At one time or another, you might have wondered if your child is gifted. Maybe your son can identify all the birds in your neighborhood. Or maybe your daughter is already reading at age 4. How can you know for sure if your child is an exceptional learner?
The truth is that in any classroom, there are probably one or two children who are gifted in at least one subject.
Additionally, there’s another handful of children who are eager, bright learners, but not gifted by academic definitions.
Just what is a gifted child? Educators have wrestled with the definition for decades, but there is agreement on general traits.
The National Association of Gifted Children says, “Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of competence in one or more domains.” Gifted children have high intelligence as measured by standardized testing. They learn easily and remember well. They have large vocabularies and grasp abstract ideas. They’re often creative and may be seen as leaders. They may excel in the visual or performing arts. They’re often ahead of others in hands-on physical skills.
If you’ve noticed advanced learning patterns in your child, you may want to do a little systematic information-gathering to identify aptitudes. Here are some ways to begin putting the pieces of the identification puzzle together.
Behavior at Home
Children are usually most comfortable at home. Here they will “be themselves.” Does your child have endless questions? Does he search out answers through books or hands-on experiments? Is he learning to read easily and quickly? Does he use words above and beyond his peers? Is he very aware of information presented by adults, and can he engage in a conversation at their level? Does he have a vivid imagination and a keen sense of humor? Does he make an effort to record information, chart or graph it? Map it? Does he create new worlds filled with characters? Can he lose himself in books?
Many children do some of these things. The gifted child will live in a world of heightened awareness and consider questions the average learner doesn’t. Advanced learners enjoy working independently, often for a long time. They enjoy freedom to explore, make connections and add to their knowledge base. They’re excited by intellectual challenges.
Success at School
Many gifted children excel at school. They get the highest grades, do the best work and “stand out” from the crowd. Sadly, some gifted students don’t function well in the rigid classroom structure. They may seem disinterested or uncooperative because they need freedom to learn in their own unique ways. Teachers quickly pick up on advanced reading and writing ability and on logic and reasoning above the norm.
It’s important to distinguish between the bright learner and the truly gifted learner. This chart, created by Dr. Diane Heacox, an expert on gifted education, compares the learning styles and abilities of each.
- Knows the answers
- Has good ideas
- Learns with ease
- Copies accurately
- Absorbs information
- Pleased with perfection
- Enjoys sequential learning
- Enjoys peers
- Answers accurately
- Asks the questions
- May have wild, silly ideas
- Already knows
- Creates new designs
- Manipulates information
- Can be self-critical
- Thrives on complexity
- Prefers adult company
- Discusses in detail, elaborates
From the teacher’s perspective, a gifted child can present a challenge. Even extending lessons may not be enough to meet needs. The gifted learner is beyond the group, probably isn’t motivated by grades and learns information in one or two hearings. She will be frustrated by moving one step at a time with slower learners.
If you believe your child is gifted, you may want to pursue testing and other means of evaluation. Schools generally have set schedules for administering standardized tests to identify their gifted population. Screening may begin with an intelligence test, but will often include surveys completed by teachers and parents, anecdotal information and portfolios of completed work. In some cases, the surveys will ask for information that gives a child gifted in specific areas such as music and art the chance to shine.
Don’t be disappointed if your child goes through a testing process and is determined not to need a gifted learning environment. In truth, bright children experience the most success in their traditional classroom setting. They enjoy learning and don’t deal with the challenges of the gifted population. Your goal is to know your child and to support his or her learning journey. You can find more helpful information from these websites: gifted-children.com, gtworld.org and hoagiesgifted.org.
Jan Pierce, M Ed, is a retired teacher and freelance writer.