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Why Are Gifted and Talented Programs Necessary?

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

3D Figure leaning on question markMany people wonder why children with exceptional ability would require additional services and supports in order to succeed. "If they are so gifted" the thinking goes, "they ought to be able to figure out what is expected of them". In many cases, gifted children are quite able to master what is expected of them in the traditional classroom but feel so unchallenged by that feat or so limited by it that they become bored or frustrated, with subsequent negative effects, including self-esteem difficulties and a loss of motivation. In order to best develop confidence and positive self-esteem, children need to be able to meet and overcome appropriately pitched challenges and difficulties. Gifted students who are not challenged by the material in a traditional classroom often develop poor self-esteem, or overly-inflated self esteem. They may also act out, use alcohol or drugs as they get older to "fit in", or otherwise make destructive behavioral choices. Gifted and talented educational programming provides these students with tailored challenges sufficient to foster rather than dull their abilities. More information about the development of self-esteem will be covered in an upcoming Middle Childhood Nurturing article that is coming soon.

Acceleration and Enrichment

Once a youth has been identified as "gifted and talented", the school works closely with the student and parents to determine how to best change that youth's curriculum so as to maximize herion can be modified: acceleration and enrichment.

Acceleration occurs when G/T students are enabled to move through their coursework at a faster rate than their more typically developing peers. For example, a teacher may take three days to present an educational unit to an accelerated classroom. The same material might be presented over five days in a traditional classroom. Acceleration also occurs when students are enabled to skip a grade or level of instruction after having demonstrated prior mastery of the material that would normally be presented in that grade or level. For older students, acceleration may take the form of advanced placement courses or early enrollment in college classes.

Acceleration involves shortening the timeframe within which learning about particular subjects occurs. In contrast, Enrichment involves expanding the depth of attention paid to each subject. Students in enriched classrooms investigate academic content at a deeper, more complex level. Enrichment is the most common method of academic differentiation for talented and gifted students. It may include learning opportunities outside of the normal school day or year, such as internships or summer camp programs. Enriched instruction requires more work on the part of both students and teachers when compared to traditional instruction. For example, a regular English class might spend two weeks reading a Shakespeare play out-loud together, discussing the main points, and then writing a report summarizing the play. In an enriched classroom covering the same material, students might read the play on their own, and then spend class time researching the culture, dress, language, and other customs of that period in history, assembling and recreating period costumes, sets, and props, writing a simplified, shortened adaptation of the play, and then presenting the easier-to-understand version to younger classmates.

Most enrichment activities and classes are paid for by the school district. However, there are other enrichment activities, such as G/T summer camps held on college campuses that may not be covered by the school district. In such cases, scholarships and other financial assistance available for families who qualify may be available. Parents should contact their state's educational department to learn about assistance resources available in their region.

G/T Placements

With regard to placement, most G/T students are educated within their general education classroom. In such cases, students' general education teacher typically modifies their curriculum, often after consultation with another teacher specialized in providing talented and gifted services. Some schools also provide access to a resource room or provide other pull-out instruction to complement students' primary curriculum.

Some families determine that their child's continuing placement in the general education classroom with appropriate modifications is not adequate to meet their child's needs. In such cases, parents may consider placing their child into a separate, specialized school more capable of meeting her needs. Depending on where the family lives, there may be several such specialized school environments to choose from. Some public school districts offer separate schools for gifted students or specialized language, science, or arts schools focusing on students' major areas of interest. There may also be local private schools or specialized charter schools available as well, although whether the family can afford to access these resources is a separate question.

Don't Overdo Children's Specialization!

It is tempting for some parents who discover their child has special gifts to focus their child on the development of those gifts to the exclusion of other important activities. While it is true that "practice makes perfect", and that focus on and practice of a talent will help a child to gain mastery of that talent, it is also true that it is important for a child's overall and ultimate well being that he not be railroaded into an obsessive focus on a single ability. While children may be gifted in some areas, they may be typically developing or even struggling in other areas. Children may be gifted in some areas, and have disabilities that cause them to require special needs services as well. Failure to offer children the experiences and the freedom they need to develop their areas of non-giftedness can result in unhappy children with social-emotional issues or even psychological problems. Attention to balance is in order in arranging a child's activities so as to ensure that the child grows to become a well rounded, happy person. A math wizard still needs time to play baseball with other kids. A musical protégé still needs to be able to join the debate team.