The Myths of Gifted Children

Todd StanleyBlog, Differentiate Better


  • Many gifted children aren’t challenged at their just-right level.
  • One of the major challenges in giving students the work they need is a misunderstanding of how to help.
  • Gifted children need to be challenged and taught the executive functioning skills needed to succeed.

Underchallenged Gifted Children

In my previous post, I talked about the underchallenged gifted child. These are students who find it frustrating because they are not being challenged on the level they are capable of. There are many reasons why this happens. Probably the largest causes are the myths that educators can sometimes have about teaching gifted students. With this post, I hope to make you mindful of some of these. Being aware of them can be half of the battle in learning how to best challenge gifted students.

We as teachers need to recognize these myths of gifted children and use this understanding to find ways to challenge them appropriately. Click To Tweet

The Myths About Teaching Gifted Students

There are hundreds of myths about teaching gifted students. These 10 are the ones that cause the most issues with underchallenged students.

  1. Gifted children will succeed in life no matter what.
  2. Gifted children love school and get good grades.
  3. Gifted children are good at everything they do.
  4. Gifted children tend to be more mature than other kids their age.
  5. Gifted children are always well-behaved and compliant.
  6. Gifted children’s innate curiosity causes them to be self-directed.
  7. Gifted children only need the academics focused on.
  8. Gifted children will be fine in the regular classroom because teachers challenge all students.
  9. Gifted children don’t need help.
  10. Gifted children will be alright.

I am just going to focus on the three that seem to cause the most issues. If you are interested in some of the others, I have a Todd Talk where I discuss these myths in more detail.

Gifted children will be fine in the regular classroom because teachers challenge all the students.

This is asking a lot of teachers. The first is the myth that all teachers have been trained in teaching gifted students. In the pre-service training for teachers, very little time is devoted to this special population. Because of this, they may not know how to challenge gifted students.

This is making the assumption that teachers have time to challenge all students. Imagine you are a band teacher. You have one student who can play complicated pieces of music on her instrument and another who can barely figure out how to hold the it. Yet, you have to get both of these students to the finish line of being able to play a piece of music at a concert.

What happens is you spend a majority of your time working with the student who doesn’t know much because he has so much more to learn in order to catch up. And, because the other student has shown herself capable, you are going to let her play on her own. But is she really learning anything through this process? Sure, she can play the piece when it comes time for the concert. But has she grown as a musician? This is what it can feel like for teachers who are trying to get all students ready to take the state assessment which is a performance of what students are learning in the classroom.

Gifted students are self-directed.

All children love to learn. The issue of course is that they might not want to learn what you are teaching them. The assumption with this myth is that gifted students, who appear to be more curious than the average student, will do anything you put in front of them. I have actually found the truth to be the opposite when teaching gifted students.

Gifted students have a pretty good nonsense detector. It goes off when they are having to learn something they don’t feel is worth their time or have already learned. They might complete the work because they are compliant, but they are not going to stretch themselves.

This also makes the assumption that even if these gifted students want to be self-directed, they have the executive functioning skills to do so. Some of these would be:

  • Planning
  • Self-monitoring
  • Self-control
  • Time management
  • Organization

These skills must be taught. We cannot assume students have these skills unless they have demonstrated them. Yet some teachers will throw work at the gifted students and assume they can sort it all out. Such is not the case, especially for those gifted students who have a million ideas and yet cannot seem to narrow it down to a single one. There are many gifted students who overthink themselves into trouble.

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They’ll be fine.

The biggest myth in gifted education is that gifted kids will be alright. This is not something I am surmising, this is something I have heard countless educators say to me. After a gifted student passed a pre-assessment for a unit of study, a curriculum coach said it wouldn’t hurt the student to go through it anyway. Sometimes, a student gets her work done early and is given more of the same work.

The harm is that the gifted students will become incredibly bored with school and start to disengage. They will see school as a place they must go. As a result, they begin to resent it. This is why nearly 25% of high school dropouts are gifted in one area or another. When asked what caused them to drop out, it was often that they stopped caring about school.

Being chronically underchallenged is going to make students resent school, the place where learning is supposed to take place. How tragic is it that we have students who have the ability and many times, the motivation, but have this love of learning weaned out of them by not being challenged?

We as teachers need to recognize these myths of gifted children and use this understanding to find ways to challenge them appropriately. I plan on this being the topic of my next blog: the best way to challenge gifted students (and all students for that matter). I hope you will join me.

About Todd Stanley

Todd Stanley is a National Board teacher and the author of many teacher-education books including Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st Century Classroom (2nd Edition), Authentic Learning: Real World Experiences that Build 21st Century Skills, and his most recent How the Hell Do We Motivate These Kids? He served as a classroom teacher for 18 years where he worked with parents to create two gifted programs for Reynoldsburg Schools as well as serving as their gifted coordinator for two years. He is currently the gifted services coordinator for Pickerington Local Schools where he lives with his wife and two daughters. You can follow him on Twitter @the_gifted_guy or visit his website at where you can access blogs, resources, and view presentations he has given.