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

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Excelling in School Isn't Always the Best Goal

A lot of people assume that, if my child is gifted, he gets good grades. I'm here to tell you, that isn't the case. Some gifted students do get good grades, and they work hard for them. That's great. But that comes from an internal motivation to please others that is distinct from the motivation to learn. My child loves to learn, but he learns for himself instead of for others.

"Excelling" in school looks different for (some) gifted learners, and I'm not sure that difference is one we want to encourage.

photo credit inwallspeakers 

What it would have looked like for us:

A student who dumbed himself down, in order to keep pace with the class. I'm not saying that the rest of the class is dumb, but I am saying that my son has a very different pace of learning than most students. The statistics say that most learners require 7-9 repetitions before they learn something new. A gifted learner usually needs 1-3 repetitions, and I joke that my profoundly gifted student needs about 0.75 repetitions. Yes, not even a full one. He usually finishes the teacher's thought and makes about five different leaps by the time the teaching point is fully developed. In 5th grade, when he was finally set free to do math at his own pace, he raced through 6-8 grade math in a month, then pre-algebra, algebra 1, and geometry in 9 months. That's 6 years' worth of math in the equivalent of one school year.

A student who may get straight As, but isn't learning. We have seen so many examples of this through the years - the student who "performs" well, but for whom learning is done in the off-hours, or not at all. This was me in school, also. I had nearly straight As through high school, but most of the work was done in the class after or the class before. I never studied for tests until the class prior to the test, which tells me that I wasn't paying much attention in that class, either. But still, As in all of my honors, College Prep, and Advanced Placement classes. But is that what we want? Every student deserves to learn, but I don't consider treading water to be learning. I see it in the Teenlet even in our homeschool curriculum - we do not pressure him (much) about grades, but we do expect a level of excellence in his comprehension. If he takes a test and gets a B or C, it really doesn't matter much to us because he can explain the concepts to us, which is far more difficult than taking a test. (I realize that eventually, he will have to learn to be careful on tests so he doesn't make so many "silly" mistakes, but that will come as he is exposed to more and more external learning sources.)

A student whose passions get lost, because none of his "peers" are interested in the same things. I think this is the most discouraging thing about the push to excel "in school" - the loss of passion. We still have administrators who tell us the Teenlet shouldn't be allowed to participate in college-level courses because he is "too young" and he will be with students who are so much older than he is. Yes, this could be a problem. But these students have something in common with the Teenlet - an interest, a passion, a way of looking at the world - and they have the intellectual ability to connect with him over those interests, in a way that very few other 8th graders can. For his whole life, the Teenlet has preferred to discuss his ideas with adults than with kids his own age. I've watched him, time and again, playing with classmates or same-age friends, start engaging his creative imagination only to have the other kids walk away because they can't go there with him. Even some adults respond to him with, "I can't talk to you because you're too smart for me." It's really tragic to see a child's world shrink so much that they lose interest in their passions because there is nobody else with whom they can share them. Pushing a child to "excel in school" can stifle the creative imagination.

Is that what we want for our gifted learners?

This post is presented as part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week's blog tour. Find other intriguing posts here.


  1. If we have a child that hears something once and knows it, what happens from here? I have a 7 year old homeschooler that is friendly, but even now would rather speak with adults than other kids. If it is activity, and not thought provoking he is still good with others his age or just a little older, but I pulled him out during Kindergarten for many reasons, only one of which was his manners that were not reflected by the majority of the class. Another, was that he had a thing for numbers, and they looked at him like he had three heads. He would ask, "What is 3 X 3?" He was also a fluent reader. We are now moving at his pace, and I amend his interests, by making sure (usually orally) that he has hit his mile stones. He does 4h, co-op, and library activities. He does not know how to sit stil to test, and as a homeschooler in NC, I have one year from his 7th B-day, and will need to give a test to him this fall. Any suggestions?

    1. I am not familiar with NC rules, but what kind of testing is it? Is it something that you administer yourself, or is it standardized in a room with other kids? If you administer it yourself, allow for lots of time to take breaks - this is an ideal time to teach him to sit during tests when you can. If it's in a room with other kids, where you aren't able to sit with him, I suggest starting now to teach him the skills he will need (don't worry about the subjects - he clearly has those already). He will need to learn to follow the directions, sit in his seat, and raise his hand for the teacher/monitor's attention once he has completed the test. For a bunch of 7yos, I'd be surprised if they don't have something in place already to keep the early finishers occupied while the rest are taking their tests. Good luck!

    2. Yes, we have been working on the sitting still during test, but with such low interest in filling in the bubbles, I am not sure if he will learn to comply, or not. I don't require him to sit still for too long during other school activities. I know it is just not developmentally appropriate. I am able to chunk his testing at home, but I am aware that he will not always have this option, and would love to help him learn that not all things will interest him, and he will have times like this. I would love for him to always be homeschooled/unschooled, but this may not always be how it is. We have put off his testing until the Fall to work with him on being able to sit still when it does not inerest him, but will be open to ideas.

  2. This, "He usually finishes the teacher's thought and makes about five different leaps by the time the teaching point is fully developed." made me laugh out loud. This so resonates with me, at least 3 of my kids are like this, but my 5 year is always in this space. We are at speech class and the SLP has created a game of learning the speech sounds. They told him that the cards were clues to solving the mystery. So instead of listening to the SLP and practicing his sounds, his little mind is just going, he is arranging all the cards and telling us the story of what all the clues mean. To the SLP, they really had no meaning, but my boy solved the mystery:) But trying to redirect him to the task at hand was almost impossible! His focus is stellar, but on what interests him, not what your agenda is.