Nurturing the Arts in Programs for Gifted and Talented Students

Article excerpt

The authors make a case for including the development of talent in the arts as part of all programs for students identified as gifted and talented.

It was a warm day in June on a university campus, and teenage students were pouring out of cars to attend a two-week institute for academically gifted/talented students. The director of the institute, watching all this happen, asked us, as directors conducting a similar institute for artistically talented students, "Why have so many of these students brought guitars or other instruments? After all, this is an academic program, not an institute for music students." We replied that we thought it was natural because students can, and usually do, have the potential for high abilities in any number of talent areas. This scene took place a few years ago, and it prompted us to ponder how talents in the arts should be nurtured in comprehensive programs for the gifted and talented.

In the area of education for gifted and talented students, there is considerable research about teaching, curriculum modification, assessment, educational settings, and programming opportunities. Yet almost all of this research addresses the education of students with high ability in academic areas. Why do we assume that someone who scores high on science or mathematics measures does not have advanced talents and interests in the visual or performing arts? Why do we assume that someone with high abilities in the visual or performing arts doesn't have high abilities in academic subjects? How are "giftedness" and "talent" defined? What do schools value and reward as giftedness? Why haven't school programs for academically gifted and artistically talented students integrated their efforts?

Such questions have been largely ignored or dealt with casually in the literature on the education of the gifted and talented. We wish to try to answer these questions and to make a case for including the development of talent in the arts as part of all programs for students identified as gifted and talented.

It is important that students who are identified as artistically gifted and talented be brought together with others who have similar interests and abilities and be offered experiences that broaden and deepen their knowledge about art, sharpen their art skills, and present learning opportunities rarely found in regular classroom settings. Existing programs for students who have strong interests and high abilities in the visual arts should be studied to determine the most appropriate experiences for enriched educational purposes, for different levels of schooling, for various educational contexts, and for diverse populations.(1)

There are a number of programs for high-ability students in the visual and performing arts. However, these programs rarely press students to the high levels of achievement typically sought in good academic enrichment programs. We believe that all programs for the gifted and talented need to incorporate visual and performing arts as integral parts of gifted education, because these areas are often ignored in programs for gifted students, thereby stifling their natural interests and creative abilities. After a decade of administering a summer enrichment program for students between the ages of 11 and 16 and after more than 20 years of research in this area, we believe that students identified as gifted in academics are often equally talented in the visual and performing arts and that students identified as talented in the visual arts are often gifted in academic subjects as well.

Separating Arts and Academics

The Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Act of 1988 (P.L. 100-297) created a number of programs and research projects in which gifted and talented students were defined as "those identified by professionally qualified persons who, by virtue of outstanding abilities, are capable of high performance." This refers to young people who give evidence of being capable of high performance in intellectual activity, creative or productive thinking, leadership abilities, visual and performing arts, and psychomotor abilities and who require services not ordinarily provided by the schools in order to fully develop these capabilities. …

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