• A Gifted Child Checklist for Teachers

    I have downloaded many books, and have been reading several books on gifted children with varying, specific focuses such as emotional intensity, underachievement, asynchronous development, and visual-spatial learners.  I have a gifted teen who has experienced many of the common educational, social and emotional issues many gifted children endure so I eagerly read to find answers, help and tips.

    One common thread in many of these books is the role of the teacher in a gifted child’s life.  An impactful and highly significant role.  We’ve all heard many times, “A teacher can make or break a student!”  Given that gifted children are complex and very often misunderstood, finding an appropriate education at a school whose staff understands giftedness is a major coup!   As such, I have to admit I scoffed and rolled my eyes, maybe more than once, when I came across in several of the books I was reading the oft-stated declaration that you the parent along with your child’s teacher and other school professionals can work together as a team to provide an appropriately challenging education for your gifted child.  Sadly, we know this is not always true.

    I am a former public school teacher who wholeheartedly supports the teaching profession, and I am also a parent of a gifted child who has been deeply hurt by teachers and school professionals who did not understand the characteristics of giftedness.  I know most teachers and school professionals would willingly work cooperatively as a team with parents to make sure a student’s needs were met, but if they don’t recognize and understand the common gifted traits in a student, then things can go horribly astray.  When a gifted child’s characteristic quirks, behaviors and school performance more resemble learning disabilities, laziness, mental illness or insubordination, then the focus becomes “fixing” the child’s deficiencies instead of teaching to his strengths.  This is where parents and teachers often miss the boat and treat the wrong “illness” with the wrong “medicine” much to the detriment of the gifted child.

    For every teacher or educational professional who is not familiar with giftedness, or holds to some of the myths of giftedness, or for those who just need a refresher on the traits of gifted children, here is my teachers’ checklist of the ten basic traits of gifted learners all teachers should understand and recognize in order to optimally recognize, identify, reach and teach our gifted students.

    1. GIFTED STUDENTS DO NOT ALWAYS EXCEL IN SCHOOL Many gifted students are high achievers and excel in school.  Their inner motivation drives them to achieve with the desired high scores and superior grades.  On the other hand, many gifted students are not driven to achieve in school for many reasons – boredom, lack of a challenging curriculum, coexisting learning disabilities, they prefer learning for the sake of learning & not for high test scores, social & emotional issues and others.  If you have a gifted student in your classroom who is not achieving to expectations, look for the contributing factors.  I can assure you that underachievement in a gifted student is rarely if ever due to poor work ethic or laziness.  Simply assuming an underachieving gifted student just needs to work harder or be more conscientious with his schoolwork is always the wrong assumption.  And expecting consistent high scores and perfect grades from all gifted students can be emotionally, socially and educationally damaging to a gifted child.
    2. GIFTED STUDENTS OFTEN HAVE EMOTIONAL INTENSITIES Giftedness embodies a complex set of traits or characteristics.  Along with higher-than-average intelligence, gifted students usually exhibit emotional intensities.  They may become frustrated easily, angry for seemingly no reason, or may become upset quickly.  They are passionate and intense, and they may resent being pulled away from an activity or subject of intense interest to them.  This may result in an angry outburst, emotional meltdown or total disengagement in the classroom.
    3. GIFTED STUDENTS ARE OFTEN EXTREMELY SENSITIVE Another gifted trait many gifted students have is extreme sensitivity – whether it be emotionally or physically.  An injured insect, an unfair expectation by their teacher, a funny odor, or a annoying seam in their sock can upset them enough to disrupt the class.  This is a common trait for gifted individuals and does not mean they have a mental or physical disability.  It does mean that teasing by a classmate, public reprimand by a teacher or other harsh emotional or physical experiences can upset a gifted student more than it does other children in your classroom.  Bullying, public humiliation or public reprimand can also have a long-lasting or devastating effect on a gifted child with emotional sensitivities.
    4. GIFTED STUDENTS CAN HAVE LEARNING DISABILITIES A gifted student can have a coexisting learning disability or exceptionality which is referred to as twice-exceptional or 2E.  Often when there is a coexisting learning disability or exceptionality, the educational focus unfortunately becomes remediating the deficiency, and there is little to no focus on the child’s strengths or talents.  Also, many times a student with a known learning disability is never recognized and subsequently identified as being gifted.
    5. GIFTED STUDENTS OFTEN STRUGGLE SOCIALLY Finding like-minded peers is often one of the most emotionally traumatic experiences in a gifted child’s life.  Their above-average intelligence, emotional intensities and sensitivities, and their complex topics of interest can make them stand out, in an unfortunate way, among their same-age peers, and this often results in their peers rejecting them.  Gifted students are often unaware that while they excitedly converse with classmates about a highly advanced topic, they are coming across as know-it-alls or arrogant to their classmates.  Due to their larger-than-average knowledge base, gifted students often correct any and all incorrect or erroneous information of their classmates as well as teachers.  The gifted child is not being disrespectful; to the contrary, he is very much concerned with knowledge and information, and the correct knowledge and information is critical to them.
    6. GIFTED STUDENTS DEVELOP ASYNCHRONOUSLY Although a gifted student may test several grade levels ahead academically, at the same time, he may be emotionally or socially several grade levels behind.  Ironically, gifted students may appear as small adults because of the advanced knowledge base they have and exhibit , but at the same time, their emotional maturity may be lower than their age-mates.  Gifted students often develop emotionally, socially and intellectually asynchronously while their typical peers usually develop evenly in those domains.  So, although the 13 year old gifted student in your classroom appears to act like an 18 year old, he may have the emotional capacity of an 8 year old.  Just because they act like an adult does not mean we can expect them to behave like an adult.
    7. GIFTED STUDENTS ARE CULTURALLY, RACIALLY, AND SOCIALLY DIVERSE There is a myth that the majority of gifted students come from upper-middle class families who have the education and the means to nurture their children into giftedness.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Giftedness, like autism or dyslexia or ADD, is genetic.  They were born gifted, not groomed to be gifted.  Teachers should be knowledgeable of gifted characteristics and be able to recognize these traits in ALL children despite their cultural, socioeconomic, educational and racial backgrounds!  When gifted students’ unique learning needs go unmet, underachievement, delinquent behavior, depression, suicide and dropping out of school occurs.  We cannot let unidentified gifted children just fall through the cracks and neglect their right to an appropriate education which they need to fulfill their potential to become successful adults.
    8. GIFTED STUDENTS HAVE UNIQUE LEARNING NEEDS THAT MUST BE MET Yes, gifted students have unique learning needs that MUST be met.  Research studies have shown, time and again, that gifted students do not thrive educationally without an appropriate education which meets their specific needs.  More specifically, it has statistically been shown that gifted students who are educated in regular classrooms without benefit of differentiation or acceleration, fail to show year-to-year educational progress at the same rate as the average student.  Gifted students are literally being held back when we expect them to learn in the regular classroom. 
    9. GIFTED STUDENTS HAVE PARENTS WHO TRULY KNOW AND UNDERSTAND HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO RAISE A GIFTED CHILD Raising a gifted child is difficult.  Parents who have a gifted child are likely stressed and a bit frazzled from the day to day experience of raising their child.  When they come to school with concerns about their gifted child, these concerns are usually real.  Gifted children do not have it made, and neither do their parents.  Yes, most parents want to believe their child is gifted, and the parents who seem to often brag about their child’s giftedness probably have a high-achieving child, not a truly gifted child.  The worried parent who comes to talk to you about their gifted child is not there to brag, but likely has genuine concerns for their child because they know that true giftedness is complex and never easy.
    10. GIFTED STUDENTS DO NOT ALWAYS EXCEL IN SCHOOL (This bears repeating)There you have it.  A checklist for teachers of ten basic traits, characteristics and issues of gifted children we all need to know and understand.  Many gifted students are easy to spot, but some are not and we are letting these children slip through the cracks of our educational system which squanders their right to an appropriate education – an education which is specifically appropriate for a gifted child and his unique learning needs.