Gifted Learners: Who are these special students? (Part 1)

As an experienced secondary school teacher, I have had the pleasure of instructing all kinds of students, from struggling learners to students classified as gifted and/or talented. Like all humans, each group of students, and each subgroup within each group, has different characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. With every group of learners, there are generalizations and misconceptions that do a disservice to them, rather than give them the support they so deserve.
While teaching in London, England for 6 years, I had the pleasure of being Gifted and Talented Coordinator at an inner city high school. While the UK and Canada have some subtle differences in their definitions, a gifted student is generally the same world-wide. Here, I hope to share some insight and experience with Beyond the Classroom on this special group of pupils.
What is a Gifted Learner?
In the Special Education Handbook, the Ontario Ministry of Education defines giftedness as “an unusually advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided in the regular school program to satisfy the level of educational potential indicated.”
According to the Association for Bright Children of Ontario (ABC for short), “this definition should include pupils who may have a specific intellectual ability. This change would ensure that pupils with exceptional intellectual ability in one area can have these needs addressed.” ABC prefers to identify a gifted student as one who has the potential for unusual accomplishment in any of several areas, including intellectual and creative ability, musical, artistic and athletic performance and social and leadership skills.”
Part 1
Characteristics of a Gifted Learner
Gifted learners may demonstrate some or all, but not limited to, the following characteristics:

  • Rapid mastery of basic skills
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Special talent in one or more areas such as math, computers, music . . .
  • Perceptive, inquiring mind
  • Strong sense of ethics and values
  • Emotional intensity
  • Long concentration span in areas of interest
  • Advanced abstract and critical thinking skills
  • And more!

Let’s be clear – not all bright and gifted children consist of all of these characteristics and there are loads more we could consider. However, displaying some of these characteristics may indicate that a student demonstrates a high learning potential. It is important to note that gifted students are children first and foremost, and therefore benefit from the opportunities that all children need for social, emotional, physical and intellectual development. Plus, like other students, their rate of development in each of these areas may be uneven and misrepresented. We all learn and grow at different rates!
For gifted pupils, however, it can be generalized that intellectual development is significantly more advanced than what is typical for same age peers. They are advanced or high potential learners. That does not make them better, ‘super’ children, but it does indicate that they are different learners and will therefore need special accommodations.
Part 1a
There are some very cool studies that demonstrate this, including one such research paper featured in the scientific journal Intelligence. In 2000, researchers published a study comparing EEG readings of highly gifted students with students of average intelligence/ability while completing various problem solving activities. The analysis of EEG readings showed that individuals who were considered “gifted” demonstrated “higher alpha power (less mental activity) and more cooperation between brain areas …than did average intelligent individuals”.  The results suggest that creativity and intelligence are different abilities that also differ in the neurological activity displayed by certain individuals while solving problem. In short, gifted students’ brains work differently!
Gifted learners require opportunities to learn at a faster pace and with their intellectual peers to stimulate their intellectual growth and achieve their full potential. Learning experiences that are broader and deeper than those normally provided in the regular classroom can be delivered through individual education plans, differentiated instruction, acceleration and enrichment, curriculum compacting and many other strategies.
Think your son or daughter may be gifted? Don’t hesitate to discuss your thoughts and observations with your child’s educator today! Stay tuned for part 2 of our series on Gifted Learners!

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