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Identifying the Exceptionally Able and Twice Exceptional in the Classroom

“Identification of the Gifted and Talented can pose a problem to teachers and education professionals because they are not a homogenous group. The typical picture of the highly able child is of a hard working pupil who diligently completes work and perhaps is known as the class “swot” or “brain box”. In reality the picture is more complex than that. Alongside the gifted achievers are those who – despite their gifts and talents – persistently underachieve due to boredom, lack of interest or crippling perfectionism, young people who are cognitively advanced enough to play games with complex rule structures and yet not socially mature enough to deal with the frustration that occurs when their peers cannot grasp their game; children whose giftedness may be masked by the fact that they are not being educated in their first language or also who have a disability.”
From “Gifted and Talented In and Out of the Classroom”, A Report for the Council of Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) February 26th 2006

As you can see indentifying a gifted child within the classroom setting can be problematic for teachers. The exceptionally able child doesn't conform to the stereotype. According to the Centre for Talented Youth of Ireland gifted children demostrate a range of characteristics which often set them apart from their peers.

Characteristics of the Gifted and Talented Child

  • Keen powers of observation.
  • Learned or read very early, often before school age.
  • Reads widely and rapidly.
  • Well developed vocabulary - takes delight in using unusual and new words.
  • Has great intellectual curiosity.
  • Absorbs information rapidly - often called sponges.
  • Very good memory - can recall information in different circumstances.
  • Have to ability to concentrate deeply for prolonged periods.
  • Very good powers of reasoning and problem solving.
  • Have intense interests.
  • Possess unusual imagination.
  • Have a great interest in "big" questions, e.g. the nature of the universe, the problem of suffering in the world, environmental issues.
  • Very sensitive - perhaps getting upset easily.
  • Very concerned about rights and wrongs, concerned about injustices.

As these indicators suggest intellectually able children experience the world differently from their peer group and this often sets them apart. Isolation can happen quite easily, particularly at school, where the children's innate sensitivity and their often adult take on the world makes it even more difficult for them to make and keep friendships. They can sometimes be seen as a bit "weird" with their adult language and interests. (Some interesting new research which was published in March 2006 by the National Institute for Mental Health in the US claimed that after a study of mri scans of 370 children, those with a higher intelligence had a different brain development that those of their peers.) In fact one of the key psychological characteristics of giftedness is a phenomenon known as “asynchronous development”, in other words a child’s emotional maturity is way out of kilter with his or her intellectual ability, leading to heightened emotional and sensory sensitivities.  For example, a gifted 7 year old may have the intellectual ability of a 17 year old, yet have the emotional sensitivity of a four year old. And, the higher the child's IQ, the greater the asynchrony. The greater the asynchrony, the greater the potential for behavioural and social/emotional problems. This asynchrony can have devastating effects for a child who is struggling to fit in at school with both his teachers and peers

An excellent presentation entitled Understanding the Needs of Exceptionally Able Students in Post Primary Schools and Developing an Appropriate Response by Tom Daly is now available for download from the SESS site. This presentation echoes much of the information and advice on identification in the Exceptionally Able Students, Draft Guidelines for Teachers:

Key methods in assessment and identification include:

  • Observation
  • Parent/Guardian referral
  • Peer referral
  • Self referral
  • Referral by other individuals or organisations
  • Identification by psychologists
  • Teacher referral
  • School-wide identification processes


Disclaimer: This is not an expert site, it is run on a voluntary basis and as such is based on opinion and experience but we hope that it acts as a signpost for educational resources and other support services for Irish families with exceptionally able children. By using this website you accept that any dependence by you on such information, opinion or advice is at your own risk.

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