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Gifted Child Today Magazine
Fall, 2001

Integrating an affective component in the curriculum for gifted and talented students.(social skills enhancement)

Author/s: Karen Johnson

A third-grade student, Joe, is academically gifted, but he is a behavior problem. He was placed in a self-contained special education classroom where most of the students have special needs and have been identified as mentally retarded. How could something like this happen? Could it be because Joe never had support in developing social skills? Cases like Joe emphasize the need to integrate an affective component in the curriculum for gifted and talented students. Affective education is an important aspect in today's schools, and it can be accomplished with little effort.

What Is Affective Education?

Some researchers believe affective education takes into consideration a students' learning preferences in order for him or her to become a successful learner. Raths, Harmin, and Simons (1978) perceive it as the teaching of values and morals that can be used to address children's basic needs.

Gardner (1983) hypothesized that affective education consisted of two intelligences: interpersonal and intrapersonal. Intrapersonal intelligence refers to understanding of oneself, cognitive style, feeling, and emotions and the ability to put this knowledge to use. Interpersonal intelligence refers to the ability to understand the actions and motivations of other individuals. This information is used to guide social interactions of daily life. Students who can demonstrate interpersonal skills are often leaders and organizers in the classroom. They may exhibit sensitivity to others' needs and feelings. Hatch (1990) proposed four components of interpersonal intelligence:

* organizing groups--an essential skill of a leader;

* negotiating solutions--the talent of a leader;

* personal connection--the talent of empathy and connecting, and the ability to recognize and respond appropriately to people's feelings and concerns; and

* social analysis--the ability to detect and have insights about people's feelings, concerns, and motivations, which can lead to an easy intimacy or sense of rapport.

Goleman (1995) reiterated the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EQ)--the ability of people to connect with and work with others. Emotional intelligence may help determine how well people use whatever skills they have, including raw intellect. People who are emotionally adept know and manage their own feelings well. According to Goleman, people who are able to read and deal effectively with other's feelings are at an advantage in all areas of life. When emotionally upset, people may not remember, attend, learn, or make clear decisions (Goleman). When a group comes together to collaborate, the ability to socially harmonize will lead to productive and successful completion of a project.

Understanding oneself and others, developing social and leadership skills, and applying them in all areas of life, are viewed as affective components in the curriculum.

Affective Needs of Gifted/Talented Students

Gifted children face emotional issues, as do other children; however, they may have a heightened self-awareness. In addition, gifted students may be perfectionistic or excessively critical of what they can do and achieve. Therefore, these same students may have a low self-esteem or a low perception of their abilities. This low perception can lead to underachievement as they may fear failure (Diaz, 1998).

Gifted children sometimes hide their abilities because they fear rejection by peers. Gifted girls, in particular, may face the difficulty of not being accepted by peers and teachers if they display their full potential. Only when they develop a sense of self, can gifted females develop appropriate career goals and base their career decisions on deeply held values (Badolato, 1998).

Some gifted students do not have the necessary social skills and are viewed as "strange" and avoided by peers. This social ineptitude can lead to isolation and loneliness (Goleman, 1995). Gifted and talented students need to learn how to accept their strengths and weaknesses, deal with personal characteristics, such as sensitivity and perfectionism, and to communicate and cooperate with others.

Including an Affective Component?

The cost of emotional illiteracy in the U.S. has taken its toll in the past decade. As compared to the two previous decades, the 1990s experienced a rise in school violence as evidenced by Columbine, CO; Pearl, MS; Jonesboro, AK; Fayetteville, TN; Moses Lake, WA; Springfield, OR; and Paduka, KY. On December 18, 1999, in Altamont, KS, five teenage boys were arrested and charged with murder conspiracy stemming from an alleged plot to shoot administrators, teachers, and a student at their school. At least 39 weapons were seized from the boys' homes (Five Teens, 1999). More recently, in February of 2000, the shooting of a six-year old by a classmate in Mount Morris Township, MI shocked the nation and left us asking, "Why would a child that age solve a disagreement with a gun?" Two more school shootings occurred in March 2001. In Santee, CA a young man described as a "nerd" by some, killed two and wounded 13 others (Shooting at California School, 2001). Two days later in Williamsport, PA a 14 year-old girl shot a female classmate for allegedly harassing another student (PA Shooting Suspect, 2001). This horrific trend in school violence reinforces the student need for a curriculum that would help them handle problems.

In the past decade, the U.S. has seen a doubling in the teen rate for forcible rape, a quadruple in the teen murder rate, and a triple in the teen suicide rate. Girls are getting pregnant at younger ages. There is a dramatic rise in the use of heroin and cocaine among teens, and an increase in teen mental illness (Takanashi, 1993). These trends demonstrate a desperate need for lessons in handling emotions, settling disagreements peaceably, and just plain getting along.

Studies show that there is a relationship between self-concept and a wide array of school related factors. The perceived social status among peers and perception of teacher and peers, specifically during participation in class discussions, toward school achievement, in self-directed learning situations, and toward the completion of school, can all be linked to a positive or a negative self-concept (Katz, 1994/1995). Research indicates that several conditions are needed to raise self-esteem and contribute to a positive self-concept. First, the student must have a feeling of being a part of a group. Second, it is important for peers, teachers, and parents to understand, accept, and respect the attributes and qualities that make the gifted child special and different. Third, the child must have a feeling of empowerment. He or she must be capable of influencing his or her life in important ways. Finally, the child must have positive role models from which he or she can form standards of behavior (Katz; Olenchak, 1999). A strong sense of self can be a vital motivating influence in achieving academic performance (Katz). Self-concept and self-esteem are major influences impacting an individual's desire to work, investigate, learn, solve problems, strive, achieve, and compete. A positive self-concept can be developed and enhanced through successful experiences in affective education.

A survey of American employers show that 40% of employees are not able to work cooperatively with fellow coworkers (Harris Education Research Council, 1991). An affective component added to the curriculum would help students develop the skills that American employers are looking for in employees. Employers want employees who listen, who have strong oral communication skills, who are adaptable and offer creative responses to setbacks or obstacles, who work well in groups and have interpersonal effectiveness, who are cooperative, who have strong negotiation skills, who want to make a personal contribution, and who have strong leadership potential (Goleman, 1998).

Maslow's hierarchy of needs offers a hierarchical theory on how to view the needs of all persons:

* physiological needs;

* safety or security needs;

* need for love and belonging;

* esteem needs; and

* self-actualization needs.

Beginning with physiological needs and culminating in self-actualized needs, each of these needs is met and incorporated into one's personality. Energy is then concentrated into the next level. This results in a lifelong quest where each seeks new growth and challenges (Katz, 1994/1995). The inclusion of an affective component within a curriculum can lead gifted students to becoming a self-actualized person and a lifelong learner, ready to meet new challenges.

Teacher's Role

Teachers have an opportunity to integrate an affective component in the curriculum that accomplishes these important tasks by motivating students, creating a safe learning environment, and establishing open lines of communication.

It is important for teachers to motivate their students. Unmotivated students are more likely to not participate or be involved with the school. Terrell Bell, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education said, "There are three important things to remember about education. The first one is motivation, the second is motivation, and the third is motivation." In order to enhance classroom motivation, teachers should create a series of successes through praise, encouragement, and intrinsic rewards. Through teacher guidance, students can learn that a completed project is a reward in itself (Badolato, 1998). As teachers recognize students' genuine accomplishments, they encourage students to attempt new things (Katz, 1994/1995). Ford, Alber, and Heward (1998) suggested that motivation acts as a "trap" that encourages gifted children to become engaged in learning. Traps can be motivational topics used to capture students' attention and interest. Ford et al. stated motivation comes from interests that are personally and culturally meaningful and relevant. For example, topics that trap students relate to heroes, fetishes, and classroom clubs. This allows students to develop friendships within the classroom.

According to Clark (1992), teachers of gifted students must be empathetic toward and inspire their students. In addition, they should tolerate ambiguity, be open, flexible, and innovative. When teachers share their enthusiasm, love of learning, and joy of living, they teach students to be authentic and humane. A deep personal commitment to knowledge, value of intelligence, intuition, diversity, and uniqueness in self and others is a must for teachers of gifted students. They need to value change, growth, and self-actualization for self and others. Teachers must provide a safe environment where students are respected as individuals, treated with empathy, given encouragement, and expected to achieve. Schools must create an atmosphere of excellence, not perfection, to help gifted children become realistic in their outlook on accomplishments.

There needs to be open and frequent communication among the adults working with gifted students. Parents and teachers should form an alliance to support the children. It is necessary for adults to try and understand the social milieu of the school through the eyes of the child. Talking openly about expectations for students can help gifted children feel more comfortable in school (Cross, 1997).

Taking time to get to know the child as an individual is of great value. The teacher can meet social and emotional needs easier if they have taken time to know the child's personality, interests, and needs (Cross, 1997; Olenchak, 1999). By understanding the child's personality, adults working with the child can help the child achieve better understanding and acceptance of his or her own nature and anticipate how to react to events and circumstances in his or her life.

Swiatek (1998) suggested some possible school solutions for supporting gifted youth and encouraging them to seek fulfilling social relationships without sacrificing academic achievement or the accuracy of their views about themselves and their abilities.

1. Schools should allow ability groups, either full or part time, so that gifted youth might be able to form a support group and feel less "different from normal."

2. School psychologists, counselors, or both should facilitate discussion groups on a regular basis to talk about concerns. Some gender-only groups might address issues specific to the gender group's concerns.

3. Teachers and parents should encourage activities with all students who have similar interests, such as the arts or athletics.

4. Teachers should be role models by treating all individuals of all ability levels with respect. Teachers need to avoid comparing students' work, even among gifted and talented students.

Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia's (1964) affective domain model helps to integrate the affective levels into a lesson plan. Gifted children can become aware and willing to learn about issues around them. The affective domain model emphasizes the development of an individual value system. The first level of the model, receiving, is concerned with gaining the student's attention. The student progresses from passive reception to active selection of stimuli. At level two, responding, interests are born. Students move from simple compliance, to active initiation, and finally to enthusiasm for an interest area. Valuing, the third level, is the heart of affective education. Students examine their own beliefs, and the beliefs of others, assign worth to certain values, and finally commit to living in accordance to chosen values. The last two stages of the taxonomy, organization and characterization, may be attained as individuals reach adulthood. These levels require considerable depth and maturity, and a sophisticated thought process (Raths et al., 1978). To include these affective levels in lessons, teachers should deliberately write out goals in the affective domain. Goals should run from a mere awareness of problems to formulation of complex values (Sonnier, 1989). There should be an emphasis on clarification of values, not having the "right" answer.

Implementing Service Projects

Meeting the affective needs of gifted students within the academic curriculum does not have to be a difficult task. Many affective concepts can be introduced, discussed, and taught via projects and service activities. The logistics of any project can be tied across the curriculum, and the completion of any project makes students feel important, admired, and valued.

A project could begin with study about an environmental concern in the community (e.g., vandalism of the neighborhood park). After students have had a chance to discover issues surrounding the concern, they could be encouraged to brainstorm solutions to the problem. Students may come up with a solution to the problem, such as renovating the park with school children doing the work. If this were the selected solution, then students could use their math skills to determine the cost of the project. Math skills would be used throughout the project to measure, determine costs, and order supplies. Writing skills would be used when students contact local businesses asking financial support. They could use their knowledge in psychology to "sell" the project to other students, thus creating an affective stake in the construction and maintenance of the park, and reducing or eliminating vandalism in the neighborhood park. Students would be using leadership and problem-solving skills throughout the entire project.

Another project idea would be for the gifted students to research an organization that benefits the community and needs donations. For this project, students identify a way to make money through a business (e.g., they might decide to roll newspapers to make logs for fireplaces). The students could plan advertisements to solicit the collection of newspapers and to sell the completed logs. Using many academic skills, students would figure the expenses and profits, and the logistics of collection and production, and marketing. This type of project allows students to develop a sense of community involvement and accomplishment as they raise money to benefit a community organization.

Working with younger students in the school system is another service project that older gifted students could develop. Gifted students' could become mentors to younger children and work with them throughout the school year. This would allow gifted students to help younger students with their classes or mentor specific students needing extra attention. Gifted students could meet the affective needs of younger at-risk students through mentoring, which at the same time, would provide all of those involved with a strong sense of well-being.

Affective education encourages students to become more involved in their personal growth, development, and fulfillment. It permits learners to assume responsibility in their own educational planning, which will lead toward them becoming responsible, caring adults (Sonnier, 1989). Integrating an affective component into a gifted program benefits students, schools, and society. If the basic needs of loving, belonging, self-esteem, and actualization can be met, gifted students may no longer feel the need to hide or deny their gifts and talents, which would only make the world a better place.


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COPYRIGHT 2001 Prufrock Press
in association with The Gale Group and LookSmart. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group