Below is an excerpt from the book entitled: THE HANDBOOK OF SCHOOL COUNSELING: COUNSELING THE GIFTED AND TALENTED. It has not yet been published (so you get to read it first). It is written for school counselors, who I believe are very integral to student success. The authors of this book are Corissa C. Lotta, PhD; Barbara A. Kerr, PhD; and Erica A. Kruger, MS. I have been corresponding with Dr. Lotta at the University of Wisconsin-Madison regarding the use of on-line curricula for gifted students. Enjoy.
Gifted and talented students are some of the most rewarding and challenging students for the school counselor. It’s surprising, then, that these students are so seldom discussed in counseling training programs, despite evidence that these students are at-risk for negative academic and social-emotional outcomes, including underachievement, drop-out, stress, and depression (Colangelo & Davis, 1997; Kerr, 1991; Lovecky, 1993; Moon, Kelly, & Feldhusen, 1997; Silverman, 1994). While there is a great deal of literature and research on gifted students, very few school counselors have been required to demonstrate proficiency in these topics in the course of their education and training. Of course, this does not mean that they will not encounter these students in their school counseling work – gifted students are in every school at every grade level. It does, however, mean that school counselors may not have the knowledge required to identify and support this population, nor the ability to recognize the importance of providing services that address their specific needs (Adams-Byars, Whitsell, & Moon, 2004; VanTassel-Baska & Baska, 2000).
The Unique Academic and Social/Emotional Needs of Gifted Students
The importance of being knowledgeable about these students is illustrated by the following vignettes. Although identifying information has been changed, each of these scenarios is based upon actual individuals with whom the authors have worked in a counseling setting.
Matt, a 3rd grade Caucasian student at a small suburban elementary school, has a history of excellent school performance. He is well-liked by all of his teachers, involved in extracurricular activities, and appears to have friends. A recent phone call from Matt’s mother, however, indicates that Matt has been increasingly withdrawn and has been having difficulty sleeping.
Anita is a 5th grade Latina student at a medium-sized urban elementary school who has been referred to the school counselor due to frequent absences and issues with homework completion. Teacher reports about Anita’s performance are inconsistent. Most teachers report that Anita is struggling, but her math teacher notes that Anita’s work is often excellent, although at times it is often incomplete or not turned in at all. Anita is in a pull-out English Language Learner (ELL) class.
Jackie, a 7th grade African American student at a large urban middle school, has been referred to the Student Services Team by her teacher because she has become increasingly disruptive in the classroom. In particular, her teacher is frustrated with Jackie’s “attitude problem”, including complaining about certain assignments, talking out of turn, and her tendency to negatively influence other students. Jackie’s grades are average.
Before you read further, take a moment to consider the following questions: What are your initial impressions about these students and the issues that they are facing? What do you think your role as a school counselor would be in each of these situations? What interventions do you think would be needed in order to best meet the academic and social/emotional needs of these individuals?
Now, think about how your responses to these questions might change if you also had the following additional information:
Matt was identified as gifted in first grade and has been excelling in the school’s gifted programming. His teachers have described him as well-behaved and creative, although he occasionally seems to be preoccupied and “in his own head”. Matt’s mother states that he has a vivid imagination and has always been highly sensitive. While Matt has always had friends, recently he spends most of his time alone or with one particular friend, often playing elaborate fantasy games. Matt’s parents went through a difficult divorce two years ago, and Matt now lives with his mother, seeing his father every other weekend. School has always been enjoyable for Matt, although lately he seems less enthusiastic.
Anita and her family moved from Mexico when Anita was in the first grade. Spanish is the primary language spoken at home. Because her parents both work several jobs to support them and their extended family, Anita is responsible for caring for her younger siblings and often does not get to her homework until late at night. The teacher for her ELL class states that Anita is a quick learner and often provides tutoring and support for other students in the class. When asked, Anita states that she loves school, especially math.
A review of Jackie’s cumulative file indicates above average scores on standardized tests and strong academic performance throughout grade school. Previous teachers have described her as “well-liked, assertive, and determined.” Jackie is very involved at the community center near her home, and is widely considered a leader. She expresses a passion for acting and singing, and participates in her church choir and a local children’s theater group. Jackie reports that she doesn’t like school very much anymore, and is frequently bored.
Even though each of these stories is very different, there is a common thread that ties these students’ experiences together – giftedness. These vignettes illustrate that gifted students are diverse, both in terms of demographics and in how their giftedness is expressed. In addition, these vignettes help us to understand why accurate identification and knowledge of the specific academic, social, and emotional concerns of gifted students is so essential. Without appropriate support, Matt could become depressed and begin to underachieve; Anita may never be identified as having high ability and receive the guidance she needs to reach her potential; and Jackie may become increasingly bored and frustrated and eventually drop out of school. It is easy to see how, if one is not familiar with the characteristics and issues common to gifted children and adolescents, the specific needs of these students may go unmet: although the school counselor may recognize that there are problems or concerns, and even make efforts to intervene, without a comprehensive understanding of the role that giftedness plays in the student’s experience, these intervention attempts may not be most effective or efficient.