July 17, 2000 Writer: Kristin Harmel
Source: Thomas Oakland, (352) 376-8396, firstname.lastname@example.org
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- Gifted students tend to have more active imaginations than average students, and gifted girls are almost twice as likely as gifted boys to prefer imagination to practicality, a new University of Florida study shows.
However, children with all different temperament styles can excel in school, especially if their parents understand how they solve problems and interact with others, said study author Thomas Oakland, an educational psychology professor in UF's College of Education.
In a study to be published in the journal Gifted Child Quarterly, Oakland tested 1,554 gifted and non-gifted students between the ages of 8 and 17 to determine whether temperament style separated children who excel in school from average children.
Using the Student Styles Questionnaire, a 69-question test of temperament style available to counselors across the country, researchers determined students' preferences in one of two temperament dimensions in four categories: practical-imaginative, thinking-feeling, organized-flexible and extroversion-introversion.
The first pair of styles indicates whether a child pays more attention to facts and small details or to theories and broad details. The second pair indicates how students make decisions. The third pair indicates whether students like structure or flexible freedom, and the fourth pair indicates whether students' energy and focus are external or internal.
The study's most significant finding was that gifted students are 29 percent more likely to be imaginative than non-gifted students. The difference was even more apparent in female students: Gifted girls are 55 percent more likely to prefer an imaginative style.
While the majority of girls in both the gifted and non-gifted groups tended toward a feeling style rather than a thinking style, gifted boys are 28 percent more likely to prefer a feeling style than non-gifted boys.
Girls in the study tended to prefer organized styles more than boys did, but there was no significant difference between gifted and non-gifted students when it came to levels of organization. There were no significant differences between genders or between gifted and non-gifted students on the extroversion-introversion scale.
Although the tendency toward imagination and emotion emerged as a pattern among gifted students, numerous students in gifted programs didn't fit the temperament profiles of the majority.
"Children with all different learning styles qualify for gifted programs," Oakland said.
Students are more inclined to succeed in school if their parents have an understanding of their temperament preferences and how to work with them, Oakland said.
"The greater the fit between the natural temperament of the child and the atmosphere he or she is in, the better," Oakland said. "At home, you should try to help your child in the way he or she learns best."
That can be difficult, however, if the temperament styles of the parents differ from that of the child, Oakland said.
"For example, an extroverted child who lives with extroverts will feel it's a natural way to live and worry less about things," he said. "An extroverted child who lives with introverts might wonder, ‘What's wrong with me? Why don't my parents want to talk with me?'"
If parents feel that their child's performance in school might be limited by temperament style, Oakland recommends talking with a school guidance counselor or child psychologist and requesting a temperament-style test similar to the one used in the study.
"Parents can facilitate their children's academic development by helping their child discover and embrace their natural abilities and helping their child learn to compensate for their relative weaknesses," said Connie Horton, an associate professor of psychology at Illinois State University and a co-author of the study.
Counselors and psychologists also can provide a written report about a child's temperament style for teachers if parents feel their child's temperament style is influencing his or her classroom performance, Oakland said.
"It's important to identify your children's strengths, not merely the things they don't do well in," Oakland said. "What are the ways in which they learn best? If parents are provided information as to the qualities they should look for, they'll be better prepared to help their child."
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