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Curious Minds - Do Gifted Students Really Need Extra Help?

Do Gifted Students Really Need Extra Help?


One of the prevailing myths about gifted students is that they really don’t need special help, in part because they come to school with a depth of knowledge beyond that of their peers. This can be likened to believing a talented musician, left to his or her own devices and denied the instruction and support of an experienced teacher, will nonetheless succeed. 


In reality, of course, when a student’s advanced academic ability and high achievement are not taken into account and met with appropriately differentiated and challenging instruction, the result can be frustration, which in turn can create many other problems. Without support, guidance, and challenge, gifted students can begin to underachieve in an effort to “fit in,” become socially stigmatized, or develop deep discouragement and perhaps even depression.


It is important to remember that although bright students can be impressively capable, and in some cases may know more than their teachers, they often are unable to generate the skills or maturity needed to support their own development and learning. What’s more, they often require the specialized kind of support—such as higher-level classes, compacted curriculum, independent study opportunities, and early access to college—not always provided in a traditional learning environment.  


Complicating the issue is the fact that many gifted students develop asynchronously. In other words, a student who works at a high level in math and science may struggle socially; one who scores off the charts on reading comprehension may be working below grade level in spelling and grammar. Another student may be able to solve complex physics problems like an adept scientist, but may not have the social tools needed to successfully deal with her talent. Still other intellectually advanced students struggle with undiagnosed or misdiagnosed learning problems, a situation that can lead  to long-lasting problems with self-concept. 


In actuality, it is unrealistic to expect gifted students to be able to self-manage their own learning. Of course they need special help. And it is only when families and

schools step up to recognize and meet the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of our advanced learners that we can prevent the kind of problems that lead to unrealized potential, and help create the resilience and healthy development that captures their much-needed and powerful skills.




Katherine Peterson is a Model Parent Group Facilitator for Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted (SENG), and the parent of two gifted children who have accessed education through public, private, and homeschooling, 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. .