Assessing a child’s abilities should include several different measures. This might include dynamic classroom assessment (which involves figuring out what a child knows at the beginning of any unit of study and then embarking on a cycle of assess—teach—assess—teach), standardized achievement tests, intelligence tests, and student portfolios (records of work or other outside learning activities). There are many misconceptions about gifted learners—who they are, how they act, and what they can accomplish. For example, people may think that all gifted learners are avid readers, high achievers, demonstrate excellent study skills, and are easy for teachers to spot. Not necessarily so—children’s developmental pathways are different and unpredictable. Giftedness is an individual differences phenomenon. The boy who always responds excitedly in class may or may not be gifted. The girl at the back of the room who rarely speaks up may or may not be gifted.
Gifted learners are not all alike. They have different interests, experiences, learning preferences, and ways of functioning. Every person has an active role in creating his or her own intelligence, and there are all kinds of influences along the way.
Nevertheless, people often ask me what “gifted” means. Here is a workable definition: A gifted learner is one who is exceptionally capable for his or her age or grade in one or more subject areas and needs special programming for happy and productive engagement in learning. This definition is practical because it ties identification to educational programming.
Is there a stigma associated with being gifted?
The gifted label is like a flower with thorns. It has positive and negative aspects. Labels may carry problematic connotations that can be hard for children to reconcile. Moreover, labeling certain children as gifted implies that other children are not or that they lack special abilities or gifts.
The gifted categorization sometimes evokes teasing or rejection from peers, conflicting expectations from parents and teachers, and concerns about developmental issues. Some children may think that because they have heightened ability, they don’t have to put forth effort, whereas others may worry about how they’re going to keep up. There tends to be misinformation and controversy about what the label means. On the other hand, it is a validation of a child’s abilities and is sometimes the necessary ticket for appropriate programming and/or special educational services. Generally speaking, if a child can be in a learning environment that is appropriately challenging without having to have the gifted label, then that is probably best.