Helping Gifted Children Soar
A Practical Guide for Parents and Teachers
By Carol A Strip, PhD with
“Parenting a gifted child is like living in a theme park full of thrill rides.”
; One part of the child is “older” (cognitive or thinking ability) than the
other parts-- emotional, social and sometimes, physical-- of the personality.
It is called “asynchronous development.”
Highly gifted children are as different from “moderately” gifted children as “moderately” gifted children are from average students.
If a teacher or a parent notices a wide difference between the child’s performance in school subjects it may be a clue that the child has a learning disability in the area that is low.
; Gifted children may also unachieved because they don’t like the teacher,
are in a power struggle with their parents over schoolwork, or because of
Gifted children are children first. Academically gifted children are out-of-the-box, unusual thinkers.
As long as gifted children receive reasonable opportunities to explore, think, and create, their intellectual gifts can thrive, sometimes with relatively little stimulation.
Introducing children to a wide variety of learning opportunities actually helps identify those who are gifted.
The gifted child is able to see relationships and make connections that aren’t immediately apparent to other children.
; Gifted children soak up information rapidly and are on an intense quest to
; If they don’t receive the stimulation they need for intellectual and social
growth, some gifted students will “camouflage” and hide their abilities or
let their talents wither and die.
High potential in many areas is what gifted children have in common.
; Many learning styles (visual, kinesthetic, auditory) are present.
Ways to tell the difference between gifted and smart:
; Learning speed and application of concepts
; Questioning style
; Emotional outlook
; Level of interest
; Language ability
; Concern with fairness
Gifted children need adults to support them when they feel confused, friendless, and frightened.
You are on a journey fraught with thrills, chills, spills and wills.
Many things factor into a screening for gifted diagnosis:
; Test scores; checklists; interviews; portfolios; independent study projects
; Nominations by teachers, parents, peers, etc
; Student’s motivation and learning styles
; Parent’s interest and support for their child’s participation
; Student’s self-inventory of values, interests, and attitude toward school
and extracurricular activities
Ten core attributes of giftedness:
; Communication skills ; Motivation
; Creativity/imagination ; Problem solving
; Inquiry ; Reasoning
Before testing, to provide optimal conditions, give your child a good breakfast, a big smile and tell him/her to have fun. Trust that they’ll do the best possible job they can.
Best situation for a child is a classroom where he feels safe and valued where achievement is expected and encouraged.
When adults listen to them, allow them to explore, give them a voice in planning classroom activities, reward them when they try things that stretch their intellectual limits, and respect their dignity and individuality children feel safe and supported.
As the primary advocates for their child, parents must familiarize themselves with the kinds of teaching and learning activities used and supported in the child’s school.
Parents and teachers are the strongest resources for one another. Share information, not prejudices.
Joyce Van Tassel-Baska’s characteristics necessary for teachers if they are to be effective with gifted learners:
1) Eager backing of acceleration options for able learners,
2) The capability to modify a curriculum,
3) Adequate training and competence in the content area, and
4) Preparation in organizing and managing classroom activities.
Barbara Clark feels that teachers of the gifted should have an “uncommon ability” to empathize with and inspire students; share enthusiasm, a love of learning, a joy of living; be authentic and humane; be alert, knowledgeable, and informed; tolerate ambiguity; and value intelligence, intuition, diversity, uniqueness, change, growth, and self-actualization.
Gifted students want their teachers to understand them, exhibit a sense of humor, make learning fun, and be cheerful. What’s not important is age, race, ethnicity or gender.
Useful traits in working with gifted children:
; Facilitating attitude and ; Trusting attitude
behavior ; Cultural knowledge
; Self-confidence ; Sense of humor
; Resourcefulness and ; Real interest in and love
flexibility for these unusual students
; Creativity and open-
; Technical knowledge
; Subject matter competence and skill
The ideal classroom is a place of learning and discovery, connected to the environment, where children are invited to participate with spirit and imagination, geared to the various ways children learn. Classroom is filled with student work, and children are continually involved and able to tell you what they are doing and why. Classroom is always changing, and is student-friendly where the needs of the child drive the instruction. Teacher is a learning coach using various methods of instruction. Teachers and students will mutually arrive at decisions and plans. One to one communication between teachers and students is in process, and students who have completed required work are working on independent projects of their choice. Teaching will match the student’s ability level.
The ideal classroom will balance open-ended, stimulating and creative opportunities for divergent thinking and analysis with meaningful, practical activities that involve day-to-day living.
An expanded curriculum is NOT one where the gifted students get more of the same
work (MOTS). Busy work almost guarantees passive withdrawal or disruptive, perhaps aggressive, behavior brought on by boredom and frustration.
A program for gifted children must provide pathways by which these students may venture away from the basic curriculum in areas in which they excel. It may take place in their own classroom with guidance from teacher; on field trips to museums, science centers, or cultural performances; or with a specialist in a field. The students come back
to work with their classmates when it is appropriate. The goal of the expanded curriculum is to equip exceptional children for life. They go through life meeting obstacles, encountering challenges, solving problems, and dealing with other people. The teacher’s job is to find out where the child’s gifts lie and then provide a relevant, authentic experiences that will use them in a wider context, such as an office, a laboratory, classroom or studio.
“Education is what survives after what has been learned has been forgotten.” B.F. Skinner
Differentiation means providing learning options that meet the students’ special needs for
acceleration of content and greater depth, breadth, and complexity of instruction, as well as novelty.
When a teacher provides ways for the gifted child to excel through small group investigation, independent study, or other options, he gains a valuable ally—the child.
When gifted children are fully engrossed, teachers find that they actually have more time to give other students who need attention. When children are engaged in appropriate learning, they channel energy that might otherwise be used in creating havoc in the classroom.
It’s much harder to keep gifted children “under control” than it is to allow them to use their brains and energy to pursue subjects that arouse their interest and curiosity.
Getting into power struggles with gifted children is useless. It’s better to negotiate and allow some mutual decision-making so that children become your allies as well as your students.
A gifted program should not be a reward for good academics and high achievement. Gifted students aren’t always classroom stars.
Options for instruction:
; Curriculum compacting ; Mentorships
; Concurrent enrollment ; Learning contracts
; Single subject acceleration ; Honors classes
; Whole grade acceleration ; Advanced placement classes
; Independent study
; Cluster grouping
; Gifted resource or all-day classes
Curriculum compacting allows students who have already mastered the skills and
concepts of the regular curriculum to “test out” of that curriculum. Compacting is
important for the child who resists repetition and has proven he can work ahead
without it. It’s not beneficial for those who simply are impatient with drill.
Cluster grouping can cross the grade levels and be formed to meet the academic needs of students from many classrooms. Cluster groups can be based on interest or capability in particular subject areas and housed within the regular classroom. Cluster groups must offer more and/or different opportunities; students must be challenged with activities and concepts that stretch their abilities. They should offer a variety of enrichment and/or acceleration options. You can tell if it’s working if the group is purposeful and task-oriented; it self-corrects those who veer off-task.
Independent study gives students an opportunity to study a special-interest topic and focuses on the child’s specific needs and learning styles. The teacher provides the instruction in data gathering, analysis and presentation, outlines the steps of the study, and sets deadlines for various stages of completion. It works if the student stays on
task, maintains focus, and initiates ideas and projects. It doesn’t work if the teacher
needs to provide continual support.
No one method is right for every child; part of the art of teaching is to match the child to the combination of strategies that will be most productive at the time, taking into account the student’s need and readiness.
For gifted students, contracts are often used as a management tool for teacher and student; they state what must be accomplished and assessed before a child is permitted to participate in expansion activities. They may also list curriculum expansion options.
Contracts are valuable because they give gifted children some areas of independent work, yet provide a path to follow. The contract helps them to take the responsibility for the learning activities they want to do. A contract helps them to focus on one area at a time, a skill that will be essential when they progress through school and into career paths.
Optional learning is the norm for gifted children. They often come to class already knowing what other students are often struggling to learn, and they need to exercise their knowledge and skills in meaningful ways.
The contract becomes the child’s own individualized lesson plan. Students
themselves should handle the check-off process and schedule their own conferences to share their work products. Break it into parts to be completed at a certain time so it’s not quite so overwhelming. Students become responsible for some of their own
learning, giving students a sense of control and empowerment that reduces the stress they might feel when forced into a step-to-step curriculum. They are much more likely to become lifelong learners.
Many gifted children have said people who have had the greatest impact on their lives are those who:
; Accept their feelings ; Love them, not just their
gifts and talents
; Spend time with them
; Support their attempts as well as their achievement
; Believe that learning is important
; Help them believe in themselves
; Encourage them to follow their dreams
; Give them focused attention
Teachers fear that:
; Gifted students may know more than they do and will make them look
ignorant in front of the rest of the class
; Gifted children will take all their time and create hours of additional work
; The children’s parents will expect too much
; They will not be able to challenge gifted children adequately.
Gifted children are sometimes terrified because they believe that:
; They are weird and no one will ever like them
; They must always have the right answer to every question
; They may not be as smart as everyone thinks they are.
The most important thing parents and teachers can do, long before they worry about cluster groups or mentoring, is to establish a trusting relationship with these gifted students. This gives the children safe havens, people to go to for help, and places where they can anchor themselves and rest. It’s critical that they are able to trust and rely on a minimum of two or three significant adults.
The Ten Commandments of Trust:
1) Give the child focused attention.
2) Provide ways for the child to communicate when you can’t be there.
3) Make sure your body language matches your words.
4) Respect the child’s privacy.
5) Insist that the child respect your limits as well.
6) Br prepared to explain rules and limits.
7) Respect the child’s feelings, even if you must restrict behavior.
8) Respect the child’s confidences
9) Include the child in decisions that affect her life.
10) Tell the truth.
Adults must always be in charge of the home and the classroom, because no matter how bright and capable they may appear, they don’t really want to run the show. Because gifted children have the ability to think analytically, they respond well to choices and options. They are able to understand reasons when adults take the time to explain.
The gifted child can’t help being gifted any more than the hearing impaired child can help needing hearing aides. The gifted child’s mind works differently just as the hearing impaired ears hear differently. Their mind is often out of synch with their bodies. Accept the gifted child as they are, nurturing their uniqueness, yet at the same time
modifying their behaviors that sometimes result in their being ostracized or criticized by their peers and by adults.
Parents are their child’s first mirrors. If what they see there is not unconditional love, joy, and acceptance, but instead disappointment, frustration and anger, it can lead them to believe that they are not important or worthwhile.
Are you an accepting parent? How well do you:
; Listen to your child
; Support the child’s interests
; Praise your child appropriately.
; Avoid “put-downs.”
; Respect the child’s intelligence without being in awe of it.
; Help the child develop social skills.laugh with your child.
Are you an accepting teacher? How well do you:
; Treat your gifted students with the same respect you give other learners.
; Substitute meaningful lessons for rote learning.
; Understand that you may have to use different criteria to grade a gifted
; Understand that a gifted child probably will not excel in every subject.
; Make time for discussions.
; Remain patient when gifted children ask questions, challenge your
answers, talk too much.
Gifted students’ favorite teachers:
; Empower them.
; Encourage them to take risks.
; Allow them to fail without calling them failures.
; Respect them, both as unique individuals and as members of the class.
Many gifted children are perfectionists with little tolerance for their own human errors.
Common emotional issues gifted children face are:
; perfectionism ; friendships
; depression ; self-esteem
Limits imposed in consistent discipline create the boundaries that give children a sense of predictability, a feeling that the world is a comprehensible place, and the opportunity to experience freedom within these limits.
We are familiar with the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do,” but this does not work when teaching our children. Whether or not they obey our orders, deep down they are responding less to our commands than to their perception of our character and conduct.
If you don’t model it, don’t expect to se it. Consistent modeling helps bring about consistent behavior.
Rearing or teaching a gifted child, the goal should be to encourage, not deflate, the child’s enthusiasm, curiosity and originality. Positive words encourage positive thoughts in both the speaker and the listener.
Reasons for stress:
; Expectations that are too ; Needless rigidity at home
high or in the classroom
; A concern for the world ; Loneliness
; Overly intense parents ; Disconnected parents
; “Lack of fit” ; Too many activities
What can you do to help?
; Encourage the child to relax.
; Give the child outlets for his feelings of altruism.
; Do not over-emphasize conversations about scholastic achievement.
; Monitor the child’s activities.
; Help your child overcome lack of fit.
Some myths about gifted children include:
; Gifted children must be kept with their age mates.
; Gifted education is elitist.
; Gifted classes put too much pressure on children.
; Emphasize what the child does well.
Depression in gifted children often arises out of perfectionism. Depression is anger turned inward. Depression is not for people who are weak not do they choose to be depressed. Don’t try to reason a depressed child out of her depression. It is not
reasonable, and reminding a child of why they should be happy will only make it worse. Perfectionism goes beyond excellence; it leaves no room for error. The outcome must be the best. Perfectionism is one of the most pervasive traits of gifted children. If he repeatedly fails to measure up to his self-imposed standards, he may simply stop trying. To help these children some suggestions that might increase their odds of performing successfully are:
; Maintaining good health habits.
; Practicing time management.
; Setting goals and priorities.
Finding friends is a big issue for gifted students. When they learn that they must be respectful of everyone, not just persons with high ability, it helps transform their bossiness into leadership.
Authentic self-esteem results from being accepted for who you are. It comes from being valued, cared for, and understood. It comes with mastering challenges and using one’s talents to the fullest. Parents are the primary source of unconditional love, acceptance, and appropriate discipline—all of which feed and nourish the child’s self-esteem.
“Bibliotherapy”—the use of books—to help children understand and solve problems
helps children recognize their emotions and deal with them. It allows children to feel safe while they explore the emotions that trouble them. When they identify with the characters in a book, they can examine and recognize their own concerns and puzzlements. It is a two-person activity. The child needs to discuss the book with an accepting adult who knows how to ask open-ended questions, listen carefully to the answers, and keep the conversation moving.
Parents and teachers should try to put up a united front for the child. If either parent or teacher requests a conference, here are some suggestions to make it more effective:
; Listen first.
; Make eye contact.
; Wait before you respond.
; Stress “we” not “you”
; Be sure to thank one another for taking the time to meet.
; Keep an open mind.
; Write a note of thanks to the teacher that summarizes the key points of
your discussion and the decisions or agreements that were made.
; Understand that you will probably need more conferences.
Ten things parents wish teachers knew:
; I appreciate that you recognize that my child doesn’t need more of the
; I like it when you recognize that being gifted is only part of what (and
who) my child is.
; I’m glad when you understand that my child will not excel in every area
and you don’t put pressure on her to measure up to unrealistic
; It makes me happy when you trust my child.
; It’s satisfying when you communicate with me.
; I feel important when you treat me like a partner.
; I appreciate that you don’t discuss my child with other parents.
; I’m not happy when you make assumptions about my parenting style.
; I’m frustrated when you automatically resist curriculum acceleration for
my child based on her physical size, age, or other considerations that have
nothing to do with her scholastic ability.
Ten things teachers wish parents knew:
1. I appreciate it when you don’t try to schedule a conference during
the first two weeks of the school year.
2. I like it when you show respect for me in front of your child.
3. I’m grateful when you get your information first hand, not from
4. I can feel more confident in my ability to work together when I
know you will keep our conversations private.
5. I appreciate that you understand that I have many children in my
6. I’m happy when I see you participating in school life.
7. I’m pleased when you respect my private property.
8. It’s wonderful when you provide enrichment for your child at
9. I’m delighted when you treat me as a partner.
10. I’m frustrated and annoyed when you try to dictate how I should
do my job.
Teamwork means listening, seeing the other’s point of view, being respectful and
sensitive toward one another, and expressing appreciation.
Gifted children are deep, emotionally challenging, totally
exhausting, and just wonderful. Enjoy them!