Misunderstandings about gifted students: ‘They’re not all the same’

The Week of Giftedness (March 9 to 17) aims to raise awareness of misunderstandings about gifted people and their needs. Student dean Jos Karssies is familiar with gifted students and their struggles.

When they hear the word ‘gifted’, people tend to think of someone who is incredibly smart, learns easily, and effortlessly completes their studies. Is this image correct?

‘First of all, I have to say that while we tend to talk about gifted students as if they are all the same, that’s obviously not true. What is true for most of them is that they can think really quickly, understand things rapidly, and see patterns quickly. As dean, I actually don’t encounter a large part of gifted students because they’re studying like everyone else. But sometimes, there are so many thoughts in their heads that they can’t automatically learn what needs to be learned.’

In other words, even they can run into problems with their studies?

‘Yes, that’s certainly possible. By the time I see them they’ve tried two or even three programmes but run into the same problem after just a few months, or even weeks, which is that it’s the same as the previous one and that they have to learn things they’re not interested in.’

‘These students often hope that at university, they no longer have to jump through any hoops; they can finally delve into things they find truly interesting. That’s partly true of course, but there’s also a curriculum you have to stick to. It usually isn’t until the second or third year that they can truly get to delving.’

‘There’s something else at play, too: high school was often very easy for them. They could get by with just listening well in class and cramming a few days before the test. They start too late and are used to little effort, generally with little adversity. But that’s not how it works at university. They often have the mindset that what they do, they have to do well. If they then fail at university, they quickly lose heart.’

Do you think that the university should take giftedness more into account?

‘I would like it if the University of Groningen didn’t automatically assume that gifted students simply have to figure it out. It should be acknowledged and normalised that gifted people think differently.’

‘Lecturers should know that these students often like to know where something is going from the start. They want a total overview of what is being taught from the beginning. It is more difficult for them to work step by step, to not see the sum total until the end. If you give them an overview right from the start, they can sometimes skip certain steps.’

‘This applies not just to specific courses, but to entire programmes. They need to understand from the beginning which subject serves what purpose within the programme and what the bigger picture is.’

Another stereotypical image of gifted people is that they have difficulty with personal contact. Is that something you’ve noticed?

‘With some students, yes. They’ve realised that they can do certain things really well, but they have trouble connecting with their peers. It’s not the case for everyone, but it happens regularly.’

‘One of the most important things I’ve done is to create a peer group where they can meet each other. They get together once a month, and I’ve heard from many of them that they really like being able to talk about how it is for them and what challenges they face. But it’s clearly also just for fun because they also talk about the last movie they watched or the last book they read.’

‘Again, not every gifted person is the same. There are plenty of people who don’t click with the group or who aren’t interested. Just like there are plenty of them who simply have their own group of friends. They’re all unique.’’

Are you also gifted? Do you need help or want to talk to someone? Have a look at the page ‘Peer contact and support’ for more information.

Dutch

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