The Belief of a Gifted Label

Todd StanleyBlog, Differentiate Better, Engage Better


  • Gifted students’ love of school varies.
  • They have different abilities, interests, and needs.
  • Gifted students need to be supported, challenged, and develop grit.

The beliefs of a gifted label and the facts of a gifted label can sometimes be two very different things. When a child is deemed to be “gifted,” people liken this to an achievement like earning a merit badge. It is easy to forget that the child was always gifted. That this was only the identification of that giftedness. It would be akin to a child who was born with the ability to jump high finally displaying it when out on the basketball court and people thinking they must have just developed that skill.

Misconceptions by Teachers

This belief manifests itself in many different ways to many different people. Teachers who get gifted students in their class might believe that these students are all compliant and love school. This is certainly not always the case. True, there are some gifted students that fall into this definition, just as there are typical students who do as well. However, just as there are typical students who appear not to care or are lazy, or who show a clear dislike for schooling, there are gifted students who can fall into this category as well. That is because we are confusing the love of learning with the love for school.

A gifted child’s needs in the classroom are just as specialized as students at the other end of the spectrum. Not addressing these needs will simply leave so much untapped potential on the table. Click To Tweet

Most gifted students do love to learn as they are born with an innate sense of curiosity. Unfortunately, this might not match up with what is being taught at school. While a class is following along, learning about ecosystems, the gifted child might be learning everything he can about volcanos. He might spend countless hours at home researching these and watching programs devoted to them. But this student does not like learning about ecosystems because he cannot see the relevance to his own life.

Gifted Kids Will Be Alright, Won’t They?

Teachers also might make the mistake of thinking they don’t really need to work with gifted students. After all, can’t he do it by himself? Or that the gifted student will be fine no matter what and so devote their attention to students they consider to be more at-risk. Gifted students need to be challenged just as any child does. Their level of challenge just tends to be a little higher. A gifted child’s needs in the classroom are just as specialized as students at the other end of the spectrum. Not addressing these needs will simply leave so much untapped potential on the table.

Misconceptions by Parents

Parents, on the other hand, think that being identified as gifted will be the answer because their child is going to get all of this special treatment. Unfortunately in many states, gifted service is not mandated. I work in a state where we legally have to identify students as gifted. But there is no legal obligation to provide any service for these children. There are some states that neither identify nor serve. Across the nation, 42% of schools offer no gifted services whatsoever. Others might offer a little something here or there, but it is not significant enough to impact a large population of students.

Misconceptions by Schools

Even if there is programming specific to gifted children, the program might not necessarily match the abilities of the child. If a school focuses on enrichment in math but a child is gifted in reading, the student’s needs are not going to be met. Or it may be the expectations of the program are that students are self-motivated to learn and can work independently. This is a problem for the gifted student who has neither of these qualities and thus does not perform to his potential. This of course is not because of ability, but because of these other factors.

Misconceptions by Peers

Peers think the gifted label means that these are the “smart” kids who are better than them. There is resentment because why should anyone be characterized as more special and receive different treatment than the typical student? As a result, it can be difficult for gifted students to fit in. Or in order to fit in, they do poorly on purpose.

Misconceptions by Themselves

Finally, the gifted kids themselves think being labeled gifted means they are smart and will not have to work hard for grades. This may occur early in the schooling career when a lot of basic information is introduced and people’s experiences play a major factor in whether they have been exposed to these ideas or not. Because of this, school seems easy, and the child does not have to put forth much effort in order to accomplish the tasks they are given. Eventually, the content surpasses the knowledge of the gifted child. Suddenly, things are not so easy. In fact, they are challenging.

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Grit May Be More Important Than Ability

The problem is that if a gifted student buys into their own label, they never develop a coping mechanism for dealing with adversity or struggle. In short, the student lacks grit. This lack of perseverance causes the gifted child to perform at a level below their potential. Others who have had to overcome difficulties their entire school career surpass them.

If you buy into the idea of the belief of the gifted label, what can end up happening is you don’t get to see the student for who they truly are. Instead, they are hidden behind this label. As a result, they end up not being able to achieve the level of their true potential.

About Todd Stanley

Todd Stanley is a National Board teacher and the author of many teacher-education books including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st Century Classroom (2nd Edition), Authentic Learning: Real World Experiences that Build 21st Century Skills, and his most recent How the Hell Do We Motivate These Kids? He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years where he worked with parents to create two gifted programs for Reynoldsburg Schools as well as serving as their gifted coordinator for two years. He is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife and two daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given.