'Giftedness is suitable as a concept, but not as a label'
'Giftedness is suitable as a concept, but not as a label'

'Giftedness is suitable as a concept, but not as a label'

We can still make significant strides in recognising and guiding talented and gifted people. People are regularly labelled as gifted, but it is questionable whether this benefits them. Lianne Hoogeveen, professor by special appointment of identification, support and counselling of talent at Radboud University, aims for her research to contribute to a healthier approach to talented and gifted people. Hoogeveen gave her inaugural lecture on 8 March.

She cited a classic example: a child is drawing during class and the teacher confronts the pupil about this instead of recognising their creativity and talent. “We are not always able to spot talent, and when we do, we often don't know how to deal with it,” says Hoogeveen. And that can have unpleasant consequences. “These consequences can range from totally bored children to demotivated and depressed adolescents.”

In addition, labelling pupils as gifted not only distinguishes them from their classmates but also inherently classifies the others as non-gifted.” “The giftedness label may lead to expectations that a child might not be able to meet. And that is partly due to ‘implicit theories’: the prevailing – but unspoken – ideas about giftedness.” Hoogeveen cites an example: “Previous research has shown that accelerated education, for example skipping a class, has a positive effect on gifted children. Nevertheless, many people assume that it is never a good idea to place a child in an environment with older children.”

Twice exceptional

One of Hoogeveen's studies is about identifying these implicit theories. “In collaboration with universities in other countries, we want to see what ideas about giftedness are common among teachers and children. What are their beliefs about the characteristics of giftedness?” By expressing these ideas, they can be brought up for discussion, if necessary, resulting in more realistic ideas about talent.

A second study, based on network analysis, has the aim of gaining insight into the needs of ‘twice exceptional’ children by mapping out the interaction patterns of gifted children. “These are children that not only have characteristics of giftedness, but also characteristics of learning problems and/or behavioural problems.” Thirdly, Hoogeveen conducts research into gifted children in environments with a low socio-economic status.

Fickleness or advancing insight?

According to Hoogeveen, the current approach to giftedness has emerged from our performance-oriented society. “People are judged by their mistakes instead of being given room to learn from these mistakes”, says Hoogeveen. “In politics, for example, if politicians change their mind on a issue, they are seen as fickle, but you can also see this as advancing insight. We are afraid to question our beliefs and take risks.” For gifted children, this can mean that teachers do not venture to meet their needs if that requires deviating from the usual teaching methods.

Although there is still a lot to gain in recognising and guiding giftedness, Hoogeveen sees positive developments. “The coalition government has provided subsidies for partnerships between schools. These are used to fund enriched classes for pupils and training courses on giftedness for teachers. In the meantime, researchers are studying the impact of these projects on the pupils.”

In Hoogeveen’s ideal world, the term giftedness has become obsolete. “Ideally, we would be able – in both education and the wider societal environment – to identify talents in every child and deal with them in such a way that they can develop optimally. Until then, giftedness is suitable as a concept, but not as a label.”

Photo: Jeswin Thomas via Unsplash

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Radboud Centre Social Sciences
Behaviour, Education, Upbringing