Advocacy and the Gifted Teenager

By Min-Ling Li

Min-Ling is IEA’s Apprenticeship Program Coordinator. She joined IEA after teaching high school mathematics in Los Angeles. Her dedication to supporting high-potential students is rooted in her own experiences as a student who struggled to find outlets that nurtured her intellectual and social dispositions.

Meeting the academic needs of gifted teenagers requires a

Meeting the academic needs of gifted teenagers requires discussion, planning, and cooperation.

Amelia is a 10th grader who attends a small private school in Northern California. She enjoys singing and dancing, as well as reading about the universe and diving into the intricacies of supernovae. Amelia is self-motivated but often finds that her school and the courses offered do not satisfy her curiosity in the arts, math, and sciences. The content to learn within her school is often shallow, and completing assignments of knowledge-gathering is baffling to her, as she can find the answer with taps on a keyboard and Wikipedia. She despises memorization. Amelia is respectful. With that said, she follows her enthusiastic and inspiring teachers as they “cover material” which she masters quickly. Amelia is an example of a gifted child within “American schools [that] pledge to educate everyone and expose students to a wide variety of topics” (Davidson, 2004). Amelia’s needs are oftentimes overlooked.

Providing safe and nurturing learning environments for gifted students is often difficult when the student seeks services within educational spaces that are not aware of the needs of gifted youngsters. As the coordinator for a gifted program and a teacher of general education students, I have gained knowledge and experience from my interactions with teenagers. Being an advocate is pivotal in my responsibility to offer the best learning environment for gifted students.

Understanding the needs of a gifted teenager

Advocating for a gifted teenager will require one to look at how we evaluate a valuable learning opportunity. “A gifted, creative child needs [his or her] creativity honed and trained” (Davidson, 2004). Gifted and creative students need options to dive deeply in content and insights from experts to develop passion. They often feel pressures to achieve or not achieve based on structures in place to support their development. As a supporter of a teenager, being open and flexible to his or her passions is vital. Asking questions that qualitatively investigate learning experiences rather than quantitatively evaluating success will motivate students to find their passion. It’s nice to feel you have room to learn and then decide if you would like to continue with the path.

Clear communication of needs

To communicate as an advocate, one must look to the student. Seeking inherently higher intellectual simulations and communicating the needs socially and emotionally of the teen will be a critical component of being an advocate. Listening and observing will be the greatest part to communicating what teenagers may need for their learning. “The construct of meaningfulness, challenge, choice, interest, and enjoyment, have been shown to be central to learning” (Gentry & Springer, 2002). While keeping this criterion in mind, asking observational questions of educators in the youngster’s life will help identify his or her needs. Oftentimes having a mentor to help guide the teenager will enable the needed growth of a gifted student. Having a content expert develop a professional relationship with the student and give constructive criticism will give a youngster real-world working skills.

Be willing to compromise

As an advocate, one will need to work with various people. Finding the best fit for a gifted teenager will require discussion and planning with the youngster, mentor, educators, and family. When there are many vested interests and experts working to find or provide the best opportunities, it might not fit the vision of everyone, but keep the youngster and his or her need for enriching experiences in mind. Ellen Winner writes about gifted children and their “rage to master,” in other words, their willingness to do what they are passionate about for hours each day until they find their level of mastery (Whalen, 2000). Sometimes the path of a gifted teenager is unconventional, but keeping the youngster’s needs in mind will help construct and execute the best fit.


Continuous consideration and assessment of learning experiences will identify the strongest approaches to nurturing a youngster. Advocating for a teenager will require a subjective reflection of the teenager’s desires and needs as he or she nears adulthood, “looking at gifted children, first and foremost, as the unique beings that they are rather than the eminent adults the might someday become” (Delisle, 2014).


Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Advocating for Exceptionally Gifted Young People: A Guidebook (2011). Web. 25 Sept. 2014.

Whalen, Sam. “Sustaining ‘The Rage to Master’: A Conversation with Ellen Winner.” The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Spring 2000.

Gentry, Marcia, and Penny Mork Springer. “Secondary Student Perceptions of Their Class Activities Regarding Meaningfulness, Challenge, Choice, and Appeal: An Initial Validation Study.” The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Summer 2002.

Davidson, Jan, Bob Davidson, and Laura Vanderkam. Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting our Brightest Young Minds. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

Delisle, James R. Dumbing Down America: The War On Our Nation’s Brightest Young Minds (And What We Can Do To Fight Back. Waco: Prufrock Press, 2014.

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blog_hop_oct14_gifted_advocacy_smallThis post is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page October Blog Hop on Gifted Advocacy. Check out all of the other great blogs participating in Hoagies’ October Blog Hop here.

Photo credit: Innovation_School via photopin cc

9 responses to “Advocacy and the Gifted Teenager

  1. Reblogged this on The Daisy Charter and commented:
    Love this. As a gifted teen, I struggled with this even in a gifted program. Now, as a homeschooler, I still question the point of some of the things we learn. However, I’m also more apt to complete assignments at my own pace and in a more creative manner. Depending on the child, a wider ability to complete assignments and projects the way the child/teen wants can result in an even better window into improved education. So thumbs up for creativity!

  2. “The content to learn within her school is often shallow, and completing assignments of knowledge-gathering is baffling to her, as she can find the answer with taps on a keyboard and Wikipedia. She despises memorization.”
    Thank you for giving us a clear explanation how mindless learning – the “knowledge-gathering” – can feel to a gifted student. So often, schools believe that gifted students just need more information presented at a faster pace, when, as you pointed out, it is not that at all . This article presents so much valuable information for gifted advocates and parents of gifted students.

    • So true, Celi! It is so much more than the amount and pace of learning, though those are also important factors that are often left unaddressed. We are glad you found the article helpful. Thanks for stopping by!

    • This is so true! Often times, AP classes are wonderful for gifted students who learn at a fast pace and are able to focus in a productive manner. What do I mean by that? A lot of gifted children “focus” by channeling their energy, more often than not, not on their work. For me, I tap. My foot, my fingers, my leg. Which, of course, is just another distraction. For a frustrated, confused gifted child who might not have as well developed coping skills (I’m guilty), a “mindless task” such as searching for information he or she could already know, this can be even more irritating and can cause more problems, making the child seem at fault, when he or she really isn’t.

      • You bring up an excellent point, gifteddaisy. Gifted individuals have many needs beyond the academic, and understanding what it means to be gifted – the benefits and the challenges – is important for all gifted children. The intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical needs and characteristics of gifted individuals, including overexcitabilities, are crucial to understand for students who see the differences between themselves and their classmates. Without understanding what it means to be gifted, students are often left confused and do not have the tools to cope with and get the most out of an educational environment designed for non-gifted students.

  3. Many school personnel I deal with believe that AP classes are enough for gifted teens. There’s so much more out there that isn’t as expensive to implement as educational officials believe.

    • Very true! AP classes are not enough, and even those aren’t plentifully or readily available to many gifted students. We must help educators see what gifted teens’ needs truly are and how they can be inexpensively implemented so that everyone wins. Thank you for stopping by!

  4. For gifted students, it is important to create meaningful, challenging choices of their interests. So it is very important for teachers to create an atmosphere that promotes communication and Uses reflective listening as they have their individual needs. Unfortunately, many teachers are just burdening gifted students with extra work rather than polishing their skills.

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