The “high achiever vs gifted student” distinction was one of the ah-ha moments of my early days as a teacher. And, like so many of those early ah ha moments, high achiever vs gifted was important because it touched me on a personal level.
I have a younger sister. Growing up, my parents always said things like, “He’s definitely the smarter one, but she just works harder!” Now, first of all, parents, don’t say things like that! (It took me decades to shake that statement.)
But, when I first saw a “gifted vs high-achiever” checklist from Bertie Kingore, I realized, “AH! This is the exact distinction my parents were trying to make.”
The difference between a student who “knows the answer” and one who “asks the unexpected questions” helped me to understand the differences between me and my high-achieving sister. “Is accurate” vs “is original” and “memorizes well” vs “guesses well” likewise makes me nod my head and say “ah, yes!”
This distinction between a high-achieving student and a gifted student also helped me to understand (and have empathy for) the different students in my own class. Yes, some kids took to my off-the-wall creative tasks like fish to water. But some needed a bit of scaffolding to move away from their “what do I need to do to get an A” thinking.
Now, is there some clinical, scientific difference between “high achiever” and “gifted”? Probably not. But teaching is as much art as science. This distinction between high-achiever and gifted was helpful both personally and professionally. It helped me understand and reconcile issues within my family. It also helped me to be a more empathetic teacher for kids who didn’t think quite like me.