Public Release: 

Is it OK to be clever?

University of Stavanger

Gifted children as they are called in this field of research, are exceptionally strong in subjects like mathematics, chemistry, history and language, but they are also more than just academically clever.

Different intellectual level

- Gifted kids are on a different intellectual level than the others in the class and see the world through other lenses. They have an abstract understanding of the world that makes them vulnerable and they experience things that their peers do not understand. These students have highly developed abilities to think independently, which, among other things, is expressed through their sense of humor and poetry. Classmates notice quickly that these kids are different. They are vulnerable and many feel misunderstood by the others. When these children become aware of being different, they need an explanation. As a psychologist, I have explained to them that they are like a computer that has software other than their peer students, explains Cosmovici Idsøe at the Centre for Behavioral Research at the University of Stavanger.

Gifted children may also have autism disorders, major emotional or behavioral problems, physical disabilities or specific learning difficulties. Unlike other students, gifted students tend to learn faster, deeper and wider, but teachers often see only the problems that these children show and not the resources," she continues.

Together with Professor Kjell Skogen, University of Oslo and University of Agder, she has written a book titled Our Gifted Children - a Challenge for the Schools published by Høyskoleforlaget i Kristiansand. Here they present concrete advice on how schools can deal with gifted students. The book contains charts for identifying this group of children

May drop out

The researcher is critical towards the way gifted children are taken care of in today's schools. She feels it's a pitty that being exceptionally clever is not accepted and valued

- Many people say, "the clever ones will always manage." Some do so, but many need emotional and academic support from their teacher. If children do not get the help that they need, they eventually get depressed and stop getting involved in school topics. Then they may never be able to show their abilities. Without personalized and challenging education they can, at worst, fall outside the community, together with children at the other end of the scale who fail in school. Children who are basically very smart and creative, risk becoming the class bullies because they reveal the teachers' weaknesses, Cosmovici Idsøe warns.

- What should school do to change the everyday life of these children?

- The first step should be to change the basic perception of gifted children, she says, adding that the mentality has to change so that it is allowed to be clever.

- We must accept that people think differently and everyone has different needs for intellectual support. It's not about elitism and it is also a myth that parents push their kids so they end up in this situation," she emphasizes.

Wants more use of tests

Cosmovici Idsøe calls for more use of tests.

- In Norway, we are reluctantabout testing school children because we fear ranking and stigmatization, but in this way we can find solutions to meet the needs of the children," she says.

The researcher believes that gifted students need an advanced curriculum oriented toward their needs. They need time to develop skills and deep interests, and they need to be put in groups with similarly intellectual peers to develop friendly relations with others on the same level of development.

Some European countries have succeeded

In their book Cosmovici Idsøe and Skogen point out that gifted children, like all other children, are entitled to a program suited to their abilities, gifts and conditions, according to the Education Act.

- Education is actually an important human right. Gifted children have, like any other group, a right to a dignified life in which to develop according to their potential. They are entitled to the same opportunities, but have other needs, "she says.

Cosmovici Idsøe shows that other European countries, together with the United States, have succeeded in offering this group a better deal.

- It's all about defining who the gifted are and to develop programs. Denmark has separate school for gifted children, but research shows that this is not the best procedure. A better strategy is to give them tasks adjusted to their level in the inclusive classroom," she says.

Need for competence

According to Cosmovici Idsøe, Norwegian schools are not primarily designed for the brightest and weakest pupils. Only the average pupils get the attention they need.

- Norwegian teachers need more knowledge about how they meet gifted children. Teacher training should focus on gifted children's traits and characteristics, and also on methods to identify them. It should also focus on individual teaching plans. A good partnership between school and home is also important to determine what areas schools should prioritize," she says.

The best result is achieved if the child is stimulated as early as in kindergarten by giving them challenges. If parents only have enough patience to let their children try out things on their own, solve different problems, it will have positive effects later on, is her advice.

The message is clear:

- Norway should invest in gifted children. We need inventive people in the labor market when the oil runs out. We risk "losing" those who do not manage," she says.

Three pieces of advice for teachers of gifted children

1. Give your gifted students opportunities to advance in the program.

2. Give adapted tasks. In that way the gifted pupils become challenged intellectually, and they are engaged in what the rest of the class does at the same time.

3. Create a group for gifted children where they can work on advanced projects in various subjects that they are interested in. This group can, for example, meet before and after school hours or while they are at SFO.

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