Best practices for work with highly gifted students

Presenter(s): Hildegard Cowan-Sobolewski

The presentation begins with the insight that highly gifted (hg) students are characterised by specific personality traits on one hand as well as manners of thinking and learning on the other hand that distinguish them from their average age peers.
The presentation then illustrates some of these traits by means of examples and analyses their causes.

Heightened sensitivity, a certain impatience, advanced social skills/empathy and a preference for relational learning (Beziehungslernen) – which may take the form of a mentorship with qualitative feedback- represent one aspect of the gifted personality. These traits are accompanied by a highly perceived self-efficacy (Bandura, Hohe SWE), the ability to motivate oneself anew, persistence with tasks and the ability to calm oneself down.

Hg students often think idiosyncratically and use subtle humour. These very characteristics are often misunderstood and leave the gifted and their peers with the impression that there is a blue in a green group. This otherness requires that an empathetic and strengths-oriented instructor intervenes early to prevent exclusion and mobbing.

With regard to thinking and learning, the presentation covers high perceptiveness, excellent observation skills and creative, divergent thinking with original and unconventional problem-solving strategies. The material to be learned must be meaningful and evoke involvement. Hg students independently determine the type, duration, and depth of learning.

The learned pyramid for hg students visualises the difference in thinking and learning with the resulting need to pose fitting tasks. The pyramid serves as an aid to gifted education specialists. It is critical to be aware of the gifted mental processing speed- which may reach 70times the average- in order to avoid superfluous repetitions and tasks with training character.

The efficiency that dominates the thinking and learning of hg students –is often surprising and can appear alienating, but leads to a rapid work tempo. Together with the excellent social skills, it contributes to an effective and results-oriented work rhythm.

Summary: According to Hartmut von Hentig, a strong personality is the goal of education («Strengthen the person and clarify the matter at hand», Hentig 1973-1984, Vortragssammlung). The promotion of giftedness guided by personality psychology leads a full use of giftedness. (« Giftedness cannot be used in full without the necessary motivation, self-control and the correct balance of all psychological resources» Julius Kuhl).

Personality psychology emphasizes the importance of attending to the typical personality traits of hg children and youths when structuring programmes for the gifted. If talent potentials are not fully used (discovered) und the conditions explained in the presentation, the goal described by Julius Kuhl and defined in personality psychology cannot be reached:
Human development from a knowing « I « to a congruent, internally harmonious Self .

Structure of the presentation:
• Conditions for a successful programme for the promotion of hg students
• Substantiation on the basis of experience and the results of empirical studies in the field of personality psychology
• Summary and recommendations for an open position regarding the empirically established special needs of hg children and youths