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-

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Little sympathy for failing students

I wonder how it is possible that schools accept students into the Gifted and Talented program without educating the parents about the meaning of giftedness or high intelligence and the problems that can arise. These two different characteristics do not always coincide in an individual but when they do, beware! Such a child and yes, adults also, will have a much greater challenge ahead to find meaning in this world. They experience the world in a qualitatively different manner from others and often are critically aware of things that others don’t see or brush off as unimportant.

Their perception and analytical thought process coupled with intense feelings can make them feel quite alone and even "alien" in this world. Some will experience chronic mental anguish throughout their lives. The stress of not finding peace of mind and of spirit puts them at risk for depression and despair. I believe that students who possess these two traits are the most at-risk of failing in our schools.

It’s a wonderful experience for me to volunteer in the GT Office at my son’s high school and come face to face with these students who harbor so much potential and appear to be so full of zest! Yet, it’s equally disheartening to see how some of them have become disappointed with school, and even worse, with themselves.
It strikes me as odd how many GT students do not possess an appreciation for their talents, strengths and interests and often feel insecure about themselves. Maybe they, just like society, believe that in order to be gifted you have to accomplish great things. If you don’t you are simply not gifted!

Pervasive lack of understanding for their needs by teachers and society alike, cause a lack of sympathy for them when they fail. The faulty conclusion that they are lazy robs them of their academic self confidence and even more unforgivably, of their self esteem as well. If they cannot find unconditional acceptance and support from their families or friends depression and substance abuse can follow.

For these students alternative schooling, including the GED exam, is and should remain an option which should be presented to them, their parents and also to the community in a positive manner so that students feel comfortable to pursue such option without shame or loss of self-confidence.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Don't ignore signs of unhappiness

It took me too long to realize that being intellectually gifted can be more a burden than a blessing. As a parent I marvel at my daughter's capabilities and intellect. Up until 9th grade she was a straight "A" student, but then her grades started falling dramatically. Since coming to a new town, starting midway through 6th grade in a new school, my daughter had not been happy. She had no friends who were mentally her equal or classmates by whom she felt understood. School too had become uninspiring.

Though seemingly coping for all that time, the burden, of not being accepted and resenting school ever more, became too heavy to bear. She slipped into a depression and confided to me she had considered suicide!! After one of her frighteningly dark moods I could no longer sit back and hope things in school would improve, so I acted and wrote a letter to all her teachers to share about her situation.

After several conferences and continued persistence on my part she was screened and qualified for special education and an individual learning plan was developed. My daughter was to get differentiation of homework and assignments, but the intervention came too late. Due to incomplete homework she had already failed a total of five classes which included honors geometry. She took that course again during summer school, and finished two weeks early with an "A". The teacher was in awe about her math capability and did not understand why she was in his class in the first place!

It should not come to a crisis before teachers are willing to differentiate, or for parents (myself included) to take action. I have learned, almost too late that as parents we need to be alongside our gifted children every step of the way to support and speak out for them! Parents as well as teachers need to be sensitive to the early signs of stress so that a full blown depression can be prevented.

Talk to teachers until something gets done for your child! Start a support group in your school for parents of GT identified kids to exchange experiences. There is strength in numbers. Together parents can think of solutions or compromises for the problems gifted kids may encounter. Don't hesitate to meet with the Director of Elementary, Secondary or Gifted Education when there's a problem you feel is not getting resolved!

Become visible and show that your child's education and well being is important! No child, gifted or not, should be ignored when school performance falls.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Talents need nurture and practice

I believe that everyone is born with talents that lie dormant. It is only in a nurturing and stimulating environment that they can rise to the surface. A child who has no continuous access to pencils and paints may enjoy drawing very much, but will not be able to practice enough to truly excel at it.

If the child does have the necessary tools, in addition to a great love for a particular interest, he will likely enjoy practicing it. It is probably no accident that gifted children, whose accomplishments are often far above the norm as compared to those of their age mates, actually do practice that talent a lot more. It's as if they are driven to do so and it often turns them into perfectionists.

So, if a lot or maybe all of it depends on strong interest and practice, it may be no wonder that among gifted children there's only a small percentage who manifest as geniuses or prodigies. As Joseph Joubert said "Genius begins great works; labor alone finishes them."

First posted on the Prufrock GT Blog - Apr 29, 2005.