Challenging the Talented Child

July 7, 2011 Filed under: Gifted And Talented,Meet IMACS IMACS Staff Writer @ 7:00 am

IMACS’ Director of Curriculum Development, Dr. Ted Sweet, discusses the importance of challenging the gifted and talented student in order to reach his or her full potential and to avoid common pitfalls. Ted is a graduate of Project MEGSSS, a predecessor program to IMACS. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in mathematics at UCLA. Ted joined IMACS in 1998.

Burt Kaufman, one of the foremost American mathematics curriculum developers of the last half-century (and my high school mentor), once made an observation that resonates with many educators of bright and talented children. It was that good grades obtained through little or no effort ultimately led to poor study habits and general intellectual laziness.

Even parents of children enrolled in “gifted” programs of the type currently in favor with many public school systems sometimes complain that their child is “coasting” at school.

Unfortunately, students that solve every problem with ease often get out of the habit of focusing and thinking systematically, skills they will need if they are to reach their full potential. Not surprisingly, it can be a challenge for parents to explain to their bright children that getting an ‘A’ may not be enough to ensure their future academic success.

Bright students whose mental agility and intuitive cognitive abilities are not sufficiently challenged can start to develop problems during elementary school. These may manifest themselves in the form of so-called “careless errors” when doing arithmetical problems, for example. And talented students who have not been stretched intellectually will typically “give up too easily” when they finally encounter challenging problems that require careful analysis. In extreme cases, behavioral problems may start to develop.

The question of how to satisfy the intellectual needs of bright and talented children has been studied in depth by the professionals at IMACS. Our research demonstrates that bright students who are exposed to curricula that foster the careful, logical analysis of significant math problems benefit in many fields outside mathematics. A student who learns to truly think does not leave that skill in the classroom.

What classes that you coasted through do you wish had been more challenging for you?

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4 responses to “Challenging the Talented Child”

  1. Julie says:

    My 7 year old son was not identified in Kindergarten and only late in first grade as being profoundly gifted. He did great in kindergarten because it was a new social environment and his teacher was really dynamic. However, in first grade, he had the misfortune of having a really rigid teacher and he began rebelling by the 2nd month of school. He worked 30 pages ahead in his math book and she punished him severely by sending him to a room where he missed recess. By April of the school year, the school psychologist identified him as profoundly gifted, and there were no services to offer him. His relationship with his teacher remained difficult. He made up his own “fun” in the classroom, finding paperclips, etc., on the floor and would make tools and other gadgets. He and another boy made up imaginary games to keep themselves engaged. He had 11 of the 17 negative characteristis that a gifted child exhibits in the classroom if they are not engaged. After many meetings and attempts to work with the school personnel, we withdrew our child because the pediatrician said his learning enviornment was so negative it was causing stress for our son, which were exhibited by headaches, neck rolling to reduce stress, crying in the morning prior to school, etc. We are so glad we withdrew him and stand by our decision. The profoundly gifted can really have issues in the classroom that THEY do not cause- it is inflicted upon them and they have a reaction: which is typically negative.

  2. IMACS says:

    Thank you, Julie, for sharing your experiences with our readers. Your son sounds amazing! Throughout the years, several IMACS parents have shared with us that the Davidson Institute for Talent Development was a wonderful resource for information on helping them raise their profoundly gifted children. If you haven’t already, take a look at the Davidson website at We hope that you are able to find a learning environment that helps your son reach his full potential.

  3. Jen says:

    When I was in school, I was in the “advanced” classes, which still weren’t hard enough. I would either 1) make things more difficult for the teacher or 2) make things more difficult for myself. If I liked the teacher, I’d opt for 2. If I didn’t, well… the teacher didn’t like me after a while.

    This pattern recently manifest itself in a music class I was taking. It was a harmony-singing class, and I was expecting a more advanced approach. I was bored out of my mind, and the frustrated 10-year-old reared her head and started playing “games” with the teacher. I realized what was happening and turned to transcribing the music, which was not written out, into solfege syllables to challenge myself.

    I finally owned my adult power and switched out of the class into another one that was not a fit! In the end I got my money back! But I realized that the bored and frustrated kid is still in there.

    During college, I went the coasting route in my senior seminar. The work was not challenging, I was depressed due to personal circumstances, and I was doing just enough to get by. My advisor slapped me on the wrist and said I had to do better if I wanted a grad school recommendation. So I did a little more and got a full ride to grad school.

    As I look back, I can choose to 1) excel 2) fight the teacher 3) made things more challenging for myself (if the teacher won’t or, as a last-ditch option, 4) coast..

  4. IMACS says:

    Jennifer, thank you for sharing your experiences. It would not be unusual for us to hear these kinds of stories from our IMACS alumni. We’re happy to see that, as a gifted adult, you recognize when your frustration with lack of challenge starts to affect you and understand the paths you can take in those circumstances. We hope that you continue to “own your adult power” as these are situations that gifted individuals will find themselves in throughout life. If you are interested in more resources and support services for gifted adults, you may want to contact a group called Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG). Their Web site is

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