area they are intensely interested in. It is important for teachers to be flexible and to find creative ways of engaging gifted students and moving them forward. Teachers do not need to be threatened by the student who appears to know more than they do about a topic. The teacher will always be essential in identifying learning opportunities for the student and assisting them to reach their full potential.
If you are a parent of a gifted child — and your school has no gifted program — contact your state gifted association and ask what local programs and events are on offer. Parents find it helpful to talk to other parents of gifted children and to discover they are not alone in dealing with the difficulties (and sometimes frustrations) that parenting these children brings.
There are also many great books available for parents, teachers and gifted children themselves. These are often inexpensive and can be purchased online. Reading about giftedness gives a better understanding of your child’s needs and often brings to light good strategies that have worked for others. Also, read up on the research about gifted education. It is likely that you will need to become an ongoing advocate for your child if their educational needs are to be met. Always approach schools in a supportive manner and remember that they may have very little training in this complex field. Most schools are happy to work with you to ensure the best possible outcomes for your child.
If, despite your best efforts, the school seems to have very little understanding of giftedness, or insists that your child needs no special consideration, consider moving to a new school. This may sound extreme (and generally I would like to believe that this should never be necessary), but the unfortunate fact, as re-stated recently in the Victorian Enquiry into Gifted Education, is that the majority of gifted students are severely under-catered for by most schools, and this is worse in rural areas than it is in metropolitan areas.
In Part 3 of this featured post, Allison discusses how you may have been a gifted child yourself!
Gifted children present us with a challenge (part 1)