Advanced Learning Traits

Here are some traits of students with advanced learning needs that have been observed and documented by parents, teachers, students, and researchers —

  • Students with advanced learning needs are not necessarily pushed by their parents or teachers, their learning is advanced in certain subjects because of who they are at that time in their lives.
  • Some students with advanced learning needs develop asynchronously — their intellect develops much faster than their social and emotional skills. They consume complex information very rapidly, and need special support understanding and processing it.
  • Some students with advanced learning needs are capable of making great leaps in the way they understand and use new information.
  • Students with advanced learning needs often have those needs set aside. In a classroom where the emphasis is on helping students reach or stay at proficiency, teachers may be working to capacity, and, may not have the support, programs or resources to meet the needs of students who are learning beyond proficiency.
  • Students with advanced learning needs may crave challenge. When the material being covered in a subject is too easy for a student — any student — they get bored and frustrated. When the student also gets the message that their academic needs are not valued, they get angry. That’s when you start to see serious behavior problems and risk-taking from some students.
  • Students with advanced learning needs may not have the bar for academic excellence set high enough. They may repeatedly get the highest scores on state-wide exams or other standard measures, which shows that their actual level of ability is not being tested. These students need a high bar to strive for, just as all students do. It’s a fundamental academic need.
  • Students with advanced learning needs from disadvantaged families may be harder to identify, because of language, cultural, or other barriers. Although one student who’s getting Cs may be well challenged in school, another student who’s getting Cs may be coasting. Students with advanced learning needs from disadvantaged families are at higher risk than their advantaged peers of dropping out of high school or college.
  • Students with advanced learning needs are at risk for isolation, alienation and depression. They may struggle to find peers and forge friendships, may be subject to bullying, and may be at risk for mental health issues or substance abuse.
  • Students with advanced learning needs may not always learn “how to learn”. Some of these students learn certain subjects so fast that they don’t acquire good habits of scholarship. They don’t know how to push through something difficult. Giving these students academic challenges from the early grades on helps them “learn how to learn” and remain lifelong learners.


This table, from “Bright, Talented, and Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners”, by Joy Lawson Davis, EdD offers a good summary of characteristics of children with advanced learning needs (reproduced with permission of the author):

Characteristic How the trait may be expressed in the home, community, and/or school
Verbally precocious Talks early; uses full sentences sooner than others; enjoys using big words; reads early; tells long stories; like to dramatize; is an avid reader; demonstrates superior oral skills; may imitate speakers; likes poetry; writes lyrics for songs; uses lots of detail in descriptions
Reasons well Goes beyond the surface to probe deeper and discover new information; figures things out more quickly than age peers; enjoys problem solving (word, number, or circumstance problems); engages in conversation with adults and older children easily; sounds like he or she has “been here before”; makes connections between seemingly unlike objects, ideas, places, things
Expresses self-determination and drive Sets own goals and possesses internal motivation to accomplish them; goals may be in conflict with adult demands; internally driven to do what he or she believes is important and necessary; needs little encouragement to work on projects and activities of great interest
Rapidly learns new information Needs only two or three repetitions to learn new material; puts thoughts, ideas, words, answers together quickly; may get frustrated with constant repetition of information in school or in conversations at home; demonstrates an advanced memory for details
Unusually sensitive to the needs of others Idealistic; sense of justice formed and expressed early; expresses concern for others being treated unfairly in home environment, neighborhood, or around the world (this may be related to the needs of humans and other living things)
Perfectionistic Wants to get everything right; sets and maintains unusually high standards for self in speech and work; takes on multiple projects at once
Enhanced visual-spatial skills Outstanding sense of spatial relationships; observant; exhibits creative expression; often excels at pre-engineering activities/tasks at school; enjoys constructing/building in 3-D form; enjoys geometrical problems and board games such as chess
Resilient Demonstrates ability to “bounce back” after challenging experiences in life; shows an unusual strenght when faced with obstacles, difficulties, or barriers to achievement; is described as “feisty” and “tough” by others
Imaginative, creative Has one or more imaginary friends; tells long, elaborate stories about imaginary friends; takes basic objects and materials and creates new products; makes good use of what is available; creates unique but practical responses to problems

© 2010 by Joy Lawson Davis from “Bright, Talented, and Black: A Guide for Families of African American Gifted Learners”. Reproduced with permission of the author.