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High Achievers and Gifted Learners

So many parents tell me that they think their child might be gifted. I always like to ask them to describe their child and their child's strengths and skills. Most often, what is described to me is a series of above-average talents such as memorization or vast knowledge of rote skills at an early age. While this is incredible, and may in fact be an early sign of divergent thinking, the common mistake that is most often made is the assumption that high-achievers are the same as gifted learners. If you aren't sure the difference between the two, I really like this article that explains more about the terms. On average, only 2-5% percent of children are actually diagnosed with Giftedness as an exceptionality.

To summarize:

High Achievers

- peak academic achievement

- motivated to take difficult courses and are often successful

- determined to succeed

- take on leadership roles and extra curricular activities

- admired and liked by teachers and peers

- good social and study skills

Gifted Learners*

- Twice Exceptional - a must read!

- formal definitions of gifted learners differ from region to region, but above-average brightness or aptitude in more than one domain is common among many of them

- divergent, creative, outside the box thinking can often be seen

- academic success can often be limited to topics of interest (which are also often limited!)

- frustration is common with classes that seem to easy; never really seem to reach their potential

- can have poor executive functioning skills (organization, planning, time management, etc.) leading to poor study skills and organizational habits

- “Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm." (The Columbus Group, 1991)

*Any child diagnosed as Gifted should be working on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) at school so that your child can be working in a program better designed to meet their needs. If you have a child who has been diagnosed as Gifted and want help navigating this process - please reach out!

While some children who are gifted may also be high-achievers, many are not.

Regardless of if you have a child who is a high-achiever, or a creative, divergent thinker that you believe to be gifted, here is the key consideration for helping them flourish at home or at school.

More is not always better.

Many people believe that if their child is gifted, they should continue to give them more problems to challenge them! While this might show that a child has mastered a skill, all it really accomplishes is exhausting them of one skill over and over! For example, if a child is practicing multiplication, a parent might believe that having them answer 50 questions, as opposed to the expected 20, demonstrates that they are "better" at multiplication than their peers. Others might believe the same about having them answer increasingly difficult questions with higher factors (ie. multiplying facts to 12 instead of 10). The same applies to literacy! Lots of parents believe that if their child can read increasingly difficult words, then they should be consistently reading higher and higher level texts.


As a teacher, the problem I see with this kind of advancement is that they move forward in the rote side of the skill, but don't work on the critical thinking/application piece at the same pace. What happens is that a student will be able to read the entire encyclopedia by Grade 2, but they will have no idea how to find and summarize key information about a topic from a non-fiction source and use it to answer a guiding research question for an assignment. Alternatively, a child can accurately answer 100 multiplication questions in 60 seconds but they see a multi-step word problem and can't correctly distinguish which operations to apply in order to solve it.


In order to challenge a gifted learner, have them complete a few of questions to demonstrate mastery and change the style of question, the way it's being asked, or focus on having them apply their knowledge of multiplication in a meaningful way. Instead of having them continue to build rote skills from higher grade levels, focus on using the age-appropriate rote skill expectations and have the child use the skill to solve a real-life problem that requires problem solving, critical thinking and creativity. Instead of pushing your child to read only increasingly difficult texts, dig deeper on comprehension and research skills. Ultimately, focus on the breadth and depth of the skills your child is building. Expand them width-wise, not just upwards!

How do I do that?

Provide opportunities for hands-on, meaningful learning that allows the child to lead the way. Do they love dinosaurs? Have them develop their note-taking skills by effectively reading about, summarizing and taking notes on three different dinosaurs. Have them present their findings in a mode other than writing an informative paragraph - a poster board, diorama, 3D model, screenplay, comic, etc. Teach key life skills by way of their interests when possible, and support the child with explicit instruction on executive functioning skills along the way. For example, instead of having a stand alone lesson on time management - have them work backwards to plan out the timeline of completing their project from the due date to the date it is assigned. Have them map out when they will work on each component in order to ensure it is completed in time. Colour code their calendar and personal agenda. Check in at each stage to ensure they are on the right track and practice having them advocate for themselves if they need help or more time.

Whether you are looking to challenge your high achiever, or support your gifted learner, this is just a stepping stone and a starting point to shift your mindset about your approach. If you want more information, resources or have any questions - please don't hesitate to send me an email!

Happy Teaching!



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