Tag Archives: gifted

Every Child is Gifted. Really?

Frazzled looking catMy head is melted! Someone called Glennon Doyle Melton wrote a blogpost called “Every Child is Gifted. Every Single One” which has caused something of a bruhaha in the USA. Numerous gifted advocates have taken to their keyboards in response, with blogposts flowing. Many  other parents responded saying they were moved to tears by the beauty of the article, one going so far as to say it was “the most beautiful thing I have ever read”. Late last night, I got sucked into reading a 765 comment long Facebook status update by the original author. I’m not the better of it yet!

At first, I thought that the problem centred around the use of the term “gifted”. Some use it in a loose, colloquial manner. Others use it in a strict technical sense to refer to those whose ability, particularly in terms of IQ, falls within the top 2%-3% of the population. Within educational psychology, there is no one accepted definition of gifted, which doesn’t help us make our case, but that’s a discussion for another day! Suffice to say that there are frequent calls for the term “gifted” in educational psychology to be changed, but I don’t believe that would make a whit of difference. Had Lewis Terman and Leta Stelling Hollingworth had a crystal ball when they first used the term back in the early 1920’s, they might have chosen differently. However, no matter what term we choose, it will also come with baggage attached.

I have now changed my mind, what is left of it! I believe that the real problem is society’s current obsession with telling every child that they are special. The term “gifted” is just an added complication. If it was considered normal to be average and ordinary, there would be no problem.

Taking the colloquial use, even here, we see several interpretations. Every child is a gift, has a gift, is gifted. There is absolutely no doubt that every child is a gift to their parents. To each of us, our children are special, unique gifts whom we love dearly and unconditionally. They may have a gift in the sense that each of them has strengths as well as weaknesses, something that they do relatively well. As parents, we must spot these strengths and encourage and nurture them. We must raise our children in an environment where they feel loved, valued and safe. However, to me, even in the loose colloquial sense, being gifted implies that you can do something better than a significant percentage of the rest of the population. Statistically, this is just not possible. For there to be a top, say 25%, there must also be a bottom 75%. So, every child cannot be gifted.

Society seems to have developed an overwhelming need to tell everyone that they are special, maybe not as marked in Ireland as it is in the USA, but we’re getting there. We don’t have Gifted and Talented Programmes in our schools, so there is less perceived benefit to being labelled gifted. We are also a nation of begrudgers so, rather than claim that every child is gifted, we are more likely to scoff at the idea that someone else’s is.

Do we really do our kids any favours by bringing them up to believe they are special? By handing out medals for everyone at the school sports day, do we not devalue the winner’s medal? By devaluing achievement in this way, do we not disempower and set our kids up for failure, disappointment and a lack of fulfillment? This commencement speech by David McCullough Jnr sort of sums it up for me and I love his quote “Climb the mountain so that you can see the world, not so that the world can see you”.

It is important to note that, when referring to our children as gifted, we mean in the educational/psychological sense. We aren’t saying that our children are better than anyone else’s or that they will necessarily achieve great things, not even straight A’s. We simply mean that they are different, in the same sense that children at the other end of the spectrum are different and that, because of this, they may need some special support and understanding as they grow up. The educational system, designed to meet the needs of the majority, is not always a good fit for them and, all we are asking for is that they are recognised and supported as they navigate their way through their early lives. Giving them a label is supposed to make it easy to identify them and understand their needs, in the same way as the label “dyslexic” is used to identify kids with dyslexia. Unfortunately, the term that was chosen for us almost 100 years ago, has come to mean something else that is currently emotionally loaded.

In Being Gifted is a Beautiful Mess, teenager Madison Kimrey describes eloquently her experience of being a gifted child. You should take the time to read it.  Every child is not like this. Every child is not gifted.

CTYI Parents’ Coffee Groups

CTYI Saturday classes for 6 to 13 year olds are due to start up again at DCU on Saturday 1st February and at other venues around the country on Saturday 8th.

Coffee at CTYIMany families drop off their children and come back later but many travel long distances to these classes. As explained on our CTYI support group page , these 2.5 hour sessions are a great opportunity for parents to exchange stories and have a chat over coffee. Not alone is it nice for those who are waiting around to have company, but most parents of gifted children run into problems at least occasionally, which are peculiar to their child’s giftedness. At such times, it can be very helpful to meet others who understand the issues and can offer support and advice. We all have a lot in common!

We are currently putting together arrangements to facilitate groups at as many CTYI venues as possible, but the success of each one depends on participation from parents. If you would like to be involved in a coffee group at your CTYI venue, please get in touch either with us directly at info[at]giftedireland.ie or through CTYI who can put you in touch with us.

Teachers Needed for Study of Gifted Education in Ireland


The Irish Centre for Talented Youth (CTYI) at Dublin City University has commissioned the Centre for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary to conduct some research around the area of teaching gifted students in Ireland. This will be the first research of its kind and we hope it will lead to the development of better provision both for gifted students and  for their teachers.

The Irish education system currently makes no specific provision for gifted students. Indeed, the term “gifted” is one often avoided, with “exceptionally able” being preferred by the NCCA when drawing up its draft guidelines in 2008. The fact that gifted education is a distinct area of education and psychology elsewhere in the world is often not appreciated here and, apart from Dr Colm O’Reilly of CTYI, we have no resident experts in the field.

Despite a lack of training, recognition or support, many individual teachers recognise that gifted students often need extra or different support in order to do well in school and are doing their best to provide this within an already hectic system.

We know teachers are busy, but we would really appreciate it if you could help by completing one of the surveys linked to below, one for Principals and one for Teachers. There are no difficult or trick questions, but we believe you’ll find it interesting and thought-provoking. It should take about 20 minutes to complete and the password requested at the start is wm.  It is hoped to have completed surveys back by Friday December 4th.

This survey will be distributed to all schools directly from CTYI shortly. They have asked us to raise awareness of it in the meantime.
Please spread the word among your colleagues.
Thank you! 

Gifted Students in the Classroom?


Teachers occasionally ask us for advice in dealing with gifted or exceptionally able pupils in their classrooms. We are not qualified teachers and we are always conscious that our advice comes with this caveat. However, we have many years of experience as parents of exceptionally able learners and our suggestions come largely from them and what they have experienced, both positive and negative.

Recently we came across a query from a second level teacher about how she could support a student who was clearly ahead of the class by a long way, while still attending to the needs of the other students in her class. Without knowing the details of the situation, our advice would be to start with the student himself. Often, acknowledgement of the child’s ability is a huge step in empowering the student and allowing them to be who they are. Most children can clearly see that in a classroom situation, the teacher has limited time and resources and has to spread his or her attention as evenly as they can. By having an honest discussion with the student in question, the teacher can let them know that (a) they know how able they are (b) that they are pleased to have a pupil with passion and ability in their subject, and (c) that they recognise that they are limited in what they are able to offer within the classroom setting. Never underestimate the powerful message that acknowledgement sends to gifted children. They already know, certainly by second level, that the system is not designed to meet their needs. However, to have a teacher understand their frustration gives that pupil a support that is immeasurable.

Opening up the dialogue with the student means that they have some input into their learning. In many instances, a pupil may have a particular passion for one aspect of the subject. Our own experience would suggest that gifted pupils often feel they have no outlet to express their ability and this can lead to frustration and disillusionment with the education system. By asking the student where their interests lie, both teacher and student may be able to find a way to keep the spark there without deviating too far from what is required in the classroom. In addition, the parents of the pupil may be a valuable resource in supporting enrichment through project work, inter-schools competitions or industry-related initiatives. Parents can be an overlooked asset where gifted students are concerned. They may have resources, ideas or mentors who can further support their child’s ability. Even if they are unaware of their child’s particular proficiency in a subject, they would probably be more than happy to support any initiative the teacher and student might have discussed.

Our experience is in dealing with the student and parent end of the equation, but take it from us, if any teacher contacts us to let us know that they can see a special ability in our sons or daughters and want to support that talent, we’re all ears!

Gifted: Who You Are or What You Do? Part 2

Nature Vs NurtureIn part 1, I outlined the two broad models of giftedness; gifted as child development and gifted as achievement/talent development. Now to air my views!

I can’t help feeling that the move to talent development is partially politically motivated. The term “gifted” comes with a perception of elitism and all sorts of negative baggage. It is very difficult to describe the child development concept to people who have already decided that you think your child is somehow better than theirs and everyone else’s. It can come across a bit woolly and vague.  How much easier and more palatable to sell it as a concept whereby anyone can be gifted, if only they have the right environment? Not only that, but look: we can clearly demonstrate the giftedness and, we will produce the future saviours of the world to boot. That might not only make the educational powers-that-be sit up and take notice, it might even attract funding.

As a parent, I have several issues with this.

1. Where, in this talent development model, is there any recognition for the asynchronous development of my child? Of their inescapable feeling of not fitting in, of being somehow out-of-sync? No matter how you try, you cannot escape this issue. It is one of the first topics that parents will bring up at support groups meetings. And, no harm to all the academics, but we live with these kids. We know how they feel.

2. I absolutely, 100%, believe that each and every child should be encouraged and supported to develop their talent to the full. That, to my mind, is not a gifted thing at all. I would love this approach to be taken in school as a whole and I’m sure my children would have benefited. However, it would not have addressed their different social and emotional needs and it is the lack of awareness and understanding of those which caused most of my kids’ difficulties.

3. I take issue with the idea that it is only the gifted who will be the future leaders and cancer-curers of the world. No doubt, some of them will. But you don’t need to be gifted to do that. You need a certain level of intelligence coupled with drive, motivation and hard work. Many gifted kids don’t have that and may never achieve as highly as we might hope. And, why should they be obliged to save the world anyway? Why can’t they just be perfectly happy, productive and non-eminent members of society? What’s wrong with being a great teacher, paramedic, stay-at-home mother? Why is eminence the be-all-and-end-all of everything?

4. Is the talent development model not, paradoxically, more elitist? In a system where we are cutting funding to education right, left and centre, how much funding will be available for talent development programmes? Will it not be the children of pushy parents with money, who will be most likely to be identified because their parents can afford the extra classes and the best equipment and will do whatever it takes to have their children noticed? Where does it leave the less financially and socially advantaged?

5. Where do the twice exceptional children fit in? Gifted children with a learning difficulty may not be able to perform to the standards required for inclusion in talent development programmes. That’s not to say that they are particularly well provided for as it is, of course.  Just as I finished writing this, the NAGC released a new position statement on recognising 2e children.

Dr James Webb, who is indeed an eminent individual in the field of giftedness, says of the new NAGC shift to talent development, hold on there a minute, you may have missed some of it. It’s not all about talent development. Social and emotional issues are not left out, there just wasn’t room to discuss them in the summary of the paper. Well, to me, the priority was summed up in that statement: “the goal of gifted education is eminence”.

In The Phenomenology of Giftedness , Linda Silverman discusses the child development model of giftedess and outlines its importance and fairness. She warns against “the child being missed completely in [these] performance-driven conceptions”. In this rather scathing article To Be or To Do? Is A Gifted Child Born Or Developed?,  Jim Delisle wonders if, in striving to be politically correct, have we diluted Gifted and Talented education too far.

Most parents of gifted children want nothing more than for their children to grow up happy, fulfilled and independent. Eminence would be nice, I guess (let’s be honest), but it is certainly not our goal. We, like our children, are frustrated by the lack of intellectual challenge offered in school and we believe that it is this lack of challenge which often leads to behavioural difficulties. However, we also recognise that, within the current system, it is extremely difficult for a teacher to meet these needs. I personally feel that, if there was more widespread understanding of the child development theory of giftedness, our children might be less likely to be damaged by being forced to conform to a system that treats all children alike. There is definitely interplay between the two and both aspects are needed,  but I would prefer the emphasis to be on my child’s psychological well being with talent development coming second. 

In Ireland we have no official recognition for gifted children in our education system. We have not adopted any model of giftedness. In other words, we have a clean canvas. In the absence of any central organisation or association, this may be a challenge, but we really do need to get our heads together, assess what has been done elsewhere, decide what would work best here and come up with a plan. If we sit about for long enough, we run the risk of someone else’s model being foisted upon us by some committee on a box-ticking mission. We need input and perspectives from parents, teachers, students and psychologists. Any volunteers?