Link to Education Connection Gifted students are not necessarily those who bring home the best report cards, but may well be the students at the back of the classroom whose abilities go unnoticed. Find out more about the task of identifying gifted students and the development of special programs to address their needs.
Identifying the Gifted Child
The task of identifying gifted students has become a growing concern for our nation’s public and private school systems. This assignment would be much easier if educators could simply stand at the front of their classrooms and ask, “Would the gifted students please stand up?” Of course, identifying children with exceptional cognitive abilities is much more complex. In fact, if this question were presented to today’s youth, many of the truly gifted students would remain seated in the shadow of overachievers, either afraid to be singled out or unaware of their talents. For years our society has judged intelligence on performance records and equated high grades with high intellect, even though many educators and researchers have long realized that many of our brightest students are not necessarily the “A” students.
There is an ongoing debate over the definition and origin of intelligence and many people still believe that intelligence can be adequately measured through I.Q. assessments. An increasing number, however, argue for a broader definition of intelligence. Cognitive psychologist Howard Gardner, whose theory of Multiple Intelligences is attracting increasing interest from educators, claims that there are a number of different kinds of intelligences, including linguistic, spatial, musical, body-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Regardless of how intelligence is defined, researchers agree that intelligence is linked to both genetic and environmental factors.
What Makes a Gifted Student Different?
When determining whether or not a child is a candidate for gifted programs, professionals look at a variety of criteria. One of the basic requirements is the level of a student’s Intelligence Quotient, or “IQ.” Individual school systems may require different IQ scores for enrollment in a gifted program; however, the general consensus is that a score of 120 or higher on an IQ test meets a superior intelligence standard. Those students who score 160 or above are characterized as profoundly gifted. Many parents and educators of gifted children also report the presence of an advanced vocabulary, a tendency to ask complex questions, a preference for older companions, perceptive observations, high creativity, a strong problem solving ability, and excellent memory. Many gifted people also display an aptitude or talent in a specific area such as mathematics, language arts, or music.
Despite the wide range of assessments that can be used to identify gifted children, many of these bright minds remain unnoticed. Gifted children between grades K-3 are unlikely to be identified as such because schools are often fearful of labeling young children. Furthermore, many gifted students appear to be troublemakers or unmotivated in the classroom; they often display disruptive behavior, restlessness, and inattentiveness. Gifted students often challenge authority figures by questioning classroom rules. The behavior of a gifted child is sometimes confused with attention disorders such as ADD and ADHD. Children with either disorder generally show an inability to concentrate for long periods of time, regardless of the task. In contrast, gifted children become immersed in a task when interested, focusing for long periods of time; however, they may become bored while waiting for other students to grasp concepts that they already understand. When not engaged, gifted children often develop negative patterns such as daydreaming, doodling, excessive talking, and failing grades.
Many school systems are developing assessment tools and special programs to address the needs of gifted students because research has shown that these students thrive when placed with students of similar ability. When given an opportunity to engage in challenging learning environments, many gifted children not only perform at a high level, but also feel more accepted and confident. Teachers trained to deal with the needs of gifted students can help avoid power struggles and provide adequate stimulation in their classroom.
In the wrong setting giftedness can be as paralyzing as a learning handicap. Many gifted students become chronically frustrated by the constraints of ordinary classrooms and their abilities go unnoticed, masked by indifference and hostility toward the system of education. As a result, gifted students are not necessarily those who bring home the best report cards, but may well be the students at the back of the classroom who are not standing up to claim their gift.
Lisa Marie Batchelder is a writer and teacher in the San Francisco Bay area. She has taught middle school Language Arts and History for five years. Recently, she just finished writing her first novel for adults and is currently working on a series of articles that focus on the humor and lessons of everyday life.