Gifted Students: Common Traits & Misconceptions

Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

Gifted students bring a myriad of opportunities to their educational experience. They are from varying socio-economic backgrounds, and they often experience uneven growth in social, cognitive, and physical development. We will look at the truths and the misconceptions that surround the gifted student in the classroom.

What We Know About Gifted Students

The gifted student brings unique energy to the classroom, along with a wide variety of characteristics that often play a role in the efficacy of their education. Gifted students come from all cultural, socio-economic, and ethnic backgrounds.

It is critical to keep in mind that because gifted students often experience uneven development in key areas, such as the cognitive, social, and physical development. Therefore, we need to consider the whole student when formulating a game plan for their educational experience.

Gifted students can have wide and varied interests, or they can be extremely focused on one area of interest. They can be highly sensitive emotionally and learn material easily and quickly. We often see that students who are gifted have acquired language at an accelerated level for their age, and their vocabulary is stronger than what is considered age appropriate. These students often teach themselves to read and write while in preschool; their acquisition of basic skills is a strong suit.

When you are dealing with students who are gifted, it is not unusual to find that they have a sense of humor that is not typical for someone their age. In keeping with that level of sophistication, they may also be interested in political issues and concerned about social issues. It should come as no surprise that these students tend to present with a sense of justice that is highly sensitive.

With their vivid imagination, their tendency to ask questions that reach far below the surface, and their ability to tackle abstract concepts, it is no wonder that teaching gifted students requires you to be on your toes.

Myths and Misconceptions

There are many myths and misconceptions about the gifted student, especially when we look at the classroom setting. Often, this group of students is the most misunderstood in the education system.

Myth #1: Gifted Students Can Learn on Their Own

Many educators believe, for example, that gifted students can do just fine learning on their own because they are curious self-initiators.

The truth of the matter is, just as a pastry chef who is learning to make French macaroons needs the guiding hand of an experienced and accomplished pastry chef, a gifted student needs the guidance and direction a talented, engaged teacher can provide. It is true that gifted students have innate ability, but just like any ability, it needs to be fostered and developed in order to reach its potential.

Myth #2: Gifted Students Know All the Answers

Some people assume that gifted and talented students know all the answers to the questions asked in class.

While this group of students is incredibly able, we have come to realize that they will frequently only engage with material that they find interesting. If the material is boring to them, then the gifted student will not make much effort to learn what is being presented. The challenge this presents for the teacher is one of awareness. It is important to pay close attention to the questions the student is asking to ascertain which subjects are naturally engaging and which ones are not. You will need to help the gifted student learn to find engagement in topics they don't initially find interesting. This can often be a challenge.

Myth #3: Gifted Students Are Easier to Teach

Many people think that gifted students are easier to teach than mainstream students. Because they have issues with authority, and their ability to 'turn off' and 'tune out' when they think something is boring is finely tuned, teaching these students means you have to work harder. You may have to present concepts in as many different ways as you have students. You will need to be flexible and willing to change your methods on the fly to meet the needs of these gifted students.

Myth #4: Gifted Students Are Always Happy and Popular

Of course, many gifted students are happy and popular and thrive in the school environment, but sadly, this is not the case for all. Some gifted students do not share their classmates' interests, and they are often left out and alone. In this case, school becomes a place of torment rather than enjoyment. Gifted students may view the world differently than their classmates, causing school to be a tough row to hoe.

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