The Knox School of Santa Barbara
Three Images To ExplainGiftedness To Parents
BY IAN BYRD
In a recent talk, I was explaining common misconceptions of gifted students when a parent stopped me, asking: “How can my kid be gifted but also do poorly in school?” They understood that it was possible (they were experiencing it, of course), but how could it be possible? In my presentation, I had jumped to specifics but did a poor job setting up a big picture view. To me it was obvious, but that’s the Curse of Knowledge: once you know something, it’s impossible to remember what it’s like not to know it. The best teachers and communicators are those who come the closest to remembering. So, how can gifted kids also struggle at school? Here are three images that will help us understand the gifted experience. 1. What Comes Next? I actually rummaged through my laptop and pulled this one up mid-session. It’s an example of one kind of thinking we look for when testing for a gifted program. Note that there are no directions, just some images and a blank. Which choice comes next? This image was a jolt of caffeine to the kids in the group. They were immediately engaged, arguing about what came next and trying to explain why. They got this really quickly without any help or instruction. This kind of abstract reasoning, pattern matching, and independent thinking are hallmarks of a gifted kid.
Yet, it’s very easy to imagine a student who figures this out instantly, but also struggles to write essays, finish long division problems, or sit still in class. This test finds a certain type of thinking, not “good-at-school” skills. This is better than just saying “gifted kids think differently.” 2. Bicycle Brain I’ve written about this imagery before (from the book Gifted Grownups), but never used it with parents. Brains are like a bicycle – they have a minimum speed limit. You can only ride a bike so slowly before you just fall over. Bikes become more stable when they roll faster. Likewise, if a lesson moves too slowly, students’ brains gets wobbly. They get bored. They stop paying attention. They start doing things to entertain themselves. We’ve all experienced this feeling when forced to sit through something we already get. Gifted kids simply have a higher minimum speed limit. They need to move faster than their peers to learn. Just as you can’t ask a bicycle to stay up when barely rolling, we can’t expect kids to sit still when lesson after lesson moves too slowly. Rather than just saying “gifted kids can have behavior problems,” I think this image helps explain the how. Boredom is like a bike that moves too slowly.
3. Brain Peers Instead of just saying “gifted kids can struggle to fit in”, I use this image now. First, I introduce my dinosaur problem from kindergarten. I, like many kids, loved dinosaurs, but my love was so much deeper than my peers’ that it led to arguments rather than friendship. Among the 6-year olds I knew, no one was as interested as me – and it made me lonely. I had no one to really talk to. But, if this image were me talking to a retired paleontologist about dinosaurs… I’d be in heaven!
Fill in whatever specific interests a kid might have. This student will gravitate towards people who can meet (or exceed) their own level of interest. This often means they need to talk to someone older than them. So, yes, gifted kids may struggle to find meaningful connections with their peers, but I think this image helps explain how this happens, and offers one solution: find intellectual peers, not just age peers.