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The gifted hide their talents to blend in


According to an anthology, gifted pupils in Swedish schools may hide their talents to avoid the risk of being left out.
“Sometimes, the gifted pupils are described as just sitting around waiting like hungry baby birds, but that is far from the case,” says Caroline Sims, researcher at University of Gävle

Elev i fönster på skola

Foto: Jessica Gow / TT

The concept of Giftedness is gaining increasing attention, and at University of Gävle, PhD student Caroline Sims is focusing on this subject in her research. Sims points out that there is a misconception that gifted pupils are self-sufficient and do well without the attention of their teachers.

Sims says that to fit in, many gifted pupils are used to underperforming and some have lost confidence in school altogether. They may become restless and misdiagnosed with ADHD, while the real problem is that they think so fast that they need more challenging tasks.

“They may even view themselves as stupid because they see a different complexity than others. It is not given that they will get top results on tests,” Caroline Sims says.

For pupils who already feel different, test results showing an intelligence two standard deviations above the normality value become further confirmation that they are deviant, according to Sims.

"The ones I have found have not distinguished themselves in tests"

According to Caroline Sims, it is all about building trust over a long period of time and making the gifted visible through challenging teaching.

“Sometimes, the gifted pupils are described as just sitting around waiting like hungry baby birds, but that is far from the case.”

Her suggestion is long-time observation of how students approach complex tasks:

  • Does the pupil see complex relationships?
  • Do they adapt previous knowledge to new situations even though there are no obvious connections?
  • Does the pupil have well-developed reasoning skills?
  • Does the pupil learn quickly and deeply?
  • Does the learner require great challenges to be stimulated?
  • Does the learner apply original solutions?
  • Does the learner question conventional solutions on relevant grounds?
  • Is the learner highly creative?
  • Does the pupil have an inner drive and autonomy?

“The pupils I have taught and have found have certainly not been easily distinguished by brilliant test results. They may also camouflage their thinking in very rough language.”

Skipping grades no default solution

Together with the Municipality of Gävle, Caroline Sims has created teaching support to enable teachers to differentiate their teaching so as to capture these pupils. To Sims, it can be an advantage to let gifted pupils work together in groups, while skipping grades is not a default solution.

“We lack a system for this, so there is a risk that pupils must repeat topics with the new teacher that they have already covered. There are also challenges involved in putting an eight-year-old in a class with 15-year-olds, for example.”

However, Sims finds it interesting that some universities have launched mentoring programs for gifted students, where the mentor shares the student’s special interest.

A closed door

The Swedish National Agency for Education has announced changes to the Education Act next summer. For example, it will include peak programmes with a fast track to universities. Accordingly, universities and university colleges must adapt so they can accept younger students.

“It is doubtful whether the University is prepared for receiving these students. The only document I have been able to find states that giftedness does not entitle students to any study support, so that is a closed door.”

Caroline Sims

Caroline Sims

In the anthology "Särskild begåvning i praktik och forskning", researchers and professionals consider different aspects of giftedness. The aim is to broaden our understanding of giftedness and provide suggestions on how to adapt teaching to these pupils.

Caroline Sims, editor and co-author, says that we tend to resist bringing attention to this group of pupils. Importantly, she questions the view of them as elite pupils who are doing brilliantly anyway.

“I am passionate about the idea of letting all people have a place in the spotlight. There are many types of talents that we need to build a place for, from mathematicians and logicians to language learners, artists, and practitioners. The problem is that our school system does not value and encourage the abilities of gifted pupils," says Caroline Sims.

Research presentation

Text: Douglas Öhrbom


Caroline Sims, lecturer and doctoral student in education at University of Gävle
Phone: 026-64 81 38
E-mail: caroline.sims@hig.se

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2023-03-13
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)