The transition from the school year to summer brings to my mind the idea of liminal moments, a place in time where one thing transitions to another. In other words, one thing is no longer and the next thing is not yet, so, in this example, no longer school year and not yet something. We face many other liminal moments in our lives as well—from school to career, from one career to the other, from single to couple, just to note a few.
The word liminal comes from a Latin root that means threshold. A threshold is a boundary, think doorway, that marks a point of transition between one thing and another. As educators and parents, we can and should encourage our gifted, talented, and creative students to use such thresholds in their liminal moments to embrace the idea of positive change. How might we enhance the experience of those liminal moments to pivot into a different approach to the change that will naturally occur and make it an intensely positive transition?
Three steps that are critical to establishing positive change in liminal moments might be summarized this way:
First, we would encourage students to get in touch with a knowledge of the things they don’t know. What is missing in your information and understanding of any area of your life or studies? What questions remain unanswered that tickle your brain? What emotions seem to be struggling for attention that have been ignored? What skills or talents are lurking in the background of your consciousness that you think should be pursued? The responses you generate from these questions may lead you into a decision to try something new and unexpected in your journey to create positive change.
Parents often contact us wondering if their child is gifted. It’s easy to understand a parent’s uncertainty in this regard, especially if they have no other children to compare with. Here is some information that might be helpful to parents and teachers who need a little more information about identifying gifted, talented, and creative children.
In 1993, the U.S. Department of Education defined this way: “Children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with others of their age, experience, or environment.”
This definition is broad and comprehensive and often used by school districts. It speaks of talent, which includes all areas of a child’s life—academic, artistic, athletic, and social. Most schools limit their definition and their programs to academic elements, but it is important to remember that students can be advanced in many areas of performance, accomplishment, or aptitude.
It is not enough to just have the talent or skill; students must be using that ability at remarkably high levels. This definition recognizes that not all very talented students have the potential to achieve at high levels; some have the ability to do so but have not had the opportunity or circumstance. These students may be underachievers. This definition is a comparative one; these students achieve or have the potential to achieve at levels significantly above their peers.
While gifted students can be as different from each other as they are alike, there are some characteristics of gifted students that may be considered typical:
Is motivated to pursue personal interests
Has good communication skills
Has a well-developed memory
Displays curiosity and creativity
Has an advanced ability to deal with symbol systems
Has intense and advanced interests beyond age group
Demonstrates advanced reasoning and problem-solving ability
Shows social perceptiveness
Displays leadership abilities
Has sophisticated sense of humor beyond chronological years
Youth leaders are taking our world by storm. The news lately is full of examples of students taking charge, taking matters into their own hands, organizing campaigns to raise awareness of issues, and presenting solutions to longstanding problems. Here at SIG and NSGT, we applaud such efforts as we recognize the needs, as well as the abilities, of our gifted youth to make a difference in the world. We have offered many courses on leadership and problem solving in the past, and this year is no exception. Courses like Solving Global Challenges, Ethical Decisions, Inventioneering, Entrepreneurs with a Cause, and Bioinformatics are just a few of our 2018 courses that help prepare and encourage our future leaders to own and solve problems, and to create positive changes in the world.
In recognition of this newly re-ignited youth leadership movement, it’s a great time to think about what we can do as educators and parents to develop leadership and character in our young people. Will they be ready to inherit our complex world? Effective leadership abilities are dependent on attitudes, interpersonal abilities, knowledge, and goal-attainment skills. Even if your gifted students do not become future leaders, they can become productive contributors to society. Here are a few ways that we can develop students’ leadership and character:
We’ve heard the word “dreamers” in the news a lot recently in relation to immigration. This blog is about another type of dreamer. In our work with gifted, talented, and creative youth, we find another category of dreamers—young people who have dreams. At SIG, we do our best to nurture those youthful dreams, whether they be short term or long term. Dreamers spend a lot of time thinking about and planning for possibilities they would like to see happen. Rather than thinking these ideas are unlikely to happen, we choose to believe that these young people are visionary, using their intelligence and creativity to imagine and manifest the future they want.
Gifted youth may have very simple, short term dreams, such being able to accelerate in school according to their pace, not according to that of the majority. Or, they may dream that they can choose an alternate topic for a personal study that is different from what their peers are doing, or be in a class with other students who share their interests and abilities. They may just want to be accepted for who they are. These are examples of dreams that we as adults can help facilitate and turn into reality.
Gifted youth also have dreams that are more expansive than these short-term dreams. They may seek world peace; they may want interstellar travel; they might pursue a cure for cancer or believe they can solve world hunger. Their digital minds likely contain ideas for technological dreams I can’t begin to imagine. They may have millions of additional big or small dreams.
As adult facilitators of the needs of gifted and talented youth, we have a responsibility to do all we can to help them transform their dreams into reality. We are called to do so in multiple ways, daily. Here are some highlights as to how I think we might nurture those dreams.
Gifted students often do not have a need for research skills at young ages because they generally know the answers to any question they might be asked. As gaining and retaining knowledge is easy for gifted children, it is important for educators and parents to help them learn valuable research skills at a young age, so that they will be competent researchers when they find themselves in situations that require more skills than just recall of information. At this point in the school year, gifted and talented students may also be inclined to do independent studies based on a deep interest in peripheral topics that were introduced in conjunction with the core curriculum or they might want to pursue something entirely new and different.
To initiate a research study with neophytes, have students pick a topic they know nothing about, or pick a topic they know something about in general but about which they now want to know something very specific. The topic should be contained and manageable. If students have no ideas for topics, have them open a dictionary, find a word that is a noun that they don’t know and research more about it.
In general students should be able to go through the following steps. There are questions for discussion included, or students can work on their own and you can use their questions to note what they need to focus on next time.
With the many extreme natural and man-made tragedies that have appeared on the world stage in the past months, there has been an equally extreme response of empathy and action to help the millions of people affected by hurricanes, earthquakes, and monsoons, not to mention the ever-present political and national concerns affecting the welfare of people around the world. The forces of globalization have brought international concerns to a personal level of response and concern. As educators and parents, we have a responsibility to help our gifted young people understand globalization issues as they undertake their roles in the world’s expanded social network over the next few decades.
Gifted students should understand the term globalization. Most definitions of globalization speak to the fact that social networks are increasingly overcoming traditional boundaries of all kinds, that interrelationships are being expanded, intensified, and accelerated, and that these expansions involve changes in the ways that people form their cultures and identities.
To further help students understand these complex concepts, several dimensions will need to be studied.
Economic issues are a good place to start. We are now in a new global economic order built by enormous transnational corporations. These gigantic firms are major determinants of the flow of money and trade, as well as the location and production of industries and related activities.
Closely attached to economic policies is the second dimension of political relationships. Many globalists feel that the traditional nation-state, where boundaries and national loyalties have prevailed, is changing into a borderless philosophy that is driven by capitalistic motives. Such beliefs suggest that we must now seek to understand social and political change through global social relationships and networks, not through nation-states. Others disagree, of course.
The third dimension is a cultural one. The meaning that humans attach to their existence is expressed in multiple ways through their cultures. The most common of these expressions can be found in language, music, art, customs, and rituals. Students need to research the role that media plays in controlling the cultural images we are exposed to. Culture-related debate topics for students could include whether the world is becoming more homogenized, or what role media should play in controlling cultural images.
The National Society for the Gifted and Talented is seeking interested candidates to serve on its Board of Trustees.
The NSGT Board of Trustees is responsible for implementing the mission of the organization. All board members must:
Possess a passion for advocating for the advancement of gifted and talented students across the globe.
Advance the mission of NSGT by extending personal and professional credibility, expertise, and resources.
Think broadly and strategically about the role of gifted education generally and of NSGT specifically.
NSGT is committed to recruiting volunteer board members from ethnically diverse communities who can travel within the Northeast US and who also represent businesses with philanthropic interests and connections. The board is particularly interested in maintaining a diverse perspective and in involving persons who have influence within their professional circles.
Last November, Dr. Barbara Swicord at NSGT delivered a webinar on Family Relationships and the Gifted Child. If you weren’t able to attend and wish to view it, please go to http://www.giftedstudy.org/webinars/.
One of the parent questions asked during the webinar, which we did not have time to address at the time, was this one: It seems like many schools turn to computer programs to address differentiation in the classroom. We are told as parents to limit screen time, so this practice seems counter-intuitive. What are your thoughts on the use of computers as a learning tool for gifted students?
This question is a good one indeed—much like considering whether the side effects of a drug are worth the benefits at times. Computer programs and courses provide ways for gifted students to work independently and individually, provide quick access to above level content, allow networking with experts and similarly talented peers, and create an alternative to a classroom curriculum that may be lacking in meeting the gifted students’ learning needs. Computers that are used to support educational goals and differentiate for specific needs can help gifted students work “smart.”
However, too much computer screen time is definitely a part of the problem as well as part of the solution. There is growing evidence that too much screen usage is shrinking our brains and creating communication problems, resulting in reduced cognitive performance. In 2012, Lin and Zhou et al found that “Internet addiction is associated with structural and functional changes in brain regions involving emotional processing, executive attention, decision making, and cognitive control.”
Beyond damage to your brain, too much computer use can cause serious health issues which include sleep deprivation, obesity, vision problems, and physical aches and pains. These unhealthy outcomes are not what we want to see in our children. Therefore, as parents and educators, we have to be very smart and disciplined about how we encourage the use of computers with our students, even when they can be very helpful in providing great alternatives for gifted students, apart from the core curriculum.
At this point in the educational school year, parents, students, and staff should be enjoying the benefits of a differentiated curriculum as students would have indicated by now their abilities, interests, and goals to those facilitating their educational experiences. Differentiation is not a difficult puzzle to solve; it simply means matching the curriculum with the learner. Yet, in too many cases, you may find it is nonexistent.
How do we solve the puzzle of differentiation? First, we learn from the curriculum models that exist in the field of gifted education. Most of them favor an inquiry-based model of instruction, though curricula based only on higher order processes and independent study yield few studies of student impacts, and those are not consistent. The strongest body of research evidence supports the use of advanced core curricula at an accelerated rate for high ability learners, suggesting that best practice would be to group gifted students instructionally by subject area for advanced curriculum work that would be flexibly organized and implemented based on students’ documented level of learning within the subject area.
While there are barriers to successful differentiation of this kind, such as lack of professional development in gifted education, insufficient teacher planning time, and lack of administrative support for differentiation, there are actions that can be taken to increase the likelihood that gifted students will receive the educational program they need and require. In summary these actions should include the following:
Today’s guest blog is from Dr. Kendall Cotton Bronk, Associate Professor, Claremont Graduate University, Quality of Life Research Center. We are sharing The Purpose Challenge with our audience as it fits so well with our program goals and provides tools and opportunity for scholarships for high school students.
Because of their exceptional intellectual talents, high-ability youth have a special responsibility to give back; the world needs their skills. These accelerated learners can become highly productive adults who help cure cancer, educate future generations, and discover new ways of harnessing sustainable energy.
Yet, in a study my colleagues and I conducted that compared these youth with their more typical peers, high-ability youth were more likely to identify far-horizon aims that were self-focused, rather than aimed at improving conditions in the broader world.
Perhaps this finding shouldn’t have surprised us, especially when we consider that high-ability youth are often immersed in contexts focused solely on fostering their intellectual capacities. As parents and educators, we tend to singularly prize the cultivation of academic skills and personal growth among high-ability youth, and we tend to neglect discussions about using those skills to contribute in meaningful ways. In other words, although we intentionally encourage high-ability youths’ personal development, we all too often neglect their purpose development.
A purpose in life is a forward-looking intention to accomplish a particular aim that is both personally meaningful and at the same time motivated by a desire to make a difference in the world beyond the self. Over the past fifteen years, research on this construct has exploded, and we’ve learned quite a bit about the development of purpose. Although people can discover a purpose at any stage in the lifespan, many do so during adolescence, when issues of identity take center stage. As young people explore who they hope to become (identity), some simultaneously reflect on what they hope to accomplish (purpose). In fact, sometimes identity and purpose are consciously interconnected: In one study we conducted, a young woman committed to improving the environment referred to herself as a “tree hugger,” a teen who found purpose in following the tenets of her Christian faith called herself “a Christian,” and an adolescent dedicated to enhancing Internet security referred to himself as a “tech guru.”
Empirical studies my colleagues and I have conducted highlight some of the benefits of purpose. For instance, youth who lead lives of purpose tend do better psychologically; they report higher levels of hope, happiness, and life satisfaction. They also tend to do better physically; compared to their less purposeful peers, they report lower levels of stress, better sleep, and they even live longer lives!