Fort Worth, Texas,
07:19 PM

Your child is gifted, but what does that mean?

Masters in parenting series from The Doc Smitty

This post was inspired by a podcast I listened to from Slate. You can find the episode here:

Your child is gifted because every child is gifted.

But wait you say, my kid struggles in school and barely gets by. I even tried to get them in the gifted program at school but they didn't get in.

Gifted education generally focuses on a select few students to give them a unique educational experience in an effort to foster their unique intellect or creativity. Students can be identified based on several criteria, but usually center upon some combination of the following: IQ testing, achievement or end of year testing, parent and teacher evaluations. The parent and teacher evaluations are based upon a child's ability to show behaviors that are consistent with giftedness - creative thinking and intelligence, early language development and deep exploration of particular topics are just a few of the criteria that might be used.

Gifted curriculum tends to be more focused to the individual child's interests and abilities and tends to allow for more creativity and differentiation based on ability. There is often a component of an affective (teaching about emotions) and cognitive component (teaching children how to think rather than what to think).

Some educators have questioned the paradigm that we should identify students as either gifted or not and have begun instead to focus on particular gifted behaviors that any child might possess. A group in North Carolina set out to see what happened if they treated all kids as if they were gifted.

The Study

The program was called Project Bright IDEA and was run in low-performing and low socioeconomic school districts and included about 10,000 Kindergarten and first graders. The two researchers, William "Sandy" Darity and Margaret Gayle, set out to see what would happen if all the teachers in these schools were taught strategies for gifted education and began to implement them throughout the school.

The Results

After three years in the project, 15-20 percent of third graders in the schools were identified as gifted compared with 10 percent of control schools. Of note, in the year prior to the change in educational styles (2004), in the Title 1 schools involved, there were no third graders identified as gifted. The researchers state that by changing your outlook on students (thinking about and treating them like they are gifted), you are actually causing more of them to be identified as gifted.

One of the biggest things noted by the educators in the schools is how it changes the way they think about their students. They begin to change their own expectations and beliefs about what the students are capable of. Subsequently, many of the students seem to rise to those expectations.

The Point

It would be great if we could adopt the changes that were made in these schools across the board, but that will be difficult and expensive. I'm skeptical of how they are going to keep up the extra training necessarily to sustain these programs even on the scale that they have done them. However, we can make these changes in our homes in a way that nurtures gifted behaviors in our own homes.

Here are some suggestions on how to do this based upon some of the tenets of gifted educations:

1. Affective curriculum (emotions and interpersonal skills) - Read books over and over again. But don't read them the same way. Stop and ask questions. Ask how a particular character in the book might be feeling and why. Have your child make a face that matches how that character is feeling. It makes for some pretty funny selfies BTW and you can use the selfies to reteach later.

2. Acceleration - There's no reason that your child has to learn everything at the same pace or at some expected pace for their age. Your child might not understand numbers at all but might be reading well above his or her age level. You can't completely ignore math, but you also can't completely ignore reading just because it is one of their strengths. Find them a computer program that focuses on their strength or find a teacher that teaches students older than them that is willing to work and challenge them to advance in their strengths. You'll be surprised where it will take them and this area of success will give them confidence to tackle anything that is put in front of them.

3. Differentiation (provide your child with different opportunities and ways for learning new things) - Find out what is available in your area that gives your child different ways to learn new things. Many children learn best by doing so classes and instruction that involves hands-on activities can be very helpful. This doesn't have to be expensive; libraries, the zoo and many other low cost options offer simple, brief learning opportunities that will stick with your child for a long time.

4. Foster their interests  -If you child likes dinosaurs, let them learn through dinosaurs. Think about all the things you can do with dinosaurs along the way ... Learn the alphabet by writing letters on plastic dinosaurs: Can you hand me the dinosaur with the A on it? Later, can you hand me the dinosaur with the letter that says, "Ahh?" You can count dinosaurs. You can add up two piles of dinosaurs. You can read books about dinosaurs. You can go to museums with dinosaur exhibits. You can watch movies about dinosaurs (within reason). You can learn about fossils and herbivores vs carnivores ... I could keep going, but I won't because I think you get the point. This is the biggest thing I can give you to take away that gifted educators do well. They capitalize on the child's interest to push them further than anyone thinks they can go.

Let me give you an example: My 4 year old would look at flash cards (all by himself) for hours when he was 2. He would see the flash cards on the $1 section at a store and beg for a set of number cards (not to mention we already had six at home). My 2 year old won't touch flash cards. If he even sees the 4 year old with a set we start hearing, "I don't have to." Or my favorite old ones, "Don't want it, do cards!!" What my 2year old will do is count if he's throwing a ball. With a little help, he'll count to 100 every single time he throws the ball back and forth with dad. So, guess what? We do a lot of throwing and catching in our house. 100s and 100s of times (literally).

With generous oversimplification, the study says that by doing these things with your children, they are more likely to be identified as gifted when the time comes ... but that's not the point. The point is that you are using some of the best evidence and teaching strategies that help your child learn and develop well.

About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joined Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.