In an era of testing, accountability, and declining school budgets, many gifted programs have been viewed as ornamental and in a fallback position to core disciplines.

The prevailing notion is that because gifted children possess superior intellectual ability, somehow they will learn on their own and become successful. Often, the school’s educational priority rests on those students who are at-risk or who require academic intervention services.

Some gifted children are cast in the role of a teacher to assist others academically in group activities. Moreover, the concept of a differentiated classroom is still a work in progress. Gifted students are in need of particular attention because of their unique academic, social, and emotional needs.

What are the characteristics and educational needs of gifted children?

While guidelines are not fixed, gifted youngsters are generally identified by high scores on standardized IQ tests, strong personal interests, and superior school performance. They are generally working a minimum of two years above grade level and require a different curriculum. Cognitively speaking, gifted students assimilate and master skills quickly. It may be difficult to keep them focused because they become easily bored if not challenged. Interested in a wide variety of topics and activities, gifted children often master what they think they need to know, and then move on to the next task. Sometimes, gifted youngsters become perfectionists on a favorite topic and will work on one detail of a project just to perfect it.

One of the most interesting misconceptions about gifted students is that they have advanced abilities in all disciplines. On the contrary, some may show a disposition for the arts, while others may be gifted in the sciences. Additionally, some students who are gifted in a particular subject may not have realized their full potential because of the manner in which the class was taught.

A steady stream of worksheets, lectures, and test preparation materials for state assessments may result in fatigue, boredom, or oppositional behavior, and hold a gifted student back from realizing his or her own potential. Multiple options and a challenging, stimulating curriculum are important because creative and critical thinking skills are highly developed.

Giftedness may be viewed as the other side of special education because the intellectual superiority of the student may surpass social and emotional skill development. Gifted youngsters may have difficulty in dealing with stress. They are extremely sensitive to criticism and peer rejection because they may be viewed as a “know-it-all.” Gifted children may have difficulty collaborating in a group if other members of the team don’t share their opinion. They have unique ways to solve problems because they see what others may not see. It is for this reason that gifted students may challenge authority if they believe that the authority is wrong.

Highly sensitive about humanitarian concerns, gifted children have an intense focus and need continual stimulation. They often see the absurdities of certain situations and other classmates may not understand their humor. For all of the above reasons, gifted youngsters may feel isolated and different in a school setting. They need to have the opportunity during the day to be with other students who share their capabilities and interests.

What should parents look for in a gifted program?

Parents should look for programs where the curriculum is written at least two years above grade level. Lessons should be inquiry based with hands-on, performance-based projects that are interdisciplinary in nature where appropriate. A gifted program should emphasize a strong literacy component, critical thinking, problem solving, research, and technology. The program should promote the joy of learning in and of itself in a challenging, but supportive, environment. It should build self-esteem, confidence, and camaraderie. A broad range of subject matter outside of the standard core curriculum should be offered. Gifted classes should be limited to 20 students whenever possible and staffed with teacher assistants.

Parent workshops are an integral part of a gifted program. These special sessions led by psychologists explore a variety of issues, including social, emotional, educational, and family concerns. The workshops provide a dialogue so that parents of gifted youngsters don’t feel alone. In a collaborative, nonthreatening environment, parents explore ways to guide their children in realizing their hopes and dreams.

Parent workshops provide research and resource materials in gifted education. They cover appropriate protocols in how to ask questions and seek advice from the school, how to advocate for children, and how to foster a productive home and school connection. All parents want their child to feel valued, relate to others, feel understood, and be part of a community. A quality gifted program within or outside of the school assists in this endeavor.

Gifted education stimulates the pursuit of higher level goals through learning experiences geared for children with superior intellectual ability. It increases self-awareness by promoting realization and acceptance of one’s capabilities and interests. Finally, a gifted program focuses on leadership development and the opportunity for students to relate to each other intelligently and socially. Gifted education does matter!

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