Tips for Parents: Gifted Kids and Groupwork
Balzac, S.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This Tips for Parents article is from a seminar hosted by Stephen Balzac, who takes a look at the process of groupwork and how it applies to gifted students.

Group Stage


Psychological Characteristics

Minimum Duration




Dependency and Inclusion

2-3 Months

Groups in the dependency and inclusion stage are focused mainly on learning how to interact. The primary concern is emotional safety. Communication tends to be erratic. There is a heavy emphasis on conformity and members will tend not to disagree. This lack of disagreement will generally be seen as a strength; in fact, it is caused by anxiety and fear of losing face. Group members in this stage tend to not admit, or even recognize, when goals are unclear. The atmosphere of the group is one of tension, anxiety, ambiguity, and dependency. There is little sense of connection to other group members.



Counter-dependency and Fight

2-3 Months

Group members feel comfortable enough to argue with one another. Previously accepted ways of doing things suddenly come under question, and everyone has their own opinion of what to do. The leader is challenged and the conflict often becomes nasty, especially when the group members lack social skills, awareness, or experience. Personal dislikes may well dominate. Typical school groups may last just long enough to reach this stage.



Trust and Structure

1 Month

It is very rare for a school group to last long enough to get to this stage. Members have learned to argue effectively and have developed some level of trust in one another. The group has evolved effective communications and clear goals.





Members have learned to work together and use all available resources to solve the problem. Conflicts are brief, but intense. School groups virtually never get here. Indeed, even amongst professionals less than 25% of groups make it to this stage.

Table 1. Phases of Group Development (based on Susan Wheelan's "Group Processes: A Developmental Perspective"



How to Build

Things to Avoid


How much do group members have in common? Are they connected by shared interests, a common vision, liking or appreciation for one another?

Look for opportunities to build connections. Name the group. Find common interests. Show appreciation for one another’s accomplishments, whether in the group or not, academic or not. Acknowledge their ideas. Establish structure (call the first meeting).

Ignoring the other kids. Treating them as unimportant. Dismissing their ideas or interests.
Teachers: avoid creating groups of widely varying ability or of kids who dislike each other.


How much does the group try to control its members?
How freely can they work?

Work to clarify goals early. Speak to the teacher and ask questions. Establish time tables and check points so that kids can work independently. Invite input and ideas from others.

“I can do it myself” steps on the autonomy and competence of the rest of the group. Ordering people around steps on their autonomy.
Avoid like the plague the mantra that there “is no I in team.” Dismissing personal investment has the effect of crushing feelings of autonomy.


How much do we feel we are capable of doing the job? People like to feel competent.

Praise successes, in the group, in related areas, or in anything. Look for ways each person can contribute to the group. Give ideas a fair hearing, don’t just dismiss them. Take the time appreciate progress.

“I can do it myself.” Telling others how to get things done (also steps on autonomy). Telling everyone the “right” answer. Belittling or ignoring ideas put forth by others.

Table 2. Emotions in Group Development

While work can be done at any stage, the amount of energy it takes to be productive is greater the earlier the stage of the group.

Groups that bud off of an existing group generally start from the parent group’s stage. Since most classrooms function at stage 1, a classroom work group may get a running start into stage 2.

Social loafing tends to occur when there are too many group members for the complexity of the project, or when the project does not easily decompose into pieces.

Grading the group as a whole tends to encourage social loafing. Grading members individually tends to reduce or destroy group cohesion. The key is to take both individual and group results into account.

Groups will tend to ostracize members who deviate from the norms of the group. The norms of early stage groups are often at least somewhat random and frequently have little to do with getting work done.

Taking the attitude that “I can do this project myself” will tend to alienate the rest of the group, and potentially cause them to unite against the gifted kid in the group.

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