Back to List

12 Basic Principles of Gifted Programs

As I reflect on past years, I also find myself noting that I have had the pleasure of working in the field of gifted education for 43 years now. Gifted children continue to be my passion and I feel so fortunate and grateful to have been able to share the journeys of so many students along the way. Then, I think about what might be new in our field, and the answer is not much and that’s not a bad thing in terms of the basics still holding true. New trends and new names for old trends build on the important basic principles of gifted programs in my mind.

I would list those basic principles of the content of gifted programs in these 12 ways:

1. Higher levels of thinking are always involved.

The characteristics of gifted students dictate that our curriculum should offer them ways to think broadly, complexly, creatively, and analytically.

2. Content should involve real or authentic problem solving.

Gifted students need to deal with real issues and need to learn processes of problem solving that will use information that they gather and provide practice for future use.

3. Creativity should be encouraged and developed. 

Gifted students have the ability and need to play with ideas and have the mental resources and knowledge to create new ideas that progress our understandings and solutions into new and exciting areas.

4. The curriculum should go beyond the scope of core or basic curriculum.

Gifted students either already know or quickly grasp basic skills and core content. They need the challenge and rigor that advanced levels or intriguing content beyond core curriculum can provide.

5. Choice is important.

Gifted students may have areas of passion or interest and should be allowed to follow those paths to their ultimate end or related areas they discover.

6. Independence is important.

We want gifted children to be able to find their own way, rather than to follow the leads of others. They should learn self-sufficiency and self-direction, as we would hope they will lead rather than follow in their lives.

7. Assignments should be open-ended.

We hope and expect that gifted students will be able to reach beyond our expectations, that they will exercise their creative thinking abilities to come up with unique ideas, and that they are not hampered by our limitations. Open-ended assignments will encourage a level of achievement and excellence beyond what we can predict.

8. Pace should be considered.

Gifted students will usually move at a quick pace in knowledge attainment and should be allowed to progress at their comfort speed and interest level. Sometimes, though, they may wish to engage in a slower pace for thoughtful problem solving or idea creation. Sometimes ideas need time to germinate or incubate and that’s okay too.

9. Students should be involved in self-evaluation and assessment.

They should be able to and have opportunity to analyze how they are doing. This skill will become increasingly important as they mature and become leaders in their fields. They may be the only ones who can really assess if they are on the right track or if they need to circle back and re-evaluate.

10. Curriculum should include student generated content.

Curriculum is most meaningful and interesting to gifted students when it has personal application. When students can pursue independent study, select topics for projects, and create orbital studies around the core content, they will stay engaged and will also feed their abilities to think, work and act independently.

11. Curriculum should be based on complex issues, problems, or themes.

Engage broad types of thinking abilities and allow connections within knowledge to increase depth of thinking as well as of personal engagement in the content.

12. Products should be encouraged that approximate those of the professional within the fields of study.

We want future scientists to start thinking and producing as scientists do. We want writers to write, artists to perform and display their products within their professions. Mathematicians, engineers, historians—whatever the field, to do what the professionals do. Students should start to learn the practices and processes of the fields that interest them and participate in those processes and products at a young age.

While these 12 ideas are not new, it might still be a good idea to take a new look at what we do as parents and educators and make sure that we are doing all we can do for all gifted students everywhere.

At the Summer Institute for the Gifted, we value these basic principles of gifted programs. With day and residential program options, SIG offers over 80 courses for gifted, creative and academically talented students ages 5-17 at program locations throughout the United States.

Dr. Barbara Swicord


This website stores cookies on your computer. These cookies are used to collect information about how you interact with our website and allow us to remember you. We use this information in order to improve and customize your browsing experience and for analytics and metrics about our visitors both on the website and other media. To find out more about the cookies we use, see our Privacy Policy.

Got It!