Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Let's not call them "gifted."


It happens at some point in most school districts across the country. A parent, teacher, or curriculum specialist meets with the school board to propose a modest increase in gifted services. It could be a middle school accelerated math class, a fourth-grade pull-out science group, another high school AP class. After a few respectful nods, the questions begin. How would this affect the kids who aren’t identified as gifted? Wouldn’t that make them feel bad?  And aren’t all children “gifted,” each precious and unique in their own special way?

These questions have derailed gifted services for decades. Debate about the meaning of the term haunts the dialogue of administrators and teachers who scramble to educate gifted children while trying to also recognize the talents of those who are not identified. The argument against increasing gifted services frequently centers on the concept of giftedness, how gifted services might affect the rest of the school community, and whether children identified as gifted should be “entitled” to additional services. Some states have minimal guidelines or requirements for gifted education that are easy to circumvent. Educators can minimize the importance of gifted services and create few opportunities for gifted learning to avoid the appearance of elitism or favoritism toward the gifted and their families. If some kids are gifted, might that imply that the other students are not equally special?  Will that hurt their self-confidence?  Wouldn’t it be better to sacrifice a little enrichment for the gifted kids so that we can protect the self-esteem of the others?

Parents who grapple with the meaning of “giftedness” sometimes fan the flames of this debate, particularly when their child is not identified. Some parents view gifted education as a status symbol, a goal that their child must achieve. Why isn’t my child gifted? Does that mean others won’t think my child is special? Parents sometimes have their children tested and retested, and if they don’t meet the criteria, the gifted program may be disparaged. Maybe the psychologist didn’t know how to test. Maybe the tests were wrong. Maybe the whole concept is bad. Maybe, maybe, maybe…

In reality, giftedness is a learning difference. Like any other learning difference, it is identified through careful testing and evaluation. Although guidelines for identification and standards for the provision of gifted services differ from state to state, there is widespread agreement that gifted children and adults are different. They learn at a faster pace, absorb information with greater depth and complexity, have exceptional abstract reasoning skills, and are creative and innovative in their thinking.  And with IQ scores at least two standard deviations above the norm, they constitute about 5% of the population.  Yet that 5% deserves an appropriate and meaningful education that meets their unique educational needs.

If one of the roadblocks to providing gifted services is the name itself, maybe it is time to change the name. The term “gifted” incites conflict, engenders unrealistic expectations, and rouses feelings of envy among parents. It fuels debate, results in time wasted defending the merits of the classification, and fosters endless battles in school districts where even the most incremental increase in services can be denied. It leads to a false debate over superiority, resulting in bitterness and anger, or apology when none is due. And while parents and educators continue to dispute the merits of gifted education, children languish in classrooms that offer little stimulation or challenge.

In a world where perception can be everything, a new name for giftedness could remove some of the barriers to education. If children who met the criteria for identification received a different label, less time might be wasted fighting for services. Just as the term for mental retardation was changed to intellectual disability, in part, to create a more respectful public perception, the term “gifted” also warrants revision.  A variety of terms could be considered, such as “accelerated learner,” “high ability learner,” “accelerated learning ability,” or “high aptitude ability.” Any term that is descriptive, and emphasizes learning and aptitude rather than a presumed “gift,” might engender less of an emotional reaction among educators, parents, and the public in general.  If such a relatively minor revision in terminology could enhance the provision of gifted services, then it is clearly time for a change.

Let’s find another term, and not call them “gifted” any more.




34 comments:

  1. Good article. Well done. I agree that there are negatives attached to the term 'gifted', but then all labels attract misperceptions.
    One of the key issues is in trying to find a term that acknowledges the intellectual potential - which you ahve outlined above, but which also encapsulates the personality of giftedness. By this, I don't mean some airy fairy notion such as a 'gifted spirit' or the 'soul of the gifted' but characteristics such as OE.
    Welcome to the Blogosphere! Join us for chat on twitter on Sundays - 9pm GMT/4pmEST @ #gtie

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  2. Great point, Peter. There is so much more to "giftedness" than intellect, as it impacts one's entire social/emotional response to the environment. I agree that overexcitabilities are an essential feature for most gifted individuals, particularly the highly gifted. Thanks for your comments.
    Gail

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  3. Thank you for this post, and this blog! I agree completely. I hate the term gifted because it does sound elitist or as though one is boasting, when the goal is really to describe a person with a special set of skills and attributes that go outside the norm. As a mother of one of these children, I often wish I had a support group, as my parenting experience does not fit with the parenting experiences of parents with same-age children. For example, an 11-year old who doesn't care about what's considered cool, but would rather talk about convergent evolution or the fascinating difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, is definitely having a different experience growing up than his peers!

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  4. Thank you for this post, and this blog! I agree completely. I hate the term gifted because it does sound elitist or as though one is boasting, when the goal is really to describe a person with a special set of skills and attributes that go outside the norm. As a mother of one of these children, I often wish I had a support group, as my parenting experience does not fit with the parenting experiences of parents with same-age children. For example, an 11-year old who doesn't care about what's considered cool, but would rather talk about convergent evolution or the fascinating difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes, is definitely having a different experience growing up than his peers!

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  5. Thanks, Christine.

    The label really complicates one's ability to actually describe the intellectual/social/emotional components of giftedness.

    I hope you can find some support along the way. Perhaps the gifted support teacher at your child's school could help you connect with other parents. Or at the very least, maybe you could find other parents online who share your experiences.

    Pretty funny about the prokaryotes (don't think I know what that is either!)

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  6. Christine,
    If you haven't already, you should check out this website:
    http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/

    It is a wealth of information for parents, educators, and kids who fall into the Gifted range. Many parents have reported finding good support networks through this resource.

    Good luck!
    Karen

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  7. Christine,
    If you haven't already, you should check out this website:
    http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/

    It is a wealth of information for parents, educators, and kids who fall into the Gifted range. Many parents have reported finding good support networks through this resource.

    Good luck!
    Karen

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  8. I agree with the need for a different label to counteract the notion that services for gifted kids are elitist. Think about this rationally for a moment. Would we even consider denying or cutting back services to the children with abilities at the bottom 5% of the normal curve? Why then is is such a huge issue to offer appropriate education to those children at the top 5% of the normal curve? Isn't every child in the U.S. entitled to a "Free and Appropriate Public Education" by law?

    Another term for giftedness has been circulating that might make more sense: "Asynchronous Learner". This does fit most high ability kids. They all learn at a rate that is not synchronized with their age-mates. Moreover, many learn at different rates in different subject areas, just as all kids do. What changes with a gifted learner, however, is that the difference in learning between the subject areas can be astounding. They may learn all subjects more quickly and deeply than average kids, but have a particular strength in a certain area that is really advanced.

    Using the term asynchronous also leads the way for strategies such as curriculum compacting and acceleration (overall and single subject) that can greatly benefit high ability learners academically, emotionally, and socially.

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  9. Karen, Great points. Thanks for your comments.

    Gail

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  10. I love this article. I will be sharing. It never occurred to me that we should change this term but I think it would solve so many problems especially since some "gifted" children are high ability learner is certain areas and in certain areas, they struggle more than their peers. Thus, someone could be an accelerated learner in Math but not be so accelerated in language arts! Wonderful!

    Jenn Choi
    www.toysaretools.com
    thoughtful toy reviews -develop skills- encourage natural talents

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  11. Great topic! As I see it, it's not word choice for the labels or even recognizing the special abilities ... it's the need to sort and classify human beings. Grouping people by attributes may be efficient but it's not ideal. Fast food has afforded us consistent cheap meals in minutes at drive-thrus worldwide ... but it's less nutritious every year and increasingly toxic. Education has followed a fast food model with the same results. Affluent consumers can afford organic food and child-centered education. The rest are stuck arguing over foam containers versus paper, 16oz cups vs. 12oz. Productive, yes but only in minimal amounts. So yes, perhaps the "gifted" label has some connotations that work against the process ("why allocate resources to gifted education when they'll be fine regardless," etc.). But labels are just for sorting purposes. Let's educate individual human beings and stop treating them like cogs and widgets. Gifted kids are too smart for this and too sensitive to the effects.

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  12. Here, Here Scott! The reason the term gifted offends so many is that it brings up mental images of a person that is better than others. Lets face it we are all different, unique, and special individuals. If our education system sought to teach each child from where they are at a given point in time, in ways that were meaningful to him or her...we would not need labels for ANYONE! But let's face it, in the US education is an industry, an assembly line churning out graduates each year. To provide completely asynchronous educational experiences to every child would mean completely rethinking the educational model, and potentially increasing the spending - at least initially - to make it happen. As the mother of a gifted 14 year old I know we won't see that type of experience, and I will continue to need to use the term gifted to gain opportunities that meet his needs; but, I hope in my life time I see our efforts result in a strategic shifts in the educational ecosystem.

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  14. Throughout our historical past, we have tried to define what "gifted" is, but have failed miserably. The reason for this is that it CANNOT be defined. What one person values as gifted can be vastly different than what someone else values as gifted.

    In Wisconsin, we are to identify students in the areas of academics, leadership, creativity, and the arts...BUT what about those who are talented with technology? This area often goes overlooked. What about the student who has a passion and talent in the area of genetics, but not earth science...?

    Technology is creating more and more asynchronous learners because students can now learn outside of the classroom setting with access to various Apps, youtube videos and computer simulations.

    Our educational system needs to focus on STRETCh'ing all students. - Striving To Reach Every Talented Child (www.stretchinstructor.com) Through my website and work in my current school district, I am trying to create the shifts needed in our educational system. Please consider joining to help create this change!

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/STRETCh-Striving-To-Reach-Every-Talented-Child/172282802807283

    All educators should be pre-assessing student knowledge and focusing on a growth model of education for ALL students. Our asynchronous environment is creating the need for personalizing instruction for students. Parents need an advocacy model for working with the school system to make sure their child's/children's unique needs are being met. Check out the following model at: http://stretchinstructor.blogspot.com/2013/02/parent-advocacy-model-are-my-childs.html

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  15. Great comments about the importance of approaching each child as an individual with unique needs. Such a difficult task, though, in busy classrooms with overworked teachers.

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  16. The interesting thing is that various terms have been used besides "gifted" already. In terms of the negative feelings they generate, I don't see that there's an appreciable difference. The main reason for that is that the negative feelings are mistakenly attributed to the choice of words. I believe that their true source comes from the fear all parents have that their children will not have a place in the world of adults when they grow up, and envy towards those who are perceived as having better chances.

    I does not matter whether we call gifted students "high ability" or anything else. All those words will stand for the same thing: a group of children who are perceived as having an advantage that others don't have. I think the never-ending debate about terminology is pointless. There will never be a word for "gifted" that doesn't inspire accusations of elitism.

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  17. Great article. I was in the "Gifted and Talented" program in grammar school and my son is now, and there's definitely some challenges to the name. But I'm with Catherine on this one.

    High Ability Learner / High Aptitude Learner / Asynchronous Learner - call it any derivation of that and you're not going to reduce the questioning about why someone else's child doesn't fit that description. And importantly, the one thing that "Gifted" has over any other term is that it has, for good or bad, been used for decades. It has a history. If we decide to assign a new name it is almost certain that there would be fresh efforts to redefine "Well, what does High Aptitude Learner mean? My child is a quick study. He might not be that creative, but he can pick stuff up quick." It's not going to change the situation, and might make it even murkier.

    The semantics are powerful indeed.

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  18. The problem is with our educational system, and our society, not with the term "gifted." I don't know whether you have noticed, but our educational system is broken. Gifted children deserve to be identified, and named as such. Most gifted children don't belong in a regular classroom or in most of the public and private schools that exist today, because our teachers and administrators aren't willing to acknowledge and address their needs. The problem is not with the term, but with our dysfunctional system. There were no gifted and talented programs in my school, for better or worse. Some of them are misused as repositories for high-achieving students and their sometimes helicopter parents. Meanwhile, low cost alternatives like acceleration are routinely ignored by close-minded administrators who do not know about the extensive research and positive track record associated with acceleration. We need to increase the standards to which we hold teachers and schools, and require that each teacher take at least one course about the gifted as a requirement for getting their teaching license. That would be a step in the right direction. But changing the term "gifted" to something else won't turn the trick. We need to educate the adults who don't understand the term first.

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  19. Again, great comments. I agree that educating schools, administrators and the public in general is critical. And envy and misunderstanding will continue at times, when some children have what others want for their own children. Barriers to understanding and education need to be removed.

    The point of this blog post was to suggest that "if" the label is one such barrier, then changing it may be one small step toward tearing down some of the many walls that prevent gifted children from receiving what they deserve.

    I certainly understand that others may disagree that this is necessary... that the task ahead is too large and should not rest on semantics.

    Gail

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  20. I'm a mom of two highly gifted kids aged 9 and 8 - and we have had to pull them out of the public school system and homeschool them. I never thought I would be a homeschooler, but the school system just doesn't have the resources they need to deal with these kids. Our current budget for gifted education in our school district is $0. Yes, ZERO. I agree that part of the reason for this is that the term gifted implies elitism, but I also think that the other labels suggested will do the same. People assume that a "gifted" or "high ability" child doesn't need extra help to understand what is being taught and so therefore can be left alone. And the difficulty for gifted and highly gifted children isn't so much that they need to be challenged because they would like that better - if we don't challenge them, they end up dropping out of school. Statistically gifted children have a higher than average drop out rate. This is a RISK factor, not a gift. We need to give these kids what they need to stay in school. They didn't ask to be "gifted" and they should not be disadvantaged because they are misunderstood or envied. If any other population in our education system had a statistically higher risk for dropping out, there would be initiatives, First Wives would lead the charge and programs would flourish. It is truly disheartening that fear and ignorance inhibit us from doing the right thing and taking care of all children.

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  21. Jennifer,

    So sorry to hear about your experience in the school system. It is unfortunate that so many children are neglected.

    Gail

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  22. I agree to the idea however; long term, we should provide children from Preschool up the ability to work in each subject to their ability. For instance; Math 1, Math 2, etc. Just like High School. Give each child a test to see where they are. If they are weak in English, let them take English 1. If they are better at Science, let them take Science 2. If they excel in Math, let them take Math 3. If they are a quick learner; let them take for example Science Enrichment. My Granddaughter should be in the 3rd Grade but, she is taking Math 7, Grammar 6, Spelling 5 and reads at 9th grade level. Last year, she was in her third year of French, started Computer Science and was in her second year of Philosophy which she excels in. If a child is comfortable at different levels, why not just make it available for them. We would not have to label them at all. Provide them with Grade Variable Schools and call them Enrichment Schools so that they will not have to be taken from school to school; thus allowing the parents to work full time while providing their children a fitting education. All in all: Education should be formed around the children...Not have the children conform to be educated. Children are truly gifted...It is the school systems that are hindering their learning process.

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  23. Great point. A lot of schools refuse to consider this, though, because of years of problems with "tracking" or resistance to acceleration. Unfortunately, many children who need more stimulation are left unchallenged because of these policies.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Gail

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  24. I agree that new terminology should be established to replace the term 'gifted'. When I was 12-13yrs old back in the late 1970's, I was placed in an afterschool program called "More Able Students". The name did nothing for my sense of self. Now I had a label for why I felt different, but it seemed elitist and I hated it. We need something that addresses different needs without defining an individual with a firm label--not 'gifted', not 'high ability', not weird, just different.

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  25. Jackie,
    Thank you for sharing how much a label can affect a child's sense of self.

    Gail

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  26. My daughter qualifies for the "gifted" program in our state and our inner ring (read poor) district. I disagree with the way the district implements the gifted program especially at the elementary school levels. It is easy to differentiate in MS and HS. It is much harder for an advanced learner to get by in Elementary, which is where they need to focus differentiation of all types. The issue is twofold: the antonym to "gifted" is "inept". If your child isn't "gifted", it feels like people are saying they are inept. That is where the problem lies and why people/districts need to change the way they discuss this type of learner. Also, much of education is watered down. I can argue that many of the high normal/bright/high achieving/mildy gifted...whatever term you give them...kids are bored out of their mind in regular classes, especially in urban or inner ring suburban districts. That is why parents will FIGHT to get their bright kids identified as gifted. The whole topic is both fascinating and disgusts me about education. Unfortunately I cannot look at it from a distance as my daughter is enmeshed in it.

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  27. Anonymous,

    Thanks for bringing up your concerns. I agree that it is a fascinating topic. It's just hard when you're mired in the middle of it and don't feel you have any recourse. Depending on what the regs. are in your state, hopefully you can advocate more for some additional services for your daughter.

    Gail

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  28. Gail:
    As you reiterated in one of your replies, you posed the comment that "If one of the roadblocks to providing gifted services is the name itself, maybe it is time to change the name."

    It is not a matter of disagreeing, for all that I disagree. It is that there is ZERO evidence to support the position that changing the name will make it easier to provide gifted services!

    As I have noted elsewhere, we do not have mandated gifted services in Massachusetts. We do not have a certification for teachers of the gifted. What we have is an ancillary Specialist Teacher License for teachers of Academically Advanced students.
    http://www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr7.html?section=07

    From the regs:
    "Completion of an approved educator preparation program for the Initial license as set forth in 603 CMR 7.03 (2) (a)."

    We have NO approved educator preparation programs for this Specialist Teacher License. There are no courses offered in most of our state run teachers' colleges and even in the rare instance where there is a course, there is no program, approved or otherwise.

    We had a huge state-wide conclave of superintendents exploring the Academically Advanced students and their needs in 2002. The information about that is still proudly displayed on the Commonwealth's website. That was the end of that.
    ******

    The schools that have no gifted program and identify no gifted children don't leap up to meet the needs of "highly intelligent" students or "asynchronous" learners or "academically advanced" children.

    We just don't see it in more than a handful of them when there is no mandate and even when there *is* a mandate, it is often resisted.

    If it were the word that was holding back services, wouldn't we see services in the bulk of places that do not use the word, rather than just a few?

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    1. So unfortunate that your state does not address gifted services. I agree that changing the word is not enough. However, it is one impediment since it instills so much animosity, envy and confusion among those who misinterpret its meaning. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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  29. Gail - the animosity and envy are there without the label. Really. It is not my state - it is my region. Mass does more for G/T than NH or VT or RI, though we don't do much.

    The anti-intellectual aspect of America is long documented.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/09/richard-hofstadter-and-america-s-new-wave-of-anti-intellectualism.html

    a “resentment of the life of the mind, and those who are considered to represent it; and a disposition to constantly minimize the value of that life.”

    That was written 50 years ago and is no less true today than it was then, and possibly more true.

    Again, if you have any *evidence* that changing the word makes things better or makes it more likely that services will be provided to our children, I would love to see/hear it!

    I also think the bulk of the confusion is not term-derived, but have far less direct evidence of that because it is harder to measure/observe.

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  30. Actually, let's call them privileged - most of them are from high socioeconomic backgrounds with educated parents - many who push their children to achieve those straight As. The only 'gift' most of these kids have bestowed on them is their unfair advantage. What a horrible, elitist, exclusive term 'gifed and talented' is.

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    1. I realize that I am not going to change your opinions - since they are clearly based on your feelings about gifted individuals. However, I would urge you to do more reading about gifted intellectual functioning and learn how it has nothing to do with socioeconomic status or prepping children to achieve. Children from all socioeconomic, racial, and cultural backgrounds are gifted; how we choose as a society to educate them is up to us. Misunderstanding leads to claims of elitism - it is no more elitist to be gifted than to be short or tall - it reflects innate ability, is not an indication of being better than anyone else, and has nothing to do with one's background. Please go to NAGC.org, SENGifted.org or HoagiesGifted.org to learn more.

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  31. The only 'gift' most of these kids have is the gift of socioeconomic advantage - educated parents, wealth poured into their education, tutoring etc. Their 'talent' was mostly developed by being pushed to excel by their parents. The term 'gifted and talented' is horrid, exclusive, elitist and arrogant. Gifted Schmifted.

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  32. I AM READING THIS AS PART OF MY RESEARCH FOR AN ESSAY AS A GIFTED STUDENT. I want to clarify for mr anonomus that there is a difference between X people and advanced academics. X people are often in the category of 2-5x meaning that things like ADHD disgraphia dislexia, and things like insomnia or anxiety are common. they have a diferent way of learning not nessecaraly an inchanced capacity, they retain certian types of information better than others. But they do the least welll on standerdized tesets.

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