July 27, 2011
Teachers and experts in gifted education often downplay students' talents in non-traditional fields, such as the creative arts, according to an award-winning research paper by two Knox College faculty.
Educators asked to define "talented and gifted"
Jason Helfer, associate professor and chair of educational studies, and Stephen Schroth, assistant professor of educational studies, recently won a 2010-2011 MENSA Education & Research Foundation Award for Excellence in Research for their article, "Practitioners' conceptions of academic talent and giftedness: Essential factors in deciding classroom and school composition." The article was published in the Journal of Advanced Academics.
Helfer and Schroth asked 900 public school educators -- classroom teachers, administrators, and gifted education specialists -- to define academic talent and giftedness.
"Educators agree on all the popular conceptions of academic talent and giftedness, in areas such as intellectual and analytical abilities, but they were less likely to support definitions involving talents in the arts and other less-traditional areas," Helfer said.
Support for 'creative abilities' lacks depth
"We found that educators are starting to accept some of the newer, more inclusive conceptions of academic talent or giftedness," Schroth said. "However, we found that while educators value 'creative abilities' in general, when they decide what areas should receive additional support, they do not give very high rankings to specific creative arts, such as visual art, music, theatre and dance.
"The new Illinois Professional Teaching Standards demand that classroom teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of each student," Schroth said. "The survey data suggest that more work needs to be done so that all teachers are willing and able to do so."
The 2010-2011 award is the third research prize that Helfer and Schroth have received from MENSA in the past four years. They won the award in 2009-2010 for their paper, "Identifying gifted students: Educators' beliefs regarding various policies, processes and procedures," and in 2007-2008 for "Urban school districts' enrichment programs: Who should be served?"
Helfer and Schroth teach education courses at Knox and also co-direct the Knox College for Kids program. Helfer has taught at Knox since 2006. He earned a bachelor of music degree at Millikin University, and a master's degree in music and doctorate in education at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign. Schroth is a graduate of Macalester College. He completed a law degree at the University of Minnesota, a master's degree at Teachers College at Columbia University and doctorate at the University of Virginia. Both are active in the National Association for Gifted Children -- Schroth is chair of the NAGC Arts Network, and Helfer edits the NAGC Arts Network newsletter.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 48 states and 51 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.