For nearly a century, educators and psychologists have debated the nature of intelligence, and more specifically whether intelligence is just one broad ability or can take more than one form. Many classical definitions of the concept have tended to define intelligence as a single broad ability that allows a person to solve or complete many sorts of tasks, or at least many academic tasks like reading, knowledge of vocabulary, and the solving of logical problems (Garlick, 2002). Other psychologists believe that instead of a single factor, intelligence is a collection of distinct abilities. Still, other psychologists believe that intelligence should be defined in more practical terms. We’ll review three perspectives on intelligence, Spearman’s g, Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, and Gardner’s Frame of Mind. Understanding theories of intelligence will help us understand variations in students’ intellectual abilities.
British psychologist Charles Spearman believed intelligence consisted of one general factor, called g, which could be measured and compared among individuals. Spearman focused on the commonalities among various intellectual abilities and deemphasized what made each unique. There is research evidence of such a global ability, and the idea of general intelligence often fits with society’s everyday beliefs about intelligence. Partly for these reasons, an entire mini-industry has grown up around publishing tests of intelligence, academic ability, and academic achievement. Since these tests affect the work of teachers, I return to discussing them later in this book.
Video 7.1.1. Intelligence explains the different definitions of intelligence and the nature/nurture debate in the context of intelligence.
Measuring Intelligence: Standardization and the Intelligence Quotient
The goal of most intelligence tests is to measure “g,” the general intelligence factor. Good intelligence tests are reliable, meaning that they are consistent over time, and also demonstrate validity, meaning that they actually measure intelligence rather than something else. Because intelligence is such an important individual difference dimension, psychologists have invested substantial effort in creating and improving measures of intelligence, and these tests are now considered the most accurate of all psychological tests. In fact, the ability to accurately assess intelligence is one of the most important contributions of psychology to everyday public life.
Intelligence changes with age. A 3-year-old who could accurately multiply 183 by 39 would certainly be intelligent, but a 25-year-old who could not do so would be seen as unintelligent. Thus understanding intelligence requires that we know the norms or standards in a given population of people at a given age. The standardization of a test involves giving it to a large number of people at different ages and computing the average score on the test at each age level.
It is important that intelligence tests be standardized on a regular basis, because the overall level of intelligence in a population may change over time. The Flynn effect refers to the observation that scores on intelligence tests worldwide have increased substantially over the past decades (Flynn, 1999). Although the increase varies somewhat from country to country, the average increase is about 3 IQ points every 10 years. There are many explanations for the Flynn effect, including better nutrition, increased access to information, and more familiarity with multiple-choice tests (Neisser, 1998). But whether people are actually getting smarter is debatable (Neisser, 1997).
Once the standardization has been accomplished, we have a picture of the average abilities of people at different ages and can calculate a person’s mental age, which is the age at which a person is performing intellectually. If we compare the mental age of a person to the person’s chronological age, the result is the intelligence quotient (IQ), a measure of intelligence that is adjusted for age. A simple way to calculate IQ is by using the following formula:
IQ = mental age ÷ chronological age × 100.
Thus a 10-year-old child who does as well as the average 10-year-old child has an IQ of 100 (10 ÷ 10 × 100), whereas an 8-year-old child who does as well as the average 10-year-old child would have an IQ of 125 (10 ÷ 8 × 100). Most modern intelligence tests are based on the relative position of a person’s score among people of the same age, rather than on the basis of this formula, but the idea of an intelligence “ratio” or “quotient” provides a good description of the score’s meaning.
Figure 7.1.1. Examples of the types of items you might see on an intelligence test.
The Wechsler Adult lntelligence Scale (WAIS) is the most widely used intelligence test for adults (Watkins, Campbell, Nieberding, & Hallmark, 1995). The current version of the WAIS, the WAIS-IV, was standardized on 2,200 people ranging from 16 to 90 years of age. It consists of 15 different tasks, each designed to assess intelligence, including working memory, arithmetic ability, spatial ability, and general knowledge about the world. The WAIS-IV yields scores on four domains: verbal, perceptual, working memory, and processing speed. The reliability of the test is high (more than 0.95), and it shows substantial construct validity. The WAIS-IV is correlated highly with other IQ tests such as the Stanford-Binet, as well as with criteria of academic and life success, including college grades, measures of work performance, and occupational level. It also shows significant correlations with measures of everyday functioning among people with intellectual disabilities.
Video 7.1.2. Brain vs. Bias provides an overview of the WAIS & WISC tests, standardization and validity, and IQ performance.
The Wechsler scale has also been adapted for preschool children in the form of the Wechsler primary and preschool scale of intelligence-fourth edition (WPPSI-IV) and for older children and adolescents in the form of the Wechsler intelligence scale for children-fifth edition (WISC-V).
Bias in Intelligence Testing
Intelligence tests and psychological definitions of intelligence have been heavily criticized since the 1970s for being biased in favor of Anglo-American, middle-class respondents and for being inadequate tools for measuring non-academic types of intelligence or talent. Intelligence changes with experience, and intelligence quotients or scores do not reflect that ability to change. What is considered smart varies culturally as well, and most intelligence tests do not take this variation into account. For example, in the West, being smart is associated with being quick. A person who answers a question the fastest is seen as the smartest, but in some cultures, being smart is associated with considering an idea thoroughly before giving an answer. A well- thought out, contemplative answer is the best answer.
Video 7.1.3. Watch this video to learn more about the history behind intelligence testing.
Theories of Intelligence
Psychologists have long debated how to best conceptualize and measure intelligence (Sternberg, 2003). These questions include how many types of intelligence there are, the role of nature versus nurture in intelligence, how intelligence is represented in the brain, and the meaning of group differences in intelligence.
Video 7.1.4. Theories of Intelligence reviews a few of the different theoretical views of intelligence.
General Intelligence Factor (“g”)
From 1904-1905 the French psychologist Alfred Binet (1857–1914) and his colleague Théodore Simon (1872–1961) began working on behalf of the French government to develop a measure that would identify children who would not be successful with the regular school curriculum. The goal was to help teachers better educate these students (Aiken, 1994). Binet and Simon developed what most psychologists today regard as the first intelligence test, which consisted of a wide variety of questions that included the ability to name objects, define words, draw pictures, complete sentences, compare items, and construct sentences.
Binet and Simon (Binet, Simon, & Town, 1915; Siegler, 1992) believed that the questions they asked the children all assessed the basic abilities to understand, reason, and make judgments. It turned out that the correlations among these different types of measures were, in fact, all positive; that is, students who got one item correct were more likely to also get other items correct, even though the questions themselves were very different.
On the basis of these results, the psychologist Charles Spearman (1863–1945) hypothesized that there must be a single underlying construct that all of these items measure. He called the construct that the different abilities and skills measured on intelligence tests have in common the general intelligence factor (g). Virtually all psychologists now believe that there is a generalized intelligence factor, “g,” that relates to abstract thinking and that includes the abilities to acquire knowledge, to reason abstractly, to adapt to novel situations, and to benefit from instruction and experience (Gottfredson, 1997; Sternberg, 2003). People with higher general intelligence learn faster.
Soon after Binet and Simon introduced their test, the American psychologist Lewis Terman at Stanford University (1877–1956) developed an American version of Binet’s test that became known as the Stanford- Binet intelligence test. The Stanford-Binet is a measure of general intelligence made up of a wide variety of tasks, including vocabulary, memory for pictures, naming of familiar objects, repeating sentences, and following commands.
Sternberg’s Triarchic theory
Although there is general agreement among psychologists that “g” exists, there is also evidence for specific intelligence “s,” a measure of specific skills in narrow domains. One empirical result in support of the idea of “s” comes from intelligence tests themselves. Although the different types of questions do correlate with each other, some items correlate more highly with each other than do other items; they form clusters or clumps of intelligences.
One advocate of the idea of multiple intelligences is the psychologist Robert Sternberg. Sternberg has proposed a Triarchic (three-part) Theory of Intelligence that proposes that people may display more or less analytical intelligence, creative intelligence, and practical intelligence. Sternberg (1985, 2003) argued that traditional intelligence tests assess analytical intelligence, academic problem solving and performing calculations, but that they do not typically assess creative intelligence, the ability to adapt to new situations and create new ideas, and/or practical intelligence, the ability to demonstrate common sense and street- smarts.
As Sternberg proposed, research has found that creativity is not highly correlated with analytical intelligence (Furnham & Bakhtiar, 2008), and exceptionally creative scientists, artists, mathematicians, and engineers do not score higher on intelligence than do their less creative peers (Simonton, 2000). Furthermore, the brain areas that are associated with convergent thinking, thinking that is directed toward finding the correct answer to a given problem, are different from those associated with divergent thinking, the ability to generate many different ideas or solutions to a single problem (Tarasova, Volf, & Razoumnikova, 2010). On the other hand, being creative often takes some of the basic abilities measured by “g,” including the abilities to learn from experience, to remember information, and to think abstractly (bink & marsh, 2000). Ericsson (1998), Weisberg (2006), Hennessey and Amabile (2010), and Simonton (1992) studied creative people and identified at least five components that are likely to be important for creativity as listed in Table 7.1.1.
Table 7.1.1. Important components for creativity
|Expertise||Creative people have studied and learned about a topic|
|Imaginative Thinking||Creative people view problems in new and different ways|
|Risk-Taking||Creative people take on new, but potentially risky approaches|
|Intrinsic Interest||Creative people take on projects for interest, not money|
|Working in Creative Environments||The most creative people are supported, aided, and challenged by other people working on similar projects|
The last aspect of the triarchic model, practical intelligence, refers primarily to intelligence that cannot be gained from books or formal learning. Practical intelligence represents a type of “street smarts” or “common sense” that is learned from life experiences. Although a number of tests have been devised to measure practical intelligence (Sternberg, Wagner, & Okazaki, 1993; Wagner & Sternberg, 1985), research has not found much evidence that practical intelligence is distinct from “g” or that it is predictive of success at any particular tasks (Gottfredson, 2003). Practical intelligence may include, at least in part, certain abilities that help people perform well at specific jobs, and these abilities may not always be highly correlated with general intelligence (Sternberg et al., 1993).
Gardner’s Frame of Mind
Theory of multiple intelligences: another champion of the idea of specific types of intelligences rather than one overall intelligence is the psychologist Howard Gardner (1983, 1999). Gardner argued that it would be evolutionarily functional for different people to have different talents and skills, and proposed that there are eight intelligences that can be differentiated from each other. A potential ninth intelligence, existential intelligence, still needs empirical support. Gardner investigated intelligences by focusing on children who were talented in one or more areas and adults who suffered from strokes that compromised some capacities, but not others. Gardner also noted that some evidence for multiple intelligences comes from the abilities of autistic savants, people who score low on intelligence tests overall but who nevertheless may have exceptional skills in a given domain, such as math, music, art, or in being able to recite statistics in a given sport (Treffert & Wallace, 2004). In addition to brain damage and the existence of savants, Gardner identified these 8 intelligences based on other criteria, including a set developmental history and psychometric findings. See table 7.1.2 for a list of Gardner’s eight specific intelligences.
Table 7.1.2. Howard Gardner’s eight specific intelligences
|Linguistic||The ability to speak and write well|
|Logical-mathematical||The ability to use logic and mathematical skills to solve problems|
|Spatial||The ability to think and reason about objects in three dimensions|
|Musical||The ability to perform and enjoy music|
|Kinesthetic (body)||The ability to move the body in sports, dance, or other physical activities|
|Interpersonal||The ability to understand and interact effectively with others|
|Intrapersonal||The ability to have insight into the self|
|Naturalistic||The ability to recognize, identify, and understand animals, plants, and other living things|
|Source: Adapted from Gardner, H. (1999). Intelligence Framed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York, NY: Basic Books.|
The idea of multiple intelligences has been influential in the field of education, and teachers have used these ideas to try to teach differently to different students. For instance, to teach math problems to students who have particularly good kinesthetic intelligence, a teacher might encourage the students to move their bodies or hands according to the numbers. On the other hand, some have argued that these “intelligences” sometimes seem more like “abilities” or “talents” rather than real intelligence. There is no clear conclusion about how many intelligences there are. Our sense of humor, artistic skills, dramatic skills, and so forth also separate intelligences? Furthermore, and again demonstrating the underlying power of a single intelligence, the many different intelligences are, in fact, correlated and thus represent, in part, “g” (Brody, 2003).
Nonetheless, whatever the status of the research evidence, the model itself can be useful as a way for teachers to think about their work. Multiple intelligences suggest the importance of diversifying instruction in order to honor and to respond to diversity in students’ talents and abilities. Viewed like this, whether Gardner’s classification scheme is actually accurate is probably less important than the fact there is (or may be) more than one way to be “smart.” In the end, as with cognitive and learning styles, it may not be important to label students’ talents or intellectual strengths. It may be more important simply to provide important learning and knowledge in several modes or styles, ways that draw on more than one possible form of intelligence or skill. A good example of this principle is your own development in learning to teach. It is well and good to read books about teaching (like this one, perhaps), but it is even better to read books and talk with classmates and educators about teaching and getting actual experience in classrooms. The combination both invites and requires a wide range of your talents and usually proves more effective than any single type of activity, whatever your profile of cognitive styles or intellectual abilities happens to be.
Extremes of Intelligence: Intellectual Disability and Giftedness
The results of studies assessing the measurement of intelligence show that IQ is distributed in the population in the form of a Normal Distribution (or bell curve), which is the pattern of scores usually observed in a variable that clusters around its average. In a normal distribution, the bulk of the scores fall toward the middle, with many fewer scores falling at the extremes. The normal distribution of intelligence shows that on IQ tests, as well as on most other measures, the majority of people cluster around the average (in this case, where IQ = 100), and fewer are either very smart or very dull. Because the standard deviation of an IQ test is about 15, this means that about 2% of people score above an IQ of 130, often considered the threshold for giftedness, and about the same percentage score below an IQ of 70, often being considered the threshold for intellectual disability.
Figure 7.1.2. Distribution of IQ Scores in the General PopulationThe normal distribution of IQ scores in the general population shows that most people have about average intelligence, while very few have extremely high or extremely low intelligence.
People with very low IQ define one end of the distribution of intelligence scores. Intellectual disability (or intellectual developmental disorder) is assessed based on cognitive capacity (IQ) and adaptive functioning. The severity of the disability is based on adaptive functioning, or how well the person handles everyday life tasks. About 1% of the United States population, most of them males, fulfill the criteria for intellectual developmental disorder, but some children who are given this diagnosis lose the classification as they get older and better learn to function in society.
Students with intellectual disabilities score poorly on standardized tests of intelligence. They may have limited language or impaired speech and may not perform well academically. Everyday tasks that most people take for granted, like getting dressed or eating a meal, may be possible, but they may also take more time and effort than usual. Health and safety can sometimes be a concern (for example, knowing whether it is safe to cross a street). For older individuals, finding and keeping a job may require help from supportive others. The exact combination of challenges varies from one person to another, but it always (by definition) involves limitations in both intellectual and daily functioning.
Video 7.1.5. Intellectual Disabilities defines intellectual disabilities (ID), explains the characteristics, and how to support students with ID.
Levels of Support for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities
Intellectual disabilities happen in different degrees or amounts, though most often are relatively mild. Traditionally the intensity or “amount” of the disability was defined by scores on a standardized test of scholastic aptitude (or “IQ test”), with lower scores indicating more severe disability. Because of the insensitivity of such tests to individuals’ daily social functioning, however, current trends are toward defining intensities by the amount of support needed by the individual. Table 1 summarizes the most commonly used scheme for this purpose, one created by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAMR, 2002). Levels of support range from intermittent (just occasional or “as needed” for specific activities) to pervasive (continuous in all realms of living).
|Table 7.1.3. Levels and areas of support for intellectual disabilities|
|Level of support||Duration of support||Frequency of support||Setting of support||Amount of professional assistance|
|Intermittent||Only as needed||Occasional or infrequent||Usually only one or two (e.g. 1–2 classes or activities)||Occasional consultation or monitoring by professional|
|Limited||As needed, but sometimes continuing||Regular, but frequency varies||Several settings, but not usually all||Occasional or regular contact with professionals|
|Extensive||Usually continuing||Regular, but frequency varies||Several settings, but not usually all||Regular contact with professionals at least once a week|
|Pervasive||May be lifelong||Frequent or continuous||Nearly all settings||Continuous contact and monitoring by professionals|
|Source: American Association on Mental Retardation, 2002: Schalock & Luckassen, 2004.|
As a classroom teacher, the intellectual disabilities that you are most likely to see are the ones requiring the least support in your classroom. A student requiring only intermittent support may require special help with some learning activities or classroom routines, but not others; he or she might need help with reading or putting on winter clothes, for example, but primarily on occasions when there is pressure to do these things relatively quickly. Students requiring somewhat more support are likely to spend somewhat less time in your classroom and more time receiving special help from other professionals, such as a special education teacher, a speech and language specialist, or an assistant to these professionals. These circumstances have distinct implications for ways of teaching these students.
Teaching Students with Intellectual Disabilities
There are many specific techniques that can help in teaching students with mild or moderate intellectual disabilities, but most can be summarized into three more general strategies. The first is to give more time and practice than usual; the second is to embed activities into the context of daily life or functioning where possible; and the third is to include the child both in social and in academic activities, rather than just one or the other. Let us look briefly at each of these ideas.
Giving More Time and Practice
If a student has a mild intellectual disability, they may be able to learn important fundamentals of the academic curriculum—basic arithmetic, for example, and basic reading. Because of the disability, though, the student may need more time or practice than most other students. They may be able to read many words by sight (day, night, morning, afternoon, etc.), but need longer than other students to recognize and say them. Or the student may know that 2 + 3 = 5, but need help applying this math fact to real objects; you (or a helper) might need to show the student that two pencils plus three pencils make five pencils.
Giving extra help takes time and perseverance, and can try the patience of the student (and of you, too). To deal with this problem, it may help to reward the student frequently for effort and successes with well-timed praise, especially if it is focused on specific, actual achievements; “You added that one correctly,” may be more helpful than “You’re a hard worker,” even if both comments are true. Giving appropriate praise is in turn easier if you set reasonable, “do-able” goals by breaking skills or tasks into steps that the student is likely to learn without becoming overly discouraged. At the same time, it is important not to insult the student with goals or activities that are too easy or by using curriculum materials clearly intended for children who are much younger. Setting expectations too low actually deprives a student with an intellectual disability of rightful opportunities to learn—a serious ethical and professional mistake (Bogdan, 2006). In many curriculum areas, fortunately, there already existing materials that are simplified, yet also appropriate for older students (Snell, et al., 2005). Special education teacher-specialists can often help in finding them and in devising effective ways of using them.
Adaptive and Functional Skills
Students with intellectual disabilities present especially clear examples of a universal dilemma of teaching: since there is not enough time to teach everything, how do we choose what to teach? One basis for selecting activities is to relate learning goals to students’ everyday lives and activities, just as you would with all students. This strategy addresses the other defining feature of intellectual disability, the student’s difficulties with adapting to and functioning in everyday living. In teaching addition and subtraction, for example, you can create examples about the purchasing of common familiar objects (e.g. food) and about the need to make or receive change for the purchases. Similar considerations apply to learning new reading or oral language vocabulary. Instead of simply learning words in a “basic reading” series (or reading textbook), try encouraging the student to learn words that are especially useful to the student’s own life. Often the student, not you yourself, is the best person to decide what these words actually are.
An adaptive, functional approach can help in non-academic areas as well. In learning to read or “tell time” on a clock, for example, try focusing initially on telling the times important to the student, such as when he or she gets up in the morning or when school starts. As you add additional times that are personally meaningful to the student, he or she works gradually towards full knowledge of how to read the hands on a clock. Even if the full knowledge proves slow to develop, however, the student will at least have learned the most useful clock knowledge first.
Include the Student in Group Activities
The keyword here is inclusion: the student should participate in and contribute to the life of the class as much as possible. This means that wherever possible, the student attends special events (assemblies, field days) with the class; that if the class plays a group game, then the student with the disability is part of the game; that if classmates do an assignment as a group, then if at all possible the student is assigned to one of the groups. The changes resulting from these inclusions are real, but can be positive for everyone. On the one hand, they foster acceptance and helpfulness toward the child with the disability; classmates learn that school is partly about providing opportunities for everyone, and not just about evaluating or comparing individuals’ skills. On the other hand, the changes caused by inclusion stimulate the student with the disability to learn as much as possible from classmates, socially and academically. Among other benefits, group activities can give the student chances to practice “belonging” skills—how to greet classmates appropriately, or when and how to ask the teacher a question. These are skills, I might add, that are beneficial for everyone to learn, disabled or not.
Gifted and Talented Students
Giftedness refers to those who have an IQ of 130 or higher (Lally & Valentine-French, 2015). Having extremely high IQ is clearly less of a problem than having extremely low IQ, but there may also be challenges to being particularly smart. It is often assumed that schoolchildren who are labeled as “gifted” may have adjustment problems that make it more difficult for them to create social relationships. To study gifted children, Lewis Terman and his colleagues (Terman & Oden, 1959) selected about 1,500 high school students who scored in the top 1% on the Stanford-Binet and similar IQ tests (i.e., who had IQs of about 135 or higher), and tracked them for more than seven decades (the children became known as the “termites” and are still being studied today). This study found that these students were not unhealthy or poorly adjusted, but rather were above average in physical health and were taller and heavier than individuals in the general population. The students also had above-average social relationships and were less likely to divorce than the average person (Seagoe, 1975).
Terman’s study also found that many of these students went on to achieve high levels of education and entered prestigious professions, including medicine, law, and science. Of the sample, 7% earned doctoral degrees, 4% earned medical degrees, and 6% earned law degrees. These numbers are all considerably higher than what would have been expected from a more general population. Another study of young adolescents who had even higher IQs found that these students ended up attending graduate school at a rate more than 50 times higher than that in the general population (Lubinski & Benbow, 2006).
As you might expect based on our discussion of intelligence, kids who are gifted have higher scores on general intelligence “g,” but there are also different types of giftedness. Some children are particularly good at math or science, some at automobile repair or carpentry, some at music or art, some at sports or leadership, and so on. The idea of multiple intelligences leads to new ways of thinking about students who have special gifts and talents. More recently, however, the meaning of gifted has broadened to include unusual talents in a range of activities, such as music, creative writing, or the arts (G. Davis & Rimm, 2004). To indicate the change, educators often use the dual term gifted and talented.
Qualities of the Gifted and Talented
What are students who are gifted and talented like? Generally, they show some combination of the following qualities:
- They learn more quickly and independently than most students their own age.
- They often have well-developed vocabulary, as well as advanced reading and writing skills.
- They are very motivated, especially on tasks that are challenging or difficult.
- They hold themselves to higher than usual standards of achievement.
Contrary to a common impression, students who are gifted or talented are not necessarily awkward socially, less healthy, or narrow in their interests—in fact, quite the contrary (Steiner & Carr, 2003). They also come from all economic and cultural groups.
Ironically, in spite of their obvious strengths as learners, such students often languish in school unless teachers can provide them with more than the challenges of the usual curriculum. A kindergarten child who is precociously advanced in reading, for example, may make little further progress at reading if her teachers do not recognize and develop her skill; her talent may effectively disappear from view as her peers gradually catch up to her initial level. Without accommodation to their unusual level of skill or knowledge, students who are gifted or talented can become bored by school, and eventually the boredom can even turn into behavior problems.
Partly for these reasons, students who are gifted or talented have sometimes been regarded as the responsibility of special education, along with students with other sorts of disabilities. Often their needs are discussed, for example, in textbooks about special education, alongside discussions of students with intellectual disabilities, physical impairments, or major behavior disorders (Friend, 2008). There is some logic to this way of thinking about their needs; after all, they are quite exceptional, and they do require modifications of the usual school programs in order to reach their full potential. But it is also misleading to ignore obvious differences between exceptional giftedness and exceptional disabilities of other kinds. The key difference is in students’ potential. By definition, students with gifts or talents are capable of creative, committed work at levels that often approach talented adults. Other students—including students with disabilities—may reach these levels, but not as soon and not as frequently. Many educators, therefore, think of the gifted and talented not as examples of students with disabilities, but as examples of diversity. As such they are not so much the responsibility of special education specialists, as the responsibility of all teachers to differentiate their instruction.
Supporting Gifted and Talented Students
Supporting the gifted and talented usually involves a mixture of acceleration and enrichment of the usual curriculum (Schiever & Maker, 2003). Acceleration involves either a child’s skipping a grade, or else the teacher’s redesigning the curriculum within a particular grade or classroom so that more material is covered faster. Either strategy works, but only up to a point: children who have skipped a grade usually function well in the higher grade, both academically and socially. Unfortunately skipping grades cannot happen repeatedly unless teacher, parents, and the students themselves are prepared to live with large age and maturity differences within single classrooms. In itself, too, there is no guarantee that instruction in the new, higher-grade classroom will be any more stimulating than it was in the former, lower-grade classroom. Redesigning the curriculum is also beneficial to the student, but impractical to do on a widespread basis; even if teachers had the time to redesign their programs, many non-gifted students would be left behind as a result.
Enrichment involves providing additional or different instruction added on to the usual curriculum goals and activities. Instead of books at more advanced reading levels, for example, a student might read a wider variety of types of literature at the student’s current reading level, or try writing additional types of literature himself. Instead of moving ahead to more difficult kinds of math programs, the student might work on unusual logic problems not assigned to the rest of the class. Like acceleration, enrichment works well up to a point. Enrichment curricula exist to help classroom teachers working with gifted students (and save teachers the time and work of creating enrichment materials themselves). Since enrichment is not part of the normal, officially sanctioned curriculum, however, there is a risk that it will be perceived as busywork rather than as intellectual stimulation, particularly if the teacher herself is not familiar with the enrichment material or is otherwise unable to involve herself in the material fully.
Obviously acceleration and enrichment can sometimes be combined. A student can skip a grade and also be introduced to interesting “extra” material at the new grade level. A teacher can move a student to the next unit of study faster than she moves the rest of the class, while at the same time offering additional activities not related to the unit of study directly. For a teacher with a student who is gifted or talented, however, the real challenge is not simply to choose between acceleration and enrichment, but to observe the student, get to know him or her as a unique individual, and offer activities and supports based on that knowledge. This is essentially the challenge of differentiating instruction, something needed not just by the gifted and talented, but by students of all sorts. As you might suspect, differentiating instruction poses challenges about managing instruction.
There is a lively debate among scholars about whether it is appropriate or beneficial to label some children as “gifted and talented” in school and to provide them with accelerated special classes and other programs that are not available to everyone. Although doing so may help the gifted kids (Colangelo & Assouline, 2009), it also may isolate them from their peers and make such provisions unavailable to those who are not classified as “gifted.”
Video 7.1.6. Gifted and Talented Students: Teaching Strategies suggests ways to support gifted students.