October - December 2017 | Issue 101


What Holds Back
Individuals From
Expressing Their
Potential Abilities ?

By Prof Rena F. Subotnik
Director, Center for Psychology in Schools and Education

Do you know of someone gifted? Or perhaps you have grown up on the education path of the gifted yourself. What constitutes giftedness and can anyone be gifted? Join Professor Rena F. Subotnik as she examines the concept of giftedness and how we can cultivate it in our students.

Be it listening to Mozart’s playing, or watching a Mathematician solve a challenging problem , a great performance is a wonder to observe. It is common practice to identify great performers as gifted because of their display of extraordinary creativity, excellent technique or content mastery. However, have you ever wondered how they got there?

We all know that innate ability is an important indicator of giftedness. However, researchers have argued that innate ability is insufficient for fulfilling potential giftedness.

What differentiate those who succeed in fulfilling their gifts from those who do not?

According to Professor of Education and Psychology, Dr Abraham Tannenbaum, there are five factors necessary for the fulfilment of potential talent.

1. Sufficient IQ type intelligence
Test scores are to indicate human intelligence of a promising level.
2. Educational opportunity
Educational opportunities, in spheres such as at home and in school, are to be highly enriching.
3. Special domain ability
The development of talent area via special or extra trainings.
4. Seizing on chance opportunity
Individuals are to be taught how to respond when chance presents an opportunity, or when it leads to a setback.
5. Non-intellective factors

Guidance on the development of factors such as dealing with uncertainty is to be given to the individual.

In the course of exploring Tannenbaum’s theory, Subotnik was given the chance to study Juilliard’s Pre-College programme. One of the world’s most prestigious music conservatories, it is not surprising to see students as young as five playing instruments on their campus. Surprised by their highly successful rate of production of gifted individuals, and inspired by Tannenbaum’s findings, Subotnik examined the school’s programme and teaching pedagogies to discover more. Here are the lessons that she learnt.

1. High IQ is important, but not sufficient to fulfilling talent
In performance areas like sport or dance, factors of time, excellent instruction, energy and money play a huge role in determining the training an individual receives. These factors transform ability into great performance.
2. Opportunity must be available
Without the accessibility to training or the ability to pursue development opportunities, ability means little.
3. Opportunities need to be taken when made available
Regardless of background, liken opportunities to stepping stones and seize them whenever possible.
4. Talent development is long term
The talent development process requires a large amount of commitment of effort, practice, study and motivation. Many get stuck during the process and give up. It is important to remain motivated and persevere in the face of adversity.
5. Good psychosocial skills are essential
Psychosocial skills address how individuals respond to their environment, aspirations and problems. These malleable skills are not a substitute for talent or hard work, but are equally important.

Subotnik contends that the reason for Julliard’s success lies in their prioritisation of cultivating good psychosocial skills alongside talent. In society, we very often fail to applaud the set of mental or social skills that allow the development of one’s full ability.

What are poor psychosocial skills?
Psychosocial skills allow us to interact with, perceive, influence and relate to others. These skills are needed to complement abilities and transform them into great performance. Coaching and support can turn poor skills around.

Poor psychosocial skills include the following:
1. Fixed intelligence mindset
Intelligence is purely innate and cannot be changed over time.
2. Lacking a sense of belonging
Missing knowledge of being respected and welcome.
3. Absence of tenacity
Getting distracted by short-term rather than long-term gratification.
4. Low self-confidence
Insufficient confidence in one’s skills and abilities.
5. Absence of self-promotion
Inability to promote one’s skills and abilities in a gracious way.
6. Avoiding risk taking
Losing opportunities for further development as a result of fear or laziness.
7. Social skills deficiency
Difficulty to interact with others or being a good colleague.
8. Refusal to confront fears
Allowing fears to prevent development of potential.

As an educator, how do I ensure the development of my students’ full potential?

As educators, there are measures that we can take to develop the full potential of our students.

First, we have the responsibility of eliciting the interests, abilities, and passions of young people. According to Subotnik, all children need to be given the opportunity to be exposed to all domains during their initial years. As their interest and abilities begin surfacing, schools should provide adequate support and acceleration to enhance these interests. Specialisation should subsequently be encouraged for those who excel.

Last but not least, we must not forget the importance of good psychosocial skills. As educators, we are able to prevent the failure of talented individuals. We need to actively and deliberately cultivate psychosocial skills via the implementation of programmes, counselling, and mentoring of students. Educators may choose to provide explicit rewards for efforts and persistence or to model good psychosocial skills for students to follow.

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