Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Development of Academic Talent: A Mandate for Educational Best Practice

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Development of Academic Talent: A Mandate for Educational Best Practice

Article excerpt

The case could be made that all of education should be about talent development, a view of schooling that focuses on the optimal, not the minimal, development of each student, Ms. Van Tassel-Baska suggests.

The earliest Western concepts of talent focused on what today we might call identification: observing and judging performance in specific domains valued by a society. This view has not changed very much since the days of ancient Greece. What has changed is that we have researched various constructs related to talent, such as giftedness, creativity, and motivation; our society has enlarged the domains of value to include more academic and nonacademic areas of learning; and our ways of observing talent have become more refined through testing specific aptitudes and general reasoning abilities. A monolithic view of giftedness simply as high intelligence has been displaced in favor of a multifaceted view of talents and abilities. That view continues to be extended and amplified in many ways.

In recent years there has also been a shift toward an emphasis on talent development as the central metaphor for gifted education. This contemporary trend might be traced to the publication of Howard Gardner's Frames of Mind, a work that excited the imaginations of many educators and inspired them to think about applying Gardner's ideas about multiple intelligences to classroom contexts and curricula.(1) Another precipitating event was the publication of National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent, a report that pointed out schooling practices that inhibit the development of America's talented youths.(2) These two events in education have spawned many editorials, articles, and reactions from general educators and educators of the gifted; both groups see the trend in highly positive ways.(3)

Yet it is clear that the shift toward thinking about education as a talent development enterprise did not originate with Gardner or the national report. The work of Julian Stanley and his colleagues in the 1970s, for example, provided a major emphasis on precocious talent in specific academic areas.(4) A. Harry Passow's work with Project Talent in the 1960s also focused the field on looking for talent to emerge in students through classroom-based approaches. Calvin Taylor in the 1960s and 1970s developed the "multiple talent totem poles," providing a theoretical and research base for the popular program Talents Unlimited, recommended for use with most learners.

The case could be made that all of education should be about talent development, a view of schooling that focuses on the optimal, not the minimal, development of each student. based on such an idea, many educational institutions have reformed their practice using talent development ideas. Whole schools have been founded and many others have been reorganized around the talent development concept as it applies to all learners.(5)

The more specialized talent search model for finding precocious talent identifies and serves more than 200,000 students per year through four national searches. Talent development efforts in the arts, especially through private lessons and tutorials, continue to thrive.(6) And parents, as the engineers of their own children's talent development processes, are becoming ever more discerning about appropriate opportunities at given stages of development.

High-Level Talent Development

Many researchers in the past 20 years have focused sharply on the processes of talent development that matter the most in producing high-level talent in various domains. Benjamin Bloom contributed important insights about the relationship between talent development in the academic domain and talent development in the arts and in sports, noting that the processes were virtually the same.(7) Key variables in the external environment that he cited included supportive parents or surrogates; excellent teaching in the talent area; special experiences, including competitions that served both to motivate and to encourage the next stage of the development of talent; and motivational encouragement to pursue the talent development process. …

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