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Is My Gifted Child Happy at School? 5 Questions to Ask the Teacher

With the school year well under way, hopefully a good parent/teacher/student relationship has started to flourish. As a teacher, the number one concern I heard from parents was: Is my child happy? In order for me to the answer that question, I needed to answer queries into not only the student's cognitive progress, but also the learner's social and emotional well-being. As a parent of a gifted child, your questions, while the same as other parents, will typically bring up answers that are different.

In order to gain insight into the cognitive growth of your child, these questions are crucial to ask:

1. What are my child's strengths? This question has a follow-up that asks the teacher how far above grade level your child is performing. This is crucial information because the next bit of information you will need to know is the game plan for meeting those needs. What learning experiences is the teacher including to make sure your child is making appropriate progress in their strength area? How will you be able to see these diffferentiations from the home?

2. What are my child's relative area(s) of weakness? Notice the word "relative." Even students who are strong in all four core areas typically have one subject that has a few more deficit skill areas than the others. Of course, if you have a twice exceptional child, the areas of relative weaknesses may be more obvious. It is important that these do not overshadow the areas of strengths. Some gifted learners have never been identified as gifted due to their deficits, so it is important that teachers look beyond the areas that interfere with their learning by pairing them with their strengths.

While we typically think of the school's main purpose as providing appropriate learning experiences, the whole child's needs must be taken into consideration. The next questions will give parents a feel for the social development.

3. How does my child interact when working with others during group projects? The answer to this question can vary wildly. To hear that your child shows great leadership skills and can moderate disagreements among peers is the brass ring we would all love to hear our child has obtained; but it is a rare student , especially when young, who has managed to develop such adult skills. Many parents of gifted students instead may hear that their child is "bossy" or tends to take over. They may may also hear the opposite; the child rarely engages in group work. If either of these situations is the case for your child, a good question to ask would be how the groups are designed. Many times when gifted students are consistently grouped with students possessing a wide range of intellectual abilities, resentment can be shown from many of the members. Those with less skill ability in the task at hand may figure the gifted person knows all of the answers anyway, so why are they needed? From the perspective of the gifted learner, they may feel like the workload is dumped on them or conversely, they may choose to complete the entire task, not wanting to risk possible mistakes by others in the group. A frank discussion about the possibilities of grouping by intellectual strengths, at least when the content is the focus of the group task, is quite appropriate.

4. When given a choice, does my child prefer to work alone or with others? Many gifted learners are reflective by nature and need time for introspection. In addition, their speed of thought and interests in areas not typical of their agemates may cause them to desire to work by themselves. This should not be troublesome as long as there is a balance of opportunities for this independent time as well as working with the class. Additionally, it is important to note if a child has difficulty not only working with others, but in socializing at noneducational times. Many gifted students opt for associating with adults or older children than themselves as they do not feel they have anything in common with others their age. Trying to match interests with other students can be a way to bring students together.

The final area to inquire about is the child's emotional development. One key question that can illuminate progress in this area is:

5. How does my child accept new challenges? Many gifted students have yet to "hit the wall" with their academic abilities. When encountering a challenge that seems beyond them, they may withdraw or exhibit signs of anxiety. If your child has perfectionist tendencies, these may become exacerbated. This doubles us back to our first question regarding differentiation. It is very important that students, from their first encounter with school, are appropriately challenged so they do not later develop a lack of confidence in their abilities that can lead to risk aversion when faced with difficult tasks. Finding the answer to how your child accepts new challenges is a good indicator as to their happiness with their academic progress.

Acquiring the answers to these five questions is crucial to ensuring your child is on the right path to a happy and successful year. A year, it is hoped, that will bring your gifted learner growth academically, socially, and emotionally!

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