Tag Archives: school

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!

Organising the Gifted but Scatty

I wrote this post for Dazzled and Frazzled at the start of the new school year back in 2011. The same issues come up time and time again at support group meetings, so I felt it was worth re-posting! 

Do you have one of those kids who lives in a world of their own much of the time, completely oblivious to the passage of time; who needs constant reminding to “put the other sock on and finish getting dressed”; to “never mind that the dog’s water bowl is empty, you have five minutes to eat your breakfast and get out to school”?

Does the start of the day go something like the version on the right below?

Getting Ready for School Flow Chart

llustration by Buck Jones, used with the kind permission of Allie Golon of Visual-Spatial Learners

You finally get them out the door and are just recovering when you spot the Irish homework that was slaved over for hours the night before, sitting on the table. Or the text arrives to say “I’ve forgotten my maths book”, “forgotten my lunch”, “forgot there was P.E. today”…and so begins that inner battle: if you constantly bail them out they’ll never learn, so you should let them suffer the consequences of not planning ahead and paying attention, versus the gut feeling that they really can’t help it and will be devastated to turn up in class without all the right things. 

In my experience there are some kids who, by suffering the consequences of their actions or lack of them, will quickly learn to be better organised. However, there are some who really do have genuine organisational difficulties related to what are known as executive skills deficits. No matter how hard they try, they always struggle to be organised. They know this and it frustrates them, causes them distress and makes them feel useless.

Sometimes the issue is just delayed development of executive skills, sometimes it’s ADHD, sometimes it’s that your kid is a visual-spatial learner. Whatever the reason, recognising for themselves the tasks with which they struggle and learning how to best to work around the problem is something that will stand to them forever. Plenty of scatty, disorganised people go on to lead productive, creative and fulfilled lives. For them to be left to constantly mess up or to have you forever picking up the pieces for them is hugely damaging to their self esteem and will delay their independence. The trick is to get the balance right between being supportive and allowing to learn by failure.

As a parent, I have found it helpful to avoid comparison of my children’s progress in this area with that of other children of the same age. My goal is to ensure that, by the time they reach adulthood, they have learned to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible and are ready to leave the nest. In the meantime, they may need a little more support than their peers, but it’s not a competition. It can also be helpful to discuss the problem with your child’s teachers so that they understand and can work with you. It is absolutely vital that your child is included in the process so that they take responsibility for their own progress and learn to advocate for themselves as they get older.  

Here are some tricks which help them to cope better.

Getting out in the morning:

1. Mornings are usually hectic and full of distractions, so pack your schoolbag and look out all your clothes before going to bed the night before. Use the school timetable to check off what is needed.

2. Set a timer in your bedroom to go off when it really is time to be dressed and ready to go for breakfast. (To begin with, mum may need to pop her head around the door at intervals to make sure progress is being made. Don’t bite it off!)

3. Follow a routine and do everything in the same order so you don’t leave anything out.

4. No TV or other distractions!

5. Have a mental checklist of the essentials and go through it before you leave. Schoolbag, lunch, money, bus ticket…whatever you need, but keep it short or you’ll forget items. My own list, which I automatically recite on my way out the door, is “keys, money, phone”. (and now also glasses :-()

In school:

6. If you have a homework journal, USE IT. If you don’t have one, get one. Write in, not just the homework given, but when it is due and any other special announcements. eg If the teacher tells you there is a test or you must bring in a particular item next Wednesday, write a note in next Tuesday’s slot to remind you

7. Colour code your books. You can buy sheets of coloured stickers in various shapes and allocate one to each subject eg red circles to maths, blue squares to English etc. Stick these to the spine of all your books, copybooks included. Then, when you look into you locker, you will see quickly which books you need for each class…provided you take the time to keep your locker tidy.

8. Colour code your timetable to match the book system.

9. Make lots of timetables. Stick one where you do your homework, one in the kitchen, one inside your locker. Make a small one, laminate it and keep it in your pocket.

Most importantly:

10. Accept that this is not your fault and, once you are doing your best, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you keep working at it, after a while, these habits become automatic and you will find life much easier. Some of us spend our whole lives using to-do lists and little tricks to keep us on track.

Further reading for the frazzled: 

School and the Gifted Child: A Blended Solution

This is an account of the school experience of one member of our community. Unfortunately, it will resonate with many. Happily, they have found a novel solution which works for them and we thank them for sharing it with us.

Goldfish jumping from small crowded bowl to larger less crowded oneThe biggest favour the school ever did us was to tell me my child was “retarded”.

Sorcha was six and a half and I had been short-listed for a job that would see us moving abroad. The school I wanted her to attend had sent a form for her current teacher to fill in. (In the end, I didn’t get the job, but the insight I eventually got into my child was far more valuable). On this form, Sorcha’s teacher highlighted her concern with Sorcha’s ability in the areas of maths, language and social skills. According to the teacher, Sorcha was ‘markedly developmentally delayed’ in these areas.

Two things about this shocked me; firstly, this was Sorcha’s third year in primary school – and she’d spent a year in a reputable Montessori preschool before that. Why, if she was so profoundly unable to cope, had no one brought it to my attention earlier?

Secondly, this issue was brought to my attention a month after Sorcha had figured out how to do division in her sleep. She woke up one morning and said ‘Mum – you know the way multiplication is just adding, but loads? Well, there must be a way of doing take-aways like that as well, because….’ and she proceeded to tell me what she’d been doing in her sleep – which was division.

How, I wondered, was it possible for a child who had that capability to be worryingly weak at maths? Then, I thought, that maybe ‘normal’ children were able to figure division out when they were only three or four years old.

Feeling guilty for failing my child, I decided it warranted further investigation. Somewhere, I had heard about the CTYI http://www.dcu.ie/ctyi/index.shtml‎ and I learned, from their website, that were testing children a fortnight later. I decided to book Sorcha in for testing so I could determine how far down the scale from ‘normal’ she was.

When the test results came back, they indicated that Sorcha was, actually, highly intelligent and she was invited to take part in CTYI classes. Armed with this information, I decided it was time to have my daughter more comprehensively assessed.

I contacted Nicky O’Leary who ran a series of psychological tests and conducted an assessment based on feedback from both Sorcha’s teacher and myself. Dr O’Leary confirmed that Sorcha was at the high end of gifted and made a number of suggestions with regard to how Sorcha could best be helped. The school, unfortunately, refused to engage. The principal refused to honour her promise to carry out the recommendations of the educational psychologist ‘to the letter’.

The final straw was when my daughter confided that going to school made her want to ‘make myself die’. I removed her from school and registered to home school her.

We spent a marvellous year together working from home. I was lucky – I was doing an MA myself, so was able to devote the time and energy necessary to Sorcha. Quickly, I found out that she is a a very independent learner and all she wants to is to be allowed to learn.

Part of the reason that homeschooling was such a success for us is that I knew it was only for a year. I had already secured her a place at the John Scottus School. Very candidly, the school principal cautioned me that there are certain children for whom school is not the answer – that certain children need to be educated outside the formal structure of an establishment. Still, Sorcha had a trial day at the school and loved it.

We were delighted when she started school in September. It’s a 50km round-trip, but its worth it. My daughter’s confidence has increased to the extent that, as one of my neighbours said, ‘it’s like someone has turned a light on inside her’.

Sorcha, however, only goes to school three days a week. For the other two days, she attends The Rye Institute in Maynooth. There, she is tutored – at her own level – in science, maths, English and Spanish. The difference this has made to her is immeasurable. It is a perfect solution. For three days a week, Sorcha is with children her own age, and with whom she can talk about all the things that interest nine year-olds. The other two days of the week, she is working on her novel, reading Shakespeare, learning a new language, working her way through the junior certificate maths curriculum and figuring out how to do things like extract DNA from a cell.

My child is the happiest I have ever seen her. She is receiving a properly rounded education; Her intellect is being stimulated and she has friends of her own age to talk about her love of pugs and recent movies. She is confident and engages with life in a way I never thought possible – full of mischief and joy in equal measure.