Fostering Giftedness

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Synopsis

This article contains 15 key points about gifted/high-level development—to help parents support and encourage children’s optimal learning and well-being.

Giftedness: Important Considerations

       Much has been written about giftedness—and how to nurture it. Many parents seek current and reliable information about high-level development, and want to know how to fortify children’s learning experiences.

“The pathways to exceptional achievement are complex, diverse, and socially constructed. They vary across individuals, developmental periods, contexts, and cultures.” * (The quotes in this article have been adapted from material within "Being Smart about Gifted Education: A Guidebook for Educators and Parents.")

Here are some fundamental points:

1. No two learners are alike. There are many different ways of being gifted—and nurturing it. What works well for one child may not be beneficial for another.
2. Some children have exceptionally advanced learning needs that require specifically targeted and flexibly responsive educational attention. Thus, giftedness can be conceptualized as a current need for special education.
3. Gifted education involves addressing a child’s exceptional capacities, and this can be accomplished by providing a range of suitable learning experiences—including incorporating choice, opportunities to engage in creative and critical thinking, and collaborative activities.
4. Giftedness can occur in one or more areas, and coexist with other psychological, physical, and learning exceptionalities.
5. What happens in children’s lives beyond the classroom is what links the real world of experience, achievement, creative expression, and meaningful ideas to their academic learning—and makes that learning relevant. 

Giftedness: Practical Suggestions

“Giftedness is not innate or fixed. It is not an attribute that is owned exclusively by some, and not by others. Rather it is a domain-specific intelligence that changes over time, and that can be influenced by many factors.” *

Five strategies for encouraging children’s high-level development:

1. Collaboration: It’s best if parents, teachers and other professionals (such as guidance counselors and pediatricians) work collaboratively with one another, and with the child. Listen. Observe. Ponder. Talk.
2. Attunement: Be aware of the many internal and external influences and effects on children’s daily lives—including schooling, emotions, relationships, culture, health, and more. These can be impactful, and have a direct bearing on a child’s social, emotional, and academic functioning. Be attuned to what’s going on in the child’s world. And, appreciate the importance of family, community, and ongoing encouragement.
3. Information: Become well informed about gifted-related issues. There are many credible sources of information including books, journals, networks, and organizations. (See the suggestions in the addtional resources section below.)
4. Acceptance: Recognize and respect children’s subject-specific strengths and weaknesses. Help kids feel confident about themselves, and to become accepting of their uniqueness.
5. Downtime: Children need plentiful time to play, relax, and unwind. Invite exploration, multi-sensory experiences, reading, and creative expression.   

Giftedness: Learning Environments

“Both educators and parents should look carefully to discover how children’s individual needs are, and are not, being matched by what they are learning.” *

       Parents have a very important role to play in their children’s education. Consider the following questions:

1. What are your child’s specific learning needs? Have they been determined on a situational and subject-by-subject basis?  Are the school’s gifted identification practices actually aligned with the educational programming that’s being offered?
2. What’s available in your district? Is your child being given a wide range of motivating and relevant learning opportunities? (These might include arts-based programs, mentorships, acceleration, project-based learning, clubs, community involvement, extracurricular activities, or gifted classes.) If these kinds of options are not available, be proactive and help initiate some new avenues for learning.  
3. Do you set realistic expectations? It’s good to establish reasonable, well-defined goals—and to help children learn to develop clear and attainable objectives for themselves. Kids are more responsive when their activities are fair and affirming.
4. In what ways do you support your child’s interests, pursuits, and creative energy? Moreover, how open-minded and amenable to change are you as enthusiasms ebb and flow over time (as they inevitably do)? Be flexible. 
5. Are you an effective advocate? If not, you can learn to become one! For example, you can advocate for more teacher training and professional development in gifted education, increased funding for educational initiatives, additional resources, and so on. (As with any other process, there are dos and don’ts for advocacy… For more on this, see the article entitled “Attunement and Advocacy" on the resources page at www.beyondintelligence.net.) 

Final Words

“Different circumstances require different responses, and parents must try to be sensitive to the dynamic nature of their children’s temperaments, and the demands and pressures of their daily lives—whether academic, social, emotional, cultural, economic, physical, motivational, or other.” *

The field of gifted education continues to evolve as we discover more and more about the diversity and complexity of human development, including among gifted/high-ability learners. It’s important for families and communities to work thoughtfully, and in tandem with educators, to facilitate children’s development and to make sensible and informed decisions about programming options. This cannot be overstated. We must all strive to co-create and advocate for forums and processes that will support children’s optimal growth. How? In a nutshell, by staying attuned to individual differences, by strengthening communication networks between home and school, and by monitoring and supporting educational plans and programs so as to help children discover, create, and engage in meaningful learning.

Additional Resources

For more information with respect to the quotes in this article (*) see the award-winning Being Smart about Gifted Education; A Guidebook for Educators and Parents, 2nd Edition by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster. The authors also focus on intelligence building, creativity, child development, and well-being in their book Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids. Joanne Foster addresses matters pertaining to productivity and motivation in her book Not Now, Maybe Later. To learn more about these publications, and for additional articles and material, please go to www.beyondintelligence.net

For those seeking to acquire further information about giftedness, here are some excellent starting points. Check out the resources provided by the National Association for Gifted Children at www.nagc.org, find information and register for webinars at Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted at www.sengifted.org, visit Hoagies website at www.hoagiesgifted.org, and investigate the wide range of publications available at Great Potential Press. Tapping into the pages on these sites will activate opportunities to explore avenues of particular interest. For example, individual states in the US and provinces in Canada have gifted associations that welcome inquiries and involvement, and there are many organizations and university-based research centers in various places around the world that offer online materials that will help to broaden understandings about giftedness. (A little proactive networking can go a long way!)

Tags: education tools, educational acceleration, giftedness, high-level development, joanne foster, learning

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