I’m Julia Roberts and I am a professor of teachers education at Western Kentucky University. There I direct the center for gifted studies.
Gifted and talented children are those who in compared with others of similar experience and similar age stand out. They stand out because they seem to be a head of where others are in whatever the area is. If it’s gifted intellectually they’re probably reading ahead of others and their vocabulary is extensive when compared with others. But it could be in music and in music there uh ability to re recognize patterns in music and to produce tones and recognize tones. It’s it’s different than it is for others who are of the same age.
The challenge of looking at gifted children as having special needs is that their needs, unlike most children with needs, the needs are the results of strengths. People in general aren’t looking at strengths as creating needs, they’re looking at deficits as creating needs. So this special population of children because they’re strengths create needs a don’t elicit much sympathy from the population in general. And yet those needs are just as great and as uh deeply felt as any other needs.
Legislative advocacy is something that’s very close to my heart because that’s where we get things to happen for gifted children. Whether we’re talking about advocacy at the school level, the district, state, or the national level. At this particular time I happen to be legislative chairman for the National Association for Gifted Children and I appreciate the fact that it requires numbers of advocates and people who know what they’re talking about. At the present time we’re hoping to uh increase funding for gifted children at the national level and let me take just a minute to tell you about where this came from. Now if we look at the 70’s there was some money um after the Marlin report was issued, but then we moved into a decade with block funding and and that they banished. In the late 80’s we had the Jacob K. Jabbots Gifted and Talented Students Act that was passed and uh it was kind of interesting. A legislative from Kentucky was key in that and I remember a call late one summer night and uh a Congressman Natcher switched his vote and came on as a supporter and it passed because he was so influential at that particular time. And what the Jabbots Act has done is provide funding in 3 areas. It has provided a presence in the US, ah United States Office of Education and leadership activity is in gifted emanating from that. Secondly it established uh research center in gifted and talented education and the third component is to provide grants, competitive grants that allow some research to be done in gifted ed. All of that has had a focus on gifted children who’ve come from underrepresented groups and from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
I am almost beyond talking about programming and talking about services. I definantly don’t want to talk about the gifted program because that sounds like we have a one size fits all population that needs to be served. I am from the state of Kentucky and in Kentucky we’re looking at giftedness in 5 categories. For intellectually gifted, for those who are gifted in a specific academic area, those who are gifted in creativity, gifted in leadership, and gifted in the visual and performing arts. One program won’t meet the needs of this diverse population so we’re talking about services. And the services must be matched to need and need c emanates from strength. So it is that match of service to need that I think is most important if we’re going to remove the ceiling of learning and allow kids to thrive.
Underachievement is rampant in education because we have standards, and I’m very supportive of standards based education, but too many times the standards are taken as maximum rather than minimal standards. When a child can meet the standards he or she ought to have the opportunity to make continuous progress. Underachievement occurs because expectations are to limited for children. A child who is 7 years old is necessarily limited by being 7 years old and that produces underachievement. I work a lot with middle and high school students and I tell them over and over that having lots of ability is wonderful but until you link it with hard work it won’t take you any place. And I can only work hard on something if it is a challenging task and it is when the tasks are not challenging that we end up with children who are underachievers.
Gifted children come from all backgrounds, they come from all socio-economic levels, they are boys, they are girls, uh and we must be looking to make sure that all children have quality educational opportunities and those who demonstrate they are ready for more have those opportunities on an ongoing basis. We don’t want to limit any one. Diversity must be represented in all services for gifted children because we know that gifted children do come from all backgrounds.
I’m interested in several things. Um one of the things that interests me a great deal is the socio-emotional development of children. And secondly I’m interested in how do we teach kids so that they can make continuous progress. Uh we have been involved in some research on the socio-emotional needs through summer programming that I’ve been involved with for many years and uh we’re also involved in research that will exam best practice.
Oh parents of course are extremely important in the education of their children. One of the things they must do is be supportive of education even when they don’t feel what’s happening is best. They need to make sure that their children respect their teachers and uh work behind the scenes to get things changed. Parents also must know who important it is for their children to be with others who think like they do and share some of their interests and if that means driving several miles w with regularity to get the children to a youth orchestra or to a chess uh club or whatever it is, no child needs to be isolated from others who share their interest and uh of course I’m a real advocate of summer programming and Saturday programming as a way to be with others. We need intellectual as well as age peers.
When children are in the elementary school uh teachers tend to appreciate difference and to know that all children aren’t going to be reading on the same time schedule nor are they going to be learning math on a time schedule. Of course not all teachers understand that but many of them do. And I think as children move on toward the middle school they that uh children need more choices than they are given. Middle schools are a time when a child is in a middle school it’s time to be challenged and for many of our gifted children patterns within the middle school have not provided challenge to them academically. And the truth of the matter is they need some of their greatest challenges at that time. Looking at girls at this particular period, middle school, I think it is uh time that they choose either to compete with boys or for boys and those choices make a huge difference as to what the future will hold for them. Once again I feel that it is academic challenge that allows kids to soar and that has to be there through the middle and high school years. Take the toughest choice classes you can, be involved in really stimulating learning experiences and you’re far more apt to be successful beyond. I kind of stumbled on some of that sorry.
One thing that I would change um to make things better for gifted children would be to have teachers pretest prior to teaching them and then take that information and do something with it. If I know that a cluster of students already has achieved what we expect for them to learn in the core curriculum and I know that through pre-assessment that frees me up to work with them on the same content but at higher levels.
One of the things that I think is so important in the area of gifted education is to build friends. Not among other gifted educators imparticular, because we do a good job with that, but it’s to provide linkages with decision makers in your schools, in your communities, and in your state organizations. It is to um broaden your interests and to help others understand what gifted kids can contribute and consequently you will have more support as you move along together with others.
A teacher or administrator or counselor who’s has has the educational opportunities in gifted education will be a teacher who is looking at a broad range of differences and is equipped with strategies to meet that diverse group of learners that will be in any classroom.