Why Gifted Students Need Diversity and Innovation
When considering the many aspects of creating effective curriculum and learning environments for learners with gifted and talented potential, diversity is critical. By diversity I mean a wide array of attributes that come from both the learner, the instructors and the curriculum. Some attributes are inherent and some are created.
First, diversity of ideas helps to create freedom of thought, which is so important for innovation to happen. When students tackle wide-ranging problems that have no single response, working among peers who bring diverse backgrounds and opinions to the problems, then students are forced to break out of the usual response frameworks to deal with potentially opposing viewpoints surrounding those issues. For example, when I have observed a summer class in one of our Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) programs where a global issue was being discussed, the discussion was far richer and stimulating when the group contained members from several countries, than if they were all from the United States. Hearing different opinions regarding a concern can be eye-opening to students who have never had a reason to question conventional wisdom.
Second, diversity of content, as well as of people, provides a rich soup of ideas and possibilities for creative production. As Einstein said, creativity is intelligence having fun. For the mind to have lots of ideas to play with and to make connections among (and therefore have fun), there must be an environment full of interesting ideas, of broad topics and issues to explore, and of innovative fields of human endeavor in which they can apply such material. Creativity, a most valued attribute, requires information to be readily available for students to create something new that is useful, replicable and understandable. As educators and parents, we can do our part to provide an enriched environment that helps to stimulate creative thinking by providing exposure to a wide variety of information, using open-ended thinking situations, and capitalizing on topics that interest our students. This diversity of content is what we do at SIG as we strive to help students develop the convergent and divergent thinking skills so necessary to creative problem solving. Our classes are diverse in topics as well as fields, and students can study a variety of disciplines during their time with us. The courses are also open-ended to allow students time and opportunity to purse topics that are of particular interest to them.
Finally, diversity of strategies is important in exploring academic areas, particularly working both individually and in a group. When students first work individually in thinking creatively about a problem, then bring it to a group format, the end results are more creative than if they had only been considered in a group setting. By working individually, the student is forced to think through a situation on her own, going further than she may have thought before, through encouragement to do so. In a group setting, each member brings a unique set of skills that, when combined, forge an impressive array of capabilities for tackling any problem. The individual knowledge and experiences of each come together to expand the capabilities of the group, resulting in greater innovation. As people approach problems and solutions from different perspectives, their problem-solving processes can help us re-define how we approach our own problems.
Certainly, no one can argue that there are many problems to be resolved in the world and that we should engage our most capable minds in that participation. So when you are planning curriculum for gifted students be sure you make the content, processes, products and contributors as diverse as possible, just like we strive to do at SIG.
All the best,