There are many prevalent myths and misunderstandings regarding gifted education. Teacher preparation programs spend little time instructing preservice teachers in the needs of gifted children, yet these learners will inevitably be present in our classrooms.


Myths in gifted education include:

  • the myth of average
  • whether your school has gifted students
  • how to identify gifted learners
  • identifying and serving gifted students is elitist
  • that gifted learners will be fine on their own

Let's debunk those myths together!

1. The Myth of Average

America is obsessed with the average, which seeps into our education system. Whether analyzing data, teaching grade-level standards, or identifying students in special education, everything is based on the average.

In a TedX Talk, Todd Rose shared that the United States Air Force attempted to design a better cockpit in the 1950s for the average pilot. They hypothesized that the cockpit was no longer working because the average American had grown over several decades.


The underlying problem was that no one fit the average. Only 3.5% fell within the average range, leading to the adjustable seat's invention!  

Historically, education has been designed around the idea of average because the purpose was to obtain a standardized industrial job. Beyond Average's Lory Hough states, "Since then, we have continued to think that the average — a human invention — represents everyone or that any deviation from the average is what defines you.

For example, you're gifted and don't need as much help." This is a dangerous, encompassing belief in education because it means we are not meeting the needs of all students. Based on the pilot illustration, we are meeting very few. 

As educators, we must remember the pilot's chair and realize that none of our students are average. We reach a few students if we aim to teach to the middle.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Multiage Classrooms in the Era of NCLB Accountability states, "The current grade-based academic standards and high-stakes testing might have solid correlations to curriculum-centered instruction, but by using the same curricula to teach diverse groups of students, they might neglect some students' needs, especially those of high- and low-achievers." We should consider maximizing instructional time to serve students working below and above grade level to meet individual needs. 

2. "My School Doesn't Have Gifted Students!"

Gifted learners can be found in every school building. Our job as educators is to be talent spotters who identify, target, and grow at least the top 2-5% of our student population through advanced, differentiated instruction.

Educators can talent spot by looking for learners who:

  • seem to know information inherently
  • are creative problem-solvers
  • have developed a deep sense of justice
  • demonstrate an unusual or keen sense of humor

One option for finding these students is implementing Joseph Renzulli's Talent Development Model, which is built around the concept of casting a wider net. The top 20% of students receive advanced, differentiated instruction in a Talent Development Model. In Renzulli’s model, talent spotters are hunting for above average ability, creativity, and task commitment.

Transforming Education says, "Self-efficacy can boost student achievement, foster emotional health and well-being, and serve as a valid predictor of motivation and learning…students with high levels of self-efficacy participate more in class, work harder, persist longer, and have fewer adverse emotional reactions when encountering difficulties..."  

3. Identifying and Serving Gifted Learners is Elitist

Gifted education comes with its challenges regarding equity. Tennessee is one of only a few states where gifted education is considered special education.

One disadvantage is the need for a single official responsible for gifted education at the state level. This lack of oversight has led to systemic problems going unaddressed. For instance, data from 2018 showed that only seventeen ESL (English as a Second Language) learners were identified as intellectually gifted in Tennessee. 


Another concern is that intellectually gifted learners are identified based on a matrix that currently leaves many disadvantaged students without equitable opportunities to access gifted services. Girls are also underrepresented in gifted education.

While elitist practices exist in gifted education, one way to counteract these is to adjust how we identify gifted learners. Not only could your school consider adopting Renzulli’s Talent Development Model, if current criteria seem elitist, those could be replaced with local norms, identifying the top 2 - 5% of students as intellectually gifted and offering support to ensure success. Using this approach, more robust clusters of gifted learners could be served by identifying males, females, students from diverse backgrounds, and English Language Learners. 

Intellectual giftedness is a type of neurodivergence, as are ADHD and autism. The brains of our gifted learners are wired differently than their neurotypical peers, and these students require different teaching methods for optimal growth and development when in our care.

Want to learn more about neurodivergence, specifically as it relates to giftedness? The Neurodiversity Podcast is a great place to start! You will LOVE the wisdom of Emily Kircher-Morris.


4. This Student Can't POSSIBLY be Gifted!

Gifted learners may demonstrate asynchronous development, meaning they are growing and maturing at different rates. It has been explained that parenting or teaching a gifted student is like parenting or teaching five children in one. The student may present as one physical age, an advanced intellectual age, and perhaps even below their peers in their behavioral or social-emotional development.

Some gifted learners are twice-exceptional (2E), meaning they are not only gifted but also have ADHD or autism. Based on the work of Dr. Deborah Ruf, the higher the IQ, the more complex the intellectual profile. These neurodivergent gifted students may have more than one area of exceptionality. This may prevent educators from recognizing and identifying intellectual giftedness. 

5. Gifted Learners Will be Fine on Their Own

According to A Nation Deceived, a prevalent myth in education is that intellectually gifted students will be fine, leaving them overlooked. Suppose we recognize the myth of average and view intellectual giftedness as a type of neurodivergence. In that case, we can identify and support these students appropriately and more individually.

The 2019 Tennessee Association for the Gifted conference reminded educators that the United States is outsourcing gifted jobs because we cannot fill them. An investment in our brightest students pays off throughout the nation. These students will be our change-makers who grow into scientists, researchers, doctors, inventors, and beyond.

Another fantastic podcast working to demystify gifted education is They’ll Be Fine. If you are looking for some best practices in gifted education, this is a great place to start!


In addition to these podcasts, don't miss out on my recent LIVE podcast episode on the TeacherGoals Podcast.

This episode is a goldmine of information for educators, parents, and anyone interested in the realm of gifted education. It equips you with valuable strategies and insights to unlock the full potential of gifted learners and create an inclusive learning environment for all. So, tune in now!


Rose, Todd. (2013). The Myth of Average. [Video]. YouTube.

How does this confirm, challenge, or change your thoughts regarding gifted education?……. Share in the comments below!

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5 Mythbusting Misunderstandings in Gifted Education was authored by:
Stephanie Higgs

Stephanie Higgs is a devoted educator from Tennessee with extensive experience in teaching and gifted education. She's known for her dynamic teaching style, significantly improving student reading skills, and providing innovative educational solutions. Stephanie has received numerous awards, including Teacher of the Year, the TAG Horizon Award, and the TPAC Teacher of the Year. She's recently acquired a degree in Instructional Leadership and serves on the executive board for the Tennessee Association for the Gifted. Besides teaching, she shares daily educational tips on her Instagram, @littlemissgifted.

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