Gifted education has helped educators to improve learning in their schools, especially among the gifted students. Students in regular classes have also benefited from gifted education. The success of gifted education is attributed to the use of modern teaching methods that have been developed in the last few years.
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Some of the teaching methods used in gifted education programs include project work, providing meaningful choices for students, self-directed learning, literature-based reading, and problem-based curriculum. A well-prepared environment is essential for excellent performance among gifted students.
It is against this backdrop that Montessori education emphasizes the importance of preparing the learning environment. In this regard, a well-prepared learning environment should enable students to acquire knowledge by exploring and engaging in different learning experiences. This paper reviews the existing literature on gifted education.
Sternberg (1995, p. 18) examined the use of the triarchic approach to identify gifted children. This approach is essentially an assessment process that involves conducting nine multiple-choice subtests. These subtests include analytic-verbal, analytic-quantitative, analytic-figural, practical-verbal, practical-quantitative, practical-figural, creative-verbal, creative-quantitative and creative-figural.
In analytic-verbal test, students are required to identify a novel word in a text and to deduce its meaning from the given context. Analytic-quantitative test involves predicting the next figure that should be included in a series of numbers. A figural matrix is used to conduct the analytical-figural subtest.
In this case, the teacher eliminates the lower right entry of the matrix so that students can identify the entry that fits it from a variety of choices. In practical-verbal subtests, students are expected to find solutions to typical problems that adolescents encounter in their everyday lives. For example, the teacher can ask the students to give suggestions on how to help a person with substance abuse problem.
The practical-quantitative subtest involves finding solutions to math problems, which explain everyday life scenarios such as buying tickets for a ballgame. In practical-figural subtest, a map of a specific area such as an entertainment park enables teachers to test the students’ navigation skills. Teachers use analogies in conjunction with counterfactual premises to conduct the creative-verbal subtest (Sternberg, 1995, p. 18).
In this case, the students are required to solve the analogies in the context of the presented counterfactual premises. In creative-quantitative subtest, the students are expected to use specific novel number operations to find solutions to different math problems.
Finally, the creative-figural test involves completing a novel series. A figural series with one or more transformations is first presented to the students. Thus, the pupils apply the rules of this series to a different figure in order to create a new series.
Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 3) examined the development of cognitive skills, as well as, the importance of recognizing and nurturing talents in gifted children. They assert that children who are living in poverty are less likely than their counterparts from affluent backgrounds to be identified as gifted. This is likely to happen when the definition of giftedness emphasizes precocious development.
Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 3) used different assessments to study the concept of school readiness. In their study, standardized readiness tests were used to identify gifted children. They also examined the fundamental aspects of learning, which include the importance of teachers’ beliefs and practices that are associated with giftedness, as well as, students’ achievements and potential in diverse groups.
According to Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 4), the teaching practices that are used in primary schools are often framed in terms of developmentally appropriate practices (DAP), as well as, their effectiveness in enhancing learning among gifted students and diverse populations of learners.
In a longitudinal study of early development of language and literacy skills among gifted children, Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 4), found that the mean age at which the children spoke the first meaningful word was 9.1 months. This result was obtained from a sample of 52 children whose IQs were equal to or greater than 160.
Children whose IQs exceeded 148 were able to speak in complete sentences at the age of 16 months. In a quantitative study of eleven gifted pre-school children, parents reported that their children spoke the first word when they were between 9 and 12 months old. Furthermore, the children were able to speak in complete sentences at the age of 18 months.
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Acquisition of reading skills at an early age is one of the main characteristics of gifted children. Empirical studies indicate that gifted children are able to recognize a large number of familiar and unfamiliar printed words at the age of three years. At this age, precocious readers are able to decode and comprehend different levels of text.
Gifted children below the age of 2 years have a high interest in words, symbols, and complex stories. Additionally, most gifted children have the ability to read before joining school. Similar studies have shown that gifted children have advanced numeracy skills.
Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 6) also examined the emotional and social consequences that gifted children are likely to face if their talents are not recognized or are undervalued during their early school years. Their findings reveal that students begin to mask their abilities as soon as they join pre-school in order to be at par with their peers and to meet the expectations of their teachers.
For instance, children who normally read text-laden books at home can select picture books in the classroom in order to mask their reading skills. Similarly, they can mask their linguistic sophistication by developing different ‘codes’ of speaking in the classroom and at home. Gifted children are more sensitive to early messages than their attempts to express boredom or to identify different approaches to a problem.
Early school entrance or participation in differentiated programs in pre-school and primary classrooms is common among gifted children. Consequently, teachers must be able to develop responsive and challenging learning opportunities in order to nurture the talents of gifted students. The teachers should also help the students to develop positive attitudes towards learning.
According to Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 6), most gifted children fail to demonstrate language precocity in adulthood. Additionally, not all children who acquire language skills at an early age are able to sustain this gain over their peers through the school years. Even though early language development enhances giftedness, it is not a necessary precondition for gifted performance in mature students.
The association between precocious development and later gifted performance can be sullied by the effects of socio-economic status on children’s early development. Consequently, Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 8) assert that it is the responsibility of the adults who are working with the children to broaden the conceptions of giftedness.
They further assert that teachers and parents should address the academic and social needs of young children. In this regard, the focus should be on the development of language, reading and logical reasoning skills.
Even though descriptions enhance our understanding of group needs, they can also diminish the salience of diversity in the profiles of giftedness. Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 9) describe gifted children as precocious readers, writers, and mathematicians whose appetite for schoolwork is insatiable.
The narrow academic achievement conceptions of giftedness are likely to ignore students whose talents lie outside the domain of analytical intelligence. Gifted children who are living in poverty often face several barriers that hinder their early development. Consequently, they are likely to be ignored by the skill-based definitions of giftedness.
According to Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 14) these definitions are also likely to exclude minority students with gifted potential in communities that are associated with a significant overlap between low socio-economic status and minority ethnic status. Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 14) identified the following best practices concerning the identification of giftedness:
- Giftedness is multifaceted
- Giftedness is manifested in multiple ways
- Identification procedures are effective when data is collected over time
- Program and identification procedures should include students from diverse backgrounds
- collaborative models that incorporate the inputs from teachers, parents, specialist and students should be used
- Consistency is critical in the identification process and the services delivered by the program
The role of teacher expectation in the examination of students’ ability is integral in the identification process. Less-educated primary school teachers often base their academic expectations on the non-cognitive factors such as behavior, dressing and speech patterns. Teachers’ judgments are also likely to be influenced when they compare giftedness with high academic achievement and compliant behavior.
This premise is not likely to favor students with emotional and behavioral difficulties. This is because “developmentally appropriate practices and gifted students’ learning go hand-in-hand”. Since development occurs in stages, educators can predict it using a child’s age. This assumption tends to be inconsistent with the developmental characteristics of most young children.
Thus, age-based approaches are not appropriate for assessing the suitability of teaching practices. In this regard, Brighton, Moon, Jarvis and Hockett (2007, p. 19) recommend the use of Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development as an alternative model of cognitive progress.
In this model, students develop by practicing skills and finding solutions to problems that they are able to complete through cognitive scaffolding in order to attain independent mastery. Within this framework, instructions are tailored to meet the students’ actual, rather than expected developmental capabilities. Thus, the teacher has to differentiate the curriculum in order to meet the needs of all students.
Cooperative learning refers to “a set of instructional strategies which employs small teams of pupils to promote peer interaction and cooperation for studying academic subjects”. Students must collaborate in order to attain a common objective in the learning process. According to Robinson (1991, p. 15), cooperative learning has positive effects in cross-ethnic relationships.
Despite its importance in the study of cooperative learning, Robinson’s research had definitional and sampling problems. Concisely, most of her findings were not obtained in the context of gifted or high ability students. In some cases, there was inadequate information about the students’ past achievements. Tests were used to identify high ability students.
These tests were administered by the teachers. For example, students who were able to score more than the median mark in math test were considered to have high ability. High ability as defined by “single achievement measures of basic skills, teacher constructed placement tests, or teacher judgment should not be used interchangeably with giftedness”.
According to Robinson (1991, p. 17), the success of group work depends on the availability of a student who understands the material that is being studied and is able to explain it to others. Even though the students who explain the learning materials to others enhance their understanding through this experience, too much repetition of the explanations can cause constant reviews.
Teachers must organize cooperative learning groups in a manner that reduces the ‘free rider’ effect. Consequently, the responsibility of explaining the learning materials or giving instructions will be shared among the group members. Talented students consider disproportionate sharing of responsibilities, and the failure of team members to contribute in heterogeneous groups to be unfair and frustrating.
In this regard, the following recommendations should be considered in order to facilitate cooperative learning. First, schools should not introduce cooperative learning as an alternative for the dedicated programs, which benefit the gifted students in a diverse class. Second, schools that are devoted to cooperative learning must use approaches that enable gifted students to access advanced learning materials.
Students Teams Achievement Division (STAD) and Jigsaw limit the ability of gifted students to access advanced curriculum since they depend on prepared grade-level materials. Finally, schools that are committed to cooperative learning should use models that are flexible.
Westberg and Archambault (1995, p. 2) examined the strategies that are used by teachers to differentiate instructions for high ability students. Differentiation refers to the approaches that educators employ to accommodate students’ academic differences by determining what students will learn, how they will learn it, and how they will demonstrate it.
The findings of this study indicated that most teachers were aware of the students’ academic differences. The teachers considered their students to be individuals with different skills, interests, styles, and talents. Moreover, they were aware of the students’ strengths and weaknesses.
According to Sternberg, Grigorenko and Ferrari (2004, p. 2), measuring intelligence and success require expertise. It requires “meta-components of thinking, which include recognition of problems, definition of problems, formulation of strategies, representation of information, allocation of resources, as well as, monitoring and evaluation of solutions to various problems”.
In this regard, Sternberg, Grigorenko and Ferrari (2004, p. 2) attribute the development of these skills to gene-environment, co-variation, and interaction. Conventional tests of intelligence and related abilities measure past achievements. These tests include vocabulary, oral analogies, conceptual reasoning, and solving mathematical problems.
The problem that is associated with the conventional model is that it proposes a causal relationship in which the tests reflect a construct that seems to be a causal of, rather than a mere temporary antecedent of later success. Most human characteristics reveal the co-variation and the association between genetic and contextual factors.
However, conducting an explicit measure of the influence of genes on the development of intelligence is not possible. Consequently, we can only measure a portion of the expressed intelligence. This includes the expressions of developing expertise, as well as, the type of expertise that can possibly facilitate reflection among practitioners. In this regard, there should be a relationship between intelligence measures and later success.
The facets of intelligence include analytical, creative, and practical domain. The attainment of expertise in a given creative domain or in a particular practical domain is associated with the achievement of expertise in similar domains. Psychometric research suggests “more domain generality for the analytical domain” (Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Ferrari, 2004, p. 2).
Furthermore, individuals can exhibit analytical, creative, or practical expertise without having the other domains. Meta-cognitive skills refer to a person’s understanding of his own cognition. These skills include what a person knows about writing or solving arithmetic problems in terms of the steps to be followed and how such steps should be executed.
Even though learning skills are important, they are not the only skills that individuals need. Learning skills can be explicit or implicit.
Explicit learning takes place when a person attempts to learn. Implicit learning, on the other hand, occurs when a person acquires knowledge incidentally without making deliberate or systematic efforts. Individuals need to master three types of thinking skills (Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Ferrari, 2004, p. 2). These skills include critical thinking, creative thinking and practical thinking.
Declarative and procedural knowledge are very important in various academic fields. Acquiring declarative knowledge involves the use facts and well-established principles. Acquiring procedural knowledge, on the other hand, involves following a well-defined course of action and strategies.
Procedural tacit knowledge is essential because it enables the learner to understand how various systems operate (Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Ferrari, 2004, p. 2). There are two important types of motivation namely, competence and achievement. The achievement-oriented learners normally focus on challenges and risks that are not too high.
Concisely, they are interested in tasks that are challenging but achievable. Moreover, they try to improve their achievements. Competence refers to an individual’s ability to find solutions to an existing problem. Specialists are expected to improve their efficiency in order to solve complex tasks. This improvement can be achieved through intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
One problem that limits the use of conventional tests is the assumption that individuals operate in a de-contextualized environment (Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Ferrari, 2004, p. 2).
Test results are usually interpreted based on a person’s internal characteristics. Thus, it is unrealistic to assume that all test takers operate in a fixed or uniform environment or context. The underlying issues that can influence test outcomes include the test taker’s language orientation, the importance of rapid performance, the significance of the test outcome to the test taker and the experience with the test materials.
Developing expertise is not limited to the constructs that educators often measure with the aid of the conventional intelligence tests. It also encompasses the process of taking the tests. Educators can tailor the tests to suit the kind of expertise that is required in any given cultural or sub-cultural milieu. Most conventional tests reflect the type of skills that are considered to be very important in western learning institutions.
The importance of the conventional tests is that they help educators to forecast school performance. In the contemporary world, considering abilities to be constant or preset is anachronism. Empirical studies indicate that conventional tests can only measure a small percentage of the types of developing expertise that are needed for life success.
This explains the inability of conventional tests to forecast more than 10% of variations in individual differences in regard to various measures of success in adulthood. Different cultures have varied conceptions of the value of the expertise that are estimated by the conventional tests.
For example, in a 1995 study that analyzed the cultures of the Latino, Asian, and Anglo communities, the results indicated that Latino parents believed that the social types of expertise were the most essential in the development of intelligence. However, Asian and Anglo parents considered cognitive types of expertise to be the most important. Cognitive and social skills are essential in school and in private life.
Thus, all students should receive training on these types of expertise in their homes and in their schools. Until we expand “our notions of abilities, and recognize that when we measure them, we are measuring developing forms of expertise, we will risk consigning many of potentially excellent contributors to our society to bleak futures” (Sternberg, Grigorenko, & Ferrari, 2004, p. 2).
Similarly, we are likely to overestimate the abilities of students with expertise in certain academic fields, but lack similar expertise for later success in life. Teachers should use instructions in a manner that enhances reflective, analytical, creative, as well as practical thinking within a knowledge base.
The desired learning outcomes can be achieved if the students’ thoughts are focused on learning. Similarly, educators can attain the desired learning outcomes if the process of imparting knowledge takes into account the students’ diverse styles of learning and thinking.
According to Archhambalt, Westberg Dobyns and Salvin (1993, p. 43), most gifted students often spend a better part of their time in regular classrooms. However, most educators and researchers hold the opinion that teachers lack the experience that would enable them to meet the needs of the gifted students.
Archhambalt, Westberg Dobyns and Salvin (1993, p. 43) assert that advocacy and the initiatives that have been taken by educators to improve learning among gifted students have not been fruitful. Concisely, most schools provide inadequate differentiated instructional and curricular practices to third and fourth grade gifted students.
Furthermore, economic challenges have led to the elimination of gifted learners’ programs in most schools. Consequently, the most practical option is to use the existing regular classrooms to meet the needs of the gifted students. In most of the existing programs for the gifted students, instructions are usually provided for approximately 2 hours per week. Hence, the role of the teachers in these programs becomes apparent.
According to Callahan, Hunsaker, Adams and Moore (1995, p. 3) assessment of the definition and identification of giftedness should be done at the state, as well as, at the school level. This will help researchers to understand the factors that interrupt sound identification at these levels.
Moreover, teachers should be involved in the identification process. In this case, the teachers should provide the information about the characteristics of giftedness. Consequently, teachers should receive training on how the various aspects of giftedness are measured and how they can use the results of such measurements to make decisions.
There have been improvements in the availability of the resources that can help teachers to identify the link between the definition of giftedness, and the instructions that facilitate identification of gifted students. Consequently, the process of identifying gifted students is expected to improve. Concisely, the teachers or educators are expected to identify all gifted students without ignoring some of them.
Teachers and parents are concerned about what happens to the high ability students when they are in school. Teachers who are responsible for teaching above average students are aware of the fact that different strategies help them to meet the diverse needs of the students. One of the methods that teachers can use to meet the diverse needs of their students is curriculum compacting.
By acquiring the skills and procedures that are necessary for providing the best education to high ability students, teachers improve the existing knowledge about good teaching methods. In a nutshell, training programs provide opportunities for the development of new knowledge and procedures that enhance learning.
Additionally, the teachers can share their knowledge and experiences with each other, thereby improving the existing body of knowledge about best teaching practices.
Greene, Hartzell and Hong (2011, pp. 250-264) studied the emotional and cognitive differences between teachers in regular classes and their counterparts in gifted programs. The teacher characteristic that was considered in the study includes epistemological beliefs, meta-cognition and motivation.
The results of this study indicated that teachers in gifted programs had “more sophisticated epistemological beliefs, higher learning-goal orientation, and lower performance-goal orientation than did teachers in general education classroom”. However, there were no differences in the perceived use of meta-cognitive strategies, self-efficacy, as well as, intrinsic motivation.
Generally, the teachers’ epistemological sophistication was higher in the nature of learning than in the nature of knowledge. Teachers also used cognitive strategies more than they used planning and monitoring skills. Finally, most of the teachers were learning-goal oriented rather than performance-goal oriented.
Greene, Hartzell and Hong (2011, pp. 250-264) recommend that pre-service and in-service teachers should take additional courses and training so that they can learn and reflect on their personal attributes.
This implies that teacher training programs should be improved so that teachers can acquire the most appropriate skills and knowledge. The rationale of this recommendation is that the best learning outcomes can be obtained through evidence-based instructional methods.
The findings of these researchers provide evidence that the characteristics of the teachers in gifted programs are different from those of their counterparts in regular classes.
In addition, gifted students who are in pullout programs have a high chance of accessing the services of the teachers with the desired characteristics. In this regard, it is important to establish special programs for the gifted students since teachers in regular classes might not have the characteristics that are needed to meet the needs of the high ability students.
Greene, Hartzell and Hong (2011, pp. 250-264) point out that a substantial number of gifted students usually spend most of their time in regular classrooms. Consequently, researchers should examine the possibility of using training programs to enhance teachers’ understanding of the characteristics that improve learning among gifted students.
The attributes of teachers and their beliefs about their students’ education or learning experiences are essential areas that can help teachers to differentiate instructions for gifted students in regular classrooms.
Teachers’ knowledge and skills are also important in the process of differentiating the instructions for the gifted students. Pre-service and in-service training programs should not only give teachers the opportunity to learn, but also to engage in self-reflection on their cognitive attributes, as well as, motivational characteristics.
Using a mixed-method study and a sample of 200 high performing students, Watters (2010, pp. 222-238) examined the teacher attributes that support students’ interests.
In this study, the participants were requested to identify at least seven characteristics of teachers that supported students’ potential career pathways. Some of the characteristics that were identified included teachers’ ability to link pedagogical practices with students’ interests, creating relevant learning experiences, good classroom management skills and being able to explain complex ideas.
Additionally, having adequate content knowledge and passion for a particular subject matter is a supportive attribute. Teachers who have the aforementioned attributes are able to help gifted students to follow their career pathways.
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