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Subotnik, R.F.; Olszewski-Kubilius, P.; Corwith, S.; Calvert, E.; Worrell, F.C. Components of Talent Development Programming. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 23 June 2024).
Subotnik RF, Olszewski-Kubilius P, Corwith S, Calvert E, Worrell FC. Components of Talent Development Programming. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 23, 2024.
Subotnik, Rena F., Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, Susan Corwith, Eric Calvert, Frank C. Worrell. "Components of Talent Development Programming" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 23, 2024).
Subotnik, R.F., Olszewski-Kubilius, P., Corwith, S., Calvert, E., & Worrell, F.C. (2023, July 20). Components of Talent Development Programming. In Encyclopedia.
Subotnik, Rena F., et al. "Components of Talent Development Programming." Encyclopedia. Web. 20 July, 2023.
Components of Talent Development Programming

Talent development, as a framework for gifted education, is gaining traction among scholars and practitioners. Its foundation can be found in a synthesis of the psychological literature on creativity, eminence, giftedness, and high performance. A comprehensive talent development program can be grouped into six main categories for the purposes of planning and evaluation. These include (1) focusing on domain-specific knowledge and skills, (2) considering domain-specific trajectories, (3) recognizing that abilities are not fixed and need to be developed, (4) teaching psychosocial skills, (5) planning for academic and career pathways, and (6) taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

talent development domain-specific abilities domain trajectories psychosocial skills

1. Focus on Domain-Specific Knowledge and Skills

In the talent development megamodel (TDMM), general ability is considered foundational to the development of more specific, domain-relevant abilities such as mathematical, verbal, or spatial abilities [1][2][3]. However, in contrast to traditional gifted education models, measures of general cognitive ability may have limited utility to identify learners with advanced potential for domain-specific talent development opportunities (e.g., advanced mathematics courses). Rather, in a talent development approach, measures of specific abilities should be used that can reveal the relative strengths of each student in order to guide them toward engaging and appropriately challenging courses and programs that capitalize on and further develop their particular profile of abilities.
Research supports the importance and predictive validity of domain-specific abilities for achievement. Studies have shown, for example, that a verbal versus quantitative tilt in abilities—that is, high scores on tests of verbal versus mathematical reasoning ability in middle school students—is related to differences in domains of adult accomplishment. Typically, verbal tilt increases the probability of accomplishments in the humanities and quantitative tilt increases the probability of accomplishments in STEM fields [4][5]. Moreover, not only do domain-specific abilities matter, but the pattern of abilities is useful in determining future educational and career paths for students. For example, high mathematical ability along with high spatial ability is associated with success in STEM fields, particularly engineering and physics [6]. More unique factors associated with an academic subject like mathematics, such as number sense or mathematical cast of mind, have accumulated a large quantity of supporting literature [7][8][9][10]. Other subjects need this level of detailed research to expand the possibilities of identifying potential abilities.
From the talent development perspective, general ability can be an initial indicator of talent and academic potential, while domain-specific academic abilities become increasingly important as abilities naturally differentiate with development. Many students are outstanding academically but have not identified a domain of special interest. Measures of general ability can be useful to educators as they can reveal the necessity for a faster pace of learning, and, combined with achievement indices, highlight the potential for grade or subject area acceleration before students’ interests coalesce or for those talent domains that emerge later (e.g., psychology or leadership). Providing the appropriate level of challenge through pacing and advanced content will keep students engaged in learning and help them develop important psychosocial skills such as a growth mindset or presentation and study skills so that students are prepared to take advantage of opportunities in the domain that eventually emerges as a good fit with their interests and abilities.

2. Different Domains Have Varied Trajectories

Because of its emphasis on domain-specific abilities, the TDMM acknowledges that various academic fields have unique trajectories [1][3]. Some domains can be introduced very early in a child’s academic or home experience as part of the building blocks to other domains or because they are developmentally appropriate and accessible through daily activities—mathematics, some musical instruments such as violin, or some sports such as gymnastics—whereas other domains may not become known, at least in depth, until schooling during late adolescence or even university (see Table 1). This can relate to the level of prerequisite knowledge and skills (e.g., leadership, philosophy) needed or even physical development required.
Table 1. Domain trajectories.
Mathematics, for example, lends itself to early precocity, and children can begin formal study at the start of school or even earlier. Other areas, such as psychology or history, require a longer period of building foundational knowledge and skills, including analytical writing and critical reading, such that serious study can only begin much later, for example, at secondary school or college [1][2]. Of course, access to certain subjects is controlled by the structure of current schooling, which typically and somewhat arbitrarily limits students’ access to subjects such as psychology until high school, or philosophy or engineering until college. These unique trajectories influence when identification should occur and when programming might begin for different academic subjects.
Factors such as access to opportunity have an impact on talent development trajectories. For example, some children start formal education having had considerable exposure to books, music, mathematics, and science from their early environments. They are ready to start with an advanced curriculum and accelerated placement in schools and supplemental programs, sometimes in settings with older learners. Other students, particularly those from more economically disadvantaged backgrounds, may have exceptional learning potential that is not obvious or demonstrated through advanced knowledge or school achievement because of a lack of early stimulation and exposure. These children can benefit from early enriched instruction and curricula to both nurture and reveal their potential, followed by subsequent opportunities to access high-level courses and programs and/or accelerated placements.

3. Abilities Can Be Developed

In the traditional gifted child approach, exceptional ability and/or high intelligence are viewed as all-or-none traits of an individual—“you have it or you don’t” [11][12]. From the talent development perspective, individual differences in initial abilities are recognized; however, these abilities are not static and need to evolve over time. In its earliest manifestation, talent is best described as potential for future achievement in a domain. As children develop and grow—and with nurturance, opportunity, effort, study, and practice—potential is developed further into competence and expertise that is increasingly demonstrated in exceptional levels of creative achievement. The pinnacle of talent development, typically achieved in adulthood, is the generation of a transformative idea or performance [1][2].
When creating programs that support talent development, the first step is to select the domains in which opportunities will be provided, including the distinction between the development of performers (e.g., actors, singers, athletes) and producers (e.g., composers, writers, scientists) [1]. The next step, which is the responsibility of the research community working in collaboration with domain experts, is to identify the knowledge and skills necessary for achievement at the highest levels in each domain, which requires working with professionals and domain experts. This step may include making explicit what is often viewed as implicit knowledge shared among those with expertise and experience. With the knowledge of what is required at the highest levels, educators can then develop an articulated sequence of programs within domains that will enable students to progress through the stages of talent development that their school serves, which is typically moving potential through competence or early expertise.
For children and adolescents, academic domains can be introduced within generalized areas of study and become more specialized with interest and achievement. There are several implications for school-based programming: If an ability can be developed, then it must be cultivated continuously (exposed, observed, assessed). If learning is contextual, then looking for evidence of ability outside of school and typical classroom environments is important. For example, relationships with community organizations such as clubs, museum classes, or scouting can allow for the cultivation of special abilities such as leadership. If psychosocial skills matter, then designing opportunities for coaching and practice can be integral parts of the talent development program.

4. Psychosocial Skills Are Critical to Talent Development

Psychosocial skills are those that enable a person to marshal environmental, social, and technological resources deliberately, ethically, and productively in the service of attaining goals. These include the skills typically grouped under social and emotional learning (e.g., self-awareness, social awareness, self-management), but also include a much broader range of constructs. In the TDMM, psychosocial skills are considered essential for transducing ability and potential into creative productivity in adulthood, with certain skills being more important at particular stages of talent development [13][14].
Research has shown that psychosocial skills, such as growth mindsets, self-regulation, and self-efficacy, have become increasingly critical determiners of whether students progress to higher levels of talent development, and that these skills can be taught and developed by instructors and other adults [1][15]. However, which psychosocial skills are important vary with the stage of talent development. For example, growth mindsets that emphasize the role of effort and practice on achievement, and teachability, which involves being open to instruction and feedback, are critical when children are learning the foundational techniques and knowledge of their talent field. However, independent thinking, confidence to challenge and question instructors, and knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses become important when individuals are more advanced in their fields [16]. The talent development framework emphasizes the deliberate cultivation of psychosocial skills that support high achievement, rather than leaving these to chance.
Specialists and others can help children acquire these psychosocial skills by building their development into programming and curricula and through their interactions with students [17]. For example, teachers can make sure they convey, through their verbal messages to children and feedback on projects and assignments, the importance of effort and study, as well as the practice of a variety of learning strategies. Dweck [18] proposed some recommendations for the kinds of praise that promote malleable, as opposed to fixed, mindsets in children. Educators can provide opportunities for children to take intellectual risks, such as projects that are difficult and require them to work on the edges of their current competency level, or ones that allow them to put novel ideas forward in a supportive context. Educators can provide emotional scaffolding to gifted children at critical transition points, such as when they move to more challenging and competitive academic environments and assist parents in learning how to support their child at home during these times. It is also key that educators model resiliency and strategies to cope productively with perceived failures, setbacks, and threats to self-esteem and confidence [2][14].
A second category of psychosocial skills comes from the world of performance, where these skills are used to enhance the effectiveness of elite athletes or musicians [19]. These skills, such as addressing performance anxiety, screening out distractions, and strategic risk taking are also useful for academic environments that include presentations, competitions, and critical examinations. Academic talent development mirrors music and sports performance psychology in recognizing that the ability to engage in ongoing deliberate practice in “low stakes” situations and the ability to self-regulate mental focus and emotional arousal in high-stakes situations are critical for long-term success and peak performance. Explicitly drawing these connections for students and teaching concepts that are transferable across multiple talent domains may be effective strategies to increase academic achievement and improve performance in other areas [20].
Parents and teachers can facilitate the development of the skills needed at each stage of talent development (Figure 1) with proper training and access to the right resources, keeping in mind that, in order for students to acquire self-regulation learning strategies, they must be taught them explicitly; moreover, they must practice them in relevant domain-specific learning contexts using content that is appropriately advanced [21] (Zeidner and Stoeger, 2019).
Figure 1. Transition from psychosocial skills to high-performance skills over time.

5. Planning for Academic and Career Pathways

Young people need help in identifying and attaining academic and career goals and access to insider knowledge about careers and educational paths from professionals in the field. This process starts with the ability to recognize their interests, strengths, and needs in cognitive and psychological areas. This is followed by an awareness of domains of study and related professions that align with these interests, strengths, and needs. In addition, insight into how one learns and the influence of culture, traditions, values, and opportunities, as well as insider knowledge about careers and educational pathways, is often learned implicitly from family or community members but can be made explicit, particularly for students from disadvantaged circumstances or families with less social capital.
A talent development approach to programming has deliberately incorporated academic and career planning in an effort to help young people attain expertise and set the stage for scholarly productivity and artistry in adulthood. However, academic and career planning is not all generic, and the availability of domain expertise becomes increasingly important at higher stages of talent development.
Relatedly, talent development does not occur spontaneously. Talent development requires vision and the creation of both short- and long-term goals. Educators need to be knowledgeable about how to prepare students at each stage and which types of knowledge, skills, and experiences will maximize potential and achievement and enable students to successfully progress to the next higher stage. In some academic domains, outside-of-school opportunities play a significant role in transforming abilities into competencies and expertise (e.g., sports, music, arts); therefore, “personnel with deep knowledge and expertise in a domain, community resources and talent trajectories in each domain should be part of the gifted education team” [22] (p. 44). Program staff and administrators are integral to creating systematic and continuous services, including access to clubs, competitions, mentors, courses, higher education, and other means of cultivating talent. In addition, they help young people and parents track participation and growth, set goals for achievement, advocate for opportunities at school, and create peer networks.

6. Opportunities Must Be Offered and Taken

Though schools will provide students with some talent development opportunities, particularly in academic subjects, many domains of study will require access to supplemental programming and coaching. Whenever possible, it is helpful to create collaborations, or at least to facilitate communication, among schools, families, and community organizations to expand access to opportunities and keep students consistently on their talent development trajectories.
Other considerations are potential barriers to program access, including schedules, transportation, lack of parental awareness or support, cost, language, disability, or student perceptions that programs are not for “people like me”. Many of these barriers can be addressed with proactive planning and creative resource allocation. Organizations that provide supplemental programs can help arrange transportation, offer online or alternative site programming, and provide scaffolds and supports for students who have a disability or who are language learners. Well-coordinated and delivered marketing and communication activities and partnerships between schools and other community organizations can provide information to parents, while parent education can be offered through workshops, newsletters, webinars, and other means.
Sometimes, resistance to taking advantage of opportunities comes from within the student. Most often, the reasons include a lack of interest, negative peer or parental pressure, and a lack of confidence in their ability to be successful, particularly in a new activity. This lack of interest may be genuine, or it may derive from not knowing enough about the interesting components of a field outside of the mandated school curriculum. Peer pressure can be alleviated through mentoring and an introduction to new peer groups with similar passions [23]. Dealing with parental pressure is often the most difficult for students as well as for the professionals who work with them in talent development, especially when the family is depending on their child to follow a professional path that may help to move them out of poverty or low-income status. In this case, guidance on keeping options open, including boundary crossing between science and the arts and humanities, might be helpful.
Hearing from students involved in the programs and having a chance to try an activity without extended commitment, formal evaluation, or incentives can help with these sources of resistance. Small external, extrinsic rewards can be effective, particularly at the beginning of the talent development journey or when trying to encourage students to engage in the practice of basic skills. In the long term, though, students will need to develop a sufficient commitment to sustain their engagement into adulthood.


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