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Debunking 10 Big Myths About Gifted Kids

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Here are myths about gifted kids and some realities, based on years of classroom observation and interaction with teachers who work with them.

Myth 1. Gifted kids learn easily.

The reality: Learning is a fantastically complex phenomenon, and while gifted kids may learn differently from others, they certainly don’t learn easily. Many wrestle with curiosities that are so intense and standards that are so high that frustration becomes their constant companion. It’s not uncommon for gifted learners to dissociate from the discomfort of learning that often plagues them too, and this is typically misinterpreted as apathy.

Myth 2. Gifted kids perform at the top of their class.

The reality: Sometimes, gifted kids perform at the top of their class, but this is hardly the rule. In fact, many gifted kids struggle to sustain their energy for the assignments that are imposed upon them.

Myth 3. Gifted kids are envied and revered by their peers.

The reality: Gifted kids might struggle to collaborate with peers who do not share their interests and those who cannot meet their standards. It isn’t uncommon for gifted kids to see their world through very different lenses and to make meaning from it in ways that their peers cannot appreciate. This can make it difficult to fit in.

Myth 4. Gifted kids are served well by enrichment programs and activities.

The reality: Contrary to what many assume, gifted kids need learning scaffolds just as much as others do, but those scaffolds need to look very different. For instance, some gifted kids have an intellect that outpaces their emotional development. They understand things that their hearts are not yet ready to grapple with. In these instances, the scaffold must attend to their psychological and emotional development rather than potential gaps in knowledge or skills.

Myth 5. Gifted kids are the byproduct of certain kinds of parents.

The reality: Some gifted kids are the product of helicopter parents. Some are the product of supportive parents. Some of the product of disengaged parents. Some are the product of neglectful parents.

Myth 6. Gifted kids are people pleasers.

The reality: I know many gifted kids who present as introverts. They aren’t shy, but they aren’t quick to seek out approval, either. Many gifted kids hang back and wait to get the lay of the land before they engage. They also try to get a read on how others will engage them, too.

Myth 7. Gifted kids enjoy school.

The reality: In fact, many hate school and their attendance records prove it. Many gifted kids thrive when provided choice, opportunities to engage in self-directed inquiry work, and the chance to find and sustain a tribe of like-minded friends.

Myth 8. Gifted kids are confident.

The reality: Gifted kids often feel as if they do not fit in, as if their peers and teachers do not understand them, and as if the learning they are doing will never quite satisfy their needs. While some are capable of advocating for themselves, many do not, and it is not uncommon for their struggles to inspire two types of reactions: acting out or apathy.

Myth 9. Gifted kids stand out in a crowd of classmates.

The reality: It can be difficult to recognize gifted learners, and multiple measures are needed in order to make clear determinations. Kids may be particularly gifted in one domain rather than others, and academic performance is not always a clear indication of giftedness.

Myth 10. Gifted kids make the best leaders.

The reality: Sometimes, gifted kids make great leaders, but this isn’t always the case. Gifted kids can often be single minded in their pursuit of learning, it is not uncommon for them to want to go alone, and for some, their struggle to fit in and the anxieties that are a common byproduct of giftedness stand in the way of their ability to lead.

Do these indicators suggest that gifted kids are doomed to a life of struggle, despair, or loneliness? Not at all. When parents and educators work with gifted kids to define who they are and what they need, their learning experiences are often shaped in ways that leverage their strengths and provide just right scaffolding.

How well does your system do this, though?

What conversations should we be starting?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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