How can I help undercut talented students

Underchallenge stresses talented people

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Salzburg - The under-challenging of gifted students in class leads to stressful situations that are just as bad as the excessive demands of their classmates with learning difficulties - with this research finding, Willi Stadelmann, Rector of the Central Switzerland University of Education, let in at the 5th international congress of the Austrian Center for the Promotion of Talented and Talented Research at the beginning of November Salzburg sit up and take notice. "By not promoting, we create psychological abnormalities that we later have to iron out again with elaborate therapies," he warned.

The answer cannot be to isolate talented students from their colleagues, says Stadelmann: “If you have 25 students in a class, you have 25 different brain structures, 25 different learning preferences and so on - you can select the students as much as you can want. "The solution must rather lie in the inner differentiation and individualization of the lessons, he demands:" School and lessons must affirm differences between the children. "

Interest more important than IQ

The star guest of the congress, the American talent researcher Joseph Renzulli from the University of Connecticut, also spoke out against the isolation of gifted children from mainstream schools. There must be broadening and deepening learning opportunities for all students, he demands - after all, the interests of gifted students are very different.

In no case should one sort out certain students according to their intelligence quotient (IQ) and bother them with remedial lessons that they may not even want - while other students who just failed the IQ hurdle are excluded from the support.

Promotion "on suspicion"

Victor Müller-Oppliger from the Northwestern Switzerland University of Education took the same line: Funding must take place “on suspicion”, not just starting with an IQ of 130 (which only around two percent of the population achieve). The keyword is "internal differentiation". Skipping classes, on the other hand, is “a measure that is inexpensive and quick, but does not always solve the problems”.

Half of the talent is inherited

From twin and adoption studies one can conclude that about 50 percent of the performance differences between children and adolescents can be traced back to genetic predispositions, said Stadelmann. That is a lot, but by no means everything: “No matter how great a genes for music, a person can be born. He never automatically becomes a concert pianist. Lifelong learning needs lifelong stimulation. "

Above all, the family has "a huge responsibility for the cognitive development of children", because a good 25 percent of the differences are due to influences within the family. The rest, almost a quarter, can be traced back to factors outside the family - primarily to school education. “It takes intensive cooperation between school and home to promote the gifted,” concluded Stadelmann.

Early intervention, not "early stress"

But talent must be encouraged long before starting school. Talent is not a constant or a “gift”, explained Stadelmann, but a dynamic process that arises from the interaction of potential and stimulation. Nevertheless, early intervention should not degenerate into "early stress": "You always have to make it child-friendly."

In Austria, the top performance in schools is relatively little promoted, said Ernst Hany from the University of Erfurt. This is also reflected in the results of the international school performance comparison PISA, where Austria ended up in the good middle field in mathematics around 2003, but the top group lagged far behind their potential.

Overlooked 50 percent of the gifted

A better training for teachers is needed in order to recognize talented students in their classes as such, demanded Müller-Oppliger. Currently, up to 50 percent of gifted children are simply overlooked. Often this can be explained with routine effects. Teachers have to be taught to look for talents where they are not always suspected - for example in quiet, withdrawn girls or loud, annoying boys.

“The teaching practices that we offer teachers to deal with gifted children should be based on empirical research,” demanded Renzulli. To ensure this, one has to raise the training to a more scientific level, added Stadelmann: "Teachers must be trained so that they can read research reports." This is the only way to ensure the transfer of current educational research results into practice.

Universities should set up chairs

The universities, among others, should ensure more current research results on the promotion of talented students: The Ministry of Science wants to win over the universities to set up professorships for talent research, announced the head of the section, Friedrich Faulhammer. In any case, the number of participants showed that there was interest: around 600 interested people from nine nations were there in Salzburg. (Markus Peherstorfer,, 11.11.2008)