Gifted and Bored? Maybe Not.
Imagine being a fly on the wall as a gifted middle school child arrives home from school. It might sound a little like this: “Hi honey, how was your day at school?” The student throws down his overly stuffed back pack. “Oh, I guess it was okay.” The parent presses the issue. “Well, what did you do….did you learn anything new today?” No response. “Surely you did something today….”, the parental voice trails off into the living room. “No, nothing new….just the same old boring day.” Now, the die has been cast and one of the most contentious issues, between the regular teaching staff and the parent of the gifted child, has reared its ugly head. On occasion this is true. However, sometimes there are other extenuating circumstances that complicate this situation. It is these ‘other’ conditions that I will discuss.
The modern classroom setting has become an increasingly complex environment. The average teacher must deal with a variety of intricate issues, including diversity, common core standards, and realistic curricular coverage expectations, differentiation, large classroom sizes, and much more, that were not present even a few decades ago. To say the least, it is a very dynamic environment with multiple things happening simultaneously. This is not to excuse the teacher from their ongoing responsibility to reach every child, but, in a time still reverberating from the repercussions of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its emphasis on bringing up the lowest performers, the gifted child has often been left behind; bored. Should this be the case, it is time to set up a positive interaction with the staff to discuss what options might be on the table to further enhance your child’s daily learning experience. For the classroom teacher, should you find yourself relying too often on busy work to keep a child occupied or find that a student (or two) is performing consistently well on the formative assessments it may be time to look at curriculum compaction or adding depth, breadth, complexity, and/or multiple student driven extensions. However, boredom does not always mean boredom.
Over my career within the field of gifted education as both a teacher, administrator, and parent I have often found that there is more to picture than just boredom. In some cases, boredom has been a defensive response by the child in order to deflect criticism away from personal learning issues. There is much more happening in the classroom environment that influences how a child responds to a particular teacher or particular pedagogy. In addition, the child often feels pressured by the parents to achieve at very high levels and therefore may distort the reality of what is actually occurring on a daily basis with in the classroom. In order to better understand what is happening with the student one must dig a little deeper. The reality is that not every gifted child is gifted in everything. Often, when obstacles are met the student panics for fear of letting down mom or dad. It is easier to deflect than to face the issue head on. Other times I have dealt with gifted children who are perfectionists who are unwilling to take chances or risks and once confronted with difficult materials that do not automatically make sense, the same deflective action occurs. In both cases, any pending discussion between parent and teacher, if not thoroughly vetted, has the potential to become contentious quickly. Why? The parent, not understanding the real reasons for their child’s behavior, assume that it is the teacher who is at fault and the teacher becomes immediately defensive about their professional practice. It is on these occasions that both the parent and teacher must work together to identify and address the real issue. It is also recommended that support staff (G/T professionals) are involved to advise and support.
Additionally, gifted students (especially those who have a learning disability or are twice-exceptional) have the ability to camouflage very well. They know the catch words to can deflect attention away from their struggles and ‘boredom’ is one of the best. Students that show flashes of brilliance yet struggle with basic learning fundamentals such as reading, decoding, writing, or processing should be red-flagged by both the parent and teacher for further investigation by an experienced professional. Other times, gifted children use the word ‘boredom’ as a cry for help. It is not in style (especially in middle school) to be the smart kid; to be the one with all the answers. In these situations, the teacher may not even know or understand the child’s true potential as it is being deliberately masked in order to ‘fit in’. Again, the parent must connect with the teacher to discuss this scenario. The differences in performance and school just might be staggering leaving both parties with many questions.
Boredom is no excuse. Students should learn how to address ways to address ennui in the classroom as, even in the best situations, it might still arise. Teachers, likewise need to be aware of, and embrace, a pedagogy that continually keeps the gifted child as engaged as possible. And finally, the parent must learn that the word ‘boredom’ is often a signal that something might be amiss; something that warrants a cooperative approach with school personnel to reverse any possible issue.