This post is a follow-up to a previous post, available here.
Recently, I posted a fact sheet infographic about supporting gifted learners, and I've been inspired to share a little more, as the first in a "Deep Dives" series. I've picked giftedness for this first deep dive for a few reasons. Initially, I wanted to pick something I had a connection with – as I mentioned in the first post, I was in a congregated gifted class from grade three onward. Second, while there are lots of topics I want to explore in a deep dive, I picked giftedness because there are a lot of myths surrounding it, primarily “they are the easiest kids to have in your class”, something I have in staff rooms, from educators online, and even from professors in my B.Ed. program.
Let's dive right in... pun intended. What is giftedness? “Children are gifted when their ability is significantly above the norm for their age.” It can manifest in one or many ways, such as “intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership or in a specific academic field”, like language or math (National Association for Gifted Children).
So, what does giftedness look like in the classroom? How can you tell the difference between a bright kid and a gifted one? While there are many differences, the key one is that gifted students express creative and outside the box thinking – if the bright child is a “technician”, the gifted learner is an “inventor”. Gifted children learn quickly, have “wild, silly ideas”, and flourish with “complexity” (School District 43 (BC), 2). At first glance, gifted students may seem easy to teach, however gifted students also have their own set of challenges.
These challenges often screen them out of programs as many gifted students seem, at first glance, to be lazy and lack interest – labelled them as ‘bad students’. These learners get bored with routine and repetition, leaving them with time to goof off and disrupt the class (School District 43 (BC), 5). They can also be very critical of authority figures (including teachers), others, and of themselves (School District 43 (BC), 5). When I was in grade four, my teacher (in a congregated gifted class) was so proud of how the class had done on a math test that she wanted to read out the names of everyone who’d got an A-, everyone who’d got an A, and everyone who got an A+. One of the boys was so upset when his name was read in the A- category because it wasn’t good enough for him and he was embarrassed that the whole class knew, that he tried to stab himself in the head with a pencil. This story also shows another feature of gifted kids – they can often be emotionally sensitive and likely to overreact (School District 43 (BC), 5). Further, gifted children are typically disinterested in the details or explaining their thinking (School District 43 (BC), 5). One gifted student I worked one on one with (he was in grade 2) was able to out-perform the others in the class, particularly in math, but he couldn’t explain to me how he knew the answer. Gifted students are also more likely to lack growth mindset and believe that they have fixed abilities (Taylor).
It is also important to note that gifted students face additional social challenges. Their emotional sensitivity and tendency “to dominate others” alongside their giftedness can isolate them (School District 43 (BC), 5). Gifted students aren’t necessarily “social isolates” but they tend to prefer adults to their peers (School District 43 (BC), 5). Specifically speaking to my own experience in a congregated class, if the school has a small number of these classes, gifted students can end up feeling isolated from the broader school if they aren't part of the school community. At my middle school, there were two gifted classes (one grade seven, one grade eight) in a total of 15 classes which left us feeling isolated in the school community, singled out and ignored by out peers in other classes. Even before I switched to a different school with the congregated program, I felt isolated from my peers once they knew I had been identified as gifted - I was taunted on the bus, removed from regular class activities to go complete different work in the back of the class, and singled out.
To help gifted students thrive, provide content in their Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) and try to find complex projects that allow them to draw inferences, be creative, and appeal to their interests to demonstrate learning. If they have dual/multiple exceptionalities, as many gifted learners do, accommodate them all but do not deprive them from the higher-level work even if they are missing other key skills (School District 43 (BC), 7). For example, if they are below grade level in reading, they need to continue to work on that, but make sure to still provide opportunities for complex work. Gifted students may benefit from acceleration, flexible ability groups, or pull out/congregated programs (National Association for Gifted Children). Finally, don’t assume gifted students have it all together or are less in need of help – they will have challenges and need support just like every other student (School District 43 (BC), 5). Overall, just like any other identification/student group, don’t assume a homogenous group based on identification (not all ‘gifties’ are the same!) and cater to individual needs.
Appendix 1: the difference between a bright child and a gifted learner, screenshot from School District 43 (BC), "What is Giftedness", page 2
National Association for Gifted Children. (n.d.). What is Giftedness? Retrieved July 6, 2019, from http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/what-giftedness
National Association for Gifted Children. (n.d.). Supporting Gifted Children. Retrieved July 6, 2019, from http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/supporting-gifted-children
School District 43 (BC). (n.d.). What is Giftedness. Retrieved July 6, 2019, from https://www.sd43.bc.ca/Programs/gifted/Documents/What is Giftedness.pdf
Taylor, J. (2009, November 19). The Problem of Giftedness. Retrieved July 6, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/the-power-prime/200911/the-problem-giftedness
Ziaian-Ghafari, N. (2019, July 3). Scope of Exceptionalities. Lecture presented at PROF 210 in Duncan MacArthur Hall, Kingston, ON.