Challenges in Teaching Gifted Learners in Social Studies Classes

By Laughlin, Margaret A. | Social Studies Review, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Challenges in Teaching Gifted Learners in Social Studies Classes


Laughlin, Margaret A., Social Studies Review


Historically, there is no common definition of what it means to be gifted. Definitions of giftedness respond to challenges in philosophies and theories of giftedness.

The highest function of the teacher consists not so much in imparting knowledge as in stimulating the pupil in its love and pursuit.

-Henri Frederic Amiel (1821-1881), Swiss philosopher

Throughout history the education of gifted young people has been a challenge to society. For example, in ancient Sparta military skills were valued, while in Athens, upper class males attended private schools for both academic and physical fitness. Plato, however, accepted both females and males on the basis of their intelligence and physical stamina rather than on family social position. The Romans reserved the opportunity for higher education for males although at times some females were included. For example, Cornelia, the mother of the Roman statesmen Gaius and Tiberius Gracchus was offered education. During the Renaissance, Europe recognized and rewarded gifted men of the arts such as Michelangelo, da Vinci, Boccacio, Bernini, and Dante, among others (Colangelo & Davis, 1991).

China, as early as the Tang Dynasty (618 BC), brought child prodigies to the imperial palace where their gifts were nurtured. The Chinese leaders realized that even the most gifted of young people would not develop to their potential without special training. This is also true today in China and elsewhere as talented young people often receive specialized training in athletics and the arts. Sumerian children during the Tokugama period in Japan (1604-1868) received intellectual training as well as training in the martial arts. Poor children were trained in loyalty, obedience, and diligence to serve the government (Tsuin-chen, 1961).

In the United States, both historically and at present with a few exceptions, interest in gifted and talented young people has waxed and waned. There was a resurgence of interest in gifted and talented education with the launching of Sputnik in 1957; but this interest lasted only about five years when the focus of attention shifted to serving the disabled and disadvantaged in the "War on Poverty" programs as a part of the Great Society movement. Interest in gifted programs today is high among parents of gifted and talented children and others who are committed to educating these youth to their full potential. A continuing question is: "How can teachers challenge gifted students to excel in their academic learning and meet their intellectual and other needs both now and in the future?" Curriculum choices and instructional activities to meet their intellectual capacities do not just happen; they must be well planned in advance to meet student needs in both the affective and cognitive domains. Students must engage in activities that require them to work primarily at the higher cognitive levels of Bloom's taxonomy: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Swissinger, 1985). The planning of curriculum content and the selection of instructional strategies are complex, dynamic, and offer special challenges to teachers. There is a need to develop an expanding knowledge base in gifted education.

Historically, there is no common definition of what it means to be gifted. Definitions of giftedness respond to challenges in philosophies and theories of giftedness. They are based on characteristics of learners, educational approaches, research, and changes in the global community such as technology development, demographic changes, urbanization, and cultural diversity among others. Often giftedness refers to students who perform at high levels of intellectual, creative, and academic skills and/or exhibit leadership competencies. The latter may be embedded quietly into the curriculum. Many gifted students perform well in the visual and performing arts that heighten sensitivity and creatively. The arts also offer emotional outlets and other mediums of expression for talented learners (Seeley, 1989). …

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