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Nurturing the gifted child

Last updated: 18 May, 2011

CLASSROOM DILEMMA

Heera Nawaz offers teachers and parents tips on how to channel a gifted studentís talent in the right direction

Annie was a gifted student from a very young age. She showed a flair for subjects like Math and Physics, consistently scoring high grades, and was additionally good at badminton and chess. She had a photographic memory, which meant that she only had to read a subject once to be able to assimilate it and reproduce it. Naturally, her parents were over the moon with their “prodigal daughter”.

But, as is the case with several gifted children, this very promising start did not last long. When Annie reached high school, she was intellectually ahead of her peers and therefore, was unchallenged by “ordinary class work and homework”. She would finish assignments ahead of her other classmates and this led to a slow but progressive loss of interest in school work.

Moreover, she developed a superiority complex thanks to her intellectual acumen. But her main undoing, which is common in many a brilliant student, was her unacceptable attitude. This led to squabbles and rows with classmates. In short, she was displaced from her pedestal. Instead, she became a “burnt-out misfit”.


Although the above case is not very common, many a teacher would have, at some point in their career, come across a student like Annie – the intelligent student facing burnout. Though being brilliant is usually associated with pride and achievement, which have positive connotations, there is definitely a flip side or down side to it.

The gifted child usually reads voraciously, grasps information quickly and consequently gets bored with the slow pace of studies. The gifted child has no patience and dislikes the term, ‘slow and steady’. Instead, he/she is raring to go to the next level and is impatient and intolerant of under achievers.

There are other problems too. A student may be excellent in academics, easy with numbers and possess a creative mind, all of which may not necessarily translate into a strong grip over practical lessons.

“The brilliant student is sometimes out of touch with reality, poor in social skills and may sometimes come across as arrogant and intolerant of others,” says Chitra Srikrishna, a musician and writer, a parent of two teenage girls.

Is it possible to arrest burnout?

The first step towards helping a child is to get the parents on board. “After ascertaining the child’s brilliance, parents must nurture the talent of their son/daughter and give them the opportunity and scope for further development.

The child should be showered with love, support and encouragement, when faced with difficulties,” says Shalini Pujari, Head of Department of Economics, Mount Carmel College, mother of two teenage boys. Encouragement should be unconditional, without discrimination.

Rachna Chhabria, a blogger, points out, “There should be no discrimination between the way parents treat the gifted child and the other children. It can lead to an overwhelming sense of pride and self-worth with the gifted child and an acute sense of inferiority complex and jealousy among siblings.”

Teachers, too, can play a major part in preventing burnout. They can be instrumental in either “making” or “marring” the lives of their students. The movie, Taare Zameen Par starring Aamir Khan, as a compassionate art teacher portrays how pivotal and important the teacher can be to help nurture students, particularly the brilliant ones. Sometimes, as in this movie, there are teachers who can identify the gifted child almost immediately and can encourage him/her to fruition.

Although finding dedicated, well-equipped teachers is a challenge, there are quite a few teachers who fit the bill.  Leela Ramaswamy, a former teacher at St Francis Xavier Girls’ High School and writer, provides a solution that could help both the teacher and student, “It is easy for a trained teacher to spot the gifted child.

If the child’s talents are not recognised, it can lead to boredom and indiscipline. The wise teacher, in my opinion, will quietly acknowledge her abilities and give her the position of a leader.”

How does the teacher treat the gifted child in the classroom?


*Teachers can make sure the student does not hurriedly get through class work and then sit restlessly. More work and work that is complex in nature should be given to the gifted child so that he/she feels challenged.

*
The child is typically a voracious reader. Teachers should give him/her ample time to go to the school library on the topics discussed in class.

*
Since they are also creative and keen, teachers should see that they have ample opportunity for creating models, projects and artifacts that will facilitate practical understanding.

*
Teachers can also play a role in keeping the gifted child grounded by not unnecessarily praising and raving about him/her.

(The writer is a faculty member of BGS International Residential School, Bangalore)

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