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Giftedness is not what you think it is!


Profoundly gifted people have an entirely different way of thinking, processing information and reacting! Gifted is a spectrum and each level has a variance of one standard deviation. BUT what is Giftedness? Is it merely an IQ score? Are all Gifted children successful in the classroom? How does a profoundly gifted child differ from a moderately gifted one? And what might we see in the classroom and how to identify and scaffold? - from the blurb about a session by Dr. Gopika Kannan.

The session blurb emphasized that a profoundly gifted individual has a very different way of thinking and processing information and posed several important questions about giftedness. The speaker, Dr. Gopika Kannan (PhD., Cognitive Scientist), started shedding light on these questions right from the start. Some of the key points she made are shared below.


5 Levels of Giftedness and Asynchrony


Case-lets of 2 students were presented. Student 1 was enjoying schoolwork and doing extremely well, had advanced math problem-solving skills, was a couple of grades ahead of her class, was enrolled in a gifted math program, and fitted in socially with both her seniors and her classmates. In contrast, Student 2 was apathetic and withdrawn, often refused to complete schoolwork, was considered a difficult and rebellious child, had a strong interest and expertise in Nordic mythology and could talk endlessly about the topic. On the surface, student 1 seemed gifted and not student 2, but a closer look revealed that student 1 had an IQ of 133 and student 2 an IQ of 169! A college professor of Nordic mythology thought highly of student 2’s expertise. Student 2 could also easily converse with undergraduate students on this topic, though he was socially rejected by his classmates at school.



Using the contrast between the 2 cases, Gopika went on to highlight how there are different levels within giftedness and that there is more ‘asynchrony’ at higher levels of giftedness. Asynchrony means that different characteristics of the child are not ‘in sync’ and the child is very different from his peers in some respects. For example, a 9-year-old child may be intellectually a 15-year-old, but emotionally his biological age. Other asynchronous characteristics that may be observed at higher levels of giftedness include emotional over-excitability and taking a longer time to self-regulate.



She pointed out how rare it is for teachers to come across the higher levels of giftedness in their career, and being unaware of the potential asynchrony, they may not be able to identify that a child in their classroom is highly gifted. For example, student 2 in the above case-let was not suspected to be gifted because he was struggling with schoolwork.



Gifted students, especially those in the higher levels of giftedness, have greater working memory capacity, have a strong ability to connect the dots and an exceptional capacity for self-learning.


Check out this post in which Dr. Bhooshan Shukla shares how one of the defining signs of giftedness is the ability to connect the dots even in early years. This post highlights some of the challenges parents of gifted students face, given their unique characteristics.


The Consequences of Non-Acceleration

Given these important differences, gifted students need acceleration opportunities on the intellectual/ academic front. And exceptionally and profoundly gifted students require radical acceleration- as they are often 5-6 years ahead (or even more) of their peers. Not getting such acceleration leads to negative life outcomes as Miraca Gross’ 20 year long longitudinal study of highly gifted students in Australia shows.


The below quote from a highly gifted young woman, reproduced from Miraca Gross’s keynote address at a conference in 1999, elegantly describes the possible consequences of non-acceleration.

“I can’t imagine that I would still be me if I had to sit through that many years of school and still have so many left to go . . . I think I could have kept my mind intact, but only with a very small, narrow channel through which my thoughts could be communicated to the outside world.  I was building a veritable fortress around myself, and I think it would have continued growing and growing, setting me further and further apart from the rest of the world, making the world more and more of a stage for me to watch and try and make my life alone in the castle resemble . . .”-Elizabeth, highly gifted student

Elizabeth was a highly gifted young woman of 18 at the time of Miraca Gross’ address. She was at university, in her final year of undergraduate study, having been radically accelerated through elementary and high school. She affirms that she would have grown up very differently if she had been retained in the regular classroom with no access to intellectual peers, withdrawing into herself and mimicking social interactions rather than participating in them. Acceleration has given her friends, self-confidence and self-acceptance.  She is in the world, and of it, rather than apart from it as she had been in her earlier school years.

Another consequence of non-acceleration, not just for highly gifted students but even for mildly and moderately gifted students is that it impairs the development of executive function skills. Individuals develop executive function skills only in response to situations where they are adequately challenged.

“In the ordinary elementary school situation, children of IQ 140 waste half their time. Those above IQ 170 waste practically all their time. With little to do, how can these children develop power of sustained effort, respect for the task, or habits of steady work?”-Leta Hollingworth, Psychologist

Gopika says that the executive functioning challenges gifted students face can fortunately be addressed employing known strategies (refer to link in the ‘Recommended Resources’ section).


This post sheds some light on helping gifted students develop psychosocial skills, including executive function skills.


What to look for in the Classroom and What you can do

In the final part of her talk, Gopika shared several tips on what teachers should look out for in the classroom (to identify signs of possible giftedness) and what strategies they could employ to address the special needs of gifted students. The below video clip covers these points. While she addressed teachers, most points are also relevant to parents.



Some of the points Gopika made with respect to identifying gifted students are, looking out for-

  • signs of asynchrony- intellectual level exceeding emotional maturity, child preferring the company of older (or sometimes younger) children

  • a high level of abstraction compared to peers

  • a constant need for mental stimulation

  • unexpected and quirky questions

  • display of great interest when challenged


On what teachers can do to help gifted students, these are some of the points shared-

  • provide activities with greater challenge

  • accept the need of some gifted students to move while learning

  • accept that some gifted students cannot control their reactions and seek strategies to cope with this

  • allow self-teaching through independent activities


Recommended Resources

  1. The Spark by Kristine Barnett - 

  1. 5 Levels of Gifted by Deborah Ruf - 

  1. Exceptionally Gifted Children: Long-Term Outcomes of Academic Acceleration and Non acceleration; Miraca U. M. Gross 

  1. Exceptionally Profoundly Gifted and (prevelance of levels of gifted) 

  1. Executive Functioning E-book 


The session on which this post is based, was from SchoolScape, and targeted at teachers and parents. SchoolScape has been functioning since 2004 with a focus on bringing quality learning to the field of education, be it large-scale government programmes or for independent schools. Its strength has been to influence and impact pedagogy of learning through a professional teacher, teacher-educator programmes, and developing programmes to enable learning from an experiential base to a conceptual level.

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