Four Ways To Reduce Behavior Problems

I found this amazing quote from Jim Delisle's article 'Preventing Discipline Problems with Gifted Students'

Photo by Lindah

I found this amazing quote from Jim Delisle’s article “Preventing Discipline Problems with Gifted Students” in Barbara Clark’s classic book Growing Up Gifted:

Gifted students generally do not develop behavior problems when they are:

  1. placed with a teacher who enjoys teaching gifted children and learning with them;
  2. afforded frequent opportunities to learn with intellectual peers;
  3. actively engaged in learning that is appropriately complex, challenging, and meaningful; and
  4. provided guidance in how to understand and cope with their giftedness in society.


Here’s some further discussion on these four points.

A. Enjoy Gifted Children

What a concept! Students’ behavior will improve when they work with a teacher who enjoys them!

However, anyone who’s had to wrangle two or three dozen gifted minds at once knows there’s much more to the story than angelic scholars who eagerly obey your every whim. In fact, gifted students can present some interesting behaviors that throw off unprepared teachers.

It’s worth examining the concepts of high-achievers and gifted learners, a misconception that is nicely illustrated (literally) at Bertie Kingore’s site. Dr. Kingore states that high-achieving learners “absorb” while gifted learners “manipulate” information.

I think this difference is a big obstacle for many of us when working with our gifted students, since teachers tend to be high–achievers themselves.

A high-achiever takes your word as gold, files it away, and whips it out to ace the next test. However, a gifted student might look at your word from every angle, finding the half-truths, over-generalizations, and plain old errors.

If you’re expecting students to simply consume your finely tuned lessons (as you would have done), you may feel disrespected, flustered, or belittled by students’ relentless analysis of your information.

The thing is, we want students to manipulate, not simply absorb. However, when we’re actually confronted by it, we can be quite taken aback. Here’s some ways to begin enjoying your students abilities to quickly analyze information:

  • Discuss appropriate ways to allow them to manipulate information. Blurting out, “No you’re wrong!” is rude. But, saying “Another way to look at it…” is appropriate.
  • Reward appropriate testing and manipulation of information. If a student finds an error in my work, and points it out politely, they are rewarded through our classroom’s system.
  • Don’t lecture so much. Let students explore and actively manipulate information as they learn. Be there to assist the process and act as a guide.

Learn From Your Students

This quote also mentions that gifted students should have a teacher who enjoys “learning with them.”

This implies giving students a chance to research, discuss, and (perhaps!) even teach about their interests. This is not simply academically fulfilling for students, but also deeply respectful of them. As you allow more choice and interest–driven assignments, students’ behaviors will transform.  Plus, who doesn’t feel younger knowing what’s popular with nine year olds! :)

We also need to be constantly learning on our own. Take a class on painting. Learn an instrument. Pick up a new sport. Try anything that interests you, but you have no skill in. It’ll help remind you of what it’s like to be a learner.

B. Learn With Intellectual Peers

It’s vital to get gifted students working with other gifted students.

However, be prepared to run into clashes of leadership, frustration, and students who coast while others handle all the work. Gifted minds often go along with intense personalities that do not mix well unless trained.

This earlier post discusses tactics for guiding group work with your gifted students.

C. Complex, Challenging, & Meaningful Learning

The whole point of identifying our gifted students is to provide learning that is appropriate to their abilities. If we’re not meeting this need, it should be no surprise that students will act out. Here are a few past posts that highlight some complex and challenging ideas:

D. Understand & Cope With Giftedness

If we are to help our students cope with their unique needs, we have to have an understanding of them ourselves. Otherwise, we can make dangerous assumptions about our students’ internal conflicts, leading to increased behavior problems.

If you haven’t read Clark’s Growing Up Gifted, it’s definitely worth finding a copy (used, if possible – it’s priced as a textbook). I always find something intriguing when flipping through it.