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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The search for talent: the Holy Grail

There is a  common idea,  noticeable from psychologists and educational experts, about put  labels to learners and give them a place in an imaginary continuous line that cluster outstanding skills in the right side and educational needs at the left side.

If it's looked the continuum, everybody at the left or right requires special education or supports, and at this case, it must be admitted that not everyone learns the same way. But a second glance, suggests that all who are in the middle of the curve, have no problem.

Certainly there is no more pride for  parents that their child can be declared as gifted, while there is no greater grief than when someone tells them that their child will not be able to learn more than  few skills. The rest of the parents clean the sweat when their stems are declared as normal, not having this any other implication beyond what a psychologist says.

Going deep into this subject, there is much more that experts do not report.

The forward of the book La educación de niños con talento en Iberoamerica (Education of gifted children at Ibero-America) opens saying, "All people are entitled to receive an education that develops their full potential and allow them to build a life plan" (Benavides, Maz, Castro and White, 2004).

With  this idea, then it is clear that those who are at  the left side of the  curve would have the opportunity to develop skills while those who have the right side can not move beyond, since they know more than anybody else, they have reached the maximum their abilities based on scales of talent.

The text describes programs, ideas and notes about  how to work with  talented children in several countries, but if these children are the greatest intellectual achievement, is it possible to teach even more?.

The talent from psychology

In the purest psychometric eagerness has been measured the intelligence and the possible capabilities, searching to find those common features on the continuum of the curve of intelligence. For those who are at the left, it was assumed that lack the intellectual, emotional or social skills to relate with those who are at the center of the continuum (Winner, 1998; Artigas Pallares, 2003, Martos and Help 2004). While those who are at the right have a high intellectual capacities measured with psychometric instruments (Pendarvis, Howley & Howley, 1990; Lohman, 2000; Lohman, Korb and Lakin, 2008). But they lack the emotional skills to adapt to those who have left or center of the continuum (Genovard and Castello, 1990; Freeman, 2005; Freeman, 2008; Freeman, 2010).

But not everything that intelligence tests measure is useful to adapting to the environment: for example there are important aspects of the real-world intelligence that are not considerate. On the other hand there is a debate if that perspective is confusing intelligence with rationality, issues that do not necessarily go hand by hand (Stanovich, 2009). That's why even the smartest people can do things that are considered irrationals. At the same time, psychometric tests forget an important feature of the brain: emotions (Freeman, 2008). This aspect has been widely documented as the primary difficulty in children considered talented.

Stanovich (2009) shows that there are features such as divergent thinking or aspects of the  everyday life that have nothing to do with what psychological tests measure, moreover, when students have the opportunity  to reply  to problems, it may surprise to expertise researchers, for example, when gifted children can talk to  others about science and feel good by providing creative answers, beyond which we have assumed is the only one correct answer ( Freeman, 2003), or when a child, considered with limited capacity, achieved a task for which he or she has worked for several hours. And  those that are supposed are  the differences, actually are the result of the brain architecture, which is molded with repetition and experimenting with  the environment  (Manaut-Gil-Casares Vaquero, Quintero-Gallego, Pérez-Santamaría, Gomez-Gonzalez, 2004).

Thus, from the speech of educational experts that sounds so melodious, the obvious question is: IF "All persons are entitled to receive an education that develops their full potential and allow them to build their project of life", Why is segmented the continuum?, Why can we have only one position?, Why can't be together?, maybe to create an elite education?.

From the standpoint of Renzulli (1978) the differences between the continuum are not only concentrated in one area as many authors propose (Parra, Ferrando, Prieto and Sanchez, 2005; Rogers, 2006; Valadez Sierra, Betancourt Berbena Morejon and Zavala, 2006) they are determined from different skills set out in three areas: high intelligence, creativity and involvement in the task.

Can a child with Down syndrome or Asperger be creative?, If your reply at the speed of light that does not, then please do not continue reading this article,  you are not creative. Creativity involves providing innovative responses to common problems. And it's not a mystery that daily work requires creativity and divergent thinking abilities, however, this is not developed at educational institutions at basic or higher level (Solomon, 2007).

Considering its capacity, each new brain must be trained to grow from environmental stimulation; a process that needs decades and each person must discover for itself all skills needed to be employed on that journey called Life (Tubino, 2004). And it doesn't depend of any curricula or educative legislation.

Accepting that the human brain still evolving (Fox, 2011), depends on synaptic communication, the development of structures and protein exchanges neurotransmitters (Haier, 2009), makes learning a more complex issue than just locate someone on one side or the other of an imaginary line, and open a door to understand that learning is not something that can be X-rayed by a test applied at a specific time.

Neuroscience research suggests that human abilities depend on the neural network architecture, which is related to the space where the brain develops, as it is confined to the skull, shaping each structure in a particular way, some areas can be over-exposed to stimuli preventing the development of other areas, under two assumptions: the law of survival of the fittest and its use related with environmental responses (Roberts, Anderson, Husain, 2010). So that it’s not possible to talk about standardized education and less, support the idea that everyone learns the same way.

And it must be added the fact that there are other actors in education, research showing that success in the case of gifted children, has a big support of maternal scaffolding, that makes the difference between passing from a skill to another (Morrisey, 2011) and the same from mother of children with developmental disorders, since they are who promote socialization skills in their kids, if there is any doubt, it's only needed one question:  who did teach you how keep attention while reading?.

Talent does not equal intelligence

The talent or giftedness refers to that ability or skill set which has a particular facility (Prado Suarez, 2006), but the definition of any author, never says that it is restricted to the fine arts or science or sports. If so, where do entrepreneurial talent, or create or play video games fall?.

Intelligence is adaptation to the environment (Genovard and Castello, 1990; VanTassel-Baska, Xuemei Feng, Brown, Bracken, Stambaugh, French, McGowan, Worley, Quek and Bai, 2008), an action that requires talent. Though not necessarily arrive together, this worth mentioning, for example that as highlighted in the Savant, which is a developmental disorder that is part of the autistic spectrum. Main feature of this syndrome is that people can have a widely talent developed at the same time a profound intellectual difficulty (Winner, 1998).

Thus, it is argued that the provision of skills of each person, although it has a genetic aspect, at the same time depends on environmental stimulation (Willard-Holt, 2008).  Every one can have a special talent for playing the piano in an extraordinary way, but if you never had a piano in front, the talent can not be developed. That's why experience shapes capacities that will be most useful. However, genetic damage as those presented in the development disorders also shape brain structure.

Brain studies reveal that the patterns of gray and white matter and metabolic efficiency may delineate individual differences related to intelligence. That's why the smartest brains work differently (not better) in the strongest areas that has a better domain (Haier, 2009).

What structures will be more developed?, those that are  used more frequently, and that is because of the skills that create, cause more satisfaction in completing tasks. That feeling of: I can do it (Prado Suarez, 2006). However, under the law of the strongest, the strengthened  structures, will push and eventually block the development of the  other less useful  (Haier, 2009) which is why you can not be expert in everything, because the skills will be permeated by the use and management of them.

In the case of arithmetic, it’s found that the frontal lobe is more involved in this activity, and also opens the path to memory processes and analytical thinking (Serra-Grabulosa, Pérez-Pàmies, Lachica, Membrives, 2010), Even though, a good mathematician not necessarily is a good writer of poetry or have social skills. Einstein maybe is a good example.


In conclusion, it can be said that the differences in the continuum that psychologists have called intelligence, is simply due to the cytoarchitecture of the brain and that it results from interactions, and this determines the capabilities that each possesses. Starting from the extreme neuronal flexibility that, that which is not known today, can be learned from the appropriate teaching strategy, which may be different for each depending on experience.

Under the motto: “Everyone is entitled to receive an education that develops their full potential and allow them to build their project to life", there shouldn’t be distinction what side of that continuum is, left, right or in the middle, all people have the ability to build a life project, based on their own abilities and who is not able to tie your shoes, you may have the ability to paint pretty colorless pictures.

Academic skills are not the only ones that are valid in life; there are also artistic and sporting activities. There are sports stars, who have not reached higher education, but they have adapted to environmental needs and above all, they are happy.

Under this idea, the separation of the continuum although it may have educational benefits, it makes no sense neuro cognitively, and that all people have the right to find a place in life, a happy childhood and successful adulthood.

Alma Dzib Goodin

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Benavides, M., Maz, A., Castro, E. y Blanco, R. (2004) La educación del niños con talento en Iberoamérica. UNESCO/Trineo SA. Chile.

Fox, D. (2011) The limits of intelligence. Scientific American. 305 (1) 36- 43.

Freeman, J. (2010) Worldwide provision to develop gifts and talents: an international survey. CfBT Education Trust. UK.

Freeman, J. (2008) The emotional development of the gifted and talented. Gifted and talented provision. Optimus Educational. London.

Freeman, J. (2005) Counseling the gifted and talented. Journal Gifted Education International. 19. 245-252.

Freeman, J. (2003) Scientific thinking in gifted children. In P. Csermely & L. Lederman (Eds) Scientific Education: Talent recruitment and public understanding. IOS Press with NATO Scientific Affairs Division. Amsterdam.

Haier, RJ. (2009) What does a smart brain look like?. Scientific American Mind. 20 (6) 26-33.

Genovard, C. y Castelló, A. (1990) El límite superior. Aspectos psicopedagógicos de la excepcionalidad intelectual. Pirámide. Madrid.

Lohman, D. F. (2000) Complex information processing and intelligence. En R. J. Sternberg (Ed.) Handbook of intelligence. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK.

Lohman, DF.,  Korb, K.A. y  Lakin, JM. (2008) Identifying Academically Gifted English- Language Learners Using Nonverbal Tests A Comparison of the Raven, NNAT, and CogAT. Gifted Child Quarterly. 52  (4). 275-296.

Manaut-Gil, E. Vaquero-Casares, E. Quintero-Gallego, E. Pérez-Santamaría, J. Gómez-González, C.M (2004) Relación entre el déficit neurológico y el cociente de inteligencia en niños y adolescentes. Rev Neurol. 38 (1): 20-27.

Martos, J. y Ayuda, R. (2004) Desarrollo temprano: algunos datos procedentes del autismo y los trastornos del lenguaje. Rev Neurol. 38 (supl 1) S39-S46.

Morrisey, AM (2011) Maternal scaffolding of analogy and metacogtnition in the early pretence giften children. Exceptional children. 77 (3) 351-366.

Parra, J. Ferrando, M., Prieto, MD. y Sánchez, C. (2005) Características de la producción creativa en los niños con altas habilidades. Sobredotaçao, 6, 77-98.

Pendarvis, E., Howley, A., & Howley, C. (1990) The abilities of gifted children. Prentice Hall. USA.

Prado Suarez, RC. (2006) Creatividad y sobredotación: Diagnóstico e intervención psicopedagógica. Creatividad y Sociedad. 9. 110-120.

Renzulli, J. S. (1978) What makes giftedness? Re-examining a definition. Phi Delta Kappan, 60, 180- 184.

Roberts, R.E., Anderson, E. J., Husain, M. (2010) Expert Cognitive Control and Individual Differences Associated with Frontal and Parietal White Matter Microstructure. The Journal of Neuroscience. 30(50): 17063-17067.

Rogers, C. (2006) Niños superdotados: una capacidad intelectual superior. La Estación: revista de la asociación española para superdotados y con talento. 9 (12) 12-23.

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Valadez Sierra, MD., Betancourt Morejón, J. y Zavala Berbena, MA. (2006) Alumnos superdotados y talentosos: identificación, evaluación e intervención, una perspectiva para docentes. Manual Moderno. México.

VanTassel-Baska, J.,  Xuemei Feng, A., Brown, E., Bracken, B.,  Stambaugh, T.,  French, H., McGowan, S., Worley, B.,  Quek, C. and Bai. W. (2008) A Study of Differentiated Instructional Change Over 3 Years. Gifted Child Quarterly 52 (4) 297-312.

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  1. saludos cordiales subestimar la inteligencia es la cuartada de los que somos muy inteligentes que no estamos en la actividad social politica por ejemplo , por otra parte desconfiar de la propia inteligencia es una forma de autoparanohia osea desconfianza de uno mismo , la razon disecciona el problema por separado y luego en conjunto para resolverlo seria asi lo menos incorrecto , por otra parte genericamente la educacion mundial deve de mejorar con mas dinero becas proyectos investigacion y no son nociones las que deven de cambiar solo no es lo mismo 130 mas o menos 50 o 20 puntos mas que mas de 200 por otra parte mega y grail sociedades de superdotados respectivamente de 190 de ci en adelante mega y de 200 de ci en adelante grail deverian estar en españa en barcelona y madrid principalmente , nada mas de momento gracias , buenos dias

    1. Hi!

      I'm not sure if there is a wrong translation, between english and spanish, if so, I invite you to read this in spanish, because I am not saying intelligence is not important, at all, actually I am giving a different dimension to intelligence. I'm sayin that everybody has it and we must find the way to improve it. I am not against money to education, I'm againts saying is the only one need.

      I invited you to double check your speeling too... If one of my students write with so many mispelling I reject it. I published your comment because I think is a good debate but, oh my godness! Not even a first grade student has so many problems!!!.

      And taking this example as a topic to the article. I have two choices, ignore all mistakes or show you the mistake and you can learn from them. It's not about being intelligent or not, it's about spending time to learn. I do believe that even children with brain damage can learn, I see it every day!!

      Thank you very much for taking time to read me and leave a comment, I appreciete it!

    2. Por cierto, el término auto paranoia no existe en los manuales de enfermedades, solo existe la Paranoia como trastorno

    3. I ask some respect to readers, I tried to translate the comment and Google just can't detect the language, if author is complaining sounds serious. Please, avoid to write in another language, specially if this blog has a spanish version, I want to believe that's spanish. It's about respect our intelligence and yours.
      And comment is showing that is not understanding the topic of this post. What a shame!.

    4. This week we saw how a comment in a very serious magazine was spread about this kind of issues. People can post comments out of sense, even with no understanding of the subjects. You can have comments but there is a limit. Believe than education is all about money, is giving a really bad feeling to Africa, Cuba, or any other poor country. You are poor, so you can't be intelligent. Rich can have higher intelligence is an ignorant point of view. On the other hand, As the article says: how can this persons explain the higher level of intelligence of a Savant? this has been the ral and hard question to answer since this article was published, I would love an answer on that line and I would beg some respect for poor countries, and as Sara says, readers. This blog has a spanish version, "spanish" not whatever language this comment was written, thanks.

  2. I ask comments with a real name and deep ideas, or debate. Anonymous comments are not respectful for author, readers or minds. Let's use our right to think!

  3. I have been thinking about all this, and first of all, I appreciate all comments, I don't expect all can be good, and this actually made me think deeply. I agree with Dolores, if education and intelligence is about money, then I couldn't have a good education!:)

    I have been working so hard to find that "something" that make us wonder about when we see very poor persons showing a high level of talent and creativity, or when we can enjoy the amazing talent of Savants persons. I do believe there is something deeper, something biological that goes beyond culture.

    I learned this past weekend that veins grow when we work out constantly, because our body needs more oxigen and if one vein is blocked, another grow as a bridge, so working out is good to give more oxigen to all our body. We know neural conection work the same way, neurogenesis has been seen only at some areas, like hippocampus, but there is new network conection when we parctice something constantly.

    If we accept that poor or handicaped children can't learn, or being intelligent and talented, then... we accept destiny, and I'm sorry, but I can't accept that!. I don't want to say: poor girl! you are deaf and blind!!!... I see it every single day!, come on! brain is much more than that!. Because every day biolgical systems show us that other senses and system can keep the brain working!!

    The other thing is: if intelligence is so important, why high intelligence show so much depression?. and why not only inteligent persons are not leading the world. There is no evidence that very high level schools are producing genius.

    I do believe everybody can learn, and adapt, and have a talent. It will be different for every one, because every one had unique interactions, but we can adapt.

    Someone share a theory about adaptation to the enviroment, and as soon as I can have a moment I'll go deep in that and I'll try to learn something new about it.

    And the other issue is about language, I just ask to be open mind, and it's ok to post in another language, I don't accept english is the only one possible language. I have translate some of the post here to other languages, mainly russian and german, because I have many readers there, so please, be patient about it.

    The only one thing I can complain is spelling!, I need to say it again, I needed 10 minutes to understand a paragraph! So hard work!!

    I'll continue sharing ideas

  4. buenos dias , saludos cordiales traduzcan esto por favor al ingles se un poco de ingles un poco de alemen un poco de latin un poco de griego despues de todo ja ja los idiomas solo son sistemas de signos con poca complejidad , bueno hablando de otra cosa la inteligencia se estimula con test de personalidad y inteligencia realidad virtual calculo con una calculadora y entrenamiento memoria y una vida feliz y moral para evitar complejo de culpabilidad o algun otro error de conducta buscando la perfeccion en nuestra especie homosapiens superior lo maximo ahora pero ja ja en evolucion saludos cordiales por la evolucion verdad una d las verdades y por favor pongan una sede de grail ustedes en madrid españa aunque al principio sea de poca gente yo ayer saque 184 y 230 de ci ustedes tambien por estas cantidades de c,i por el futuro nuestra meta siempre ja ja , os quiro espiritualmente cuidaros vale