Why Primary Teachers Need to be Trained to Work With Gifted Children


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.

4 thoughts on “Why Primary Teachers Need to be Trained to Work With Gifted Children

  1. I’m just going to add that when you’re working with students in some socio-economic categories, it’s frustrating to be a teacher because you struggle to get any support from parents and caregivers. Conversely, there are times working with gifted students that the parents are just as difficult as the students. Having had a tough evening, I’m going to get right on this bandwagon and vent a little.

  2. I found your post enlightening! The first step to making change is understanding the challenge. After spending the last 13 weeks in 2nd grade I have a new perspective on your posting. I do have a few students that fit in this highly talented academically category (going to the AAP center next year). It does make it hard as a teacher to understand why a student doing work grade levels above still had trouble with other items. “Uneven development” helps me put a new perspective on this issue. I also think this would help parents better understand the big picture with this knowledge. In my experience, parents who see gifted traits in their child assume that means they are gifted in everything.

    Additionally, I think the issues of you gifted students with uneven development you bring up also been seen in 2E children. It is hard for many people to understand how a special education student could be in a gifted program. Both 2E and the issues you bring up in your post make educators focus on how the student learns at a variety of levels. Does low level learning in one aspect offset the gifts that might be present in another? Can we as educators figure out how to provide extensions in the areas of shown talents while still servicing the areas of need given the constraints of time and resources we live with?

  3. Thank you for your post. I had not heard of this questionnaire, so I look forward to look into this with more detail. As a fairly new teacher, I want to say luckily I have not been mean or frustrated with the gifted students often, but here are some of the challenges I have faced. I am so happy that the know the information, but the problem is not always calling on this kid with the answer. You want to be an equal opportunity hand caller, so when I always see the same kids raising you hands, I pause for a moment – not to deny the child the opportunity to talk, but rather to provide a moment for the other children to think. I try to always thank all of the children for raising their hands so they do not feel like it was a waste to raise their hand to share their information. I can completely see your point regarding their energy level, there are some that you know their brain is moving so fast and can understand why they burst out the answer, but you also want to help them learn the appropriate times to express this information. Ultimately, I agree with your post because I am managing the best I can, but I know I need to do better. I am in a slightly unique situation with seeing the students once a week in a Specials area, but it is never ok to say “there is not the time to give this student what he/she needs.” For instance there is a 1st grade student that has been sharing with me the conductive materials he has been testing to create a circuit for a homemade light and switch. A 1st grade student is doing more than some of the 4th grade students (the age I normally do this unit), and I need to remember to listen to what he is sharing to not snuff that excitement.

    I think it could be a potential outlet for even the primary grades to have clubs at the school for the students to join. In many areas the clubs are for older grades, but it could be just as much as an advanced opportunity for the younger students.

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