Understanding the Needs of Gifted Kids
Harry Maloney is a teacher of the gifted in a small West Virginia school district. “Actually, I’m more of a facilitator,” he says. "It’s a pull-out program. I tried working with teacher and kids in the classroom, “ he says, “but I didn’t get a lot of cooperation." Another problem, Maloney says, is that his students don't have ready access to technology.
Maloney is employed half-time. He travels from school to school in his district, but he’s feeling that the program is becoming fragmented and uneven. He meets a couple hours a week with students in grades two to eight. “What happens to these kids when they get to high school?” he asks. “They just turn into regular students?”
He was here at the conference on gifted education because he was frustrated. “I need to recharge my batteries,” he explained.
He came to the right place. The Center for Gifted Education at Williams and Mary has earned a solid reputation for leadership and innovation in the field. Today’s session was led by Tracy Cross, executive director of the Center, and his topic was the emotional and social development of gifted students today.
“No matter how educated or experienced you are, “ Cross says, “you can’t really know what it is to be a child today.”
Cross spent a good part of the time debunking common myths about gifted kids. They are not more prone to emotional problems than other kids, for example, but they are not necessarily more stable and mature. (I was reminded of a gifted class in one of the schools in which I worked. The teacher left the room for about 15 minutes assuming that the kids would just continue to work quietly. Instead, they did what lots of kids do when the teacher leaves the room for an extended period. Before long you could hear them laughing and shouting from several rooms away. When the teacher got back to the classroom, she snapped in disgust, “And you people are supposed to be GIFTED!”)
Gifted kids don’t necessarily enjoy being pointed to as examples for other children; in fact, some work hard to conceal their giftedness so as not to be seen as “different.” And they are not all necessarily high achievers with high motivation to excel in school.
While some teachers and administrators have a tendency to lump all high IQ kids into the same “gifted” category, Cross says that gifted students are the most heterogeneous group to study because they can vary the most on the most variables.
The most damaging myth about gifted kids, Cross notes, is that they’re so smart they don’t need any help and can do it on their own. Yet, Cross says, we see large numbers of gifted kids who are mentally, socially, and emotionally alone among the regular education population.
Gifted educators point to the enormous discrepancies in programs and money devoted to gifted education versus special education. “Someday,” says Cross, “there will be a moral code for school administrators that will reference the needs of gifted kids.”
At the end of the day, Harry was feeling a little “recharged.” And we had 3 days to go.