Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Gifted Girls

“My son needs your program. He gets in trouble because he can’t sit still and his teacher says he asks too many questions.  He is like the absent minded professor – knows everything about the solar system but can’t remember to brush his teeth or where his coat is.” 

As I sit in my office talking with this parent about the possibility of her son coming to Seabury, I notice his little sister sitting quietly next to mom, doing page after page of multiplication facts sheets for fun. She has asked for mom’s phone because it is better when she can time herself. She has just turned 5 and is in pre-k at another school.

I ask the mom whether she would also like to consider Seabury for her daughter. The mom looks shocked. My daughter? No. She is bright, but not gifted like her brother. She does well in school and has friends. She likes her teachers and never talks about being bored like he does. 

I have had versions of this conversation more times than I can count when talking to parents of gifted girls. When I can convince them to have their daughter assessed – just in case – they are often shocked, as this parent was, to find out that their daughter’s IQ is as high or possibly even higher than her brother’s. 

Research from the Gifted Development Center in Denver, Colorado, has shown that siblings IQ scores tend to be within 5-10 points of each other. So a parent with a gifted boy likely also has a gifted girl. Why is she missed so often?

Research has taught us a lot about gifted girls. And as a gifted girl myself who had no idea of what I was capable of and who still battles with whether I can really take credit for my achievements, it has taught me a lot about me.

Obviously, these are generalizations. Every child is different. But we see this pattern play out often at Seabury and in gifted programs across the country.  And it has led me to be passionate about making sure we are not missing our gifted girls.

Gifted girls tend to be seen as bright, but not gifted, especially if they are socially successful and willing to do the work given to them, even when it is not sufficiently challenging. Gifted girls are more likely to go along with giving the teacher what s/he wants and hiding the more innovative, creative ideas they have. This leads both parents and teachers to believe they are not as capable of creative, analytical thinking as they really are.

Gifted girls are at high risk of developing “Imposter Phenomenon.” Girls are more likely to discount their successes as flukes or luck, or to think that the person evaluating them is wrong. 

Gifted girls are also more likely to experience what researchers refer to as “The Horner Effect,” in which girls hold back what they are capable of because they are more driven to please others than to compete with them. This can include girls hiding that they can already read or do advanced math for their age when entering preschool or kindergarten and/or monitoring how often they raise their hand in class to ask or answer questions so they don’t stand out.

Seabury exists because we believe all students deserve to learn something new at school every day, and that all students have a right to discover their unique gifts and develop their talents.  Regardless of gender identity or cultural background, Seabury is designed to allow gifted children - boys and girls - to experience challenge, to see what they are capable of, and to experience the joy of learning every day. 

The danger of not identifying and serving our gifted girls is that they will go underground, leaving their talents and gifts unrecognized by teachers, family and even from themselves. 

Gifted girls need a place where it is safe to be smart.  To be themselves.  To share their unique perspectives and engage in stimulating discussion with intellectual peers.  As a Seabury alum once said, “Seabury is a place where I found my voice, and found that my voice can make a difference.  It is a place where I can truly be myself.”

Do you have a gifted girl?  Is she getting what she needs in her current program?  She may have friends, like her teachers and be getting good grades.  But is that enough?  Is she experiencing all of what she is capable of and being challenged to grow every day? 

– Sandi Wollum

What We Have Learned About Gifted Children.  Gifted Development Center, 2009. 

Smutney, J.F.  Gifted Girl. Originally published in “Understanding Our Gifted.”  Vol. 11, No. 2, pp 9-13.  Winter, 1999.  

“... Parents are more likely to bring their sons for assessment and overlook their daughters, and this inequity appears to be getting worse. From 1979 to 1989, 57% of the children brought for testing were male, and 43% were female, whereas 51% above 160 IQ were male and 49% female... In 2008, 68% of the children brought for testing were male and only 32% females.”
                        Gifted Development Center, 2009.

“Gifted girls from all ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds are living an invisible life in classrooms across the nation ... By age 11, many gifted girls do not know they have talents. Others, who know, guard it as a well-kept secret. This means that the abilities they could use to develop their potential are instead wasted on adjusting others' expectations (Eby & Smutny, 1990).” 
                                                            Smutney, 1999

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