Myths about Gifted Children and their Education

You are a teacher, you should know better.

Some people reject the idea of Giftedness. The most commonly held excuse I have heard is ‘all children are gifted’. Yet no one would dare say this to a parent of a child with a profound learning disability that requires them to have 24 hour support. This is the point. ‘Gifted’ is a technical term to describe the intellectual and personality characteristics of certain individuals. It says nothing about whether a child is a ‘gift’ to their parents or anyone else. It says nothing about the worth of an individual. It does not say one child is better than another. It says nothing about the joy a child can bring to those around them.

‘Gifted’ does not say that other children can not do as well as Gifted children. ‘Gifted’ merely says this child learns differently.

The same people who reject the idea of Gifted have no problem calling elite sports people gifted. Schools often have ‘First’ teams – the best players. They often have competitions to find the best artist, or best musician and revel in their glory it beings the school. Schools and colleges often have ‘famous alumni’, the best and brightest of their institution. They even send their students to Maths Olympiads, International Debating Competitions and the Young Scientists’ Exhibition and more.

Am I alone then in missing the irony that schools do not recognise they have Gifted children in their midst?  Are Gifted children in our education system always going to be the elephant in the room? In this vein, here are a few more myths about Gifted children and their education that can help shools gets to grips with the issue. This is just a taster.

Providing extra help for Gifted pupils is elitist.

Children have a right to an education that will help them achieve their potential. Failing to recognise the specific needs of Gifted pupils actually excludes them from school and prevents them achieving their potential. Gifted pupils are in every social, economic, ethnic and age group but there are more Gifted children in lower socio-economic groups. Failing to address the needs of Gifted children creates elitism as only those who can afford additional, private supports have the best chance to achieve their potential.

Gifted students get straight ‘A’s.

The student who gets straight ‘A’s isn’t necessarily Gifted. In fact, bright pupils who learn how to use the exam system perform better than Gifted pupils who have not been identified. Often Gifted pupils coast by on what they learn in class during Junior Certificate (Lower Second Level aged 15/16) but when they have to do some work at Leaving Certificate, they haven’t built up the study and work habits necessary for success. Learn more here.

There are no Gifted pupils in my classroom

This is possible, but in an average class in a large school, unlikely. In streamed classes it can be harder to recognise a gifted student. In mixed ability classes it should be easier. But on average, in every regular school, there are Gifted pupils.

I wouldn’t know how to teach a Gifted child

Good teaching is good teaching regardless of a pupil’s ability. Gifted pupils need their ability to be recognised by their teachers so that they can be challenged to achieve their potential in the classroom. While there are specific things teachers can do to help Gifted children, positive regard must come first.

Gifted pupils are smart enough to do well on their own.

Exceptionally Able pupils (the term used in Ireland for Gifted pupils) need the guidance, support and wisdom of their teachers to make real progress just as sports stars still need coaches. They need appropriate instructional activities that will push them to achieve their potential. Learn more here.

We are too busy to start worrying about students who can already learn well enough

Ability is not equal to achievement. There is no guarantee that because a child is capable, they will learn. All children need to be motivated and encouraged and at a level appropriate to their ability. Meeting the needs of Gifted children creates opportunities for improved teaching and learning that benefit all students.

Every Child is gifted

Every child has a gift – but not every child is Gifted. Teachers can help Gifted pupils dispel the myths that surround them by recognising their ability and by helping them achieve their potential. Learn more here.

These are just a few of the myths surrounding Gifted children. The list grows as schools run out of excuses to exclude Gifted children so that they can get on with their quiet life and not have to improve the way they teach and learn. This may sound hard but it is no reason to ignore groups of students simply because it is convenient to do so. We either cherish all our pupils equally, or we go do something else.

If you or your school would like to know more, contact me through Twitter @peter_lydon

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