What Does It Mean to Be Verbally Gifted?
What does it mean to be verbally gifted? Our guest, Carol Bainbridge, has studied this question for many years. She has a BA degree in psychology and an ABD in linguistics, with a focus on verbally gifted children. Her unpublished dissertation, Nurturing the Linguistic Abilities of Verbally Gifted Students, is available here (pdf). She has been providing advice to parents of gifted children for nearly 20 years, including work as a gifted children expert on Allexperts.com, Expert on Gifted Kids at About.com, and meeting with parents in her local parent support group. You can read more posts at her blog, Gifted for Learning.
According to Carol, being verbally gifted means to be able to “acquire language skills at an early age, before age-mates; to be proficient with language “symbols” – letters and words. Most verbally gifted kids are early readers.” Last week we chatted about gifted children as ‘little lawyers’; this week we considered verbally gifted children perhaps as ‘little linguists’. They can have interests from studying language itself to an array of traditional ELA endeavors.
The verbally gifted have been called “the most neglected group in American schools.” Carol told us it’s that people “don’t understand what it means to be verbally gifted. Those who don’t write well or excel in some other way aren’t even recognized as being gifted. Schools see language study as a tool, not as content to be studied on its own. Kids engaging in verbal play in class are seen as disruptive; kids who correct teacher’s grammar are considered disrespectful.” Too many educators assume the verbally gifted will do fine with only minimal intervention or accommodation. Courses for advanced language learning ebb and flow with the rise and fall of school budgets.
Current language arts instruction often fails to meet the needs of verbally gifted kids. Most instruction is geared toward the ‘mean’; the needs of verbally gifted kids are obscured by their abilities. Carol said, “Little is offered for verbally gifted kids. Creative writing may be available for those who like to write, but some hate to write. Most language arts instruction consists of grammar lessons – the same stuff for 12 years. [There is] lots of memorizing and identification of parts of speech; sentence structures; and punctuation rules.” Lack of recognition that verbally gifted have needs which requires advanced coursework leads to unfulfilled potential.
How do you distinguish linguistics (the study of language) from grammar? Carol explained, “Grammar is prescriptive – gives rules for how language SHOULD be used. Linguistics is descriptive – describes how language is actually used.” Grammar is what most ELA curriculum covers in a general education classroom; linguistics delves into every facet of language.
The study of language itself is important for verbally gifted students. “Many gifted programs include study of etymology, which is great, but verbally gifted kids want to know more about language,” said Carol. She added, “Verbally gifted kids tend to be holistic or global learners – they like to understand the big picture before tackling the details. Most schools focus on details tather than on the whole picture.” Every student is different; every verbally gifted student as well. Many feel compelled to understand the nature of language. The importance of studying language for verbally gifted may ultimately affect achievement; their love of learning.
How might teachers with no experience in linguistics teach it to verbally gifted students? Educators of verbally gifted students must understand their need to be challenged even in areas of strength. Educators of young verbally gifted students need to know students’ individual abilities; match it with an appropriate curriculum. Carol suggested, “Be the Ms Frizzle of language science: Get messy! Make mistakes! (And you don’t really have to get messy.) Explore language as a science, not just as an art.” The transcript of this chat may be found at Storify.
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About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime advocate for gifted children and also blogs at Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at: email@example.com
Graphic courtesy of Lisa Conrad.