Educating the Gifted and Talented

“People should be free to find or make for themselves the kinds of educational experience they want their children to have.” -John Holt-

Friday, March 17, 2006

Perfectionism hard wired into gifted individuals

Not all students who excel are intellectually gifted, but along with a drive for high accomplishment usually some other characteristics of giftedness surface as well. Many gifted individuals have an urge to do things perfectly and can obsess at length over making even the smallest mistakes. They tend to minimize accomplishments and maximize their flaws.

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, author of the book The Gifted Adult, says perfectionism, intensity and drive are traits that are hardwired into gifted individuals. Their strong sense of how things should be all too often translates into a personal fear of falling short and can lead to procrastination. An example is when students barely study or when they can not bring themselves to hand in homework that's incomplete, even if it means zero points are factored into their grades! The reasoning that they could have done better if only they had spent more time or effort, helps save face. It’s painful and embarrassing for them to try their best and then getting a grade that’s below their expectations.

Praise in a gifted child’s young years for easily "earned" A's rather than for learning more difficult material can lead to disillusionment and failure in school. It confuses these children to receive compliments for something they themselves do not consider to be extraordinary. Constant praise makes them think that when real effort is required to learn something new they must not be as capable as they thought. Research has shown that gifted students who do not receive any academic challenge do indeed lose self confidence and self esteem!

Many gifted students of all ages want and need school work that’s more intellectually demanding but quite a few do not choose accelerated classes in high school. They fear such courses are difficult and could result in a lower grade point average. When grades are average teachers and parents all too often begin to think the student is lazy. Worse, they may even wonder if the student is gifted!

As long as giftedness remains equated with genius and excellence gifted kids are robbed of the right to simply be human and to make mistakes. The reality is that very few gifted individuals develop into genius and it’s a big misconception that gifted kids always excel or learn without problems. Just as other students of more average intelligence gifted kids should receive support and understanding when they falter or fail. Along with academic adaptations they especially need support and guidance to deal with their concerns and perceptions regarding learning and living.

Gifted individuals often experience intense anxiety and impatience. Their minds may stay so active that falling asleep can be a problem, especially when intensity translates into vivid imaginings of all sorts of worry. In school they may seem uninterested and bored, something which often stems from lack of proper mental input. It's difficult for gifted kids whose brains are literally "geared" for faster processing to adjust to a slow pace of instruction or to a curriculum that offers them no interest or real life relevance.

Stephanie Tolan, author of young adult and children's fiction, compares gifted children to cheetahs, the predatory mammals built for speed. She says a cheetah in a zoo is still a cheetah even though it’s kept from moving fast. So it is with gifted students whose minds do not get opportunity to kick into high gear because the material is too easy.


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