Looking At the Big Picture … How Gifted Kids Learn

“Determine the thing that can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.”
... Abraham Lincoln

Ever had to remind your gifted child to pay attention to the details? Well, there’s a reason for that! Gifted learners tend to see the ‘big picture’ first and fill in the details later. They conceive of the whole before understanding the parts. As you will see, this can be a challenge for gifted teachers.

If you look at the great thinkers throughout the course of human history, you will see people who postulated theories and then set about proving them. In their time, they were often referred to as ‘dreamers’ and ‘visionaries’. The universally accepted scientific method is based on this process. Conceptualizing our destiny is the driving force that moves us forward as a species.

As a parent of a gifted child, you have the enviable task of guiding your child to appreciate their ability to see the big picture and then to understand the process of how it all came together.

This also points out the critical need to increase teacher training in gifted education and professional development for all teachers who work with gifted students in their classroom. Teaching a gifted child requires a radical departure from traditional teaching strategies. Educators as facilitators must be able to identify the ‘big picture’ concepts that they wish to teach and then develop a sufficiently challenging curriculum. This is sometimes referred to as whole-to-part sequencing where students are shown a complete model and then taught the various parts that make up the whole model. Lessons learned in this manner can be spread out across the curriculum to increase the student’s knowledge base in multiple areas that they are studying.

Motivating gifted students is a recurring theme in gifted education. By understanding how a child learns, a teacher can be a catalyst in the child’s life by providing appropriate learning experiences which in turn motivate the student. How many times has your child come home from school lamenting the fact that they are bored? Teachers are trained to introduce material step-by-step which works well for a majority of their students. For the gifted child, it is monotonous and a sure-fire way to turn them ‘off’ from learning at all. These children thrive when presented with complex issues and problems and teachers must be willing to provide ‘big pictures’ as a starting point.

In my work, I am often asked if gifted teachers need to be gifted themselves. My reply, “It wouldn’t hurt!” I realize that this isn’t always the case and many teachers would argue that it isn’t necessary if they receive the appropriate training. However, I would contend that at the very least parents must advocate for qualified teachers with certification in gifted education. It has been a long time coming, but many universities are now offering certification and master-level course work in gifted education.

Finding the right teachers and school settings can be difficult at first. However, in the grand scheme of life, it is well worth the effort. Your gifted child will blossom when you find the right mix!


  1. Good info, Lisa. As the teacher of both your very different gifted learners, I can't agree more that teachers need training and/or certification which I got in the 80s under Dr June Maker. Also, teachers need to be "gifted" too to understand these very different learners and their needs. The only thing you left out is that school districts and administrators must support the teachers and the students who are gifted through more than lip service. I had to fight every day for the little things we got. I know I'm preaching to the choir BUT.... Also, most teachers cannot be the "guide on the side" but LOVE being the "sage on the stage." Don't remember which of the many people I learned under said that, but it is sadly true. Keep up the good fight, Girl. Love to all the Conrads, Hubby too!


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