Not all gifted kids are high achievers in school. Not all gifted kids score well on tests. There are many reasons:
- The school structure is often designed for linear-sequential thinkers. It may use lots of repetition, worksheets, rote-type learning, memorization, approaches where children are all required to work at the same pace on similar assignments. These structures are usually methods that do not appeal to gifted learners who may be random/creative thinkers, do not need repetition to learn, and move faster through material. The children who are less concerned about grades or who are less compliant might refuse to do homework or only complete the minimal amount of work to get by. Others may feel discouraged, question the purpose of school, and rebel. (Note: I was a teacher years ago when it was much easier. There are teachers in my family. Teaching today is a tough job. It’s important to acknowledge this even as we notice what may not be working.) (Another note: Some gifted kids love school and have special teachers they remember their whole lives!)
- Some gifted children have learning differences that affect their ability to achieve in traditional ways. They may be dyslexic or autistic or have other twice-exceptionalities. They may be particularly anxious or feel extra pressure during tests because they are supposed to be so smart. Some gifted children are bullied and might intentionally underachieve to hide their abilities. If a gifted child is a particularly deep thinker, perfectionistic, or extra empathetic, they may be slower completing tasks and so appear less able.
- In some families, parents might make assumptions about children that may not be accurate. If one child excels in school because it is a good fit, that child may be seen as the gifted one. A sibling who does not shine in the same ways may be labeled a slow learner and then fulfill those expectations. If there is trauma in the home, a child might be anxious, depressed, or hungry and find it difficult to focus at school so achievement might be below expectations.
- Even in higher education, there may be barriers. If the academic setting is extremely competitive and political, the sensitive gifted student may feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. A highly creative student may be frustrated with the lack of interdisciplinary opportunities. The student with multiple interests might change majors a number of times and appear to be less capable, indecisive, or shallow. High ethical standards may create conflicts in some cases.
So, yes, you can be gifted and do poorly in school. You can be gifted and not perform well on tests. You can be gifted but incorrectly assume you are just a lazy, indecisive, weirdo who needs to lower your standards and stop thinking so much!
There are other reasons you may not think you are gifted. Even within the field of gifted education, the experts don’t agree: There is the emphasis on achievement and IQ. Children who do not show motivation and enthusiasm in the classroom may not be selected for gifted programs. Kids who come from BIPOC communities can be overlooked. Some educators in the field identify kids talented in certain skill areas such as music or mathematics as the only gifted ones. Film and television still tend to focus on the more stereotypical versions of giftedness. Traits such as empathy, sensitivity, and creativity are generally not included in the definition.
Enter the rainforest mind (RFM)! This has been my way of addressing what giftedness looks like. (But, first, let me remind you, not all folks who are gifted have rainforest minds, but all rainforest-minded humans are gifted.) The RFM definition of giftedness includes high levels of intelligence that may or may not show up in achievement and test scores. But there is more. In brief: Empathy, sensitivity, multipotentiality, intense emotions, creativity, curiosity, and social responsibility. Just to be clear, RFMs are quite capable of achieving at high levels, and often do, just not necessarily in schooling settings or in traditional ways, although they might also have a 4.0 average and a PhD. Just to be clear. Or more unclear, as the case may be.
So, my dear readers, I hope the G Word conundrums have become a bit less conundrum-y for you, especially if you have been wondering how someone can be gifted and not achieving at school. How someone can be gifted and indecisive, anxious, overwhelmed, or self-doubting.
How someone like YOU can be gifted.