Wednesday, 25 February 2015

It Shouldn't Be This Complicated

A few days ago I wrote about labels and the inevitable 'othering' that comes with the act of labelling people.  Now I want to talk specifically about one particular label: giftedness.

I mentioned in that earlier blog post that I have two children who've been labelled as gifted and that we've used the label to 'other' them into a specialised programme.  Hypocritical? I can see how it might look that way. It's a bit more complicated than that though. When we're dealing with kids, it always is right?

Giftedness is an umbrella label applied to different groups of individuals depending on the organisation or educational body doing the applying.  Here in South Australia the Department of Education and Child Development uses Gagne's Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent to identify that "gifted individuals as those who possess a natural (innate) ability or aptitude in at least one field or domain of ability, such as intellectual, creative, socio affective or sensorimotor, which is manifested to an outstanding degree, positioning them amongst the top 10% of their age peers" (DECD, 2012).  

Other definitions focus on behavioural characteristics such as asynchronous development (Columbus Group, 1991) or a greater awareness (Annemarie Roeper, 2000).  The problem with all of these definitions, as with any umbrella label definition, is that they paint only part of the picture.

A very cursory search of the world of mummy blogs will show that living with 'gifted' kids is often described as a minefield of much, much more than asynchronous development. Talk to any mainstream teacher and they will tell you that the rare truly gifted student they come across are usually the toughest kid in their class to reach.  My 13 and 15 year old sons both have a greater awareness of some things and practically none of others that don't rate as worthy of their attention.  I've been told that to think my children need different educational accommodations is pure elitism.

The thing with giftedness is that it's rarely simple, and never easy.  So that's why it's a bit more complicated. 

Educational outcomes for gifted children are often very low because due to disengagement with school. Many do not 'survive' our traditional methods of schooling well at all. Those who do get through secondary school with the grades to enter tertiary education often drop out.  

Giftedness is a loaded label that 'others' both the kids and their parents, and carries a social stigma of elitism. I'm NOT comparing the challenges associated with parenting or teaching gifted children with the challenges associated with other special needs. The challenges are different. Qualitatively and quantitatively  What I AM saying is that this label is complicated and these children deserve consideration of their special needs. Most do not get this. My two are lucky: they've got pushy parents who know their way around the education field.  It shouldn't come down to luck though. It shouldn't be this complicated.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 4 Create and maintain safe and supportive learning environments
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community


  1. Hopefully this comment posts as I've just noticed all of last weeks didn't! Anyhoo

    This post nearly made me cry at work (how embarassing) Master J has been classed as gifted but verbally, he reads and comprehends and can speak about what he knows brilliantly but ask him to express it non-verbally and you can just about forget it. Non-verbally he is almost at the other end of the scale, can we help him yes but not through "normal " education programs. It's going to be hard for him and us but I hope we can get there

    1. Hang in there. That sort of asynchronous development is quite 'typical' of gifted kids. Even the kids who are 'twice-exceptional' (the ones who have another label such as dyslexia or dysgraphia) tend to find their own groove and make their giftedness work for them in the end. Has Master J ever tried a voice to text app? That would enable him to demonstrate his thinking without being bogged down by the mechanics of actually getting it down on the page. Possibly not an option for all learning areas but maybe something to consider?
      Thanks for reading.

  2. No he hasn't I hadn't even thought of that! I'm always reading (no pressure)