GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
VOLUME 16, NUMBER 6
P.O. BOX 1586; MANASSAS, VA 20108; 703-369-5017 www.giftededpress.com
A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children (2007) by James T. Webb, Janet L. Gore, Edward R. Amend and Arlene R. DeVries. Scottsdale, Arizona: Great Potential Press. This is a comprehensive resource for increasing parents' understanding of their gifted children. Some of the major topics are concerned with definitions and characteristics of giftedness; improving communication with their gifted child; techniques for increasing motivation and underachievement; intensity, perfectionism and stress; establishing discipline; successful parenting; working with twice exceptional children; and how schools identify and educate gifted students. By addressing each topic in great detail, the authors help parents to understand both the social-emotional and intellectual issues of giftedness. Although parents can learn a great deal by reading this book from Chapter 1: Defining Giftedness through to the end, Chapter 15: Finding Professional Help, they can also use it as an effective reference resource by looking up specific topics and discussions on an as needed basis. The following are some questions that parents might ask and find answers to by using A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children in this manner:
1. How can I help my gifted child to become more motivated to learn at home and school? Chapter 4: Motivation, Enthusiasm, and Underachievement offers numerous examples of the causes of low motivation and how to develop high levels. For example, the authors point out that parents might encourage gifted children to "slow down" and follow a schedule for playing and working on academic tasks. But parents must be cautious. If they place too many restrictions on the direction of their gifted child's interests, this can result in boredom and lack of motivation to work on challenging tasks. As Webb et al. discuss in detail, many schools unfortunately compound this problem by presenting a less than challenging curriculum. They suggest that the way out of this dilemma is for the family to work closely with the school, and to follow "Six Practical Steps" (p. 71) involving such activities as creating an environment conducive to achievement, avoiding power struggles, developing positive and personal relationships, providing challenging and supportive learning opportunities, establishing appropriate goals and sub-goals, and building on success by using an appropriate reward system with small learning increments. These six steps are expanded into specific recommendations in the remaining sections of Chapter 4 and throughout the book. The analysis of various motivation problems and recommended solutions that are presented in this chapter will give parents many ideas for the humane development of their gifted children's motivation to learn in the home and school.
2. How can I effectively work with my gifted child's school to achieve the most stimulating and academically rigorous education? First, parents should carefully read Chapter 13: How Schools Identify Gifted Children to obtain an overview of some of the methods currently used to select children for gifted programs. This chapter emphasizes that school districts use a wide range of tests, teacher rating scales and teacher nomination procedures. These instruments and checklists are usually combined to produce a balanced selection system. Parents can use the information gleaned from this chapter to answer such questions as: What types of screening procedures are used? Is the screening net broad or narrow? What types of standardized tests are used to measure ability and achievement? How are classroom performance and teacher recommendations factored into the selection equation? By finding the answers to these and other related questions, parents will gain useful knowledge about the types of students who are selected for a particular school district's program.
Next, they should read Chapter 14: Finding a Good Educational Fit to determine how their child can be effectively served in the regular classroom, pull-out setting or self-contained classroom - given the specific testing and assessment criteria required for gifted program placement. The many options for gifted programming are discussed in Chapter 14 including various types of differentiation such as regular classroom enrichment, cluster grouping, acceleration, and Advanced Placement classes. Additionally, self-contained schools, private and parochial schools, and home schooling are among the other educational options explained here. Prior to these descriptions, Webb et al. emphasize that parents must work closely with the school to obtain the most effective programming options. In this regard, they present Table 10 (Questions More Important than "Is My Child in a Gifted Program?"- pp. 293-294) which was designed by Donald Treffinger to give parents an extensive set of questions to ask school personnel about their child's educational program. Regardless of the types of gifted programs offered by a school district, parents can use these questions to assess the appropriateness of the entire school program for educating gifted students. The final sections of Chapter 14 stress that parents can make a significant difference in their child's education by locating appropriate schools within the district, gathering information about the gifted program, and becoming a strong advocate for their child's education. Both Chapters 13 and 14 give parents excellent background information for understanding the characteristics of gifted students and the type of differentiated program that would be most suitable.
3. What can I do to improve my child's social and emotional development? Almost every chapter is concerned with answering this question, but certain ones focus on specific areas that are particularly helpful for parents. Chapter 6: Intensity, Perfectionism, and Stress shows how it is the nature of gifted children to be intense workers and highly sensitive to their environment. Parents need to be aware of these characteristics as well as many gifted children's obsession with perfectionism, which can lead to serious problems involving neurotic behavior and underachievement. The authors explain how parents must refrain from rewarding this type of behavior and encourage a realistic balance between task commitment and sensible goals. Chapter 6 also has a useful discussion of stress and frustration, and the remaining sections offer many strategies for helping gifted children reduce the negative aspects of their social and emotional development. Webb et al. present a very insightful discussion of Self-Talk (nearly constant internal discussions and evaluations), emphasizing how gifted children can talk themselves into feeling upset and dissatisfied. The distortions in a child's thinking caused by negative Self-Talk can lead to serious problems which are discussed under Self-Talk Mistakes (pp. 133-135) and Avoiding the Pitfalls (135-136). Clearly, parents of the gifted can have a significant impact on their child's social and emotional development by addressing negative Self-Talk issues before they become permanently ingrained in their child's personality. The section entitled Additional Suggestions and Strategies (136-148) gives many helpful approaches for reducing negative Self-Talk by: discussing issues in a logical manner, serving as a good model for positive behavior, and being a good listener. Parents who are particularly concerned with social and emotional issues will also find the following chapters to be very informative: Chapter 7: Idealism, Unhappiness, and Depression; Chapter 8: Acquaintances, Friends, and Peers; and Chapter 9: Family Relationships: Siblings and Other Children.
There are many other relevant questions for both parents and teachers addressed in A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children. It is well-documented with extensive references to current research and writings. Every parent and teacher who is concerned with the education and development of gifted children should read this book and use it as helpful resource.
Models for Excellence: The Importance of Masterworks for Gifted Children (and Their Teachers)
Stephen T. Schroth & Jason A. Helfer Knox College Galesburg, Illinois
Imagination, intuition, and insight guide and shape exemplary performance at all levels. Exposure to, and understanding of, the creations of masters assists able learners to better understand the pinnacles to which they might aspire and the craft used to attain such heights. This is certainly true for gifted children - it is also true for their parents and teachers. Originally published in 1965, the new edition (2007) of Maxine Greene's classic work explores the connections between great authors, such as Melville, Twain, and Thoreau, and the American public schools of their era. Although clearly aligned with the progressive education movement, Greene offers insights regarding the interplay between the dual needs for equity and excellence that provide the types of models needed for all those struggling with these concepts today.
Although schools were founded in colonial times, in the early nineteenth century Thomas Jefferson initiated a push for free schools and selective education whereby gifted individuals "endowed with genius and virtue" would receive the education necessary for them to lead the republic and to safeguard all citizens' rights (p. 8). Such notions were, as Greene notes, firmly rooted in the Enlightenment, with its emphasis upon endowment and merit alone. As the American establishment - and electorate - became more democratic in their outlook and goals, education also came to be viewed as a means of overcoming the class distinctions that existed. Reformers such as Horace Mann and Ralph Waldo Emerson battled with questions about the purpose of education, namely whether it should focus on utility (by bringing the less able up to a certain standard) or self realization (by improving the able). In many ways the parameters of these discussions continue to shape gifted education to this day. As gifted education programs are often charged with developing students' creative or artistic gifts, understanding these fissures assists educators' choices and actions.
The fine arts, unlike other areas of the traditional school curriculum, pose a dual tension for educators. One aspect of this tension stems from questions relating to how fine arts instruction can best serve precocious performers or creators. A great number of gifted creators and performers inhabit our schools. Traditional fine arts programs often provide ample opportunities for performers (e.g., studio art within multiple mediums, orchestra, choir, band, drama, and dance classes) but creators are not always adequately served. The dearth of opportunities for creators may stem from guilt feelings related to serving the talented, a problem Greene explores at length. A second aspect of this tension is caused by issues surrounding the development of aesthetic percipience. Aesthetic percipience is quite distinct from the ability to create or perform. Rather, percipience is the disciplined looking at or listening to a masterwork. Percipience is thus premised upon knowledge about the art work in question, as well as the observer's imaginative capabilities. The imagination, while necessary "in order to grasp a work's qualities," must also "be held in check" (Smith, 1989, p. 36). Percipience is an ability that assumes a deep sensitivity to one's surroundings, sensitivity toward how one views the world through one's senses. As much of this sensitivity is innate, its existence causes some educators to be uncomfortable, a sensation stemming from conflict regarding the role of schools in developing talents.
Building gifted students' percipience, as fostered through the fine arts, is one way in which gifted children can begin to forge an understanding of the world that accommodates the tensions between excellence and equity. Greene assists teachers' and parents' appreciation and understanding of the competing demands placed upon public education. This understanding augments gifted children's need for multiple opportunities to see, hear, and reflect upon masterworks, as developing percipience allows students to better appreciate the heights to which they might aspire.
Greene, M. (2007). The public school and the private vision: A search for America in education and literature. New York: The New Press.
Smith, R. (1989). The sense of art. New York, NY: Routledge.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, August-September 2007