Social, Emotional, and Psychosocial Development of Gifted and Talented Individuals
Dr. Anne Rinn is a Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of North Texas, where she also serves as Director of the Office for Giftedness, Talent Development, and Creativity. She has authored more than 50 publications related to the social and emotional development of gifted individuals and the psychosocial skills necessary for the development of talent. She is currently coeditor of the Journal of Advanced Academics, holds leadership positions in the National Association for Gifted Children and the American Educational Research Association, and she serves as a professional advisor to the Gifted Education Family Network. Her latest book, Social, Emotional, and Psychosocial Development of Gifted and Talented Individuals (2020), is an essential addition to professional learning libraries for K-12 educators and for professionals who work with children. We are thrilled to share our discussion with Dr. Rinn about this topic.
Q: Please tell us a little bit about the book. What do you cover and who is the intended audience?
In this book, I explored what is known about social and emotional development with a particular emphasis on how it relates to gifted and talented individuals, using existing theory and research as a basis. The book then moves into an examination of specific psychosocial skills that contribute to the development of talent. Topics include developmental theory, personality, perfectionism, sensitivity and intensity, self-beliefs, motivation, and counseling, among others. By providing both a background on the social and emotional development of gifted individuals and a discussion of specific psychosocial skills that are necessary for talent development, this book provides a thorough look at all components of affective development and growth from a variety of lenses. As such, the book is intended for both researchers and practitioners, as well as parents of gifted children.
Q: Your book opens with an exploration of the cognitive differences of gifted children. Can you share why it is important for educators and professionals concerned with social and emotional development and wellness to also learn about and understand these cognitive differences?
Most theories in the field of psychology about cognitive, social, and emotional development are based on typically developing populations. And, most developmental milestones and trajectories happen similarly among typically developing individuals. However, intellectually gifted children can experience accelerated cognitive development. Gifted children experience the same developmental milestones and trajectories as typically developing individuals, but there are no theories to explain if or how advanced or accelerated cognitive or intellectual ability affects social and emotional development. Cognitive development is a precursor to social and emotional development, and most components of development happen along a similar age-based trajectory. We do not have any evidence to suggest social and emotional development is accelerated like cognitive development in intellectually gifted children, but questions remain about if and how an accelerated cognitive developmental trajectory can impact the social and emotional developmental trajectory among intellectually gifted children. Many call this “asynchronous development” in the field of gifted education.
It is vital that practitioners and parents have an understanding of cognitive, social, and emotional development and how development might (or might not) look different for intellectually gifted children. A lack of understanding or awareness could lead to inadequate or inappropriate educational opportunities for gifted children, decreased social and emotional well-being among gifted children, and, in some cases, misdiagnosis of gifted children.
Q: The discussion of ethnic-racial identity among high-ability individuals seems especially important for everyone concerned about diversity in GT programs. Why should educators learn about intersectionality and respond to the challenges faced by gifted learners from diverse backgrounds?
Simply put, intersectionality is an approach to the way we measure and understand multiple categories of identity, difference, and inequality (e.g., gender, race, disability). For example, suppose I wanted to examine the social experiences of boys and girls in middle school. It would be far more illustrative to examine multiple categories rather than just focus on one. So, instead of just boys versus girls, I would look at, for example, the experiences of boys with a disability, boys without a disability, girls with a disability, and girls without a disability. I could take that further and add in race or socioeconomic status… boys with a disability who are from high socioeconomic status backgrounds, boys with a disability who are from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, etc. The point is that the more we consider about a person and try to understand their “multiple categories”, the better we will be able to meet their needs.
Q: I would love to talk about the section on the Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect. It seems so important for both parents and educators to understand the points you cited, including the positive outcomes of ability grouping and the longitudinal effect of placing gifted students in specific classrooms or programs. We know that schools sometimes resist ability grouping, and that some schools even intentionally spread gifted students across different classrooms rather than follow requirements and recommendations to group them together. Could you elaborate on the importance of ability grouping? What are the social and emotional implications of ability grouping?
The Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect describes a phenomenon by which students experience a slight decrease in self-concept upon moving into a class or program consisting of equally or more able students. For some students, transitioning from being the top student in their class or program to one of many top students can bring on a feeling of doubt about one’s abilities. However, the Big-Fish-Little-Pond effect does not occur for all students and if it does, it is typically short-lived. And, the benefits of a “big pond” far outweigh any brief feelings of doubt, which can also be worked through with a parent, teacher, or mentor.
Most research indicates that ability grouping fosters positive intellectual, academic, social, and emotional outcomes for gifted and talented students. For example, gifted adolescents often gain access to like-minded peers through advanced course enrollment (e.g., honors, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate), thus fostering both their intellectual and social/emotional development. Research has shown that highly able adolescents taking advanced coursework have larger networks of friends and more engaged friends than equally able adolescents who are not enrolled in advanced coursework. Advanced course enrollment is just one example; students talented in music, visual and performing arts, and leadership, for example, can experience similar positive social and emotional outcomes in groups of like-minded peers in organizations like band, choir, theater, and JROTC.
Q: While GT parents and educators understand the importance of robust GT programs and services, particularly for special populations, not all school administrators understand that need. When considering the psychosocial interventions and cognitive differences explored in your book, what advice would you give to parents or parent groups who wish to ensure that their districts understand the importance of maintaining strong GT staffing and services?
There are a number of valuable resources and organizations available for parents and parent groups looking to advocate for gifted students and gifted services. The Gifted Education Family Network, of course, is a fantastic place to start (https://giftededucationfamilynetwork.org/). Here you will meet like-minded parents and find a wealth of resources. Similarly, the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented (https://www.txgifted.org/) and the National Association for Gifted Children (http://www.nagc.org/) have parent strands and plenty of resources on advocacy (e.g., see Advocate for Gifted Children, http://www.nagc.org/get-involved/advocate-gifted-children).
GT parent groups serve so many purposes and I recommend emphasizing teacher training as one purpose of a GT parent group. I’ve seen GT parent groups send teachers to conferences and training opportunities (e.g., funding teachers to attend training for their six-hour updates on gifted education*), purchase relevant books for GT teachers and coordinators, and hold mini-conferences for parents and teachers to attend together, for example. GT parent groups can affect change, for sure.
The Gifted Education Family Network enthusiastically recommends Dr. Rinn’s book for use by educators, parents, and professionals who work with the gifted. The book may be purchased on Amazon or the Prufrock Press website, or parents may be able to borrow the book through a local library or interlibrary loan.
* Note from GEFN: Texas GT parent groups wishing to sponsor GT professional development scholarships for educators may wish to consider teacher training opportunities offered by the Baylor Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, by the Office for Giftedness, Talent Development, and Creativity at the University of North Texas, and other low-cost options.
Emily Villamar-Robbins, J.D. holds a Graduate Academic Certificate in Gifted and Talented Education and has served in multiple volunteer roles for gifted education at the local and state level. She serves as a member of the Texas Education Commissioner’s Advisory Council on the Education of Gifted Students.