What is Giftedness?
“Yes I do too know what 20 times 12 equals! The answer is 240 because 20 times 10 equals 200, and 20 times 2 equals 40, and 200 plus 40 equals 240! I can come to the board and show the class how I got the answer in my head, Mrs. Wells!”
Allie is six years old and in kindergarten, and her class has just started working on basic, single-digit addition. After she had enthusiastically blurted out the correct answer to every one of her teacher’s math questions during the lesson, Allie had been taunted by a classmate who insisted she didn’t know what 20 times 12 was. Allie was fighting back angry tears as she proved to her disbelieving classmate she could answer his double-digit multiplication challenge. Allie is a gifted child and clearly, her math skills are much more advanced than what her class is currently working on.
Allie was fighting back angry tears as she proved to her disbelieving classmate she could answer his double-digit multiplication challenge.
What is giftedness, and how do we know when a child like Allie is gifted? There is no universally agreed upon definition of giftedness although most will likely state that having exceptional or superior cognitive abilities is a definitive trait of giftedness. An IQ above 130, asynchronous development, advanced intellectual aptitude, unique educational, social and emotional needs, intense physical and emotional sensitivities—all are characteristics noted in the definitions of giftedness, and all are compelling reasons why gifted education is needed for these uncommon learners who are approximately 2% of the population.
Beyond the definitions, the non-typical traits common among gifted children are also what make gifted children non-typical learners who require a non-typical education. Let’s look specifically at some of these traits.
Common Traits of Gifted Children
Asynchronous Development – Unlike typical children whose physical, intellectual, emotional and social growth can develop predictably, almost evenly, according to their age, gifted children often develop atypically where their intellectual development is significantly more advanced compared to their age, yet their social or emotional growth can be far below what a typical child their age has attained. As many parents of gifted children say when raising a gifted child, “I never know which age of my child I am dealing with at any given time!” Explaining to your 10 year old gifted child that his same-age peers may not share his intense enthusiasm for the recent discovery of an ice-age mammoth and the evidence that ancient humans existed at the same time, and this realization results in an emotional outburst comparable to a two-year-old’s temper tantrum is an example of asynchronous development in a gifted child—a 10 year old with the intelligence of a 15 year old, but the emotional maturity of a 6 year old.
Overexcitabilities – Gifted children experience their world with an intensity, sensitivity and a cognitive awareness which is quite different from their same-age peers. Their life experiences often produce stronger emotional reactions to physical and emotional stimuli. A thread hanging from a sleeve barely grazing their skin, the site of caterpillar which was accidentally stepped on or the injustice of a peer bending the rules of a game can all three cause a confusing and stronger-than-expected emotional reaction from a gifted child.
Advanced Intellectual Abilities – This is likely the hallmark trait of a gifted child which most associate with giftedness. Gifted children usually begin speaking and reading much sooner than their same-age peers often entering kindergarten having already taught themselves to read. Grasping new information more quickly, diving into a favorite topic with fury, and having an insatiable curiosity which can exhaust both parents and teachers, and can make educating and keeping pace with gifted children a struggle in traditional classrooms. But, make no mistake, a gifted child’s advanced intellectual aptitude does not always equate to good grades and doing well in school, especially when the education they receive does not meet their advanced intellectual abilities.
What is Gifted Education?
Gifted education is simply an appropriate and challenging education which meets the atypical educational, social and emotional needs of our gifted children. It is an education which allows gifted students to learn something new everyday, to be challenged and to move ahead at their own pace. Gifted education programs, along with specially-trained gifted education teachers, provide a environment where gifted children can engage in learning, develop academically and thrive. An appropriate gifted education program is the only way to provide gifted children the education they require—anything less is failing our gifted children.
The 5 Reasons Gifted Education Is Needed
1. Gifted children require a more challenging education
Much more challenging than what can be offered in the regular classroom of same-age peers. The advanced cognitive abilities of a gifted child help them grasp new information quicker with fewer repetitions than their same-age peers.
2. A challenging education keeps gifted children engaged in school
Often, gifted children are one or more grade levels ahead of their classmates. Like Allie above, if a gifted child is expected to sit and listen to instruction on single-digit addition when they have already grasped 2-digit multiplication, and this scenario repeats itself over and over in the regular classroom, frustration and boredom set in and eventually gifted children disengage from their education, develop behavior problems in class or drop out of school completely.
3. Gifted children need to socialize with like-minded peers
Many parents of gifted children say the pain of watching their gifted child being shunned by their same-age peers is heartbreaking. Gifted children have intellectual interests that rarely coincide with their peers and they may find themselves as social outsiders among the majority of typical students. Gifted children often learn at a young age that they just don’t fit in and finding a like-minded friend is often very difficult. Gifted education programs provide a social environment where gifted children can socialize with each other and be a part of a group where they feel they belong and fit in.
4. Gifted education can provide specially-trained teachers who understand the unique needs of gifted children
We have so many dedicated and exceptional teachers in our schools, but that is still no assurance that a teacher will know enough about gifted children to understand their educational, social and emotional needs. The most common complaint parents of gifted children have about their child’s regular education teacher is that he or she “just doesn’t get gifted kids!” Many regular education teachers only understand the stereotypical gifted child who excels in school, is well-behaved and is a natural leader. We know this is not often the case. Too often, boredom is misinterpreted as ADHD, misbehavior is labeled as a behavior disorder, and disengagement from learning is viewed as lazy, careless or disorganized. When specially-trained gifted education teachers who understand and can provide the educational, social and emotional environment gifted children need, then gifted children have the opportunity to fulfill their potential and thrive in school.
5. Providing gifted education is the right thing to do
Research studies, test scores and other professional education data have definitively shown that gifted programs are critical to the education of gifted children. Often misjudged as elite and frivolous, gifted programs are not a bonus, a perk or a reward for the smart kids. Because they are often perceived as such, gifted programs are often axed in school districts when budgets are tight. Taking away an appropriate and critically-needed education from a gifted child is about as reasonable as forcing Allie to sit through her entire kindergarten year learning number recognition, numeration and single-digit addition when she has mastered two-digit multiplication. Gifted education is an obligation schools should not neglect.
The very essence of education is to educate our children so that they can fulfill their potential. Knowing that gifted children have specific academic, social and emotional needs quite different from their more typical same-age peers, how can we not provide these children an educational environment which meets those needs?