Unlocking Potential: Identifying and Serving Gifted Students From Low-Income Households: Author Q&A
Unlocking Potential: Identifying and Serving Gifted Students From Low-Income Households: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, February 10, 2021 by Andilynn Feddeler

Unlocking Potential: Identifying and Serving Gifted Students From Low-Income Households is the go-to resource for an up-to-date overview of best practices in identification, curriculum, instruction, community support, and program design for gifted learners from low-income households. Learn more about the book in this interview with the editors, Tamra Stambaugh, Ph.D., and Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Ph.D.

Q: What motivated you to develop this book? How do you hope the book will address this goal?

A: The motivation for this book was the dire need for a comprehensive look at gifted learners from low-income families that combined research with best practices. We wanted a go-to book for educators where research and practical recommendations were melded together on multiple factors that affect these learners—with topics including working effectively with low-income families; districtwide, systemic approaches to services; psychosocial factors that affect student achievement; issues surrounding identification; and best practices for curriculum and instruction within specific content areas. We recruited authors who knew the research and also had worked directly with students from low-income families. We wanted each author to capitalize on their professional expertise in addition to the research.


Q: How is the book structured? What is included in each chapter?

A: Each chapter tackles an important facet of the puzzle of serving gifted learners from low-income families. The book begins by reviewing the research on poverty, detailing who gifted learners from low-income backgrounds are, where they live, and how poverty affects their opportunities to learn and develop their talents. As not all students from low-income households are the same, the next chapter explains the importance of context and culture when working with students from low-income households who are from various racial, ethnic, geographic, and language backgrounds. Then, the book shifts to identifying and serving students from low-income households. There are two chapters on identification: one that deals with psychological issues from a student perspective that need to be considered in identification, and one that looks at best practices for assessing talent, such as universal screening and local norms. The next three chapters focus on curriculum, instruction, and related research. We included a general curriculum chapter that talks about the need for advanced curriculum with scaffolding, and then two chapters that explore what curriculum and instruction entail in content-specific areas in STEM and the humanities. From there, the book focuses on internal and external influences for working with students, such as counseling needs (both academic and personal), outside-of-school experiences and access, and work with families using an asset-based approach that identifies key psychosocial skills that support high achievement and discusses how to cultivate these skills. Of course, we cannot view each chapter of the book in isolation. We must consider the whole child, their family, and their context as part of the identification and curriculum process. To this end, we included a chapter focused on how the various components discussed in prior chapters fit together within a school-based structure that school leaders can use as an implementation guide. The book concludes with stories from individuals who are at various levels of career development and grew up in low-income households. Themes are derived from these lived experiences and the congruent research.


Q: Why are students from low-income households often overlooked in the identification of gifted students? 

A: A primary reason gifted students from low-income families are overlooked is that typical identification procedures for gifted programs rely heavily on indices of academic achievement. Students from low-income backgrounds, however, often have had fewer opportunities to learn compared to their more advantaged peers for a variety of reasons, including less access to and participation in fee-based outside-of-school educational opportunities, less exposure to early education, less opportunity for informal learning opportunities in their homes and neighborhoods, and perhaps, lower quality school programs. These students have high potential but perhaps not yet high achievement as shown in school-based ways. Students from low-income backgrounds may have excellent problem-solving skills, resourcefulness, and creativity as evidenced in their real-world settings, but these skills may go unnoticed if not harnessed into school-based behaviors or looked for outside of the typical school day. Moreover, typical gifted programs do not screen or identify for potential, which is necessary to capture more learners from low-income backgrounds. Additionally, research has shown that schools with larger numbers of students from poverty are less likely to even offer any type of gifted programming, thus perpetuating the excellence gap.


Q: What are some common perceptions of gifted students from low-income backgrounds, and how do these affect the services they receive?

A: Gifted students from low-income backgrounds and their families have many assets that are often overlooked. They may have very supportive families who provide psychological and emotional support as well as high expectations for achievement. Also, educators tend to dismiss the assets students can bring to their learning, such as high levels of responsibility as a result of caring for siblings, time management skills as a result of juggling jobs, resourcefulness in creating opportunities, home responsibilities and school, being bilingual and perhaps interpreting for a parent when navigating life requirements, and multiple perspectives as a result of being bicultural.


Q: What first steps can educators take to better support these students?

A: At the broadest level, there must be a commitment to finding these students in every school, with implications for instituting equitable identification policies and procedures and crafting program models that start early and encompass K–12. As educators, we may need to create programs that seek to find talent by introducing all students to higher level thinking skill development and monitoring who excels or grows with this exposure so that we can rule out opportunity gaps. This requires training for educators at every level. Additionally, educators need to critically examine their beliefs, expectations, and misperceptions about gifted students from low-income backgrounds and create welcoming environments within their classrooms, fostering a sense of belonging and capitalizing on students’ strengths. We can no longer accept that “there are no gifted students in this school.” Instead, we must provide services and opportunities that cultivate the talents of our students and seek to find and cultivate the talents our students bring with them every day, thus unlocking their potential.


Tamra Stambaugh, Ph.D., is an associate research professor of special education and executive director of Programs for Talented Youth (PTY) at Vanderbilt University. Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Ph.D., is director of the Center for Talent Development and a professor in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University.