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Gifted Students: Who Cares about These Children?

Updated on June 23, 2019

Children are Special


Notable Quote

Charles Murray, Ph.D. on gifted children:

"People like to be around other people who understand them and with whom they can talk....To have exceptional cognitive ability isolates a young person as no other ability does."

from Coming Apart, 2012, New York, Crown Forum

Giftedness Defined: A Review of the Research

While doing research for a proposal in graduate school, I quickly found that there was much more research on children with learning difficulties than on children with academic gifts. This apparent neglect of the gifted student population motivated my own study of the topic of reading and gifted children.

How Do We Define Gifted?

The definition of gifted varies among parents, educators, and the general population. Winner (1996) offers three defining characteristics of gifted children:

1. precocity in some domain (reading, music, etc.);

2. learning in a qualitatively different way; and

3. a “rage to master” in the domain of giftedness.

Silverman (2007) subscribes to a definition of giftedness as asynchronous development, i.e. a disparity between a child’s mental age and chronological age. Herrnstein and Murray (1994) refer to those people with an IQ at least two standard deviations above the mean as the “cognitive elite”.

The criterion used by many public schools to determine eligibility for gifted programs is a score one standard deviation above the mean on a standard IQ test. This modest threshold does not recognize the wide differences among gifted children. For example, an IQ of 120 is above average but an IQ of 160 (4 standard deviations above average) is a one-in-ten-thousand occurrence (Davidson, 2004). Though both of those students are gifted, their needs are certainly not the same.

Do We Truly Serve the Needs of the Gifted?

Davidson and Davidson (2004) and Winner (1996) agree that gifted children, particularly the profoundly gifted, are not accommodated by educators to the same degree as those students with cognitive challenges. Egalitarian concerns have sought to raise the achievement of students with below-average IQ, while students with higher IQ are not accelerated as much as they could be. This lack of concern for the gifted may discourage them from developing their own full potential. Davidson and Davidson describe the highly gifted as “the population that is least likely to learn and achieve to its potential” (p.2). Through leveling (the practice of assigning group projects to students of different abilities) educators seek to enhance the grades of some students while doing nothing to facilitate the learning experience of high-ability students. The Davidsons cite as an example of extreme egalitarianism a principal who removed books from a kindergarten classroom after discovering that some of the new students already knew how to read. The principal tried to stop them, wanting all the children to learn together.

Research on Gifted Children

Gifted Readers: Literature Review

Gifted Readers are Different

Some gifted children, called “globally gifted,” score high on all parts of IQ tests. Winner (1996) studied these children and found they do not follow the learning patterns typical of average children. The globally gifted may talk early and induce grammatical rules from ordinary conversation. They seem to absorb mathematical concepts from their environment. One of the most striking distinctions, however, is the manner in which these children teach themselves to read. Many highly gifted children learn to read as preschoolers and learn without phonics instruction. Such children usually initiate the learn-to-read process, requesting that adults reading to them point to the words as they read. From their memory of the pairing of words with sounds, the children induce the rules of phonics.

The children then proceed to read at an astonishing pace. One child studied by Winner (1996) was reading at a sixth grade level when he entered kindergarten. Clearly such children pose challenges for the elementary school media librarian and reading teachers. Winner cites L.M.Terman’s study of high IQ children in the early twentieth century for more information on the unique reading habits of the gifted. Terman’s subjects were found to read much earlier than average, more than average (about two hours per day by age thirteen,) and more widely than average. Their book selections included nonfiction titles—even atlases and encyclopedias.

While Winner (1996) describes children with language gifts as voracious readers, the literature indicates that their teachers and peers are not. Kolloff (2002) studied both in-service and student teachers, and found that neither group was committed to reading for pleasure. The National Endowment for the Arts (2007) found that the percentage of 18- to 24-year olds reading literature declined from 60% in 1982 to 53% in 1992 and to 43% in 2002. The same study found that only 26% of subjects in the 15-to-18-year-old age group read a book the previous day (outside school or work) for at least 30 minutes. When asked if they read for at least 5 minutes, the percentage only rose to 34%.

Gallik (1999) noted a statistically significant correlation between recreational reading during vacations and cumulative grade-point average for college students. It is not clear, however, whether good students simply read more or whether reading more causes people to be better students. In the case of highly gifted readers, the amount of information amassed from their early and extensive reading would be expected to translate into high achievement at school.


Davidson, J. & Davidson, B. (2004). Genius denied: How to stop wasting our brightest young minds. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Gallik, J. (1999). Do they read for pleasure? Recreational reading habits of college students. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 42(6), 480-488.

Herrnstein, R. & Murray, C. (1994). The bell curve: Intelligence and class structure in American life. New York: Free Press.

Kolloff, P. (2002). Why teachers need to be readers. Gifted Child Today, 25(2), 50-54, 64.

National Endowment for the Arts. (2007). To read or not to read: A question of national consequence. Retrieved February 1, 2011 from

Silverman, L. (2007). Asynchrony: A new definition of giftedness. Duke Gifted Letter, 7 (2). Retrieved February 28, 2011 from

Winner, E. (1996). Gifted children: Myths and realities. New York: Basic Books.

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    • kschimmel profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      9 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Thanks for your comments. I have to say, though my professor husband is a fan of projects, I despise group projects. I don't mind leading, but I do resent dragging along dead weight and letting them get my grade without doing their share of the work.

    • yoginijoy profile image


      9 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      Hi! I have to say that the same focus on "teaching to the middle" happens at the university level as well. It can be difficult to reach all the different levels that we have in one classroom. I find that assigning projects helps this to a certain extent. The "gifted" ones will lose interest quickly if they aren't engaged. They can be the leaders of a group as well as model for their peers. It can help them to learn skills that will be necessary as they grow and enter the work force. The cubicle days are over, tables where ideas are shared is the new norm. Great topic. I would love to read more!

    • donnah75 profile image

      Donna Hilbrandt 

      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      This article hits the nail on the head. I work in public education, and the structure to support and challenge the gifted isn't there. I have watched these children get dumped into classes where there were students who couldn't read at all and the teacher was expected to differentiate. With 30 students in a class and a range that wide, I am sure you can guess who lost out. It is an area that needs attention, as we need our gifted to be educated to their highest potential. They will be running our world soon. Voted up and sharing.

    • kschimmel profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      9 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Yes, I plan to do some writing about twice-exceptional children. They were mentioned in my research, but I haven't as much experience with them--so I need to do more reading first.

    • KitsJay profile image


      9 years ago from Houston

      This is a fascinating article! My brothers and I were all moved up grades to accommodate our talents, but one of my brothers was so far ahead that he had to be sent to a school an hour away because our school couldn't keep up with him.

      I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on twice-exceptional children and whether you ran across anything on them during your research!

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 

      10 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      I was told last year that exact thing. My son is a gifted reader but focus is on the ADHD and ADD children. Two teachers actually sat in the classroom to help 5 children while the regular and gifted children were virtually ignored. A sad commentary on the school system.

    • Jennuhlee profile image


      10 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Very interesting hub, really enjoyable read voted up and awesome;]

      Thanks for sharing.

    • kschimmel profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      10 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Yes, DIY, the bright kids often fend for themselves quite well. They wait patiently until they just can't stand the boredom any longer--then they can be behavior problems, too!

      Interestingly, gifted children are sometimes misdiagnosed with learning disabilities. It's easier to call a kid ADD, for instance, than to acknowledge that he has a justified deficit of attention because he is bored to death.

    • DIYweddingplanner profile image


      10 years ago from South Carolina, USA

      You bring up a valid point, K. After being in the classroom for a number of years and having very bright children of my own, I can attest to the fact that gifted children sometimes largely go ignored. I think the problem is that children with learning difficulties become so frustrated, they become behavior problems, and end up taking up all the teacher's time while the very intelligent ones get left in the lurch. Great topic!

    • kschimmel profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      10 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Thanks for your insight, Virginia.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      10 years ago from United States

      I appreciated reading what you have gathered here. I have 4 children in our Gifted program at school and one who is not (but I think will qualify when older). I was in a gifted program also and although my husband wasn't, he is more in the "profoundly gifted" category than I am--with all of the disadvantages that come along with that along with the advantages. All of us read at least a couple of hours a day--so I found that part of your information quite interesting. In the 80s I studied gifted education (and taught gifted students) and learned that the profoundly gifted were the ones meant to be served by gifted programs, but I think these ones are not served well at all--they need profoundly gifted teachers for one thing, and most people with those gifts aren't necessarily in teaching.


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