Guest post by Dr. Joanne Foster
Around the world, from Australia to Canada and points in between, parents of gifted learners are concerned about their children’s development and well-being. Parents want to ensure that their child is receiving a quality education consisting of meaningful learning, appropriate challenge, and progress.
What does that look like in practice?
The Truth about Gifted Learning Needs
No two individuals are the same. Research in such fields as educational psychology, cognitive development, and neuroscience, points to giftedness occurring across the population, irrespective of gender, cultural background, language, race, age, socio-economic status, or the presence of other exceptionalities. A gifted learner needs well-targeted learning opportunities in one or more domains at a particular point in time as required, and as their understandings and abilities continue to develop.
However, in order for children to have and maintain a love of learning, they also have to invest something else—effort!
Contrary to what some people might believe, high-level ability does not necessarily come easily. Intelligence, creative expression, skill-building proficiency, content mastery— these outcomes are the result of time and effort. To that end, parents are well-positioned to offer their child guidance and support, foster their motivation, and encourage them to make the most of their learning experiences.
The best way for parents to accomplish this is to ensure that their child has (or co-creates) learning opportunities that align with their individual needs, including their areas of strength and weakness, interests, and learning preferences. In other words, parents can champion an Optimal Match approach that empowers a child to learn what they need and want to know, over the short, medium, and long haul. Such an approach is predicated on differentiation and choice, and a range of options. These might include acceleration, single-subject enrichment, mentorships, flexible grouping, gifted classes, leadership initiatives, entrepreneurial pursuits, volunteer activities, cross-grade resource access, extracurricular activities, technology-based programs, guided independent study, project-based studies, or other possibilities. (See Being Smart about Gifted Learning to find out more about these and many additional Optimal Match alternatives.). Children’s needs vary, and are always in flux, and should be monitored and adjusted on an ongoing basis.
Effort Through the Lenses of Parents and Children
An Optimal Match approach empowers kids to take initiative, and to stick with tasks and activities because they’re relevant, enjoyable, and worth doing. When children see the value of their learning and feel that the pacing and expectations are fair, they’re more inclined to put forth the effort required to see things through.
Considerations that parents can keep in mind are manageability, goal attainability, and the kinds of supports that are in place if a child encounters difficulty along the way. Parents can also demonstrate the strategies that they themselves use to stay on track, overcome obstacles, confront changes, acquire resources, and maintain a positive attitude and productive outlook. Other important ways to reinforce children’s effort is to offer reassurance if they stumble, to convey genuine praise as they progress, to be available to respond to their questions and concerns, and to show faith in their abilities. Also, by becoming well-informed about gifted level development, neurodiversity, and a growth mindset, parents can help children understand that intelligence, creativity, and other forms of advancement accrue step-by-step, with persistence and hard work. That knowledge will strengthen kids’ resolve and serve them well across the lifespan.
Gifted-level ability is not a sure-fire ticket to success. An enterprising spirit, a sense of purpose, and connectivity with supportive others (such as family, friends, teachers, mentors) can make all the difference in how a child envisions and experiences their learning and personal growth. And, although an Optimal Match approach is responsive to individual levels of subject-specific competence at a given point in time, and presents variable means of meeting gifted learning needs and moving forward, effort is what provides the momentum.
In my upcoming podcast with Sophia Elliott for Our Gifted Kids, I’ll be chatting about how parents can encourage children’s effort and motivation, and I’ll be offering lots of practical strategies. I’ll discuss concerns, challenges, and ways to empower gifted learners at home, school, and elsewhere. I invite you to tune in!
Who is Dr. Joanne Foster?
Dr. Joanne Foster is an award-winning author who writes about child development and gifted education. Her most recent book is Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change (co-authored with Dona Matthews, 2021). For more information, and for access to many articles and timely resources on children’s well-being, creativity, intelligence, productivity, and learning, please go to www.joannefoster.ca.