Ten Things I Wish People Would Stop Saying About Gifted Students: Common Misconceptions about Gifted Learners Illustrated by Harry Potter and Friends



Having spent 10 years in the classroom, and six of those ten years in gifted education, I've heard many people--both parents and teachers--say things (whether they were 100% serious or not) about the gifted population that are just so untrue! My goal today is most certainly not to offend anyone in the education field, or any parents. I know for sure that for the vast majority of teachers and parents, we all want to do what is best for all children. Our intentions are innately positive. I also know that there is a huge lack of training in teacher education programs on how to meet the needs of gifted learners. And for parents, unless you seek out information from reputable institutions or gifted advocacy groups, you don't always hear this information, either. I hope that by writing this post today, with the help of some tongue-in-cheek memes of the archetypal gifted characters from one of my favorite book series, I can in some small way, help educate people about some of the most common myths that seem to come up over and over again. 

1. They'll be FINE in the regular classroom. 



The truth is simple here. According to a national study conducted by The National Research Center on Gifted and Talented indicated that your highly gifted student comes to you knowing up to 80% of the material you plan to teach them this year. EIGHTY.PERCENT. There is a disturbing lack of urgency surrounding the need to provide gifted learners with NEW material! Think about this for a minute. You KNOW you've been to a professional development day or a staff meeting in which you already knew most of the material being presented. Lucky for you, the meeting or PD usually lasts for only a few hours, possibly up to maybe a few days. Were you bored? Did you benefit from sitting through those meetings? How did you feel? Bored. Frustrated. Despondent. You probably found other ways to entertain your self, right? Maybe you're reading my blog during one of those meetings. (If that's the case, don't stop--you'll probably learn something here today! Wink, Wink!) Now, multiply that feeling of boredom or frustration times 180 DAYS. The average school day for a child is somewhere between six and seven hours. Let's be realistic and say that you have only moderately gifted students in your classroom and they only know 50% of your curriculum. 180 days times 6.5 hours is 1,170 hours spent with you in a year. If they come in knowing 50% of the material, that means they're spending 585 HOURS just this year NOT LEARNING.  I don't know about you--but seeing these statistics in black and white makes them even more stark. That's nearly FIFTEEN 40-hour work weeks! Imagine! We've GOT to work hard meeting these students where they are in their knowledge and move them forward. There's a chance that little gifted Joe will seem fine, because he's learned to be complacent, well-behaved, and respectful. Please believe me when I say that he will most certainly be worlds better if he's actually given the opportunity to learn something new. 

2. They didn't get 100% on that test, so why should I give him special treatment? Or, geez, they bombed that assignment. I thought they were"gifted." Or, how can she be gifted? She's never had straight A's. 

                                     

First of all, using specific interventions to meet the needs of ANY learner isn't giving special treatment. It's best practice. Second, gifted students are human beings--prone to imperfection since the inception of our existence (even Wizards make mistakes). Third, gifted students can be underachievers. If they've been identified as gifted, it means that they have been identified as having a higher than average potential for learning. If they're not meeting their potential, that's a problem. There are many reasons why a gifted student may be underperforming in school, ranging from a loss of interest from being under-challenged for a period of time, to a child trying to fit in socially who masks his or her giftedness by making mistakes on purpose. Perhaps the child is finally being presented with complex information that he doesn't already know, and hasn't learned effective strategies for working toward understanding yet because it wasn't necessary.  It could also be that the child has a learning disability that is impairing their ability to meet their potential. It's important to investigate which of these issues is at the root of the underachievement so that steps can be taken to fix the issue(s). 


3. Their parents are SUCH a pain. Why won't they just leave me alone? Ugh. Helicopter parents. 



Ok, to be fair, if you've been teaching for a while more than five minutes, you know that there are a certain group of parents who can seem a little...more challenging. Sometimes, you truly do have a set of parents that seem to hover a little more closely to their child than what you'd prefer--you know them when you see them. They seem overprotective, perhaps sometimes preventing their child from feeling the sting of failure or cushioning their fall a little too much. They may even blame circumstances or other people for their child's missteps, and bail them out a little too quickly. (If you're one of these parents, STOP IT! You're not helping your child!) However, most of the time, the parent that wants to talk to you about their child is living out what's become their "normal." They know that they have an exceptional child, and they have learned early on that teachers sometimes have a lack of understanding of giftedness, and as a result, have a hard time meeting their child's needs. And because they don't want their child to sit through 585 hours of class this year not learning,  or because they need to communicate that their child has some intensities that you should know about, they've learned that they need to stay in close contact with the teachers responsible for spending 1,170 hours with their child this year. The best thing you can do is listen, be patient, be calm, and remind yourself that with great (proactive) communication, you can work together with parents to make this year a success!


4. Well, if they'd stop acting up in class, I would give them their different/special/whatever work. 



Yes, you'd prefer that your students behave properly at all times. Who doesn't?! Here's the thing. If you consider the information above about how much time a child is potentially spending in your classroom NOT LEARNING, then it makes sense that you might have a problem with the student losing interest, and eventually finding ways to entertain themselves. I know I did this (and sometimes still do). I was a gifted high achiever. I wanted to please my parents and teachers and I definitely wanted to avoid getting into trouble. BUT, I also lost interest sometimes, because I already knew the answers to all of the teachers questions. So, I found quiet and creative ways to entertain myself during school. I organized my desk, and doodled on the borders of my papers, I even partnered with another gifted student in my class to make up our own alphabet so that we could write notes to each other in a "different language." You know when I wasn't doing these inventive  little  things? When the teacher gained my attention with new information in class, when they created projects for me to work on independently so I didn't have to read or listen to the content in the next chapter of the science textbook, when I got to choose a new topic to pursue on my own or with that gifted peer of mine. I know it may seem as thought you're "rewarding" their poor behavior choices. But you're not. You are, in fact, providing for them what they NEED. You are recognizing that behavioral problems they're exhibiting are likely CAUSED by the fact that you weren't giving them what they NEED. In the end, you, your class, and especially your gifted student will all be much happier once you start providing for the learning needs of your gifted student. 

5.  I wish they'd stop being so know-it-all and correcting me all the time!


                           

Well, this one is a little sticky. Of course your gifted student should learn to be respectful, try not to interrupt you, and definitely refrain from correcting you in front of the whole class, right? The thing that makes this a little trickier for gifted learners goes back to the nature of the gifted child in general. The traits that make them who they are, can sometimes interfere with the expectations for how you'd like to run things in your classroom. One of the traits of giftedness is that gifted children can be perfectionists. They have extremely high expectations for themselves and others when it comes to accuracy. Further, their little gifted brains have such a high capacity for learning and remembering things, and making rapid connections to previous knowledge, it may just be that they've had an epiphany of sorts and their excitement precludes their manners. Finally, it may be that your gifted student has psychomotor overexcitabilty, and they have a hard time controlling their energy/impulses. In my classroom, we had many conversations about productive and appropriate ways to communicate with teachers (or others in general) when they disagree with what's being said. We took time to model how to address disagreements without being rude. Quite honestly, it never bothered me when a student pointed out mistakes to me, as long as they weren't rude about it (which we also rehearsed frequently at first).  I am the first to admit that despite my own perfectionistic tendencies, I do sometimes make mistakes (I know--it's a shocker!),  and with each mistake comes an opportunity for learning. 

6. They just need to stop complaining about things not being fair! 



The ability to recognize social injustice or inequity is another gifted trait. It relates back to Dabrowski's Emotional Overexcitability. These children are exceptionally perceptive. They experience the world differently than a typically developing child. They are sensitive to injustice, and just as they called you out for making a mistake in your math equation five minutes ago, they will note any perceived injustice or imbalance in your classroom. Again, as teachers or parents, it's important that we step back and think for a minute--is this perception of what's happening something truly unfair? Is there an imbalance that needs adjusting? Or is it time to have a talk about what fairness truly means? One thing I really felt proud about as a teacher is that I felt like my students walked away with an honest-to-goodness sense of understanding that fair does not mean equal. It took lots of class meetings, modeling, and open discussions, but I do feel that students understood that fairness can take on different appearances, depending on the circumstances. 


7. That kid is gifted? Well, not in my class, he's not. 


Asynchronicity is one of the hallmark characteristics of gifted children. In a nutshell, being asynchronous in your development means that parts of you grow or develop unevenly, or out of "sync" with other parts of your development. The resulting issue is that you may have a gifted child who can hold his own in an AP calculus class, but has a hard time writing a coherent paragraph. The child may not be able to complete simple computations yet, but has the emotional maturity to be able to keep up with adult conversations (and he probably prefers those conversations to those of his peers). The point is, you may have gifted students who are developing evenly all the way around--they're rockstars in every sense of the word. But more likely than not, you're going to see discrepancies, sometimes significant, between different aspects of the child's development. It's okay. It's normal. It's time to meet them where they are, and push them forward, no matter where the starting point.

8.  You're a GENIUS! You just like, know stuff without even TRYING! 



Ugh. This. It happens all the time, and with the most positive intentions. You're trying to compliment a child you notice has a penchant for achieving. To the observer, the gifted brain can be like a sponge--rapidly soaking in all sorts of information. It looks like they don't even have to work hard at learning (and they don't always need to!). Even the term gifted, has connotations that this intelligence was a present from above, right?

There is truth to thought that gifted children are born with innate talents, but it's risky to focus so much on this inborn ability because it can undermine the child's motivation, and lead to Dweck's "Fixed Mindset," or the belief that their intelligence is set. So, if a child perceives herself as having this gift of intelligence, she thinks she won't ever have to work at learning. And if this same person fails at something, then she starts to question whether she truly is as smart as they she thought she was. Eventually, this could lead to the child taking fewer risks because he doesn't want to endure the experience of failing, they don't want to put in the work it takes to learn something they don't already know, and they may even start questioning their own self-worth. Not good, right?

Experts in the field, such as renown psychologist Carol Dweck, suggest that we praise students for their effort as opposed to their achievements. Others, like Alfie Kohn even suggest that we remove praise altogether, as it can be intrusive, manipulative, and ultimately take away from a child's intrinsic satisfaction.  I think a middle ground is probably best. When you see a gifted child doing well, watch them. Really watch. Watch closely enough that you can provide specific feedback about that you see them working hard at improving. Don't overpraise, and try not to use praise as a form of manipulation, or create a situation in which complacency is rewarded too frequently.

9. Kids need to learn to be bored. It's a life skill.



Bored feels like a swear word, doesn't it? The mention of the word can raise the hackles of even the most talented teacher. I don't encourage the use of the term, but if you hear it, despite how angry it makes you, you need to listen and reflect on what could be happening in your home or classroom.

There are many reasons for which a child may determine that they feel "bored," including feelings of sadness or anger, experiencing work that is too difficult, or perhaps they're overstimulated. What your gifted child could be expressing though, is their frustration at the lack of learning or progress toward learning. Which should lead you into a thought process that includes reflecting on why this child is frustrated at the lack of progress. Gifted children, pretty much by definition, learn faster than the average learner, needing only 1-3 repetitions of new material, instead of the typical 6-8. Not to mention (again) that this child came to you already knowing much of the content you were planning to present. It's important to consider all this when the dreaded B-word is uttered in your presence. Are you giving this child new material to master? Are you wasting their time by having them repeatedly "learn" material they've known for years? Perhaps they really are getting overstimulated, or maybe they're frustrated about something that's too difficult for them. Either way, we shouldn't be okay with kids being bored and we need to work understanding the cause, and working toward fixing the problem.


10. Acceleration? You mean like, grade-skipping? No way. He needs to be with his age-mates. Don't you think this will be bad for their social-emotional growth? 


Acceleration is the single most researched intervention for gifted students. It has been found time and again to be the BEST way to help  highly gifted children grow towards reaching their potential. There is virtually no evidence that acceleration has a negative impact on a child's social or emotional growth. It's cost effective, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. In fact, when comparing the achievement levels of an accelerated child to the same grade-peers, the accelerated child's scores are in the average range in their first year of acceleration, and among the highest in the grade in all the subsequent years of their education, including college. Further, acceleration doesn't always mean grade-skipping! There are actually 18 different forms of acceleration. To name a few, there is subject-area acceleration, whole grade acceleration (or grade skipping), early entrance to kindergarten, telescoping (in which more than one year's worth of curriculum is learned in a single year), and radical acceleration (skipping more than one grade, or advancing at a very rapid pace through the curriculum). 

Of course, acceleration is not a magic bullet. It needs to be carefully considered for each child. Using the IOWA acceleration scale is a good practice, as it quantifies factors in the child's life other than the child's academic achievement. 


To be sure, this list is NOT exhaustive. Leave me a comment below with something you've heard about gifted kids which you know (or suspect) to be untrue! I'm curious!

Thanks so much for reading!
~Jen









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18 comments

  1. This was a fascinating read. Gifted children can be so misunderstood. I never thought that when a gifted student corrects a teacher it could be because he/she had an epiphany and not because he/she wanted to be a know it all. Shared!

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    1. Thank you so much! Gifted kids are complicated little beings! Glad you enjoyed the post!

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  2. Thanks for a great article. Where can I get a copy of the Iowa Acceleration Scale? We have done the Iowa Achievement Tests in the past but it sounds like this scale is something different. Is that right?

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    1. Thank you, Nancy! Because it was the law in my state to use the Iowa Acceleration Scale (IAS), I always got mine from our gifted coordinator. In other schools, the school psychologists, guidance counselors, or administrators are typically responsible for getting them for the school or district.

      You can buy them yourself at Great Potential Press, but be warned, they're expensive: http://www.greatpotentialpress.com/iowa-acceleration-scale-3rd-edition-complete-kit

      I'm not sure whether you're a teacher or parent, but you should know that because the objective of this scale is to provide a quantifiable (non-subjective) score about the child's candidacy as an accelerated student, the front section of the IAS uses scores from nationally normed grade level and above-grade level achievement tests. The scores are turned into points (like 4 points if the child's score on the above grade level tests is above the 90th percentile) <--- This is an approximation, as I don't have a copy of the IAS sitting in front of me! Just wanted to let you know so you don't buy the product and then get frustrated that you have to also get the testing done.

      Hope that helps! Thanks so much for asking. If there's anything else I can help you with, please don't hesitate to reach out. You can comment again, or feel free to email me by using the button at the top of my page! :)

      ~Jen

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  3. Your post is an important reminder that we have a responsibility to all of our students, and while we may not always have the authority to implement the proper placement you've suggested, at very least we can find ways to challenge and engage our stronger students. Weaker students might act out by acting aloof, and stronger students might act out by asking questions appropriate for next year's class, but both need an appropriate response, a challenge they can chew on. Nice post!

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. It's so true that at the very least, we have a responsibility to provide ALL students with appropriate levels of challenge, and keep expectations high so that they can all grow! I appreciate your feedback!

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  4. Wow! Such a plethora of knowledge! Thanks for sharing! I agree it's important for all kids to understand fair does not mean equal! Both of my kids have been "gifted" placed, but they have two completely different gifts. It's important for teachers to recognize that a gifted child also has strengths and weaknesses and not to bunch them all together. As a teacher, I get so annoyed with other teachers saying this child doesn't need to be in gifted classes because he/ she can't even write! Thanks for this post! I will be sharing it!

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    1. Thanks so much! It is affirming to see that you've heard some of the same things that I have heard along the way. It's so important to help people (parents and teachers alike) to understand that a child with the gifted label is a complex being and, as such, has complex needs, including (sometimes widely) varying strengths and weaknesses! Thank you for sharing! :)

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  5. Thank you for the awesome post Jen! As a teacher, a gifted learner, and the mother of 2 gifted learners, it was refreshing to see myths and misconceptions debunked - and with research! I hope many many parents and teachers read your post, and take your wisdom to heart!

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    1. Wow, Paula! You just made my day! I hope many people read it, as well! These are things I feel like shouting from the mountaintop! Feel free to share the link to my post with anyone you think could use it!

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  6. What a great post.....this was so informative! And I love the concept/quote that fair does not mean equal!

    Laura
    www.discoveringhiddenpotential.com

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    1. Hi Laura,
      Thanks so much for your comment! The whole fair/equal business is tricky to learn, but it's certainly a valuable concept! So glad you stopped by!

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  7. I have a child who is advanced for her age and gets very bored in school. Her teacher told her she could bring projects to do at her desk when she was finished with her assignments. She's been learning how to do origami. It's been great for her to practice solving her own problem instead of having a teacher or parent come up with something for her to do every minute.

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    1. Hi Amy,
      I'm glad that you've encountered a teacher who at least is recognizing your child's need for enrichment after her work is completed. Let me know if you'd ever like more ideas about how to meet your daughter's needs. I would be happy to help!

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  8. Great post, thanks!
    I heard this about my son: "he can't even tie his shoe laces and you think he's gifted? "
    In front of the class the teacher asked him: "are you also gifted in writing or only in math? "
    " if he would first show ME what he can do by finishing his work, then I would give him more difficult work"
    About my daughter in kindergarten: ooohh noooo don't worry about her being gifted. She's very mediocre and I can't say that about everyone :))))) lol
    I actually hate talking about it and calling them gifted because of the cynical reactions.
    But here as "anonymous" I feel free ;)

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    1. Thank you for your comment, I'm glad it validated some of your feelings! It's a shame that there seems to be a stigma attached to talking about giftedness, really. Like you're bragging or something. But it's NOT frowned upon to brag about your child who scored nine goals at last week's soccer game! It's unfortunate, really. Thank you for reading. I hope that maybe you can share some of this information with those people who made those remarks!
      ~Jen

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  9. Thank you for this great post! It really sounds like you are describing my son here!

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    1. Thanks so much! I'm so glad you found it helpful!
      ~Jen

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