Gifted and Talented Education GATE

Characteristics of gifted children

Intelligence and giftedness are not simple concepts that lend themselves to precise definitions, and their meaning continues to evolve as we learn more.  What is understood, however, is that children like these are thinking and behaving in ways that are advanced and different when they are compared with other children their same age. They have differing educational needs that require special programs and accommodations from their teachers and schools.

Gifted children are more common than people think. They are different in some ways from other children, but they are similar in many ways, too. There is considerable diversity among gifted children in terms of personalities, interests, abilities or temperaments. Abilities within a gifted child often have substantial variation and develop unevenly across skill areas. This asynchronous (uneven) development makes gifted children a very diverse group. The wide span of abilities and skills within an individual child has major implications for a gifted child’s curriculum and grade placement. Gifted children need programs that offer flexibility and individualization.

Not all gifted children show all these characteristics, but there are common traits that occur frequently within the gifted population:

Strong verbal abilities, unusually good memories, intense curiosity, wide range of interests, interest in experimenting, passionate imagination and creativity, remarkable sense of humor, desire for reasons and understanding, impatience with others or with themselves, longer attention span, complex thinking, concern with social or political problems and injustices, and sensitivity.

To summarize, gifted children are usually enthusiastic about learning, intensely curious and can be engrossed in many ideas and activities. To support and cultivate this enthusiasm, gifted children need a supportive educational environment that meets their specific needs holistically.

In addition to the characteristics above, gifted children can have what are known as “Overexcitabilities.” Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five areas in which children exhibit intense behaviors, also known as "Overexcitabilities" or "Super-sensitivities." They are psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational. Gifted children tend to have multiple areas of intensity. Gifted children, in general, tend to be more intense than other children in everything they do.

Due to their specific Overexcitabilities and asynchronous development, gifted children experience life in qualitatively different ways and need flexible learning environments that meet academic and social/emotional needs.

Potential problems can stem directly from the strengths of a gifted child.  Each of these possible difficulties can cause stress for gifted children, as well as for those around them. The following table from James Webb’s A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children illustrates this point:

Strengths Possible Challenges
Acquires and retains information quickly Impatient with the speed of others; dislikes routine and drill; may resist mastering foundation skills; may make concepts unduly complex
Inquisitive attitude; intellectual curiosity; intrinsic motivation; searches for significance Asks embarrassing questions; strong willed; excessive in interests; expects same of others
Ability to conceptualize, abstract, synthesize; enjoys problem-solving and intellectual activity Rejects of omits details; resists practice or drill; questions teaching procedures
Can see cause-effect relations Difficulty accepting the illogical, such as feelings, traditions, matters to be taken on faith
Love of truth, equity and fair play Difficulty being practical; worries about humanitarian concerns
Enjoys organizing things and people into structure and order; seeks to systematize Constructs complicated rules or systems; may seem bossy, rude or domineering
Large vocabulary and facile verbal proficiency; broad information in advanced areas May use words to escape or avoid situations; becomes bored with school and age peers; seen by others as a “know-it-all"
Thinks critically; has high expectations; is self-critical and evaluates others Critical or intolerant of others; may become discouraged or depressed; perfectionistic
Keen observer; willing to consider the unusual; seeks new experiences Overly intense focus; may be gullible
Creative and inventive; likes new ways of doing things May disrupt plans or reflect what is already known; seen by others as different and out- of-step
Intense concentration; long attention span in areas of interest; goal-directed behavior; persistent Resists interruption; neglects duties or people during periods of focused interest; seen as stubborn
Sensitivity, empathy for others; desire to be accepted by others Sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection; expects others to have similar values; need for success and recognition; may feel different and alienated
High energy, alertness, eagerness; periods of intense efforts Frustration with inactivity; eagerness may disrupt others’ schedules; needs continual stimulation; may be seen as hyperactive
Independent; prefers individualized work; reliant on self May reject parent or peer input; non- conformist; may be unconventional
Diverse interests and abilities; versatile May appear scattered and disorganized; becomes frustrated over lack of time; others may expect continual competence
Strong sense of humor Sees absurdities of situations; humor may not be understood by peers; may become “class clown” to gain attention

The characteristics of a gifted child cannot be removed; they are an integral part of the child.

Rationale for a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program

Lack of understanding, ambivalence, and low priority for gifted children in public schools have fostered a climate where both the academic and the
emotional needs of gifted children can be neglected. We want gifted children to feel valued and to understand that, though they are (by definition) exceptional from the norm, they do fit in the world and have much in common with others.

Gifted children deserve to learn and grow every day at school; they thrive in supportive environments where they are understood and accommodated for holistically. Abilities are cultivated, developed or revealed through exposure, practice and opportunity. Gifted children need academic guidance and support for their talent areas, and they also need support in areas of academic weakness, social and emotional areas. They need programs that address their unique needs across an entire day in a holistic manner, rather than in piece-meal, academically focused pull-out groups. When gifted children are understood by the adults and children they are with, social skills, friendship skills and empathy are more likely to develop. A growth mindset in advanced students is best supported in an environment where they are consistently challenged, taught how to struggle, persevere and develop essential executive functioning skills. Empathy is fostered in this environment where they are understood and surrounded by a diverse
group of kids.

Learning needs and emotional needs of gifted students differ from those of other students and should be addressed through modification of curriculum and instruction based upon achievement and interests of individual students. The flexibility of a full-day program allows teachers with (experience and specific training in teaching gifted children) the freedom to use teaching practices that are tailored to these students. A specific social/emotional guidance curriculum can be integrated into the academic content in an authentic, relevant context.  Learning experiences for gifted children extend beyond the core curriculum to meet specific learning needs and may include acceleration, in-depth, integrated study, high degrees of complexity in tasks and content, and variety.

How the ACSD1 GATE program is set up

The Albany County School District #1 GATE program is a magnet program serving students in third, fourth and fifth grades by providing differentiated instruction and an opportunity to interact with both ability-level and age-level peers. The goal of the program is to help gifted students thrive in their educational setting. The two classes (a third/fourth and a fifth-grade class) are located at Spring Creek Elementary.

The teachers within the GATE program have experience and training that allows them to provide the students full-time, daily, challenging and meaningful instruction. Differentiation within the classes includes acceleration of content, curriculum compacting, increased depth of content, project-based learning and enrichment experiences. Learning experiences are integrated across content areas. In addition, these magnet classrooms have regularly scheduled Art, P.E., Music, Library and Computer Lab, and Guidance. They also receive purposefully designed, social/emotional guidance counseling to support their specific needs as gifted learners.

A typical day in the ACSD#1 GATE program includes hands-on, projectbased, integrated learning in language arts, mathematics, science and social
studies. Science/Social Studies are given a full hour every day. Reading, writing, speaking and listening are integrated into all content areas. Fifth-grade students are given daily time to do independent, interest-based research projects where they determine the process, content and product (as well as audience) of their learning. The GATE classes go on frequent field trips and spend time in mixed-age groups every day.

The teachers in the GATE program start with the district-wide programs and state-wide curriculum standards, but they don’t end there. Academic content is improved or supplemented to help ALL the gifted students grow. A combination of differentiation, acceleration and enrichment is used. Students in the GATE program usually finish third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh-grade math over the course of the three years in the program. Time is also dedicated to Executive Functioning skills that will help our gifted learners succeed once they move on to middle school.

The GATE classes spend time with their same-age peers in regular education classes as well. Fifth-grade students attend Teton or Keystone Science
School with the other fifth-grade Spring Creek classes. For this reason, the fifthgrade teachers integrate all fifth-grade students frequently.

In addition to the academically rigorous environment of the GATE classes, students learn social skills and engage in service projects to develop mindfulness, empathy and kindness. Although it might seem that being in an environment with other high-ability learners might lead to a more homogenous class, the opposite is true. There is incredible diversity within the GATE classes, and that leads to empathy, tolerance and understanding with the support of purposeful teachers. Students serve the local community: volunteering time, work and funds to causes students care about and invest in. In past years, students have raised money to purchase water filters for women in India as well as worked locally on a project to clean up Spring Creek. They have volunteered at the Eppson Center for Seniors, the Laramie Soup Kitchen, and helped local elderly neighbors near Spring Creek. Students have raised money and created hygiene kits for people in need.  They have conducted energy use surveys and have recommended changes in the community to conserve natural resources. This year, the GATE classes are partnering with the Wyoming Game and Fish to do field science research.

GATE teachers Andrea Hayden and Helen Ommen

Andrea Hayden
Andrea has been teaching in the GATE program since it began fifteen years ago. She is a Nationally Board Certified Teacher and is getting her PhD from the University of Wyoming in Curriculum and Instruction.

Helen Ommen

Helen has been teaching in the GATE program for four years. She has a master’s degree in math and math education, is Nationally Board Certified in Literacy, and has an additional certification in Gifted and Talented Education. Helen is also a mom to three gifted daughters and leads a support groups (SENG Model) for parents of gifted children in the Laramie community.

Please note that changes to the GATE program, including school location, are pending.

Referrals, assessments, and qualification

Being gifted involves more than scores on an IQ test; the behaviors of gifted children are also significant and indicative of a child’s high ability. There is a myth that gifted children are obvious because they will show you their talents. While that may be true, more typical gifted children may not be as readily visible or they may hide their talents to ensure they don’t stand out. A child’s giftedness is not always apparent in the classroom and teachers may fail to nominate some bright children for gifted testing. A series of classic studies showed that teacher nominations fail to identify most gifted children (Archambault et al. 1993). The National Association of Gifted Children recommends that schools use more than one criterion to identify children as gifted.

In ACSD#1 the identification process is as follows:

♦ Universal screening - A universal screening tool is administered to all second-grade students in November. The results of this screener are
used to recommend students for further assessment.
♦ Parents and teachers may also make referrals to the program. Any student who is referred can complete the assessment process.
Parents have about an 85% accuracy rating on referring children who are gifted. (
♦ Qualification for the program is based on a body of evidence from multiple data points. These include ability testing, achievement/performance data, and behavior inventories completed by parents and teachers. Potential success within the program is also considered.
♦ Anecdotal information from parents and teachers may also be used to help inform placement decisions.

The purpose of testing and entrance into the ACSD#1 GATE program is not to put a “gifted” label on a child, but to provide a student who may not be
thriving in a regular education classroom a learning environment where he or she can reach his or her potential, be understood, and grow holistically.

From our students

When asked to share a few of their favorite parts of being in the GATE program, here are some of the students’ highlights:

I actually learn stuff
I can help other people and they help me
Learning at my level
A combined class/interactions with different grades
I like that we get to do science
We get to learn lots of advanced stuff
Making new friends
We get to have a flexible schedule
People like me here
We can be talkative sometimes
Book clubs
We have to push ourselves to do hard things
Being with people like me
It helps us use our potential
People always push me to do better
I’m not left out
Get to know other people well
More opportunities to do hands on stuff
It is hard in math, which I like
All the books/big library
Flex time/independent time
Not being bored
Classmates are at my level
You can share your feelings
We do higher grade level things

Always open to question
Everybody is kind
To be pushed to my limit
Everyone is noticed by the teacher
There’s support when you need it
Being allowed to be creative
Making presentations
To have things fit you
Finding people to learn from
Assignments that are fun.
It is challenging, but not impossible
I’m not the smartest
We have some freedom/choice
It’s organized but not strict
I love the work we do!
Being able to excel at a higher level
Learning to be kind and friendly
All the unique things we do
I get to be with friends for the whole three years
We learn about interesting things
I like that we are challenged
Good new books I haven’t read
I get to be with people who are like me
I don’t get bored because of stuff being too easy
The new and unique projects we do

Sometimes things are hard
The field trips are fun and allow us to learn things
Being able to see past and present teachers
Having small groups for people who learn at different rates
The flexible schedule – it lets us allot more time to a project or take a break if we need to
We get to read and write a lot
Fun teachers
I enjoyed shifting to different classes for different subjects
I enjoyed the teaching styles that were used
I liked the thoughtful feedback
Hands-on science
All the reading and writing opportunities
Social studies projects
Every class is like a crazy fun community
The not-typical, outside-the-box things
Feeling special instead of odd
I like my classmates and their personalities
We still do some of the same lessons as the other students
Flexible and interactive learning
I like working hard
The teachers: they always find something new and interesting to do