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Improving Thinking in the Gifted

Artkcle Taken from A Special Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education Publication
by Anthony J. Le Storti, Director, Center for Creative Studies, Gwyned-MercyCollege

          Gifted children offer special challenges in thinking skills development. Their gifts and talents cause us to believe that they already are good thinkers and that our work is to provide educational and developmental experiences that expose them to greater breadth and depth of content. In other words, we need to give them more to think about. But contemporary theory and research on the brain, intelligence, learning styles, etc. indicate that we have areas of natural strength and ability and other areas where our abilities are in need of development. And research in the area of expertise indicates that even gifted performers must pass through a number of necessary developmental stages to move from novice to expert.

The point is, while gifted children are on a fast track to mastery, that journey will likely require considerable advice, instruction and encouragement from parents and teachers. Gifted children have much to learn in order to maximize the development of their tremendous potential.

This learning should not be limited to acquiring more content or subject matter knowledge. It must include the development of powerful process (thinking) skills as well as the personal traits and dispositions that energize the good thinker.


Helping Children to Think

In order to help children to think, we must first let them think. As early as their development and maturity permit (relatively early for many gifted children), they should not only be allowed, but encouraged to solve their own problems and make their own decisions.


Parental guidance is of course called for, especially with younger children. How can this be done without great preparation? Don't respond with solutions when children ask, "What should I do about X ?" Instead, answer with evocative questions. ("What have you thought about doing?" or "What are all the things you could do?") Guide them as they solve their problems on their own. It keeps the ownership of the problem clear, and it encourages thoughtful and responsible action.

When they ask you to make decisions for them ("What course should I take?" or "What should I wear today?"), resist making the choice for them. Again, lead them as they move through the decision making process. Evocative questions can again be helpful. You could ask, "What goals do you have?" or "What's important to consider in choosing a course (or getting dressed)?"

Critical and Creative Thinking

We often hear about "critical thinking" or "creative thinking," and there seems to be a general affirmation that these are good things to develop. But these concepts are somewhat fuzzy, and that fuzziness is troublesome for the parent, the teacher, and the student focusing on developing thinking abilities. How does one teach or learn critical thinking if it is not clear what critical thinking is? Let's define these terms.

 "Critical" derives from the Greek kritikos, which means able to discern or judge. Critical thinking, then, is thinking oriented to the determination of the authenticity, accuracy, or value of a proposition or product. We are critical thinkers when we evaluate whether something is true or false, better or worse, correct or incorrect. We aid children in the development of their critical abilities when we teach them how to evaluate their own independent project, determine whether a politician or a television commercial is credible, and judge whether a painting or a piece of writing has artistic merit.