Today we return to our "Facets of Gifted Education" series with a Q&A with Tracy Cross. Cross is the George and Frances Ball Distinguished Professor of Gifted Studies at Ball State University and the former Executive Director of the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics, and Humanities. His research centers on understanding how gifted students cope with being gifted -- and as he tell us, the news is pretty good.
GE: How did you become interested in gifted issues and research?
Cross: When I was four years old, my best friend’s older brother was quite obviously very unusual (intellectually gifted). I loved to listen to him talk and I paid attention to how others treated him. He was very interesting. At the same time, I also was growing up around artists. My family owned an art gallery, so I was around artists much of my school years. I was immersed in a culture of artistic talent. My interests in the psychology of gifted people emerged early in my life and I have been studying them for about 45 years now.
GE: What progress is being made on the gifted ed research front these days (that you think is most important) and what still doesn't get enough attention?
Cross: The fact that the context matters in the development of gifted students has been proven to be very important but still is somewhat under the radar for many. We still spend considerable time and energy trying to create lists of endogenous characteristics (those about the person) of gifted students.
The concept of nonuniversal developmental patterns of gifted students is very important to understanding them, but is not really understood by many at this point. Recent work on eminent professionals has shown a bright light on these developmental patterns.
Some important research has been conducted to test differing grouping approaches such as cluster grouping for instruction. Beginning about twenty years ago, the slow accumulation of these studies has built up our education techniques that can be used to more effectively teach gifted students in heterogeneous settings.
GE: What did you learn from your time heading the Indiana Academy that helps with your research now?
Cross: I learned many things from serving as the Executive Director of the Indiana Academy. For example, it was affirmed for me that gifted students are the most heterogeneous group of people to study. So commenting about their so-called characteristics becomes more of a stipulation rather than an empirically established fact. Moreover, the context in which those students attend schools made evident the power of specialized learning environments. Amazing things happen when you get a critical mass of intellectually gifted students together with a faculty who wants to work with them.
GE: What is the biggest misunderstanding about the social and emotional needs of gifted young people?
Cross: Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding is the result of conflating the two terms to mean one phenomenon. I find that while they overlap, they are clearly different from one another. I am personally more invested in the social development of gifted students as I have found it to be the most intriguing aspect of the psychology of gifted students. I also believe that it is a more powerful predictor of lived experience and future behavior.
A second misunderstanding is the myth that gifted students have a greater tendency toward mental health problems. This belief was disproven empirically approximately 100 years ago, but the myth still exists. Recent research has corroborated that students with gifts and talents tend to be healthier, stronger and more socially successful than their nongifted counterparts.