Education Chat

Reaching Gifted Children

Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher, the coauthors of "Intelligent Life in the Classroom—Smart Kids & Their Teachers," took questions on working with gifted children.

March 19, 2007

Reaching Gifted Children

Guests: Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher, the co-authors of Intelligent Life in the Classroom—Smart Kids & Their Teachers

Mary-Ellen Deily (Moderator):
Welcome to our chat on gifted education and the new book, Intelligent Life in the Classroom: Smart Kids & Their Teachers. We have a lot of questions for authors Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher so we’ll get started right away.

Question from Cathy Risberg, Educational Consultant, Minds That Soar, LLC:
What is the best way to create more teacher/principal/school district awareness, understanding and support for the needs of our twice-exceptional (2e) students - those who are gifted and who at the same time have a learning, physical, social/emotional or behavioral disability, difference or difficulty?

Karen Isaacson:
What a challenge! First of all, I highly recommend the book MISDIAGNOSIS AND DUAL DIAGNOSIS OF GIFTED CHILDREN AND ADULTS by James Webb, et al. Second, there are so many varieties and combinations of giftedness and other exceptionalities that I think each individual case will require a new level of understanding. However, I think the biggest hurdle is just to get past the idea that gifted kids are 100% gifted. Most are not. Once schools begin to grasp this concept and recognize those exceptions you’ve won half the battle.

Question from Kim Meadows. Principal, Sacred Heart Catholic School:
What assessments, in your opinion, are the most legitimate in determining true giftedness?

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Kim :o) The most legitimate assessments for identifying giftedness are, to begin with, ones that identify that which will be served. For example, if the gifted program will provide services for students with mathematical gifts, it wouldn’t make much sense to use the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking as the sole identifier. Yet if the program will be providing services for gifted highly creative students, then the TTCT is a great identification method to use. When looking for an identification tool, the first thing to ask yourself is “For what?” Examine what the program will look like, and then find assessments that will identify for the services the program will be providing. (The reality is that most gifted programs don’t actually serve for all types of giftedness. The program I run doesn’t serve athletic giftedness, for example.) Will the program serve the mathematically and linguistically gifted? Will it serve the highly creative? Will it focus on thinking skills? Will it focus on creative productivity? Will it focus on accelerated curriculum? If so, which subjects? The answers to all of these questions (and others like them) would have impact on which identification tool(s) would be the best to use. I suppose you may have been looking for a quick and easy answer to this question, because I know first-hand the struggle that the identification piece of a gifted program can create, but I’m afraid there are no easy answers. Until the day that science may be able to offer up a brain scan that gives us better insights into the gifted brain, we are left with doing the best that we can with the options available. I am, however, going to direct you to where you can find a huge list of all of the many various methods used in identifying gifted students, along with explanations of each one (be sure to click the testing links on that page to access the lists). Perhaps this comprehensive overview can help in your search for a method that will fit your program, your students, your budget, and your community.

Question from Denise, Teacher of Gifted (Itinerant serving 6 schools):
Do you have suggestions for ways to encourage regular educators with gifted students in their classroom to “get it” and believe that the high-ability child is not only gifted in my pullout gifted services session, but also during the 96% of the time they spend in regular ed. and should be provided rich, meaningful, and rigorous opportunities work and learn?

Tamara Fisher:
Hi, Denise :o) Wow, itinerant in six buildings! I am the same in four, so I can definitely appreciate what you do. I have two main suggestions, both of which have proven effective in my school district, although I must admit that building that understanding is sometimes a much more gradual and lengthy process than we GT specialists would prefer. About every two to four weeks, I place a slice of “food for thought” into the mailboxes of all the teachers and administrators in my district, such as a thought-provoking quotation or a *short* article about a topic in gifted education. I type up the quotes about six on a page and have my aide copy and cut them into strips. A few quotes you could begin with: “Every child deserves an equal opportunity to struggle.” (Mary Landrum); “Expecting all children the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all children the same age to wear the same size clothing.” (Madeline Hunter); “One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar!” (Helen Keller); “You can never hold a person down without staying down with him.” (Booker T. Washington); “Give me rigor or give me mortis!” (Michael Clay Thompson); “Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.” (Leonardo da Vinci); “There is nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.” (Justice Felix Frankfurter); “The pupil who is never required to do what he cannot do, never does what he can do.” (John Stuart Mill). Use one of those every few weeks and that should give you a good start. When I began this strategy years ago, one of my first items for them was a half-page article from “Gifted Child Today” about grouping practices and how it’s important to place gifted students together at least part of the time. The reaction from one teacher: “Hey, that was interesting. I think I may try some of the suggestions.” The reaction I got from another person: “So are you the one putting all this gifted propaganda in our mailboxes?” Yep. So just be aware that not everyone may appreciate it at first. But over time you will likely notice teachers taping the quotes to the wall behind their desks, which means they’re getting it :o) My second suggestion in answer to your question is to teach your students some strategies for self-advocacy. I’ve found that the child speaking up and asking for harder spelling words (for example) is much more powerful that me or a parent doing it. And over time, the more kids who speak up to the teachers about a need for more challenging curriculum, the more likely the teacher begins to realize that it’s a real need (rather than it being just the GT specialist or parent bugging them yet again... although I’ve found most teachers don’t feel that way and are generally open to it.) I tell my kids that if they are going to self-advocate, they need to follow the 3 P’s: 1) Be polite (don’t say “this is boring.” 2) Do it in private (not in front of the rest of the class.) And 3) Provide proof (that they’ve actually mastered the content.) For some kids it is a good idea to role-play the process ahead of time. Usually the kids meet with success (i.e. a receptive teacher and accommodations). The teachers have also indicated that they appreciate the feedback from the kids because otherwise it is sometimes hard for them to tell to what degree they’re actually meeting their needs. Finally, your question brings up one of the main reasons that Karen and I wrote our book, “Intelligent Life in the Classroom” ... We wanted to create a reader-friendly way for regular classroom teachers to begin learning more about gifted students (because most teachers learn next to nothing about them in college). Best of luck to you! :o)

Question from Leslie Higgins, Teacher, Milam Elementary:
How do you offer different activities for gifted students without having the other students feel as they are inadequate?

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Leslie! Your question brings up probably the most often expressed ‘criticism’ of gifted programs, that they are “elitist.” I do not hold this belief because I know that gifted education services for gifted students are an academic necessity because these kids *learn differently*. GT is NOT a privilege for kids who behave well and turn in all their work (although some teachers, unfortunately do think so). GT is NOT a reward for working hard in school. GT is NOT something special for a golden selection of students. Gifted program services ARE the academically (& I would also add social/emotionally) necessary differentiation that some kids need because their brains function differently. That said, ways I try to head off other kids feeling inferior are the following: 1) I make sure that the students I do work with understand that it’s not because they’re super stars, it’s just because they learn differently (and we talk about what that means). I also make efforts to see that the teachers, parents, and administrators have this same understanding. 2) I stress to my students that it’s not a good idea to brag about being in GT or to gush about how fun it is in front of other kids, because that just perpetuates the problem. 3) When other kids ask me, “When do I get to go?” or “How come they always go with you?” I reply that “there are things I help these students with and you don’t need that help” ... a technically true statement with enough of a veil over it that it often satisfies them. I have also noticed that nowadays, so many students go to see so many specialists for so many different reasons, that my working with these students doesn’t create as much of a ripple as one might think. All kids are just used to everyone getting what they need, and many seem to see it as just another piece of that.

Question from Lisa Babin, Teacher, Metairie Academy for Advanced Studies:
How do you feel we can learn to best meet the EMOTIONAL NEEDS of our higher achieving students?

Karen Isaacson:
First of all, we need to be AWARE of their emotional needs. Too many times it’s easy to make excuses for their behavior. For example, we may write off a cry for help that comes in the form of failing grades as simply a gifted child who is bored or lazy, when in reality, she may have emotional issues that need to be addressed. Gifted children will struggle with the typical stresses that many children have to deal with, but they will also have their own additional emotional stresses because they are more intense, more sensitive, or perfectionistic.They need a strong system of peers (whether age peers or older)who understand what they are going through, who recognize and validate their feelings, and who can walk with them through the tough times.

Question from Julie Fox, CEO, Brandbuilders:
How do you deal with a teacher who undertands that your child is gifted, but who doesn’t want to give them too much air time in the classroom because it’s not fair to the other kids? How deal with a teacher who asks the child to develop their own assignments and suggest them if they find the ones offered too tedious. My child only feels like she has to do the teacher’s work for them.

Karen Isaacson:
It is not the child’s responsibility to provide herself with a quality education. However, she does bear some responsibility for it, as do you, and as does the teacher. I would suggest that you meet weekly, if possible, with the teacher and your daughter and develop a curriculum together. Look for something that meets your daughter’s need to be appropriately academically challenged and that aligns with the regular class curriculum. Find ways that your daughter can take the classroom assignments to a greater depth. She can then not only enrich herself, but when she is given air time she will add layers of interest and depth to the class instead of competing with the other children when she has an advantage over them. In an ideal world, all schools would have specialists who could help design educational programs to meet the needs of individuals. Unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world.

Question from Helene Bon, Private Teacher, Innovative Tutoring:
My daughter is 3 going on 35. She has been in school since she was 18 mos. and is currently excelling in a group of 3s and 4s. I believe she will certainly be ready for Kindergarten after next year but she has a late December birthday and will miss the cutoff in our district (which has no gifted program). Aside from the financial burden we will incur by sending her to preschool for another year, I believe she will wind up bored senseless when she finally does enter kindergarten. Can you offer any insights for how we might deal with this issue.

Karen Isaacson:
My suggestion would be to enroll her in kindergarten early if possible. My own son entered kindergarten when he was reading at a college level. Guess what--that’s when his education stopped. He was bored out of his mind, he tuned out, and he never came back. Every child is unique, and some children will do just fine and perhaps enjoy being at the head of their classes. However, research has shown that acceleration is the best option for many gifted children. My last piece of advice? Weigh the options and the research, but ultimately, you know your daughter best.

Question from Misha Galley, parent, Silver Spring, MD:
I can’t wait to read your book! In it, do you discuss all gifted children, including those who may have learning disabilities that sometimes hide their giftedness? Thanks!

Karen Isaacson:
G/T children with learning disabilities will still have many of the same characteristics that we explore in our book. Our goal as authors is not to simply identify and describe these characteristics, but to bring the children with these characteristics to life with both humorous and poignant examples, and to emphasize that many times these characteristics are things we want to nourish. If you have a gifted/learning disabled child, characteristics such as persistence, intensity, and especially asynchrony are probably going to play a big part in your child’s life.

Question from Jenn Wolke, Parent Leader:
What is the best way to stimulate my child’s curiosity? What can I do to make her think, analyze and ask questions? She may do this at school, but I never see it at home.

Thank you for taking my question. -Jenn

Karen Isaacson:
Model the behavior in areas in which she has an interest. Let her hear you ask questions that she might want answered Don’t give the answer right away, but let her stew over it and attempt to answer it for herself. Other possible ideas: If a mechanical toy no longer works or can be spared, ask her what she thinks it might look like inside and what makes the parts move, and then sit down with her and take it apart. Ask her what she thinks will happen if you add too much sugar to a cookie recipe, and then divide the dough in half and add sugar to one half so you can both see the difference. Treat the world as an exciting place full of wonderful secrets waiting to be discovered.

Question from Alina Moran, Second Grade Teacher at The Palmas Academy, Humacao, Puerto Rico:
do you have any tips,(including the delivery of such tips), on how to minimize the stress some parents impose on their gifted children?

Thank you kindly, Alina

Karen Isaacson:
Yikes-- I know what you mean. My first suggestion would be to have them read my first book RAISIN’ BRAINS: SURVIVING MY SMART FAMILY, which is all about accepting the kids for who they are and not expecting them to become President of the United Sates. My second suggestion would be help the kids learn to advocate for themselves without implying that their parenst are at fault. Many pushy parents won’t be willing to accept that ethy expect too much.

Question from Pat Cernadas, Middle School EFL teacher:
How can gifted children benefit from a mixed abilities classroom like the ones I have in my school?

Karen Isaacson:
They can learn to appreciate other children’s gifts! They can also learn how different abilities and different gifts compliment each other.

Question from Wayne Collier, parent, Anne Arundel County:
What can be done to help identify minorities as gifted? It is my understanding that many parent have expressed the challenge of dealing with “low expectation” of teachers.

Tamara Fisher:
Hi, Wayne! My answer to Barbara’s question also mostly applies to your question, too, so please be sure to read that portion of the chat as well. Since your question is more broad, though, I will use this opportunity to expand upon the topic. One person who made a lot of effort to find a solution to this problem (the under-identification of minority students for gifted programs) was the late Dr. Mary Frasier of the University of Georgia (and also founder of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development). She developed the Frasier Talent Assessment Profile (F-TAP) that is becoming widely used as an effective means of identifying such students (as well as gifted low-income students). I would suggest looking into using that method for identification, and/or the methods I mentioned in answer to Barbara’s question. As for teachers having low expectations of minority students... I’m not sure what to suggest. I suppose it does happen, but I feel grateful not to have encountered much of that in my district. I suppose changing those low expectations may take a gradual process that would include their coming to know a gifted minority student and then extrapolating out that yes, there are gifted students of such-and-such minority. I wish I had more ideas to offer you on that portion of your question. Perhaps with new identification methods, this obstacle can be overcome.

Question from Barbara Lovejoy, Generación Floreciente founder/ Ex. Dir. in SLC, UT:
What suggestions would you give to address the issue of the under representation of Latino students being identified as gifted?

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Barbara :o) Montana (where I live) doesn’t have much of a Hispanic population, so I’m afraid that I don’t have a whole lot of experience to rely upon to answer your question. Perhaps some points from my answer to the gifted Native American question may apply. That said, though, “alternative means” are often helpful in identifying gifted children from minority populations. Alternative means usually rely more heavily upon observation (by teacher and/or GT specialist) and nonverbal tests. One such nonverbal test is the NNAT (Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test). An observation-based method that the teachers in my district like to use is the KOI (Kingore Observation Inventory). The Renzulli Rating Scales are also, essentially, an observation-based method. It would also be good to couple either/both of these methods with information for the teachers specifically about gifted Latino students. For that, I’m going to direct you to a source with more information than my brain: Search the Hoagies site using the search term “Hispanic” and you will get a list of many, many articles that may be helpful for you.

Question from Mary Sison, School Counselor/Psychologist, Edmonds School District, WA:
Please offer advice for a parent with a child who is described as the “absent minded professor.” He needs help with basic life skills (e.g. personal hygeine, cleaning up after himself). Checklists, positive behavior charts and consequences have not been effective. He is one who is extremely sensitive- e.g. he is upset at our current administration, and has an invention he is working on to cure global warming. Sometimes he will stay up all night reading or working on his invention.Please offer some advice on how to better “reach” this child.

Karen Isaacson:
Wow, this is going to require some real creative problem solving! Apparently he is not going to follow the traditional rulebook. (How typical of the G/T is that!)If you want to help him improve his basic life skills, ask HIM the best way to go about it. What motivates him? Why are these things not important to him? He may not be able to tell you directly, but the answers lie within him. He’s a unique individual, which is a good thing, but that may mean that the usual methods won’t work--or the usual consequences either. As for the sensitivity issue, I would suggest that once again, you hit the ball back in his court. If he is upset with the current administration, those feelings are important and very real to him. Now ask him what he is going to do about it. He may need your help, and he can bounce answers off of you for feedback, but encourage him to find his own solutions. Help him to understand that he is capable and responsible. Again, the answers lie within him.

Question from Jim Dettmer, Fourth Grade, Perry Hill School:
What effect has NCLB had on gifted education?

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Jim :o) Well, the short answer is that it varies. I have heard reports of districts cutting services in gifted education (since those kids are pretty much assured of ‘passing’ the tests) in order to funnel funding toward services for students who may need that extra boost in order to pass. (The question this raises in my mind, though, is if those districts knew that certain students were in need of extra assistance to reach whatever their version of proficiency is, why did it take NCLB for them to make changes and get the kids those services? Perhaps I’m an idealist, but schools should just do that, NCLB or not.) In either case, it’s never good to see one group of students sacrificed for the sake of another. In the case of my school district, NCLB has actually been a benefit for gifted students. When our middle school looked at creating a separate class period for students who were struggling in Math (& also Reading) to gain some additional help (in order to reach proficiency), it was a great opportunity for me to step in and say, “Well, if we’re looking at leveling, we need to have levels that reach all of our kids.” I had already laid some groundwork by that point, and NCLB became the last push that I needed to finally get differentiated courses in place. At our elementary schools, we have spent professional development time thoroughly analyzing our test results and one of the outcomes of our analysis has been acknowledgement that we need to do more to offer varying services for students at the elementary level, too. It’s happening. I suppose my philosophy on NCLB in relation to gifted services is this: Like it or not, NCLB is a reality, flaws and all. Granted, it’s currently up for re-authorization, and will possibly be altered, but in the meantime, it is as it is. Therefore, I figure we each (those of us who work with and advocate for gifted students) need to find a way to use it to the advantage of gifted students, rather than letting it become the rationale for removing services for gifted students.

Question from Eileen Swerdlick/Ass’t.t.Superintendent: Stamford P.S.:
What are the indicators of “intensity” that teachers can be guided to recognize in gifted learners?

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Eileen :o) Your question covers what in reality is a pretty broad topic, so I will do my best to cover the highlights (given that I’m limited to time and space here). First, the intensity of gifted children is often evident by what they are passionate about. They can be most intense when focused on or immersed in a topic that really lights them up. If the teacher were to notice that the child can’t focus on spelling because science is right after it and the child just can’t wait to get her hands on that science experiment she’s been cooking up, well then that would be an example of that intensity. Some kids express it through movement (they wiggle a lot when they’re most excited about something, or their body language is indicative of being intensely passionate about the topic, or they simply need to constantly move). I have had a few gifted students over the years who not only have a brain that’s going 100 mph 24 hours a day, but also a body that’s going 100 mph 24 hours a day. Indicators of intensity are not always classroom-friendly! Often they can be the very things that bother teachers the most. One example would be the kid who always shouts out the answer without raising his hand first (there’s a great story of just such a kid in my & Karen’s book, “Intelligent Life in the Classroom”), or like the kid who can’t seem to get enough of a particular topic and may not want to stop studying Egypt, even though the teacher may have finished all the planned lessons. For some gifted kids, an indicator of their intensity is how fast they can talk, particularly when they’re excited about something. One’s ears can hardly keep up! Other indicators may be having imaginary friends or imaginary worlds. Other possibilities: excessive talking about a subject, questions that just seem to keep coming, such intense focus on a project that they forget to go to the bathroom until it’s too late or almost too late (or they work through meals and forget to eat), and such emotionality that they may seem to be overreacting. Just what the indicators are can vary from child to child because they are not all gifted in, nor passionate about, the same things. Essentially, the intensity can come across as something that seems “over the top” to the rest of us, but on some level makes perfect sense to the child. Our challenge comes in helping them to manage it!

Question from Bob Brewster Cosultant:
Do you think school districts should exclude students with 2.5 gpa from attending classes with gifted students? “School of Choice” Bob

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Bob! Underachievement in the gifted is a big concern for many parents and teachers. Here’s one way to look at the question: Would special education services ever be removed from a child’s day just because that child wasn’t turning in his/her homework or working to his or her potential? Absolutely not. If you read my response to Leslie’s question about elitism, you will gain some of the philosophy that I would encourage you to use (that GT is not a reward or privilege, it is an academic necessity for students who learn differently). Such a student, however, might need some assistance in dealing with whatever is contributing to the underachievement. Is it because of a mismatch between the curriculum and the student? Is more rigor needed? One great resource for you is AEGUS, the Association for the Education of Gifted Underachieving Students ( You might be additionally interested in knowing that some view this underachievement more as “selective achievement” because often the student is achieving quite admirably in another area (often outside of school). Look in the future for some research results on this from Tom Hebert and Catherine Schrieber out of Univ. of Georgia. Best of luck to you!

Question from Danny Nichols, Science and Gifted Education Consultant, SciWhiz Educational Services:
How do you get administrators and teachers to understand that differentiation is a must and that saying because a course has an AP or pre-AP designation does not make it a course for gifted students?

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Danny! Please refer to my answer to Denise for two examples of ways to gradually begin to change those minds (the periodic use of quotations and short, informational articles, plus teaching the students some self-advocacy strategies). Additionally, some professional development for teachers about strategies such as curriculum compacting, contracting, tiered instruction, etc., can help them to realize that differentiation is a lot more feasible than they may first think. I have also found athletic analogies to be helpful. If the school offers varsity athletic opportunities, then why not varsity academic opportunities? It’s really the same principle. I’m not sure what you mean by the second portion of your question, so I will just say that AP and pre-AP courses are great options for both gifted and high-achieving students (who are not always gifted but are certainly hard workers with some level of ability). AP courses were never created to only serve gifted students. Gifted students have certainly benefited from them, but they are an option for any student who can handle the content and rigor of the course. Perhaps the AP Program has some information you could use. Thank you for participating in our chat!

Question from C. La Marr, Director, Capitol Area Indian Resources:
What are differences between American Indian “gifted” children and those who are not American Indian? What are particular distinctions and possible learning styles that affect their ability to succeed?

Tamara Fisher:
Good afternoon :o) In regards to understanding, identifying, and meeting the needs of gifted Native American students, I would first say that it is important to learn about and understand the unique tribal culture(s) of the Native students you are serving or are hoping to serve. Many people seem to be under the impression that “Native American” means one culture, but in reality it means hundreds of different cultures, and each culture can have a different kind of influence on how its gifted members exhibit and utilize their talents. Unfortunately, very little research has been done on this particular sub-group within the gifted population, although that is beginning to change. Two researchers from the National Research Center on the Gifted & Talented (Jann Leppien and Karen Westberg) are nearing the end of a long-term nationwide study on talent development in gifted Native American students. They are planning to present on the topic at the national conference this fall (, so that may be an opportunity for you to learn even more. In the meantime, I can tell you what I have come to know about the gifted Native students that I work with (keep in mind that the following traits may not fully apply to the students you work with). Generally speaking, they are pretty quiet (in a manner similar to your typical shy gifted White student) because the culture here puts such emphasis on respect (and things like blurting out, for them, are therefore highly discouraged). They are wholistic thinkers who often need the “big picture” before the details. They are group-oriented and some prefer to work in groups rather than in isolation (this is contrary to the preferences of many mainstream gifted students). They can work effectively alone, too, though, and a few do prefer to do so. They usually fit the “highly creative” criteria and a close examination of their powwow regalia gives a pretty good clue as to why... The designs are very elaborate and beautiful. (Just one expression of their creativity.) They tend to excel in mathematics (and science) more than they do in reading or writing. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty typical for my gifted Native students to score in the very top percentiles on the Math sections of CRTs and NRTs, yet they may only score in the above average percentiles (75th-90th) on the reading portions. This could be due to the mild limited English proficiency that I have observed in them. It’s not enough that they would qualify for LEP services, but their use of the language is sometimes just a bit off (saying “all of the sudden” instead of “all of a sudden,” for example). This would be the main factor that I see as possibly affecting their ability to succeed, although I must say that I haven’t seen it actually hold any of them back yet. Another factor that influences their success, or rather the location of their success, is that the culture provides such strong ties for them (familial and cultural) that many either don’t want to leave or leave to earn an education and then return here to work to the benefit of their people. I hope this information is helpful for you!

Question from C Bryce, high school Language Arts teacher:
Please recommend instructional enrichment activities (reading) for an 8th grade girl who is testing at the post high school level, and is bored and says she hates to read.

Karen Isaacson:
Find out what she is interested in and tailor her activities to fit her passions. For example, my oldest son did poorly in his US History class until his teacher discovered my son loved everything about the movie business. For the nest assignment, he asked my son to write an essay in the form of a screeenplay. That was my son’s first A+ in a class in a long time.

Question from Barbara Salvione Assist. Principal Retired Doctoral Candidate EdD. learning styles (Grandmother):
What strategies can I recommend to a pre-school teacher who is worried about the social skills of a just turned 5 year old who reads and does math at beginning third-grade level? He is considered touchy-feely, pushes into place on line, talks on line, calls out, and will not look at teacher for any length of time. He must constantly be told to look at the teacher.

Karen Isaacson:
Don’t let his advanced cognitive skills lead you to believe that he should be emotionally or socially advanced as well. If his behavior is more extreme than the average five-year old, one strategy you could try, which we talk about in the book, is writing a contract with the child. Consider setting smaller short term goals that will eventually lead to where the child needs to be. For example, if he has trouble making eye contact with the teacher, start with asking him to do so three times a day and acknowledging those times with positive reinforcement. Gradually increase the expectations as he his able to bear them.

Question from Faye McDonough, Head, Capital Day School:
What strategies do you suggest for a Middle School gifted male student who just this year has become the class clown and is not participating like he used to do. Also, he does not do all his assignments. Recently, he has been sent to the office. When I question him about his work and performance he apologizes, but there is no change in his behavior. His teachers and parents are at a loss at what to do, too. We would love to hear your input.

Karen Isaacson:
I wish I had a magic wand. He may have had a bad experience or he may just be struggling in an intense way with the usual teenage difficulties. He has reasons for his behavior, even if he doesn’t fully understand those reasons himself. Big DON"T--don’t get angry. Hold him accountable for his behavior, but be patient. Improvement is likely to happen slowly and over time. Keep in mind that there are good things lurking beneath all of the other stuff. Find ways to bring out those good things.

Question from Renee Bauer, Instructional Coach, Adams School District 50:
What strategies would you suggest to encourage perseverance in a gifted child, who is used to most things coming easily, for challenging tasks? When confronted by learning tasks that require some degree of effort, he refuses to engage in the task. But when he slows down and focuses on what is being asked of him, he is able to quickly understand and complete the task. The challenge for the teacher lies in getting him to apply himself at the onset.

Tamara Fisher:
Hi, Renee! You bring up a great point, that when gifted students are consistently faced with work that doesn’t match their abilities, they seem to develop a mythology that everything should always be easy for them. As adults, we of course know this isn’t true, but it can be a challenge to help the child realize it. Among other things, I have used the “Rush Hour” games to lure my gifted students into relishing a challenge. The games may not look like much at first glance, but I can assure you that they will challenge minds of all ages (it has taken me as much as two hours to solve some of the harder “Rush Hour” puzzles!) They are available from MindWare ( and Zanca ( The car version is the original, and there is also a safari animal version and a railroad version. Each puzzle gets progressively more difficult. The kids *love* them, and what I love about them is that it’s a fun way to help the kids begin to appreciate a good challenge. They soon realize that it’s a lot more rewarding to solve something challenging (that one truly had to work for) than it is to solve something that was a piece of cake (that frankly didn’t take much effort). I then add to this a few conversations about why it’s *good* when things are challenging and difficult for them. I share with them a story (that is also mentioned in my & Karen’s book) about kids I met in college who were the most brilliant people I had ever known (up to that point) and who dropped out of college because suddenly something was hard for them and they didn’t know how to deal with it. I tell my students that I’m trying to prevent the same thing from happening to them. When they tell me one of my assignments is hard or challenging, I say, “That’s good! Thank you for the compliment.” It’s fun to watch them begin to wrap their brains around the whole concept of difficulty being a good thing. Another strategy to try would be finding stories of famous people who had to be persistent in order to accomplish what they did. Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers are two great ones, but there are many more, too. Who does the child admire? Then find a way to show that that person was/is persistent. Finally, let the child witness you (or teacher or mom & dad) celebrate the challenges that you have to conquer. Perseverance is a great opportunity for modeling. I hope these ideas can be of some help for you and the boy! :o)

Question from Vicki Templet, mom of three and former teacher:
What is your opinion on the way schools label children as Talented and Gifted, pulling them out of regular class for a full day every week? Is the special service worth the labeling stigma, especially in the elementary grades?

Karen Isaacson:
Yes, the special service is worth it, in my opinion. One of the biggest needs of these children is to have an opportunity to meet together with other children to whom they can relate. I do think some care should be taken as to how the label is handled and the feelings of the individual child. In our elementary school, we refer to the program as “Extended Studies.” This seems to work well.

Question from Murray Lowenthal, Math Instructor, Community College of Phila.:
What are the most common forms of giftedness observed in children? a gift for art, language, music, math, science, logic, etc. or some combination of these?

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Murray! I wish I could offer something more specific for your question, but I’m going to go with “all of the above.” I am not aware of any specific research in the field that has examined proportionality of giftedness in various areas, although it’s possible that someone out there somewhere has looked into this question in more depth. I can tell you that math and language are the most common forms identified because they are the most common forms tested (IQ tests tend to focus on these two areas). That doesn’t mean that the other forms don’t exist in an approximately equal portion, though.

Question from Sharon Hayes, Mother/Teacher:
How do we ensure our gifted children don’t have “holes” in their education, areas that were assumed that knew because of what they could do? For example, my 5 yr old (almost 6) can do two step algebra problems in his head, with no instruction. However, he hasn’t been exposed to a lot of the math that is less difficult than this. How do we ensure that nothing is missed in his great leaps?

Karen Isaacson:
Things will be missed, but I don’t believe that’s a reason to hold them back. One of the tools our elementary school uses to deal with this situation is “compacting.” The students take a pretest before they start each chapter in their math books. If they score a certain percentage or above, they leave the classroom during the time that chapter is studied, and they go to “Extended Studies” (a.k.a. gifted pull-out) to pursue topics of their choosing.

Question from Mary Lucid, student, SFState & parent of gifted daughter:
My daughter excels in classroom activities and on tests but has difficulty focusing on organization, so that her homework suffers. She also tests as very gifted. Her teachers are frustrated and angry with her and she receives failing marks. She is nearing the end of 8th grade and despite testing at college level in her subject matter, she may have to endure summer school to pass the 8th grade. I don’t think I can make her endure 4 more years of this. Any suggestions? She enjoys attending graduate english literature seminars and is herself a writer.

Karen Isaacson:
You may want to consider other options. My oldest son experienced similar struggles. We discovered that he did better with online courses. However, whatever options you look into, the social aspects need to be considered as well.

Question from dR. Donald H. Jones, Emeritus, SUNY Geneseo, speaking for myself and not for SUNY:
Too often the “gifted kids” are those of the most influential parents and the “program” is perceived as a boondoggle. It seems to me that there needs to be a specific, objective set of criteria and a specific rationale for spending the money on the “extra class”. What do you suggest?

Karen Isaacson:
G/T kids are not “privileged” by definition, whether it’s mentally or financially, or in any other way. They are children who learn differently and they require different educational needs. They will often have parents who have experienced success in their careers because their parents, too, are gifted and have successfully pursued their passions. However there are many, many children coming from less influential and more difficult backgrounds that are gifted. Those children are sometimes not as easy to identify because they appear to be behind when they are simply not working up to their abilities, but they are there.

Question from Nikki Myers, teacher and graduate student, Colorado Springs:
What’s your response to the statement that “All parents think their children are gifted?”

Tamara Fisher:
All children have gifts, to be sure, but not all children are gifted. Every person born has some special contribution, whether big or small, that he or she can make to the world. But “giftedness” is not about this specialness. Giftedness is a learning (and aptitude) difference. We can all think of people who are musically gifted, and it’s pretty easy for people to recognize that not everyone is gifted in that way. All the piano lessons in the world won’t turn most of us into Mozarts, though they would develop whatever talent we may or may not have in that area. Most people can recognize that, as much as we may wish otherwise, we are just not cut out for the NBA or the NFL. We may be more than able to participate in a weekend game, but we won’t be making seven figures on the court or the field. Just as the bell curve applies to basketball talent or musical talent or height or number of words in people’s vocabularies, so does it apply to mental functioning. This is difficult for people to grapple with because inevitably someone ends up feeling inferior. Why don’t we all feel inferior that we can’t keep pace in the NBA, then? (Some do, I suppose.) To sum up, I like that all parents think their kids have gifts, because every child is special in his or her own way, and the child’s parents are a big boost to their utilizing their specialness. But “gifted” intellectually is a whole other ball game. To quote Madeline Hunter from earlier in the chat, “Expecting all kids the same age to learn from the same materials is like expecting all kids the same age to wear the same size clothing.”

Question from Walt Gardner, education writer:
What changes in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act are necessary to prevent the continued marginalization of gifted students because of the law’s emphasis on underperforming students?

Tamara Fisher:
Good afternoon, Walt! My first answer to this question is that what we most need is stronger policies and state laws in place that support gifted education services. Perhaps if our laws and policies were stronger in this area, our gifted programs wouldn’t be so vulnerable to NCLB or any other federal law/program that might come about. If we make efforts to strengthen these local/state means of ensuring gifted education services, then the programs won’t be so vulnerable in the future. This can be a learning experience for us all. Additionally, if strong policies or laws are on the books and yet a gifted program is still being marginalized for the sake of NCLB goals, then clearly one would have the ammunition for some action to counteract that. As for your specific question, I would like to see NCLB focus on individual student growth. We can & should still aim for as many students as possible to reach proficiency, but for students who are already proficient it is shameful to not also ensure their academic growth. A way to measure each student’s growth and focus on the importance of school’s stretching every student (from where they are to where they can go) is what I would like to see.

Question from Lisa Weise, Biology Teacher, Holt High School:
When is it appropriate for a child to skip a grade? I have heard that it is generally bad for children to skip grades from some, and others say that is a misconception. Can you clear this up?

Tamara Fisher:
Hi, Lisa :o) If you go to you will be able to access the full report of a many-years-long study that was conducted about acceleration practices, the results of which showed that acceleration (whether in a single subject or whole-grade) is an overwhelmingly positive option for most gifted students. The myths (that it will socially stunt them, etc.) just don’t pan out. Acceleration should always be determined on a case-by-case basis. The types of acceleration (and even the timing of it) that may be appropriate for one child may not be appropriate for another. The most widely used and effective means of determining appropriateness of acceleration for a child is the Iowa Acceleration Scales, available from Great Potential Press (

Question from Debbie Rohlmeier, GT Teacher, Walker Elementary:
There seems to be a push nationally to keep moderately gifted elementary children in the classroom while providing differentiated instructional support. What gifted programs (pullout, inclusion with differentiation by teacher, magnet schools, etc.)best serve the social/emotional and academic (at least one year’s growth) needs of these children?

Tamara Fisher:
Hi, Debbie :o) The answer to your question is going to depend on each student’s needs. For some kids, magnet schools are the ideal option, though they are not available everywhere. (Montana, for example, has no magnet schools specifically for the gifted.) A student with a particularly strong talent in science or the arts, for example, would thrive in a magnet school that focuses on that area. The kinds of services provided by pull-out programs varies greatly, so one would need to look into just what kind of pull-out services a particular school/program offered to know if it would be appropriate for a particular gifted student. Nonetheless, pull-out programs can often have the flexibility to adapt to differing student needs, and they are a great means by which to work with gifted students on social/emotional needs. Inclusion with differentiation by the teacher is an equally viable option, provided the teacher has had some training in just what to do. (Most teachers don’t learn these strategies in college, at least not in relation to how they apply to gifted students, so some assistance in the beginning is realistic to plan on.) I have found that once teachers begin differentiating, most of them love it and wish they had known how to do it all along. One great thing about differentiation in the classroom is that it is good for all kids, meaning not just the gifted students benefit from it. I would add the need for advocacy to your list. Whichever option is employed for a particular student, it’s still a good idea to advocate, when needed, for the services needed (and as I have mentioned elsewhere here, the gifted kids are often their own best advocates). And showing appreciation for the services provided goes a long way too :o)

Question from Linda Norton-Smith, Consultant, Ohio Department of Education, Office of Early Learning and School Readiness:
When my children were in the ‘pull-out’ gifted program in elementary school, they did the projects and investigations with their gifted peers, AND they were required to do all the daily assignments in their regular classrooms as well. According to the GT coordinator, it was the concession she made to their classroom teachers to “allow” the children to leave the class and “miss valuable seatwork time”. It sounded to me - and to them - as though they were being punished for being bright! How can we change this perception?

Karen Isaacson:
Many regular classroom teachers don’t really know or understand what is happening in the G/T program or understand the needs and abilities of a gifted child. It may seem as though they are trying to punish a child when really, they’re concerned that a child might be missing out on something or about “holes” in his or her education. We’ve discovered here that the best way to promote better understanding of the G/T program is to do teacher training in small groups. We recently had one of our most admanent ant G/T teachers turn around and lead the charge to design a permanent G/T curriculum for our elementary school.

Question from Ms. Shea, mother:
Where is the best place to live with a gifted grade school daughter?

Karen Isaacson:
Well, I can’t really answer that. It depends on so many things. You need to assess your daughters needs and look for programs that will meet those specific needs. Not every gifted school or program is the same. Also, keep in mind that some schools that don’t specifically have a G/T program may have a philosophy that is a good fit, or they may specialize in an area that your daughter is passionate about.

Question from Patricia Toussaint, Mother, Gifted/LD:
In the case of children id’d as both Gifted and Specific LD which do you feel should be the overiding focus, Gifted program/Honors class entry to maximize intellectual potential by grouping with intellectual peers with proper support from SPED, or allowing the limitations of LD to dictate placement based on grades or inability to attain certain requirements directly related to the Specific LD.

Tamara Fisher:
Hello, Patricia :o) This is a challenging question and the answer will depend to some degree on just what is possible within the structure of the school in question. Some modification to that structure may be necessary for the student(s) in question. Ideally, both the gifts and the LD should be serviced. My first year in this position, I worked with a student who was both gifted and had a profound language disability. Part of the day he received SPED services and part of the day he received gifted services. In all cases of such children, I don’t think it would be right to sacrifice their gifts for the sake of remediating their disability, nor would it be right to ignore the disability for the sake of focusing on the positive. The truth is, the child will be both gifted and learning disabled throughout his/her life, so helping the child in both areas and helping him or her to learn who to deal with both areas will be the best option for not just the present, but also the future. If you go to and type “twice exceptional” into the search bar, you will gain access to many articles and resources that may be of additional assistance for you on this question.

Question from Tom Lanagan Teacher MATES Academy:
Effective Critical Thinking seems to be a characteristic of many of the gifted. Can it be taught? How do we measure changes in critical thinking?

Tamara Fisher:
Hi, Tom. A search for “Edward de Bono” will garner you some information on his process for teaching thinking skills, which is pretty popular in the field. Arthur Costa has also done some work in this area. His book “Developing Minds: A Resource for Teaching Thinking” provides many great strategies for teaching thinking skills. The University of Connecticut (and possibly other universities, too) offers an online course on teaching thinking skills. Go to for more information on the course. How do we measure it? That is the more challenging aspect of your question. I don’t know of a specific measure, although I’m sure they probably exist. Sub-sections of various IQ tests do measure certain thinking skills, so that may be one means to measure what you’re looking at. Beyond that, I would suggest going to and clicking the “Inventory of Tests” link. You may find something more specific there.

Question from Janet McGinn, M.Ed./ CEO; School Tech Bytes, Inc.:
Must a gifted and talented student be taught technology or are they “naturally” intuitive?

Karen Isaacson:
Both. Every gifted child will have interests and passions that push their minds to pursue different areas of learning. Those with a passion or a gift for technology will seem to be intuitive when really their brains are just working overtime on that particular subject. Not every gifted child will be tech-inclined and some may struggle with it.

Tamara Fisher:
For those of you looking for some great internet resources with information about gifted students, I have compiled links to my favorite gifted-related websites at So many of you are interested in this important topic, and the sites at that link can give you a great start at learning more :o) Thank you for all of the wonderful questions in the chat.

Question from Miriam Lamb, parent, Barnhart, MO:
My child attends a gifted classroom, but she is not learning/being challenged. The school does not believe a problem exists. The school says 2 1/2 hours once a week are not enough time on which to build a lesson plan. What advice can you give me for dealing with the school?

Karen Isaacson:
Make sure you are approaching them in a way that does not put them on the defensive. Offer to volunteer in the classroom or the pull-out program. Many times the teachers really don’t have the time to meet every child’s needs. If the school situation just isn’t working, you may want to consider doing challenging, interesting, and fun, (so your child sees it as an adventure and not extra work--a.k.a. punishment for being gifted) activites at home. Challenge is critical as long as it is reasonable. If worse comes to worse, you may need to consider alternative educational options.

Question from John DeVleming, school board director, Mercer Island, WA:
Why are gifted classrooms so chaotic - far moreso than the the regular classroom? Is the chaos a problem for learning and what training can we offer teachers to help channel it?

Tamara Fisher:
LOL! Your question cracks me up, John, because it is so true! Gifted students are powered by a certain intensity (see chapter 3 in my & Karen’s book “Intelligent Life in the Classroom) that can create some challenges for their parents and teachers, and even for themselves. Their brains are usually operating on multiple levels at once, for one thing, and the number of questions they have can be exhausting. They also tend to immerse themselves into learning with their whole being. And a love of debate spurs any little topic into a raging circus. To make the point to an observer one day, I said in my 7th/8th grade class (while the kids were working on independent projects) that I thought mittens were better than gloves (it was snowing outside that day). In seconds, every student in the room had an opinion he or she needed to express about it! ;o) I warn my substitutes about this very fact because otherwise it stresses them out too much trying to overcome it. Many gifted kids simply function this way. Accepting it and dealing with it is harder said than done, though. Some teachers are teachers because they like to be in control of every detail. This can be a good thing, but when it comes to working with gifted students, it can create a lot of heartache. Even though my classroom usually fits the description you give, when one steps back and just observes, it’s easy to see that the kids are actually very engaged in learning. They are focused on what they’re doing. They just also happen to be focused on other things, too. They are multi-tasking thinkers and do-ers. The chaos is not a problem for learning for most of them and helping teachers learn about gifted students can help them to understand and learn to deal with this issue.

Mary-Ellen Deily (Moderator):
Thanks everyone for all of the great questions. Karen and Tamara were able to get to a lot--though not all--of them, but it’s time to close the chat now. The chat transcript will be available later today on

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