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Gifted at Home But Not in School?

Michelle Garcia Winner

Gifted At Home 260

Bright kids who have social-learning difficulties often (or usually!) experience a "home/school paradox." This question from a parent describes this well:


"I have an 8-year old Aspie son mainstreamed in a high-performing public school who is, according to IQ, Raven's and state tests, gifted, but he only performs above average in class, unlike his typical gifted peers who get selected for GATE programs because of their superior classroom performance. At home, he does amazing things, but not in class. Is it a lack of motivation -- his own or the teacher's? Is it simply a Hidden Curriculum issue?"


Here's my take:


Classroom participation is very different from learning at home. When kids learn at home they choose what they want to devote their attention to and are motivated to pursue their own learning. They can be incredible learners and incredibly creative with what they are learning. They are self-directed and self-paced, not forced to focus on something that doesn't interest them or to move at anyone's speed but their own!


Consider the contrast: When sitting in a class they learn through a larger group, moving at that group's pace. They are asked to use their internal motivation to learn something that is not necessarily of interest to them. Many also have serious organizational problems that make managing the load of classroom information and materials an extra burden. Often students who are creative writers at home can't or won't put together a sentence the subject doesn't click with them. They may struggle to take the perspective of the larger group/class and accept that their unique ideas and creative solutions cannot always be explored or shared in the group dynamics of a classroom. This type of learning couldn't be more different from the home based learning that is self-motivated, self-directed, and self-paced.


The large social dynamics of classrooms truly challenge the child who seems so "bright" in the home setting. The reality is that this is exactly what they really need to learn! How to work in the classroom with other students, attend as part of a group, and tackle work that isn't motivating for them.


The reality is that standardized intelligence tests only evaluate a subset of overall intelligence. They don't account for how a child learns in socially complex environments. It's important to recognize the gap between a gifted (including twice exceptional) child's ability at home versus what s/he is able to do in a school. The solution for most students is not to pull them out of the complex environments, but instead give them practice and strategies to show their strengths! The school environment actually prepares students to live with increasing independence in the adult years.  Take a minute to read our articles about the Social Landscape vs. Tunnel as well as Social Competency: Cascade of Social Attention to learn more about these ideas.

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