I strongly advocate for the rights of special needs children. Without extra intervention, these children would be lost. This post is not about ignoring children who need extra help. This post is about the small portion of children who are gifted. I'm not talking about smart kids who do well in school, I'm talking about gifted students. Students who are working several grades above grade level. Students who are not being given work at their level...or given work at their instructional level but getting frustrated because teachers are expecting them to teach themselves. It's simple really, when you look at it logically. When a child gets bored or frustrated, what do you think they do? What do you do? Do you continue along the path of frustration or boredom or do you do something else? The majority of us do something else. So why is so surprising when children exhibit those same behaviors?
Here is a quote from an article, written by Ellen Winner on the miseducation of our gifted children.
Why do our schools fail our most gifted students? I believe there are two reasons. To begin with, the notion of providing special
education to those with the highest abilities offends our egalitarian sensibilities. The gifted are seen as specially privileged and
thus as not in need of special help. The second reason is the deep strain of anti-intellectualism that pervades our culture. While
we do not mind providing specialized training to athletic students, or to students in the school orchestra, we resist providing advanced
instruction for students with intellectual gifts.
Educators are not taught how to teach to gifted children. Of course there are ideas that we are all taught for differentiating instruction--do this to make the activity easier and this to make it more challenging. What happens though when even the more challenging work isn't challenging enough? We're never actually taught how to teach to extremely advanced students. Nor are educators taught how to identify them. In fact, while in college, future educators are given the impression that gifted students are those who come in and get their work done quickly and with ease. We're given the impression "gifted" students get straight A's and pay attention in class. There is no mention of all the "quirks" that come with truly gifted students. It's sad really. We're taught to identify those kids at risk. We're taught the signs to know if children are struggling. We're taught how to help struggling learners. And we're taught those things in every education class, not just special education. Yet, there is a brief mention of gifted students and you need to take specific courses for gifted education, and even then, there are only about 2 classes to take.
Let me tell you the issue my son has been having in school for the past two years. He gets in trouble for reading. That's right, reading. Should he be paying attention? Most definitely. Does he need to learn to control his actions? Yes. Nothing is fun 100% of the time and every one needs to learn the art of practicing patience. I'm not taking accountability off of him by any means. Yet some accountability should also be taken by the education system. In another article on failing our gifted students, it's stated,
Either they’ll zone out or they’ll act out, says Del Siegle, Ph.D., a professor in gifted education and department head of
Educational Psychology in the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut and past president of the National
Association of Gifted Children. Educators need to figure out the cause of disruptive behavior and make sure it isn’t boredom
before assuming that the kids don’t care or are problem students.
This year was 100 times better than last. Reading when he wasn't supposed to wasn't as big of an issue. Yet, by the end of the year, you can tell reading instead of paying attention was really wearing on his teacher. He already had accommodations, like not being allowed to have books in his desk, so he wouldn't read at inappropriate times. We were fine with that, in fact, it was our suggestion. That helped with not just getting a book out to read whenever he was bored. The bigger problem was the times where the class was supposed to get a book out and just wait until everyone was ready to start whatever the next activity was going to be. He couldn't stop. He is incapable of just reading for a moment or two. He wants to delve into the story. He gets lost in the book. So, my suggestion? Give him additional work. Though he's smart at math, his math facts aren't memorized. How about giving him practice timed tests to do a many as he can while he's waiting? Give him trivia questions to answer. Something other than taking out that book. The problem is makes more work for the teacher. How much easier is it to just have kids get out a book than have to prepare a special extra work folder for a kid? That's where I say, ASK ME FOR HELP! I would have been more than happy to send in flashcards or worksheets. Anything would have been better than that pit in my stomach waiting to hear if he got in trouble for reading, yet again.
Part of the problem with gifted children is that they are smart. Seems crazy, right? How can this be a problem? It becomes a problem because adults see and hear the advanced mental processing and forget that emotionally and psychologically, they are still little kids. We are completely guilty of this in our house. By age 3, Monster had such an expansive vocabulary, we often forgot how little he really was. It's still that way at times, and we need to take a step back and let him be a kid. We expect his behavior to be that of a much older child simply because he comprehends things on such a high level. In many instances, social/emotional skills in a lot of gifted children are underdeveloped. Most gifted students have a difficult time relating to their peers because the way that they process things is very different. When Monster was 4, he went to school discussing the BP oil spill with his preschool teacher and was drawing pictures of the pipeline and robotic arm that was being used to fix it. How many other kids in that class do you think even had any concept of the oil spill? He'd even try to tell adults about it and it was even over some of their heads. How do you think that deters social interaction when your peers don't understand anything you're talking about because they want to discuss Sponge Bob and you want to discuss world events?
Another issue that we, personally, face here is the myth that gifted students are gifted in all areas. In some cases, it's true, but in most, it's not. Monster is above grade level in all subjects, most likely due to his extremely advanced reading skills. If you were to read his writing, though, you would have no idea he's as advanced as he is. First, he has fine motor issues. He has since he was little. He's been going to a handwriting tutor for 2 years to work on this. He has come leaps and bounds with it, to where he's actually at grade level (getting 3's out of a 1-3 scale), but he still has a long way to go. His problem is that his fine motor skills can't keep up with his brain processing. Plus, the fine motor stuff is hard for him, physically. One thing his tutor has had him do is record what he wants to write and then use the recording to write. Even then, he wants to say so much and he gets fatigued due to a lack of finger strength (and yes, that's a real thing). If he can type the same thing, he does much better.
There is a great article that kind of sums up key points, Ten Things Teachers Need to Know About Gifted Students. Even if educators can't meet the needs of their gifted students in the classroom, understanding those students is a huge step to helping them.
Links to articles on gifted children that found interesting and helpful: