I teach students who have been identified as “gifted.” Yet I know that there are many kinds of giftedness that may not be measured by the tests we give. I also know that there are students who qualify for my program who sometimes have difficulty in school – and in life. Being labeled “gifted” does not guarantee success; not being “gifted” does not doom one to failure.
When my daughter entered school, we had the choice of whether or not to have her take a test that might qualify her to skip kindergarten. One of the people I asked for advice said, “Well, it depends. Many of the students who skip a grade don’t end up qualifying for the gifted program. How important is it for your child to be ‘gifted?’ At this point, she may always be at the top of her class, but if she skips kindergarten she may not stand out so much.”
We let her take the test. It was more important for me to make sure she would be at a level appropriate to her ability most of the time than for her to receive a label that would only guarantee a couple of hours a week of advanced curriculum.
She passed the test and moved to 1st grade her second week of school. When she was tested for Gifted and Talented later that year, she did not qualify.
I’ll admit that it stung a bit. I teach gifted and talented students and, like many parents, I was pretty proud of my own child’s intelligence. But she had an incredible first grade teacher (thanks, Mrs. Whitworth!) and it was clear that my daughter was well-suited for the academics she encountered. The only time I’ve regretted the decision for her to skip kindergarten is when I realized that it meant I had one less year to save for college – and to prepare for an empty nest.
My daughter eventually qualified for the Gifted and Talented program. I was happy because I knew she would learn even more great things from the teacher, Mrs. Balbert. I was even fortunate to have my daughter in my own GT class her last year of elementary school.
But I would have been fine if she had not ever been identified as gifted. Because what I admire most about my daughter is not her grades or her label. It is her desire to learn. She is intrinsically motivated and willing to try new things. She chooses activities and classes that interest her, and works hard because they were her choices.
This is what I tell parents of students who do not qualify for our program – just as GT does not equal accomplishment, not being in a GT program does not condemn a student to an average life. In fact, according to the Fullerton Longitudinal Study, which you can read about here, it is the “motivationally gifted” who seem to reap the most benefits when it comes to advanced academic degrees and leadership potential. And, as you’ve probably guessed, not many GT programs test for intrinsic motivation.
The good news – and the bad news – is that the desire to learn can be fostered in any child when parents and educators shift the focus of learning to encouraging curiosity and the development of strengths and away from the emphasis on grade point averages.
Parents, do your child a favor by disregarding class rank, and work with the school to find courses that interest him or her. Model your own enjoyment of learning new things and taking calculated risks. Help your child to understand what it feels like to pursue a difficult challenge because it is interesting instead of because it will look good on a transcript.
Educators, think about what you can do to contribute to providing environments that nurture the desire to learn. (Shift This, by Joy Kirr, is a great book to help you get started.) Cultivate student interests and strengths whenever you have the opportunity.
GT, Honors, AP, straight A’s, should not be badges of honor – or shame. I was devastated when I wasn’t first in my class in high school, but it hasn’t made a speck of difference in my success or lack of it. Fortunately, I never lost my desire to learn. Just a few months ago, I learned how to change my own flat tire, and it felt pretty good. Until my daughter clocked me in the head with the car door. “Car-ma” for being a little too proud of my own accomplishment. Is it possible to be overly intrinsically motivated? Maybe that should be the follow-up study…