While all learners are unique, gifted students are especially so, scoring in the top percentiles on intelligence and/or academic achievement tests, demonstrating advanced abilities in the classroom and/or exhibiting precocity beyond their years in global areas such as leadership, creativity or oratory. According to the National Association of Gifted Children, approximately five percent (i.e., three million children) in the United States are considered gifted.
The advanced cognitive and/or scholastic abilities of gifted learners are fueled by their desire to cultivate an extensive knowledge base and deep understanding of topics near and dear to their hearts. As abstract thinkers and problem-solvers, gifted learners value logic and precision, and are frustrated when contending with anything less. Their tendency toward perfectionism and self-criticism sometimes impedes production and appropriate risk-taking. Many gifted students entertain concerns and interests of a global nature (e.g., civil rights, war, world hunger) which are not shared by their same age peers and contributes to their being considered as “oddballs,”geeks” or “show offs.”
While society often expects gifted individuals to demonstrate consistently high levels of functioning across cognitive, academic, social, emotional, attitudinal, behavioral and physical domains, this profile is exceptionally rare and far from the norm. Misunderstandings and misattributions result when these unrealistic expectations are imposed on gifted individuals, often to the latter’s detriment. The child whose brain processes ideas with the speed and efficiency of a Maserati engine but labors with a hand that operates like the transmission of a Model-T is deemed lazy or unmotivated. Further rendering them vulnerable to failure are misperceptions about their capacity to be organized and self-directed, to function independently in the classroom with minimal guidance or support and to attend to their own learning without the benefit of the specialized intervention.
The reality is that gifted children are at risk for school failure unless they are taught differently. Optimally, they benefit most from being grouped with others of comparable aptitude in programs that provide intellectual and academic stimulation, acceleration and enrichment. Accepting and addressing their strengths and needs are critical to helping them develop resilience, fulfill their potential and secure their happiness. Left untended, these gifted learners struggle with underachievement, frustration and apathy; simply put, they turn off and tune out.