Parents and educators often worry about how gifted students spend their time in the classroom. Rightly so, given that gifted students can often find standard curricula easy or boring. And adolescents in the U.S. typically have six to eight hours of free time each day. This is not a trivial amount of time and should not be ignored by parents of the gifted. A recent study by Duke TIP looked at exactly this.
How time is spent outside the classroom has been connected to several important long-term outcomes. For example, participation in extracurricular activities can help students develop better attitudes toward school and long-term educational and occupational success. Participation in activities has also been associated with avoiding negative outcomes like dropping out of school or using drugs. Similarly, participation is positively related to standardized test scores, grades, and educational aspirations.
However, not all types of activities should be treated equally. Time spent watching TV and working in an after school job have been found to be negatively related to academic performance.
It is also important to remember that gifted students are a diverse group. Not all gifted students are the same; they have varied interests, passions, and abilities.
Duke TIP took these factors into account and looked at how three different groups of gifted students spend their time outside the classroom. These three groups were: students who attended a summer talent search program, those who qualified for a summer program but did not attend, and those who qualified for the talent search but did not qualify for participation in a summer program. If all gifted students were the same, then no differences would be expected between these groups.
Overall, the study reports that gifted students reported participating in variety of activities outside the classroom. However, not all groups of gifted students participate in the same types of activities. The researchers found that within the gifted sample, students with relatively higher ability reported spending more time on academic related activities like homework and academic clubs than the relatively lower ability students. However, students with relatively lower ability were more likely to report participating in vocational activities, watching TV, and working in an after school job.
There is sometimes a concern that students who attend special programs differ from those who do not attend such programs (e.g., maybe their parents are more focused on academics or are more wealthy). This study reported that students who attended a summer program spent their time similarly to those who qualified but did not attend a summer program. This finding suggests that the two groups may not differ substantially from each other in how they spend their time outside the classroom during the school year.
The two groups that differed most apparently were males and females. Gifted females reported participating in more different types of activities than males including those positively associated with achievement such as spending more time on homework and being in academic clubs. Gifted males, on the other hand, reported watching more TV than females. One interesting result is that males who did not qualify for a summer program reported working more than their female counterparts, but the difference was in the opposite direction for students who attended a summer program.
Both male and female athletic participation rates were high, providing further evidence against the stereotype that gifted youth are gawky or awkward.
Although there is no sure fire way to guarantee future success (forcing your child to participate in activities he or she has no interest in likely isn’t the way), knowing the types of activities your child participates in can help parents decide the extent to which they want to encourage or discourage/limit participation.