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Project Uses Famous Profiles to Identify Gifted, Creative Students

From Mark Twain to Woody Allen, creative adults often say they were uncomfortable in school, and educators have struggled for decades to find a reliable way to identify gifted—but often quirky or rambunctious—creative students.

A research project at the University of Kansas has used biographies of all those notable former students to develop tools to help teachers identify and support creative adolescents. In "Searching for Tomorrow's Innovators: Profiling Creative Adolescents," Barbara Kerr, the director of the university's Counseling Laboratory for the Exploration of Optimal States, and former Kansas colleague Robyn McKay, now a psychology professor at Arizona State University-Polytechnic College of Technology and Innovation, analyzed biographies and interviews with famous creative adults to identify their characteristics at age 16.

The researchers distilled these into six profiles in five areas of creative giftedness: verbal and linguistic skills; mathematics and science; spatial and visual skills; interpersonal and emotional skills; and music and dance.

"There's never been an efficient way to find adolescents, precollege, who could benefit from a creative career," Ms. Kerr said in a statement on the profiles. "Very often these traits that feed their creativity, like openness to experience and impulsivity, get them in trouble," Kerr said. "And many of them said that they're only noticed in school when they're in trouble. Creative kids tend to be a particular type of outsider, admired by their small cadre of friends for their art or coding abilities, but avoided by many because of their eccentricities."

Over five years, the researchers worked with academic counselors in schools across Kansas to identify 485 students who matched the profiles. The students were brought to the counseling laboratory, where they took additional personality- and cognitive-traits tests and were interviewed about academic issues and personal goals.

Ms. Kerr and Ms. McKay found a third of students who fit the profiles for creative giftedness had never been identified for gifted programs, largely because their grade point averages were not higher than average—in part because these students tended to dedicate themselves to only subjects that interested them. They found these students tended to respond better to academic counseling that encouraged a do-it-yourself approach, such as pairing science classes with technical shop classes for a student interested in becoming an inventor.

A study of the project, "Searching for Tomorrow's Innovators: Profiling
Creative Adolescents
," was published in the current issue of Creativity Research Journal.

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