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Getting Over the 'Gifted'


Nancy Flanagan of Teacher in a Strange Land counters the increasingly trendy notion that schools today are not giving enough attention to "gifted children." Among her observations:

[I]dentifying giftedness in kids is an exercise akin to nailing jello to a board. Drawing the line between “gifted” and “not gifted” is often an exercise in parental politics as much as determining appropriate instructional practice. ... The identification process often amounts to restriction of resources based on some pretty shaky premises and indicators.

What makes the argument especially interesting—you might say telling—is that Flanagan herself has a master's in gifted education.


so does Mrs. Flanagan think that pulling the "gifted" kids, and placing them in classrooms that would maximize their indiviual learning experience, is a bad thing?
having a child that is gifted, sit in a "normal" classroom, could potentially be harmful to his/her learning ability, as it could clow them down, and cause them to become indifferent, etc.
even if the testing process for the gifted kids is difficult, we, as the educators, should be trying to find the best possible way to give our students the most exceptional learning experience as possible.

While she may not be "gifted" by Ms. Flanagan's assessment, my niece complains bitterly that she is punished for finishing her work early and well by having to tutor "the kids who don't pay attention and don't get it". Even if we as educators don't think these kids deserve an education that is appropriate, that's what the law determines we are required to provide for them.

I think it's very important to remember that different students are gifted in different ways. Similarly, different students also have different weaknesses. One of the reasons that teaching has been described as an impossible profession is because we must help each student individually even as we work with classes of twenty five and more students.

Andrew Pass

I think its hard to judge who is gifted and who is not. My little brother for expample does not come off as a typical "gifted" student. He does though come home with exceptional grades in math, reading, and spelling. Also he comes home with just as many bad notes. I just hope teachers do not label him a "not gifted" student before they even start teaching.

In regards to Flanagan's comments on boredom. I find that I must disagree. Boredom does not always manifest itself in the way that Flanagan implies. In many cases, children who are bored will find other, non-appropriate things to do in the big, wide, beautiful world. If a child is not encouraged to indulge his/her curiosity in a constructive way, they will find more destructive ways. Some of my most gifted students were also some of my most mischievious when they had down time in a classroom. Think about it, would a child who was enthralled with the content of the class take the time to construct weapons of mass destruction out of a paper clip and a pencil? Also, who is to say that a child who is staring out the window is not being creative in her thoughts?
Another point is that of aptitude. Gifted children are judged on both this and achievement. Aptitude refers to how well a person can learn new content. Gifted children have a higher aptitude for learning than others. Once they have mastered a concept, they are ready to move on. If the rest of the class is not, I would think boredom would set in.

Ah, I remember the days early in my public school education when, I ,too was punished for being a good student. The course work was ridiculously easy, and so I would finish my work early. I wanted to use my time to invesigate other topics I was interested in. But no, I was forced to lead reading groups and math tutoring sessions for the students who could not, or would not, keep up. Bitter? You bet your your sweet bippy. And so what did I do? I became a prof. of education to try to change things. How foolish of me. You see, my philopsophy of education is that teachers and schools should focus all of their efforts, energies, and resources on the best and brightest students (gifted, if you prefer). But what I have discovered over the years is that the systm is completely upside- down. The bulk of resources are wasted on the those students who are incapable and/or unwilling to learn. Now, with NCLB, things have gotten even worse, as this brilliant piece of legislation is now forcing schools to strive for mediocrity in all students.
I can hardly wait for retirement.

Regarding boredom: my point was that truly gifted children usually do exactly what C. Hoyt describes--find other ways to entertain themselves. A child who cannot creatively conjure up some activity (whether school-appropriate or not)to occupy their mind is probably not gifted. What teachers hope for is staring out the window; what they sometimes get is imaginative, even brilliant, misbehavior.

And what is all this whining about having to help other children? I certainly agree that bright kids should be challenged to move at a faster pace and be offered curriculum that matches their ability. I just don't think they have to be separated from other students in order for that to happen.

There is a distasteful, self-centered undertone to these complaints about having to share time and resources with less academically able students--where does this sense of "deservingness" come from? It's not endemic in gifted people, as many brilliant scientists, artists and political leaders have used their enormous talents to benefit society. When we encourage our brightest kids to think that they should not have to help fellow students, we're doing them a disservice.

The comments about harming bright kids' learning ability by placing them in normal classrooms are not borne out by research on giftedness. Primary indicators of giftedness include motivation and perseverance; bright kids keep learning--the trick is to steer them in the right learning directions.

Finally, I am appalled at the notion that resources are "wasted" on students who struggle (for whatever reason) with learning. Our American ideals are predicated on the concept of opportunity for all. The thought of a society that would restrict resources for less-able students (who may well be students whose circumstances have rendered them behind more advantaged kids) is chilling.

I firmly believe that the best and brightest should be segregated from the low students and given the lion's share of resources. These students are the future doctors, engineers, and professors who will lead this country, and they deserve every possible advantage we can provide for them.

And I disagree witht epoint that the best students don't have to be segregated out to perform at their best. They may not HAVE to be pulled out to reach their potential, but if they were, I daresay they would reach that potential more quickly and effeciently.

And when I was in public schools, I did resent having to "dumb-down" everything for the slow students. These students would have been better served by being steered to vocational training of some sort. They might have actually found that interesting and "worth their time", plus, they would not have been disrupting the class for everyone else who wanted to learn.

The real world doesn't separate the bright from the average. We're all in this together, just like it is in most classrooms. How will these "bright" students learn empathy and understanding without practicing it? That could serve them better than "learning a new concept."

Hasn't anyone heard of differentiated instruction? Students all need to be challenged, whatever their ability level. They just don't need to be removed from the group for this to happen. It seems that some teachers think in a linear fashion - learn the concept, move on to a new concept. Why not have the gifted students delve deeper into the concept instead of simply moving on? There's no need for them to sit around "waiting" for the others to catch up. Let's not make education "a mile wide and an inch deep".
As for students helping their classmates, that is the highest form of learning. It's one thing to understand a concept and be able to perform, but it takes a more profound level of understanding to be able to explain a concept to someone else.

I think that either Warren Phillips is being very tongue-in-cheek (playing devil's advocate to get a rise out of the blogosphere)or else "he" is actually those same mischievious Princeton undergrads who used to make up fake letters to Dear Abby. No real educator would believe or say such outrageous things.

The range of beliefs expressed in these posts is quite interesting. They include many of the long-held misconceptions and stereotypes about the 'gifted' and also hope for some real understanding. It also shows how much we believe that education is a factory which is supposed to provide a high level of production of equal quality kids on a predictable schedule. The issue is that the "materials" include out-of-spec "parts". Human development is by nature asynchronous. Kids at the higher end of the spectrum need the similar interventions to those at the lower end of the spectrum - and some times kids in the middle do as well.

Most damaging for high ability kids are the misconceptions and (yes) prejudices of the public, media, parents and educators about the “gifted”. The first is that high ability kids must all be like Einstein. Followed close on its heels is that they are equally good in all things, don’t need to be taught or are not subject to issues like digraphia or dyslexia. They commonly ‘hit the wall’ around 5th grade because they aren’t challenged in lower grades and so have developed sloppy habits that take very hard work to overcome. More importantly, they haven’t developed the internal resilience needed to really learn because they haven’t been challenged to learn. These sentiments, expressed or unstated, tell these kids that who they are inside cannot be their real self. It doesn’t help when educators think that parents who advocate for their child are somehow ‘pushing’ them to be gifted and are treated with mistrust and suspicion.

In a meritocracy, the presumption is that position is based on demonstrated ability, that it is earned, and not assigned by arbitrary means. The measurement of ability must therefore be equal and fair, and appropriately scaled. The scale that is used in education is age. If you are 10 you are in 5th grade. And yet gifted kids develop asynchronously, often doing things well in advance of their age or at a pace faster than their age. For them, a solely age-based curriculum makes no more sense than one based on height. They are willing to ‘earn’ their position, but educators must be willing to disabuse the stereotypes about “giftedness” and give them a fair and equal chance to do so.

First off, I am not a trol, nor am I an impostor of some sort. I am a veteran classroom teacher, 17 years experience, teaching simultaneously in the public schools and in the world of academe.

Allow me to address some of the comments that my posts have aparently inspired.

To S. LeSage: Of course we have all heard of "differentiated instruction", one of the latest ed. fads to float in on the currents of hot new ideas. I do not "buy in" to this alleged method. I have found that students perform at their highest levels and achieve real gains at a much faster rate when they are grouped by ability. Secondly, it is not the students's job to teach each other. My job is to teach them. One of the underlying fallacies of "everyday mathematics" is that students will develop and discover their own ways to solve problems. Not likely, and if they do, the methods they develop are light years away from being sound. Small groups of students "teaching" each other the course materials and concepts is ludicrous. The reason they are students is because they are there to learn these concepts, not teach them.

To Gail Ritchie: I assure you, I am a real teacher and educator. And I DO believe and say these "outrageous" things, as you put it. If by "real educator" you mean someone who thinks that the purpose of education is to "level the field" and "bring everyone up" to the same levels of learning, or becoming emotionally involved in student learning, then I fail the test of being a real educator.

My definition of a "real educator" is a teacher who upholds academic standards and lets the students's performance determine their grades.

As I stated in an earlier post, I think that education should devote the bulk of its spending to programs that benefit the best and brightest, to use that cliched term. But I really believe that we are just throwing our money away trying to educate the unwilling and the incapable students as the system is currently set up. And I do have a proposal - make education cumpulsory only through age 12. After that, students may opt out of public school, or opt in to one of two tracks; either college prep or voactional/technical/professional training. I am not in favor of NOT educating everyone - I just think that the current system is broken and that society deserves a beeter set of outcomes. Make the system more open with options (including opt out) and I believe that all would benefit.

Now surely that doesn't sound too outrageous.

Research shows gifted students achieve best when grouped with other gifted students. In my humble opinion,
a gifted child who is served in a regular class may have an additional
obstacle as that teacher is faced with
the gigantic pressures of NCLB to focus his/her efforts on the low performing child. My fear is that the nation's gifted population is being programmed to underachieve when each year the goal is grade level proficiency and acceleration is routinely avoided, as described in A Nation Deceived: How
Schools Hold Back America's Best and Brightest. We seem to be breeding mediocricy and making excellence a politically incorrect notion. I fail to understand the complacency of too many
persons while the gifted mind is being sacrificed.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • Diane Hanfmann: Research shows gifted students achieve best when grouped with read more
  • Warren Phillips: First off, I am not a trol, nor am I read more
  • Mary Letson: The range of beliefs expressed in these posts is quite read more
  • Gail Ritchie: I think that either Warren Phillips is being very tongue-in-cheek read more
  • S. LeSage: The real world doesn't separate the bright from the average. read more




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