Geoff Johnson: For gifted children, effort is the key to success in life
What does Stefani Germanotta – better known as Lady Gaga – have in common with pioneering mathematicians Terence Tao and Lenhard Ng, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin?
Despite their different career paths, they are all graduates of the Center for Talented Youth at John Hopkins University, which Hopkins psychologist Julian Stanley developed in the 1980s.
Stanley developed the center as a complement to his 1970s study of gifted children called the Mathematically Early Youth Study.
The study and the center included young teens who ranked in the top 1% on college entrance exams.
Quite interesting, but the idea of ââproviding separate educational programs for children identified as gifted or talented is still, in 2021, an idea whose time has not yet come.
Part of the problem is that âgiftedâ is a nonspecific term widely used to describe obviously bright children, but it is a descriptor that is not just limited to measures of intelligence.
The simplest and most useful definition of “gifted” in any area of ââa child’s development is Joseph Renzulli’s Venn portrayal, which promotes a broad view of it.
Renzulli is a professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut, where he is also director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented.
Its definition suggests that the “gift” consists of three characteristics in equal parts: intelligence, creativity and perseverance. Two of the three characteristics do not meet the definition.
The point of Renzulli’s definition is that giftedness does not simply equate to traditionally narrow measures of intelligence.
Some psychologists, like Harvard neuropsychologist Howard Gardener, even suggest that there are several types of intelligence, ranging from kinesthesia (think Olympic gymnast Simone Biles) to linguistic, mathematical, or musical intelligence (think Yo Yo Ma ).
Jonathan Wai, a psychologist in the Talent Identification Program at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, combined data from 11 long-term studies, including the study of mathematically precocious youth, to demonstrate the correlation between the first manifestations of exceptional abilities of one type or another and the subsequent performance of adults, as measured by various assessments and observations of performance.
Wai’s findings challenge the long-held idea that expert performance is built primarily through practice – that anyone can reach the top with enough focused effort of the right kind.
The same research also highlights the importance of properly feeding early children at a time when the predominant focus in public education is still, in 2021, improving the performance of students who are struggling with school.
Despite this, educators and researchers are realizing that âgiftednessâ in children is also a form of disability, which sets them apart from their classmates and can make their lives confusing.
Despite the many ideas that have emerged from Stanley Julian’s landmark study of mathematically precocious youth, researchers still have an incomplete picture of the relationship between giftedness and achievement. âWe don’t know why, even at the high end of potential, some people will be successful and others will not,â says Douglas Detterman, a psychologist who studies cognitive skills at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Julian Stanley died in the mid-2000s, but psychologist David Lubinski had already helped bring the extensive study of mathematically precocious youth to Vanderbilt University in the 1990s.
Lubinski’s extensive research produced what has been described by writer and researcher Evan Porter as “fascinating and genuinely surprising – a deeply insightful look at the minds and lives of brilliant children.”
When it comes to doing what’s best for a gifted student, Lubinski says, it’s more important that parents and educators know what the student is passionate about rather than placing them in traditionally areas. intelligent â, including parents’ aspirations for a university education for their child.
Again, Lubinski says, the normal means of measuring a student’s natural skills and abilities are only part of the equation when it comes to determining their success in life.
Effort, Lubinski says, is a critical factor in determining how far someone will go in life.
For a child who has exceptional abilities of one type or another, the pursuit of self-determined success will not be easy, and the inclusion of Renzulli’s persistence as an important factor may be the key to which parents and teachers of “gifted” children need to understand and encourage.
As Stefani Germanotta is quoted as advising from her own career experience: âYou have to fail and then get better. Then you have to fail again and then get even better. “
Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools. In the late 1960s, his teaching career included two years at a “selective” New South Wales high school for gifted children. [email protected]
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