By Molly O. Kellogg
It all started with a conversation.
I was speaking with a colleague about the support services I was providing to some gifted math thinkers in the third grade, and she seemed uncomfortable with the direct support I was providing to the students. She mentioned her focus on nurturing a growth mindset in all students, and I soon realized something I found both confusing and concerning: She thought that providing gifted services to only some students was at odds with the goal of nurturing a growth mindset for everyone, because all the other students were excluded from what she considered enrichment opportunities.
Some of the staff in my school had recently finished reading Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset. I was very excited about the way Dweck provided some new language to describe what teachers have seen routinely in their work with gifted children. Those students who attribute their success to innate intelligence don’t take risks, never utter the words “I don’t know,” and avoid challenges at all costs; they have a fixed mindset. These are the kids whose classroom teachers say to me in frustration, “but I gave her the option of doing more challenging work instead, and she didn’t even try it!”
Our perfectionists, our kids who have heard, “You are SO SMART!” since their toddler years, our gifted learners who have coasted through easy work - they all have a fixed mindset and fear the “Wizard of Oz” syndrome. What if people figure out I’m not really a wiz? That I’m just a regular kid pretending to be smart? What if they don’t like what they find behind the curtain?
On the other hand, we have also worked with gifted learners who thrive on the unknown, the nearly impossible math problem, the messy history, the big questions with too many answers and no real solutions. These kids cheer when we offer them a meaty challenge, they ask lots of questions to learn more, and when they make mistakes; it fuels their desire to try again and again and again. They have a growth mindset.
It seemed clear to me while reading Dweck’s work and looking at my students that the way to nurture a growth mindset in all gifted students, in ALL students, period, is to provide them with the appropriate level of work. If children are only provided with work and skills they have already mastered, they cannot learn new things; they cannot even begin to think of interesting questions to ponder; they cannot grow and stretch. Their risk muscles atrophy, and they become wary of new skills and unfamiliar challenges.
I think that what my colleague actually felt uncomfortable with was the perception of gifted services as both exclusive and evaluative of those not receiving those services. I see that as a misperception of gifted services; a misunderstanding that gifted educators have been trying to dispel and reframe for decades. In actuality, services we provide to gifted learners fill true academic, social and emotional needs that are not being met in the general education classroom; just like the services we provide students through reading specialists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, special education strategists, math specialists, language support staff and other service providers. Gifted services are not designed to exclude any children but rather are provided to meet the needs of those children who demonstrate a significant difference in their intellectual and emotional development when compared to their same age peers. Put simply, gifted children need services to learn new things, to grow, stretch and take risks. They need these services to develop a true growth mindset.
Molly Kellogg is a teacher and consultant with twenty-four years in education, more than half of which focused on gifted education. She is the coauthor of a professional book for teachers, A Field Guide to Gifted Students: A Teacher's Introduction to Identifying and Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners (Prufrock Press, 2020). She enjoys being outside (anywhere), baking (especially with chocolate) and creating (ask her about her two year knitting project; hint: legwarmers). She lives in Brunswick, Maine with her husband and two young children.
*Photo Credit: "About 420 students attend school at the Kalbajar School #56" by World Bank Photo Collection is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd-nc/2.0/jp/?ref=openverse&atype=rich