Studying the Meaning of Giftedness: Inspiration from the Field of Cognitive Psychology

By Miller, Erin Morris | Roeper Review, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview
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Studying the Meaning of Giftedness: Inspiration from the Field of Cognitive Psychology


Miller, Erin Morris, Roeper Review


How do we categorize our world so as to better understand and process the information streaming towards us? On a basic cognitive level, one must generalize and categorize new information so that one can better process it. The same concept applies to the identification of academically gifted students. We must identify academically gifted students so we can better serve them. However, there is one group of gifted students who are not being identified and therefore not served. The current education system in the United States often fails to identify academically gifted students who are not of the majority culture (Ford, 1998; Ford, Harris, Tyson, & Trotman, 2002; Stormont, Stebbins, & Holliday, 2001; U. S. Department of Education, 1993). This includes culturally diverse students, economically disadvantaged children, the differently abled, English Language Learners (ELL) and racial minorities.

Even though the vast majority of states have developed written policies that call for recognition, identification, and service for all gifted students including underrepresented gifted students (Coleman & Gallagher, 1995), the issue of underrepresentation persists. Despite efforts to create alternative strategies to identify students from diverse backgrounds, there remains a disproportionately small minority representation in programs for the academically gifted. Perhaps the policies recommended by the states to ameliorate the underrepresentation of students from diverse backgrounds in gifted programs are not being implemented. Perhaps they are being implemented inappropriately, or maybe they are being implemented, but are not working. Regardless, this is a significant issue in the field of education of the gifted.

There are myriad reasons for the underrepresentation of minority students, many of which are social and contextual (i.e., poverty, less supportive home lives) that cannot be adequately addressed by the school system (Donovan & Cross, 2002). However, one area that has a potential negative effect and thus deserves our attention is possible biases in the referral process (Donovan & Cross). Standardized tests and teacher nomination remain the most frequently used identification tools in American school systems (Coleman & Gallagher, 1995) despite suggestions from researchers that alternative methods such as dynamic assessment and portfolios be used (Hadaway & Marek-Schroer, 1992; Johnsen & Ryser, 1997; Kanevsky, 2000). Teacher nomination is often the gateway to even being considered for testing and subsequent inclusion in a program for the gifted. These teacher nominations may be limited because the teacher does not recognize gifted students who deviate from stereotypical traits associated with giftedness (Ford, 1998; Ford, Harris, Tyson, & Trotman, 2002). There are also possible negative expectations towards minorities and ELL students and a need for awareness of culturally valued behaviors that may differ from the mainstream (Bernal, 2000; Hadaway & Marek-Schroer; Weber, 1999).

In order to understand and recognize giftedness in children in general, and in culturally diverse children in particular, one must first have a sense of what giftedness means. In extension, in order to facilitate inclusive beliefs about giftedness, one must understand the implicit beliefs that teachers hold. When people engage in thinking, reasoning and other intellectual pursuits, or evaluate the thinking, reasoning and intellectual activities of others, they generally do not consciously use explicit theories such as those of Sternberg (1985; 1986; 1995), Gardner (1983; 1996), or Renzulli (1978; 1986). Instead, their thoughts, judgments, and possibly actions are based on their personal implicit conceptions or theories of these constructs (Argyris & Schon, 1974; Bluer, 1972; Lira, Plucker, & Im, 2002).

There is a relationship between teachers' theories about their students and their classroom practices (Dirkx & Spurgin, 1992; Lynott & Woolfolk, 1994; McCarty, Abbott-Shim, & Lambert, 2001; Rando & Mendes, 1991; Richardson, Anders, Tidwell, & Lloyd, 1991).

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