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Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Debunking Myths and Stereotypes Around Gifted Students

As a parent or teacher, please answer the following questions about gifted students:

  1. Do you believe gifted students excel at academics?
  1. Do gifted students have fewer problems than other classmates?
  1. Do gifted students need less help or instruction than other students?

If any of your answers reflected notions that all gifted students do well in school, are perfect or near perfect, and will be fine by themselves, then I highly suggest you keep reading.

Misconceptions, myths, and stereotypes run abound in gifted education. Research with teachers, experienced and new to the field, suggests widely held views on what constitutes “giftedness” and appropriate methods for educating this group. To preface this discussion, understand that numerous definitions for “gifted” exist (this adds to the complexity of this topic). School districts generally depend on intelligent quotient tests along with other measures, such as behavior-characteristic checklists, to identify gifted students. The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC, 2010) defines��giftedness as follows:

"Gifted individuals are those who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude (defined as an exceptional ability to reason and learn) or competence (documented performance or achievement in top 10% or rarer) in one or more domains. Domains include any structured area of activity with its own symbol system (e.g., mathematics, music, language) and/or set of sensory motor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports)."

When studying preservice teachers’ beliefs, researchers have discovered they sometimes hold negative or damaging conceptions of the gifted. For instance, Olthouse (2014) found that among 124 teachers, most believed that gifted students could easily be identified through exceptional achievement in class. This runs counter to research that shows by middle school, as many as half of gifted students, underachieve in school. In addition, if you consider the NAGC definition of giftedness, a child’s giftedness may not materialize through academics but rather through “non-academic” areas such as sports, music, or the arts. In another study of more than 300 teachers, Siegle, Moore, Mann, and Wilson (2010) found that gifted students who were the strongest readers received the highest ratings in the identification process, though some gifted students may not excel in reading, including “twice exceptional” students, who may possess a learning disability. Troxclair (2013) reported that preservice teachers were largely unsupportive of the needs of gifted learners. For instance, they held non-supportive views of best practices for the gifted, such as acceleration and ability grouping. Based on these findings, Troxclair noted the “need for providing accurate, research-based information to preservice teachers that could lead to the development of accurate cognitive beliefs.…Without the provision of such foundational knowledge in the teacher-training programs, the ability of future classroom teachers to formulate sound cognitive beliefs is hindered and classroom interaction between teachers and gifted learners is impacted” (p. 63-64).

While I believe the formation of inaccurate information about gifted students largely stems from a lack of training in teacher education programs (the topic of another blog), I’d like to focus on what teachers, parents, and other adults can do to help gain a better understanding of this population. One strategy that studies support is that of exposure; simply spending time around gifted individuals seems to help people understand them better.  I know in my early years of teaching I wasn’t very skilled at identifying gifted students or comprehending their traits or needs, however, after spending time with them, I gained much perspective. Research suggests this is the case. Student teachers working with small groups of students or interviewing them for coursework, for instance, reported developing new insights into the ways and needs of the gifted. We can begin to break down the stereotypes and shatter the myths by spending more time with gifted students. Seek them out in schools. Talk with them. Observe them. Conduct projects with them. Gain new perspective—it will make all the difference for these students.

References

National Association for Gifted Children. (2010). Definitions of giftedness. Retrieved from http://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/what-giftedness.

Siegle, D., Moore, M., Mann, R.L., & Wilson, H.E. (2010). Factors that influence in-service and preservice teachers' nominations of students for gifted and talented programs. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 33(3), 337-60.

Troxclair, D.A. (2013). Preservice teacher attitudes toward giftedness. Roeper Review: A Journal on Gifted Education, 35(1), 58-64.