Top ten things I wish all teachers knew about giftedness

Blog tour

Today our guest blogger brings us a parent’s perspective, and one which I hope will be widely read. Mona Chicks shares ten things she wishes every teacher understood about gifted kids. Thank you Mona!

Mona’s brand new blog is at

1.       Not all gifted kids might seem “smart” according to common definitions. In first grade my son was failing at math, despite being able to do algebra in his head at home. But he adamantly refused to complete – or even to start – the “timed” addition tests that were given weekly at school. To him, it was boring addition, but even so he wasn’t convinced he could complete both sides of the page in the time given, so he refused to try (besides, he was – and still is – highly insecure about his letter and number formation so is resistant to completing anything written). It wasn’t until near the end of the year that we found out the teacher didn’t actually expect them to complete the tests – she just wanted to see them try.

2.       Not all smart kids are gifted. There is so much more to “giftedness” than just being smart. Yes, intelligence is part of the equation, but I’ve met so many children who do well in school due to parental pressure and through plain old hard work. It’s not a quantitative difference, it’s a qualitative difference. And I don’t mean that my kid is better than another because he’s gifted – what I mean is that he is just DIFFERENT. He thinks differently about things, he looks at the world with different eyes, he experiences the world differently. His intensity goes well beyond intellect – although that might be the most obvious sign of giftedness.

3.       Just because a child is gifted does not mean that child will be high performing. My child simply doesn’t care what you think of his work. He only cares what HE thinks of his work. If it’s not exactly what he wants it to be, he would rather you never see it. And I will guarantee that his idea of what he wants is far different than yours. There are ways to get him to show you even something that isn’t exactly right – but he’s got to trust you to show you.

4.       Yes, he is smart. Yes, he can probably run circles around you when he’s talking about biology, chemistry, physics, or anything else scientific. But he is still a child, and needs the structure, discipline, and guidance of any other child. Corollary: just because he can talk like an adult and reason like an adult, doesn’t mean he has the self-control, wisdom, and maturity of adulthood.

5.       Don’t try to out-think him, but be specific in your instructions. The summer after first grade, the kidlet was taking swimming lessons. He hates to put his head under the water, so the teenage coach was trying to convince him to do “bobs” (go completely underwater). She suggested he do 10 bobs. He said no. So she said, “how about 8 like you did yesterday, then two more.” He agreed. She started giggling with the lifeguard, laughing that the kidlet had refused to do the 10, but would do 8+2 (as if he didn’t know that was the same thing), when the kidlet started doing his bobs by fractions –“one-half, one-half, that makes one! One-third, two-thirds, that makes two!… “ He did all ten bobs in fractions, never putting his head fully underwater .

6.       Embrace the unexpected. In kindergarten, the kidlet was still quite sad over the results from the previous Fall’s Presidential election. His teacher gave the kids an assignment to draw a picture of a noun – a person, place or thing. The kidlet chose to draw a person. When she was looking at his picture, she asked the kidlet whom it was, expecting it to be a grandparent, friend, or teacher like the other children had drawn. The kidlet responded, in an exasperated voice, “It’s John Kerry… you know, the man who was SUPPOSED to be President!”

7.       Allow creativity in routine tasks. Kidlet’s second grade teacher gave out a math worksheet, knowing it was going to be difficult to convince kidlet to do it. She agreed when he asked if he could do it his “own way.” He translated each number to its correlating element on the periodic table (by atomic number), and completed the math problems that way – and then created an “answer key” on the same paper so his teacher wouldn’t have to look up each element.

8.       Just because a student won’t do something doesn’t mean he can’t. The kidlet’s 5th grade math teacher came to me quite upset because she was convinced that he couldn’t do multiple-digit multiplication problems. She told me I needed to teach him, since he wouldn’t learn it from her, and she gave me a page of problems for him to do with the instruction that I would need to help him. We got home and he pulled out the sheet – I asked if he needed help, he said no. I asked him why he didn’t do it in class, and he said that his teacher wouldn’t let him do it in his head. I told him to write it all out for his teacher so she could see HOW he was doing it in his head – he finished all the problems in 5 minutes (and they were all correct).

9.       Most parents really strive to do what’s best for their child. Please listen to them. The kidlet’s first grade teacher spent the whole year interrupting me and not listening when I tried to talk to her about my child. She didn’t listen to my child, either, and never had any clue the level of his ability. Instead she spent the entire year frustrated that he wouldn’t complete menial tasks, telling me all the diagnoses she suspected (all the usual suspects – ADHD, Asperger’s, ODD – all of which had been ruled out by physicians and therapists), and complaining that he lacked imagination because he only checked out non-fiction books from the library. He spent most of that year sitting in the hallway outside the classroom, reading the dictionary. On the plus side, the kid is a sponge so he’s got a great vocabulary, now! J

10.   You won’t discover what a child can do until you give him the opportunity. I’m a pretty involved parent, and I know my child pretty well… but even I wasn’t prepared for the result when I took my 11 year old child to sit in on a college-level majors biology class. I thought I’d give him a taste for what’s coming to get him through the boring stuff. Instead, I discovered a place where he “fit” more than he’s ever fit anywhere else. This child who can’t sit still for 5 minutes, doesn’t ever seem to listen to instruction, and doesn’t want to complete any kind of assignment was completely focused and engaged in a 90-minute lecture on cell communication, answered questions, interjected useful information (on topic!), gave examples and offered complementary information that took the subject to a new level. The professor asked us to keep coming, because she was so intrigued by this little kid who knows more about biology than her biology majors. I suspect he might become a sore spot with some of the students, since he keeps showing them up with his knowledge (despite the fact they’ve been reading the textbook and he hasn’t even seen the textbook), but I think it’s also a challenge to them to answer a question before he does.


Mona Chicks has shared 10 understandings that will help teachers cater effectively for gifted kids. Please feel welcome to add your own ideas in the comments section below.

Base image by Flickr member allthesepieces, CC licensed attribution, non-commercial and share-alike.
#NZGAW blog tour home page button.


About Mary St George

I teach in gifted education, both online and face-to-face.
This entry was posted in gifted and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Top ten things I wish all teachers knew about giftedness

  1. Thank you for this! I have said this to people at my school for a long time. sadly, they still only go my reading levels and test scores to determine if a child is gifted. I have always thought the kids I had who thought outside the box and were creative in their approaches to problem solving were my most gifted children. I love how their brains work. I have to save this and share it with others. Thank you again!

  2. Minh Kim says:

    Thanks, I like these points, especially point 7 and 10:)!

  3. Sue Moroney MP says:

    Great post. Very educational.

  4. Congratulations, Mona, on a post that is being very well received, with much discussion in facebook as well. I do apologise for a slight communication glitch. I should have been adding Mona’s shiny new blog to the tour, instead of posting her words here. If you liked this post, do pop over to, and bookmark the site, so that you will be able to see what she comes up with next. I know I’m keen to read more of Mona’s writing!

  5. Brainhugger says:

    Love this list! So hard to find a place in the school system for these twice exceptional kids. In my experience, our ‘gifted’ program continues to service high-achieving, high-performing students who are not ‘out-of-the-box’ thinkers.

    • I currently teach gifted kids online, and we are very keen on out-of-the-box thinkers. Go to the blog tour home page, and look around the site it is on. The sample lesson is at This is a virtual pull-out programme rather than a full-time option. You’ll notice that the logo on the site is an out-of-the-box thinker, in fact! Depending where you live, I may be able to help you find a face-to-face pull-out programme instead, if that is your preference.

      Sorry for the delay in replying, the system had hidden several comments in the spam.

  6. mygiftedgirl says:

    This post summed up my feelings, findings, heart, and soul when dealing with my gifted girls and their experiences in school. THANK YOU!

  7. Shanyn says:

    Thank you for this, and for me eight is so my son!

  8. This is a great list! How did you get your son into a college level class? This is something I’ve been wanting to do, but I don’t know where to start.

    • Barbara, there are some universities with set protocols, and some where the process is entirely individual. I will ask Mona, our guest blogger, what she did. However, I would suggest that the first stop may be your local gifted association, who may have advice about what is available near you. Apologies for the delay in replying, your post was hidden in the spam.

    • Mona says:

      This is an ongoing struggle for us, since most colleges are not welcoming of very young students. He’s not officially enrolled in the course. I emailed the professor of a course that sounded interesting, described our situation and asked if we could “sit in” on her class. Her response was that she could allow us to sit in on two sessions. But after meeting the kidlet, she wanted us to keep coming because she was so “intrigued” by him. I am still working to find other courses at that level that he can take, so far without much luck. Keep trying!

  9. Guest says:

    This “kidlet” sounds like an overindulged child. Maybe, just maybe, this child is being given the message that what HE wants to do (and WHEN he wants to do it) is more important than what the authority figures in his school require of him. This “kidlet” is going to have a hard time when his boss expects him to do things according to procedure and protocol. Although allowing out-of-the-box thinking and differences in interest and processing IS important in the classroom, it is EQUALLY important to teach that refusal to try on seemingly “mundane” activities is UNACCEPTABLE. Students, parents, and teachers must work TOGETHER to negotiate the best learning program for the gifted child. It is not up to the child alone.

    • Guest says:

      It will be interesting to see if this post is “allowed.” It seems that only favorable ones make it.

      • Correct, I try to kill most of the spam, but any sincere engagement with the topic is valued on my blog, just as in my classroom.

      • Carolyn says:

        Well, it looks like your post was allowed after all. You bring up a good point but right now, as I look at my own grandson I wonder, at this rate if he will ever have a job. And yes, some people have suggested that he needs a real whipping, I am sure he has had such, with no real change in behavior. Wondering how someone like my grandson will manage having a boss expecting him to follow expectation is much more that I can hope for at this point. My son and daughter-in-law are seeking help as we speak, but now if he grows up like he acts right now. He won’t have a job. I look at this little guy, he wasn’t like this just a short time back… I really need help and support… I am sad for him, people won’t understand…

      • Many parents and extended families wrestle with poor behaviour from gifted or twice exceptional children, and work very hard to turn this behaviour around. There are many reasons for this. Not least among them is that when a gifted child decides to act up, they sometimes discover that acting up is one of the things they are very good at. Boredom and social alienation can also be contributing factors.

        The good news is that where families have continued to expect good behaviour, with that mixture of warmth, honest imperfection, and determination that most families bring to the situation, the behaviour of “difficult” gifted children almost always improves. In fact, many of the more worrisome children I have taught, in terms of their behaviour, now make amazing contributions to society as teens and young adults. It seems, on talking to them, that they mostly just realised they wanted some things in life that couldn’t be attained unless they knuckled down and learnt to get some work done and have positive relationships with authority figures. Of course, the significant adults in their lives had already been telling them this every way they could think of for quite some time, but it seems that one morning they wake up and it has become their idea, and what a wonderful difference that makes!

      • Mona says:

        I understand the frustration that you feel as a grandparent, wondering about your grandchild’s future. It can seem mystifying and scary. Let me assure you though, I was a child very much like my own child in all the ways that are most frustrating. I wasn’t/am not PG, but I was just as stubborn, willful, square-peg in a round hole, always doing things my own way. And I grew up to be an independent, strong, and idealist woman who has many friends, is able to have all sorts of jobs, and is frequently called upon by people to be a listening ear and wise voice in times of trouble. Children grow up – at their own pace sometimes. And he may never fit whatever mold you think he should fit into. The good news is that our world today is so different than it was even when I was going to college/grad school and choosing a career. By the time these kiddos hit their 20’s, I expect there will be no more “traditional path” to a career. And if your son’s career doesn’t fit what you would consider a proper job, but it makes him happy and pays the bills? Honestly, then who cares what you think of it?

        My dad didn’t like something that my child was doing, so do you know what he did? He took my child on a walk with the dog. He told my child a story, about how his dog has to walk on a leash because he cannot trust her to come when she is called. But he gives her short times off the leash so she can build trust – and as she shows she is able to come when called, he lengthens the time off the leash until she is fully in control. A simple story – but you can bet my child got the message. And it has stuck with him.

        Your grandchild’s parents need all of your love and support they can get. Trust me on this. They need you to not judge their parenting, not criticize their child – just love them and help them as much as you are able. I can pretty much guarantee that they already feel criticism from every other corner of their world. Find out as much as you can about giftedness (and any twice-exceptionalities your grandchild may have). Your understanding is the best thing you can give them – all of them.

      • I love the dog story, Mona! Thank you.

    • This post alone has already had 735 views. It has been shared far more rapidly than any other post in the history of this blog. It has really struck a chord with readers. I have found, as a teacher of the gifted, that when one encourages negotiation about how tasks in the classroom are handled, 90% of compliance issues vanish, as if by magic. I have had staff under me in the workplace, and found that employees value being asked for their input there, too. Back in the classroom, that leaves us with 10% of compliance problems that are due to other factors, and aren’t solved as easily. Sometimes, there is some greater self-awareness about effort needed by the child. I find that asking a child whether he or she wishes to be thought of as a hard worker, and really listening to the response, is often a good lead-up to the kind of discussion that can help a child develop a little more self-awareness in that area – without the ego-bruising that almost guarantees further disengagement from a child who already has a profound disconnect with the culture of the classroom. On rare occasions, I find that being firm is what is required, but usually parents have already tried that, and so have previous teachers, and a different approach altogether is what is going to move the child on. However, to quote Sue Breen, “I will not let a child practice a behaviour that will not serve that child in life”. A way has to be found to get these children confidently and happily engaging in work, and finding that work to be its own reward. The way that will succeed is almost never confrontation, but strangely enough, confrontation is almost always the first thing tried.

    • momX2 says:

      I must disagree with the premise that a child is overindulged because he chooses to do things his way or not at all. My son, who is now 14 and definitely not overindulged, has been frustrating his father and me as well as his teachers since pre-school because he refuses to just follow “procedure and protocol” in the classroom. We have endured countless hours of battles (and punishments) with him to do class work he sometimes feels is useless. He has had some teachers say he must have ADHD or ODD, while others have said they believe he is bored and would do much better in an accelerated program (which their school did not offer). All his teachers, however, have agreed that he is extremely intelligent and very knowledgeable about the subjects they are teaching. His main problems are having to write out essays and having to show his work (he hates to write). Otherwise, he makes good grades and does very well in school. When he was in the 2nd grade and reading on a 5th grade level, he was very upset by the repetitious reading of 2nd grade material required by his school’s reading program and instead of having him read at a higher level, he was forced to endure what he felt was torture, which effectively killed any enjoyment he got from reading. When he was in the 3rd grade, at the request of his teacher and principal, he was given the battery of tests to see if he was “gifted”. He missed the “gifted” cutoff by ONE point! One of the administrators said he acted bored and resentful of having to take the tests and that if he had even tried a little, he could have passed the cutoff with no problem. No further testing was done. His pediatrician has said he doesn’t believe he is ADHD or ODD, but is very stubborn instead. Our son will begin 9th grade in the fall, and we have lectured and lectured on the merits of his performance in the classroom and completion of his work as assigned in regard to his future in college and beyond. Hopefully, the next few school years will be his best.

    • Mona says:

      I appreciate your response and understand your concern. It has been mine as well all along, and we have tried to work with his teachers to figure out ways to get him to complete those tasks that he isn’t interested in. Both his kindergarten and second grade teachers said to us that they knew we didn’t overindulge him because they had seen how we supported each of them as his teacher, and they had done everything they knew to try in their personal repertoire, with no luck. This is part of the reason I am now homeschooling – because I *know* he will do what I want him to do even if he doesn’t want to do it. And he has been – without even a complaint. This is because he trusts me.

      Unfortunately, he had a horrible experience in his first grade classroom, and that has colored his reaction to all teachers strongly. I cannot tell you how damaging it is to a gifted child (remember: they are super-sensitive to criticism and are perfectionists!) when their teacher humiliates them in front of the whole class by saying that they aren’t smart enough to be in her classroom, that they are stupid in math and writing, and tells the rest of the students they shouldn’t play with him because he is a “bad kid.” I made the mistake of keeping him in that class for the whole year, believing it was more important to send him the message that we work hard, figure out our problems, and believe in the system. That failed him miserably, and he has refused to try ever since. I won’t say he is the easiest child to teach – he knows he is smarter than his teachers (that’s not his parents who are telling him that – that would be the teachers saying it themselves), and he doesn’t understand why they are the teacher and he is the student – despite all the attempts we have made to explain the special job of the teacher, etc. But he will be an adult who solves problems, who creates something masterful, or who discovers a cure. And that kind of mind deserves some care and nurturing to keep him from turning into the person that first grade teacher wanted in her classroom – someone who fits inside a box and refuses to peek out of it.

    • Dacia Michael says:

      This post by “Guest” is very sad and reminds me of my son’s tragically severe kindergarten teacher. Having had wonderful Pre-Kindergarten teachers who allowed exploration and creativity, Kindergarten was a shocker where he was constantly criticized for not having green grass, was forced to use his right hand over his natural left tendency, and told his abstract drawing of an octopus squirting its ink to write the title of his Young Author’s story was nothing but a mess. We have continued to experience many other such teachers who seem more concerned about their own authority than in nurturing students to become and learn all that is possible. Very sad!

    • It is equally important to identify learners on both ends of the special needs spectrum to ensure an optimal education. If we don’t allow for differences in learning, then we lose the potential for individual excellence. Insisting that this child learn the way “everyone else” learns is counterproductive. And I wouldn’t worry about him having a difficult employee/employer relationship… It sounds as if he will be highly regarded in his/her chosen field.

  10. Michelle says:

    An interesting read, if you think its hard dealing with a ‘gifted’ child, try dealing with one that constantly stuggles at school, my boy is very creative but hates reading and spelling, that I find very difficult to watch.. the school that he goes to doesn’t like to look outside the square to help him.

    • Between the fact that you are reading a blog on giftedness and your description of your child as very creative, I wouldn’t rule giftedness out. Gifts need not be across all areas, and there are twice exceptional children who have an area of challenge, such as dyslexia, and an area of giftedness, such as highly creative thinking. So that is a possibility, but not necessarily the case. More about that in the blog tour on Monday.

      Prior to working in gifted education, I worked in special needs, and a lot of the skills of looking outside the square that I am developing further to help gifted children have been built upon foundations made in personalising curriculum for special needs children. You are absolutely right that we need a creative approach to teaching children who struggle every bit as much as we do with the gifted.

      • Dacia Michael says:

        Please also offer that such students may not be twice exceptional but perhaps very visual-spatial. Students with this learning style can look like they have learning disabilities. However, it is not the same thing. Schools are completely incapable of appropriately teaching and supporting these students. I am currently struggling with this and wish I could find more help. It seems to be especially difficult for boys because the Language Arts teachers are most often women who do not take into account that boys probably don’t have any interest in reading Sense and Sensibility or other such classics, in addition to not being naturally at ease with written language.

  11. Sue Breen says:

    “No-one is an island. It takes a village to raise a child.” There are many ways to say the same thing but what I try to explain to parents is that they need to ensure that their child is liked and likeable. This means that behaviours that are unacceptable to others need to be modified. (eg. Destroying other people’s work, using fists or feet instead of words, hurting other people’s feelings.) I stress to parents I talk to that people are more likely to go out of their way for children (and adults) that they like – so they need to ensure that their children use good manners etc. I had a child in my class a few years ago that I didn’t give any options to. None of the “would you like to” worked with him because his standard response was “No thank you Sue – but thank you for asking.” It was extremely hard to dislike either him – or his response – but to have any of the set tasks completed meant he needed to be given less ‘wriggle room’ than other children in the group.
    He was always busy – and always productive – but it was in his own way and in his own time.

    I think we all need the opportunity to learn what we need to learn, in our own way and at the appropriate time.
    Working well below – or well above – our actual level and needs (intellectually, creatively or physically) at any given time is frustrating and stressful.

  12. Thanks for this post! You could have been writing about my own son!

    I was called into the school recently because my son wasn’t completing his “boring” assignments. “Not working up to his potential” they told me. “We know he is gifted and we want to give him more interesting, in depth work to do but he has to prove to us that he can get through the “basic” work first” *sigh*

    • Mona says:

      As a parent-advocate for my child, let me encourage you to find ways to stimulate his giftedness even as he is trying to complete the boring stuff. There are so many resources out there – online as well as those associated with local universities – that can help you keep him engaged in learning outside of the school system. I’m not saying he should be taken out of school, but that school doesn’t have to be the only place he can learn (and shouldn’t be!! Learning is a whole-life process!). I don’t know the age of your child, but your story sounds so familiar. Keep at it, mom!! You are not alone in this struggle!

  13. Anne says:

    one of the interesting things that i found in my gifted child’s individual learning plan was that he was not to be required to do math assignments that were repeating. Only one page of each new concept. This really worked well as he was never forced to do boring work. It was noted that he needed it to be a challenge or he would not be properly stimulated and ignore their process. It worked great and he eventually went into a standard prep school cirriculm at grade 6. By then he was able to understand that repeating a problem has value. And his more gifted side isn’t even math, it is communication. So glad to have EXCELLENT gifted teachers that really did evaluate my child and guide his learning without stifling him. They are treasures to my family!

  14. Margaret says:

    OMG, this is exactly what I needed to see today, as I prepare to make a call to the Principal at my child’s school tomorrow. Thanks

  15. Pingback: Some items re: (and for) working with gifted students

  16. Natalie says:

    LOVE IT! Thank you – what wonderful sentiments.


  17. omalone1 says:

    the real questions is, if there were aware of these thigns, would it make a difference to their metod of instruction, and the manner with which they relate to the gifted?

  18. Jessica says:

    We are in the United States. I have a question: My son is will be seven shortly. At the age of 2 he knew all his alphabet and sounds, he was putting 100 piece puzzles together. At age 4 he was doing fractions. He has always had a pretty large vocabulary and started talking before every other child. When he was tested at state before school, my son scored in first and second grade at the age of 2. When he was in preschool they said he will be most likely in the sega program which is a whole day class with other gifted learners. My son hates school. He rocks back and forth, taps his feet, rolls his head, flicks his pencil, and starts doing sloppy work. I have told the teachers plenty of times he knows his stuff. he hates school and thinks its boring. He wants to be home with me. Since i have gotten into the public school I feel everything has gone down hill. I have asked the teachers to test him over and over again. They won’t. This is a boy who learns extremely fast if you give him attention like he is the only boy in the room. If you do not give him the attention, he refuses to do so. this is also a boy who plays strategy games way beyond his age level that most children can not begin to start. My question to you before I keep going, What do you think? Do you think he should be tested? Im so mad at the public school here in the United States. I am becoming a teacher too.

    • Testing may be helpful. Having the psychometric tests with a child psychologist who is familiar with gifted children will create an opportunity to discuss schools and behaviour, too.

  19. Crystal says:

    I’ve just found this insightful blog! Thank you so much for giving mother’s like me (and other commenting mothers) a sense community; in knowing that in our struggles and attempts at balancing a gifted mind with the conformity of state mandated curriculum, we are not alone. My first grader has just begun refusing to complete his work and tests, particularly math. Initially, he had problems competing his reading/writing as well, for which he has a separate teacher. Once I explained to the teacher that as a class they are working on the sounds of the alphabet, yet my six year old is coming home and reading chapter after chapter of “The Encyclopedia of Birds”, or that once I caught him reading my husbands latest “Jason Bourne” book, she quickly adjusted her teaching style and his attitude improved. His math teacher, however, refuses to adjust. Instead, he must adjust. And, in fact, she has become frustrated with him and his inability to focus. I have tried reasoning that failure to complete a test results in a failing grade, therefore, bringing his overall GPA down- but he’s still six. I don’t think he cares. Six year olds live fully in THIS moment, and not the future. His tests are tedious, and timed. He must count the number of dots within a square and complete 30 questions in 15 minutes. He could just blaze right through it (he’s into double/triple digit problems and beginning work on multiplication), but it doesn’t interest him, so he just sits there and day dreams. He might complete half the test.
    We go next week to review his test scores and discuss the gifted program. I’m not sure of his test scores yet, but I know he is being placed in the program, as I was asked to write a letter prepping the gifted teacher on areas that interest him. My concern is that the schools gifted program is not advanced placement, but a fun class where students spend the hour discussing critical thinking problems. He certainly gives him time to think creatively and outside of the box, but then he goes right back to counting dots in squares. Will that be enough? Can I reward his buckling down and doing the tedious work with trips to the museum or marina? So unsure of how to get him to just do the easy stuff. Ahhhh! 🙂

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