What Makes a Gifted Student?

12 07 2013

Posted by on Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Gifted Child

Parents and grandparents often look for signs  that their children and grandchildren are gifted. After all, who doesn’t like to  brag about their children? When moving to our new two story home when my twins  were 19 months old, I was extremely worried about the stairs.  I was  frightened out of my mind when they insisted on walk-crawling up the stairs, but  was delighted when they understood right away how to slide back down on their  stomachs. I decided that my twin boys must be advanced!

Unfortunately, walking up the stairs is not a sign of giftedness for my children, as the normal time for a child to walk up stairs  is 18  months. However, one of the boys walked on tiptoes at 20 months which  qualifies him to possibly be advanced. Too bad that advancedness does not  apply to his  getting his own blankie from another room or getting into the bathtub without  incident.

Consider the following parental and grandparental claims:

“Andrew is going to be gifted,” says his father, as three year old Andrew  sings along with the radio in tune, while clapping to the beat.

“Susie is gifted,” her mother states as four year old Susie recites her  alphabet, lists numbers one to thirty, and then does a somersault.

“Tommy is extremely gifted,” beams his grandmother as seven year old Tommy  finishes a Lego castle containing 300 pieces.

“Andrea is off the charts in giftedness,” says her father confidently, as ten  year old Andrea plays Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” from memory on the  piano.

Which of the above children might actually be considered gifted? You may be  surprised that it is Andrew, the three year old.  Singing in pitch and  clapping along to the beat at an early age is a sign of giftedness.  While  the other scenarios are impressive to some, they are not indicative of an  advanced child.

What is Giftedness?

The technical definition of gifted is “having  great natural ability“, but there is much more to it than that. It is more  difficult to define than one would imagine. The main idea behind giftedness is  that the child leads  the direction of what they want to experience, rather than someone else.

The main idea behind giftedness is that the child leads the  direction of what they want to experience, rather than someone  else.

If at 20 months my tiptoe walking son had been coached, coaxed, and led to  walk that way by myself or my husband it would not necessarily be a sign of  giftedness because he could do it. His doing it on his own out of natural  curiosity or ability is what would make him gifted.

“Gifted” May Not Mean What You Think It Means

Many parents and even teachers equate giftedness with good grades, high test  scores, and better behavior than other students. While this may be a sign of  giftedness, these parameters could leave many gifted students unidentified.

Students who are unruly, have attention issues, lacks good grades, or have no  interest in completing homework or participating are not generally thought of as  being gifted over others who behave the opposite. Chew on this: when Albert  Einstein was a young boy, he was thought to be dumb and was set apart from  other students.

While high scores and good grades can be an indicator of giftedness, there is  more to earning that label. While many test students for good memory skills or  the ability to analyze data, children also need to be creative  and proactive in their interests.

What Skills Do Gifted Students Possess?

Being gifted means a student has certain qualities and skills that  enable them to think on their own without help. Many people have good memory,  the ability to interpret ideas and data, are creative, are practical, and  interested in many things, but this does not make them gifted alone.

Students with higher level functions will be able to create or think of  something they want to do, analyze how to go about it, have the understanding of  what they need to be successful, and then pursue it. They can understand what  needs to be fixed or changed in order for their idea to work.

While the ideas presented above make for obvious giftedness, some students  are higher in some levels than others. For instance, my sixteen year old son is  a remarkable verbal wordsmith. Since he was a toddler he has spoken very well  and has an extensive vocabulary.  He and I would hold real conversations  about various ideas when he was just in Kindergarten.

While he has amazing verbal ability, he does not know how to write it down.  He has great ideas, knows what he wants to do, what the outcome should be, the  problems that could arise and how to fix them. The next step to implement his  ideas is where he falters. He can tell me his whole plan, then will sit down at  the computer and stare. This does not make him any less gifted, it just shows  that not all gifted people have the same talents and skill levels as others.

How Does One Become Gifted?

 Contrary to popular belief, being gifted is not always luck of  the draw.

Genetics do play a large part in being gifted, definitely. It has been  thought that the brain of a gifted person can actually process information  faster. However, one’s surroundings are equally important. Nature and nurture are at work as some traits are genetic and others are learned.

It is important for parents and teachers to actively participate in a child’s  life in order to see what they are interested in. Whether or not the parents  themselves are considered gifted, the environment a child grows up in can  enhance or develop their abilities.

A personal example would be that my mother’s side of the family is very  musical. There are a few band directors and music majors, and everyone on the  immediate side played a musical instrument at one time.

With all these musical genes, it would stand to reason I would have an  affinity for music, too.  It turns out I did, but with the aid of my mother  to cultivate it. If my mother had not bought me that little metal fife when I  was in 4th grade, I may never have been the flute player I am today.

Even more importantly, had she not dug out her old, dusty clarinet a few  years later, I may never have been inspired to get a degree in music.   Being gifted in music, it is likely that I would have desired to seek it  out for myself, but the environment in which I lived aided me greatly.

Neurology of the Gifted

The brain is a complex organ full of nerves, neurons, and the chemicals that  allow us to communicate, which are called neurotransmitters. The  neurotransmitters move along an intricate highway of branches called dendrites.  The dendrites seek other neurons at points in the brain called synapses. Having  more branches and points in the brain allow us to have a better capabilities to  learn.

The more the brain is used, the more neurons are activated, which makes more  dendrites and helps the brain to function at an even higher level. Gifted  students are thought to have more compact areas of synapses where their talent  lies. Being in the right environment to stimulate the neurons is also a large  part of the brain being able to develop the more complex root-system those that  are in gifted minds.

Levels Can Vary

Knowing what skills are involved is helpful, but recognizing giftedness can  sometimes be difficult. As evidenced by my excitement over my twins walking up  the stairs, we can sometimes jump the giftedness gun as the wonderful thing the  child did is actually developmentally on time. The following is a list of  scenarios that are a sign of giftedness.

  • Students that can weave an original and complex story with rich characters  and an interesting plot.
  • A child that can draw a picture to scale or with the appropriate  dimensions.
  • A student that makes up games. Games require analytical skills, trial and  error, and hypothesizing, which are all advanced skills.
  • Using  a toy differently than it was made for.
  • Drawing a picture or telling a story accurately from memory.
  • Singing on pitch and clapping to the beat of music.
  • Speaking early with good grasp of grammar
  • Advanced  vocabulary

For a longer list of signs, click here for an article on Gifted Kids.

Giftedness Can Lead to Frustration

Often, being gifted while sounding positive and remarkable can be  frustrating.  If a student is lacking in creativity, analytical, or  practical skills, it can hurt the area in which they excel. A highly creative  person unable to apply know-how to complete his task will feel like a failure. A  person with high analytical skills but nothing to apply them to will feel  unfulfilled.

A highly creative person unable to apply know-how to complete his task will  feel like a failure.

Also, a gifted person with no outlet can become depressed,  angry, and feel like they have failed.  Because they do not know why these  emotions are erupting, they may be embarrassed that they cannot help themselves  and lash out or isolate themselves.

Because of their gifts or talents, many children also feel ostracized from  other peers. They can be seen as “different” and are treated as such. Non-gifted  students may envy their gifted classmates and treat them negatively, too.

It is important as parents and teachers to help develop skills in their  children and students, gifted or not, at an early age. With my three year old  twins, I gleefully turn the tables on them and ask them “Why?” all the time.  When one yells: “I don’t wanna take a bath!” I ask: “Why not?” They will usually  say: “Because!” to which I ask: “Because why?”

Questioning leads to their analyzing the problem, verbalizing it to me, and  helps me understand their issue. Then I can allay their fears, assert my  parental momliness, or redirect their attention to something else. Anything to  get those little muddy, sandy, and markered up little bodies in the bathtub.

How to Help Develop the Skills

It is easy to tell someone what they need to do to help their children’s  minds expand and grow; it is another thing to try to implement it. It is  important to ask your child many questions. Questions that have a more complex  answer than “yes” or “no”. If the children are watching a television program,  rather than watch it quietly with them, pause it and ask what is going on in the  story. Even a three year old can tell you “Elmo lost Blanket down Oscar’s can  and needs go find it.”

When taking younger children to a grocery store, ask questions about the food  you are buying. Why are carrots better for you than cookies? Where do the  vegetables come from? What animals eat bananas? Older children can be asked to  determine the better buy for different items. Ask them to compare one brand’s  ingredients over another.

Whether at home, in a classroom, or anywhere you are with students and  children, there is always something you can ask to get them thinking  analytically. Prompting their memory and asking them to make up ideas will help  build their skills. When playing outside, begin a game of pretend, and let  them use their imagination.

The Gender Issue

This is the “Teacher’s Beware” section. While it may not apply to you and  your classroom, it has been researched and shown that teachers can be biased.  While this may not be news, because we all have our biases, teachers need to be  cognizant if theirs are showing.

Teachers can often fall into the gender  trap when it comes to gifted students. Boys are thought to be more logical,  while girls are more creative. Gifted boys can be domineering, while gifted  girls can be shy.  Gifted girls try to downplay their attributes, while  gifted boys are more forceful about theirs.

This is not an absolute, but when thinking of your own classroom, do you  categorize your students in this way? If not, do you categorize them in other  ways?

Female teachers have been noted to have a tendency to brush off girls, not  boys, who are more analytical. Male teachers find girls to be emotional but  still react more favorably than female teachers. Gifted students are not always  treated fairly in the classroom. Whether consciously or subconsciously, it shows  a disparity between the sexes that can be very obvious. The same is said for  those who are not considered gifted, are teachers treated them differently,  too?

We all want our students to succeed, but it is possible that our own  prejudices can be more harmful than helpful to students. While the above  mentions that gifted girls are often not treated the same by their female  teachers, sometimes the opposite can be true. Sometimes teachers can favor their  own gender over others.

Rethink Your Idea of What a Gifted Student Looks Like

When asked to imagine a gifted student, we all have a different idea of what  he or she looks like. I immediately think of a seven year old piano prodigy,  while someone else might think of a great artist. Most likely we equate  giftedness with excellent grades and behavior, but those students are actually  pretty rare.

Gifted students come in all sizes, colors, ages, and with various talents.  They also have different attitudes, home environments, and socioeconomic  status. Do not dismiss Cindy because she cannot sit still, and do not  automatically include Shawn because he always gets A’s on his math test.

We must not forget as teachers to look for gifts in all the students and  cultivate the skills they may possess.

Image  source


Carrie Wible is an educator, writer, musician, and mother living in Northeast  Ohio. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Kent State University, a  teaching certificate in grades 1-8 from Youngstown State University and a  Masters in Teaching and Learning with Technology from Ashford University. Carrie  has been teaching music lessons and has taught in the classroom for a combined  total of 25 years.

Cited From: http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/what-makes-a-gifted-student/#ixzz2YqeRbi4R



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