A Short Introduction to Gifted Children for Primary Teachers



originally published on TEACH Ireland


“All children are gifted”

In response to the mention of “gifted children”, it has been a mantra for many years to say “all children have a gift”. What this means is that we believe every child can master at least one thing; that there is something they are good at. This is a different idea to giftedness. If you like, you can think of giftedness as the extent to which a child has a gift. Every child can learn to read. Not all children are reading independently before they begin Junior Infants.

Identifying the Gifted Child

Intelligence Tests (IQ) tests used to be taken as gospel proof of giftedness. However, a greater awareness of the many ways gifted children may present has made the job of identifying gifted children a little harder but at the same time rescued many children for a lifetime of underachievement.

Some children are ‘Twice Exceptional’. This means that they are gifted academically but may have a specific learning disorder.  A gifted child who is also dyslexic may have trouble performing on an intelligence test and hence their giftedness may be missed by testing. Indeed, it would not be unusual for a gifted but dyslexic child to come across as ‘average’ in the classroom and to be reported on as ‘must work harder’ eventhough they may already be working very hard to compensate for dyslexia.

Research in the USA has shown how there are similar characteristics between children with Asperger’s Syndrome and those who are gifted. In Ireland, where few psychologists are trained in recognising giftedness, there may be a tendency to misdiagnose a child with challenging behaviour in the classroom.  A child who is gifted and unidentified and who becomes bored in class could display challenging behaviours. And while there are children with severe cases of ADHD, how many gifted children have been misdiagnosed with ADHD and medicated for it.

Tracy Cross of the College of William and Mary in Virginia has highlighted 5 common characteristics of gifted children. Because gifted children represent a heterogeneous group, not all characteristics will be present to the same extent, but an observant teacher would begin to see these. They are

·      Overexcitabilities
·      Perfectionism
·      Excessive Self-Criticism
·      Multipotentiality

I am not in favour of telling a child they are gifted however, I recognise that for some children knowing this can help them come to terms with their ‘differentness’ . You can find more links to characteristics of gifted children here.

Responding to the Gifted Child

Gifted children have particular social and emotional needs however, as a teacher, your more immediate concern maybe how to facilitate a gifted child’s learning in the classroom. I have heard for several years that teachers had a ‘fear’ of gifted children and often said they wouldn’t know what to do with one. I never believed this until I heard one primary school teacher actually say these words to me last year. There is no need for such a fear.  It is important to remember is that good teaching is good teaching regardless of a child’s ability.

It is difficult to manage additional tasks with increasing class sizes and other demands. Gifted children will finish work well ahead of most other students in their class, particularly so at primary level.  There is a temptation to give more worksheets for finishing early. Don’t. Gifted children simply learn that it is better to go slowly to avoid such ‘rewards’. Instead, try giving more detailed work. Enriching the work a student is doing, allowing them to explore a topic in more detail or in a different way can address their intrinsic motivation an love of a subject. This does take a little extra effort but over a period of time, you can build up a bank of resources that you can draw on as needed.

It is important to ensure that gifted children have covered the basics of the curriculum.

Learning Centre-stpaulmarshfield.org

For example, gifted children often ‘see’ the answer to math questions without necessarily knowing how they found the answer beyond “it was obvious”. Any opportunity to teach thinking skills would be rewarding. Mathematics lends itself well to differentiation. Differentiation tends to translate as ‘more work for teacher’. But small bits of differentiation over a period of time can lead to a much happier and engaged classroom. And fewer discipline issues.

Every primary school classroom should have a ‘learning centre’. Gifted children will usually finish work early. If it suits, you can arrange that a child can go to a learning centre and choose work that they would like to do. A learning centre could be stocked with a variety of books, paper and art materials and, if possible, a computer.  Clearly you would need to lay down rules to how and when children can go to the centre (on satisfactory completion of work, for example). Giving gifted children the freedom to explore and engage in independent learning is a powerful motivator.

There is a growing awareness in Ireland of the needs of gifted children.  Primary teachers are the most important drivers of this becasue they first encounter gifted children in school.  It is the recognition a gifted child recieves in primary school that will make all the difference, not only to their schooling, but also to their life. A good place to follow up on giftedness is here. This is a fantastic website with links, resources and research.

You can join other educators at TEACH Ireland as it develops.

You can find Gifted Advocacy Groups and parent support groups at Gifted and Talented Network Ireland and information for parents on Irish Gifted Education Blog.

I blog at Gifted and Talented Ireland

ICEPE are offering a 10% discount on their Gifted and Talented Children course for registrants during Gifted Education Awareness Week. The course is DOES-approved and counts for EPV days.

by Peter Lydon

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