Myths and Realities

  • Myths and Realities about Gifted Students

    Myth #1: They are aloof, proud of their own abilities, and care little for others.


    Just like their non-gifted peers, some gifted children display these characteristics and some do not. This myth generally springs from the fear of the idea that if gifted children learned together, they would develop an attitude of elitism, superiority or condescension.  Gifted students may find that learning together is a more humbling experience than learning in their typical classroom as they discover a more realistic assessment of their own abilities when compared to others of similar ability, and acknowledge that there are some students who are just as knowledgeable and experienced in areas or more so than they are (Fiedler, Lange, & Winebrenner, 2002). 

    In addition, the trait of sensitivity is one of the five primary social/emotional characteristics of gifted students described by Lovecky (1992). Gifted students with the characteristics of sensitivity often display compassion, empathy and a desire to decrease the suffering and pain of others (Lovecky, 1992).

    Myth #2: They are good at everything and should be reminded of that when they fail to perform at high levels.


    Gifted students vary in their abilities and their capacities to perform at high levels in given areas just like any other group of students. Talent development implies that a gifted individual must learn, practice, and refine their raw abilities over time in order to produce quality work or performance in a given area of talent (Gagné, 2003). To do so, the individual
    must encounter periods of personal and professional growth through challenge, struggle, success and failure. This implies working intensely in one areas, not across the board.  Students who seem to "have it all" can mislead educators into thinking that they need little help or support in the development of their talent (Delisle & Galbraith,2002). Although in the past we've tended to stereotype gifted students as exceptional across the board, few are actually good in everything they do (Delisle & Galbraith, 2002, p. 67).  The implicit internalized belief that a gifted student should "be good at everything" and is guaranteed success can create enormous feelings of personal failure, self-doubt and distress when the student encounters his or her first experience with struggle and failure (Cross, 2002).

    Myth #3:
    They do not need special programs as they will be able to perform at high levels regardless.


    Gifted students, like all students, need a supportive and challenging education in order to develop their talents; however, there is no guarantee that gifted students will perform at high levels in their current educational settings. Because gifted students are gifted, and hence different in their intellectual, affective and educational needs, they require programs which meet those needs in order to capitalize on their abilities and support them in their continuance of high levels of performance. The vehicle for this learning environment can be the traditional classroom setting or special gifted programming, provided that teachers have the appropriate training to meet the needs of gifted students and that the curriculum is both rigorous and effective.

    Myth #4: They have even profiles in respect to intellectual ability, academic aptitude, and social emotional development.

    Gifted students develop at different rates from their non-gifted peers and at different rates in developmental areas. One of the most fascinating traits of gifted individuals is "asynchronous development."  Asychronous development is used to describe the mind of 16- year-old adolescent in the body of a 10-year-old child, along with the stress, struggle and excitement which comes from that disparity. This discrepancy between their intellectual ability and physical ability may lead to intense frustration and feelings of inadequacy which can challenge these students if they have not yet developed the necessary emotional coping skills needed to work with these situations (Silverman, 2002).

    Myth #5: They all enjoy independent work and are motivated to complete projects.

    Just like their non-gifted peers, gifted students are not always motivated or enjoy doing independent work. In fact, many prefer the social support of traditional teaching in class.
    Gifted students can become unmotivated to do any academic work, especially that which they have already mastered or which seems irrelevant. Even the most productive and learning-oriented gifted student given the most challenging of independent projects needs help sustaining motivation. Producing quality work is difficult and fraught with trial and error. Gifted students need support and mentoring through task completion just like any other group of students.

    Myth #6: They are good students, rarely causing behavioral problems of any kind in

    Many people conceptualize "gifted" as a well-behaved, high-achieving white female, sitting up straight in her seat, ready to learn and succeed. Yet many gifted students don't fit this stereotype. They "act out" in class, becoming behavior problems because of lack of challenge and attention to their learning needs. Special populations of gifted learners also experience behavioral difficulties. Gifted girls' academic performance can suffer in middle and high school and teachers an be bewildered by their sudden lack of interest in school, while gifted males often feel torn between being popular, being athletic and being academically successful, often choosing the former two fields for achievement over the latter (Kerr & Nicpon, 2003). Often, what educators see as behavioral problems or pathologies, may simply be the manifestations of giftedness.

    Myth #7: They are rarely at risk for educational achievement or attainment beyond
    high school.

    Gifted students are at risk for educational achievement beyond high school if their intellectual and affective needs are not met and/or if their community, home or school environments are not supportive.

    A second area is that of the home. While parents of both gifted underachievers and gifted individuals of eminence both were concerned with the achievement of the gifted person, the former was characterized by a lack of modeled intrinsic or independent learning, positive commitment to career, or a respect for school (Rimm, 2003). Interesting enough, parents of underachieving gifted students often demanded more rigor and challenge in the schools (Rimm, 2003). Families of gifted children who do not believe in, or who have cultural or religious beliefs concerning higher education may not facilitate the student's pursuit of this particular opportunity.

    Information adapted from the work of Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Ed.D. and Susannah Wood, Ph.D.

    The Bright Child            The Gifted Learner:

    Knows the answer                Asks the questions
    Is interested                                Is highly curious
    Is attentive                                  Is mentally and physically involved
    Has good ideas                           Has wild, silly ideas
    Works hard                                 Plays around, yet tests well
    Answers the questions               Discusses in detail; elaborates
    Top group                                   Beyond the group
    Listens with interest                   Shows strong feelings and opinions
    6-8 repetitions for mastery         1-2 repetitions for mastery
    Understands ideas                      Constructs abstractions
    Enjoys peers                               Prefers adults
    Grasps the meaning                    Draws inferences
    Completes assignments              Initiates projects
    Is receptive                                 Is intense
    Copies accurately                       Creates new designs
    Enjoys school                             Enjoys learning
    Absorbs information                  Manipulates information
    Technician                                  Inventor
    Good memorizer                        Good guesser
    Prefers straightforward tasks      Thrives on complexity
    Is alert                                         Is keenly observant
    Is pleased with own learning      Is highly self critical

    by:  Janice Szabos