Parents refer these children to an Educational Psychologist because of concerns about their child’s boredom and frustration at school.
Persistent, curiosity, independence and a strong need for challenges can lead these children to become risk takers. Their strong sense of justice means they can easily become outraged when things are not seen as fair.
Many gifted pupils prefer to discuss issues and are reluctant to write as their speed of thinking greatly outstrips their recording skills. They may ignore detail and appear careless. This can annoy and frustrate teachers, who want to see things in writing.
Teachers can rate pupils who are persevering, conforming, tidy and industrious, but not all gifted children demonstrate these traits. Some of them struggle to understand the teacher’s class explanations or intentions and often they are unmotivated by normal rewards and praise.
Classroom conflicts occur if children are bored with routine tasks or they refuse to move away from interesting and engrossing topics and activities. Misunderstandings can make them either dominate or withdraw from working cooperatively.
Their high energy can be exhausting, because they insist on persisting until they have finished what they are doing. Perfectionism and high standards mean they can be overly critical of themselves and others. They are impatient with failure, can overreact or become angry or cry when things go wrong or seem unfair.
There is also a danger that these children will work to exhaustion because of their high standards.
It is impossible to talk them out of doing this! I know a fourteen year old girl who worked until 4.30 in the morning to finish her Astronomy notes, an extra subject that she is taking as a GCSE subject - just for fun!
These children may find it hard not to ask embarrassing questions about rules or authority. They may feel different, lonely and out of step with others, which could to a sense of alienation. Many gifted children say they feel a barrier to forming relationships, which may be seen as arrogant.
Some of these children engage easily with adults, while others argue with teachers, reject authority, and can become non-confirming and stubborn. They either socialise with older children (being stimulated mentally), or with younger children (avoiding expectations or comparisons).
Lack of understanding as to why it takes other children so long to grasp a point isolates them still further from their peers. Some learn to conform to please the teacher: adjusting their behaviour and perceptions to fit in with the rest of the class, but then underachieve and become frustrated.
Slow learners cannot hide the fact that they learn slowly but bright children can also hide their fast learning!
Some gifted children realise that popularity does not come from being top and best at everything. They notice that the teacher does not respond when they ask how to spell words like ‘onomatopoeia’ yet the teacher cuddles the child who cannot spell ‘cat’. A child can become confused, listless, disorientated and feel ‘anti-school’, and boredom can drain energy if their ability goes unnoticed.
Signs of underachieving include showing verbal strengths alongside weaker written work, restlessness and inattentiveness while being outwardly self-sufficient or self-critical.
Gifted children may be labelled as having Attention Deficit, because of their high activity level, or Aspergers, due to their peer relationships, high need to control, sustain concentration in particular areas, their need for routine. Teachers who do not recognise that a child is gifted may hold lower expectations and by doing so misunderstand them.
A different attitude is needed to change this cycle. For example, a child with behavioural problems who scored highly when tested was simply bored and found that school work was not worth bothering about. The results challenged the perceptions and attitudes of teachers and school leaders who then understood how to teach him.
Teachers may find it hard to work with these children, which is not surprising because, they ask penetrating and intimidating questions, while exasperated parents can appear demanding, insisting on time and resources for their child.
A need to be valued
Gifted children need extra understanding and firm constructive support, they need to feel valued for themselves not just their abilities. They should be allowed to experience failure and difficulty occasionally and take responsibility for their work.
Learning to work in a team, co-operate with others and value others for their abilities is a vital skill, and so they need to learn to formulate questions without implying criticism. A multi-dimensional approach with an enriched, stimulating and relevant curriculum allows specific needs and talents to grow.
Gifted children need opportunities of solitude to contemplate, draw or daydream to fill in time, especially if they feel ‘let down’ because of their rapid speed of learning.
Learning from other gifted people
Changes in the classroom can help gifted children who can be highly sensitive to environmental stimuli, such as lights or noises. These children can learn a great deal from other gifted people, using their stories to help overcome and benefit from what other gifted people have experienced. This is a wonderful way to help them to believe in themselves instead of feeing odd and different. An Educational Psychologist will assess particular strengths ensuring an understanding, which allows them to follow their dreams and the challenges they face.
About the author:
Irene Broadley-Westerduin is an experienced Chartered and Educational Psychologist with considerable and successful experience in working with children and adults. She has researched to doctorate level in the cognitive psychology and the effects of training short-term memory. Irene is an experienced trainer and has researched, planned and delivered many courses to further the professional development of psychologists and teachers. Dr Broadley-Westerduin lectures at numerous universities and conducts inset training for schools and is the managing director of EDUK8, based in Hampshire, UK. To contact Irene visit her website: www.eduk8.uk.com/