Jane West looks at some misconceptions about giftedness and how to dispel them.

With new pupils coming into your school, it’s worth having an open discussion with colleagues about the myths surrounding gifted children. It also makes a useful introduction before looking at issues of identification.

They’re boffins/swots/nerds

If you hear these words being used it’s important to challenge them, whether it comes from a pupil, colleague, visitor or parent.

  • As G&T ‘champion’, it’s important to encourage a culture that celebrates all types of achievement and fosters an ethos of ‘it’s cool to be clever’.

They’re perfectionists

Some gifted pupils are perfectionists but not all. In fact, gifted pupils can have poor handwriting and get frustrated because writing can’t keep up with their thoughts. They may, therefore, produce messy or unfinished work.

Others may equate good grades with self-worth and, possibly, fear failure. Help more able children early on to understand that there aren’t always ‘right’ answers.

  • Support class teachers in providing depth, pace and breadth in lessons and also offer a secure environment for pupils in which to experiment and to experience failure.

All children have gifts and abilities

Children are individuals but also differently able; some have the potential to be higher achieving.

  • ‘Potential’ is difficult to identify. One dimension of giftedness is that these children tend to follow their interests more intensely and in greater depth and complexity, whether it’s top trumps cards or marine mammals of Madagascar. These are the ones you would put on your G&T register.

They’re not practical

Like everyone else, some pupils are gifted with their hands and are very practical – some are not.

  • Clumsiness, impracticality, dyslexia and dyspraxia are just as likely to manifest themselves in children who are gifted as those who are not. They are doubly exceptional.
  • Some gifted pupils will mask learning disabilities through high ability in other areas.

They don’t need so much teacher input as less able children

All children need encouragement and motivation and all children need to be taught how to learn.

It may be tempting to use a more able child as a mini teaching assistant and while this can develop self-confidence in some children, if overused, it can lead to boredom and frustration that their own learning needs are not being met.

  • Give gifted children the opportunity to work with their ability peers of the same age.
  • Gifted children may well have abilities that are out of step with their chronological age, but it is not always the answer to have them work with older children who are more mature socially, physically and emotionally.

G&T education is elitist

Education is about appropriate provision and challenge for all pupils, whatever their abilities.

Gifted pupils always like being top

Not if the task is deemed ‘too easy’. Challenge pupils by giving them open-ended, interdisciplinary, or ‘real life’ problems. (If you have a child who will work 20 hours on this type of project, give them a time limit or word limit instead.)

  • Work with gifted children to agree targets so they see that ‘coming top’ isn’t the most important thing. Emphasise personal development and help the child to work on weaker areas, as well as celebrating and encouraging their ability.

Gifted pupils have poor social skills and emotional problems

Children develop at different rates. Gifted children may have ability in one area but have the same set of social skills as their age peers. Having abilities that are out of sync with emotional maturity can lead to a label of ‘emotional problems’.

It’s true that more able children can become frustrated by their gift (and the lack of equal ability in other areas). Encourage and support them through agreed target setting.

  • Many gifted pupils enjoy the company of adults because the language and conversation is more challenging, but also enjoy interacting socially with other children their age.

Teachers like having gifted pupils in their classroom

Very able children can be challenging because they ask awkward questions, go ‘off plan’, question teachers’ knowledge or authority, or who are so far ahead that planning is difficult.

  • Work with schools in your cluster to provide challenge for more able children; support colleagues by helping them plan high ability differentiation with breadth, depth and pace.

Gifted pupils have pushy parents

Any child can have pushy parents. Engage with the parents and child to discuss targets and realistic support from staff in school.

  • If the child has ability in an area not supported by the school (for example, archery), you can help parents by researching local funds/clubs and supporting the child by celebrating their achievement.
  • Some pupils may have parents who are uninterested in, or even fearful of, their child’s ability. Parents’ evenings for your G&T cohort can help as can organisations such as NAGC who offer a helpline for the parents.

Further information

  • Winstanley, C (2004) Too Clever by Half: A Fair Deal for Gifted Children, Trentham Books
  • National Association for Gifted Children www.nagcbritain.org.uk
  • National Association for Able Children in Education www.nace.co.uk

First published in Primary G&T Update, September 2006