The theme of the 2012 TAGT conference, Building Connections, is rich in meaning for gifted students living, learning, and working in the 21st century. Functioning well in teams and groups, connecting meaningfully with others both digitally and personally, and learning from print and Internet sources as well as from one’s teachers, parents, and friends are important 21st century skills. In the same way, connecting one’s own work habits and lifestyle to the skills needed to do critical and creative thinking along with rigorous work are essential for success in the 21st century.
SELF-MANAGEMENT SKILLS: AN OVERVIEW
Perhaps the most basic and overarching of all 21st century skills is selfmanagement. It includes developing self-confidence, self-reliance, responsibility, and independence. It also encompasses persistence and effort, goal setting, time management and organization, and study skills. All of these self-management strategies can and should be taught to gifted students since many of them lack self-management skills. One reason is that they often progress successfully through the early years of school without being challenged or putting forth much effort. As a result, some gifted students fail to develop the self-management skills that other students usually master (Siegle & McCoach, 2005). This article explores some of these skills and gives suggestions as to how to help gifted learners master them.
Self-confidence is built when students realize that their own decisions and actions affect the outcomes of their lives. In other words, self-confidence grows when they recognize that success doesn’t come simply by chance or because someone was “just lucky.” It comes through making wise decisions about choices in life. For many gifted students, self-confidence increases when we point out and help them identify their own positive qualities, interests, and abilities and encourage them to make decisions that help build on these strengths!
However, there is a delicate balance between pointing out strengths on one hand and, on the other hand, having gifted kids get the message that they are so much smarter or better than anyone else! A graduation speech given by David McCullough Jr. in June 2012 at Wellesley High School in Wellesley, MA, emphasized that kids who grow up getting too many awards, trophies, and accolades (as gifted students often do) should realize that they are not special! He adds, “We have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement” (McCullough, 2012).
One strategy that may help as we try to enhance self-confidence while not giving our gifted kids undue praise and unearned accolades is to make sure they are connected to other gifted students and are exposed to the work and thinking of such students in their school, region, state, and even nationally and internationally. This raises the benchmark when they see the work of others in academic fairs, contests, and competitions whether in person or via the Internet. When competing and learning on a wider stage, many gifted students find their selfconfidence increasing as they accomplish higher and higher goals!
INDEPENDENCE AND RESPONSIBILITY
Two self-management skills, taking responsibility and developing independence, go hand-in-hand. The optimal way for these to develop is in tandem with one another. Students who are adept at building 21st century connections innately link the two. Each year they are a bit more independent and at the same time take on a bit more responsibility. Such students build important self-management skills that will benefit them throughout their lives (Coil, 2004).
On the other hand, other gifted students demonstrate a great deal of independence but little sense of responsibility. They do not manage their time well or appropriately prioritize the time needed to do their schoolwork and homework. They might stay up until midnight playing a video game or texting friends and then panic because they have not finished the school assignment they’ve had 2 weeks to work on! They often blame others when they do not complete required tasks or work at home or at school. These students rarely take responsibility for their own actions.
Another equally negative pattern is the gifted student who demonstrates no independence. His or her parents monitor homework assignments and other activities constantly. They schedule every minute of every day for their child, thereby never allowing any independence to develop. This child may not know when his assignments are due, but his parents know! An extreme example of this is parents who e-mail college professors to find out their children’s assignments. We sometimes call such parents “helicopter parents,” and we could also say they are teaching their children lifelong dependence.
For years I have advocated getting rid of the “Parents-to-the-Rescue” syndrome where parents regularly bring forgotten lunchboxes, notebooks, backpacks, and signed agenda books to school for their children. I promote allowing rescuing to a minimal extent in the lowest grades, then weaning kids from this dependence quickly as they advance through the grade levels. Writer Nancy Gibbs describes a “new revolution under way, one aimed at rolling back the almost comical overprotectiveness and overinvestment of moms and dads…[where] less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful” (Gibbs, 2009, p. 1, para 4). When this happens, the skills of both independence and responsibility can develop and flourish.
PERSISTENCE AND EFFORT
In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck explains that a person’s mindset can profoundly influence behavior. She has discovered that people with fixed mindsets believe that their achievements are based on innate abilities. As a result, they are less likely to take on challenges and are more afraid of failure. People with growth mindsets believe that they can learn, change, and develop needed skills. They are better equipped to handle inevitable setbacks and know that hard work can help them accomplish their goals (Dweck, 2006).
This suggests that we should think twice about praising gifted kids for being “smart” or “talented” since this may foster a fixed mindset. Instead, if we praise them for their efforts, acknowledging their persistence and hard work, we will support the development of a growth mindset—better equipping them to learn and persist in times of disappointment and failure.
I often think of this as a “monitoryour-mouth” strategy. In other words, we need to be careful in the feedback we give to gifted students and be conscious of how often we praise them for their effort, persistence, and hard work rather than telling them how gifted or intelligent they are. Gifted students who have been constantly praised about their intelligence and success generally pick the easiest activities and projects to do in school, and when faced with failure, tend to give up. Those praised for persistence and effort are more successful in the long run as they tend to choose more challenging assignments and classes and try harder in the face of failure and setbacks. This may go a long way in helping them deal with the inevitable challenges of life.
An essential 21st century skill is the ability to set goals and then work toward them. In an age of instant everything, many gifted kids simply assume they can dream big dreams and somehow they will happen. Fewer students appreciate that the way to realize their dreams is to set goals and then work toward them. Learning ways to build the connections between dreams and goals and then between long-term goals and short-term goals is crucial for success in school and in life. We can assist gifted children by helping them set realistic goals then offering suggestions of ways to achieve these goals. These do not need to be the same for each child or even for each gifted child. Give prompt feedback when assessing progress toward goals, focusing on growth and not on how far behind or ahead one gifted student is compared with others.
Because today’s kids are accustomed to everything being done instantaneously, it is hard for some of them to understand how the process of goal setting works, particularly setting a long-term goal and then accomplishing a series of short-term goals to achieve it. I have had success in using sports analogies as a means of showing students how goal setting works. Some of the analogies I use are as follows (Coil, 2004):
TIME MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATION
Many of us who have worked with gifted students over a number of years realize the value of differentiated instruction for gifted learners. Yet one of the major skills needed to be a successful learner in a differentiated classroom is skill in time management and organization. Especially when differentiation involves learning contracts, independent study, or completing alternate activities in a compactor, students need to be responsible for organizing and keeping track of their own work. In a differentiated classroom where everyone does not have the same assignment and where due dates may be different for each student, time management skills are essential. Assigning differentiated independent work is an excellent way to teach and have students practice organization and time management skills, but we cannot assume all gifted students have such skills (Coil, 2007)!
What, then, is the best way to teach these skills and connect them to the work gifted students are required to do at school? I suggest making a list of traits of a disorganized student, then using it as a checklist for students. Each item on the list should indicate a separate organizational skill. An Organizational Checklist I have developed is above (Coil, 2009).
This checklist helps to pinpoint areas where students need assistance in becoming more organized. If you look at the items a student marks “Yes,” you will see which areas are organizational problems for a particular student and can then begin working on them.
RESEARCH SKILLS: CONNECTING AND EVALUATING INFORMATION
I once had a gifted student say to me, “I got this information from the Internet, and if it’s on the Internet it has to be true!” This was 10 years ago. My hope is that all students are now more savvy information consumers than this student was in 2002. In an age of “Information Glut,” gifted learners, particularly those who do lots of work independently, need to develop skills in using and evaluating resources for independent study and independent learning. Some students may be happy simply cutting and pasting paragraphs from different sources. This is definitely not what we want because no critical or analytical thinking is involved! Others may want to connect and analyze information from a variety of sources but do not have the skills to organize the information or to be critical information consumers. Yet such skills are crucial in the Information Age.
More than ever before, we need to teach our students about the reliability and validity of sources. When almost all sources came in hardcopy, were edited by a professional editor, and originated from reputable publishers, reliability was not as much of a problem. However, with the advent of websites, social media, blogs, self-publishing, YouTube, and the like, this has changed. Today, anyone with personal agenda, a cause to advocate for, a strong opinion, or something to complain or disagree about can do so over the Internet with a look of authority. Lots of bad, incorrect, and misinformed information is out there and available, for we live in an age in which anyone can be an author, an actor, a self-appointed expert, or a publisher of their own work.
Students must be taught to discriminate and recognize reliable and valid versus poor sources of information. Information cannot be readily understood without evaluating its source and placing it in context. When researching appropriately, students will gather information from a wide variety of different sources, critically evaluate it, and then connect it to create a finished product. In doing so, they must learn to use both critical and creative thinking skills. They must analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the information they gather and develop the ability to understand, appraise, and integrate information from a wide variety of sources.
When information from the Internet reinforces students’ knowledge from past experiences and/or from ideas and facts they have obtained from other sources (e.g., books, teachers, magazines, newspapers, CDs, commercially- produced computer software, DVDs, and TV), they are more able to make the connections necessary to analyze and interpret their information.
On the other hand, when digital information is about an unfamiliar topic, comes in a vacuum, or is not connected to other ideas and experiences, incorrect, unreliable or biased information is more likely to be taken as truth. Much of what our students currently read and hear, particularly on the Internet, expresses some type of a bias. Bias exists when a writer or speaker uses a selection of facts (while omitting others), choice of words, tone, and point of view to convey a particular feeling, attitude, or opinion toward the subject.
At the same time, the Internet is increasingly becoming the first and preferred source of information for many of us; most certainly this is the case for the majority of gifted students.
Unquestionably, we can no longer assume that their information is going to come solely from the textbooks they are issued and the encyclopedias in the school library!
It is often difficult for students to judge how reliable their sources of information are. To develop this 21st century skill, learning to detect bias and propaganda and connect various sources of information together, gifted learners need to collaborate with one another and with their teachers, media specialists, and outside professionals. They must learn to compare and contrast information about the same topic from a variety of different sources.
I sometimes use a Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) analogy with gifted kids. Many popular forensic investigation shows on TV have characters looking carefully at evidence, some of which is contradictory evidence. They have to examine it closely to discover the truth. Often the truth is not the most obvious answer or contained in the first clue. They usually have to dig deeper and find out more. The same is true for doing research, whether one is using the Internet, print sources, social media, or various types of videos or pictures. Students have to learn to examine all of the evidence, dig deeper, and look at many sources before coming to the most logical conclusions they can.
Many gifted students need to improve their academic habits and develop better study skills. They often breeze through the early years of elementary school putting forth little effort to study. The end result is that they do not develop study skills nor the self-discipline and tenacity that usually accompany them. At some point in every student’s life, however, the time comes when he or she does not know the material being taught and can no longer breeze through. It suddenly becomes apparent that studying is a necessity in order to do well.
Building connections among the different areas of content being taught and between concepts within each subject is an important study skill. This generally leads to deeper understanding and not just rote learning in order to pass the test. Other skills we usually think of as study skills include:
Identifying the specific study skills that need to be built, enhanced, and improved for each individual student is extremely important. Even our highest achievers usually have targeted study skills that need to be further developed.
In this article I have highlighted a number of self-management skills essential for success in the 21st century. Many gifted learners will have mastered some of them; I daresay none have mastered them all. These skills do not exist in a vacuum. They are richly connected together to form the tapestry that makes up the 21st century gifted learner. One strategy I draw on to tie many of these skills together is using An Achiever Rubric (see above). Several skills are listed on the left-hand side of the rubric and the progression toward mastering each skill can be seen from left to right (Coil, 2004). Share this rubric with your gifted students or gifted children as they monitor their own progress in becoming achievers.
Carolyn Coil is an internationally known speaker, author, trainer, consultant, and educator who has worked in the field of education for over 30 years. Carolyn has served as an adjunct professor at several different universities and has worked in numerous countries with teachers, parents, and students, offering practical strategies for raising student achievement, differentiating curriculum, implementing a variety of assessment strategies, and dealing with the problems and challenges associated with preparing ourselves and our children for living and working in the 21st century. Carolyn can be reached at her website: www.carolyncoil.com
Coil, C. (2004). Becoming an achiever. Marion, IL: Pieces of Learning.
Coil, C. (2007). Successful teaching in the differentiated classroom. Marion, IL: Pieces of Learning.
Coil, C. (2009). Differentiation, RtI and achievement: How they work together. Marion, IL: Pieces of Learning.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.
Gibbs, N. (2009, November 20). The growing backlash against overparenting. Time Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/ magazine/article/0,9171,1940697,00. html#ixzz1zP9nIg2f
McCullough, D. (2012, June 7). You are not special commencement speech from Wellesley High school [Video file]. Retrieved from www.youtube.com/ watch?v=_lfxYhtf8o4
Siegle, D., & McCoach, D. B. (2005). Making a difference: Motivating gifted students who are not achieving. Teaching Exceptional Children, 38(1), 22–27.
Permission to reprint this article has been granted to The Davidson Institute for Talent Development from Tempo Magazine, a publication of the Texas Association of the Gifted and Talented (TAGT) http://www.txgifted.org/. This material may not be reproduced without permission from TAGT.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
The appearance of any information in the Davidson Institute's Database does not imply an endorsement by, or any affiliation with, the Davidson Institute. All information presented is for informational purposes only and is solely the opinion of and the responsibility of the author. Although reasonable effort is made to present accurate information, the Davidson Institute makes no guarantees of any kind, including as to accuracy or completeness. Use of such information is at the sole risk of the reader.