Special Education Report Roundup

Study Draws Clues on Creativity From Famous Lives

By Sarah D. Sparks — March 12, 2013 1 min read

From Mark Twain to Woody Allen, creative adults often say they were uncomfortable in school, and educators have struggled for decades to find a reliable way to identify gifted—but often quirky or rambunctious—creative students.

A study published last month in Creativity Research Journal describes a University of Kansas project that mined the biographies of such notable creative adults to develop tools to help teachers identify and support creative adolescents. Researchers Barbara Kerr and Robyn McKay analyzed biographies and interviews of famous creative types to distill the characteristics of creative giftedness at age 16. They then grouped those into six profiles in five areas of creative giftedness: verbal and linguistic skills, mathematics and science, spatial and visual skills, interpersonal and emotional skills, and music and dance.

“Very often these traits that feed their creativity, like openness to experience and impulsivity, get them in trouble,” Ms. Kerr said. “And many of them said that they’re only noticed in school when they’re in trouble. Creative kids tend to be a particular type of outsider, admired by their small cadre of friends for their art or coding abilities, but avoided by many because of their eccentricities.”

The researchers worked with academic counselors in schools across Kansas to identify 485 students who matched the profiles and brought them to the counseling laboratory for additional testing and interviews.

A third of the students who fit the profiles for creative giftedness had never been identified for gifted programs, largely because their grade point averages were not higher than average—in part because those students tended to focus only on subjects that interested them.

Those students also tended to respond better to academic counseling that encouraged a do-it-yourself approach, such as pairing science classes with technical-shop classes for a student interested in becoming an inventor.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2013 edition of Education Week as Study: Famous Adults Offer Clues to Identify Gifted Teenagers

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