Monday, June 20, 2011

Motivating Gifted Students

I have a good friend who has several gifted children.  Her oldest daughter is extremely creative, as well as being gifted in Language Arts, but she struggles a bit with math.  At times, the little girl does not want to try hard things at school.  My friend and I have talked quite a bit about motivating gifted students, but it just occurred to me today, that part of what we perceive as problems motivating gifted students may have to do with our expectations of that student!
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Let me explain....
Many people think that giftedness has everything to do with intelligence, therefore, if a child has a high IQ, he is gifted and can perform equally well in every subject in school.  We take that a bit further when we assume that a bright child who struggles a bit with a subject and doesn't like it or doesn't want to do it, is an underachiever, or lacks motivation.  There are strategies to deal with unmotivated gifted students, but today I want to talk about the nature of giftedness itself, and some misconceptions that we have about gifted students.
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Misconception #1  Gifted students are gifted in all subjects.
Carol Bainbridge wrote a nice article about this misconception for  You can access the article here.  She says: One common myth about gifted children is that they are good at everything -- math, language, science. You name it and if they are truly gifted, they are good at it. The truth is that most gifted children have uneven abilities. They may be exceptionally good at language, but not particularly good at math. Some gifted children are, of course, good at everything and these are the "Globally Gifted"children.
The majority of gifted children, though, are either "Verbally" or "Mathematically Gifted." These domains, however, are the more academic, school-oriented domains. Gifted children can also be artistically gifted, which means they are exceptionally good in either art of music.

TheNational Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) supports the ideas set forth by Bainbridge, in their definition of giftedness:
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 sensorimotor skills (e.g., painting, dance, sports). 

 Read more here.

Misconception #2 Gifted students need to be highly motivated in every area in school.
Example: One teacher felt that because his student was very bright and did well on the state testing, that he was slacking when he decided not to take Calculus in high school.  The student was verbally gifted and did ok in math, but really did not enjoy it, or plan to pursue a career that required math.

It is much easier to understand the folly of this thinking, when we look at it in a different talent area...A child who excels at the piano and loves it, would be allowed a lot of practice time, as long as her other tasks were completed, (homework, chores, etc.)  We would not ask her to stop her piano practice to practice the clarinet, just because somewhere down the road it might be nice to know how to play the clarinet.
The same is true of the Calculus scenario....the student obviously has a good handle on basic high school Math, but loves English.  Why should he have to spend time studying something that he does not plan to use.  Now don't get me wrong, I am not advocating that fourth graders do not need to take math if they are verbally gifted--all students need to have a grasp of basic math.  We do, however, need to carefully make choices about programming for gifted students.  I believe that if we choose wisely, some of the motivation problems we encounter could be lessened.  Perhaps a gifted fourth grader who hates math, would do better in the grade level math class, instead of the accelerated math class.

Grade level acceleration, grade skipping, and enrichment in the area of talent are all pretty common and well researched ways to "grow" a student's talent area. I think that realization by parents that students do not need to be talented in all areas is also a great strategy for growing talents.  Let your student focus on their area of interest.  Be aware of activities and programs that will further stretch the area of talent, and be satisfied with grade level achievement in the other areas. 
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