What does Gifted Look Like?

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

January 14, 2020

As an Advanced Academics Specialist for the past 5 years, I find myself immersed daily among gifted and talented youth.  Though it sounds cliché, each and every child’s “giftedness” is unique. Whether a student excels academically or is gifted in an artistic manner, it is important to both identify and nurture those gifts inside and outside of the academic setting.

However, as a coach, I always get the question “what does ‘giftedness’ look like?” Without proper training, many classroom teachers become slaves to crowded classrooms and standardized tests… leaving little-to-no room for proper professional development on how to identify and differentiate for gifted learners.

So what advice would I give any educator who asks me “what does ‘giftedness’ look like?” Here are a few tips that I frequently share with my novice educators and members of my TAG (Teachers of Academically Gifted) Team:

  1. Start Small with Teacher Observations: Pinpointing learners’ gifts- whether academic or artistic- starts with keen observation. Even in an age of over-testing and district-mandated pacing guides, a teacher MUST carve out time to get to know their students on an individual basis. Sometimes this is as simple as sitting with a different child at lunch or recess and having a conversation about their interests. If necessary, it can also be a teacher strategically planning 2-3 minute checkpoints daily during warm-up time. I’ve coached some teachers to create a roster to ensure that they are meeting with all learners and recording any interests and/or concerns. You would be surprised what a teacher can glean from a learner by just discussing how they spent their weekend or what was the last book they read!
  2. What are they reading: … Or NOT reading. This can also tell you a lot about a learners’ capacity. Ironically, I have successfully recommended learners for science, social studies, and math identification as a result of paying close attention to what they were leisurely reading while at school. A 6th grader reading Matt Parker’s Humble Pi “for fun” is usually because they understand the math concepts at a deep enough level to identify the errors- a skill that would come easily to a learner gifted in mathematics. Also paying close attention to thematic reading of advanced literature has helped me pinpoint giftedness in learners. For example, I currently have several learners that are obsessed with World War I and II. They are constantly reading text far beyond the “normal” lexile and complexity for their grade level, and can articulate and make sophisticated connections within and beyond the specific texts. This is another indicator of advanced capacity.
  3. The Learner ALWAYS has the answer: When gifted learners are intrigued and/or motivated by an educator, they are usually the child that you have to tell “let me make sure your classmates have the answer, too.” When gifted learners are certain of knowledge or experience, they do not shy away from sharing that knowledge with others. In instances when their knowledge is much more advanced than their peers, though, this over-eagerness can lead to social isolation from peers. We will discuss how to combat this in future discussions.
  4. The Learner consistently produces EXEMPLAR work: If you find yourself referencing a learner’s work all the time as an example for other learners, they probably are gifted in that area. As an English/Language Arts teacher a few years back, I noticed that I was choosing a particular learner’s essays and quick writes consistently as exemplars for those that were struggling with assignments. Upon a quick review of her testing record, she was 99 percentile in English/Language Arts and almost perfect on writing composition. Performance will align with ability when rigor and relevance is presented to gifted learners.
  5. Positive “Off-Topic” Activities: Particularly when uninterested or placed in non-challenging situations, gifted learners will result to reading or anything else that interests them. This is a great sign that the learner could be lacking challenge in the particular learning setting. The best way to curb off-task behaviors for a gifted learner is to provide them with appropriate level of challenge through differentiated learning activities.

Remember: “Gifted Guru” has little to do with me thinking I have all the answers, and more to do with the COLLECTIVE knowledge of those reading. Please SHARE ways that you identify giftedness in your learners that could help educators in need.

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