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Throughout the country, the tendency to identify and, subsequently, label a small percentage of children as Talented and Gifted is driven by testing (National Association for Gifted Children,  2019) Teachers are asked to identify students who may fit the TAG profiles based on test scores and the limited interactions that they have with children. A student’s behavior is the first indicator that the child may possess a gift. Although not universal, students that are comfortable discussing content knowledge with an adult puts that child on the teacher’s radar for potential TAG nomination. Performance in classwork is, generally, not a reliable indicator but test scores are still commonly used to as a primary tool for identification. National math averages must place the student in, at least, the 97% and Reading levels are required to be two grade levels above the student’s current grade. In some states, the level of a child’s creativity is used to identify a gifted individual. Testing for creativity is difficult to categorize as there are many different outlets for expressions of creativity. This leads to an under-evaluation of children who possess a creativity level that might otherwise place the children into a TAG program (Galbraith and Delisle, 2015). Children who qualify as TAG students often share many of the same characteristics as defined by Webb, et al. (2007) in this book, A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. 

A Parents Guide to Gifted Children
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Galbraith and Delisle (2015) break TAG characteristics into a comprehensive list. They found that even in infancy, these children exhibit unusually high levels of alertness. TAG children are rapid learners and put thoughts together quickly. By possessing an excellent memory, they can formulate complex sentence structure with an unusually large vocabulary for their age. TAG children often have advanced comprehension of word nuances, metaphors and abstract ideas. This also leads to a keen sense of humor and a comfort level with adults that is less common in most youth. As preschoolers, they may teach themselves reading and writing skills and enjoy solving problems, especially with numbers and puzzles. Because they learn basic skills quickly with a little practice, they may tend to experiment by doing things differently. This highly developed curiosity is one of the more universal traits among TAG children.

Gifted students have complex curiosity development. Their concern with social and political issues and injustices manifest sooner than in their peers. The heightened sense of idealism and justice leads to deep and intense feelings and reactions and these children are considered highly sensitive. Vivid imaginations cause adults to view them as daydreamers. Although they may have a wide range of interests, they tend to have intense concentration and a long attention span when dealing with a subject they are particularly enamored with at that moment (Galbraith and Delisle, 2015).

Teachers are often required to provide learning extensions for the gifted student. Many teachers erroneously do this by assigning more questions in an assignment or making the assignment more difficult. The tendency for a TAG student to ask probing questions and to organize people and things through complex schemas should provide alternative opportunities for teachers to enrich the student learning without assigning more work. Given the freedom to experiment and explore on his/her own, a TAG student utilizes the natural tendencies possessed to enrich their own learning.

Every state has a different approach to TAG evaluations. Teachers are requested to gather both formal and informal data on a student’s performance in the classroom. Parents are also asked to contribute their observations. Over time, this data grows to a substantial collection of evidence that is used to establish a student’s eligibility in specific areas. In the state of Oregon, an additional requirement is the 97% (or above) test scores in math and reading (Oregon Association for Talented and Gifted, 2109)  The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test calculates a student’s knowledge of content. Identifying TAG students is done by comparing the percentile ranking score against the performance of other test takers. This leads to many talented students not being identified because they don’t perform well on these tests.

The expectations placed on TAG students often has a darker side. Adults and children need to be reminded that, despite the “gifted” label, these students are still developing and will develop their skills at their own rate. These students still have age appropriate needs and developmental skills.  The phone call home was one that I had made to several parents over the years. It was simply to inform the parents that their TAG child’s behavior was less than desired during class and to ask if the parents could offer suggestions that might connect with their student. I like to approach these calls as a meeting between people with a common goal: success for the student.  I never ask for a punishment as I believe most punishment is counter to a learning environment. On this day, I became the punished. 

“My child is TAG. He is bored in your class. You need to make it more interesting.” 

“I teach Art and the students all have freedom of expression. However, drawing penises on rulers is not appropriate for a school setting.”

Silence.

I don’t know what it is about the fascination with certain body parts in art class at the middle school age, but this is completely age appropriate behavior. It just needed to stop. Having parents on the Stop-Drawing-Penises Team is the best way to get students to redirect their behavior. 

Ultimately, the student was most contrite the following day.

The tendency for both parents and teachers to expect a TAG student to also behave in an exceptional manner is common. This expectation places an enormous amount of stress on a child whose social development may be at a normal rate or even slower than normal. According to Galbraith and Delisle, what Gifted is NOT:

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  • not a license to misbehave
  • students should not be expected to act older than their age
  • not more confident in themselves than another student
  • they are not more special than another
  • don’t always have the answers  
  • not talented in all things

Teacher development programs dedicate limited time in educating candidates in any special needs focus. TAG is another special need program designed to address the needs of these students and can create more work for a teacher in preparation. Children with a TAG affiliation are more likely to challenge their teacher to meet the child’s need for more information. A lesson can easily take a side-track which fulfills that student’s needs but might leave the remainder of the class in the dark. Balancing the information for all students to benefit takes practice and reflection. Teachers need to continually adjust their teaching style to maintain the interest of students that demand more. Negative behaviors can be expected as students with TAG identifiers deal with their placement in their culture in myriad reactions. Students don’t want the label of “teacher’s pet” or “know-it-all” and may affect a behavior that erases that possibility from the minds of their peers. Teachers are in a position where their opinion of the TAG student may vary from day to day. One day a TAG student may be the easiest and most eager learner in the classroom relied upon to be a role model for other students. The next day, the same student may demonstrate regressive behavior that rivals a child that is two or three grades below the current grade.

Most students don’t want to stand out in comparison to their peers. At the same time, most gifted students like their peers knowing that they are gifted. TAG students like to work with other TAG students. Lifelong friendships can be formed between TAG kids. Competition can achieve new heights between TAG kids, sometimes it is healthy and sometimes, it isn’t.

As is a tendency in all people, self-criticism is often a critical component in a TAG student’s self-identity. Reflections that TAG students have can leave them feeling unfulfilled. The expectation that they must continuously demonstrate their “gifted” status leads to too much pressure on performance. In turn, such a student may quit a new challenge or select to not participate in the first place.

The tendency to quit a new skill is high among TAG children if that skill isn’t immediately successful. One of the characteristics that TAG children exhibit is to learn basic skills quickly and with little practice. Ultimately, these students will be confronted with a new skill that takes more time to master or a concept that requires more study than historically needed. TAG students that have not developed the study skills or patience tools to effectively deal with these challenges will find ways to opt out of them. Faced with self-evaluation, TAG students often settle on the feeling that they aren’t good enough to do the new skill. They start to wonder if they truly are talented and gifted at anything. Self-esteem issues become markedly more noticeable as children enter adolescence. Although all adolescent children tend to question their worth, TAG students exhibit a higher tendency to develop stress-anxiety symptoms.

“Although it is a popular notion that gifted children are at risk for higher rates of depression and suicide than their average, no empirical data supports this belief, except for students who are creatively gifted in the visual arts and writing.”

“Nor, however, is there good evidence that rates of depression and suicide are significantly lower among populations of gifted children.”

–Maureen Neihart

A popular teaching technique that is employed by many teachers is the practice of having students that excel in the subject available to assist other students. A TAG student’s desire to learn everything about whatever they are studying may lead them into becoming the “resident expert”. Some students thrive on being asked to assist their peers in understanding but, just as often, may resent the added responsibility. A teacher should always ask the student if he/she is willing to share his knowledge with others.  Explaining to the TAG student that teaching a concept is the best way to truly understand and demonstrate that understanding of the concept may result in a greater chance of accepting the challenge of working with his/her peers.

If a student scores a 97% on a math test it cannot be assumed that the student should be doing more difficult work. Learning may be quicker for these students but processing the information faster doesn’t mean that these students ultimately know the material better. A non-TAG student can be equally successful given the correct processing time. Providing a deeper curriculum for a TAG student should not translate into more homework for that student. Having to perform more tasks will ultimately result in the student resenting having to do the extra work. Providing opportunities for the students to self-manage extra learning opportunities eliminates the resentment. Often TAG students are early finishers and will need direction to prevent them from being a distraction to other students. Having connections available for these students in the classroom, such as magazines or books, will allow them to deepen their understanding at their own pace and to their own satiation.

Talented and Gifted students may develop undesirable behaviors to not stand out from their peers. Underachievement is frustrating for teachers and parents to counter as the student may declare he is “trying his hardest”. The challenge may not spark the interest of the TAG student with the response of underachieving. Underachievement becomes its own abyss in which a student may find comfort but may also be unable to escape.

Selective consumerism reveals itself in behaviors that indicate that a student has not made a connection between life skills and the subject being taught. Why should they learn about the pyramids in Egypt if they have no intention of going to Egypt? On the other hand, regardless of their plans of never going to Egypt, TAG students might take such an interest in this subject that they will become the resident expert in the class. 

There was a 14-foot diameter pool set up on the concourse of the university where I was teaching an underwater robotics summer camp session to, exclusively, TAG students. Around the pool were two teams of three girls and one team of 3 boys. The boys were slack jawed and wide eyed as the girls’ Underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle (UROV)outperformed the boys. When I asked the students how they liked the underwater robotic training all the students were very excited and positive about their experience.

“I really love being able to talk to others my age and they GET me!” said one boy. TAG students often gravitate to other TAG students just for the “get me” factor.

“I love not having to compete with boys but just getting to work with them,.” Said another girl.

Teachers should develop strategies to positively exploit these tendencies. If a TAG student is consulted about becoming the class “expert” in a topic, they may be more willing to don that mantle. Including a TAG student in such a manner that doesn’t single the student out as particularly gifted helps the student to work with his/her peers in a less self-conscious manner. The practice of pulling TAG students aside to give special instructions is often met with resentment and can be folly. Building relationships with TAG students allows for a greater transference of information. These students become experts in topics that interest them. Letting a student own that information and share his/her knowledge can save a teacher from embarrassment if the assumption is made that the teacher must know more. Relying on the student’s passions is a good way to build a relationship of trust and respect.

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References

Douglas Eby (M.A./Psychology) Gifted, Talented, Creative, Anxious – Dealing With Our Fears and Stress, http://highability.org/621/gifted-talented-creative-anxious/ 3/1/19

Galbraith, J. and Delisle, J (2015) When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers, Free Spirit Publishing

National Association for Gifted Children. (2019, January). Frequently asked questions about gifted education. Retrieved from https://www.nagc.org/resources-publications/resources/frequently-asked-questions-about-gifted-education

Neihart, M., Reis, S.,Robinson, N., Moon,S. The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children: What Do We Know?

Oregon Association for Talented and Gifted (2019, July) Advancing education in Oregon. Retrieved from https://www.oatag.org/

Webb, J., Gore, J., Amend, E., DeVries, A. (2007). A parent’s guide to gifted children. Tuscon, AZ:  Great Potential Press, http://www.greatpotentialpress.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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