Saturday, March 17, 2012

What Does It Mean To Be Gifted?

I get this question a lot and attend trainings where sometimes I don't always agree with the answer the presenter gives. It amazes me how many different ways various states and districts determine this status. Some places accept portfolios, some it's straight testing. We test our 4-year olds with an oral administration of 2 different tests and if they don't qualify then they can apply the following year using standardized test scores. Other places, they don't allow an identification until 2nd Grade. Some places have IEP's for GT students to ensure they have modifications. You would think with all this "standardization" going on, there would be a specific method.

One of the biggest myths I hear on a daily basis is that Gifted and Talented labeled children are academically superior. We take Stanford testing right after Thanksgiving in Kindergarten (roll eyes-I know!). Even though the kids are in roughly the 3rd month of Kindergarten and the reasonable expectation of scores would be K.3 for grade equivalency; since many of mine are already labeled GT, they are expected to get one whole grade level above-1.4. So, I'm being asked to teach a year and half's curriculum in 3 months, simply because these kids passed the test to qualify for GT. My typical class doesn't begin the year reading in Kindergarten(although I do usually have a few kids who are advanced in that area) and they certainly, in many cases, haven't been asked to think before. It takes a long time to get past the mundane answers and I still struggle with that. (We did an activity last week that asked them where the light comes from on a firefly-several kids answered with: their behind).

Anyway, from my experience:

1) Kids who are truly gifted just "get" it. I was once reading a story and the Georgie's friend wanted another boy to join their lemonade selling. Georgie didn't want him to. When I asked why many kids gave answers, but one student got it-he was jealous, he didn't want to share his friend. That's deep thinking for a 5-year old.

2) They are thoughtful. We were at dismissal one day and the custodian was changing the words on the marquis and one of my kids asked, "are those letters magnetic?". He's thinking about how those letters are sticking on there (and honestly, I had to ask, because I didn't know how it worked).

3) Many kids have a very quick grasp of vocabulary-they will use words that they have been taught, and use them correctly. One of my absolutely favorite teaching moments was reading Charlotte's Web and this little girl graduated to middle school last year, so it was awhile back. Let me preface this by saying, I always encourage the kids to ask what a word means. I also will often say, oh I love how the author used that word, did you hear that he said it the light "flooded the night". I was reading about that beloved spider and one of the kids raised her hand and said, "Miss Trayers, I love that word--marvel". I was touched, they are listening! Of course, I said thank you, that's a wonderful observation and then on a daily basis someone would raise their hand and say "I love that word--bread". But they got the point.

4) Although I've seen my share of underachievers, most have a yearning to learn. They can apply what they are learning in a real way-not just regurgitate it for an answer on a test, but really take what they've learned and create something new and different. When we read Legend of the Bluebonnet this year, I asked the kids to write about a toy they would give up and what would grow when they planted it.

5) Very sensitive. We have daily drama when someone doesn't know the answer on the test or I have to simply talk to someone about not doing that behavior again and the flood gates open.

I also once had a student I truly believe was GT, who decided to put a small pebble up her nose during recess. One year a student purposely got on the wrong bus because the other one seemed like more fun. I caught 2 boys wetting toilet paper and throwing it on the ceiling of the restroom one year, so it would stick there (our very tall custodian needed to use some critical thinking on that one to figure out how to get it down). One of our older GT students was overheard the other day asking when Saturday tutorials were. :) They don't always have common sense to go along with their natural abilities.

My point is there is no tried and true test. In my experience, I've never seen a checklist that I wholeheartedly agreed with. Just because a child is advanced, doesn't mean they are GT. Just because a child is below average academically doesn't mean they are not. There are many different ways a child can be gifted and we need to make sure we are challenging the ones who need that challenge, so they will work up to their potential.


  1. My 2nd graders have a problem with not being right all the time - not getting a 100 on everything.

    I found telling them, if you are getting every answer right all the time then you aren't actually learning anything. The only way we learn is if we make mistakes.

    That helped most of them but this post by Neil Gaiman really struck a cord. They refer back to it all the time.

  2. I love this entry! I've been teaching TAG kindergarten for 7 years and it's nice to find other teachers who have grappled with the same questions and challenges this unique bunch offers. One of the trickiest challenges I've experienced involves writing motivation and risk taking. How do these little dears get it in their heads that something bad will happen if they spell something incorrectly (and lol how would they even know it!)
    Thank you for making this blog... I love reading it and feeling re-energized to teach.

  3. Great entry. As a parent of a child labeled as gifted, what I have observed is ability to just get it most of the time. Sure there are skills that do not come seemingly naturally to him (act of actually writing w/pencil), but there are skills that truly he teaches himself. Always, looking at things and though not an out-loud why kid, he certainly comes up with some divergent thinking and will back it if needed:)I love to watch him problem solve- he thinks so differently:)

  4. I think GT kids also make connections that aren't typical of their peers. Once when we were talking about a shark's tooth falling out and another moving up to take its place, the five year old pre-kinder said, "Like a vending machine. One falls out and another moves into the old spot."

  5. Thank you so much for your comments! What bright kids we work with! I really appreciate your insights and suggestions.

  6. @ Brandy: Yes! Making connections is one of the biggest differences between my child and his peers. He sees connections that I don't see let alone another child.

  7. How wonderful that your district has entire GT classes! I am reaching out to you for advice. I have been wondering what to do; where to turn for help. My first grade daughter took the Naglieri this year and scored in the 99th percentile. Last year she scored in the 96th and no further testing was done, nor any identification done. Each year only a brief letter merely saying the test was given and a results paper has been sent home. So this year I asked the teacher about it and she said we could contact the counselor about it. So I did; she said the assistant principal is in charge of further testing and that she would contact him for us, or we could contact him ourself. I emailed him asking what the next step would be and he has yet to contact me. This was over a month ago!
    I work in a small Texas district. Her first grade teacher told me they don't do anything for identified kids below 3rd grade except differentiation in the (regular ed) classroom. That is somewhat disappointing. What's even more disheartening is that I know that Texas law states these kids must be served if identified and I can't even get a follow up to her 99th percentile testing. I have my 30 hr GT training from the district I used to work with. I know what can happen if these kids aren't challenged.

    Do you have any ideas? Who I should talk to? What recourse I might take? Thank you for any help.


  8. Amy-It sounds like you have a very bright daughter there. It makes me sad when GT kids are ignored in the process in ways special education children never would be (they are also exceptional, just the other end of the spectrum). Keep pushing that administration to complete the process and stay on top of her teachers making sure they are doing projects with her and maybe independent study assignments because she's getting old enough now to be able to complete those things in class on her own.

    I find that there is a big disconnect sometimes when it comes to doing what's right for these kiddos. You need to continue to advocate for your little one, as it sounds like you have been doing. I should be more familiar with the laws of identification than I am. Maybe TAGT can help point you in the right direction of something you could use to educate your admins of what is required.

    I wish you the best of luck and really applaud you for trying to keep your kiddo challenged! Keep us updated on what happens.

  9. Sorry, but I still don't see what identifies a child as gifted. My child does many of the things you suggest but I would never call him gifted. Does the testing cover creative pursuits, emotional capacity, or physical spatial awareness?

  10. Well, like I said, just sharing my experiences.

    Our testing covers spatial relations and tests to see grade equivalency for academic knowledge. Creativity doesn't come into play at all for us-which is why I do believe there are some kids who are truly gifted, but may not be academically gifted who are passed over. I had a student once who was incredibly bright, but I believe dyslexic. He was no longer considered GT after 1st Grade because his reading grades fell behind.

    I was trying to show that it isn't always about the academics, especially when you are talking about young children who often haven't been taught yet.

  11. I laughed out loud when I read, "They don't always have common sense to go along with their natural abilities." - SO TRUE!!!!! My daughter is gifted, and statement sums up so much of my experience with her (she's 6.5 years) - I think it's that asynchronicity, where they're so advanced, intellectually, but emotionally, they're still more their age, and so they don't have the life experience to tell them how to apply what they know intellectually...Example: my daughter backs away if I'm holding a pair of scissors, a knife, a sewing pin (!), or if a candle on a birthday cake is lit!!! It's like, she's over-analyzing what *could* happen, if "A,B,and C" occur. But is so overwhelmed by that aspect, that her common sense doesn't kick in and tell her how ridiculous it is to think that me holding a sewing pin is in no way dangerous to her...sigh :)

  12. Right!! That is sooo true! It's like 2 different parts of their mind can't work at the same time.

    The other day going through the cafeteria line, they had put a dispenser on the rail the trays go on because they didn't have enough room. My students just stood there, not knowing what to do. Hello? Go around it! They can discuss ethics of a character or the art of Van Gogh, but can't figure out how to get around a little obstacle like a ketchup dispenser! :)