Becoming a Learning Detective

You might need to become a learning detective!

You might need to become a learning detective!

Some of the gifted children I have taught seem to be ‘knowledge detectives’. Not only do they detect new knowledge, but these children seem to do so with a kind of stealth which an undercover cop would be proud of. Parents typically tell me that they have no idea where these children learn what they know, but they certainly know it isn’t coming from them.

“She just soaks up information like a little sponge.”


“He seems to attract information by magnetism.”

Over the years, I have learnt that the more adamant the parent is that the child does not learn from them, the more likely it is that an unspoken second message is also being sent. The second message is a little more concerning than the first. If anyone ever said it out loud, this is what it would be:

“I am quite sure my child isn’t learning from me, because whenever I try to teach anything, my gifted child seems unable or unwilling to learn.”

This situation is both puzzling and distressing for parents. Once the child enters the school system, it is likely that this child is not going to learn the material the school teachers have on offer, either. However, the child will keep learning all sorts of other things, seemingly by stealth.

A typical explanation is that this child is highly selective, even spoilt, and only learns what he or she wants to learn. However, I am fortunate enough to work with a negotiable curriculum. There is a time in each learning session when I can give children permission to learn exactly what they want to learn, and yet these same children are at first unable to use that opportunity to their advantage. I have become convinced that these children do not learn by stealth. They learn by accident. They don’t know when they are learning, or how they learn best, and they cannot decide to learn something and then settle to their task, no matter how interested they are in the subject matter. When they do learn, they learn very well, but the process is not within their control.

The response then, to our “knowledge detectives,” is to become learning detectives. As parents and teachers, we need to become very aware of all the different things which learning can look like, so that we can spot the merest hint of those learning behaviours in these children. Then we need to communicate what we see to the child.

“I can see how your eyes light up when you watch science videos like this one. You are paying close attention and thinking hard. That’s an excellent learning behaviour.”

“I saw how you took that apart, put it back together, and tried it again. You were evaluating the smoothness of the wheel motion, and you made lots of adjustments until you were satisfied with the result. You are teaching yourself a lot about how things work.”

“Look at your book. It’s getting quite worn around the edges. That’s because you have been willing to read it again and again. I bet you learnt a lot that way.”

Some parents also take photographs or videos of their child involved in learning behaviours. Some save fragments of writing, as these children are often reluctant writers, and also write down some of the stories their children tell them orally. In this way, they chronicle their child’s learning journey, creating a body of evidence that learning is occurring which they can discuss with their child. Teachers can and must do some similar things, to the extent which their busy workload allows.

Once we can detect the child’s learning, and can show them some evidence, learning doesn’t need to be a highly effective accident any more. It becomes a set of behaviours which can be recognised, understood, and soon also controlled by the child.

Gifted Awareness Week begins next Monday, on the 15th of June. If you find your child’s learning hard to detect, I challenge you to capture some evidence of learning behaviour this Gifted Awareness Week, and to use that evidence to celebrate his or her learning. Maybe you’d even like to blog about it.

 #NZGAW Blog TourImage Credit: The detective image is by Flickr member olarte.ollie and has attribution and share alike licenses.

Find other #NZGAW Blog Tour posts at


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.

3 Responses to Becoming a Learning Detective

  1. Pingback: Article: “Becoming a Learning Detective” By Mary St George

  2. ljconrad says:

    Love this post and the suggestion that parents record their child’s out-of-school experiences. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I think this is an excellent way to show others their progress and abilities.

  3. jofreitag says:

    I really like the idea of reflecting to the children what they are doing when they are learning!

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