Gifted Learning: different, not better

Sania Chandrani, Editor-in-Chief

Starting at age five, students can take tests that will separate them from their peers. If a kindergarten student scores exceptionally, he is ushered into a new cohort of students who also scored well. This is the Gifted program.
Gifted used to be classified as a form of special education because of the unique needs of the students. Students within this program have particular learning styles and certain behavioral patterns that differ from those of conventional learners and often require additional forethought. However, there is no single characteristic that classifies a student as Gifted.

Physics teacher Mr. Phil Heier states, “In Physics, it’s a student who looks at things differently. They’re able to, instead of just solving a problem just by rote, they are able to go about it a number of different ways.”
Gifted is also not synonymous with academic. Many students who have been tested into the Gifted program tend not to pay attention and complete the work as it comes easily to them.

Others, Heier says, “who fit the county or state definition of Gifted are not truly Gifted, they are just really good students, and there is nothing wrong with that. But some of my worst students are gifted. They view things differently; they’re not focused, academically.”

These may be the students in the back of the room who chirp up to ask questions but may not be seen as brilliant because their test scores may not reflect their abilities.
Students’ Giftedness may also differ from subject to subject with some Gifted across the board while others only excel in one or another.

He continues on to mention students who are extremely grade-conscious who ask simply, “‘show me how to do the problem,’” and they will get it done. “Those typically are not Gifted,” Heier states. “Then there are students who are academically driven and Gifted because not only do they want to do it well, but they want to do it well three different ways.”

Because there is no definitive description of a Gifted Student, school systems attempt to best meet students’ educational needs using an assessment that measures students’ academic abilities.
Head of the Gifted department at Parkview, Tara Finco explains the Gifted test as assessing creativity, motivation, and mental achievement/ability. “They have to meet eligibility in three out of those four areas if they’re going to be considered in the Gifted Program.”

However, students who score exceptionally in the mental categories can enter the program without excelling as highly in the other two.

Gifted classes at Parkview are a mixture of students who have tested into the Gifted program and high-achieving honors level students who have shown dedication or passion for a subject. These classes tend to move at a faster pace and incorporate more individual work. Gifted students can often be identified by their desire for academic rigor and freedom.

“Some Gifted students take regular courses their senior year thinking it’ll be a nice, easy class–it drives them crazy because they’re not being challenged,” Heier says.
Finco believes all students should be given a level of free reign in their schooling. “Ideally, all learning would be project-based,” she ventures.

Although it begins at the classroom level, division between students classified as “Gifted” and “average” often spills over into social interactions and personal mentalities.

In his classes, Heier has noticed traces of this attitude, “For some students, there is a bit of, actually not a bit, a lot of ego. Certainly embrace giftedness, but that doesn’t make you any better than the hard working honors student.”