How to Identify Gifted Students in Your Classroom


One of the many challenges you may face in your classroom is the daunting task of supporting all learners. One group of students—gifted learners—is particularly challenging to support because these learners can be quite difficult to identify.

As you know, giftedness has a lot to do with intelligence, but some of your most successful students may not be considered gifted. At the same time, many gifted students are difficult to spot because they may underachieve, be disruptive, and/or be at risk of failing in school. So, let’s spend some time figuring out how to identify gifted students so you can support them to reach their full potential.

Who Are the Gifted Learners in Your Classroom?

There are many challenges that come with being gifted, which is why it’s important to identify your gifted students as early as possible in the school year. If not supported, gifted students are at risk of developing low self-esteem, being bullied, and even dropping out of school. To learn more about challenges that gifted students face, visit the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).

To get started with identifying your gifted students, use the following checklist. Consider each of your students—even those you are certain are not gifted (you may be surprised)—and place a check next to each characteristic that each individual student exhibits.

Gifted Learner Identification Checklist

1. The Successful Student

  • She doesn’t take risks and often sacrifices creativity to get a good grade.
  • He has perfectionist tendencies and fears failure.
  • She is an academic achiever who scores well on tests.
  • He is self-critical, but has a positive self-concept. In other words, he is hard on himself, but develops his identity around the positive feedback he receives.
  • She needs extrinsic motivation in order to challenge herself to accomplish something that might result in failure.

2. The Challenging Student

  • She experiences boredom and frustration when work is not challenging or related to her interests.
  • He is usually the student who questions an assignment or asks, “Why?”
  • She is creative and able to identify and solve problems in multiple unique ways.
  • He is usually impatient and unwilling to wait for results.
  • She often has low self-esteem because she isn’t viewed as successful and therefore gets negative feedback from peers and adults.
  • He lacks self-control, often makes poor decisions, and doesn’t understand delayed gratification.

3. The Underground Student

  • She is often (but not always) a female.
  • He is insecure and concerned about how others perceive him.
  • She wants to belong socially more than she wants to be seen as smart, and she will sacrifice her needs and desires to fit into a group, even if it means sabotaging her work in order to remain unnoticed.
  • Due to his desire to belong, he feels guilty when his gifts and strengths set him apart from his friends.

4. The Angry/At-Risk Student

  • She performs below her ability level and is rarely recognized as gifted.
  • He gets feedback from adults and peers that he isn’t a good student.
  • She is often seen as a rebellious loner.
  • He is easily discouraged, struggles to complete tasks, and is regularly disruptive in class.

5. The Twice-Exceptional Student

  • In addition to being gifted, she also has a learning disability (e.g., dyslexia, ADD, or speaks English as a second language).
  • He is often supported in terms of his disability—not because of his giftedness—and therefore demonstrates inconsistent work.
  • She feels powerless and angry because her abilities often far exceed her performance.
  • He appears average or below average academically because his strengths are masked by his disabilities.
  • She often has to work at a slower pace than her peers because of her disability, and she develops low self-esteem.

6. The Autonomous Student

  • She is not afraid of taking risks and continues to work hard despite obstacles.
  • He is confident, secure, and has a positive self-concept.
  • She is intrinsically motivated and enthusiastic to learn without needing approval.
  • He is confident enough to work independently without teacher guidance.

Do any of your students fall into one of these groups? If so, you are one step closer to being able to support them. In the coming weeks, we will provide strategies to support each of these gifted learner groups. You can also check out our new course, Reaching and Teaching Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom, to learn everything you need to support all of your students next school year!

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