Broadening Our Thinking About Gifted and Talented Children

Recently, I received an issue of Kappan magazine, the publication of the Education Honor Society Phi Delta Kappa. The entire issue was devoted to finding and developing talented youth. As I was leafing through the magazine, I saw an article that caught my eye, Making Space For Spatial Talent*, by Joni M, Lakin and Jonathan Wai. You might ask why this particular article caught my eye. It did so because of the extraordinary spatial abilities of my grandson, about which I will give some examples but first I would like to summarize some of the thoughts expressed in the Kappan article.

The article had many interesting points about how spatial talent is overlooked when decisions are made about who is included in gifted and talented programs. The authors pointed out that normally the way these decisions are made is through looking at children’s mathematical and reading scores on standardized tests or specialized tests for entry to specialized schools that also rely mostly on these types of tests to determine eligibility to be admitted to special schools or programs. Furthermore, they point out that teachers often do not recognize spatial abilities or talents in their students and the curriculum and teaching strategies used do not capitalize on these talents in children who have them; therefore increasing teachers’ understanding of spatial ability would help them recognize this talent more readily. Last, the authors proposed that if spatial ability were included in the screening for gifted and talented programs, those programs would be more diverse.

Here are some examples of things I saw that were evidence of spatial talent in a child close to me during their early childhood years. I wonder how many of you have seen similar capacities in your children or students but did not realize what you were seeing were instances of spatial talent.

  • Demonstrating the ability to put together Lego packs designed for much older children by looking at the visual instructions to guide construction even though the child is not yet able to read.
  • Visualizing at the age of 4 a walking route home from the park and directing the adults to follow it, knowing that the route the adults wanted to take would not get them home.
  • Exhibiting a fascination with all kinds of trucks, particularly those used in construction and watching how these trucks operate.
  • Showing fascination with the computer – teaching oneself to read at an early age by typing out search words for sites the child wants to see.
  • Playing with toy crane trucks, turning them into machines that can balance blocks and move them from one place to another without the blocks falling to the ground.
  • Building elaborate structures with blocks.

We need to structure our classroom environments and activities so that children with these unique spatial talents have an opportunity to flourish. We also need to learn to recognize the high level of intelligence on display in children exhibiting high levels of spatial talents.

In addition, let us think of multiple ways to measure the talents that children have beyond completing timed tests in reading and math for entry into programs for gifted and talented children.

* Lakin, J. & Wai, J. (December 2020/January 2021). Making space for spatial talent. Phi Delta Kappan, 102 (4), 36-39.

By norakrieger

I was the Chair of the Education Division at Bloomfield College until my retirement. My main interests are early childhood education, Reggio Emilia, and preparing teachers from underrepresented groups.

4 replies on “Broadening Our Thinking About Gifted and Talented Children”

Many, but not all, of my family members have spatial perception in our kit of skills. Thus is so much so that we are careful in how we explain or do things with our loved ones who just don’t perceive in 3D but appreciate the results. It also has contributed to dyslexia in some family groups where the parents or educators haven’t understood how to teach the 3D child how to flatten the world in their minds enough so that reading is possible from one side of the letter, word, or paper.

I can say the same thing about musical abilities, math, writing, multilingual, and a host of other inherent skills. Some people have some skills and not others. I believe we all may have all skills, but in varying degrees. The key is in respecting that all people are unique.

In my own experience. my children are hugely different. By encouraging their self confidence in what they do well, and supplementing weaknesses, they seem to be entering adulthood fairly well prepared.

For the educators who had huge influence along the way, I’m grateful. For other parents, I am hopeful to encourage participation in their own children’s growth.

Working together, recognizing the uniqueness of each child AND parent AND educator, with appreciation of the mixture of our skills is a great idea.

Thanks for reading.

You are absolutely correct. But, our focus is so concentrated on only two areas for gifted and talented, that the uniqueness of each child is often overlooked and not nurtured. We also do the same to educators – holding them accountable through a very narrow lens. As Luis Moll has stated in his work, all families have “funds of knowledge” that should be recognized.

Each of my children had their own unique areas of strength, which we, as parents, nurtured. And, as you stated, “by encouraging their self-confidence in what they do well, and supplementing weaknesses, they seem to be entering adulthood fairly well-prepared”. I would like to see a more nuanced approach to educating children in school that approaches children’s uniqueness in this way and provides experiences that capitalize on their strengths.

Thank you for your response.

Roger Essley here — first connected on Teacher in a Strange Land site.
As I said I am in the middle of researching and writing about visual thinking skills…
Your blog and piece you mention Making Space For Spatial Talent* are both right on target.

I’ve been working in this area for twenty years — two books on using visuals in the classroom published by Scholastic — work from hundreds of classrooms.

Having become discouraged about changing our word-focused practice one room at a time I’m working on a book that shows how Edison, Einstein, Darwin, Vera Rubin, Margaret Geller, Maryum Mirzakhani, David Macaulay and many more are members of a vibrant but larger ignored visual thinking community.

I’d enjoy sharing several as yet unpublished pieces — as you well know trying to get folks to take these ideas seriously is tough. I’d very much enjoy sharing ideas.
website to see published books (

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