To remove the mask, first remove the lens

Decoding gifted attributes in diverse students

Ruby Payne

Many gifted children from poverty are never identified because they do not have high test scores and often exhibit “negative” behaviors (like hostile questioning, putting down the teacher, refusing to do “stupid” work, not completing homework or projects because of external environments, etc.). We often identify giftedness on the basis of environmental opportunity rather than true giftedness.

In the book Removing The Mask: How to Identify and Develop Giftedness in Students from Poverty, I, along with Paul Slocumb, Ed.D, and Ellen Williams, Ed.D., provide the tools for better identification of gifted students in poverty, as well as how to provide the support and curriculum that will better educate gifted students from poverty.

One of the tools we developed is the Slocumb-Payne Teacher Perception Inventory. I’ve adapted some of it below to illustrate how gifted attributes can express both positively and negatively to help teachers decode signs of giftedness in students from diverse backgrounds—signs that often appear as disruptive or even outright rude behavior:


Positive expression: Curious about information; inquisitive; doesn’t accept information at first glance; questions and pushes for more information

Negative expression: Obnoxious with questions; likes to “stump” people with hard questions; enjoys questions with “shock value”; questions authority; unwilling to follow rules


Positive expression: Learns at faster rate than his/her peer group; absorbs more with less practice; able to accelerate his/her learning; displays eagerness to do work

Negative expression: Finds it hard to wait for others; unwilling to do detail work; shows reluctance to do some assignments because he/she already “knows” content or skill


Positive expression: Understands subtleties of language in his/her primary language; uses language in powerful way; displays unique sense of humor; able to use language to build personal relationships

Negative expression: “Smart mouth”; master at put-downs of others; uses humor in destructive manner; unable to relate to peers because his/her sense of humor isn’t as sophisticated; class clown

More than likely, you have quite a few students who fit both descriptions—but are the “negative” ones also enrolled in gifted programs? Get Removing the Mask, now in its third edition, share it with your colleagues, and use it to transform how you identify, develop, and support gifted children from diverse backgrounds.

To see transformative change even faster, book an on-site Removing the Mask workshop. It will change the way you and everyone in your school see giftedness and provide insights that one only gets in face-to-face interaction. The result is positive change that starts early and a nurturing of talent that lasts a lifetime.