Monday, October 24, 2016

Boredom, school, and the gifted child: Challenging its inevitability

Do you remember boredom?

Watching the classroom clock. Staring out the window. Doodling until all space in the margins disappeared. Wondering, yet again, why does this have to be so damned boring?!


Life in a typical classroom. No one ever promised fun and games, but the amount of time spent waiting, daydreaming, and battling boredom is even greater for gifted children. In the recesses of their memory, most gifted children recall the joy of learning, their innate curiosity, the spark of discovery when learning was neither slow nor tedious. But that experience may seem far removed from life in mixed ability classrooms tailored to the needs of the average or at-risk student.

What must change?


1. Recognition that gifted children are different. 

First, schools must acknowledge that gifted children are truly different from the norm and need advanced, intensive and accelerated instruction. Gifted children are not just smart; they learn and relate to the world differently. They grasp material more quickly, with greater depth and complexity, and require fewer repetitions to master a concept. Many are emotionally intense, have a heightened sense of fairness and social justice, and ponder existential mysteries at a young age. Those displaying asynchronous development often struggle socially, as their maturity may lag behind their intellect. Without an appreciation of these differences, schools enable gifted students' boredom by failing to address their learning needs.

2. Provision of appropriate services

Unfortunately, even when these differences are acknowledged, many school districts fall short of providing the academic services gifted children require. Whether a function of financial, political or philosophical priorities, gifted students are treated like every other child; they are offered the same education in the same format in the same classrooms. While seemingly fair and equitable, this deprives them of an appropriate education, and essentially ensures that vast periods of down time will fill their day.

3. Elimination of misconceptions and misunderstanding

Misconceptions about giftedness are commonplace, and those who have not lived with, counseled or taught a gifted child may hold false assumptions. Many view them with suspicion - as studious nerds, oddballs who don't quite fit in, sporting helicopter parents orchestrating their achievements. Let's set the record straight: gifted children are not hot-housed products of upscale parents; no amount of instruction or practice  can instill the cognitive complexity and depth of thinking they possess. They are a widely diverse group, in terms of intellectual range, social/emotional needs, and socioeconomic backgrounds. These children warrant a school environment that dispels misconceptions and prejudice, and grants them an opportunity for engaged learning.

4. Adoption of legal provisions everywhere

It is astonishing that so few states in the U.S. offer legal protection for gifted students. Here in Pennsylvania, a legal mandate (although without funding) exists for the purpose of identification and provision of gifted services. While this does not guarantee an ideal education, it gives families leverage to fight for their child's rights. As a consultant, I have spoken with families from other states across the country where these rights are non-existent. Families are completely on their own, and must rely on the willingness of a given school district to help their child. (See NAGC for a list of services in each state.) No children should be denied their legal right to a fair and appropriate education and left to languish in slow-paced classrooms just because of where they reside.

How can we eliminate boredom from the classroom?


Advocacy, advocacy, advocacy. Change can occur through the following: individual advocacy for your child within the school; participation in parent groups; support for systemic changes in provision of gifted services; and public advocacy for district, state and national policy changes regarding funding, legal rights, and provision of services.

Since reform takes time, you still need to help your child adapt. Some specific ideas for helping your child manage boredom in the classroom can be found here.  And keep in mind that most teachers are dedicated and caring, and don't want to be reminded that their students are bored. So use care when speaking with your child's teacher. But if you want to eliminate the boredom and stagnation that affect gifted children, as well as many advanced students, more involvement is necessary.

Become knowledgeable.

Get involved.

Don't let boredom overshadow your child's or any other child's education.

13 comments:

  1. Well done! Powerfully said. You are such a wonderful and articulate advocate for our gifted kids and families.

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    1. Thanks, Paula. So appreciate your kind words!

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  2. I'm curious as to whether or not gifted identification has entered parochial schools in PA. I was that unidentified gifted child. Gifted education has such a long way to go.

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    1. I am not sure, but I think that gifted ed is similar to spec ed in Pa for parochial education - it is an option and can be required if families and/or the schools insist, but it is not necessarily required that the schools offer services, other than perhaps meeting the individual needs of a student. I do not believe that there are gifted "programs" offered in parochial schools, but that children can still have a GIEP. Since they are private schools, parents do not have the same leverage as they do in public schools. I may be wrong about this, and there may be great variability across schools and districts. I am not a spec ed or gifted ed legal expert, though (!). If anyone else reading this from Pa. has more to say, please jump in.

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    2. I'm sure it depends on the school's resources. In my experience, our parochial school didn't have the ability to fully support our gifted children. Teachers were wonderful, and did what they could, but ultimately we needed to move our children to the public school, where there were more opportunities for support.

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  3. This comment about boredom is sadly still all too true. But there is a way to make a difference, and the evidence shows it works. It begins with recognizing that what really needs to change, more than any other factor, is teacher knowledge. Too many teachers have simply never had existing perceptions challenged and have never had access to in-depth extended support to teach them realistic and effective strategies for working with these children. New Zealand's successful One Day School program, which worked with some hundreds of gifted children in various different parts of the country, developed a depth of experience in this field, and this evolved into what is now an online semester-length course for teachers, the Certificate of Effective Practice in Gifted Education. It's been running since 2006, has won endorsement from ISAD, and has been completed not just by New Zealand teachers but also by teachers from Australia, various Asian countries, Sweden and Jamaica. As one school principal said to me just this week, her staff now "get" the notion of giftedness and are finding their students are now more engaged and their own planning more satisfying. We're very committed to this, and welcome inquiries - see our website www.giftedreach.org.nz.

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    1. Rosemary, Thank you for letting us know what is going on in your school. I agree that one of the barriers to helping these kids is the unfortunate lack of education for teachers. It is not necessarily a lack of interest - just a lack of understanding. So great to hear that you are making progress with this. Thanks for sharing your information.

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  4. In our case my daughter is still very young according to the school she is in 1st grade and just turning 6. No schools here would grant her access due to age so we were feeling trapped we enrolled her in a Montessori school. Ifeel she is getting a better education than our public school however even there she would like harder or more indepth materials. In the blended class of 1-3 grade she is more interested in the 3rd year students things at times and becomes bored with the easy work. Brirf chat with the teacher resulted in she needs to show mastery in lower works before moving up but to my kiddo that just isn't what she wants do double the work to move up quicker she would rather just sit and listen in or watch what others are doing after completing her work. I plan on talking to the school further at parent teacher conferences coming up to see what can be done to ensure she is actually given chance to learn not just coasting and being unchallenged.

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    1. Unknown, It sounds like a tough situation. I hope that you can persuade the school to challenge her more. I don't know if you are in a location where there are legal provisions for gifted services. If so, you may be able to insist that she receive accommodations, either at her current school, or in the public school. If there are no legal provisions, you still can advocate and work collaboratively to try to ensure that she gets what she needs. It may be an uphill battle, but you may be able to get some movement. Good luck.

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    2. Sorry it posted as unknown. I have parent teachers in about 2 weeks more. I really hope it helps. We live in North East Pa. I don't know just how to bring up the conversation without sounding confrontational or my kid is smarter or anything that may make the conversation less successful.

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    3. Lynn, Since you are in PA, you can request IQ testing. If the school doesn't offer it, then contact the IU. Once she is tested and qualifies for a GIEP, you have some ability to advocate for her. Your school may not be able or willing to accommodate her, though, which may lead you back to the public school or to seek out other options.

      In terms of speaking to teachers, here is a blog post I wrote a while ago: http://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com/2014/02/six-tips-for-communicating-with-your.html. I don't know if it will help, but it's a start. Good luck.

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  5. Very well-written. Gifted kids are special hence, need special supervision and attention. We have to identify their behavior and requirements.

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    1. Thanks. I agree that they are "special" in that they have different needs than average students, and this warrants the school's efforts. I appreciate your feedback.

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