How Gifted Children Feel About Waiting in Class

Bored Girl in Class
Bored Girl in Class. Image credit: petro / 123RF Stock Photo

According to a study by Marie E.Peine and Laurence J. Coleman, the complaint that many gifted children spend a good portion of their time in school waiting is a valid one. There aren't many studies done on the phenomenon of waiting, and this one does have some limits. For example, the demographics of the one school system where the study took place is not typical of schools across the country.

The classrooms of the participating students did not use educational practices, such as differentiation, designed to meet the needs of gifted children either.

That doesn't detract from the findings of the study that gifted children spend time waiting in class. In fact, it supports the claim that gifted children need more than what is offered in regular classrooms.

While nearly all of the students felt the waiting was boring, their opinions of the waiting were not always completely negative. The researchers came up with three propositions to explain what gifted children feel about having to wait in school and how they cope with the waiting.

Proposition One: "Students enter any classroom at different levels of achievement and at different levels of readiness for learning the lessons."

Many of the gifted children in this study said that they had to spend a good deal of time waiting because they already knew the material being covered. Teachers seemed to want all the children to move forward at the same rate so gifted kids had to wait until the other students caught up.

Individual differences among students were ignored and teachers had different strategies to keep students from working ahead. One teacher reprimanded children for working ahead. Another told students to put their pencils down when they were done. Still another asked students to put their hands up when they were done and waited until all hands had gone up.

Children got used to the waiting or they found ways to cope when possible. For instance, some students would work ahead and not ask questions on material that hadn't been discussed yet. Other students would look for patterns in the teacher's behavior and if they saw a pattern, they would note when they should pay attention.

Proposition Two: "Waiting is boring, so students develop strategies for working through times in class when they have nothing to do in the assigned work."

Children who have to spend time waiting in class have said that it's boring and so they try to find things to do. They will read a book if it's allowed - and they remember to bring a book. If they can't read or do homework for other classes, they will sit and look at the teacher, but they will be thinking about other things. Other strategies that students reported include looking around to see what their friends are doing, drawing, doodling, asking to go to the bathroom, walking the long way around the room to the pencil sharpener.

Interestingly, if the children were doing something they enjoyed, like drawing, they didn't consider the time spent drawing to be waiting.

Proposition Three: "Waiting has value."

While most of the students said that waiting is boring, some of them saw it as fair. These students understood that they were able to learn the material more quickly than the others and saw the waiting as a way for the other students to catch up so that the class could be "even." One seventh-grade student thought that if the class was even, then everyone would have "equal opportunities and things like that." Another student noted that waiting made her feel proud. Other students liked the wait time because it gave them a chance to read a book. What is interesting is that even though many of the students did understand that there was an issue of fairness in the waiting, they also wanted to be able to move on to new material.

Source: Peine, M.E., & Coleman, Laurence J. The Phenomenon of Waiting in Class. Journal for the Education of the Gifted. 34(2): 220-244.

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