Tag Archives: Mindset

Misdiagnosis: What We See and What We Don’t

It has been very humbling for me to attend a drawing class with my teenage daughter. The instructor tells me that it is harder for me (the old one) to see the pear we are drawing because my mind wants to draw what it thinks a pear looks like. Look for form he tells me. Recognize and mark the edges. Notice the shadows and the light.  Consider values as you begin to shade it in. Two hours and 20 sketches later, I think I am making progress. When I get stuck in my “way of seeing” he will ask if he can take a turn and I  watch to see which forms he draws, where he makes his marks and how he approaches shading.  I am startled to see things on his picture that I hadn’t seen myself and when I look back at the pear, I realize they were always there. How could I have missed it? He tells me that he has been learning to see what he is drawing for years.

Having worked with gifted children for 14 years of my career, I have come to understand that for many it can be hard to “see” children who are gifted. There are plenty of archetypes that that can inform understanding as well as varying definitions that can predispose us in a particular way and so it isn’t surprising when people are confused or frustrated by what it means and doesn’t mean to be labelled “gifted”. I was reminded of this the other day when a colleague sent me a link to the video Rethinking Giftedness. In it, Stanford students reflect on the impact the gifted label had on them, and their responses were primarily negative. The video makes a very compelling argument about the danger of labels for both students who are gifted and those who are not and it is easy to be drawn in to the argument that we should focus on a growth mindset as opposed to gifts which makes perfect sense…if you think giftedness is about achievement.

It is important to note that I do not doubt the veracity of the statements and observations shared by the students in the video, in fact I applaud their courage in sharing their insights. Their struggles are very real and I have seen them reflected in many of my  students. Part of what I try to do is help students understand what giftedness is and what it is not because many of the students who are referred to me are referred because they are struggling; the label simply gives us some insight into what might be the nature of that struggle. But if they or the people in their lives don’t understand the many “forms and shades” of giftedness, the label can create all kinds of problems. Does that mean we should stop identifying and supporting these children? If we don’t “identify” the giftedness they can often be “misdiagnosed” with other labels: behavior problem, superstar, rude,  immature, rocket scientist, arrogant, brainiac, annoying, intense, over-emotional, lazy… many of which I know can be just as problematic and fail to “see” what might really be going on. Having the label gives us another way of “seeing” them, if we understand what the label means in all of its complexity. But there is a point in the film that is well made- the label should not be the identifier. Children who are gifted are first and foremost human beings, just like everyone else, wonderfully unique in their own individual way, who may or may not be achievement oriented.

For other insights into misdiagnosis, please check out some of these fine posts here or click on the link below:



One Simple Intervention

If you are looking for one thing that could make a difference for your gifted child/student this year, you might want to take a look at Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. Carol Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University and her work has been hailed as one of the greatest breakthroughs in how we think about learning. In a nutshell, she explores two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. On her website she asks us to “Think about your intelligence, talents and personality. Are they just fixed or can you develop them?” How you respond to that question can make all the difference.

Now to most of us the answer appears obvious. Of course we must work to develop these things. What is important about Dweck’s work is how we develop and influence the mindsets of children through the use of instruction and praise. When we focus our praise on innate abilities and/or outcomes we can inadvertently develop a fixed mindset. When we focus on effort, we develop a growth mindset. The difference between an underachieving and a successful gifted student might in part involve how we speak to them about their intelligence. “I know you’re smart.. now I want to see what you can do!” According to Dweck’s research, comments like this could do more damage than good. The New York Magazine did an interesting story on it here.

So if intelligence, talent and personality can be developed through a growth mindset, then why would we need a gifted program? The answer to this comes from an understanding of how we organize systems to meet the need of the majority. Education systems organize classrooms based on age as physical and cognitive development tend to follow a certain timeline. But we know that not all students don’t fit that timeline. Just ask my daughter, who in grade six towers over most of her classmates. Her body is on its own timeline and it’s all I can do to keep her fed these days! Cognitive development of gifted students can be on a different timeline as well. Finding ways to keep their minds “fed” so they can continue to develop their intelligence, talents and personality is important work.

There have been years as a teacher where I started students off with the question “Who Am I?” as a way to get to know them and create self-awareness. Perhaps this year my question should be “What am I doing to become the person I hope to be?” Maybe you have another question that might work. If so, please share!