P.O. BOX 1586







Dr. James Delisle -- Professor and Co-Director of SENG, Kent State University, Kent, Ohio

Dr. Jerry Flack --Univ. Of Colorado-Colorado Springs

Dr. Howard Gardner -- Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Ms. Diane D. Grybek -- Supervisor of Secondary Gifted Programs (Retired), Hillsborough County Schools, Tampa, Florida

Ms. Dorothy Knopper -- Publisher, Open Space Communications, Boulder, Colorado

Mr. James LoGiudice -- Director, Program and Staff Development, Bucks County, Pennsylvania Intermediate Unit No. 22 and Past President of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education

Dr. Mary Meeker -- President of SOI Systems, Vida, Oregon

Dr. Adrienne O'Neill - Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island

Dr. Stephen Schroeder-Davis -- Coordinator of Gifted Programs, Elk River, Minnesota Schools and Past President of the Minnesota Council for the Gifted and Talented

Dr. Bruce Shore -- Professor and Director, Giftedness Centre, McGill University, Montreal, Canada

Ms. Joan Smutny -- Professor and Director, Center for Gifted, National-Louis University, Evanston, Illinois

Dr. Virgil S. Ward -- Emeritus Professor of Gifted Education, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia

Ms. Susan Winebrenner -- Consultant, Brooklyn, Michigan

Dr. Ellen Winner - Professor, Boston College

To her family, friends and colleagues in Ohio and elsewhere, I would like to give my condolences regarding the passing of Sharon Buzzard. As a member of our advisory panel, she provided information about recent developments in Ohio gifted programs.  As an educator of the gifted, she had an interest in different countries such as South Korea, Indonesia and Australia that reflected in her high school social studies program.  Her international travels, sponsored by various foundations, to these and other countries helped to vitalize her teaching and concern with educating gifted children.  Sharon was active in the Ohio Association for Gifted Children (OAGC) and a former President of this organization.  She will be missed because of her advocacy efforts and lifelong dedication to these children.

In this issue, Joan Smutny, Sally Walker and Elizabeth Meckstroth (all from the Chicago area) have written an excellent article on educating young gifted children from the preschool through primary levels.  Teachers and parents should use the information in this article to plan differentiated early education programs.  I recommend that the book by these authors, Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom (Free Spirit Publishing, 1997), should also be used as a resource for planning such programs.  To receive a review of this book, please write to GEP here in Manassas.  It should be noted that a new book by Joan Smutny (Editor) on educating young gifted children has recently been published by Hampton Press of Cresskill, New Jersey.  The title is: The Young Gifted Child: Potential and Promise, an Anthology.  It contains 41 articles by different authors, and is one of the few comprehensive works currently available on the development and education of young gifted children.

Andrew Flaxman’s essay is concerned with the importance of Amadeus Mozart’s music in Western music.  He also discuses why gifted individuals need to study and listen to Mozart’s music.  In the light of current research and speculation on the impact of classical music on brain development, I believe that  Flaxman’s essay contains relevant arguments for including the study of Mozart (1756-91) and other great composers in the gifted curriculum.  Michael Walters discusses the great Mexican leader, Benito Juárez, and his relevance for studying leadership in gifted students.

Please see the description of our latest book, Technology Resource Guide by Adrienne O’Neill and Mary Ann Coe, on the GEP Web Site.  In addition, many of you will be interested in the numerous books included in our “Bookstore” by such authors as Howard Gardner, Ellen Winner, Joan Smutny, Bruce Shore, and Michael Walters.  This link is connected directly to the ordering service through a working agreement with this excellent Internet book distributor.

                                                                                        Maurice D. Fisher, Ph.D., Publisher




Mya talked, played, dreamed about school for the year before she entered the schoolhouse doors.  She could hardly wait for the day when she would actually go to school. Mya had been reading since age three, creating her own stories, complete with illustrations, for several years.  Her imagination knew no bounds.  Her questions were endless.  School for her was a place where she expected to learn even more, read bigger books and do number problems. Is the school ready for Mya?  Will her teacher value her and have the resources to meet her special needs?

Children like Mya stand out from the crowd.  They pore over books, ask probing questions, and wave their hands in the air to offer ready answers to problems posed by the teacher.  For teachers who are trying to reach more students in a mixed ability class, a young gifted child like Mya can be a challenge.  Easier to handle are the gifted children who live behind a curtain of silence, too shy or intimidated to stand out or make demands.  Yet they, like Mya, have as much of a right to grow and learn as all the other children in the class.

There is a great need today for early identification and intervention.  Gifted children quickly develop negative thought patterns as they succumb to a routine that offers little stimulation or challenge.  Unwittingly, adults may be reinforcing destructive behavior by pressuring the gifted to move at a pace far too slow for them.  Schools need to recognize them for who they are and respond to their educational needs as they do the rest of the student population. Teachers should review some of their troublemakers. Are they being disruptive just to get some attention or because they are bored with activities too easy for them?  What about some of the quiet students who obediently turn in their assignments and do as they are told?  Are they really stimulated and challenged by the curriculum or are they hiding behind a pretense in order to gain approval?  

Finding Young Gifted Children

The first question is: How can we find young students who need more than the regular curriculum? Giftedness is a diverse and complex phenomenon.  Because formal programs to identify giftedness in young children rarely exist in schools, teachers need to hone their awareness and interest in recognizing children’s exceptional abilities.

Gifted is an ardent emotional issue.  To many people, the “label” implies that one child is intrinsically better than another. However, finding children’s unique abilities is a way of identifying their learning needs.  Teachers who identify exceptional intelligence and ability in the lowest grades are pioneers.  Giftedness is fragile.  If these young children do not receive appropriate recognition and response during this sensitive developmental period, potential skills may decline or vanish.  By 4th grade, some of the most intelligent children are resentful of waiting for the other children to catch up; they find little meaning in a school day; they have learned easy success without struggle and persistence; and fall into a pattern of low achievement. Maybe they think they’re “the best” by doing general class work that may be far below their ability levels.  Or their resentment of waiting and waiting is acted out in behavior problems.

Gifted Behaviors.  The most current, comprehensive, compendium for finding young gifted students is in the anthology, The Young Gifted Child: Potential and Promise, an Anthology (Smutny, 1998).  The Identification chapter in Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom (Smutny, Walker & Meckstroth, 1997) is also a succinct and practical guide with reproducibles to help you find gifted behaviors.

Essentially, you are looking for asynchronous development --a type and degree of exceptional ability. What this means is that in some areas, gifted children are out of synch for what is developmentally normal behavior for their age.  To find these children, you need to look beyond “normal” and into the child’s esoteric, idiosyncratic qualities that make them extraordinary. The label does not apply to all parts since social, physical, emotional and intellectual abilities develop at incongruent levels.

"Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. The asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally." (The Columbus Group, 1991 in Tolan, 1998, p. 172).

Please read this paragraph again and think about how much it refers to immeasurable, emotional qualities.  We need to adjust our expectations for their mental and chronological ages.

For young children, physical, social, and cognitive development is rapid and variable. Cognitive and motor skills come suddenly.  One moment the skill is not observable; then it miraculously appears!  This is just one reason that any assessment you make regarding a child’s development needs to be considered as estimation. We don’t know how far this trait will be developed.

How do you discover exceptional ability in children?  You have to get to know them!

One of the best ways we can learn how to motivate a child to exhibit optimum performance is to ask the child.  Child interviews help you learn insights about the child’s abilities and interests that might not appear in the classroom. You will need to create time for short interview sessions with each student.  Some questions that you might ask are:

1.  What are some things that you do best?

2.  What are some of the things that you like to do? 3.  What are some things that are kind of hard for you?

4.  What do you like best in school? Why?

5.  What don’t you like in school?  Why?

6.  What are some things that might make school better for


7.  What are some of the things you would like to be and do

     when you are grown?

8.  If you had three wishes that could come true, what would

     they be?

Parents as Colleagues.  Enlisting the aid of parents who have years of authentic observation experience can help you find these children.  They tend to be realistic predictors of their children’s abilities and needs. Since about 80% of the parent population can identify their children’s giftedness by ages five or six, a short cut to finding these students is to consult with parents.

The valuable Checklist of My Child’s Strengths is reproduced for you to use with your students’ parents:

Checklist of My Child’s Strengths1

Child’s Name______________________________________________

Please check any items that usually or often apply to your child.

___  Is very aware of physical surroundings.

___  Has acute awareness of physical and emotional surroundings.

___  Asks questions about abstract ideas like love, feelings, relationships or justice.

___  Needs less sleep than other children of same age.

___  Moves around a lot.  Is very active -- sometimes seems hyperactive.

___  Talked early.

___  Has long attention span for activities that interest her/him.

___  Is extremely concerned, curious about the meaning of life and death.

___  Reacts intensely to noise, light, taste, smells, or touch.

___  Craves stimulation and activity.  Is rarely content to sit idle.

___  Is very emotional --  cries, angers, excites easily.

___  Has an excellent memory.

___  Insists that people be “fair.” Complains when things are “unfair.”  

___  Is extremely curious -- asks “Why?”  “How?”  “What if?”

___  Becomes so involved that he/she is not aware of anything else -- “lost in own world.”

___  Explains ideas in complex, unusual ways.

___  Is very interested in cause-effect relationships.

___  Reasons well. Thinks of creative ways to solve problems.

___  Is very interested in calendars, clocks, maps, structures.

___  Has vivid imagination and may have trouble separating the real from unreal.

___  Is extremely creative -- uses materials in unusual ways; makes up elaborate stories,       

        excuses; sees many possible answers/solutions; spends free time drawing, painting,

        writing, sculpting, or singing.

___  Has spontaneous and/or advanced sense of humor.

___  Likes to play with words.  Uses advanced sentence structure and vocabulary.

___  Is often singing, moving rhythmically; may tell stories or communicate by singing.

___  Memorizes songs.

___  Prefers playing with older children or being with adults.

___  Creates complicated play and games.

___  Gives complex answers to questions.

___  Becomes extremely frustrated when body can’t do what mind wants it to.

___  Has strong sense of self control; wants to know reasons for rules.

___  Is eager to try new things.

___  Can concentrate on two or three activities at one time.

1From Joan Franklin Smutny, Sally Yahnke Walker and Betty Meckstroth,  Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc., 1997.  Used with permission of Free Spirit Publishing, Inc.


Observe Sensibility as Well as Sense.  An excellent aid to finding young children is the Fisher Comprehensive Assessment of Giftedness Scale:  What to Look for When Identifying Gifted Students (Fisher, 1994, 1998).  With this guide, you can examine children’s actual classroom and out-of-school behaviors in response to their environment. It ranks children’s sensibility which is their keen consciousness, enthusiasm, interest, in-depth focus, and serious concern.  This essence of giftedness is compared with children’s class- mates, not national norms.  The Scale also assesses areas of precocious development, applied motivation and creative output, aesthetic perceptions, and much more.  This broad view deepens the scope for finding gifted children beyond static test scores.

Find the Evidence.  One of the clearest ways to identify young children, especially minority and economically disadvantaged students, is to collect and examine a wide range of their work, as well as observations and anecdotes describing behavior. This information could then take the form of an ongoing portfolio and record of achievement.  The process of gathering evidence should reach beyond the confines of a classroom and integrate what the child is capable of at home and elsewhere.  Portfolios provide authentic assessment!  Such evidence is valuable in determining instructional plans, especially for children kindergarten to third grade.

Some important advantages of portfolio assessment are:

●  validates your observations and hunches about a child.

●  enables you to speak more informatively with parents and

    support staff about your plans.

●  builds a concrete bridge between you and parents so you

     can both see what the other is talking about.

●  helps you evaluate the child’s progress.

●  guides you to a more child-centered response curriculum.

●  broadens your ideas and choices to offer your children.

●  justifies what to look for in identifying other students and

    becomes a learning tool for you.

●  creates a source of pride and accomplishment for the child.

A portfolio is a strength model, not a deficit model.  One rule:  Nothing negative goes into the portfolio!  A portfolio is a collection of products and observations about children at home, school, and in their community. Because expressions of giftedness vary in children and cultures, you will be looking for evidence that corresponds with some of the described indicators of giftedness in young children.  It is a repository of what a child can do.

Look for Learning Potential.   Eventual abilities can be found with dynamic assessment.  Here’s how:

1.  Test -- Establish competency level.

2.  Train -- Teach just beyond that level.

3.  Retest -- Gauge learning.

This is nothing new, really, but the process can help you find children with exceptional abilities.  

Through continual observation, gathering evidence through a variety of channels, and providing children with ample opportunities to demonstrate their strengths and interests, you will begin to find those with exceptional talents.  As you discover them, you will begin to realize how little the regular school curriculum can do to develop and extend their abilities.  You may even wonder what will happen to these abilities if they continue to go unattended and denied.

Programming for the Young Gifted Child

The purpose of planning services for intellectually advanced and/or creative young children is to provide the kind of programming they need to reach their potential and grow normally.  The type of services a school offers high ability young students will determine the identification plan.  Therefore, before a school designs an identification system, it must determine the needs of their gifted student population and how a program can best respond to these needs.

An initial step in designing a program is to form a committee -- a cross-section of people with the expertise and resources to implement special programming for the gifted (e.g., administrator, gifted/talented program coordinator, school board members, principal, teacher, psychologist, librarian, resource teacher, parents).  Subgroups of this committee can form from this pool who would be responsible for researching the necessary program components.  The entire committee should share information and participate in the decision making process as they develop plans for the program and corresponding services.

Student Needs.  Before the planning committee designs a gifted program in a school district, they should first identify the needs of young students who may be gifted or who demonstrate exceptional learning opportunities at the appropriate level (higher) and pace (faster).

Some planning groups may have definite ideas of students’ needs which they wish to address through special programming. Others may find decision making easier if they are asked to prioritize a list of “typical” needs of gifted youngsters.  These priorities will be specific to the school community designing the program.  The needs then become the basis for determining the goals and objectives of the program.

Conducting a Program Needs Assessment.  The question then becomes: Does the school have any services or resources that currently meet the needs identified by the committee and in what ways?  To avoid duplicating efforts and to make full use of resources the school district already has, it is important to do a thorough needs assessment and to include different perspectives.  The following questions could be investigated.

●  What programs/services does your school currently provide that may meet the needs of these students?    The school may already have programs which effectively challenge children who are reading in kindergarten.  Perhaps the school has an enrichment program in music for first graders that allows those who excel to participate in third grade instrumental music.  A school may have already determined that an individual plan is necessary for second graders who have developed multiplication/division skills on their own. Another school may allow a five-year old to attend a half-day kindergarten and a half-day first grade as a program option to meet the child’s needs.

●  How do these educational alternatives meet the needs of young high ability children?  Schools need to determine how well the students’ needs are being met by the current programs and services.  Questions to consider are:

How comprehensive is the program?

Does it allow for in-depth learning?

Are the students allowed to learn basic skills at a rate appropriate to their ability level?

●  Is the process of selecting children for these programs appropriate? Research studies have shown that teachers of young children with little or no training in gifted education often do not identify highly intelligent children.  Parents appear to be better judges of their child’s intellectual level than teachers who have known them for only a short time (Ciha et al., 1974; Jacobs, 1971).  Consider the following questions:

Is information being solicited from parents?  Are only teachers determining who participates in current special programming?

Are any standardized measurement instruments being used?

Are these instruments being used appropriately?

●  Is the school skillfully providing for different levels of giftedness?  A school may have a very effective program of enrichment activities for all children for whom it is appropriate.  However, it is important to ask if there are enough opportunities for exceptional children to expand beyond these experiences to learn and develop skills at their own rate of learning (faster pace)?  Has your school established flexible program options for meeting the individual needs of the highly gifted child?

●  Where are the gaps in programs/services?  Do students have an opportunity to work independently but under the guidance of a teacher?  Is sufficient time allowed for high ability students to work together?  Classroom observations and parent interviews of a sample of high ability students are extremely helpful at this stage to help compare what students are currently experiencing and what they are capable of doing.  Parents of gifted students in an upper elementary program may provide valuable information and insight into the services they wish had been available for their child at a young age. Students themselves are also valuable resources.

To review, here are guiding questions for a needs assessment:  

What programs/services does your school currently provide that may help to meet the needs of these students?

How do those programs/services meet the needs of young high ability children? Is the method of selecting children for these programs defensible?

Is the school accommodating appropriately for different levels of giftedness? Where are the gaps in programs/services?

Planning Program Options.  The committee will need to engage in further inquiry and discussion before establishing definite plans for serving young gifted students.  Important matters to consider include the following:

What are the general characteristics of your school population and how does this affect programming for young students with high ability?

Has your school chosen to address the needs of kindergartners who are already reading?

Is it a high priority?

How many students are likely to need differentiated services?

Does diversity in socio-economic backgrounds influence the type of programming needed?

What is the level of competence in science inquiry or problem solving skills in the first grade population?

Some schools may not be able to answer these questions if they do not solicit information from parents and do not test children in the primary grades.  Schools rarely conduct kindergarten readiness assessments to determine which children are advanced in intellectual abilities or skills.  Therefore, a general screening of the entire population of primary students (through formalized testing and/or alternative information gathering methods) will give the committee a direction in terms of the kinds of services the student population needs and the degree to which the current system can provide for them.

What resources are currently available to assist in providing programming/services for young gifted students?  What additional resources may be available in the future?  (The planning committee needs to brainstorm all the ways to provide services to these children.)

Some services can be provided for little additional cost, while others may demand substantial funding.  Placing students in appropriate reading groups at their ability level may require more flexible scheduling, but supplemental materials may be the only additional cost.  A program design that requires a resource teacher will add salary as well as additional materials to the operating cost of the program.  Magnet schools or special classes may not require additional staff, but may require significant additional expenditures for transportation, specialized materials and/or teacher training.  So the committee needs to consider the issue of expenses, especially since funding for the gifted has shrunk considerably in recent years.

Curriculum for Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom

Because of shrinking funds at the federal and state levels, a program option more schools are choosing today is to help regular classroom teachers provide educational alternatives for young gifted children within the existing curriculum.  There are a number of techniques teachers can adopt that will make all the difference for young gifted students.  They are practical, uncomplicated methods that will benefit all students and keep highly motivated children from becoming bored and inactive.

The Learning Environment.  The first thing to do is review the learning environment.  Is it a child friendly classroom?  How are the seats arranged? Are there flexible seating arrangements that allow for both full-class activities and smaller groups?  Does the room have learning centers?  How are materials displayed?  Do you have a wide range of books reflecting different reading levels?  Do you have colorful posters that incorporate the themes the class is exploring? Are there plenty of hands-on materials so that children who like to manipulate things can do so?  What is the atmosphere of the classroom?  Do you have times when music is playing? Do children have any opportunity for creative movement, mime, dance, singing?  

Howard Gardner’s research (1993) on multiple intelligences has radically altered the way educators understand children’s learning styles.  Think about this as you review your classroom.  Do the learning centers incorporate different kinds of intelligences?  For example, linguistic learners may thrive on books, magazines, crossword puzzles, and spelling materials, but visual-spatial learners may prefer paints, clay, markers, crayons, photographs, pictures and posters.  Many children combine learning styles and would benefit from centers that focus on particular themes and incorporate materials and sources reflecting several intelligences. Another option would be to organize centers according to intelligences and let the students go to the places where they feel drawn to explore their abilities and interests.  These centers will become useful to you when children complete an assignment or seem bored.  You can easily guide gifted students to activities that will immerse them in projects that stimulate their interests and talents.  Gifted children love time to explore without the constraint of an assignment hanging over their heads.  

Extending the Curriculum.  There are ways to extend the curriculum for young gifted children that will not draw you away from the rest of the class.  One option is compacting -- a simple process of compressing the essentials and not demanding that gifted children repeat and belabor material they have already mastered.  This means that they can skip the practice and drill work in areas where they are strong and move to alternative, more challenging activities.  Develop a method of testing and observation to determine if a child is ready to move to a more challenging assignment.  Also, make it clear to the whole class that anyone who has mastered the required material can do this (i.e., keep your system open to all children and in this way you avoid labeling  certain students).  For your own record keeping and also as a way of monitoring the students, you might want to develop a form that clearly outlines the activities chosen by the child, the level and kind of thinking involved, and the results.

The question then arises: What do I do with a child who is ready to compact?  How do I know what activity will extend the child’s learning rather than simply reaffirm what he/she has already mastered?  There are a couple of options.  One is to allow gifted children to choose activities -- unrelated to the material covered in class -- that interests them.  Take a little time while the rest of the class is doing seat work to discuss what each one would like to explore.  Help them find resources, both in the learning centers and library.  We know a number of gifted children with strong interests, and it seems that most of them have to research these interests outside of school.  These children have a natural hunger for research -- enjoy exploring the behavior of a certain obscure reptile, or the customs of other peoples, or the geological formations of the American southwest. There should be an opportunity for this in school!   As the teacher, you will find you do not have to monitor each step in the process.  All you need to do is help them identify what they want to discover, help them acquire the resources to do this, and then agree on an outcome to their project.  This could be a report to the class, an art piece, an example of historical fiction, etc.  You can also allow them to work in small groups if it happens that several children have a similar interest.  Try to find a special place in the room for children’s special projects, so they can continue working on them when they have the time.

Another way of extending the curriculum -- and this will affect all the children in your classroom -- is to incorporate more creative thinking into daily lessons.  An effective way to do this with young children is to use the process of “make believe” to deepen their understanding of a subject or theme. For example, if you are teaching about the rainforest, a little girl might choose a particular kind of lizard in that forest and pretend to be that lizard.  Then, she would have to explore:  What are my food needs?  What kind of temperatures do I require to stay alive?  What color am I? What designs do I have on my body? Can I change colors?  What do I do in the day?  In the night?  Who am I afraid of?  What does it feel like to have one eye looking at one thing and another eye looking at something else?  What are my feet like?  How fast can I move?  Motivated by the desire to write about herself as a lizard, this child would enjoy poring over books and magazines, perhaps drawing some sketches, or watching a video about rain forests.  She could write a short story about her life in the forest and maybe even create a short mimed piece that demonstrates the kinds of movements she does.

Getting children to use their imaginations and especially to put themselves in the subject they are studying is an exciting process for both teacher and students.  It prompts students to consider questions and problems they would not think of ordinarily. You can ask them questions to test how well they understand their new identity and environment.  If they are imaginary residents of Plymouth Plantation, you can explore daily life from a personal perspective: What foods do you eat?  What does your village look like?  Can you draw a map?  Where do you live?  The more the children imagine themselves in another’s skin -- whether it be the skin of an animal, the trunk of a tree, or a person in another time or place -- the more research they will find they need to do.  And this is something that enables the whole class to learn, while also allowing gifted children to advance significantly beyond the limits of the regular curriculum.  It is enormously educational and will stay with children long after they have moved to a new subject.

Other processes that develop children’s creative thinking are activities where they can brainstorm ideas.  This works when the class is struggling with a problem or when the students are thinking about all the different things they could do in a particular area of study. We once saw a class become very motivated as the children volunteered all kinds of assignments they could do in the study of South America. So many ideas emerged -- from mapmaking to biographies, dramatic re-enactments, naturalist studies of animal life, political events, native Indian populations, etc. The children became quite excited about their new unit because the teacher gave them opportunities to diverge from and improvise with the materials she had assembled.

Willingness to integrate different media -- history with poetry, music, ecology, etc. -- enables your gifted population to capitalize on their strengths and creates built-in opportunities for them to develop alternative research projects, while still mastering the required curriculum.  This integration also reaches children with diverse learning styles and enables more students to discover what activities interest and inspire them.

Working in Groups.  Teachers can also extend the curriculum through learning groups.  While a mixed ability, cooperative learning arrangement does not often work well with gifted children, there are flexible alternatives.  Cluster grouping -- a method whereby you group four or five gifted children together -- has become a more effective way to group high ability students.  Rather than being “elitist,” as some educators assume, cluster grouping has proven to be both fair and effective, allowing gifted young children to experience the joy and challenge of working at a higher pace -- their pace.

Groups can form along a variety of lines.  Tiered Groups allow teachers to create different assignments for the groups in a classroom, varying them in complexity and challenge. This enables all students to advance at their own level without the detrimental effect of “labeling.”  Each group works on its own unique assignment without competing or comparing.  Another possibility is to organize groups according to interests or learning styles.  This would enable some variety in ability level, but create strong, motivated groups where, for example, artistically inclined students can gather around a love for particular media or where science buffs can explore a theme from the perspective of ecology or biology.  As long as you are flexible in the way you organize groups, you can maximize the learning of all your students.  You can also create a system whereby small groups of gifted students who finish their regular work can go off to a corner by themselves and work cooperatively on a project of their choosing.  Sharing ideas and learning is very important for gifted students and can extend their learning in ways that isolated work does not.  In addition, group opportunities can be enormously reassuring for children who feel like oddballs who do not fit socially with many of their classmates.

Final Note

Young gifted children are among the most underserved of gifted populations.  Too young to be officially identified, many of them wallow in various states of boredom and frustration.  By the time they are identified, some of these children have already developed negative attitudes about school and potentially destructive behaviors.  Using a wide range of indicators, teachers and administrators need to find these children before they slip through the cracks.  Schools can respond to the special needs of these students by developing special programs and individual teachers can also create learning options within the existing curriculum that will develop their gifts and talents.  Taking action to intervene on behalf of young gifted children can turn back the tide for them -- giving them fresh air and the space to move and expand in ways they never thought possible before.  This response will keep the joy of learning alive and help these children become more resilient, more able to take an active part in their own education and development. l l


Fisher, Maurice D. A Sensibility Approach to Identifying and Assessing Young Gifted Children. In J.F. Smutny (Ed.), The Young Gifted Child: Potential and Promise, an Anthology (pp. 52-61).  Cresskill, NJ:   Hampton Press, Inc., 1998.  

Fisher Comprehensive Assessment of Giftedness Scale: What To Look For When Identifying Gifted Students. Manassas, VA: Gifted Education Press. 1994.

Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. New York: Basic Books, 1993.

Smutny, Joan Franklin, Kathleen Veenker, and Stephen Veenker. Your Gifted Child: How to Recognize and Develop the Special Talents in Your Child from Birth to Age Seven.  NY:  Ballantine Books. 1989.

Smutny, Joan Franklin, Sally Yahnke Walker, and Betty A. Meckstroth.  Teaching Young Gifted Children in the Regular Classroom.  Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc., 1997.

Tolan, Stephanie S. Beginning Brilliance.  In J.F. Smutny (Ed.), The Young Gifted Child: Potential and Promise, an Anthology (pp. 165-180).  Cresskill, NJ:   Hampton Press, Inc., 1998.




Mankind's evolution of individual self-awareness can be observed in the changes in musical taste and form over the last four centuries.  Through the appreciation of Mozart's music, gifted students can better understand this transition and enhance their own understanding of their own personal development and maturation process.

The roots of musical change go back at least to the twelfth century.  Musical evolution parallels the change which was taking place in painting.  The invention of perspective created by the convergence of all seemingly horizontal lines on one point resembles that note on which melody seems to begin and end most naturally.  This vanishing point in painting and the keynote or tonic in music both reflect a self-centeredness developing in man.  The older form of melody can leave us suspended in the air, but the newer form always puts our feet firmly on the ground.  This change reflects a profound difference between ancient and modern man.  We are more closely bound to the earth and further from what was regarded as heaven.

While songs written in the seventeenth century seem quaint and old-fashioned, we can understand their musical structure and can even start whistling the tune after we have gotten used to it.  Music written before 1600 sounds very different.  When it consists of a whole group of singers, each is singing a different melody or else the same melody at different times.  In this music, known as polyphony, no one in particular is supplying the harmony.  It arises out of what the whole group is singing as a byproduct of concerted melody.  Further back in time, accompanying a song usually meant playing just the melody of the song on an instrument, with no harmony at all.  The melody often ends on a note that we today perceive as wrong; melody itself seems to have been based on different perceptions about the relationship of musical tones.

The composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries who brought in the new melodic and harmonic style felt that polyphony was too strict and complex and that it conveyed emotions only in a generalized way.  The new style they created brought about an unprecedented directness of communication.  At that time the relationships of the notes of the scale became more or less what they are today for most of the music that we know.  This is why the phrases and cadences of seventeenth century music make sense to us.  These changes did not, of course, take place overnight.  They reached their fruition at different times in different parts of Europe and many composers continued with the old polyphonic style in places where the new had already become the norm.

During the first thousand years of our era, the sophisticated and sensuous melody of music such as Gregorian chant expressed spiritual longings, and it seems highly probable that a similar style was used in secular music without any feeling of impropriety. In later years church authorities often found it necessary to reprove the musicians for writing in a style which seemed inappropriate or distracting. Composers were continually reminded that their music should be simple and the words clear. Melody and rhythm should not arouse the wrong kind of emotions in members of the congregation.  Heavenly aspirations were to be separated from earthly preoccupations.

Yet composers took very little notice of the official position.  Renaissance composers from Ockeghem to Victoria set the liturgy to an enormously sophisticated and powerful music.  Bach used the same music for church and secular cantatas. Haydn's settings of the mass were symphonic,  Mozart's operatic.  Although there were always some persons who used their position to keep spirit from matter, like an eminent Victorian musician who struck out Beethoven's accompaniment to the Benedictus because it was too jaunty and dance like, the greatest composers strove always to unify life's contradictions. Music works directly on our feelings where our experience of the physical world can be brought together with our intuitions of that which is beyond it.

A hundred years ago it was quite fashionable to devote time and energy to explanations of what a piece of music meant. Today there are many people who do not believe that music means anything at all, while others state that the feelings aroused by music are too precise to be expressed verbally.  At the time when Mozart was born, there was a general belief that music could and should express feelings in a definite, recognizable way.  This belief was well expressed by the highly influential composer and theorist of the period, J.S. Bach's second son, Carl Philip Emanuel.  Although his compositions are unknown to most of today's concert goers, he is responsible for a great deal of what we know about eighteenth century attitudes and techniques.  C.P.E. Bach's fundamental artistic code was what the artist of the renaissance had realized long before: "All art should contain a spiritual message and must breathe it forth with an emotion so powerful that the listener, seeing it or hearing it, must perforce grasp its real significance."  In spite of this dictum, in the earlier years of the eighteenth century, the means of expressing emotion had become conventionalized; this rendered the feelings in a piece somewhat superficial and greatly dependent upon the whims of the performer.

A new style of musical composition expressing deep emotion while maintaining an evolving spiritual consciousness, was developed by Haydn and Mozart.  The basic principle of this new style, now termed "classical,” was that every element and aspect of music should arise out of the idea of the whole work.  Any musical event which at first seems arbitrary or capricious will turn out to be an essential part of the whole structure.  This does not mean that the work is predetermined or predictable, but that it proceeds organically, with plenty of room for the free play of the imagination at every point.  This sense of the whole was expressed by William Blake who saw "the world in a grain of sand" and by the French paleontologist, Curier, who could reconstruct the whole skeleton of an unknown creature from a single bone.  In the classical style, the central idea is latent in every musical phrase and the expression of feeling is taken right into the texture of the music, rather than being superimposed on it.  With the emotional content so interwoven in the composition, the listener has to work to grasp the "real significance" referred to by C.P.E. Bach.

Although in our materialistic age, art has lost this spiritual connection by becoming over concerned with the obvious reality of life between birth and death, the Far East has always known that the roots of music lie in the spiritual world.  Western culture with Pythagoras and Plato started with a similar outlook.  But as Western thinking became more and more man centered, nature has taken the place of God in much of man's devotional and artistic efforts.  Deism, pantheism and Unitarianism are a few of the religious outlooks which reflect this change in consciousness.  Art began to be considered as an imitation of nature. Its purpose often became the arousing of sensuous knowledge.  During the past two hundred years, this materialistic attitude grew and took hold.  Most people were now so absorbed in themselves and their surroundings that they saw art as merely a matter of pleasure, rather than as having any spiritual relationship.

Yet the view of art as spirit-born never lost exponents.  Goethe, Hegel and Schopenhauer all speak of art in relationship to divine wisdom and to the Ideal.  Schopenhauer, along with many other great thinkers felt that music occupies a special position among the arts.  He thought music to be the direct expression of the divine in nature, whereas painting was a reconstruction of the secret intentions of nature's great creative dream.  Music cannot be explained as the recreating of what the composer hears in nature.  To be truly understood and appreciated it has to be seen as related to the unique perception of man which does not arise out of any sense impression or external stimulus -- this is man's awareness of himself expressed by his perception of "I AM."

Mozart's current popularity can be better understood when we realize that the only previous time in which his music was truly appreciated was at the very beginning of the 19th century.  The early romantics, whose artistic concerns went far beyond their obvious physical surroundings, enthusiastically adopted Mozart.  The great German romantic author and composer, E.T.A. Hoffman (1776-1822) wrote that Mozart speaks "the mysterious language of a distant spiritual kingdom, whose marvelous accents echo in our inner being and arouse a higher intensive life.”  In the later nineteenth century, where commitment was to a mechanistic world view and a popularized and superficial notion of evolution, Mozart was either ignored or treated with condescension.  The steady increase in the size of orchestras and choirs, in the power and brilliance of instruments and the length (but not complexity) of compositions all belong to this era of confidence in the "forward march of progress." From the vantage point of the 1990's we see how sadly misplaced this confidence was.  It was thought that science would explain everything and help us to eliminate poverty, sickness, famine and war, but these things have not come about.  In that relatively small area of the world where affluence is the rule, we have begun to realize that the real affections have to do with our souls and spirits.  There are few people today who are likely to believe that music can be improved by having bigger, better and louder orchestras or even by inventing new harmonies.  There are more and more people who can once again appreciate music that speaks to our inner life.

Mozart calms, disturbs, deeply moves, exhilarates us; our response, harmonious or otherwise, goes on long after the music has ended.  When he chose to, Mozart could play on his audience as if it were a musical instrument.  In a letter of Sept. 11, 1778 to his father, in which he speaks derisively of Parisian musical conventions and expectations, he describes the reception accorded the first performance of his D Major Symphony, K. 297, usually known as “The Paris.”  He then goes on to say, "In the middle of the first allegro was a passage which I knew could not fail to please.  All the audience was charmed by it and there was a great applause, but as I knew when I wrote it what an effect it would make, I brought it round an extra time at the end of the movement, with the same result, and so got my applause ‘da cap.’”  He got his applause repeated as in the "da capo" sonata form.  This anecdote illustrates how the musical form is reproduced in the emotions of the listener, although the process is generally much more subtle and, for the listener, less conscious.

Through the music of Mozart we find reconciliation of beauty and pain.  Peace, joy and strength are shown to be possible in the face of the most enormous emotional conflicts.  The more intimately we come to know this music, the more it gives to us. It speaks directly into our hearts, meaning our "souls,” so that we know that our true home is not merely an earthly consciousness but something deeper -- a "spiritual kingdom.”  

Even if this feeling is not brought into the clear consciousness of our thought life, the sensitive listener experiences intimations of this spiritual relationship.  Mozart's music is marvelously adapted to the needs of humanity in the late twentieth century because it so beautifully accomplishes this unification of the physical with our emotional life and our spiritual thoughts.  

The emotions expressed in Mozart's music come directly from the composer's tremendous flow of impulsive feelings.  He was an "open channel" for all feelings from the physical obsession with bodily functions to the most divine musical harmonies, and expressed them equally without restraint.  This indeed was one of the secrets of his prodigious creatively -- this instantaneous grasp of the idea of the whole from which the parts flowed in a seemingly effortless manner.  In his music he spiritualizes the physical without losing its passionate aliveness.  In the temporal he shows the eternal, and behind the coarse, trivial or commonplace he reveals the pure gold.

One of the aspects of the 19th century absorption and interest in the physical, natural world was the use of nature, in images and sounds, as the basis for music and musical ideas.  This is not the case with Mozart.  His works run the whole gamut of human feeling, but what he has to say is expressed by purely musical means.  What is beyond nature and the material world is related to imaginative thought and the creative spirit.  In the music of Mozart, one can experience the genius of creation out of man himself.  Attentiveness and patience with Mozart's music will help lead you to a sense of the spirit-in-yourself.

Mozart himself always felt a deep spiritual connection.  He was born and raised a devout Catholic but in 1784, at the age of 28, he joined a Freemason lodge.  He probably felt the need for the companionship and the philosophical stimulation that this organization provided.  Masonry was a nonsectarian, secret society (still in existence), devoted to the brotherhood of mankind. Many outstanding people in the arts, sciences and politics were members all over Europe and America at this time.  In the place of rigid doctrine and dogma, Masonry provided initiation rites which attempted to replicate the experience of ancient mystery religions.  It is through self-knowledge and inner development that increasing levels of divine wisdom are to be achieved.

Mozart wrote some music especially for the brotherhood.  It is with his opera, "The Magic Flute,” that his Masonic experiences have been most beautifully transmitted to us.  The opera is filled with Masonic symbols and includes scenes of initiation trials of silence, fire and water.  The chief priest in the opera is named Sarastro, reminding us of the great Persian initiate, Zarathustra or Zoroaster.  Still one of the most popular of all operas today, it was composed and performed in 1791, the last year of Mozart's brief 35 years of life.

To experience death without dying is one of the most significant initiation events.  It prepares the initiate not only for death but to live life more fully without the fear of death.  Although it is not easy to die, especially at a young age with a wife and young children to care for, Mozart seems to have prepared himself well, accepting his fate.  In one of the arias in "The Magic Flute,” Sarastro sings, "Love for their fellow men is the guiding rule of the initiated."  Mozart was a musical initiate of the highest order. He was certain of his great legacy to his fellow Human Beings and can be counted among the greatest lovers of Mankind.

There is a passage toward the end of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-55), where "all the host laughed and wept" and the minstrel sang to them until their "hearts, wounded with sweet words, overflowed, and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."  Tolkien, who liked to listen to music, but was himself no musician, thus described most vividly the effect that Mozart's music has on a sensitive listener.  In Mozart's music the smile is often a smile through tears.  Tears can be tears of joy.  Beauty can be so intense as to be painful.

From Mozart's life and music we can learn that it is through adversity that we grow and develop into more mature and joyful individuals.  The Human Being, unlike an animal, can transform pain into wisdom and joy.  Marcia Davenport in her biography, Mozart (1979), points out the contrasting moods of his compositions.  She notes that he composed music of radiant vivacity, sparkle and wit at times when he personally was crushed by the discouragement of living his whole life insufficiently compensated and unrecognized.  The juxta-position of moods in his music is one of the significant qualities of his genius. Mozart was able to transcend "all the concerns and burdens, the passing pleasures too, of a pitifully harried existence, to soar into that realm which can only be called divine, where man assumes the robe of immorality."

The gifted student can learn to receive the gifts of the genius of Mozart, enjoy it, learn from it and use it to contact his or her own indwelling creative force.

Some Thoughts and Questions for Contemplation:

1.  Can you appreciate the interweaving of minor and major in Mozart's music?  What different effect does the music have when the main key is minor rather than major?


2.  Can music give you more than merely arousing sensuality in yourself? How and in what ways?

3.  Can you relate melody, harmony and rhythm to your thinking, feeling and willing? 4.  Can you follow the evolution of man's consciousness through the development of musical taste?  What music now popular do you think will not last?  Why?

5.  Can you find a relationship to the development of the vanishing point in art, the keynote in music and your own ego-centeredness?

6.  Do you subscribe to C.P.E. Bach's statement that "all art should contain a spiritual message"?  Why or why not?

7.  What is your attitude concerning music with words in contrast to music without words?  In what way are you helped or hurt by verbal guides to your musical appreciation?

List some of your own questions and thoughts.

This article (copyright ©1998 by Andrew Flaxman) is an excerpt from one of the guides to EDUCATE YOURSELF FOR TOMORROW, a self-study program in the Humanities. This program was created by Andrew Flaxman and a faculty who believe in the power of Liberal Arts to help transform each individual and the World.





“There they were, two sober, serious lawyers, well over fifty years old, with homely, craggy faces, wearing the same ridiculous clothes.  Neither thought of himself as any sort of hero.  Each had his job to do, and each meant to do it, though the heavens fell.  Two rocklike men they were, and two great nations have built their houses upon those rocks.”  Juárez, Hero of Mexico (1942) by N.B. Baker. p. 229.

One of the virtues of giftedness is to develop the capacity for leadership.  In the history of the United States, Abraham Lincoln is recognized for his ability to function effectively as a leader.  Benito Juárez is considered the Abraham Lincoln of Mexico.  As the above quotation illustrates, they had common characteristics.  Juárez’ persona resembled Abraham Lincoln, even to the very clothes he wore. In addition, both were from the economic humble class.  For Juárez, his ability to develop as a national leader was even more remarkable than Lincoln. In the 19th century there were three social classes in Mexico.  The aristocratic European immigrants were at the top.  Next on the social ladder were the mestizos, those of mixed European and native Indian heritage.  The lowest social group was the native Indian population.  Discrimination against the Indians was based upon a pseudo scientific concept which claimed they were not gente de razón (people of reason).  Benito Juárez, as a native Indian, first had to demonstrate that he did not fit this stereotype.

As a youngster, he ran away from his cruel uncle and joined his sister who was a cook in the hacienda of a rich Italian immigrant family.  The father of this family was so impressed with Juárez’ ability that he sought to disprove the concept of the uneducable Indian. A friend of this family obtained a position for Juárez in an elite church prep school.  After graduating he read and studied the law.  His legal work, especially on behalf of the Indians, resulted in him becoming governor of his native province, and then President of Mexico.

His social reforms (e.g., land reform, and the separation of church and state) caused a political backlash by the social elite, and this led to several years of civil war.  The French under Louis Napoleon tried to take advantage of this situation by creating an empire in Mexico.  This was a conflict similar to the American Civil War.  President Lincoln ordered Secretary of State William Seward to evoke the Monroe Doctrine for the benefit of Juárez and the independence of Mexico.

Juárez and Lincoln are examples of how individuals, despite their economic and social disadvantages, can become leaders through natural giftedness.  Both of these individuals led their countries through traumatic social conflicts.  They represent why giftedness cannot be taken for granted.