A New Year: A New Model?
Happy New Year, everyone! By now, many of you have probably made (and broken) some New Year’s resolutions 😂. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to continue to question the way things have always been done in my life and beyond, and so it was with great interest that I began reading this book, Talent Development as a Framework for Gifted Education: Implications for Best Practice and Implementations in Schools. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Ph.D., Rena F. Subotnik, Ph.D., and Frank C. Worrell, Ph.D are the editors, with numerous highly acclaimed contributing authors.
This book examines how we have traditionally approached gifted and talented education, and how it is probably time to shift our thinking. The authors propose shifting our thinking to supporting a talent development model. Coincidentally, Dr. Mark Schwingle, our Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Gifted and Talented Consultant, has been exploring the concept of talent development in his series of “Transforming G/T Teaching and Learning” meetings, and introduced this book to the group in December. I was immediately fascinated, because I have been increasingly sensing the need to change my thinking about gifted education.
To give you a little background about the book, editor Olsewski-Kubilius has been designing, studying, and implementing out-of-school programs for gifted students for decades. Subotnik’s foci have been on talent development in specific domains and the role that the development of psychosocial skills plays in talent development. Worrell’s expertise is in the areas of cognitive, psychological, and cultural factors that contribute to talent development. Together these editors and many contributing authors have compiled a compelling case for talent development as the most promising emergent model for gifted education.
While many states currently still have laws on their books that refer to high-ability/high-potential learners as gifted and talented students, and services for them as gifted and talented programs, I have been detecting a growing movement away from this terminology. Instead, much more emphasis has been placed on defining our work as talent development, and in my estimation, this makes a lot of sense. First, the words gifted and talented have been fraught with negative connotations; the term talent development is much more acceptable, and, in many cultures, talent development is highly revered. Talent development is supported in sports and in the arts, and very few question the premise that people have inherent talents that need to be developed in those areas. In fact, many countries devote enormous resources to promote talent development and to celebrate its existence. If we could extend the conversation about talent development to our field (and to academic and intellectual talents), perhaps discussions would be more productive and the results more promising for our students. Talent development also has great potential to be much more inclusive than typical gifted programming; traditionally overlooked students could reap the benefits of a talent prospecting and talent development model. Finally, an argument for talent development is that it promises benefits to society and, especially, to individuals. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet, playwright, novelist, scientist, statesman, theater director, and critic once said that “People born with talents they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using them.” Talent development is key to self-fulfillment.
So, what is talent development? How does it look like traditional gifted programming, and how does it differ from it? How can we question our thinking, shift our thinking, and get others to consider shifting their thinking…to question the way we have always done things, and to move into new possibilities? Here are some of the major points made in this book, which are worth considering on our journey:
· Abilities (talents) are domain specific and must be supported. This means specific programming, specific resourcing, and specific mentoring is imperative. We can no longer support generic gifted and talented programs.
· Domains of talent have different trajectories; some begin early, some later, some peak earlier, some peak later. This must be understood and supported. Using domain specific research to guide us, programming will be more efficacious.
· Opportunities must be offered AND opportunities must be taken. These opportunities must be equitable, and special attention should be paid to students and families who will need help with access, encouragement, and support.
· Talent development is the development of important mental skills.
· Talent development is also the development of important psychosocial skills; to fully develop talent, attention must be paid to the whole person, both cognitively and affectively.
· Talent development requires long-term planning. While we are providing services in the present, we must also “future plan”. What does talent development look for this child as he/she develops? How can we best provide systematic and continuous support along the way?
· The true measure of successful talent development is achievement. Some of our students will be high-ability; others will be high-potential, but all will demonstrate the development of their talent through achievement over time.
To really understand the paradigm shifts suggested, you need to read the whole book and then sit with your thoughts for a while. How could you move your current thinking and programming to a talent development model? What would need to change?
A new year always suggests new possibilities; here is a new model for us to consider. I look forward to continued discussions on this topic in the future, and as always, I welcome your ideas because together we grow.
Jackie Drummer, Past President and Current Board Advisor, WATG
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can also be found in our website blogs.)
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.