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The Gifted Student

Because many do not agree on the definition of a gifted student, it is difficult both to identify the gifted student and get the gifted student the services that will help him or her grow to full potential. Learn how to support gifted students.

The Current State of Things 

Some define a gifted student in terms of school achievement, focusing on the top students in academic pursuits. Others, focus on IQ, and others are influenced by Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and treat as gifted students who excel in any of the seven areas:

  • linguistic 
  • logical-mathematical 
  • musical 
  • spatial 
  • bodily-kinesthetic 
  • interpersonal 
  • intrapersonal

In some areas, gifted students are officially designated as such. But if the gifts differ, so may the times and contexts in which they appear -- and communities have different screening processes (when they have one at all) to discover gifted students. Due to a variety of factors, these screenings may miss some students. One example is students who do not speak English as their first language -- their gifts may be overlooked, depending on when and how they are assessed.

Supporting Gifted Students

The best support for the gifted student is not clear either. Some districts prefer to advance students by advancing their school grade or level; others focus on enrichment. Some track gifted students by creating an honors program; others take an inclusion approach and may keep a gifted student in a class but grade him or her on a different scale; and some use a pull out program.

The rating of the success of a gifted program may also be an issue. If it is hard to identify the students, and the type of program that would suit them, it is also difficult to describe the program that has achieved the maximum benefits for the gifted student. And given that there are smaller numbers of gifted students, and that meeting their education needs may not be mandated in the way that, for example, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates appropriate education for special needs students, gifted students may receive less attention than some people feel is appropriate. And some people have pointed out that NCLB has reduced the desirability to help gifted students reach their full potential: after all, when the goal is to close the gap between the lowest and the highest student, what incentive is their for the school to help the gifted student achieve even more.

How to Be Your Gifted Student’s Advocate

So you may find that your local school’s counselor may have the insight and wisdom and training to answer your questions about your possibly gifted student. There may even be a teacher in your district with specialized training for educating gifted and talented students.

But for the reasons mentioned above, your best guidance about gifted students -- from identification to education to social issues that may result from being different -- may come from organizations whose sole focus is such students and you may have to assume the role of advocate for your gifted student to obtain the necessary support for him or her to have the educational experience you desire.

First, look at your child to identify what he or she is good at. Language ability is pretty easy to peg, because most of us know the basics of how it develops: first words often between 1 and 2, learning the alphabet at 2 or 3; learning to read at 5 or so. If your two- or three-year-old can read, then that’s an area of special gift for him or her. You can also look for special skills in drawing, math, music, movement, and general curiosity about the world.

If your child does seem to have a special gift, you’ll have to decide what to do next. There can be a fine line between supporting and pushing. This may include decisions about topics such as: 

  • having your child tested 
  • beginning enrichment programs before your child is in school 
  • doing nothing except allow your child to explore the world with whatever materials and tools he or she seems to prefer

Look for nationally recognized gifted child web sites with research-based information, like Project Zero, the National Association for Gifted Children (NACG) The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC G/T) The NAGC web site has a map that helps parents locate local agencies for the gifted in your state and these local agencies are likely to be of significant value to you. All three web sites offer other valuable resources as well.



Written by Mary Elizabeth