I came across this quote by Norman J. Mirman this morning as I was reading through a collection of articles in the book “Designing and Developing Programs for Gifted Students”. He writes “Children considered gifted fall within the upper 2% of the population in intelligence. This may be the only characteristic they have in common.” I couldn’t help but smile as I remembered a couple of conversations from last year. One with a student who asked me if I was certain the others in his challenge group were gifted and another with a teacher who confided that they hadn’t seen any brilliant assignments yet.
There is good reason for this confusion: the idea of giftedness can be nebulous enough without adding in the complication of how these gifts may manifest themselves in the unique circumstances of the students lives. Earlier in the same book in an article entitled “From Needs and Goals to Program Organization” Joan Franklin Smutny and Cheryl Lind write that any gifted program must early on decide on their target population of students which will then guide the selection process and curriculum planning. “A program focusing on math and science for example will use identification measures that may differ from one that includes all subjects or one that attempts to reach underrepresented gifted students (e.g., bilingual, multicultural, urban and/or rural poor). p.12 If we have expectations of how gifted individuals are going to behave or represent their abilities we are not only likely to be disappointed but also place an unfair burden on that particular individual.
I have had a number of students whisper to me quietly as we work on goals “but I don’t know what my gifts are” as they wonder and perhaps worry about what they should strive to achieve during this year of study. The beauty of my job is that I can tell the students that we don’t have to figure it all out now, that in the process of exploring things that we enjoy we might just discover it…or maybe not yet.
Last year I watched the movie “The Story of Temple Grandin” and it was an amazing look at how differently our minds can work. People often didn’t recognize her gifts for what they were…I’m not sure that I would have seen them. But in this well crafted film it is possible to see how differently individuals might perceive the world and how much we can learn from those varied perceptions if we take care not to reject them when they just don’t make sense to us. I highly recommend the movie in which Claire Danes stars as Temple Grandin or you can watch Temple herself in the TedTalk in my Vodpod collection!