Needs of Gifted Students: Children Face Problems and Challenges
by Tiffany Erickson, Deseret Morning News, January 13,
For more articles like this
Maria slept with
books not stuffed animals and was reading well before
kindergarten. Zach was reading instructions to board games and
teaching peers how to play them at 5 years old. And Rebecca
could say the alphabet and identify letters at 18 months.
While gifted and talented students can be found in every ethnic
and socioeconomic group, these three children all live under the
And, say parents and experts, gifted students are an
often-misunderstood group, facing challenges and problems
Maria, Zach and Rebecca's mother, Ruthann Gibbs of Murray, said
raising gifted children is a daunting and exhausting experience.
Her first child, Maria, 14, was bright, but she began to show
signs of sadness and frustration in kindergarten. In the
following couple of years Maria basically started shutting down.
She was bored. Behavioral challenges increased at home and tests
showed that she might have ADD. But Maria was doing
seventh-grade math in the fourth grade and was reading
everything she could get her hands on. She caught on to
everything put in front of her and Gibbs realized that many
signs pointed to giftedness.
Linda Alder, coordinator of gifted and talented programs at the
Utah State Office of Education, said a gifted and talented
student can be defined as a child who has some skills and
abilities different than an average student in one or several
areas. They range from reading, math, leadership to critical or
productive creative thinking.
Nonetheless, boredom, frustration and losing interest put many
of those students at risk.
Gibbs said critics feel that grouping and identifying gifted
children is elitist, and that those children do not need special
attention because everything comes to them so easily anyway. But
after Maria was put in a gifted and talented pull-out program,
which takes gifted and accelerated learners out of the regular
classroom for a few hours a day for other activities, in the
fourth grade things began to turn around. She started to like
school. She was challenged and stimulated and began to progress
Alder said even though it is important to identify such
students, educators with gifted and talented endorsements avoid
dwelling on the label. It tends to be detrimental and leads to
students feeling set apart or isolated.
Plus, the only accurate generalization that can be made about
the characteristics of intellectually gifted young children is
that they demonstrate their unusual intellectual skills in a
wide variety of ways. They form an extremely heterogeneous group
with respect to interests and skill levels.
Rebecca Odoardi, director of gifted and talented programs in
Davis School District, said there are many different types of
gifted children. Some are perfectionists. Some are challenging,
noticing and addressing a teacher's mistakes. Some are quiet and
don't want others to know or share their gift. Some have
behavioral problems and may drop out. And some are autonomous,
both socially and intellectually mature.
As they demonstrate above-average general performance, high
levels of task commitment and high levels of creativity and
applying these traits, experts say gifted students thrive with
flexible pacing, more time on projects of interest and options
in their assignments.
"You are typically not going to get a nice calm atmosphere in a
gifted classroom," said Alder. "You will probably get a lot of
activity, maybe noise and confusion and various things going on
at really high levels."
But according to Scott Hunsaker, president of Utah Association
for Gifted Children, the more time gifted children get to spend
with others like themselves the better.
He said the National Research Center for Gifted and Talented
found that when gifted children are put together in a learning
setting they are more productive, motivated and meet higher
achievement levels. Hunsaker attributes that to social
acceptance and validation, whether it be in pull-out programs,
magnet schools or gifted and talented schools.
Utah has more acceleration opportunities than many states. Most
school districts offer gifted and talented pull-out programs and
enrichment clusters along with magnet schools. Concurrent
enrollment and early graduation are available to secondary
students along with more advanced-placement classes than in any
other state. Utah's AP classes also have the highest pass rate,
far above the national average.
Now the Gibbs siblings are working to find their niche. After
going through the frustration Maria had in her early years of
education, Gibbs was able to more easily identify her other
children's needs, even though they are very different.
Maria takes an Electronic High School course, has been an aide
in the school's library and takes dance classes. Zach, 12, who
is highly analytical and creative, is signed up for Electronic
High School computer programming and plays the trumpet, piano,
drums and guitar. And Rebecca, 10, was socially and
intellectually developed enough that her parents allowed her to
skip kindergarten and she now attends magnet programs.
But with three gifted, passionate and determined children in the
home, it's not always smooth sailing, and emotional outbursts
are routine. And with such broad interests, it is a race to keep
them all challenged and in enough activities.
Gibbs would still like to see more attention paid to gifted
students in the system.
Many educators are concerned that the federal No Child Left
Behind law which focuses on helping weaker students perform on
grade level might overlook the stronger students. They worry
there could be a shift in resources.
Hunsaker said the accountability parts of the legislation focus
on having students meet grade-level proficiency. It says nothing
about encouraging students performing beyond those levels to
meet their own capabilities. There is an imbalance in programs
already, but with NCLB it may be offset even more, he said.
Odoardi said it is of the utmost importance to make sure these
children don't disappear in the system or become bored,
frustrated and drop out.
"We can't forget those kids," said Odoardi. "This is our
national treasure the ones that can solve future problems and
find cures we cannot lose these kids."
back to the top ~
back to Breaking News
~ back to