Mythillogical: Belief versus the reality of giftedness.

On Sunday 9th December, the topic for discussion at #gtie was “Mythillogical: Belief versus the reality of giftedness”. One recurring theme which struck me was that gifted children are not all the same and we cannot stereotype them. I have taken some liberties with the chat summary below and added some extra information not included on the night.

Myth 1: All gifted children wear glasses and have their heads stuck in books all the time.
Many, but not all, gifted children learn to read at a very young age…even before they start school. They may read widely and have large vocabularies and knowledge beyond their years. However, I guess this myth really suggests that only those children with their noses stuck in books all the time are gifted. This is simply not true. Children may be gifted in other areas such as music, building things or sport. Some gifted children do not learn to read early, may not enjoy it at all and some may have dyslexia. Einstein was 7 before he could read.

Myth 2: Gifted children don’t do sports.
Some lucky children are all-rounders and will excel both in the classroom and on the sports field. However, most people have one or two areas of strength. The child who excels at maths may or may not be good at sport and vice versa. Human nature dictates that they will engage more in the activity at which they are best as that is most likely to be what they enjoy. Some children are gifted at sport, some at academics. Some academically gifted children, like the general population, may have dyspraxia which will hinder their sporting ability.

Myth 3: All children are gifted.
In educational terms, “gifted” means those students whose ability in one or more areas falls in the top 2%-5% of their peer group. Saying every child is gifted is much like saying every child is intellectually disabled: it’s nuts! This passionate speech by Michael C Thompson says it all.

In recent decades, we have become used to the politically correct phrase ‘sure all children have a gift’. All children may have at least one thing they can master. But this is a different concept. ‘Giftedness’ is about how well and how quickly they master something.

Myth 4: Gifted children are anti-social/unsociable. If they just mixed in school, everything would be fine…and if they stopped using big words things would be better.
Many gifted children have no difficulty fitting in socially. Indeed, many are gifted leaders. However, many struggle and have difficulty making friends. Social skills have to be learned and while most children have the opportunity to learn and hone these skills on a constant basis by interacting with like-minded peers, gifted children, because of their advanced intellectual ability and interests, may have less opportunity for practise. Parents and teachers are often suprised at how well their “socially challenged” child does when in a group of other gifted children who share the same interests and way of thinking. Here are some helpful articles on the subject:

Myth 5:
a)He can’t string two sentences together, he’s not gifted.
Not all gifted children are verbally advanced. It is possible to be gifted and have a speech difficulty which may reflect an issue such as an Auditory Processing Disorder or Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Some gifted children are very eloquent and can speak at length about advanced ideas but, when it comes to putting their ideas on paper, little happens. This can be for a variety of reasons including Specific Writing Disabilities in Intellectually Gifted Children. In addition, exceptional visual-spatial ability involves a way of thinking which may preclude the sort of sequential thinking required to do well in written tasks involving memorisation…the very “skills” rewarded in school exams. The Identification of Gifted Students with Spatial Strengths: An Exploratory Study.

b) Have you seen his handwriting?
A significant number of gifted children have dreadful handwriting. Some, because their thoughts flow too fast for their hands to keep up. Some gifted children may have dysgraphia: I Can’t Write.

c) And…he can’t spell….he must be dyslexic, not gifted.
Gifted children may also have dyslexia. They are not mutually exclusive but can often mask each other: Stealth dyslexia

Myth 6: He’s not gifted, his homework is never complete and he never makes an effort at it. If he put the effort in he might enjoy school and get good at it.
There are a number of reasons why a gifted child’s homework may be incomplete. These include a learning disability, disorganisation, perfectionism, and a lack of challenge:

Perhaps we should stress homework a little less anyway!: Homework: No proven Benefits.

Myth 7: We have lots of gifted children in our school and all our teachers are qualified and so can teach these children.
You may have lots of gifted children in your school but, unless it is a school exclusively for gifted children, they will, by definition, account for only 3%-5% of your students. Your teachers are, undoubtedly, qualified to teach. However, if they did their pre-service training in Ireland, they will have received no training in understanding or teaching gifted students. At the moment, there are 2 sources of CPD for teachers who wish to learn about this specialist area:

The Australian Department of Education also offers CPD modules in gifted education which are free to download.

Myth 8: I cater for gifted children in my classroom – I get him to teach the other children.
It can be beneficial for a gifted student to teach* a classmate on an occasional basis (*as opposed to participating in group work). However, expecting a child regularly to spend time teaching material which they themselves have already mastered, is of no benefit to that child. It ignores their right to an “education appropriate to their ability”…a right laid out in the Education Act of 1998. Gifted children are just as entitled to intellectual challenge as any other student. Indeed, a lack of such challenge can lead to behavioural issues, lack of motivation, underachievement and even dropping out of school.

Myth 9: And sure, when he’s finished ‘helping’ me teach the other kids, he can teach himself. He doesn’t need me.
Firstly, gifted students may not be gifted in all subjects. Secondly, as mentioned under Myth 8, gifted students are entitled to and need challenge appropriate to their needs, just as any other student. Without appropriate challenge, gifted students often fail to develop good study habits, which can cause problems for them later in their education.

Myth 9 also ignores the wisdom with which a teacher can mediate a gifted child’s learning. It is important to remember, that while a gifted child may have an adult-like intellect, emotionally they are still a child and need an adult’s help in making sense of many of their learning experiences.

Myth 10 – We can’t provide for him because not everyone could avail of it so there would be no equality, which would not be fair.
Following that logic, is learning support for those with ASD or dyslexia unfair because not everyone can avail of it? Surely, it is only fair that each child should be helped to achieve to the best of their ability, whatever that ability might be? What about Equality of Challenge? As a society, we are happy to support and encourage excellence in other areas such as sport and music. Why is it so difficult to accept that some kids are more academically able than others and to support and encourage that talent? (Irish Talent Development Programmes). It is important not to equate ‘equality’ with ‘sameness’. ‘Fair’ means treating everyone according to the circumstances in which they find themselves so that they have the best opportunity to fulfil their potential.

Some other mythbusting collections:

by Peter Lydon

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Change a life – Twice! | Gifted and Talented Network Ireland
  2. Change a Life – Twice! | Gifted and Talented Network Ireland
  3. #edchatie ‘Challenging Gifted Children in the mixed-ability classroom’ |

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