The Gifted Elementary Pupil

Gifted childAt #gtie on Sunday 6th January, we discussed “Understanding and providing for the Gifted Elementary Pupil“. There many views and resources shared and I hope you will find the summary below useful. Many thanks to those who participated. The questions addressed were:

  1. What does a gifted primary school/elementary pupil look like?
  2. What is the best way for teachers to ‘spot’ a gifted elementary pupil?
  3. What behaviours would a teacher see in an un-recognised gifted child?
  4. What can primary/elementary teachers DO to help gifted children ENJOY school?
  5. Any specific thoughts/idea for primary/elementary school teachers?

Q1: What does a gifted primary school/elementary pupil look like?

When asked to identify the gifted students in their classroom, teachers often point out those who pay attention, stay focused, do their homework and know the answers to most questions. These are the bright students and they are a pleasure to teach. They may or may not be gifted.

Gifted children generally start school full of anticipation and excitement. Unfortunately for many, they quickly find that it does not live up to expectations. Far from being a place to learn, it turns out that they already know far more than everyone else and they are expected to sit quietly while the rest of the class “catch up”. While many cope with this discovery reasonably well, all too often, it can result in behavioural problems, both in the classroom and outside it. Some may become bored, frustrated and disruptive. Others will withdraw, underperform and may even become depressed.

These behaviors are not only a problem for the teacher but, if not correctly diagnosed and thus appropriately addressed, can result in great and long-lasting psychological damage for the child. A child labelled as having nothing but problems from an early age will develop a very negative self-concept. It is very important that, even if not formally identified through assessment, these children are spotted and supported appropriately by their teachers from an early age.

High Achiever, Gifted Learner, Creative Thinker by Bertie Kingore, is a great starting place.Bright,Gifted, Creative

Q2. What is the best way for teachers to ‘spot’ a gifted elementary pupil?

The single best way to ensure this is for teachers to have some training in the field. As Minka Dumont (@minka_dumont), gifted education specialist in the Netherlands, said: “’Identification’ is not a ‘verb’ you can sit and do ‘once a year’. Teachers need training and knowledge, to create a rich environment for talents to flourish. Teachers should recognize and adjust lessons and program accordingly. Too many teachers want a quick fix – one tool to ‘get’ the gifted kids and the one resource to give them to enrich the lesson. It doesn’t  work that way”. What is becoming increasingly clear, is that the knowledge acquired by teachers training the field of gifted education, will benefit every child in their class, not just the gifted ones.

So, where can teachers learn more?:

How to Spot a Gifted Student  This chart is an excellent starting place where  “Positive traits are included along with those behaviors that may frustrate you as a teacher. If a student in your classroom exhibits these characteristics on a consistent basis, there is a good chance he or she is gifted.”

Also extremely useful are the Revised Profiles of the Gifted and Talented in which George Betts and Maureen Neihart set out in a very clear chart, six different types of gifted student with their various traits and needs. These profiles were also presented in the NCCA Guidelines on teaching Exceptionally Able students.

In “What Have We Learned About Gifted Children?”, Linda Silverman draws on 30 years of experience at the Gifted Development Centre. This article is extremely interesting and will help teachers to better understand the gifted students in their classrooms and how they might best help them. Particularly useful is her Giftedness 101 which serves as an excellent introduction to the key topics.

Teacher, Ian Byrd, who hosts the wonderful Byrdseed Gifted website, has compiled a collection of the best lists of characteristics. You need look no further than this!

Our own Peter Lydon has written this Introduction to Gifted Children.

Q3. What behaviours would a teacher see in an un-recognised gifted child?

Much of this is covered under Q2, with Bett’s Profiles recommended as the best reference.

Most children develop evenly physically, emotionally and intellectually. Hence, we can refer to the typical development of say, a five year old. One of the hallmarks of a gifted child is asynchronous development, meaning that each facet of their make-up develops at a different rate. They may be five years old physically, eight intellectually and four emotionally. When this is not understood, it can lead to difficulties. This child may take in information at the level of an eight year old but not have the emotional ability to deal with it, leading to confusion and distress. They may have the ideas of an eight year old but not the physical ability to carry them out, leading to frustration. Even to the fully aware, when they speak like an eight year old, they can fool us into thinking they are eight and we can fall into the trap of expecting them to behave like an eight year old in terms of behaviour and judgement, when they are actually only five. The greater the discrepancy, the greater the likelihood that they will struggle to fit in in the mainstream classroom.

Experience and Processing: The Funnel and Cylinder Analogy of Giftedness by Shulamit Widawsky gives a good idea of the implications of the emotional difficulties of asynchronous development.

One of the behaviours of most concern would be depression. In Depression and Gifted Children, Maureen Neihart points out that it is not thought to be more common in gifted children but that “gifted students, who have few opportunities to build relationships with true peers, are especially prone to social isolation.” It is important that this is not missed or mistaken for a child simply being a loner or anti-social.

In The Forgotten Children, Lynette Radue gives an interesting account of what she has learned about the importance of identification of and provision for gifted students in early education.

Q4. What can primary/elementary teachers DO to help gifted children ENJOY school?

  • Differentiate instruction where possible; for example, using more challenging exercises.
  • Don’t give extra work (more of the same) as a ‘reward’ for finishing first; give different or deeper work.
  • Take small groups for more advanced work if Learning Support/Resource teacher is available for general class support or vice versa.
  • Help them progress their learning rather than stopping once they have reached a curriculum target.
  • Don’t single out a child that would make them “teacher’s pet,”. Every child has their worth on their terms.
  • Don’t compare them to the other kids – or the others to them!
  • Find out what the pupils enjoys, how they learn & what they’d like to learn going forward. Dinosaurs can be used to teach dinosaurs – but also to teach maths, literacy, story telling, art, music ad infinitum
  • When I taught regular class I always felt I was failing the G&T kids in my class. It’s very difficult to organise but even recognition works wonders.
  • Look for levels of conversations for verbally gifted, advanced block building projects, etc.
  • Offer them choices so they can take some control of their own learning. This approach  encourages independent learning and ultimately can make the teachers job easier.
  • Ideally, design an appropriate IEP with the child, focusing on strengths but also areas of weakness. Establish goals.
  • Every child loves ‘show and tell’ days when it is about something they love.
  • Recognition/validation alone can make a huge difference to a gifted child’s school experience.
  • Many children respond much better to being talked to ‘plainly’ rather than childishly.
  • Begin dialogue with parents, also…get them involved in tracking student’s work, effort, interest, etc
  • Parents are partners after all – no worries about pushy parents when the need to be pushy is removed.
  • Get the support of the principal.
  • At very least, ability-group young gifted if they remain in the regular classroom. Ability grouping is the gold standard in provision. Ability grouping is not streaming.
  • Never substitute extra-curricular activities for classroom entitlement to an appropriate education.
  • Independent study is a boon for gifted children.
  • Teachers should consider joining gifted parent groups when available. Creates goodwill and understanding by all stakeholders.
  • ‘Subjects’ I ‘teach’ in my gifted classes are ‘learning to learn’- ‘learning to think’ and ‘learning for life’ (metacognition). It entails everything. I think whole curriculum could be fitted in these three. Would be good for all children, I think.
  • Resist the wedge others drive between parents and teachers – unite to improve students’ school experience.

Particular Resources

Several resources were recommended, the best starting point probably being The Dos and Don’ts of Instruction: What it Means to Teach Gifted Learners Well  by Carol Ann Tomlinson for the NAGC.

One of the best books is Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom: Strategies and Techniques Every Teacher Can Use to Meet the Academic Needs of the Gifted and Talented by Susan Winebrenner.

Teaching the Gifted from the Ontario College of Teachers.

Lesson Plans and Resources for Teaching G&T Students

Teaching Gifted Students Through Independent Study by Johnsen and Goree

Differentiating the Elementary Curriculum for Gifted Mathematics Students from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, USA.

The Differentiator, Ian Byrd’s easy-to-use tool for differentiating lessons/activities.

Macom Intermediate School District’s Gifted Education section

Clear Creek ISD Gifted Program Referral Handbook

@cybraryman1’s Gifted Education page.

Q5. Coming to the end of the hour – any specific thoughts/ideas for primary/elementary school teachers?

  • Reading all this makes me realise how badly our kids are let down. All this knowledge available, but little implemented in Ireland.
  • When building your personal learning network (PLN), consider adding gifted education resources/teachers.
  • TEACHER – that kid that looks like a ‘loner’ or ‘anti-social’ may in fact be experiencing isolation; help them please.
  • More professional development is needed & more support between teachers, collaboration with parents and G&T children is essential.
  • Consider doing the ICEPE online course in Teaching G&T Students and come to #gtie on Sundays!

Teachers in Ireland who have any questions about this content should feel free to email

by Peter Lydon & Catherine Riordan


  1. I love your ideas and really enjoyed your post. It is so important to find challenging activities for gifted students. Early college is one that that has received results. My son is gifted and he really gotten a lot out of Bard College at Simon’s Rock.

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