In my county, gifted students aren’t officially identified until February of second grade. Following identification, they don’t start an accelerated program until third grade. This is too late for gifted children to reap the full benefits of acceleration, but that’s another story. Today I am talking about how gifted children are viewed by their very first teachers. The dirty secret of educators of our youngest children is that they disdain precocious learners and often don’t know how to meet the needs of the academically gifted student.
I’ve been an instructional assistant in a mixed age kindergarten/first grade classroom for the past 9 years. I’ve worked with teachers of varied personalities and a wide range of experience and almost all, myself included, have had difficulty working with profoundly gifted children. I’ve thought a lot about why we are often irritated with gifted children. Why all the eye rolling??
One aspect of very young intellectually gifted children that many primary teachers don’t understand is their uneven development. Profoundly gifted children can often read fluently, or do high-level math, yet may not have completely mastered toilet training or cannot hold scissors and cut the correct way. This is a source of frustration to many teachers. It is a challenge to prepare academic work to challenge the mind of such a student while still teaching him or her the basics such as how to use materials and get along with classmates. Teachers need more training in the uneven development of very young gifted students and how to meet their needs. These unique minds need to be challenged while their immature bodies catch up.
There are specific personality traits, unique to gifted children, that teachers should be aware of. Not only are the gifted intellectually advanced, there is often an intensity and energy about them that can mimic ADHD. In researching the psychology of gifted children, I have learned about the Overexcitabilities Questionnaire. There are 5 categories of Overexcitabilities developed from Dabrowski’s (1964) concept of development potential. The questionnaire is a way to identify and look at traits that many academically gifted or highly creative people possess. These areas are: Psychomotor, Sensual, Emotional, Intellectual, and Imaginational. People with these traits are highly sensitive and may be impatient or have a low frustration threshold.
Some of the time, parents create a situation where they are so officious about their child’s giftedness that, as a teacher, you want to prove them wrong. When faced with these pushy parents, the natural reaction of many teachers is to find and highlight the child’s mistakes and immaturities, and to say sarcastically to colleagues, “Guess what my gifted student did today??”
Gifted children can be the most challenging students. However, they can be an asset in the classroom and can be a joy to work with. Training is desperately needed for the teachers of our youngest gifted students so they can be treated with kindness and helped to blossom socially, emotionally, and intellectually.