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Gifted & Creative Education: Developing Talents of Children in Schools (March 2018): Development of the Field

By Stephen T. Schroth and Kimberly McCormick

Development of the Field

Gifted children were first studied during the 1920s, when Lewis Terman began the longitudinal Genetic Studies of Genius study. Published in 1925, Terman’s Mental and Physical Traits of a Thousand Gifted Children was the first book published in the “Genetic Studies of Genius” series, which tracked the study. Like Terman’s books, Letta Stetter Hollingsworth’s work, for example Children above 180 IQ Stanford-Binet: Origin and Development (published two decades later), focused on children identified by means of standardized instruments but concentrated more on working with such students in the schools. During the 1950s, J. P. Guilford began to explore the structure of intellect, and he extended this work to include creativity and its development, especially divergent thinking, as he explained in The Nature of Human Intelligence. Though these pioneering works were (and continue to be) influential, in fact services supporting the needs of gifted and creative children in the schools only became common in 1960s and 1970s. During that era, federal interest in education of gifted and creative children exploded, causing many states and local education authorities to create mandates for gifted- and creative-education programs and to direct funds for that purpose.

Although relatively few books were published relating to gifted and creative education during the 1960s, the handful that were, in addition to Guilford’s, remain classics in the field. These include Virgil Ward’s Educating the Gifted, which provides an axiomatic approach; Jerome Bruner’s The Process of Education, which stresses the need for K-12 schools to provide instruction tied to disciplinary practices rather than the busywork common in many classrooms; and Hilda Taba’s Curriculum Development: Theory and Practice, which takes a curriculum approach. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the field focused on developing ways to provide gifted children with appropriate instruction and support in the schools. Emphasis was placed on giving gifted learners access to curricula that were both rigorous and relevant, and that closely mirrored issues and concepts being studied by experts in the disciplines. Benjamin Bloom’s Developing Talent in Young People examines common traits among gifted and talented youth across a variety of fields of endeavor and explores the best ways to motivate these learners. Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind, first published in the 1980s and now in its third edition, introduces Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. It proved revolutionary because it reshaped the way many in the field looked at bright children. Mortimer Adler’s The Paideia Proposal: An Educational Manifesto emphasizes the need to make discipline-based curricula the norm and, along with Taba’s Curriculum Development, has greatly shaped the thinking of those involved in gifted and creative education. These works continue to be hugely significant.

Gifted education programs seek to provide gifted and creative children with a continuum of services, a menu of educational options for administrators, teachers, parents, and students that are respectful of individual student differences. Works such as The Academic Acceleration of Gifted Children, edited by W. Thomas Southern and Eric Jones, suggest matching instruction to children based on their skills and needs rather than on their chronological age—a notion that began to reshape how schools provided services to children. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the field became more concerned with reaching populations of children who had traditionally been underserved by programs for gifted, creative, and talented learners. Problems related to the equity of gifted education caused some to question the very need for the field.  Rethinking Gifted Education, edited by James Borland, addresses this issue, and Donna Ford and J. John Harris’s Multicultural Gifted Education examines how some populations are underserved. Unfortunately, a national preoccupation with assessment and the achievement gap distracted many teachers and schools from working to provide gifted children with appropriate programming. Indeed, misguided concepts of “equity” continue to make some uncomfortable about providing more able children with work that is in their zone of proximal development.