Updated: Feb 11, 2021
Help for both parents and teachers — free parent resources also below!
The situation: It’s the first month of school. You’re a teacher, and your class includes a few gifted-identified children. You’ve worked hard to plan and differentiate your lessons. All of your students seem engaged, except… one of your gifted students. He’s not doing his work, and you don’t know why. Another of your gifted students won’t attempt challenges – it’s like she’s hiding her ability. One more gifted student shows incredible insight during discussions, but he seems to struggle with reading and writing. (You’re surprised that he qualified for gifted program services.) At least one of your gifted students is wonderful – she gets straight As, and it seems like she doesn’t need anything from you!
Can all of these children be gifted? How do you cope with their mysterious differences?
Thankfully, in 1988, two leaders in gifted education provided some answers for both teachers and parents. In their “Profiles of the Gifted and Talented,” George Betts and Maureen Neihart identify six profiles of student behaviors, helping adults to better understand student feelings and needs. A child may fit more than one profile at once, and can change profiles over time, depending on internal and external factors. No profile is limited by gender or family background, though some characteristics can occur more frequently in certain populations.
Let’s examine the profiles and help some students!
Type One: Successful
This student does well in school! She rarely gets in trouble. She may be a perfectionist, and she is “eager for approval from teachers, parents and other adults.” She is sometimes perceived as not needing anything special. If she is not challenged, however, she may learn to put forth minimal effort – and may not learn the skills and attitudes needed for future creativity and autonomy.
Recommendations for Successful-type students include opportunities for challenge, risk-taking, mentorships, and independent learning, as well as time with intellectual peers.
Type Two: Challenging / Creative
This student is creative, stands up for his convictions, and may question rules. If he isn’t challenged and engaged, he can exhibit inconsistent work habits, boredom, and impatience. Teachers may feel frustrated with him, and he can have low self-esteem. If his abilities are not understood and supported, he “may be ‘at risk’ for dropping out of school, ‘drug addiction or delinquent behavior if appropriate interventions are not made by junior high.'”
Creative students need tolerant adults, support for creativity and strengths, placement with appropriate teachers, in-depth studies, and opportunities to build self-esteem. In 2010, Betts and Neihart renamed the “Challenging” profile to “Creative,” reflecting these students’ potential.
Note: Though the curriculum is designed to challenge the majority of students, typical differentiation may not reach levels needed by some gifted students, holding them back in subjects or entire grades.
Type Three: Underground
An “Underground” student may start as Successful, but she later conceals or denies her abilities. Looking for social acceptance, she may drop out of her gifted program, resist challenges, struggle with insecurity, and allow her grades to decline. She may be a middle-school aged girl, may belong to a population facing added obstacles, or could be any student facing pressure not to achieve in school.
Recommendations for this type require balancing. Underground students “should not be permitted to abandon all projects or advanced classes,” but may benefit from permission to take a break from G/T classes. These students need to be “accepted as they are.” Adults can provide alternate ways to meet academic needs, the freedom to make choices, and help with college/career planning.
Type Four: At-Risk
An “At Risk” student may feel angry, resentful, depressed, and/or explosive. He may have a poor self-concept, act out, and have poor attendance, yet he may have interests and strengths outside of school. He may feel “angry with adults and with [himself] because the system has not met [his] needs for many years.” School may feel irrelevant and hostile to him, and he may feel rejected.
Recommendations include individual counseling, family counseling, out-of-classroom learning experiences, mentorships, and a “close working relationship with an adult they can trust.”
Prevention of the “At Risk” profile is one goal of meeting the needs of other profiles, especially the Creative profile.
Type Five: Twice-Exceptional
The Twice-Exceptional (“2e”) student is gifted, but she also has other special needs. She may have a learning disability, autism, a processing disorder, ADHD, or another area of disability. She can feel powerless and frustrated, and may have inconsistent, average, or below-average school work. She often feels confused or upset about her struggles, and others may see only her disabilities, not her strengths.
To avoid low self-esteem and achieve their potential, these students need emphasis on and challenge in their areas of strength. They also need advocacy from parents and teachers, risk-taking opportunities, and support for their disabilities.
To meet gifted needs, they may further benefit from G/T support groups, opportunities for exploration and investigation, and alternate learning experiences.
Type Six: Autonomous
An Autonomous learner exhibits some Successful characteristics, but instead of performing only the work required, he creates opportunities for himself. Self-directed, independent, and generally confident, this student is able to take appropriate academic risks. He may assume leadership roles, but can also suffer from isolation.
Autonomous learner recommendations include opportunities related to the child’s passions, development of a long-term plan of study, friends of all ages, mentorships, and when possible, removal of time and space restrictions for their studies.
Applying the Profiles
As you can see, it can take detective work to support gifted students! The Six Profiles can help immediately with:
Identifying effective interventions, some of which may be new (an underperforming student might actually need harder work!);
Increasing empathy for students’ feelings;
Bridging communication gaps in student/teacher and parent/teacher relationships;
Avoiding harmful comparisons: if parents and educators view giftedness through a single lens, and if they expect all students to behave in a certain way, they may fail to recognize the abilities and needs of students at risk for negative outcomes.
Other factors can alter student behavior, as well: gifted children can struggle with asynchronous development, overexcitabilities, higher levels of giftedness, and obstacles faced by special populations.
Despite all these differences, gifted students do have needs in common: they need opportunities to pursue interests, challenging work, positive relationships, and understanding from adults.
When we can decode their behavior, we gain respect for students’ feelings and perspectives. As parents and educators, we can also improve the chances that gifted students will stay in school, continue to love learning, and achieve their potential – our goals for all children.
Have you found the Six Profiles helpful in your teaching or parenting? Do you have success with other strategies? We would love to hear from you!
Source of Profiles and quoted text:
Betts, G. and Neihart, M. Profiles of the Gifted and Talented. Davidson Institute for Talent Development. Reprinted from Gifted Child Quarterly, National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 1988. Web. July 2015. http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10114.aspx
Printer-friendly version: http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_print_id_10114.aspx
The updated 2010 matrix of Profiles and recommendations is available online.
NuMinds Enrichment offers Professional Development exploring the Six Profiles in more depth, in addition to information about other gifted needs and teaching strategies. For details on NuMinds professional development for teachers, visit http://numien.com/professional-development/
For a free NuMinds vodcast for parents on using the 6 profiles as a tool to better communicate with teachers, see below:
We are proud this post is part of the Gifted 101 blog hop on Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page!