There is a wide array of research available that pertains to gifted learners. However, much can be learned by going back to the basics. Basic developmental theories form the foundation of available information on characteristics of gifted learners and how to work with them. Understanding how learning occurs in general can help you be aware of how gifted learners may differ from their age peers, as well as decide which techniques are likely to be most effective with highly able students.
Possibly the theories that are best known to educators and have the widest application to education are the developmental hierarchies by Jean Piaget and Benjamin Bloom. Although these two theorists - and many others - divided their hierarchies differently, the concepts and applications are similar. What most, if not all, hierarchical theories of learning have in common is the notion that as a child develops and matures, his or her understanding of the world is limited first by neural development and second by his or her ability to incorporate experiences into a definition of the world.
Piaget -- According to Piaget, intellectual development follows physical development. Learning begins with interactions with the environment that are prompted initially through reflex and chance and later through purposeful action on the part of the child. As the child develops, actions become more purposeful and assimilation and understanding move from the physical to the abstract. Piaget divided development into four stages:
Piaget's work offers a helpful description of developmental stages as they relate to learning, however, Bloom's Taxonomy was developed specifically to describe the learning process to educators.
Bloom -- The purpose of Bloom's Taxonomy is to classify the goals of education for use as "the basis for building curricula and tests" thereby improving teacher performance. Bloom's Taxonomy identifies six major categories of proficiency:
Bloom's Taxonomy offers teachers a tool for developing a student-centered classroom by providing the framework for articulating specific outcomes in terms of student learning. The result is a classroom plan that emphasizes student skills rather than rote information. It also allows flexibility for teachers who are working with students of different levels. By setting higher outcomes for high-ability students, teachers can develop a lesson plan and set of activities that will satisfy the needs of students at various levels.
To further explore gifted education, we recommend reading the following:
Smutny, Joan. (2003) Gifted Education: Promising Practice. Phi Delta Kappa International. ISBN: 0873678451
Delisle, James. (1999) Once Upon a Mind: Stories and Scholars of Gifted Child Education. Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN: 0155031929
Clark, Barbara. (2001) Growing up gifted: Developing the potential of children at home and at school. Prentice Hall. ISBN: 013094437
©2004 Davidson Institute for Talent Development
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