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GT is NOT...


In my dozen years working as a Gifted Education Specialist, I’ve encountered a number of people who hold misconceptions and misperceptions about what Gifted and Talented Education is all about. These misunderstandings about GT are – sadly – common, and I’ve discovered them in all walks of people: community members, regular classroom teachers, administrators, parents of non-GT kids, other students, society as a whole, and even parents of GT kids and the occasional GT Specialist. Certainly not everyone misinterprets the purpose of Gifted Education, but it does seem to be the balance of attitude and opinion that many people hold towards GT. It is hard work to dispel these misperceptions! My goal today is to “re-frame” these misconceptions for you with new language that can help you explain to others what GT is really all about. (Special thanks to my middle and high school students and to my co-author, Karen Isaacson, who contributed a handful of these ideas.) Feel free to add your own ideas in the comment section!

Each of these begins with a misunderstanding – a statement of what GT is NOT (or should not be), followed by a statement of what GT actually IS (or should be).

***** ***** *****

GT is NOT a reward for kids who behave well in class and turn in perfect work. Rather it IS an academic necessity for children who learn differently. Their learning and abilities are significantly different from the norm. Yes, some gifted kids do behave well and turn in perfect work, but so do many high-achieving, hard-working, teacher-pleaser kids. Gifted kids can also be the ones who act up in class or who don’t turn in ANY work because they’re sick of learning about pronouns for the fifth year in a row when they had it the first time.

GT is NOT a program for kids with exceptional grades. Rather, it IS a program for kids with exceptional abilities and potential… who may or may not have exceptional grades to show for it.

GT is NOT fun for fun's sake. Rather, it IS often fun for the sake of challenge and learning. “Fun” to these kids is reading the dictionary, debating stem cell research, a chess tournament, taking a challenging class, solving a difficult problem or puzzle, and spending ten solid hours on their own intellectual pursuits. Just because they’re having fun in the process doesn’t mean that “fun” is the main or only goal.

GT is NOT extra work to fill extra time. Rather, it IS an intellectual enhancer to fulfill potential. These kids don’t need “more of the same” or busy work. They don’t need you to keep them busy or quiet with more worksheets or extra credit. They want and NEED to learn! And that means providing them with opportunities for work and learning that are at THEIR readiness level – not at their age peers’ readiness level.

GT is NOT for kids who are "better" or "more special” than other kids. Rather, it IS a program for kids who think and learn dramatically differently from the norm. All kids are special. But “gifted” does not equal “special.”

GT is NOT about fun and games. Rather, it IS about challenge and hard work. Just because some of that challenge and hard work comes in the form of games or fun activities doesn’t mean there isn’t a purpose far greater than “fun” at issue.

GT is NOT a program only for good kids. Rather, it IS a program for kids who need more depth, breadth, and a quicker pace. Some of them are good, well-behaved kids and some of them aren’t. It is NOT and never should be a “reward for good behavior.” It IS about meeting their learning needs. It’s not about rewarding the kids who make Teacher happy. It’s about actually teaching the kids who are beyond where we might have expected them to be. (Gee… novel concept…)

GT is NOT a test of what the kid does know. Rather, it IS an opportunity for the kid to go beyond – into what he DOESN’T know.

GT is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT a privilege!!!!! Rather, it IS an essential need for children whose pace of learning dramatically out-steps other kids. (If only we would let them show us!) School should be about giving each kid what he or she needs to learn and progress on from there. GT is a way to do that for our gifted students. A “privilege” is something special bestowed upon one group but denied to others. GT isn’t about “bestowing” on some and “withholding” from others. It is simply ONE PIECE OF THE WHOLE PUZZLE through which we give each what he or she needs.

GT is NOT a self-esteem booster for children who seem to need one. Rather, it IS a sincere validation of ability. Recommending a child for GT only because you think it will be good for the kid’s self-esteem will likely only do harm to the child’s self-esteem because he won’t be able to keep up. The pace IS different! I already know that singing isn’t one of my gifts. Joining an Honor Choir wouldn’t boost my singing-self-esteem, it would obliterate what little there is. We should stretch kids within, to, and beyond their potential, not however-unintentionally snap them by leaping them beyond their breaking point.

GT is NOT about preparing kids to “save the world” someday or “find a cure for cancer.” Rather, it IS about reaching kids who learn differently TODAY. This “saving the world” argument in favor of gifted programs is one of my biggest pet peeves. I even hear people in my own field use it sometimes. These kids need GT and other accelerated learning opportunities because they learn differently TODAY. What they do with their talents and abilities in the future is up to THEM, not us. Yes, many of them will make many amazing contributions to society. But so will many who are intellectually average and below-average. To assume that ONLY these kids will “save the world someday” strikes me as elitist, arrogant, self-serving, and close-minded. I don’t disagree that there’s a high likelihood that these kids can and will do amazing and important things in the future, things that society will benefit from. They will, no doubt about it. But – especially in America – we all have the opportunity to do amazing and important things. Think of the pressure on a CHILD when he or she gets the message or impression that we EXPECT him or her to “save the world” someday. The goal of a gifted program should not be to create a future class of eminent individuals and world-savers, the goal of a gifted program should be to reach exceptional learners where they are, stretch and challenge them to progress to the next level(s) of their potential, and equip them with the skills to stretch, advocate for, and fulfill their potential on their own into the future. It is THEIR talent, not ours. THEY get to decide what to do, or not do, with it. We are here to meet them where they are TODAY and help guide them into the future, not direct them into the future. GT is about meeting kids’ learning needs, not about predicting the future.

GT is NOT a “club” to belong to. Rather, it IS a peer group where gifted kids can feel like they actually belong. Many of my students have told me that my classroom (i.e. GT class) is the only place where they feel like they can actually be themselves and are accepted as such. We don’t have secret passwords or handshakes, we don’t have an oath or uniform or slate of officers. Just as some kids feel like they “belong” in the band room or on the football field, these kids feel like they “belong” when they’re around intellectual peers.

GT does NOT address only academic needs. Rather, it ALSO addresses social and emotional needs and validates gifts and talents. We do these kids a disservice if we provide them with an opportunity to accelerate their learning (skip a grade in Math, for example), if we haven’t previously and also provided them with opportunities to learn the social and emotional skills that will enable them to successfully tackle and conquer that challenge. Additionally, some of these kids can be crippled by perfectionism, procrastination, and high expectations. Pursuing and fulfilling their talents and potential will mean needing to learn how to overcome, or at least manage, those kinds of issues.

GT is NOT about pressure to fit a label or stereotype. Rather, it IS an opportunity for expression and exploration of one's unique self and various abilities. Gifted children are incredibly diverse. We cannot expect them all to be Spelling Bee champions and chess masters, wearing glasses and pocket protectors, suffering from allergies and social isolation, and reading under the covers with a flashlight. Sure, some are like that, but others have pet snakes, are quarterback of the football team, spend spring nights bringing baby calves into the world and summers cutting hay and moving pipe, change hair color once a month and shop at secondhand stores for vintage 80’s clothing, or miss a week of school because mom needed the older child at home to babysit for the little ones so she could make it to her court date. GT is a place where these kids can be who they are and explore their potential.

GT should NOT be an experimental group led by whoever is available. Rather, it SHOULD BE a group that loves to experiment led by knowledgeable and trained staff. Unfortunately, some schools end up filling their gifted positions with whoever is available. Breathing? Need a job? You’re hired. I know of many who have used the position to “get a foot in the door” and then transfer into a classroom as soon as an opening became available. Sure, that’s strategic, but is it in the best interest of these kids? In many states (including my own), NO prior knowledge about gifted kids and their learning needs is required to fill a gifted specialist position. We don’t hire football coaches who don’t know what a touchdown is. We don’t hire band directors who don’t know what an eighth note is. We don’t hire special education teachers who don’t have the required extra certification, knowledge, and expertise about struggling learners. We don’t hire biology teachers who don’t know the structure of a cell. And yet we’re somehow apparently okay with hiring gifted teachers who don’t know about twice exceptional, curriculum compacting, telescoping, asynchronous development, and perfectionism, let alone common characteristics of the gifted. The great ones do go on to learn these and other necessary pieces of knowledge, but not because they are required to – rather, because they want to so they can be better at what they do and because it helps them do what’s best for the kids.

GT should NOT be an optional offering, if convenient. Rather, it SHOULD BE a high priority because there are kids who need it. In many places, this isn’t the case, though. In my state, where both state law and state accreditation standards mandate that schools identify and provide services for gifted students, only about 40% of schools claim they actually do so. There is no consequence for the schools that don’t meet that portion of the accreditation standards. The only consequence falls onto the shoulders of the gifted students who are at the mercy of luck that they will get a teacher who recognizes their learning needs and does something on her own to try to reach them. Educating kids shouldn’t be an optional convenience. It should be a high priority. We SAY it’s a priority. But when it comes to our nation’s gifted students, are we really educating them if research shows that they already know, on average, about half the year’s material before the school year even begins?

GT is NOT an easy A. Rather, it IS a challenging learning opportunity that is graded according to progression. One of my high school students contributed this one. She said some of her friends thought she kept signing up for Advanced Studies because it was an easy A. “They don’t seem to understand,” she said, “that this is always my hardest class, year after year, and I work my tail off to learn and accomplish what I do in here. I keep signing up for the class because this is where I get to LEARN, not because it’s a cake walk. It’s everything but!”

GT is NOT a surplus offering for kids who have surplus knowledge. Rather, it IS an academic intervention for kids who don’t learn like other kids do. ACADEMIC INTERVENTION. Let’s start calling it what it IS so that we can help those who misperceive begin to understand what GT is really all about.


Just this weekend, I had a conversation with my husband's aunt who just retired from 30 years teaching in Wyoming. Our discussion touched on recommending a student for the gifted program (only if they were well behaved) into an enrichment program that was only one day a week (as if it were a club or privilege to be recommended for the program.)

As long as there are gifted teachers who accept only the 'good' students and well-meaning teachers who are full of misconceptions about the needs of the gifted child, our students and the field of gifted education will never progress.

Thanks so much for writing this entry. You have said it well!

You are so on target with this one!

I know I myself have fallen into the "these kids will save the world" mode at times. Usually it's when arguing to save the programs that are being cut. In desperation we feel forced to try to equate the value of educating these children to something someone with no knowledge of gifted kids can understand. However, all that does is turn it into an elitist club that equality in education can not allow.

Thank you for providing fuel for parents in the upcoming 'meet your child's new teacher' season.

Okay, can we just pass a law or something and clone you? Require that every school system have someone like you advocating *publicly* for gifted students?

Thank you for this impassioned definition of what GT is by saying what it is not.

Thank you so much for this!

The teaching of a standard curriculum, in unison, the same-age kids, according to a fixed schedule, and promoting them automatically does have its limitations when those we have not been able to standardize successfully cause us problems. We standardize them as GT instead, and then wonder how we can find time and resources to serve their surviving curiosity. And what of the un-gifted and untalented at the other end who were left unstandardized? Foolishness!! They are all giftend and talented. When will teachers ever learn?

Great post. Thanks for identifying some of the MAJOR misconceptions in GT services.

Hi, David ~ They all HAVE gifts and talents. Every child ever born has something s/he is good at, something unique and special to offer the world. But they don't all learn as GIFTED students do. Having a gift and being gifted are not the same thing. "Gifted" refers to a distinct array of learning differences. We all have something we're not too great at, but we don't go so far as to say we all have a disability. We all have something we are good at - we all have a gift - but we don't all learn and think in ways that are dramatically distinct from the norm the way gifted learners do. I recommend reading my second post to this blog (August 2007) in which I go into more depth explaining this distinction. Gifted doesn't mean special, it's a learning difference http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/unwrapping_the_gifted/2007/08/its_a_learning_difference_3.html

I'm intrigued by your self-ed idea. It is similar to (though much broader than) my Advanced Studies class (which I will post about in detail in a coming week).

Tamara, I'd love to reprint a shorter version of this article in our local Mensa newsletter. Could you email me? Thanks! Lessa Scherrer

Gifted ed. is NOT a middle class retention program in urban school systems, nor is it an excuse to segregate white students from the rest of the school community. Gifted learning differences are NOT something that can be taught to a child with flashcards or simply the result of having middle class parents. Gifted children should NOT be in general ed. to "learn about" or contribute to the class' diversity or, worse yet, to "teach" other students. Giftedness IS identifiable in students of all races, classes and genders and gifted education should serve whatever populations need it. The problem with it right now in large urban areas is that giftedness is not identified well, so it appears as if G and T is an elitist segregation. That should not be an argument for its elimination, rather, a reason to rethink identification methodology. The anti G and T bias I have encountered is widespread and my son is just entering K. I am also a teacher and know many colleagues who hold these misperceptions. I feel like I need to memorize this article to refer to every time I encounter such misperceptions (or outright hostility) towards G and T programs. Thanks for writing what I wish I had said, oh so many times.

MSchwartz ~ Great additions!!!

Good for you. I can't tell how often I've heard of teachers treating GATE as if it were a cookie or a treat to be handed out to good students for good behavior, with
versions of, "You can go to GATE when you've done your in-class work," or "You can't go to GATE because you had three behavior checkmarks this week," or "Tanisha would be a great GATE student -- she's the best-behaved kid in my whole class."

NOPE. Just like Special Ed. is not a cookie or a treat for well-behaved Special Ed kids, GATE is not a cookie for GATE kids. It's a NEED.

awesome Tamara and thanks for the additions mschwartz. I would like for teachers and the parents in our area to see this. teachers for the obvious and parents because we have so many who do see GT as haven for their kids so they don't have to associate with less privileged kids when they move from our rarified elementary school to middle school. (teachers can only report vague reading levels on report cards any more, because they get complaints, I think) I am finding that math is being dumbed down so that even the supposedly 2 years ahead GT is not really enough for my son...especially since 50% of his grade takes that. I now have to figure out how to refocus a child whose self proclaimed goal in school is to be the funniest. Some teachers have the right idea---last years said that this also adhd and dysgraphic almost to the point of writing-phobic child REQUIRED the higher level programming in language arts. Somehow it does need to be seen less a perk and more a need.

I just read your blog and I nearly died laughing--nearly all of what you wrote could also apply to students with learning disabilities, of whom I am a teacher. On top of that, my own two kids were identified as GT (my son is scary-smart, like I could be bringing up a Bill Gates or a Ted Kaczinski, depending on my parenting). Until 7th grade my daughter was plagued by teachers who made her a peer tutor constantly, which she hated. In HS, like the student you mentioned, she needs AP classes. My son is very distractable, because he's interested in everything in the classroom: the fish tank, the teacher's filing system, his table partner's nifty lunch bag (and how to make it niftier). He's learned that it's OK to mentally wander off, but you have to know how to bring yourself back. My daughter tells me she gets a huge charge out of thinking up the most challenging questions to ask the teacher.

Funny thing is that my SpEd students have many of the same characteristics. What they don't have, as a general rule, is the ability to bring themselves back from distraction, as well as the memory gifts, pretty much across the board. My son and daughter excel at filing away information and bringing it into active memory in a selective way. My students have to learn to train their memories, little bit by little bit.

Another similarity is that both groups can be perfectionists. My kids have had to learn that sometimes good enough is good enough. My students, on the other hand, have met with so much failure that if they are handed back a paper for do-overs and a better grade, they figure, what's the use? My own kids see that as an opportunity. My students see it as a negative criticism--if they can't make it perfect, why try?

I've always been concerned with how the special education kids AND the GT kids fare in schools. People wonder why, but I've always thought that if both of those groups are getting what they need, you can be sure the ones in the middle are getting what they need as well. Sadly, we are hearing stories about how the kids at both extremes are being edged out in the venture to attain NCLB perfection.

I have taught four "GT" classes and VERY few of those students have any of the characteristics you listed. All three schools at which I taught just put the "smart" kids in GT, though most of them are just above average learners with above average grades. I really wish things would change, and that instead of trying to please parents and make it look like a school has an impressive GT program in place, the small GT population could be served effectively. I honestly feel out of my 23 "GT" students this year, only 2 were truly gifted. The rest of the class was on grade level, but because it's "GT", I had to teach them one grade level higher, whether it was appropriate for them or not. Sad, but true.

Wonderful post. I'd just like to add that GT classes should NOT just be more work. GT kids have the same number of hours in their day as anyone else. They don't need four or five hours of homework, thank you (particularly when the homework is below their level).

GATE is *NOT* a place for the merely bright kids of socially ambitious yuppie parents. It's not for those poor tykes who've been enrolled in Kumon drill-and-kill tutoring in order to "get ahead" in the hopes of a future Ivy League admission. It is for those kids who manage to constantly surprise their parents by what they *want* to learn on their own without any "hothousing".

I will never ever forget this: when my oldest son was 3, an electrician who was doing some work for us brought his 7-year-old daughter with him once when he couldn't find a babysitter. My kid, thrilled to have company, excitedly began pulling toys out of his toybox to show her: abacus, globe, model of solar system, legos. The girl looks at me and says: "Mister, doesn't he have any *toys?*"

I nearly cried, because it offered just a glimmer of how all alone GT kids can feel.

All those Kumon parents have no idea.

Thanks for this blog; it's right-on.

In Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS), some military families think GT is an entitlement. "You have to let my son in the program. My husband is the Lieutenant Colonel (or fill in the rank blank)."

I wish you were around 20 years ago for my son. I tried saying these things to his school principal, but she kept telling me he couldn't be in the gifted program because he was a problem student. "How would it look to the other kids who do turn in their work?" He is a brilliant young man who was totally turned off by having to do the same things year after year in school. He turned to disruptive behavior in an attempt to amuse himself and allay the boredom. He did not do well in college right out of high school, which he completed in 3 1/2 years, but is now deciding to try again. He is 27. I wish you had been around back then! Thank you for letting everyone in on what GT really is!

I am on a school board here in New Zealand. I have two sons, one talented, one gifted, in my opinion.

The talented one has strengths in his chosen foreign language (German) and music in particular. Lots of sporting endurance too. He would be in top 15 per cent of his year at school in terms of academic results, but he has to work quite hard and battle along - needs plenty of swot and revision.

The younger child on the other hand is in a TOTALLY different league - top student of his year. He has what you refer to above in the excellent article - he learns differently.

He has asked me why revision classes are necessary - surely people should be listening and learning first time around!

And here is something that has not been referred to - he constantly generates his own learning and his own enquiries!

We have one teacher who the gifted few thinksis great - I think it is because she does not FORCE these kids into her thinking structures! Her assignments are often worded "Find out about ... ". That is all they need - they love it!

It is our experience (and my personal experience) that when you are teaching these students, it is almost like they know it already - they run ahead of you.

Our home will be nuts this weekend. Another gifted boy is around at our place to assist our son ARRANGE a piece of music that they will present as group performance for about 6 instruments at the end of term. They did not have to! But they want to involve a diversity of instruments and degree of difficulty that they define.

I don't know what will come out of it, but I know there will be personal growth, higher order thinking processes and development of skill. If they hit a dead end, they will announce it before they get too far into the process. These guys at 14 are brilliant at self-evaluation too.

They stand out in Maths, Science, English, Social Sciences, Music, Art, Technology (IT), Trade Skills .. anything with intellectual component.

They produce finished work concurrently with their draft. Sometimes I think that their written work must be like an image in their minds that they simply copy down. They learn differently but more importantly I find they EXECUTE things in their lives differently. They are in a state of constant enquiry, constantly plugging gaps in their inttellectual framework.

The gap between the talented and gifted is exponential quite frankly. The gifted has an efficiency factor amounting to hundreds of percentages. This is why number of hours of homework is a measure of nothing. The gifted will achieve in 1 hour more than the talented in a full day - I kid you not.

No wonder this group stand out as a challenge the way they do. My concern is not to get TOO pushy.

I wish we could put all this in a bottle!


Thanks, Tamara, for this article. I'm printing it to take to the next meeting I have with the guidance counselor/scheduler at my son's new school. Hopefully it will help her understand what I've been saying about providing for GT students.

"GT is NOT about preparing kids to “save the world” someday or “find a cure for cancer.” "
As a GT person (it didn't go away when I grew up! 8) who got those messages as a kid, it is an interesting internal struggle to "just" be parenting two middle-schoolers, volunteering all over the place, and working part time. Intellectually I know that I'm no more likely than anyone else to save the world, but those little voices are still there. Wouldn't it be nice to free younger folk from them!

This was a very insightful piece. I was a GT student myself and often thought how blessed I was to be in a school that offered an array of AP and college level courses. Otherwise I would have been incredibly bored and probably gotten into a lot more trouble. I am now an AP teacher and I realize how misconstrued the idea of being gifted can be. Many look at it as "elitist" and some students look at it as being entitled to a good grade just for being "gifted". Neither should be the case. Truly gifted students need to be challenged and encouraged to not only succeed academically, but to practice creative problem solving and learning opportunities. You also hit the tendency to perfectionism on the head; these are the students you need to assure that it is okay to go out with their friends before reviewing their assignment for the third time. If you are gifted and are not challenged, the frustration will eventually cause a stunt in growth, just as children with learning disabilities will not excel without appropriate accommodations. I also agree with the post above...I struggle internally with the fact that I "only" have a MA from a state school, teach college level courses, am parenting a child and in a loving marriage. I should at least be pursuing my PhD at an Ivy League by now according to the little voices from my GT past (even if I know at this point in my life that this would not make me happy!)

There are many articles about the myths and misconceptions surrounding giftedness, but this was one of the best! Thanks so much for your valuable insight.

I wholeheartedly agree with your points, and applaud what you're doing. I am a mother of 2 gifted kids, 9 and 12 years old. I admit to feeling conflicted though, on the whole 'saving the world and curing cancer' issue. I don't expect my kids to save the world unless they want to. I don't want them to feel like failures, or that they are wasting their gifts if they don't. They'll grow up and choose their own paths, and that's the way it should be. But gifted kids are in that group of rare people with the potential to do world-changing things. However, a gifted kid whose learning was stunted by never being challenged, is less likely to make earth-shattering discoveries than the 'average' kid who actually learned HOW to learn. the changing-the-world argument is a powerful one to use when dealing with those who would axe GT programs. I still find myself wanting to say it: if we don't teach these kids to their potential, we risk losing ALL the discoveries and advancements they may one day create.

Thanks so much!

Each learner is distinct and different - I want our school teachers and college teachers in India to remember this point that has been stressed again and again in your article.

I can understand that some kids "learn differently", but why call it "Gifted and Talented"? Does that mean that the children who are not in this group are NOT gifted and talented? What about the kids who rub it in some other child's face that THEY'RE in the GT group and so n' so is not? I think it's a pretty pathetic label though it may be a good program.

"GT is NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT a privilege!!!!! "

I love that! I wish you could have been there when my 5th grade teacher wanted to have me taken out of the GT program because I "didn't do the work." Thankfully, my parents fought her tooth and nail and were able to keep me in the program (the only joy I found in a very bad school year).

I'm a teacher now, and I'm amazed at the some of the attitudes I've seen regarding GT students. When I was in college, I felt this stigma against the "smart kids". I often heard my professors say, "Your smart kids will be fine." I don't want them to be "fine"! I want to give them what they need; I want to nurture their natural curiosity; I want them to find joy in learning.

Thank you for this article. I'm so glad to see that there are people out there who see the "smart kids" for what they are: children whose needs should be met just like everyone else.

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