by Katie Nicol | SchoolAdvice Consultant  | [email protected]

What About The Exceptionally Gifted Students?

Education is about learning and yet there has been a tendency to spend a lot of time discussing education as a system while never discussing the actual learning that should be taking place.

We make very poor use of our talents. Many people go about their lives having no sense of what their talents may be and questions whether they have any talents at all. This in turn, encourages people to make very poor use of their talents. Many people, adults and children alike truly believe they may not be very good at anything. How has this become so pervasive?

Human talent is tremendously diverse. Education tends to dislocate people from their natural talents and human resources are like our world’s natural resources, they’re buried deep. Natural talents are not found just lying around on the surface. We have to create the circumstances where these natural talents or human resources can present themselves.

Education is more than just passing test scores and graduation. Education is about what these things mean to the outcome of human lives. As teachers, educators and school administrators we need to begin to bring the human part back into education. 

Who is the Exceptionally Gifted Student?

The whole nature of an exceptionally gifted student, is quite different than that of a regular student. In fact, just like the students who are diagnosed with learning disabilities and whose needs are most often not met inside the classroom, the exact same thing can be said for the exceptionally gifted student. This population of students is also underserved and even more so, unnoticed. These students are often not appropriately challenged at school and are assumed to be able to achieve on their own without much instruction at all. But to what detriment? Are we stifling their own academic and personal growth because they think and process information differently than their peers of the same age group? How we do we create appropriate learning circumstances so these students can also continue to develop their natural talents?

Gifted children demonstrate intense focus on topics of interest.

Exceptionally gifted students are those students whose cognitive processing and memory capacity far exceed that of the average student in their age group. 

When these students are not challenged appropriately, their behaviours and their interactions with their peers will be affected as well.  These students who are forced to stifle their love of learning in an inhospitable environment may withdraw or develop behavioural issues, which in some cases manifests into psychosomatic symptoms such as underachievement and/or poor self concept. 

How to Engage the Exceptionally Gifted Student in Learning?

Many studies suggest that full time gifted programs are the most effective learning environments for the exceptionally gifted learner. When students are not presented with learning experiences appropriate to their abilities, they lose motivation and sometimes even their interest in learning and school.

Gifted kids communicate understandings of abstract ideas.

Brain based research indicates that learning takes place when students abilities and interests are stimulated by the appropriate level of challenge. So, when the content is deemed suitable for the grade level but is too easy for the gifted student, these students will not be engaged and will therefore not be learning. When learning situations are not sufficiently challenging, the brain does not release enough of the chemicals needed for learning: dopamine, noradrenaline, serotonin, and other neurochemicals. In this situation, there is little to no growth or development happening.

Why Have Targeted Programs for Exceptionally Gifted Students?

President John F Kennedy: “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents”. 

The goal of creating programs for the exceptionally gifted student is not to create a form of educational elitism, but rather to meet the learning needs of the exceptional child. When exceptionally gifted students remain in regular classrooms without being challenged cognitively, they tend to develop elitist attitudes and opinions based on their perceptions of being quicker to learn and more knowledgeable than their peers of a similar age group. They’ve not had an opportunity to be challenged in their learning.  

Gifted students are also highly sensitized to their surroundings. They are consumed by the world they live in and are passionate in their desire to improve the world and solve human problems. Given this, these students also have a tendency to find it difficult to connect with their peers in a typical classroom setting. We can see many of these students looking to conform with their peers by no longer putting in effort in their learning. 

Gifted kids, if distracted, are likely to return to a task quickly with or without direction.

In general, most schools are not equipped to deal with these type of gifted students. Moreover, teachers and administrators are not informed about the interventions which benefit these children, such as radical acceleration and full time ability grouping. The range of abilities and types of learners in a typical classroom setting is so wide and varied, most students get lost, especially the students who don’t have issues getting passing grades. 

Exceptionally gifted students are in no way superior to others. They show great potential just like many other types of learners and students, but who also require a different approach to their learning. We must be responsible for creating the conditions under which these students will begin to flourish.  

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