By Alan Haskvitz, National Teachers Hall of Fame, Reader’s Digest Hero in Education, national inservice presenter 

For the complete article with intact links and other valuable connections to materials for the parents of the gifted go to


Educating the gifted student

What is giftedness?

Many parents believe their child is gifted. The problem is there are many areas of exceptionality, and sometimes overachievers or bright children may seem gifted to the inexperienced observer.

To further complicate matters for an inexperienced teacher or parent, Professor Howard Gardner gives us at least seven very encompassing categories in which a child may be gifted.

  • Linguistic. This means a child is very verbal and excels at reading and writing.
  • Logical-mathematical. This area involves the ability to see patterns and relationships; these children enjoy games of strategy and experiments.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic. These children are athletic, have good motor coordination and enjoy being active.
  • Spatial. This type of giftedness appears in those good at puzzles, drawing, building and thinking in images.
  • Musical. These children are discriminating listeners and enjoy singing, drumming and keeping rhythm.
  • Interpersonal. These learners become leaders. They communicate well, understand the way others feel and are not embarrassed to take charge.
  • Intrapersonal. These gifted traits are revealed in shy, but motivated children.

Helping the Gifted Child

So how do you help a potentially gifted child? After spending 30 years in the classroom teaching these students, I saw four factors emerge:

  1. Gifted children are a diverse and frequently stubborn group, who sometimes use their intelligence to avoid being seen as intelligent.
  2. They are competitive and enjoy being best in the fields they feel confident about. However, they are reluctant to try new things for fear of failure.
  3. They are manipulative and tell you what they think you want to hear. If they are doing poorly and believe parents will try getting them out of a tough class, they will make sure evidence they present parents is overwhelmingly in their favor.
  4. They may resent being in classrooms where gifted students have to do more work, rather than different work.

Indeed, many schools encourage skipping grades to help challenge gifted students. This is a mistake if the child cannot accept the social ramifications. In addition, and this is very important, it puts students at a real disadvantage when taking SAT tests. That extra year of preparation and maturity could be worth many points and make the difference between the school of choice and the others. Remember, with grade inflation, many students have straight-A averages. SAT scores and community and extracurricular work separate students from the pack. So, the best way to help a gifted child is to challenge them and expand their interests, while providing depth in their gifted areas.

However, there is a downside when challenging a gifted youngster. To provide the depth of knowledge needed to keep a truly gifted child interested requires a parent to make two decisions:

  • First, do you want to challenge the child in other areas and risk activating their stubbornness?
  • Second, are you willing to accept the fact your child may fail?

These are not easy decisions to make. Many parents delight in displaying honor-roll stickers and place a tremendous weight on grades, rather than learning. In addition, parents want to see happy children and tend to bulldoze anything that may jeopardize this.
Internet resources

Fortunately for parents and teachers who want to expand a child’s scope and challenge their abilities, the Internet has a vast array of excellent resources. However, because of the living nature of the Web, it is important to review these sites in case they have been purchased by those whose purpose may not match yours at

When working with a gifted child, you should have some knowledge of Bloom’s Taxonomy, which deals with levels of learning. A parent can use this link to prepare questions for their child to learn the quality of the child’s thinking. It is a must for any teacher of gifted children as it provides a focus for enrichment activities.

Being gifted is not always a wonderful situation. Gifted students have a high drop-out rate, are frequently bored and underachieving and sometimes prove to be a handful for an inexperienced teacher or uncaring administrator. About underachieving gifted students, who represent nearly 20 percent of the population. In addition, recent research has indicated that telling someone they are smart in reality discourages them from learning new things that require untired skil
Comparing bright and gifted learners (chart)

Bright child

Gifted child

Knows the answers

Asks the questions


Extremely curious

Pays attention

Gets involved physically and mentally

Works hard

Plays around; still gets good test scores

Answers questions

Questions the answers

Enjoys same-age children

Prefers adults or older peers

Good at memorization

Good at guessing

Learns easily

Bored — already knew the answers

Listens well

Shows strong feelings and opinions


Highly critical of self (perfectionistic)

Learns with ease

Is mentally/physically involved

6-8 repetitions for mastery

Has wild, silly ideas

Understands ideas

Discusses in detail; elaborates

Enjoys peers

Beyond the group

Grasps the meaning

1-2 repetitions for mastery

Completes assignments

Constructs abstractions

Is receptive

Initiates projects

Copies accurately

Is intense

Enjoys school

Creates a new design

Absorbs information

Enjoys learning


Manipulates information

Good memorizer


Enjoys straight-forward,

Good guesser

Sequential presentation

Thrives on complexity

Is alert

Is keenly observant
Janice Szabos, Challenge, 1989, Good Apple, Inc., Issue 34