[The following handbook is presented as a practical guide for teachers, counselors, educational administrators, and parents to help them better understand and relate to their gifted students. It has been adapted for the web and posted with the author's permission.]
A Handbook for Consulting with Gifted and Talented
Dr. Barbara Kerr
Often a counselor's first introduction to the needs and concerns of gifted students is a bright student whose behaviors are so different from the norm that he or she comes to the attention of the guidance office. Cases that attract counselors' interest to issues of giftedness might include a high-achieving student who unexpectedly gets in trouble with the law; a high-IQ student who seems to be deliberately failing classes; or a student with broad interests and talents in a wide variety of areas who seems paralyzed by the need to make a career decision. These cases are jolting because they are at odds with the stereotype of gifted students prevalent in society at large as well as in education circles: that gifted students "have it all together." The stereotype is partly the result of a tendency to generalize the concept of giftedness to all behaviors that are socially desirable.
In the case of educators, the stereotype usually arises from a brief exposure in an education class to the best-known study of gifted students-that of Lewis Terman, which began in 1921. Terman's group of high-IQ children were a sample of mainly White, middle-class, California elementary students who had been selected by their teachers for testing (Terman, 1925). Most in this group were found to be achieving across school subjects, physically and mentally healthy, and extremely well-adjusted socially. That this sample was probably not representative of high-IQ students in general; that children of rare and specific talents were not included; and that the findings of psychological adjustment did not hold true for children at the highest IQ levels are facts generally not reported in textbooks or college classrooms. Most of us are content to operate according to a stereotype based on minimal or flawed information until we meet the child who shakes us out of our complacency.
The counselor who has decided to learn about the needs of gifted students and to provide differentiated services may face an uphill battle from teachers, administrators, and his or her own colleagues. Teachers are often unsupportive of differentiated counseling for gifted students because of negative experiences they have had with differentiated education.
Many teachers are aware that some gifted programs use ambiguous or capricious identification procedures. They may have seen pull-out programs of 2 or 3 hours a week of enrichment activities that lack planning or substance. Regular classroom teachers may resent the disruption of their usual activities for a program they find questionable. In addition, teachers may feel that gifted education programs are elitist and entail special privileges, particularly when the children selected are mostly upper-middle-class, advantaged White children. Other teachers feel pressured to provide special education for gifted students in the classroom, where there also may be students with a variety of disabilities, behavior disorders, and other special conditions requiring individualized attention. For these teachers, services for the gifted represent one more aspect of trying to be everything to everybody.
Administrators, too, have felt pressures that have made them wary of programs for gifted students. State guidelines and formulae for funding gifted education often involve rigid definitions and cutoffs that don't work well for all districts. Administrators must often find volunteer teachers, retrain teachers, or try to hire gifted educators from a scarce market.
Finally, although the vast majority of parents of bright students are supportive of and cooperative with the schools, every administrator can think of one parent who has made life miserable for the administrator, the teacher, and his or her own children with angry demands and unreasonable expectations. One such parent can sour an entire school district on the idea of gifted education.
A counselor's own colleagues may be skeptical about the counselor interest in gifted students. "What's good for gifted students is good for all students" they may say, or "I'm too busy helping those who are almost certain to fail to be able to help those who are almost certain I succeed." The counselor determined to develop his or her skills in counseling gifted students thus may find the process thankless and solitary
On the other hand, counseling gifted students has extraordinary rewards wards. The gifted are among the most challenging clients the counselor will ever see. Gifted students often have fine critical skills; they are able to analyze the counseling process and often give the counselor feedback on the effectiveness of his or her strategies. Although this can be disconcerting, it is also a way of learning about one's own skills. Gifted students are curious about the counseling process. They want to learn what the counselor knows, believes, and values. They are insightful an often demonstrate a complex and articulate understanding of themselves Counselors can receive as much intellectual challenge from counseling gifted clients as teachers invariably say they receive from teaching advanced and honors courses with the brightest students.
Gifted students, because of their great capacity for learning, are able to manifest new ideas as new behaviors. This capacity for learning new behaviors means that both counselor and client are able to see the result of their work together.
Finally, gifted clients appreciate the help they receive. Many gifted students who have visited our counseling laboratory for talent development have told us it was the first time they felt they had been take seriously by adults. Bright students seem to understand what they have been given by the counselor who has taken the time to listen, to gather and share information, and, together with the client, to work toward the client's goals. Their gratitude extends long past the time of their final counseling session. They write long and lively letters; they send poetry they decorate the counselor's office with their cartoons and artwork. They write to tell articulately and passionately of the events of their lives and the events in the worlds of science, the arts, politics, business, and education.
- "Academic Guidance and the Curriculum" [PDF]
- "Counseling the Underachieving Gifted Student" [PDF]
- "College Planning for Gifted Students" [PDF]
- "Career Counseling for Gifted and Talented Students” [PDF]
- "Counseling Gifted and Talented Girls" [PDF]
- "Psychological Adjustment of Gifted Students" [PDF]
- "Counseling Gifted Students: Techniques That Work" [PDF]
So much needs to be said about bright students, and making decisions about what to include in a book like this is a difficult process. Chapters, and whole books, need to be written on topics such as gifted children at risk, minority gifted students, and the gifted child in the family; information about these concerns is included within most of the chapters in this book. A Handbook for Consulting with the Gifted and Talented is only a modest gathering of research and effective practices with gifted students; but it represents what I hope is a useful beginning for the counselor who wishes to learn about and work with this fascinating group of students.