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Gifted Awareness Week 2013 - Challenge, giftedness and what children think

I'm not a natural or prolific blogger but for Gifted Awareness Week this year the theme happens to be challenge, which was the theme of my first ever blog post, last year. What I wrote then may or may not 'hold up', and is something of a personal note about challenge, but for Gifted Awareness Week I thought I would re-visit my ideas and add those of the students I teach... at Gifted Kids, a one-day-a-week programme catering for the unique needs of gifted students, primarily those from low-decile communities (see It is part of our mandate to support students to experience and embrace new challenges. Thank goodness!

With my young (years 3,4 and 5) and brand new class this year I was intrigued to watch their varying responses to challenging experiences. By 'challenging experiences' I mean new and unfamiliar things, difficult work, abstract work, a socially new and different environment, being pushed out of their comfort zone intellectually and socially etc - I don't just mean hard work.

Here are some things that children said about facing challenge:
  • Challenge is when you think you can't do something
  • Challenge makes me feel sick and anxious, but then relieved when it's over
  • I feel confident about being challenged and proud of myself after facing a challenge
  • Challenge is when you have hard work to do at school
  • Being challenged makes me feel fascinated and in a world full of questions
  • Being challenged makes me feel terrified and I want to run away
  • As a result of being challenged, I learn more
  • After I face a challenge, I feel relieved and elated
  • Some people think 'challenge' mean MORE work, but that's not true
  • I feel 'flow' when I am being challenged
When faced with a range of challenging experiences and situations in the Gifted Kids day, some respond with obvious glee... delight, smiles, giggles, the odd quizzical look and raised eyebrow. They approach challenging situations with what can only be described in the most old fashioned of terms, with vim and vigour.
Some respond with confusion, puzzlement, a thousand questions (some useful, some ridiculous!). These students approach their challenges with some grit, some concentration, some persistance (not in huge amounts, but definitely there).
And some respond by going into shut down mode - eyes down, head down, refusal to engage, deflection, blankness, and sometimes tears and tantrums. These students didn't actually 'approach' their challenges at all.

Their responses certainly give me pause for thought. And the response to challenge absolutely determined the outcomes achieved by these students, in predictable ways... if you don't face a challenge, you don't learn from it.

My guesses about why students respond in such varying ways include:
- do they face challenges (intellectual, social, physical, emotional) routinely? For me, this is number one. If you are not routinely challenged (in different realms), you cannot possibly develop the skills and strategies needed to cope in difficult situations.
- do they see others face challenges?
- are they aware of their own feelings when facing challenges?
- have they developed, learnt, or at least been exposed to some useful strategies for facing challenges?
- have they experienced both complete success and complete failure, and had the opportunity to reflect on the causes of these?

I don't have the answers, but I think and feel, very strongly, that we need to:
- expose our gifted children to a range of genuinely challenging situations - frequently, gently and thoughtfully
- help our gifted children to learn and use the skills and strategies needed to face challenges with glee!
- ensure that 'challenge' is not restricted to the intellectual domain, and isn't restricted to 'more work'

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  1. I really enjoyed your blog, Madelaine. My experiences with gifted kids and challenge mirror your own and I agree wholeheartedly with your ideas about ways to help students embrace challenges!


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