The Gifted Label

I find that I am unable to attend Twitter #gtchat at present due to a busy schedule, so I have decided that I will sometimes write on #gtchat discussion topics, and make just one tweet linking to my blog post, as my way of supporting this wonderful online happening each week. Sometimes my post will be very brief, depending on the time I have available.

Today, the chat will be about that controversial label we use for children with exciting potential – “gifted”. Gifted children were “children with special abilities” in New Zealand schools, until internet searching became a common way of teachers boosting their own knowledge. It then became important to understand that these kids were “gifted” in most of the international literature, and that this word made a better search term. Gradually it also became the main term used in schools. But is it best?

I do think the word stands in the way of the identification, and therefore the support, of many “gifted kids”. And yet, local and international conversations about a better term only reach consensus with one’s nearest and dearest. This, I suspect, is groupthink rather than wisdom.

In New Zealand, what gifted means is defined by each school. This has plusses and minuses. However, in terms of the label, it gives each school an opportunity to talk terminology. Schools will need a knowledge of terms like gifted, high potential, high ability and twice exceptional to access the literature, but in their discussions of giftedness and what it really means, there will be teachers and parents who say, “But I wouldn’t call these children gifted. I would say they were …”.

The word or description that goes in the blank space must be written down and treasured. This is a term that works in this school’s community. Remembering this term will help with identification, and therefore support, of gifted children at this school. They may end up with a word bank of a dozen terms that catch the attention of members of their school community when they come up in conversations between teachers and parents.

Let’s be open to a range of terms and “widen the net” we use to catch kids who are showing us they could be more, do more, if we would only let them.

Back when I was at school, very few of us stayed on until the final year of high school – the seventh form. I mentioned to an old classmate, while I described my role in gifted education today, that our whole seventh form would probably be considered gifted kids today. “It is hard to think of us as gifted,” he said. “We were just getting on with it.” Sometimes even that is a clue – the kids who are just getting on with it may be showing a task commitment that those seeking to identify the gifted would do well to notice. Let’s value all these phrases that widen the net!

Fisher casts a fishing net.

Let's collect words and phrases that help us to cast our net wide, as we search for the children who need identification, support and challenge.
Photo CC-BY Kiran Varanasi.

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About Mary St George

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

6 Responses to The Gifted Label

  1. Mona says:

    I think what the GT community needs is a consistent, clear definition for the terminology we use. It should be standardized, so that any educator(/person), anywhere, can easily find out what it means to be gifted, and how to help a gifted child/person. If the GT community is clear about whom it is we are discussing, and what makes them unique and require special interventions, we will get much further in our ability to get appropriate education for all of these children.

    • I’d like to see a nationwide definition here. I understand the reasons that there isn’t one. Giftedness is culturally defined, New Zealand is culturally diverse, and we don’t want to impose a definition of giftedness on a school community where it is a bad fit. Also, great things come out of discussions about what giftedness means within school communities. However, I wonder about a national definition with permission to add a modifying clause to suit the local school.

      Global definitions are even more complex!

  2. skpicard says:

    I have found the label to be a double edged sword. Sometimes when people use the term gifted they forget the special needs part. Take a look at a normal curve…these students are a long way from average. While we we’ve been trained to think that being above average is a good thing, it also means that we differ from the average in significant ways…intelligence is not an entity unto itself. It is wrapped up with our emotions and the way we interact with the world.

  3. Pingback: What’s in a Name? « The Deep End

  4. Jean Edwards says:

    Very thought-provoking article- thank you! I believe that many people unfortunately associate the notion of ‘superior’ with the term “gifted”. I’d love to see more education about the multitudinous aspects of being gifted – the vulnerabilities and struggles, as well as the mental-habits and work-habits that underpin achievement….

    I love your idea of USING the terms that the school community comes up with 🙂
    Kind regards
    Jean Edwards (NZ)

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