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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Engaging the Gifted Learner

In advance of the August 29 Opening Day of the Quest Academy school year, our faculty met the preceding week. During a meeting led by our new Director of Teaching and Learning Beth Blaetz, our faculty was asked to produce visual representations of our curriculum that is so heavily influenced by the idea of linking all student learning to conceptual ideas – to lead our gifted students to grapple with our school-wide “Enduring Understandings.” An example of a Quest Academy “Enduring Understanding” for the subject of science is: “Classification is a thought process used to provide order.”

One such visual representation transmitted the idea of ignition. Igniting young gifted minds is indeed what our curriculum is intended to do. One of our school’s 15 Belief Statements reads as follows: Curriculum that first emphasizes conceptual understandings and applications facilitates the subsequent successful retention of discrete knowledge and specific skills.” For a complete list of the Belief Statements:

This belief statement is closely tied to the work of “Understanding by Design” curriculum experts Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. Designing the curriculum with big-picture conceptual understandings in mind is a necessary recipe to engage the gifted learner. It affords the gifted learner opportunities to grapple with abstract ideas, simultaneously providing the gifted student “hooks” (i.e. pathways in the brain) onto which they may attach more concrete and specific skills and knowledge. This curriculum design makes learning authentic, connected and relevant. It provides a reason for learning specific skills and knowledge.  

Imagine you are teaching a unit on comma placement. It is a valuable and necessary skill on one’s quest to become a great writer. Through a process of inquiry that will yield essential questions, we would first steer students to the understanding that spoken language uses techniques such as pauses, hand gestures, and voice fluctuations to provide greater meaning to the spoken language. From there, we guide students to the idea of written language. “How do we provide greater meaning in written language?” You can clearly begin to recognize that students will reach a meaning-laden framework as to why punctuation such as commas matters. The Enduring Understandings established at our school for the area of Writing are that “writing relies on conventions” or “the effectiveness of written language depends on organization.”

Gifted students are intrigued by conceptual ideas and passionate about enlarging their conceptual understandings with detailed and specific skills and knowledge. Here, too, we design our curriculum with the determinations of “important to know” and “worth being familiar with.”

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Transformation of Gifts to Talents

As we approach Opening Day of the 2011/12 school year at Quest Academy, I thought it wise to review our school's Belief Statements. For this initial "Gifted Education Perspectives" blog entry, I have chosen the statement listed in bolded letters -- it may well be my favorite one! For a complete list of the Quest Academy Belief Statements, please see

"Giftedness is exceptional intellectual, physical, creative, and/or affective capacity that can be transformed into extraordinary ability."

This belief statement is closely tied to the work of gifted education theorist Francoys Gagne, Ph. D., Professor of Psychology at the Universite du Quebec. Gagne developed the Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT), offering what I consider to be the clearest and most common-sense distinction of the terms 'giftedness' and 'talent.' By offering this distinction, Gagne makes a clear case that gifted learners require a special education to lead to superior talents.

"Giftedness designates the possession and use of untrained and spontaneously expressed superior natural abilities (called aptitudes or gifts), in at least one ability domain, to a degree that places an individual at least among the top 10% of his or her age peers."

"Talent designates the superior mastery of systematically developed abilities (or skills) and knowledge in at least one field of human activity that places an individual within at least the upper 10% of age peers who are or have been active in that field or fields."

Gagne outlines four basic giftedness areas:
  • intellectual
  • creative
  • socioaffective
  • sensorimotor.
These gifts are developed into talents. Thus, I prefer to think of school as a place of talent development.

School most certainly is among the most influential environmental catalysts to facilitate the successful development of talent. Certainly parents, coaches, and other mentors can play a significant part in talent development. But Gagne also points out that intrapersonal catalysts play a significant role in the development of talent. Motivation, volition, self-management, temperament, and acquired styles of behavior definitely influence the development of talent. It is my personal belief that we can help students develop and identify the optimal intrapersonal attributes required to develop talent. I call this area of teaching the "magic" that teachers possess.

For more information on Gagne's work, please see