Thursday, March 19, 2009

Gifted Girls Go Underground

I'm reading: Gifted Girls Go UndergroundTweet this!

I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to my boys, I'm muddling through like the rest of you. When it comes to gifted girls, I'm especially clueless, so I was thrilled when one of my real life peeps, IRL Julia, accepted my offer (pleading, really) to share her thoughts as a mom of a grade-skipping gifted girl. Drop me a note if you'd like to guest post on giftedness.

There has always been something up with my daughter. She isn’t the more show off – hyper-verbal, passionate, dramatic kid that my son is. She is more behind the scenes, not a big talker (or listener for that matter) but not asleep at the switch either – a child, as my mom likes to say, “With a rich inner life”. This would account for her ability to play with a change purse full of buttons for HOURS as a toddler.

We didn’t really think much of that fact that in pre-school ALL the kids she wanted to play with were a year older – her brother is older, she’s used to older kids. We didn’t even think too much of the fact that all the kids she wanted to play with were either older, scary-smart girls OR older scary smart, drama queen girls. It never even occurred to us that in her own way, she was holding her own against their complicated social shenanigans (that eventually led to a series of parent teacher conferences for a number of families – complete with behavior charts – and stickers).

We DID think a lot about the fact that she refused to recite the alphabet or count for us – preferring instead to cry and pull her hair and were really thankful that she had a fall birthday that gave her an extra year in preschool. So it was much to our surprise when in kindergarten, it turned out that our sort of quirky, spacey, mostly quiet daughter was in fact operating as if she was in first grade (where she ended up mid-year) and was in fact a few grades ahead in math. I mean –we always knew she liked – and was good at math but really. This is all to say that I've always had this sense that she was smart – but I've never really been able to articulate it. Guess what – she’s in third grade now and I STILL can’t.

Gifted Girls and Gifted Boys

Hence the life with many smart or gifted girls – at least according to the internet articles I read (see below for a partial list). When my daughter got to her first grade classroom it became apparent that there were LOTS of smart girls in her class and that they operated (at least in a public school setting) VERY differently than smart boys – or at least MY smart boy and his smart friends.

The boys are much more what one might expect when thinking smart kid – in that they are obviously smart. They use big words. They read books that are obviously above their age group. They explore what they are interested and talk about it to a maddening degree. They talk to adults – actually seeking adults out to talk to because adults get it- and they make friends with other kids who are interested in what they are interested in.

As a teacher at my kid's school said when I asked him how he knew my son,who hadn't had him as a teacher or was even in this teacher’s grade; “All of us (teachers) know the kids who are smart and the kids who are discipline problems - they just stick out”.

Gifted Girls are Different

The girls in my daughter’s class are different than these boys. They are competitive – but not too competitive because they are all friends and want to help each other out and because having a group of friends more important than grades or homework or winning (although they do like winning).

They also don’t want to stick out too much - which is why it is nice that there is a group of them. They want to be friends with all the girls in the class. They don’t necessarily talk to adults in the same way – although they watch them quite closely. They want to be grown up and in the know.

This is only reinforced by what I've read on-line.

What I have also figured out is that at school (even well meaning, gender aware, socially sensitive schools) girls are much less likely to be thought of as being gifted or smart by teachers (at least at first) – because they are usually not intellectually disruptive, confrontational, needy or demanding in the classroom.

Under the Radar and Opting Out

Part of the giftedness of gifted girls seems to be the ability to really fly under the radar at school. This leads to other problems – like how can you be encouraged, mentored and paid attention to in appropriate ways if you are constantly denying that your talents exist?

I also see my daughter (and some of her friends) “opting out” of school because it is easy or boring or sort of irrelevant but they do so without letting their grades drop – or at least not too much. But to be honest- boys do this, too.

There are some solutions that I've noticed: good teachers engage the girls emotionally and then convert that attachment to challenging and guiding them intellectually. Keeping a group of high achieving girls together can keep them all working at a higher level, but mostly it seems to be about friends (of all ages) who have similar aspirations and talents and enthusiasms – at least in my house.

What are you thoughts on gifted girls?

IRL Julia found these articles helpful:
Gifted Girls
To thine own self be true: A new model of female talent development
Using Biography to Counsel Gifted Young Women

Real Life Julia is thrilled to be asked to contribute. Three quarters of her entire hometown is on Facebook as well. It beats going to a reunion.

Read more of my musings on gifted education.


Erika said...

My two boys attend The Mirman School, a private school for highly gifted kids in Los Angeles. Right now my 10yo's grade is about 75 percent boys. This doesn't happen every year - some years at our school are girl-heavy - but I've wondered why the school has had trouble bringing in more girls.

I agree with you - gifted girls are more likely to fly under the radar. They are less likely to become behavior problems when they're bored, choosing instead to retreat and go within. One of the problems we've seen with the gender imbalance in my older son's class is that it's a downward spiral: The fewer girls we have, the more girls want to leave to go somewhere else where there are more girls.

I will say that I had a similar problem identifying the "giftedness" in my younger son. My older son was quite obvious: reading early, math early, fascination/obsession with geography and maps and directions, etc. My younger son was much more "normal" - all Power Rangers and Pokemon. But when he was tested he was in the same "highly gifted" range as his brother. So sometimes it's just a personality thing.

Anonymous said...

RL Julia Responds:

When we were discussing moving my daughter up to first early, I spoke with a number of women in my family who had been given the opportunity to skip a grade. They all refused- the offers came when they were in 5th and 6th grade - too late, as it turned out. While she was thrilled to leave kindergarten, my daughter (now in 3rd grade)isn't interested in skipping another grade (not that we would offer)- and being different and having to make new friends.

ChefDruck said...

This is a great post, with lots to think about. My daughter is very shy. She entered kindergarten last year as a strong reader but hid that fact from her teacher until the spring. She really didn't want to stick out and got mad every time I spoke to the teacher. And as her teacher was very junior, she was completely oblivious.

Carrie said...

Hm, this might explain why I had so many social problems in school. I acted like the boys. I spoke mostly to the teachers and stuck out, acted out, etc.
And my daughter is turning out the same way. She does seem to be good at making friends with peers in preschool but she always seems to relate directly to adults even better -- calling all the moms of her classmates by their first names, using the big words, reading the big books.
Well, I don't have to worry about her not being noticed, but I DO worry about her not being liked by the other girls once she gets to grade school.

Kristina said...

RL Julie, excellent post. I have a 4 year old who I suspect is gifted and I fear she will fly under the radar ... I fear she already is in preschool for two reasons:

1) She has a speech problem, in that she is hard to understand ... THAT is the ONLY delay...she read some words, use complex sentences, etc., but nobody would know it because of her speech (I know it because I'm around her and can understand her speech)

2) When the schools do development tests, she doesn't like to participate. So they'll ask her what letter G is and she will just stare and they assume she doesn't know when G was one of the very first letters she learned. Or they'll ask her to jump on one foot and she won't and they'll tell me to work on her motor skills. She jumps on one foot all the time.

She is extremely sensitive and I suspect she fears not pleasing the test giver. In any case, the test givers don't always believe me when I say she can do these things, it's like I'm a lying, my-kid-is-perfect mom.

I enjoyed your post immensely and I hope RL Kim asks you to post again.

Shari said...

The other thing I keep reading about is how gifted girls "dumb down" in jr high and high school so the boys will like them. I have nightmares about this already.

Anonymous said...

RL Julia comments:


Thanks for all your comments. I have really enjoyed reading them. Its nice to hear that others have had similar experiences.

I have found it helpful to talk with both my kids about the repercussions of their choices in school - especially when the choices they make aren't so great. Sometimes they get it and sometimes they don't but at least we've had the discussion and their awareness has been raised a little bit about why they are doing such and such.

Obviously these aren't life or death things - more like why don't you want to get pulled out for extra reading (because I don't want to be different). I've then gone to the teacher and told them what the discussion was - usually, they've had another good solution - once they understand where my kid is coming from.

As for Junior High? If my memory of Junior High serves correctly, Junior High is sort of three years of suspending your disbelief. I'm with you about girls dumbing down but there is so much more going on, that's only one problem to worry about!

SwitchedOnMom said...

"gifted girls are more likely to fly under the radar"

Except when they don't :-). Highly gifted kids can often be "gender untypical." For girls with an acute sense of justice, who aren't afraid to question, this can be read as exhibiting more "typically" boy behavior. In our advocacy over the years my husband more than once has commented that if she were a boy, we'd be having a different conversation. A girl like this can really get under the skin of some teachers.

RL Julia said...

To Switched on Mom:

I completely agree! I have a friend with a lovely daughter who is "gender atypical" in this way. She seems to have pushed button with peers, adults and teachers in ways that I don't think would have happened if she was a boy acting the same way. It just points out how far we still have to go...

Andrea Frazer - Pass the Zoloft said...

I can only say that I am so gifted BabyCenter let me go. I was just THAT good.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I was really pleased to read your post. I have a 7 year old girl who is clearly gifted. Those checklists on gifted kids look like they were based on her. It is clear to everyone she meets that she is very bright - she is very articulate and says unusual and things. People often comment on how bright she seems - she probably won't ever fly under the radar.

Where your post was very relevant for me, was with daughter number 2, who's about to start school very soon. We haven't considered her to be gifted as she doesn't fit those standard gifted profiles much at all. She's charming, and lively and very sociable (to the extent of having become the Queen Bee at kindy lately and causing a few issues).

It has become clear to us recently though that her maths skills are streets ahead of where her gifted sister was at the some age (and the elder tested in the 95% percentile for non-verbal). I have booked her in for a cog assessment as I feel like we've got no idea what's going on with this one. If she tests as gifted, then I think there's a bit of a problem with those standard "gifted" lists, and perhaps you have hit the nail on the head here about the gender issue.

I don't for a minute think the younger is dumbing down (she's very proud of the maths for one thing), but I think she is very strongly social and will probably chose a social game over a maths game anyday (as she does at kindy - and they had no idea about the maths interest, which she'll indulge for hours at home).

Anway - thanks for your thoughts. Very thought provoking.

RL Julia said...

To Anonymus,

I would love to read more about birth order and giftedness. I too have a first child who fit the mold (super articulate etc...) and a second one who was just different. Some of it one purpose (my second born daughter told us at some point that she wasn't really into reading because that was her brother's area of expertise).

It sounds like your daughter is making good choices engaging in social games (that she maybe can't do at home) when at school and maths at home. Smart kid!

Lisa said...

I'd love to see you expand off this and how the public schools are dealing with gift kids. I know that my (public) school has no teachers aides, no music, no art, no extras at all. How do you navigate that? (side note: we are sending my daughter to private school but I don't really think she's gifted though she does test higher than her age level)

KathyP said...

I find it interesting that whenever gifted girls going unnoticed is discussed, flightiness is never discussed.

I saw the high IQ in my son in his infancy. He was just so focused. I could see that he was analyzing constantly. However, my daughter is very flighty, easily distractable. Her high IQ completely caught me off guard. I didn't first see it until she was 3 & half. Now at 4 & half, she has a math understanding of mid-1st grade & a reading understanding of early-to-mid-1st grade.

Does anyone else have this? I rarely see my daughter focus on a new subject. She just suddenly has it. Amazing.