Monthly Archives: October 2013

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?

Gifted: Who You Are or What You Do?

Nature Vs NurturePart 1: An outline of the models. Part 2 will be my own analysis.

Ask ten experts for a definition of “gifted” and you’re likely to get eleven different answers. It seems that no one can pin it down. Which doesn’t help us much in our quest for support for gifted students. We’re not off to a great start when we can’t even explain clearly what we are talking about!

Broadly speaking, it seems we have two concepts of giftedness: a. Gifted as child development and b. Gifted as talent development/achievement. These almost divide along the lines of nature vs nurture in which the nature side says that gifted children are born with different wiring and undergo asynchronous development; gifted is who you are. The nurture side says we are all born with pretty much the same potential and, with the right environment, almost anyone can become gifted; gifted is what you do.

First, let’s look at the concept of giftedness as a difference in child development, the psychologist’s viewpoint:

The development of a gifted child is described as asynchronous, meaning that their intellectual development is advanced but their physical and emotional development is not. These aspects are out-of-sync and a gifted child may be “many ages at once”.

But hold on, it’s not as simple as that! They process information differently, often seeing the bigger picture very quickly and appreciating depth and complexity beyond what would be expected for their age. It is also a widely held view that gifted children have a higher likelihood of having several of the over-excitabilities as  described by Dabrowski. They experience the world around them differently and more intensely than others.

You cannot separate out the emotional, intellectual and physical into distinct parts of a child’s development. They are all intertwined. So, while a gifted six year old may have the intellectual ability of an average twelve year old, they do not have the emotional capacity of an average six year old. They perceive and process the world around them differently to the average child, but they are only six, with the life experience of a six year old. It’s all quite complicated!

In Asynchrony: A New Definition of Giftedness, Linda Silverman  describes it as “ being out-of-sync within oneself (uneven development), out-of-sync with age mates and the expectations of the classroom, having heightened emotions and awareness, and being vulnerable, due to all of these developmental and psychological differences from the norm.” The Columbus Group came up with this definition of giftedness back in 1991:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.”

Stephanie Tolan, in Giftedness As Asynchronous Development,  describes how, no matter how we come at it, we inevitably use the externals, performance and achievement, to identify giftedness and to measure it. We then tend to go on to use these external measurements to define the child, so that achievement becomes giftedness. However, she maintains that giftedness is an internal reality and that achievement is merely an expression of it. “Whether or not it finds expression in achievement or unusual performance, the internal difference remains…When we focus only on what gifted children can do rather than on who they are, we ignore vital aspects of their developing selves and risk stunting their growth and muddying or distorting their sense of themselves and their worth”.

Now to the concept of gifted as achievement, the educationist’s viewpoint:

This concept maintains that giftedness is all about talent and its expression. Identification is centred on identifying talent by means of rating scales, checklists, tests, portfolios or auditions. A recent position statement from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) in the US, defined giftedness as follows:

“Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports).”

This view is further described by John Feldhusen in Talent Development in Gifted Education. In summary: “The ultimate goal of talent recognition and development is to help students understand their own talent strengths and potentials, to know how to pursue and engage in the best talent development activities, and to commit themselves to the development of their talents”

In Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education by Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius and Worrell,  it is stated in conclusion that “Eminence should be the goal of gifted education”

In the UK, they also seem to be heading down the talent development road, with the NAGC/UK having recently rebranded itself as Potential Plus UK . It is all about support for children with “high learning potential”, although they do continue to recognise and address the unique social and emotional issues.

In Ireland, where the needs of gifted children are barely recognised at all, any model at all would be a good start!

Wicklow/South Dublin Support Group

Meeting at the Glenview Hotel, Glen of the Downs

 Tuesday 15th October 2013


The topic for discussion is “Gifted Children and Emotions”. We will be having our usual informal chat and catch up too and taking a look at how we run the group and what changes, if any, people would like to make. So, please come along, share your experience and add your suggestions. New members always welcome.

GAS Wicklow/Dublin picture

You will find us in the library. Turn left just before the stairs in the foyer. The door to the library is just after the lounge.


CTYI Parents’ Groups

Coffee at CTYI

CTYI/Letterkenny: A new CTYI term and lots of new faces! A group of parents got together this morning and went to Costa Coffee in Letterkenny for a chat over coffee. It was great to meet new people and hopefully everyone enjoyed the opportunity to chat and share our experiences. We had a change of venue as the canteen in LYIT was closed. Apologies to anyone I didn’t manage to speak to but hopefully we can meet up next week. Perhaps if anyone interested in going for coffee would like to meet at the front door after dropping the children off, we can go from there. Please come along. It was very informal and just gives us all a chance to meet others in similar circumstances! Hope to see everyone next Saturday! I can be contacted on Edel

CTYI/NUIGalway: Parents had coffee and a lovely chat at the Kingfisher Club while their children were at classes this morning. However, the Restaurant, down the steps directly opposite the entrance to the Arts Millenium Building, looks like a more suitable venue. So, from next Saturday, we will meet there instead. Watch out for the speech bubble logo when you are dropping your child off, or pop over to the restaurant and find us. We covered all sorts of topics today, from school woes to laundry tips, and the time flew by! Don’t worry if you don’t have a child attending classes this term. You are still welcome to drop in and join us between 10am and 12.30pm. You can contact us through