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Never Say Bored!

by Carolyn K. director, Hoagies' Gifted Education Page

To succeed in talking with educators about the educational needs of our gifted children, we parents need to learn what to say, but more importantly, what NOT to say. As in any other arena, there are certain words that strike cold in the hearts of teachers and principals. Words like 'bored'.

Never, ever, say your child is bored in school.

"Bored is an adult concept," educators may tell you. "Children cannot be bored unless someone tells them they are," you may hear. "Bored means the child isn't academically ready for the work we're giving him." We've heard lots of explanations, most of which don't ring true for our gifted children.

But educators aren't always familiar with gifted children - remember, gifted children make up about 2.5% of their student population, and highly gifted children are rare even among the gifted. When educators hear a child is bored, it means something else entirely to them. They may think they see a spoiled child, a child who does not respect quiet time and freedom, a child who does not respect hard work and long term goals, or a child who sees nothing to do in school because he is not prepared to learn the material being presented. This may be true of many 'bored' children, perhaps 95% of them. But when our children say they are bored in school, they mean something altogether different.

Bored, for a gifted child, is better described as frustration with the lack of progress.

Repetition is a part of learning, parents and educators agree, but research shows gifted children need far less repetition than most students. Once a gifted child has shown mastery of grade level concepts, or worse, mastery of concepts grades beyond their current level, then what is the value of more repetition? 

The gifted child realizes quickly that B follows A, or even further, that C, D, and E come quickly after. He understands inherently why this is, how each step works, and he wants, and needs to continue his progress. But the teacher must gear instruction to 95% of the children in her class. She must proceed from A, to B, to C, and so on, with many repetitions at each step, to reinforce the progression. It will be a very long time until she is ready to address the gifted child's thirst to know what comes after E, after A is introduced and he makes the leaps to B, C, and D in quick succession. This is not progress for a gifted child, it is torture.

Worse, the gifted child often comes into the grade knowing 80% or more of the school year's material.  For the gifted child, it's not a matter of repetition of what you're learning.  It's a matter of repetition of what you knew when you walked in the classroom door on the first day or school.

Other terms to describe our kids situation include "under-challenged," "special needs" or "special learning needs."  Of course, we must be careful of anything that sounds like "Special Education."  Yes, it's true; our kids do need special education.  But many folks resent the implication that our kids are as deserving as special education kids at the other end of the spectrum.  The problem is, they are!  And the sad truth is that the special needs of our kids are FAR less expensive in the education system than many other special needs children.  But they are far less likely to get what they need than other special needs children.  And like any special needs child, nearly everything depends on the parents' advocacy efforts.

Remember, boring is not bored

Sometimes this distinction gets us, and our kids, in a bit of confusion.  If the child is bored, because she learned the material years ago, nothing is new, there is no challenge or depth, it's all superficial... that is one thing.  That's a signal to find harder material, challenge the children, delve into depth, accelerate the subject, and more. 

But then there is boring.  Some things we must learn are boring.  Learning math facts, whether addition, subtraction, times or division, is just plain boring.  There are ways to perk them up a bit for some kids (visit Multiplication for some ideas, free websites, toys, songs and other products, to help) but in the long run, memorizing them is just plain boring.  And it still has to be done!  Read Why Memorize Math Facts?.  And as Nike says, Just Do It!

So be careful not to mix up bored and boring.  Yes, boring material can be ... well, boring.  But it has to be done, eventually.  Earlier is usually better than later.  Memorizing multiplication facts while learning long division is one thing -- it's do-able -- but struggling without knowing those same multiplication facts cold when attempting prime factoring is sadly overdue.  And this is not what we need to rescue our children from.  We need to rescue them from bored, not boring.

Whatever you say, don't say skip!

'Skip' is another hot button to avoid. The myth is that children cannot 'skip' a grade because they might miss some valuable learning. But our children aren't missing anything, or at least not much. We're not looking for them to 'skip' anything. The word we should be using is 'align.' We're trying to align our child's educational environment with his academic, and often social, levels. And research shows this alignment is appropriate, whether its in one subject or an entire grade level, if it puts the child in an educationally appropriate placement.

Acceleration is not just skipping a grade level, in a subject or the whole grade.  A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students The Templeton National Report on Acceleration, defines over 15 different forms of acceleration, where subject and grade accelerations are only two of them.  This free report is available to any parent, teacher or school who would like a copy!  A Nation Deceived is a valuable tool in advocacy efforts, and in professional continuing education.  Also read the National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) reply Acceleration in Schools: A Call to Action.

But what about gaps?  This question is often heard in educational planning for the gifted child.  If the child's progress is aligned with his academic and social needs, what about the material that is passed over?  For the most part, the child already knows the material... that's why the realignment is being considered in the first place.  In the possible case that the child has missed some specific details of the subject or year's curriculum that's being omitted, what happens then? 

Let's consider, what is a gap?  A gap is something the child doesn't already know.  And that is, by definition, an opportunity for learning.  That's exactly what we're looking for - a chance for our child to learn something new.  And that's a good thing!  So gaps, should they occur, are good!

Advocacy 101

The best way to advocate for your child, is to help the school learn about the options available to educate gifted children, and their benefits.  Schools generally offer three objections to gifted education: Money, Test Scores, and the Social-Emotional needs of the children.  Advocacy helps the schools understand that these three objections don't need to be stumbling blocks.  Gifted education can cost little or nothing.  Appropriate education helps the gifted students, and as a result, can improve their test scores.  Most importantly, appropriate gifted education at worst does no harm, and at best improves the social-emotional development of the gifted student. 

Administrators and teachers often mention David Elkind's book, The Hurried Child: Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon.  While it's true that we should not push kids to grow up faster than they are ready for, it's equally true that we should not hold them back from educational opportunities that they are ready for.  And we cannot assume a child's development and readiness solely from their chronological age.  Elkind opposes holding gifted kids back, as strongly as he supports not "pushing" any child:

When an intellectually gifted child is promoted one or several grades, what has been accelerated? Surely not the child's level of intellectual development - that, after all, is the reason for his or her promotion! What has been accelerated is the child's progress through the school curriculum. But this can be looked at a different way, not so much as acceleration as tailoring. What promotion does for intellectually gifted children is to make a better fit between the child's level of intellectual development and the curriculum. -- Elkind, Acceleration, Originally published as "Our President: Acceleration," Young Children, volume 43 number 4, May 1988

Objection 1: Money.  A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students offers many different methods of accelerating education to catch up with the gifted child, mostly for free.  Use one or more of these methods to create a viable educational solution for the gifted child.

Objection 2: Test scores.  Gifted children offered the opportunity score higher than high school graduating seniors on the SAT and ACT tests, while they're still in 7th to 8th grade!  Talent Search: Purposes, Rationale, and Role in Gifted Education offers insight into these early testing programs.  An Interview with Julian C. Stanley adds 30+ years of research into the highest scoring of the talent search participants, and their progress into adulthood.  Allowing these eager students additional academics only increases their test scores, bringing honor to their schools.. 

Objection 3: Social-Emotional.  The majority of gifted children who are accelerated not only do not suffer from their acceleration, but often benefit, finding the social fit within the school and class that eluded them back in their age/grade classroom.  Miraca Gross's longitudinal research has provided us with a great deal of insight into the social-emotional lives of gifted children.  From "the saddest sound" to the D Major chord: The gift of accelerated progression addresses the social-emotional as well as academic benefits of acceleration.  Factors in the Social Adjustment and Social Acceptability of Extremely Gifted Children adds further insight, demonstrating that well-planned programs of acceleration enhance these students’ self-esteem, their love of learning, their acceptance of themselves and their gifts, and their capacity to form warm and supportive friendships. For many gifted students, acceleration replaces discord with harmony.

More information...

For more suggestions on how to talk with educational professionals, be sure to read MonTAGe: The TAGFAM E-Journal, vol. 1, num. 2, Meetings At School, including great articles "Gifted? I See No Gifted Children Here," "The Fine Art of Debate" and "Called To The Principal's Office." Great stuff!

What can happen to bored gifted students by Tara Malone. The rule of thumb tends to be the more gifted a child, the greater the disparity between a student's ability and age and the greater the risk for emotional and social problems.  Depression.  Delinquency.  Dropping out.  And even suicide.  Gifted children, who some say are smart enough to know better, are not immune to such dangers.  In fact, gifted children today might be more at risk than ever...

Special thanks to Draper and Kerry, from the GT-Families mailing list, for their contributions to this essay. See Mailing Lists, Message Boards, and more... for instructions to subscribe to GT-Families, and other gifted support mailing lists.

1998-2008 Carolyn K., director of Hoagies' Gifted Education Page.  Last updated December 01, 2020

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