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Rules for Gifted Students in All the Right Places

Posted by Categories: Education, Gifted Education, Gifted Students

Rules are wonderful things and terrible things for gifted students. And, at this time of year, rules occupy our thoughts a bit as it may be time to learn new rules of new schools or new classrooms and teachers, as well as new rules of subject matter content, such as math, or new languages. Rules can quickly assist bright students in grasping new information as they create patterns and logic in their minds. Rules of a field can also help capable students to project new information for that field based on projections or implications from learned information.

Rules can also be helpful in other ways. Rules can ensure safety. It’s a good thing when cars drive on the correct side of the street, for example! Rules in the form of social manners, such as not speaking while someone else is talking, or thanking people for doing something helpful, can make human interactions pleasant and productive. Rules that are cultural in nature can help people show respect and tolerance, who are interested in doing so, and can be educational as well.

Rules can also be stifling and frustrating to gifted and academically talented students. Rules that do noRules for Gifted Students in All the Rightt allow fast learners to move quickly through basic curriculum at their pace, or that do not allow students to participate in educational groupings beyond their chronological age, are very frustrating. Rules that do not allow students to take class time to study topics that intrigue and interest them are ill-directed. Such rules hold students back from experiencing a satisfying and nurturing learning experience as well as positive social experiences. We all lose in the long run when people are not allowed to be fully themselves and to pursue their passions as far and as fast as they would like to take them.

There are also places where students should be encouraged to break the rules. I’m not talking about rules of a physical or safety nature, but breaking the kind of thinking rules that would allow one to make breakthroughs in thought, in discoveries, and in inventiveness. In such cases, it is important to suspend what one knows about the accepted rules in that discipline so that insight can surface and bring new revelations with it. If we continue to think the same ways we always have, we’ll continue to get the same kinds of thoughts we always have. It puzzles me at times that gifted students will obsess over the kinds of rules that limit them in where and when they can do things, but forget that they have full rein over their minds and can stretch their mental rules to whatever extent they wish—a much more engaging and long-term breaking of boundaries.

It is important for us as educators, parents, and other adults to do our parts in helping students learn rules that will make life satisfying, fulfilling, and safe for them, as well as encouraging them to bend or suspend rules of thought and of fields of study where there is opportunity to maneuver a new line of thought into as yet undiscovered areas. Pioneers who discover new geographic places as well as new fields of study are not limited by the rules of boundaries, yet do take precautions to be safe and build on the knowledge of their predecessors. I hope this school year holds the mystery and promise of learning helpful rules and of breaking through mental boundaries for all of you.

All the best,

Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.
Executive Director, National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)
President, Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG)

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