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Dr. Rena F. Subotnik, Director of the Center for Gifted Education Policy at the American Psychological Association, is author of Genius Revisited: High IQ Children Grown Up, and co-editor of Beyond Terman: Contemporary Longitudinal Studies of Giftedness and Talent, Remarkable Women: Perspectives on Female Talent Development, and the second edition of the International Handbook of Research on Giftedness and Talent . Dr. Subotnik has been named the 2002 Distinguished Scholar by the National Association for Gifted Children. Dr. Subotnik conducts featured interviews in the Journal for the Education of the Gifted under the title, "Conversations with Masters in the Arts and Sciences."

The mission of the Center for Gifted Education Policy is to generate public awareness, advocacy, clinical applications, and cutting-edge research ideas that will enhance the achievement and performance of children and adolescents with special gifts and talents in all domains (including the academic disciplines, the performing arts, sports, and the professions).

What does it mean to be "gifted?" How can a parent or teacher determine that a child is gifted?

Giftedness in childhood can be viewed in two ways. If a child can master the regular curriculum more quickly and deeply than his or her classmates, then that child needs more challenge and a faster pace of instruction. We call that the special education approach.

The other approach is one of talent development. If a child is passionately interested in certain activities, topics, or ideas, and driven to pursue them in some way, that is usually a sign of giftedness.

IQ tests are useful for identifying gifts in two circumstances: selective admission, when less objective measures are not accepted by the community as legitimate ways to exclude or include, and when a child is not performing in school yet seems clearly bright.

In the second case, an IQ test may indicate a learning disability or else lack of motivation due to emotional issues or poor school experiences.

What are some of the different ways in which someone can be gifted?

Someone can be gifted in academic, performance, and social domains. You can develop great new ideas, beautiful and powerful performances, and great leadership or influence.

What do you think are some of the best ways to encourage a child's gifts? What kind of resources exist on a local level? At what ages are different kinds of support, classes or nurturing appropriate?

Each domain has a trajectory. Music, mathematics, dance, sports abilities emerge early and need to be developed early in order for the child to have access to career and talent development opportunities. Even within each domain, different sports and musical instruments have different starting points that with great talent and perseverence might lead to elite status. Educators and parents need to familiarize themselves with the culture of those domains.

What if a child doesn't want to pursue his or her talent? How much should a parent get involved or push?

A child should be nudged enough to get a feel for the talent domain before being allowed to drop it. Anyone who has tried to learn a new language, start a running regime, or play an instrument knows that you have to keep at it long enough to develop some automaticity.

Automaticity is in place when you are functioning competently without being totally conscious of your body and thinking mechanisms. That's when an activity starts to be fun and self-rewarding. If the child still decides to give up a talent area even after achieving automaticity, a family could try another sport, instrument or language before giving up altogether.

What does it mean for a kid to be an "underachiever?" What can be done to help kids feel empowered to use their talents?

An underachiever at elementary level and secondary level elicit different meanings for me. If an elementary school child is not achieving, there is likely something emotional or organic going on. There may be a learning problem or worry about a divorce.

On the secondary level, a new factor may come into play. It may simply be that the motivation to achieve in the domains available in school is not there. Motivation is part of the formula required to fulfill promise. An unmotivated adolescent or young adult needs to channel his gifts in productive ways through creative expression or performance. The best thing to do for an underachieving adolescent is to help him or her find a passion.

What has the research shown about the ways that giftedness can be nurtured? What does it mean for gifted kids to be with others, peers or mentors with similar gifts?

Giftedness can be nurtured in several ways. By helping children find ways to channel their intellectual and creative energies through performance and developing creative ideas. By nurturing attitudes and emotions that help children become resilient to jealousy, adversity, and other factors which get in the way of talent development. By having a peer group and teachers that both challenge and support them, and by taking advantage of opportunities that come their way. Once they have identified an area of deep interest, they need mentors to help socialize them into the domain.

Why are school gifted programs so controversial? What are your reactions to the controversy?

The controversy arises out of legitimate concerns about inequity, and false assumptions of inequity. Legitimate concerns arise when children in gifted programs are given special privileges that are unrelated to the focus of the program. For example, field trips organized by an academic based program to musical events. Unless there is a direct and obvious tie in to the curriculum, the expense, time and freedom afforded to gifted programs elicits jealousy and resentment. Gifted programs should be held accountable for how they use public funds in ways that meet the mission of enhancing the gifts and talents of the students in their program.

A trickier situation is one in which an excellent curriculum and fine teachers are available for students in a gifted program. If there is no rationale for why this curriculum and the teachers are uniquely suited to the students in the program, it is hard to rationalize why the curriculum and teachers might not benefit others as well. However, gifted students are usually able to master curriculum more quickly and deeply, and teachers need to be specially adept at providing that kind of instruction. If the learner outcomes for the gifted program are sufficiently advanced, others will acknowledge that they are especially challenging, and less controversy will arise.

Finally, we live in a day in which young people are told that they can be anything they want to be. We don't often hear the follow up phrase that one must work like a dog on your given talents to get there. Many families feel that if their children are denied opportunities, their children's unrealistic dreams will be crushed.

In an ideal world, how would parents and schools best nurture an individual's talents?

In an ideal world, all children would be exposed to an intensely enriched early childhood education. As soon as a child demonstrated outstanding interest and ability, that domain of interest and ability would be fed by way of classes, supervised/ mentored instruction or dialogue, assigned activities and projects. The focus would shift away from identification by way of abstract tests of potential to observation of actual high quality work in response to an outstanding curriculum.

Note: Dr. Subotnik currently serves on the editorial boards of Roeper Review, Gifted Child Quarterly, High Ability Studies, Educational Horizons, and the Journal for Secondary Gifted Education. She has been awarded research and training grants with the National Science Foundation, the Javits Grant Program of the US Department of Education, and the Spencer Foundation and was a Professor of Education at Hunter College.


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