Gifted girls conceal their talents
Worse still, says Chris Herbert, head of the assessment team at the Gifted Education Centre (GEC), girls who hide their talents are likely to become bored and frustrated, setting them up for failure at secondary school because they lose all motivation.
“Gifted” children are defined as those who achieve, or have the potential to achieve, at a level far above most other children their age. If they make an effort at school, their marks are likely to be in the top 5% of their class.
A child can be gifted in one area such as mathematics or music or many, and there are different levels of giftedness.
Research suggests that about half of all gifted kids are never identified. But Sheryl Burns, assistant director of the GEC, says gifted boys are much more likely to be identified than girls.
“Little boys, when they get bored, tend to act up and become the class clown so they get picked up [as gifted]. Little girls tend to just become quiet and sit in the corner and don’t say very much so they are never picked up.
“As they get older, the desire to fit in becomes greater… Girls dumb down, they comply, and they become the teacher’s pet.”
Sue Breen, GEC lead teacher, says her gifted daughter (now an adult) deliberately kept her marks to 80% throughout school. This tactic kept the teachers happy, and also meant she didn’t stand out too much from her friends.
Now Breen sees other girls using the same cover-up strategy.
“Eighty percent is a good mark to get. That’s fine, as long as they remember they’re doing it. But sometimes they forget they think of themselves as an 80%-er.”
Breen says she has to work hard to get girls to take risks with their answers, to try new ways of thinking and stop simply delivering what they know the teacher wants. ‘
Education psychologist and head of the New Zealand Association for Gifted Children, Rose Blackett, says it can take just one comment to push a gifted child into covering their talents.
“They will feel it. It will cut to the bone rather than be like water off a duck’s back.”
Parents who think their daughter may be gifted can have her tested by private psychologists or the GEC, which has branches around the country. Once a child is identified as gifted they gain access to the GEC’s special classes, and the acknowledgment can also help parents, and the child’s school, to better understand and work with them.
The GEC centres will hold open days in the third week of June, which is Gifted Awareness Week.