The Knox School of Santa Barbara
Why Do So Many Gifted and Talented Children Hate To Write?
Tobi J. Phillips, Ed. D.
Headmaster and Founder of Village East Gifted
Never ask a gifted child who dislikes writing just to “write something.” Hearing those dreaded words can start a big argument or cause your child to seek an immediate exit through the nearest door. Why is it such a sore subject?
Imagine this: You are a brilliant, young person who started reading chapter books when your peers were tracing letters of the alphabet. Every day you hope that your peers will catch up with you--only to find out that they never do. You “take in” everything you see, hear, touch and feel which has already evolved into profound ideologies, extreme sensitivities, uncanny insights and an innate ability to remember everything. You often hear your parents refer to you as an “old soul.” You don’t really understand what that means because you are not old--you are just a little kid.
Now imagine writing all those complex thoughts and intense feelings on paper in a way that you, as well as other people, can understand. For many young, gifted minds, it can feel like a seemingly impossible task. Yet, if you ask any gifted child to talk about something, he or she could easily spend 10 to 15 minutes articulately describing every fine detail of an experience or the facts about a topic of interest using advanced vocabulary words that were probably just “picked up” from a nearby adult conversation. Using proper grammar, spelling words correctly, punctuating phrases or mastering subject/verb agreements aren’t the focus of most listeners. Therefore, a gifted child’s constant need for “perfection” is safely preserved.
Here is a typical “essay”—and actual example--about a memorable vacation written by a gifted child in third grade who has an IQ over 130 but who doesn’t enjoy writing:
“I went to disney world with my family. My favorite part was when me and my brother got to go on the splash mountain ride and the big thunder mountain railroad. it was sooooo much fun!!!!!! Then we swam in a pool and went on the water slide!!!!!!! The hotel was really cool. Finally, when we got to our room, we jumped on the bed!!!!!!! it was the best vacation ever!!!!!!” T H E E N D.”
Note the lack of capitalizations, extraneous exclamation points, and “T H E E N D!!!!!!”--which is usually the size of the remaining lines of the page. These are techniques young gifted (and grade level) students use to make the writing assignment painlessly longer.
Gifted children need a structure from which to build, process, and organize their ideas, a creative infrastructure to distract them from the arduous task of doing so--along with a dab of mathematics. Brilliant, highly motivated learners thrive on competition and demonstrating their ability to conquer a challenge, especially if it involves math. And giving them permission to think outside the box at the same time, can be wonderfully liberating for both creative and “straight-thinking” students.
Here’s an example of a writing project that will excite your gifted child enough for him or her to actually complete it:
Begin by giving your child a portable white board and green, red, and blue dry-erase markers. Tell him or her that writing on paper is not allowed. (Note the confused smile on your child's face.) Next, think of story prompts that do not relate to one another (e.g. a famous person, like Houdini; a setting, like a cave; a location, like the Amazon Rainforest; and items to be included in the story, such as a parrot, set of skis and/or an old shoe). Ask your child to create a story that incorporates all these details and has a beginning, middle, and end. Lastly, discuss the rules of the game listed below:
1. The story cannot exceed seven sentences.
2. Every sentence has to start with a different word.
3. Obvious words cannot be repeated (i.e. Amazon, Houdini, parrot, old shoe, or cave). “Little” words can be used more often (i.e. pronouns, articles, conjunctions)
4. Every sentence must contain a noun (using a green marker) and a verb (using a red marker). The remaining words should be written in blue marker.
5. Sentences cannot start with any of the following words: My, I, The, Once, One, Long Ago, And, Also, So, Finally, Suddenly, But.
6. Sentences cannot include any of the following words: went, make, got, get, go, very, fun, a lot. You can suggest more descriptive words (for instance, “I got a present” can be replaced with “I received a present.”
7. Whenever possible, the word “and” should only be used once in a sentence.
8. Each sentence can only have a certain number of words:
Sentence #1: five words
Sentence #2: six words
Sentence #3: seven words
Sentence #4: eight words
Sentence #5: nine words
Sentence #6: 10 words
Sentence #7: 10 words
9. The entire story must be told by the last word of the last sentence.
When your child is finished (it might take 20-30 minutes), take a picture of him or her happily holding the story. How do you integrate this technique into the everyday writing assignments a gifted child needs to complete for school? Keep a thesaurus app (not a book because it takes too long to look up a word) on his or her desk at home and strictly enforce rules: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.
In time, your child’s grade level in writing will start to more accurately reflect his or her intellectual abilities. If his or her opinion of writing escalates from “hate” to “it’s all right, I guess”--mission accomplished.