Not Necessarily Perfect

If a child is gifted she will be a model student.

Based on my experience as a SENG Model Parent Group Facilitator and the mother of two gifted children, the above statement may be true, but not always. And, in fact, not necessarily all that often.

Gifted children thrive when learning conditions are well suited to their needs. A supportive environment, deep understanding of a child’s strengths and weaknesses, a compacted and differentiated curriculum, and advanced materials are necessities that allow talented students to thrive. Yes, the same conditions are good for all students, but are critical to the success of advanced learners. Without it, talented children languish, underperform, or worse. And when that happens, the behavior they exhibit in the classroom may be far from perfect.

Consider as well that children do not learn with the same level of skill in all subject areas. Asynchrony is found in most students. For example, math may come easily to the same child who reads below grade level. Advanced learners often experience extreme asynchrony, perhaps exhibiting a firm grasp of advanced science concepts while producing disappointing written work. In a move Jim Webb calls “one label per child,” this student might be labeled “disabled” rather than “gifted.” Just imaging the effect of such a move on some of our brightest students. More accurate would be the “double label” of “twice-exceptional,” or 2E,” which can be used to designate, for instance, an advanced learner with a learning disability. 

Other factors may lead gifted children to “act out” in the classroom. They can be quick learners, able to instantly take in voracious amounts of material, yet are frequently discouraged by the slow pace of instruction and frequent repetition necessary for others. This lack of appropriate rigor causes advanced learners to feel unmotivated, discouraged, perhaps depressed. They can become disheartened, anxious, and frustrated, often wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” for being so significantly different from their peers. Ironically, many may be deemed “lazy,” “underachieving,” even “not college material.”


Without competent support for giftedness, we prevent high-potential students from manifesting their true abilities. However, with increased awareness, empathy, compassion, and integrity we can do a great deal to meet the needs of all advanced learners, and in particular, those who are twice exceptional—those unlikely to present in the classroom as the “model students” we mistakenly assume all gifted students to be.

Katherine Peterson is an SMPG or Model Parent Group Facilitator for Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG), and the parent of two gifted children who have accessed education in public, private, and home schooling venues; early college classes; a self-directed gap year; and many other creative educational vehicles. She will be blogging regularly for Curious Minds this year. Those interested in joining Peterson’s Madison-based discussion/support group can email her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Contact her for details on a new evening discussion group forming now.