Don't Gifted Children Play the Guitar and Sit in Their Seats!?!
Last week, I spoke with a friend of mine who was in the middle of finishing two weeks of teacher orientation. On one afternoon, the teachers at her school heard a presentation about gifted children. During an afternoon break, one of my friend's table-mates commented that she imagined most gifted kids would be able to play the guitar because she only knows one gifted person, and he plays the guitar with great skill.
Another teacher explained how shocked she was to learn during the previous year that one of the boys in her class was gifted. She was shocked because "he never sat still." How could you be gifted and be out of your seat so much?
Then, last week, CNN posted an article by a free-lance journalist titled, "Is Your Kid Really Gifted? Probably Not."
The money quote from this article was:
"Gifted" has become one of the most tossed-about words in the parenting lexicon. Unfortunately—sorry, but let's get this out of the way right up front—it's also one of the most misused.
While there were many things about this article with which I disagreed, I did think this one paragraph held much truth. There is no end to the misceptions about who gifted kids are and how best to serve them.
Even among experts, there is some disagreement. Currently, there is a solid debate raging on in the gifted education community about whether we should only identify gifted kids who are performing at high levels or whether we should include kids who show potential for high performance, but do not yet (and may not ever) exhibit it.
The most infuriating aspect of this discussion is that giftedness exists along a continuum of human performance and ability. There is not a single agreed upon "line" we can draw that says, "on this side of the line you are gifted, and on that side you are not." Anytime a school or counselor makes the decision to label a child gifted, there is an element of the arbitrary in that decision. A couple of years ago, Prufrock posted an article titled "Definitions, Models, and Characteristics of Gifted Students" by Dr. Susan K. Johnsen. I invite you to read this article in its entirety. The article offers an overview of the many ways giftedness has been conceptualized and the many characteristics of gifted kids.
The article explains that there are many types of gifted individuals. For example, some exhibit gifted abilities and exceptional intelligence in many areas and some tend to exhibit gifted abilities in only specific subject areas. In other words, what a gifted child "looks" like can vary as much as snow flakes.
For example, Dr. Johnsen explains that kids with exceptional general intellectual abilities might exhibit the following characteristics to a high degree:
- Has an extensive and detailed memory, particularly in an area of interest.
- Has vocabulary advanced for age—precocious language.
- Has communication skills advanced for age and is able to express ideas and feelings.
- Asks intelligent questions.
- Is able to identify the important characteristics of new concepts, problems.
- Learns information quickly.
- Uses logic in arriving at common sense answers.
- Has a broad base of knowledge—a large quantity of information.
- Understands abstract ideas and complex concepts.
- Uses analogical thinking, problem solving, or reasoning.
- Observes relationships and sees connections.
- Finds and solves difficult and unusual problems.
- Understands principles, forms generalizations, and uses them in new situations.
- Wants to learn and is curious.
- Works conscientiously and has a high degree of concentration in areas of interest.
- Understands and uses various symbol systems.
- Is reflective about learning.
On the other hand, according to the article, a child with exceptional talent in the specific subject area of mathematics or science might exhibit the following characteristics:
- Is interested in numerical analysis.
- Has a good memory for storing main features of problem and solutions.
- Appreciates parsimony, simplicity, or economy in solutions.
- Reasons effectively and efficiently.
- Solves problems intuitively using insight.
- Can reverse steps in the mental process.
- Organizes data and experiments to discover patterns or relationships.
- Improvises with science equipment and math methods.
- Is flexible in solving problems.
The point I would like to make in this blog is that being gifted may look quite different from one child to the next. A little less overconfidence in our clarity about who the gifted child is and is not might be helpful as the school year begins. Let's keep that idea in mind as we look for those kids who might need special gifted education services.
Now, if you don't mind, I believe I will go back to sitting still while I play my guitar.