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Barbara Swicord, Ed.D.'s Blog Posts

Screen Time and the Gifted Student: Balance and Quality Are Key

Screen time and the gifted student: Balance and quality are keyLast 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

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.


The Puzzle of Differentiation: 4 Key Pieces

The Puzzle of Differentiation: 4 Key PiecesAt 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:


Helping High-Ability Youth Discover Their Purpose in Life

Developing Purpose in LifeToday’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!


Nurturing Gifted Children’s Family Relationships

nurturing gifted children's family relationshipsIt’s approaching holiday season for most of us! Holidays can bring out the best and the worst in family relationships, it seems. There may be more opportunities to share time together as families gather for celebrations. In this particularly thankful season, it might be worthwhile to take a few moments to appreciate each family member. At SIG, of course, we hope you’ll take an extra few moments to think about relationships in families with gifted and talented children, as there are likely some unique relationships and interactions involved. Here are a few thoughts about nurturing gifted children’s family relationships.

The parent relationship with children is critical and is the most important relationship students will have in their development. As you maneuver through each day, keep in mind these helpful points:

  1. While gifted students have multiple strengths and skills, sometimes these strengths can present themselves as difficulties. For example, when children acquire and retain information quickly, they may be impatient with others who are not functioning as quickly.
  2. Issues can arise within the family as a result of internal factors. Internally, students may experience uneven development, excessive self-criticism, and perfectionism. They may wish to avoid risk-taking. They also may be faced with the problem of multi-potentiality, making focus on one area difficult.
  3. External issues emerge from the influences of school culture and norms, expectations from others, peer relationships, and family relationships. Parents need to give small, frequent chunks of special time to each child. Parents also should be careful not to project their own issues onto their children, such as feelings of inadequacy.


How Gifted Students Can Function at Maximum Capacity

How Gifted Students Can Function at Maximum Capacity | National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)This fall, in our Person of SIGnificance Series, we brought attention to the recognition of the social and emotional needs of gifted, talented, and creative young people through honoring Dr. James Webb, a leading psychologist in this field.

At SIG, the social and emotional needs of our students are as important to us as their academic needs, which are obviously also very critical to their sense of wellbeing. But if one is to be truly happy, all parts of who we are must be engaged. You might think of our goal as helping young people learn to fire on all cylinders, in other words, we want gifted students to be functioning at their maximum capacity. (more…)

Working the Future: What Skills Will Future Workers Need to Learn Now?

Gifted student developing her skills for a career.

Today’s gifted young people may grow up wanting to be data contextualists, genetic modification designers, or augmented reality architects. Gone are the days of thinking one’s career options center around becoming doctors, lawyers, or firemen. In fact, experts predict that 65% of the jobs that will exist in the future haven’t even been created. The question for educators and parents then becomes “how do we prepare our gifted students for future careers that don’t even exist yet?”

We tackled that question at SIG in a previously offered course called Working the Future. There are several things we believe we must do to prepare students for an ever evolving workplace. (more…)

Analyzing Current Events: Doing the 2-Step

How to Help Gifted Students Analyze Current Events | National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT)Each day we are faced with news stories that range from devastating to frightening to uplifting. Gifted youth are interested and aware of news and events that have relevance to their lives, and in our globalized lives, it’s easy to see the worldwide connections among all peoples. Parents can help source articles currently in the news that are of interest to and appropriate for them. Adults should facilitate discussions of news topic through a series of questions and steps in helping students personalize issues that are happening in the rest of the world. The importance of this activity is that these students may have minimal knowledge of current events, geopolitics, and international relations.

An increased understanding of geopolitics will aid students in learning how to see and interpret biases that exist within the news, including various individuals, groups, governments, etc. that are involved with a particular event. Current events education can also help students acquire, use, and master critical thinking skills, as well as become informed, engaged, and inquisitive students. Students should be immersed into an inquiry process in current events in which students ask questions, generate and interpret the meaning of data, and form conclusions about what they read in the news. Here’s a process to help you get started.  (more…)

The Impact of Natural Disasters on Gifted Students and How They Can Help

Gifted children have a tendency toward intensities in many areas—academic, physical, and emotional. The emotional sensitivities usually coupled with moral intensities become very apparent during times of crisis and disaster. The recent barrage of the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma spotlight our awareness of the intensities that gifted children can experience. They are often deeply affected by the ravaging effects of natural disasters on such a large number of people. They may become depressed, nervous, anxious, or fearful when hearing disaster news and when viewing photos showing the devastation. As parents and educators we are often caught unawares of the intensity of children’s responses and unsure of the best courses of action to take to relieve their stress. (more…)

Creative and Deep Thinking Through Social Networks

Creative and Deep Thinking Through Social Networks | National Society for the Gifted and TalentedA recent article by Peter Csermely talks about the importance of conceptual and social networks in developing aspects of creativity. Creative thinking requires both flexible and established thought, as creative processes require divergent and convergent thinking, acquisition of new information as well as use of available knowledge, and a cyclical process of enumerating challenges and creating solutions to those challenges. Social networking can support all those processes.

Csermely notes that the time needed for the deep thinking that is necessary for success and creative exploration is becoming more elusive in our fast-paced, social media bytes society. This problem may be partially ameliorated by engaging in social networks with people from multiple cultures and perspectives. Considering new viewpoints and contexts may lead to original thought. This intensity of thought is heightened if the network is composed of other talented and creative people. Engaging in interesting social networks also helps to feed the thirst for new information, stimuli, points of view, and ideas that highly talented people have. (more…)

5 Ways Gifted Students Can Improve Public Speaking Skills

5 Ways Gifted Students Can Improve Public Speaking Skills | National Society for the Gifted and TalentedLeadership is attached to many goals that we have for gifted and talented students. We want these students to have the confidence and skills necessary to influence others toward the goal of the greater good, to lead intellectual developments within their fields of study, and/or to lead themselves into self –fulfilling roles and endeavors. We often find leadership courses in gifted programs where students study the characteristics of leadership, research past and present examples of effective leaders, and problem solve real and authentic scenarios where good leadership is required. These are all fantastic activities for gifted students to experience. (more…)