Talent development research emphasizes that ability is malleable and domain-specific, rather than fixed and global in nature, and developed by specialized educational and training opportunities.
The goal of talent development is to transform potential and recognized abilities into domain-specific competencies, expertise, and creative productivity or eminence.
By: Susan Corwith and Anna Houseman
Opportunities and experiences at all stages of students’ lives are integral in shaping the adults they become. For today’s students, though, the pandemic stole valuable time, resulting in steep academic and social-emotional declines that will impact them for years to come.
As COVID-related disruptions disappear into the rearview mirror, the educational community must take time to reflect on the purpose of education and reevaluate strategies currently in place to prepare our next generation for their future. Instead of focusing solely on passing state assessments, remediating to address gaps, or identifying students for advanced academic programming, schools must become a place where all children can develop their talents.
Nurturing Talent from the Start
Nurturing talent must be an ongoing process rather than a single event. Programs must be re-envisioned with a lens toward adulthood, rather than doing only what it takes for students to get the best score on tomorrow’s test. And these programs must help all students – even the youngest ones – develop the skills they need to succeed in their lives and careers beyond graduation.
Talent development research emphasizes that ability is malleable and domain-specific, rather than fixed and global in nature, and developed by specialized educational and training opportunities. The goal of talent development is to transform potential and recognized abilities into domain-specific competencies, expertise, and creative productivity or eminence.
Looking at education from this perspective, there are two components that foster the critical and creative thinking, as well as problem-solving, skills required for talent development:
- Domain knowledge and skills – The ability, competence, expertise and detailed understanding of core topics.
- Psycho-social skills – Mental skills and social-emotional learning (SEL), such as a student’s ability to engage with others, regulate emotions and see themselves as capable.
Addressing a Mismatch in Learning and Student Needs
While these programs are seeing success, in many schools, students are unable to effectively develop their talents because there is a mismatch between the learning environment and student needs. Since achievement only tells one chapter of a student’s story, schools also must consider student abilities and social-emotional competencies. To truly identify opportunities to personalize learning based on student needs, schools must triangulate ability, social-emotional skills and achievement measures.
By looking through different lenses and evaluating these multiple measures, schools can hone in on student’s individual talents and engage them in ways they learn best in the classroom. Many districts are interested in this strength-based approach to learning and have to reimagine what learning looks like by starting pilot programs at individual schools or with certain groups to refine processes and leverage lessons learned as they scale to a wider population.
Richardson ISD in North Texas believes that everyone deserves an enriching learning environment, regardless if they are gifted learners or struggling students. The district developed a robust accelerated learning program and a creative approach to using ability data in every classroom to address this goal. They use a center-based classroom to provide opportunities for an educator to adjust their practices, ensuring constant student engagement and monitoring, while providing immediate feedback as the students work with collaborative peer groups.
Reinvented Programs Deliver Results
To help all students achieve at the highest levels, many school systems are leveraging student strengths and focusing on teaching them to apply skills and experiences in ways that help them grow. This is the approach taken by talent development-based gifted education services, such as the one in Elgin, Illinois. Elgin U-46 is a large suburban K-12 district northwest of Chicago that serves a socioeconomically, racially, linguistically and culturally diverse population of 36,000 students.
Over the last several years, Elgin U-46 redesigned its programs to support equity and access to advanced learning services. The district implemented several evidence-based practices – including the use of multiple assessments for identifying students for advanced programming, providing early-grade enrichment, and using a combination of universal screening and local norms for placement – with demonstrated results. During this time the number of Hispanic students in the program has doubled, better reflecting the population of the district’s student body.
Another example of an innovative talent development program is Project OCCAMS, a partnership between the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University, the Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary, and the Columbus (Ohio) City Schools. The cutting-edge program helps prepare students from low-income backgrounds for advanced high school courses.
Project OCCAMS develops and delivers an accelerated online English language arts (ELA) curriculum that compacts ELA standards for grades 7-9 into a two-year course sequence in grades 7-8. This allows students to earn a high school credit in middle school and enter high school one year accelerated. Coursework is facilitated through the Center for Talent Development’s online platform and uses a “hybrid” delivery model combining elements of online and in-class learning. Pilot teachers are engaged as co-developers of the curriculum using a design-based research model. All project partners also participate in an active online community where feedback, coaching and technical support are provided in near real-time.
As schools reimagine their roles in the post-pandemic world, a high priority must be given to developing the talents of all students, not just a select group that may do well on achievement tests. Educators and administrators must use a combination of measures – ability, achievement and SEL – to better understand each individual student’s style of learning and how to best engage them in the classroom. Personalized instruction that enables students to self-direct their learning in creative ways will be imperative as we prepare students for success beyond graduation.
Susan Corwith is the associate director at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development.