Focusing on What a Child Needs in Basic Education

Although it is obvious that an effective education must be guided by what a child needs, we often spend more time labeling our students as if skills and knowledge are static. In gifted education, for example, we focus more on "bragging rights" thereby reducing classrooms for these exceptional children to mere positions of ascendancy and neglecting the fact that these children have unique needs. Paying more attention to what a child needs is important in education as an article in reminds all of us. When we think of needs, we have a specific child in mind and there is no need for ranking children in any given classroom. It is only through a recognition of these needs, how special these are, how these can not be possibly met in a general classroom, can we in fact justify a separate program, a separate classroom designed specifically for exceptional students.

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Focusing on needs means less attention should be given to what a child's accomplishments are. This involves a dramatic change in our way of selecting children for gifted programs. Instead of focusing on assessments that measure intelligence or even the potential to excel, which are clearly difficult to gauge, one should just honestly ask if a child's needs can not be met in a general classroom. These are the questions that need to be asked for these actually go right to the reason why a separate program is warranted.

In EducationWeek, Anthony Colucci provides a list of unique needs a gifted child has. These needs arise because of characteristics common among exceptional children. Colucci writes, "Gifted kids have a host of complicated issues, including overexcitability, asynchronous development, heightened emotional sensitivity, and perfectionism. These issues need special attention and care." Thus, it simply makes more sense to use these characteristics in identifying children who may need services especially tailored for these needs. This screening of course focuses on what a child needs and not so much about a child being "smart" or not. These issues are in fact what often necessitate having a special program for the gifted. Colucci's list of issues is actually supported by research. These characteristics are commonly observed among gifted students. As reported by Altintas and Ilg√ľn in Educational Research and Reviews, the following are reported by a significant fraction of parents (more than eighty percent) about their gifted children:

  • Learning rapidly
  • Independent
  • Talking too much
  • Asking questions too much
  • Moving too much
  • Impatient
  • Getting bored quickly
  • Perfectionist
  • Having confidence
  • Objecting too much
  • Hard to convince
  • Having his own rights
  • High imagination
  • Curious
  • Meticulous
  • Able to give quick witty comments

Clearly, the above contain not just good traits but also highly challenging ones. With these challenges in mind, perhaps it makes it clear why it may actually be beneficial for both the average student and the gifted ones to have gifted children in a separate classroom or school. Not concentrating on these issues and dwelling instead on intelligence measures completely misses the point why gifted education is a particular need. And more importantly, programs that neglect the above issues are most likely not responding to the specific needs of a gifted child.