“My Story… ” Monday: Dr. C.


For pretty much my whole life, I interpreted the word “gifted” to mean “exceptionally smart, having a high IQ.”


Now, I’m not so sure.


When I was going in to the fourth grade, it was recommended I take a special test. This didn’t come as a huge shock; my brother and sister had both taken it before me. So, I went into an office, sat down with a teacher, and took the test. It was a verbal IQ test.


Shortly after, we got the word that I had been accepted in to our local gifted and talented program. In that town, at that time, that meant I was in a small class with two teachers and other fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who were, basically, the brightest of the bright.


We moved to a new state before my fifth grade year, and gifted programming looked different in our new town. I was tossed in a “typical” class and those of us deemed “gifted” were just pulled out for about an hour a week to do enrichment activities.


By high school, gifted education amounted to taking advanced placement courses. And take them, I did– six of them, in fact.


Anyway, all this to say– I spent my entire childhood as one of the “gifted” kids. And that was fine. To be brutally (and hopefully not conceitedly) honest, I truly was one of the top in my class and I could be taught most things pretty easily.


It wasn’t until I was a good six years in to mothering A. that it was suggested to me that there might be a difference between “gifted” and “really smart.” 


The gifted coordinator in our school district, Dr. C., is fond of saying, “People worry that the gifted children will get bored in class. But they don’t– it’s the very smart children who get bored. Truly gifted children will find a way to make it interesting.”


A’s classroom teacher tells me that she’s heard Dr. C. say that for years and years and it never made any sense to her. Until she met A.


It’s kind of hard to wrap your brain around that. But, if I really dig deep, I think I can start to sort it out.


Really smart children can be taught just about anything. You show them how to do it? They can do it. They can apply learned concepts and solve complex problems. Their intelligence is keen and teachers tend to love these kids– what’s not to love about a kid who learns so well?


Gifted children often do things in their own way. They might decode very difficult reading material at a shockingly young age using unknown techniques. They may figure out a method for adding ridiculously long numbers together without stacking and carrying. Often, they’re solving material at very young ages uses methods they were never actually taught.


The results? Can often be the same– both gifted and very smart children frequently arrive at the correct answers and perform well on tests.


But the journey they take to get to that destination? Can be oh-so-different.


“Truly gifted children don’t get bored; they find a way to make it interesting.”


Because A. doesn’t solve much of anything in a traditional way, his mind is never limited as to what it can do with something. This means that, while I would blow through a sheet of simple sums in a couple minutes and then sit there bored, A. would complete the sums and probably see patterns emerge. He’d keep going. He may very well find a short-cut in the process and then start applying that elsewhere.


It’s a totally different process.


Parenting A. has made me sort of question just how “gifted” I ever was.


Do I think I was in the wrong class? Not really. That class was likely a lot of really smart kids with a few truly gifted ones. We still benefitted from the advanced curriculum and enrichment materials.


Do I think being gifted is superior to being really smart? Not really. I thing being really smart is likely easier. People understand “smart” better. Teachers love smart kids. Like I said, we’re a teachable lot and, well, that’s kind of nice. It takes a special teacher to recognize and nurture giftedness and not get frustrated with the atypical ways in which a gifted mind works.


And, so, I have Dr. C. to thank for making me see the difference. For, without spelling it out for me, helping me discover the difference between gifted minds and those that are very intelligent. It’s been a very eye-opening discovery.


What do you think? Do you believe there’s a difference between “gifted” and “really smart” or are we just splitting hairs?

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