E. Jean Gubbins
University of Connecticut
For the past seven years The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) has conducted theory-driven, practitioner-oriented research focusing on identification and programming for high ability students. Our mission guides us in designing studies that ultimately affect future policies and procedures in gifted and talented education. As resulting data become available, practitioners incorporate findings to ensure appropriate and challenging programs and services for students. They access our data in print, videotape, and electronic formats and make decisions about how to improve or extend practices.
In all phases of our research, practitioners play a central role. They serve as research liaisons in schools throughout the country, evaluate potential instruments and assessment tools, review drafts of monographs, and share our information with others. They often operate under the “Did you know?” approach to professional development. At meetings, conferences, workshops, or in corridors, practitioners spread the word about the NRC/GT. We appreciate all of these “town criers of NRC/GT research” because we want our findings to reach people who can make positive changes in schools.
Another role for practitioners evolved over time—sharing research findings with parents. We incorporated specific information for parents in monographs. For example, in Reading With Young Children (Jackson & Roller, 1993), a letter to practitioners invites them to share information with parents. In each self-contained section of the report, the authors respond to frequently asked questions about precocious readers, assessment strategies, and writing skills. Questions are posed, responses are provided to inform and guide practitioners and parents, and references and resources are added to support the statements. One frequently asked question is:
Precocious readers almost always remain at least average in their reading ability and most stay well above average, even though their reading performance in fifth or sixth grade is much more likely to be within the range of their classmates’ performance than it was in kindergarten. . . . Some investigators have claimed that precocious readers remain superior in reading achievement throughout their elementary school years, relative to other children of comparable intelligence who were not early readers. . . . However, the meaning of these findings is hard to evaluate. Does an early start in reading in itself give a child a lasting advantage, or do other factors, such as persistence, interest in learning, or parental support, contribute both to the early emergence of reading and to continued good achievement? (p. 37)
Other documents focus on dual audiences—educators and parents. Practitioners’ Guides on What Educators and Parents Need to Know About Elementary School Programs in Gifted Education and What Educators and Parents Need to Know About Fostering Creativity present specific information and research facts that can be reviewed in minutes. Complex quantitative and qualitative research findings are distilled into essential research facts:
Children in programs for the gifted obtain higher achievement scores than their gifted peers who are not in such programs.
Successful programs challenge students through high level content and pacing of the curriculum, while providing many opportunities for these students to make their own choices and to have control over their learning environment. (Delcourt, 1995)
Other times research-based information illustrates how to foster the talents of all children:
Provide environments that stimulate and encourage creative ideas. Reward a broad range of creative behaviors.
Be a mentor to a child who displays interest in your particular domain or field of expertise.
Teach students creativity enhancement techniques (e.g., SCAMPER [acronym for Substitute, Change, Adapt or Adopt, Magnify or Minify, Put to other uses, Elaborate, and Rearrange], brainstorming, synectics, attribute listing) to use with their science fair projects, art activities, and writing assignments to design a more creative product.
Expose your child to various types of tasks and activities, emphasizing variety in music, family and/or field trips, TV viewing, reading material, hobbies, toys, etc. (Plucker, 1995)
Still other times, research-based documents serve as guides for parents of young children. In Parenting the Very Young, Gifted Child, Robinson (1993) discusses perfectionism.
Alvino (1995) fills a book with ideas: Considerations and Strategies for Parenting the Gifted Child. Topics include: Parenting Styles Make a Difference; The Enriched Environment; Nurturing Your Child’s Creativity; Critical Thinking, Research, and Study Skills; Academics at Home: The Core Subjects; The Value of Play. To enhance the joy and challenge of parenting a gifted child, Alvino advises:
Balance “being on task” activities with relaxation and lots of free time. Let your child’s interests guide your involvement. Give appropriate praise that is specific, focuses on the desired behavior (not the child), and celebrates accomplishments for their own sake. Be a guide and matchmaker between your child’s interests, talents, and the means and opportunities to explore them. (pp. 77-78)
From providing data on traits and behaviors of gifted children to developing guides for parents, our documents feature critical information to help children. Of course, parents are their children’s first teachers and they exert a strong influence on their aspirations and future roles. Hine (1994; 1995) summarizes her research findings in English and Spanish: Helping Your Child Find Success at School: A Guide for Hispanic Parents, Cómo Ayudar a su Hijo a Tener Éxito en la Escuela: Guía para Padres Hispanos. Hine conducted a qualitative study of 10 Puerto Rican high school students and their parents to ascertain: What factors in the family learning environments of gifted Puerto Rican high school students support high achievement? Major keys to open the doors to success at school included:
Parents of high achievers had high educational and occupational aspirations for their children. They let their children know they expected them to do well in school and to gain the knowledge and skills necessary for a good occupation. Parents stressed the importance of getting a good education to reach these goals. They often mentioned their own employment and personal aspirations which served as a role model for their children. (p. 12)
Key #8: Parents should become involved in their child’s school and extracurricular activities. By encouraging a “social bond” with the school and the community, they will help him or her to grow in confidence and self-esteem.
All of these high achieving students were actively involved in both school and extracurricular activities, and their parents encouraged and supported this involvement. Being “involved” helped them develop a positive self image and a sense of commitment to school and community. (p. 20)
One traditional marker of success is to continue one’s education beyond high school. Children may or may not be familiar with all the prerequisite tasks necessary for pursuing a college education, especially if they are first generation college attendees. They need advice about the realities and timing of the whole process, and they and their parents can find it in a book by Wright and Olszewski-Kubilius (1993) entitled Helping Gifted Children and Their Families Prepare for College: A Handbook Designed to Assist Economically Disadvantaged and First-Generation College Attendees. Once the applications are secured from potential institutions matching the children’s interests and skills, letters of recommendation are requested and completed, and transcripts are secured, it is time to brainstorm potential questions to college admissions representatives:
- What is the average class size for freshmen courses?
- Are most undergraduate courses taught by graduate students or faculty?
- Do you have to be accepted for admission before you are awarded financial aid?
- On the average, how much of the actual cost of attending the school does financial aid typically cover?
- What are some of the unique qualities about the college?
- What academic support services are offered to students?
- What student groups are available on campus? (p. 67)
Getting ready for college may be a long, arduous process that seems far away for some or too close for others. Students need to consider what talents, abilities, and interests they will bring to the college or university and pose questions to interviewers that present a clear picture of the organization and academic setting. Parents and children can read and review the book by Wright and Olszewski-Kubilius to gain a wealth of how-to information about pursuing college. The book was prepared as a service for parents and children and it has helped several young people realize their dreams.
Nurturing the talents, abilities, and interests of children is a continual process that brings rewards at all ages. College entrance may be regarded as a tangible reward for hard work and high aspirations; others may view college entrance as a time of reflection on a question or comment their child made at a young age that indicated potential talent. In Parents Nurturing Math-Talented Young Children and Teachers Nurturing Math-Talented Young Children (Waxman, Robinson, & Mukhopadhayay, 1996a, 1996b), the authors describe a two-year study of preschool and kindergarten children involved in biweekly Saturday Clubs designed to enrich their mathematics experiences. Some of the students were “deeply passionate about numbers, as is evident in their questions, in their tendency to ignore what the rest of the class is doing while they are absorbed with a problem of their own, and in their smiles of satisfaction when they make sense of something puzzling” (p. 1). The young, math-prone students came to the attention of the researchers through nominations by teachers and parents. Parents completed application forms, recording verbatim comments such as the following that reflected their child’s mathematical view of the world:
Has recently shown interest in written music–how notes and rests divide a measure.
She and her father had a lengthy discussion on Avogadro’s number, which is now called Avocado’s number. She can tell time and write Roman numerals up to 20 easily.
Will multiply and divide using factors up to 10 and various combinations of numbers. All this is done in his head . . . the process is what interests him. (pp. 3-4)
The children’s inquisitiveness about all things mathematical was bolstered over time through “playing with wonderful ideas.” The soon to be released books by Waxman, Robinson, and Mukhopadhayay contain numerous ideas to spur mathematical thinking and doing. Teachers and parents will find these books a wonderful resource for schools and homes. They will revel in the character profiles of the young students involved in the Saturday Clubs known as Math Trek. JoAnne is just one example:
The talents, abilities, and interests of children are visible at all ages and we hope that our research finds its way into the hands of more and more parents. Thus, we call upon the many practitioners in our network and ask that they, once again, share our work with parents. Yes, go ahead, copy this article and give it to a parent. Help us build the parent connection!