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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D candidate at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree...
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A Gifted Student is Like…

Please go ahead and finish this statement: a gifted student is like…

What did you say or write? What images did your simile draw upon? Do you view gifted students as “shining star,” “shooting rockets,” or “diamonds in the rough?”

If your similes were predominately positive, you are not alone. A study (Olthouse, 2014 ) found that pre-service teachers mainly represented gifted students in this fashion. The group inaccurately believed, for example, that gifted students almost always displayed their talents and abilities in the classroom—though research suggests some may hide their talents due to fear of social stigma.

Recently, when teaching an instructional planning course, I asked the students (27 pre-service teachers) to collaboratively create their own similes for the gifted. Like those student teachers in the study, the class mostly viewed gifted students as “butterflies,” “flowers” and “redwood trees.” However, after I had the class read the Olthouse article and discussed the findings, many students reconsidered and revised their original images.

Instead, they perceived gifted students now as “hidden treasures” (their talents had to be discovered) and “like every student” in the sense they need differentiated instruction. The activity was a powerful lesson in reevaluating assumptions and pre-conceived perceptions of students. Our perceptions, beliefs, and assumptions serve as a filter/lens for how we view our students, and thus, how we teach and interact with them.

Believing that gifted students are easy to discover or easy to teach, for instance, or totally self-sufficient without need for differentiated instruction, can dangerously influence one’s teaching. Periodically reexamining our perceptions, in this case, about gifted students, including their academic and social-emotional needs, helps ensure we are positioning ourselves to best meet those needs.

Take time to reflect on how we perceive students, and not just gifted ones. I would encourage teachers to reconsider their assumptions and beliefs about all types of students. Where did you inherit or develop those beliefs? Are they justified? Are they best serving students? What impact are these beliefs having on your instructional practices and interactions with students?

Occasionally, reflecting and taking this kind of inquiry stance regarding assumptions and beliefs about our students can powerfully impact practice.


Olthouse, J. (2014).  How do preservice teachers conceptualize giftedness? A metaphor analysis." Roeper Review: A Journal on Gifted Education 36(2), 122-32.