A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Monday, June 6, 2011

Top Ten Things I Wish Teachers Understood about Giftedness

  1.  Not all gifted kids might seem “smart” according to common definitions. In first grade my son was failing at math, despite being able to do algebra in his head at home. But he adamantly refused to complete – or even to start – the “timed” addition tests that were given weekly at school. To him, it was boring addition, but even so he wasn’t convinced he could complete both sides of the page in the time given, so he refused to try (besides, he was – and still is – highly insecure about his letter and number formation so is resistant to completing anything written). It wasn’t until near the end of the year that we found out the teacher didn’t actually expect them to complete the tests – she just wanted to see them try.
  2. Not all smart kids are gifted. There is so much more to “giftedness” than just being smart. Yes, intelligence is part of the equation, but I’ve met so many children who do well in school due to parental pressure and through plain old hard work. It’s not a quantitative difference, it’s a qualitative difference. And I don’t mean that my kid is better than another because he’s gifted – what I mean is that he is just DIFFERENT. He thinks differently about things, he looks at the world with different eyes, he experiences the world differently. His intensity goes well beyond intellect – although that might be the most obvious sign of giftedness.
  3. Just because a child is gifted does not mean that child will be high performing. My child simply doesn’t care what you think of his work. He only cares what HE thinks of his work. If it’s not exactly what he wants it to be, he would rather you never see it. And I will guarantee that his idea of what he wants is far different than yours. There are ways to get him to show you even something that isn’t exactly right – but he’s got to trust you to show you
  4. Yes, he is smart. Yes, he can probably run circles around you when he’s talking about biology, chemistry, physics, or anything else scientific. But he is still a child, and needs the structure, discipline, and guidance of any other child. Corollary: just because he can talk like an adult and reason like an adult, doesn’t mean he has the self-control, wisdom, and maturity of adulthood.
  5. Don’t try to out-think him, but be specific in your instructions. The summer after first grade, the kidlet was taking swimming lessons. He hates to put his head under the water, so the teenage coach was trying to convince him to do “bobs” (go completely underwater). She suggested he do 10 bobs. He said no. So she said, “how about 8 like you did yesterday, then two more.” He agreed. She started giggling with the lifeguard, laughing that the kidlet had refused to do the 10, but would do 8+2 (as if he didn’t know that was the same thing), when the kidlet started doing his bobs by fractions –“one-half, one-half, that makes one! One-third, two-thirds, that makes two!... “ He did all ten bobs in fractions, never putting his head fully underwater .
  6. Embrace the unexpected. In kindergarten, the kidlet was still quite sad over the results from the previous Fall’s Presidential election. His teacher gave the kids an assignment to draw a picture of a noun – a person, place or thing. The kidlet chose to draw a person. When she was looking at his picture, she asked the kidlet whom it was, expecting it to be a grandparent, friend, or teacher like the other children had drawn. The kidlet responded, in an exasperated voice, “It’s John Kerry… you know, the man who was SUPPOSED to be President!”
  7. Allow creativity in routine tasks. Kidlet’s second grade teacher gave out a math worksheet, knowing it was going to be difficult to convince kidlet to do it. She agreed when he asked if he could do it his “own way.” He translated each number to its correlating element on the periodic table (by atomic number), and completed the math problems that way – and then created an “answer key” on the same paper so his teacher wouldn’t have to look up each element.
  8. Just because a student won’t do something doesn’t mean he can’t. The kidlet’s 5th grade math teacher came to me quite upset because she was convinced that he couldn’t do multiple-digit multiplication problems. She told me I needed to teach him, since he wouldn’t learn it from her, and she gave me a page of problems for him to do with the instruction that I would need to help him. We got home and he pulled out the sheet – I asked if he needed help, he said no. I asked him why he didn’t do it in class, and he said that his teacher wouldn’t let him do it in his head. I told him to write it all out for his teacher so she could see HOW he was doing it in his head – he finished all the problems in 5 minutes (and they were all correct).
  9. Most parents really strive to do what’s best for their child. Please listen to them. The kidlet’s first grade teacher spent the whole year interrupting me and not listening when I tried to talk to her about my child. She didn’t listen to my child, either, and never had any clue the level of his ability. Instead she spent the entire year frustrated that he wouldn’t complete menial tasks, telling me all the diagnoses she suspected (all the usual suspects – ADHD, Asperger’s, ODD – all of which had been ruled out by physicians and therapists), and complaining that he lacked imagination because he only checked out non-fiction books from the library. He spent most of that year sitting in the hallway outside the classroom, reading the dictionary. On the plus side, the kid is a sponge so he’s got a great vocabulary, now!
  10. You won’t discover what a child can do until you give him the opportunity. I’m a pretty involved parent, and I know my child pretty well… but even I wasn’t prepared for the result when I took my 11 year old child to sit in on a college-level majors biology class. I thought I’d give him a taste for what’s coming to get him through the boring stuff. Instead, I discovered a place where he “fit” more than he’s ever fit anywhere else. This child who can’t sit still for 5 minutes, doesn’t ever seem to listen to instruction, and doesn’t want to complete any kind of assignment was completely focused and engaged in a 90-minute lecture on cell communication, answered questions, interjected useful information (on topic!), gave examples and offered complementary information that took the subject to a new level. The professor asked us to keep coming, because she was so intrigued by this little kid who knows more about biology than her biology majors. I suspect he might become a sore spot with some of the students, since he keeps showing them up with his knowledge (despite the fact they’ve been reading the textbook and he hasn’t even seen the textbook), but I think it’s also a challenge to them to answer a question before he does. 

22 comments:

  1. A fabulous post, which we were honoured to also host in the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week blog tour! Congratulations, Mona, on an excellent piece of writing, which is being very well-received!

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  2. This “kidlet” sounds like an overindulged child. Maybe, just maybe, this child is being given the message that what HE wants to do (and WHEN he wants to do it) is more important than what the authority figures in his school require of him. This “kidlet” is going to have a hard time when his boss expects him to do things according to procedure and protocol. Although allowing out-of-the-box thinking and differences in interest and processing IS important in the classroom, it is EQUALLY important to teach that refusal to try on seemingly “mundane” activities is UNACCEPTABLE. Students, parents, and teachers must work TOGETHER to negotiate the best learning program for the gifted child. It is not up to the child alone.

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  3. What a great post! And I agree with every one of them!

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  4. wonderful and illuminating, thank you for this

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  5. Thank you ! so true --all of it!!! =]

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  6. All are so true of my children and me. My son will be failing most of his high school classes, yet rarely gets below 95% on his exams. He reads history textbooks for fun, among other things.

    My daughter didn't fit the mold either, so the ended up at an alternative high school, where her individuality was encouraged.

    The three of us together is a force to be reckoned with because the humor flies like wildfire, often with references too esoteric that escape some others.

    Concepts are discussed and sometimes argued, while others in the room are silent and engrossed.

    The three of us together is almost addictive--maybe not almost.

    I am gifted, so I was just the right parent to raise them. I fed their minds and taught them how to feed themselves.

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  7. Love your post. Would you mind if a post it in my website but in Spanish? Im a mother of five gifted kids, I help with my website to families from Spain have access to more resources, a lot of times the language is a huge barrier for them.

    Thank you

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  8. Of course, Angela. Would be glad to have you re-post in Spanish. It's so important that we get the word out about how we can help our gifted kids. Best... :)

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  9. Yes, I must agree with "Anonymous." As demonstrated in the case of your child, gifted children are, by definition, exceptionally bright. However, they ought to be raised in a way in which they can comprehend basic social concepts, such as compromise and negotiation. There is, after all, greater incidence of narcissism among the "gifted", which could stem from the way in which they are labelled and treated. Note, I am not calling any particular person's ability as a parent into question; I am simply making a broad statement.

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    1. Let me put your mind at ease, then, about my child.

      Every counselor, therapist, doctor, *most* teachers, friends and family tell us that we are doing an *exceptional* job of raising our child. These are people who KNOW us, and KNOW him, and SEE us parent him. He is not narcissistic - he is, in fact, very sweet and thoughtful when he knows his sweetness and thoughtfulness will not be used against him.

      This is a child who has been bullied by teachers, has almost every person outside of our family telling him that he is smarter than they are and that he's going to change the world some day (talk about pressure!), but nobody really takes the time to listen to his ideas ("because we don't understand"). This is a child who is learning from the world around him that the ONLY thing he has to offer is his brain - and he sincerely wants to offer what he can but is paralyzed by the expectations that are laid at his feet. How many other kids at age 6 are told that they are expected to find a cure for cancer? How many other children are expected to act the age their brain thinks, even though their brains are 20 years ahead of the rest of them? You might see him as overindulged, narcissistic, or stubborn - but what I see is a child who is doing the best he can under some really demanding circumstances.

      Oh, and now that we are homeschooling - he doesn't refuse to do anything. He might not like it, but he does it. See... it's not the parenting. Please, oh please do not assume that a child who doesn't fit your ideal characteristics doesn't have them at all, or even worse, that their parents are doing a horrible job of it. Frankly, parents of PG and 2e children need a LOT of understanding and get so very little of it from anywhere. That's why I blog - so others can see that they aren't alone in this. And I hope that those who read this who don't understand will get a glimpse of what it is we are dealing with - and maybe, just maybe, someday these kids will be seen as amazing for WHO THEY ARE not just for what their brains can do.

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    2. Thank you! You just said it better then I could ever! My 2e son is now homeschooled. I left my teaching position to do to homeschool him for a lot of the same reasons.

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    3. WOW- I can so relate to this article and your reply. Eldest wants to be an aerospace engineer and her COUNSELOR kept telling her - you should be a doctor you might cure cancer. I realize its a horrible disease but not her PASSION. Its hard to explain to someone who doesn't live with it their extreme intensity- selfish they are not, and you see them fighting for and rooting for the underdog in nearly every situation. The evening news sets them off in rages of injustices and nearly to tears in sympathy/empathy with the wrongs they see. When you know they see in 4 dimensions when everyone else sees in 2. I tell people would you like to have to go back to kindergarten as an adult and spend all day every day having to perform tasks that you already know how to do and not be allowed to interact/talk with anyone who really understood you.

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  10. Thank you for this. My 5 year old is SO #7! He's in kindergarten and we're already struggling with not wanting to do repetitive, "I already know this" worksheets ~ so glad to know that we are not alone. We're new to this "gifted" world and it's been overwhelming to say the least.

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    1. Christy - the kidlet STILL struggles with #7! Last week he was asked by his math teacher to "show your work" (the bane of all gifted students, I'm sure!). Full meltdown ensued, during which he said, "Well, I guess I'll have to re-take geometry then" (yes, this is how far he is willing to go). When it came down to why he was having such a hard time with it, his response was, "do they think I'm STUPID???? WHY do I have to write out something I can do in my head??? I am not DUMB!!!"

      He did eventually show his work and passed the exam with flying colors. But yes - boring is heinous in gifted-land! Welcome to the world of giftedness - let me know if you are looking for resources and I'll see if I can point you in the right direction! :)

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  11. My 9 y/o is gifted but also dually diagnosed with ADHD. It has been a struggle to get him identified and I am currently in the process of working on an appropriate instructional program with the local school system. I am so happy to have found this blog and to see that others struggle with the same issues!

    My biggest challenge are the behavioral and organizational issues associated with his ADHD that often come across as "verbal aggression" and "off-task behavior" that have him labeled at school as a "mess of a child" (yes, a teacher actually wrote this on one of the behavior rating scales). I even had one teacher say that if he continues on this path, he won't make it to graduation!

    If they could just see that there is a highly creative child who has a unique way of seeing the world behind the behavior, that would be half the battle. Stop giving him mundane worksheets that have no educational value (busy work rarely does for a 2E child). Just challenge him and embrace his quirks and he will perform and excel!

    I guess the message is STOP TRYING TO FIT THE SQUARE PEG INTO THE ROUND HOLE!

    Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

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    1. 2e is so hard to parent, Tania! I encourage you to keep checking back here, and also check out http://laughingatchaos.com/. We have had the same sort of comments from teachers, and it's so hard to convince people that there is more to your child than the (far too obvious) behaviors. Keep your chin up. We gave up on the school system (public and private) and now homeschool, and the kidlet is much happier. It's not the right choice for everyone, but it has worked out well for our family.

      Good luck, and KEEP ADVOCATING!!

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  12. Thanks for this post. We've been through a lot of this stuff with our son, and I wanted to let people know that your being willing to advocate for your child does make all the difference. You know better than anyone else what your child needs.

    I used to dread parent/teacher conferences, but now I look at them as an opportunity to educate professionals about giftedness. I listen intently to a teacher's comments, ask questions, and strive to be kind, open and honest with that person as we talk about ways to meet everyone's needs (my child's, the teacher's, and his classmates). It has really helped that my husband and I are frank about our own problem behaviors when we were growing up (gifted children in small-town schools in the seventies). When you can tell a teacher that you had the same intensities as your child but that you learned to control it as you matured, they are often surprised! Teachers are trying to get your kid through one school year, but our job as parents is to take the long view. We have the luxury of perspective.

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  13. Number 7 is a big problem for us. Our daughter is so tired of the boring and repetitive work assigned to her at school. Teachers just don't understand what she can do. She listens to Yale lectures on philosophy, then discusses her own theories with us for hours. WE can barely grasp some of the things she talks about. She would fit right in a college class. She studies calculus online in her spare time. She's in seventh grade. We're considering homeschooling, but we haven't decided on anything yet. She has many friends, but none of them are anywhere close to her intellectual level. She says she sometimes feels like nobody understands her but us. Having a gifted child can be both overwhelming and rewarding. Thanks for a great article. It's nice to know we're not alone.

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  14. This sounds very much like my child, who teachers have tried to tell me is ODD. I have had to change schools for him to find teachers who were willing to communicate with him in a way he will respond to and will allow him to work at his own level while asking him to finish things that he knows. Thank you. I needed that.

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  15. Hi Mona- Just wanted to update that my son was FINALLY placed in a 2e (GT/LD) classroom this school year and is flourishing. Luckily, the county we live in has such a program in a regular, neighborhood school so he also gets to spend time around "typical" peers although the majority of academics are provided in his GT/LD classroom. No more nightly mundane homework and he gets to sit on a yoga ball for instruction (which he thinks is just awesome) and so much more that I just can't list. The teachers (2) are truly saints. They have a class of all boys (17)..... I can't even imagine what it is like to have a room full of boys just like mine. But anyway, thanks so much for your encouraging words! There is hope out there if you keep on searching and advocating!

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  16. Love this post as an elementary teacher and the parent of a 2e kid that we pulled from his school and now homeschool. We had tremendous problems w/ his school because he didn't present as an extroverted leader who was self-motivated do he must not be gifted

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  17. Thank you SO much for this article! All my life I knew I was bright, but I didn't realize it until only this last year that it would have make a night and day difference had I been in a different school setting. My vocabulary, reading ability, comprehension, creativity, math, and intensity were always beyond my peers. It was extremely difficult because instead of being placed in a school or class where I could go at my pace, I was always bored in class. Sadly, I began to be bullied due to being different (and constantly challenged by authority because they did not like that a little kid knew better than they did), so my schooling ended up being boring and painful. On top of that my parents, despite two/three other siblings with noticeably high intellects, were "religious focused". My intelligence wasn't noticed, nor given any after thought, and they certainly did not take into account the bullying/boring classroom. Instead, they did damage by assuming I wasn't as smart as the rest of my peers, because I couldn't keep up (I actually learn differently A+___=C, I learn best backwards!)

    I'm so glad that you as a parent have really worked for your child and not just assumed that you were correct. I wish my own mother had stopped looking at the problem and looked at the solution, she still believes I'm bad at math (due to failing my math courses-bored) when just the other day I created a new way of multiplying, just for fun! Thank you for this article as I rediscover my own potential and see the similar line of problems when I was younger. I may not cure cancer, but hopefully can someday have new inventions for everyone that will contribute to this world. :)

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