Gifted Childrens Success In Public Schools

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In schools today, there is a myth that gifted students are students who are superior to their peers in all aspects of development. Many introductory education texts describe the gifted as individuals who enjoy school, have demonstrated ability, adjust well to teachers and peers, are "healthy, well adjusted, emotionally healthy, socially attractive, and morally responsible," and are motivated to do well academically (Reid, McGurie, 1995, IX). This definition implies that gifted students are ranked above average in all aspects of their development. It perpetuates the myth that students who are not socially attractive, motivated, responsible, and so on, cannot be gifted. However, this is not the case. Reid and McGuire (1995) state that as many as 14% of high school dropouts have IQs high enough to be considered gifted. Those who chose to stay in school are not better off, though: 45% of students identified as gifted have below average grade point averages. Many gifted students are being failed by the American public school system, and educators and schools must be better prepared to reach intelligent children who may be maladjusted to school settings. Gifted students can become gifted adults who advance fields; make new discoveries; and offer good, high quality work to organizations. It costs our nation to not allow these children to reach their full potential.

The qualities one must possess in order to be considered gifted are constantly in flux. There is not a single definition that totally encompasses what being gifted means; rather, there are many theories that all contribute to our picture of what giftedness looks like. The idea of what it means to be gifted is also constructed by society, and it changes based on what a specific culture at a specific time finds valuable in a person (Davidson). In the United States today, a gifted child is defined as one who has an IQ score of at least 130, or two standard deviations above average (Davidson). Lewis Terman, who helped establish educational testing in the United States, defines gifted children as those who score in the top 1% of standardized testing (Davidson). Terman also did a long-term study of gifted children, tracking them throughout their educational careers, and, later, their lives, and made the conclusion that gifted children are "superior to other children in social adjustment, coordination, physical health, and school achievement" (Davidson). The students in this group also had a higher percentage of college degrees and were more likely to be in honor societies than the non-gifted population. This conception of gifted, developed in the 1920s and 30s (Davidson), is still being taught in many teacher certificate programs. This is a problem because it paints a picture of a gifted child as developmentally superior to their peers in all aspects of life and leads to misconceptions of who is and who is not intellectually gifted. Teachers are the adults children have the most direct access to, and if a teacher cannot recognize the mufti-faceted characteristics of a gifted student and acknowledge different types of intelligences, many students will be left behind and not be able to reach their full potential.

Terman's definition of gifted as those who are well above average in all categories of development implies that those who are maladjusted to the school setting cannot be gifted. This, however, is not true in all cases. Many students who are highly intelligent and creative face adversity in school settings. This may be due to the fact that the skills needed to be successful in school are not exclusively constrained to matters of intelligence. Kaufman (1993) conducted a study in which information about skills teachers think are needed to thrive in an academic setting was collected. The most common answers were compiled, resulting in a list of 23 qualities teachers think successful students possess. Among the responses were following classroom rules, listening to instructions, doing assignments as instructed, doing assignments as directed, being organized and on time, coping with failure in an appropriate way, and asking question when needed. The only response that makes allowance for different levels of intelligence is that students are expected to produce work that is representative of their skill levels. The "vast majority [of responses] are related to compliance, i.e, following school and classroom rules" (Reid, McGuire, 1995, pg. 3). This creates problems for many gifted students, because often their temperament differs from the norm and they do not find themselves falling into criteria that teachers consider are prerequisites to being a successful student. Gifted students, especially those with a creative temperament, are often "self-sufficient, nonconformist, and independent thinkers who believe in the right of controlling one's own destiny" (citation source B)

Gifted students with ADHD have a unique challenge when it comes to their relationship with academics. ADHD and other learning disabilities can be compensated for by their higher levels of intelligence, because the tasks that require sustained effort and attention are not as readily available. Often, symptoms are not apparent until the child progresses far into the education system and faces challenges for the first time. Their "over reliance on strengths obscures their disability" (citation). Because of this, students may distrust their abilities because of the effort it takes to achieve and maintain them when tasks get more difficult and are not intrinsically motivating (citation). Many gifted students with ADHD feel like frauds, and judge themselves more harshly than others, believing that their good days are flukes and their bad days better represent who they really are academically (citation). It is important that students are recognized not only for their intellect, but also for their disabilities. Being that their disabilities are usually recognized late, they are often maladjusted to them and need support in building appropriate coping skills. It is vital that they are offered complexity and challenge, but also support and structure in order to develop skills to deal with difficulties (citation). Their needs are similar to those of more typical gifted students, in that they need structure, stimulation, and individualization, but these things do not guarantee they will not need even further accommodation in their school environments, such as counseling or services commonly found in special education programs, such as resource rooms. They need feedback more often than the typical student and deadlines. It is important they are able to embrace and learn about their disability so they can begin to develop coping skills that will allow them to reach their full potential.

It is important that teachers are flexible in educational environments with students that are both gifted and have learning disabilities. Different learning styles and differences in production should be utilized in the classroom (citation). There are many different ways a student can be successful--almost as many ways as there are students themselves. Teachers should help foster a curiosity in their students and decide what learning meanings for the individual. Gifted students with learning disabilities may not fit into a traditional teaching model. ( please research a little more here ) Teachers should offer "multi-modular assessment tasks that portray a child's true range of abilities" (citation)