Getting the Most Out of Gifted and Talented Programs

Working the Brain

Katie McClarty encourages her seven-year-old daughter to make choices at school that are always “working her brain.”

“A library book she picked up might be too easy,” Katie says. “Are there enough words on the page that she doesn’t know? So we talk about how she might challenge herself with a different book that stretches her a little more,” Katie says.

Katie’s daughter was recently admitted to a gifted learning program in their Texas school district. As the director of Pearson’s Center for College and Career Success, Katie says she’s been impressed by the level of personalization in the program.

“They’re doing a good job evaluating students and matching them with educational resources,” Katie says. “Math is my daughter’s thing and she’s in an accelerated class. Writing is not, so she’s in a different class.”

Flexibility in Gifted and Talented

Katie’s work with Pearson—and her appreciation for her daughter’s classes—is based on the idea that all children should learn something every day. “Gifted and talented learners may need deeper exploration or they may need to move faster on a particular topic,” she says. “It’s important that an education system have the flexibility to provide these opportunities.”

Katie was herself a gifted learner, growing up in Iowa. “In rural communities,” she says, “there may not be a lot of opportunities to explore at different paces—or meet other learners who needed the same things.”

Summer camps introduced a young Katie to other students with accelerated learning needs. She thrived. Today, she has a doctorate in psychology and an expertise in gifted and talented programs.

“Gifted and talented programs give many children the freedom to be themselves, even push themselves,” she says. “Sometimes, you’ll even see learning-related behavioral problems disappear once they enter a gifted learning class.”

A Mix of Challenges

Katie says she’s often asked by parents of gifted learners for guidance navigating the array of program options for their children. “Parents can get easily stressed about picking the right experiences for accelerated learners,” she says.

“I always recommend a broader view,” Katie says. “Give them lots of opportunities to be challenged in lots of different ways. Don’t stress about one decision—and you can always reevaluate.”

Katie points to a study published in the Journal of Educational Pschology, led by Jonathan Wai at Duke University. The study talks of educational challenges in terms of “dosages.”

“Young learners—all of us—need an appropriate mix of challenges,” she says. “It’s never just one thing.”