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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Saving Gifted Butterflies with Service Learning


Service learning can help high school and college students raise their grades and connect to a wider world. A paper by Bruce-Davis and Chancy (2012) discuss to a greater degree how service learning improves upon the platform for regular students but can help gifted students reach new heights. Education isn’t always stuffed in some dusty book and can include practical application of interests. Once engaged, gifted students can engage for years until breakthroughs are created.

Gifted learners are often underachievers. Their brains work at a capacity where standard curriculum bores them right out of school and directly into the school of life. This is why history is full of the genius drop out. Adding on top of this, teacher misperceptions, rigid classroom structures, and improper social relations, the school system can seem more like a prison system. 

Gifted learners underachieve because there is little to achieve for. If their classmates are focused on the latest He Man toy or newest Barbie member over the next Mad Science edition there is going to be dissonance. As these children grow into adolescents the focus on rigid social adherence and outward perception can also take their toll. Teachers may encourage these social patterns as “healthy development”. 

The problem is that gifted learners are asynchronous and develop at different stages and times. Service learning allows gifted students to throw themselves into something that interests them. Strong teachers can integrate normal class work into some service activity the gifted student finds interesting. The options are unending and can range from poetry to feeding the poor. 

Other researchers have found that service learning allows for practical application of knowledge and can be beneficial in raising motivation and grades. Service learning can be even more profound for inner city students that desire to find purpose and meaning in school while connecting with a wider community. The percentage of college readiness and graduation rates increase if high schools use these methods. 

If we look at a definition of giftedness from Renzulli and Reis (1997) you will find that service learning fits within task commitment, abilities, and creativity. “Gifted behavior consists of behaviors that reflect an interaction among three basic clusters of human traits—above average ability, high levels of task commitment, and high levels of creativity. Individuals capable of developing gifted behaviors are those possessing or capable of developing this composite set of traits and applying them to any potentially valuable area of human performance. (p. 8)” Some gifted individuals can engage in these activities for years, decades, or lifetimes. 

Service learning can help most students gain a bigger picture of their life’s responsibilities beyond their own needs. For gifted individuals, service learning can help them find practical application and motivation for their existing skills. For those who are previously undiagnosed, service learning methods affords opportunities to do something interesting and expose their greater abilities beyond rote textbook learning. High grades often measure intelligence but fail to measure higher abilities and capacities beyond sequential learning. Who wouldn’t be enthusiastic about saving butterflies, reducing child hunger, or creating better methodologies?

Bruce-Davice, M. & Chancy, J. (2012). Connecting Students to the Real World: Developing Gifted Behaviors through Service Learning. Psychology in the Schools, 49 (7). 

Reis, S. M., & Renzulli, J. S. (2009). The Schoolwide Enrichment Model: A focus on student strengths and interests. In J. S. Renzulli, E. J. Gubbins, K. S. McMillen, R. D. Eckert, & C. A. Little (Eds.), Systems and models for developing programs for the gifted and talented (2nd ed., pp. 323 – 352). Mansfield Center, CT: Creative Learning Press.

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