Empathy is a critical emotion to develop in our 21st Century as AI, robots, and other forms of technology shape our world. Though hard to measure, there are indications that the modern world is becoming increasingly empathetic. Despite how it may appear, today’s world is less violent than early civilizations that engaged in tribal warfare, indifference to others, and hostility to outsiders. Empathy builds trust along with positive connections among humans and is good for emotional health, all needed goals for our modern age.
Gifted children often exhibit empathy as they engage in positive ethical behavior and maintain high moral beliefs. As educators and parents, we have an obligation to help gifted young people nurture these beliefs and behaviors and find ways to apply their need to empathize in meaningful ways.
Cognitive empathy: a knowledge and understanding of someone’s feelings
Emotional empathy: perceiving and caring about someone’s feelings
Compassionate empathy: utilizing the first two types, but also taking actions of support
It is the 3rd type of empathy that I believe speaks to what we do in gifted education. Not only do we want students to feel and acknowledge empathy toward others, we also want them to apply their problem solving and critical thinking skills to positively impact situations that are causing distress for others. We need to provide opportunity to use students’ positive feelings of concern regarding people affected by local and global problems, so that they have a constructive place to put these emotions, so that they do not develop feelings of frustration, fear, or apathy, and so that they are contributors to creating a future world that will benefit others as well as themselves.
Here are a few ways that students can develop compassionate empathy.
Here at SIG, we’ve been highlighting creativity recently, due not only to the fact that we value creativity, seek to enhance it in our programs and students, and recognize its importance in our eligibility, but also because this month we recognize the work of Dr. Bonnie Cramond, our 2018 recipient of our Person of SIGnificance award, for her career in developing creativity in education. (You can view her recent webinar on infusing creativity into curriculum here.)
I think we can all agree that being able to think creatively and solve problems creatively is a great asset to have. In fact, Costa and Kallick list it in their 16 Habits of Mind. The Habits of Mind are 16 problem-solving, life-related skills necessary to operate effectively. The 16 habits promote strategic reasoning, insightfulness, perseverance, creativity, and craftsmanship. Key to this habits concept is the idea that using these skills in life helps us to produce positive outcomes.
The authors present the habit associated with creativity as:
Habit #11:Creating, Imagining, Innovating: Think about how something might be done differently from the “norm”; Propose new ideas; Strive for originality; Consider novel suggestions others might make.
Recently here at SIG, we’ve had some parents ask us to provide them with information about areas in which we feel their children need to improve. While I understand a parent’s need to make sure they are providing everything their child needs and desire to help them to be the best they can be, I am also concerned that we do a disservice when we place too much focus on what folks don’t do well, as that takes away from our focus on what they do best. At SIG, we want students to discover interests that resonate with them, and then to pursue those topics, or issues, or skills with intensity, to fuel that passion. I believe this passionate pursuit is where we find true happiness, as well as significant productivity and innovative contribution within fields of study.
I can’t help but be reminded of E. Paul Torrance’s Manifesto for Children. Torrance, a pioneer researcher in creativity, created this manifesto, based on the findings of his research, to help guide us in what to do and what not to do, if we want to embrace our creativity to its fullest and let go of those things that prevent us from doing that.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Manifesto, here are Torrance’s 7 tenets:
In education, we often speak about the importance of asking good questions. Questioning is instrumental in assisting the teacher in determining what a student knows, as well as what a student doesn’t know—two pieces of information that are critical in knowing what is needed in the next phase of instruction to keep the student in a meaningful flow of learning.
In gifted education, we emphasize that questions should be used to challenge the student’s thinking, to help the student make new connections and apply information in useful ways, and to practice good problem-solving skills, among other things.
We can also practice asking good questions as adults and in our personal relationships. Here is an easy way to remember some of the various kinds of questions you can practice in your everyday life. Just think of holding the question CARD. Each letter of the acronym represents a clue to asking varied types of questions, such as the ones listed below.
C is for Compare.
Ask the person you are talking with to compare one thing with another. What emotional experience is similar to the feeling of having to give a speech for you? How does a bird’s flight compare with an airplane’s? What characteristics are similar among heroes?
A is for… many things!
Apply, Argue, and Analyze, to name a few.
Apply – What can you do with solar energy in impoverished countries? How can you use your knowledge of income and expenses in financial management to handle pollution policies? How can understanding fears and phobias affect your personal decisions in life?
Argue – How can what you know about human diseases help you argue for or against medical treatments? How might your knowledge of cryptology help you support concerns about privacy?
Analyze -What are the important factors in good teamwork? What would be the most important first steps in ending human rights abuses in a selected country? How can one country’s foreign policy affect other countries around the world?
R is for Relate.
How does brain plasticity make you think of overall health? How might surveillance be linked to personal and institutional safety? How do statistics relate to future predictions?
D is for Describe.
How might you describe utopia? What colors, shapes, and lines do you see in your imagined landscape painting? How might you design the colors, layout, and interest elements of this room so that it has a calming quality?
These are just a few examples of ways CARD can help you expand the questions you ask to engage people around you in thoughtful interactions. At SIG, questioning is paramount in our courses as we encourage students to approach new knowledge in ways that are meaningful, personal, and authentic to them. A few examples from our curriculum might be:
1. Compare: How might you compare the philosophy of Plato to your own beliefs?
2. Apply: How might you apply what you know about the circulatory system to solutions for heart disease?
Argue: How might you defend your creative method of solving a math problem to the way someone else did it?
Analyze: How might you analyze ocean clean-up efforts in the past to discern the most productive course of action in the next 10 years?
3. Relate: How might the nautilus shell provide food for thought as you design a hurricane proof home?
4. Describe: Describe in detail the prototype you envision for your invention.
These questions are just a few fun examples. Thinking of interesting questions is not only fun, it’s an easy and challenging way to make sure that we are feeding young gifted and creative minds in ways that keep them engaged with their world and feed their intense needs to think broadly and meaningfully.
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.