Talent and Giftedness

I have written a great deal in this blog about the impact CCK08 had upon my thinking and practice. Recently I had an opportunity to catch up with one of my on-line companions from CCK08, Carmen Tschofen. We came together to discuss talent and giftedness. Our conversation drew upon some exchanges we had during CCK08 and subsequently after I wrote this post about nature and nurture.
I was fascinated to learn from Carmen about the Lighthouse Program in Minnesota (some background information here). A Lighthouse Program student is:

  • In possession of an insatiable curiosity
  • Drawn to complex ideas
  • Comfortable with ambiguity in learning
  • Self–directed in learning
  • Eager to learn the practice of experts from discipline
  • Capable of working effectively with team members
  • Capable of a sustained focus to resolve questions
  • Recognized as highly able in performance, as well as, potential
  • Currently 7-18 years of age
The Lighthouse Program comprises:
  • Accelerated pace of learning
  • Non graded, multi-aged grouping
  • Integrated curriculum
  • Opportunities for On-line Learning
  • Opportunities to experience the practices of experts
  • Depth of study in complex Inquiry
  • Student focused learning
  • Teacher/facilitator focused on students’ learning
  • Connections to rigorous high school options
  • Collaborative and Competitive Opportunities

Meeting Carmen and her colleagues gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore and reflect on generic issues around talent and gift that had prompted me to write about performance and share some early ideas about the identification process.
Our conversation used Elluminate and this is a recording of our hour-long exchange that linked early morning Australia and lunchtime Minnesota.

During that time we discussed:
2:40 Supporting and defining talent on an individual basis
5:15 The role of personal volition/motivation/environment
8:30 The importance of allowing time for self-discovery and play
14:30 On being the same/being different
20:00 The meaning of growth potential and potential triggers for growth
23:10 Resilience, persistence, and the issues with electronic entertainment
27:50 Understanding personal talent development through biography and narrative
30:30 Who guides talent development?
33:40 Values and ethics in coaching and mentoring
36:10 The “Birth Year Effect,” the development of talent over time, and “the system”
40:00 Relationships and life lessons
43:00 The role of deliberate practice, the problem of instant gratification, and computer games
48:35 The difficulties of “elite performer” lifestyles, the problems with shallow praise
51:50 Extrinsic rewards and the issues of ownership and autonomy
54:00 Self-ownership and self-accountability
I really enjoyed the hour I spent with Carmen and her friends. It was quite difficult to go back to bed (4 a.m.) after such a stimulating conversation. I am hopeful that this is the start of a close link with the Lighthouse Program. Sport has a great deal to learn from innovative educators within and beyond its cultural contexts.

I am convinced that any approach to talent and gift must have a profoundly personal focus that celebrates learning biographies. I am keen to explore the interrelationship between context and opportunity that can permeate personal stories.
Photo Credits
Girls skipping at an athletics carnival


  1. A great article, thanks Keith.
    I too am convinced that the style of learning/teaching in the Lighthouse Program can have a profound positive influence on an athlete’s development. I also believe that many coaches and manages in elite sport would agree with the concepts. I think that part of the issues that arise are initiated by something as mundane as the length of a coach’s contract (and also the volatility of the contract). Specifically, when coaches have short term contracts (and in some sports can be sacked well short of finishing these contracts, how can they trust the athlete to learn everything they need to win ‘by themselves’ in the timeframe required for this coach to ‘win’. I suspect that many coaches, when faced with the decision between trusting themselves to teach an athlete what they need and trusting the athletes to somehow learn it ‘for themselves’ will choose the former when their livelihood is at risk.
    I was wondering if you had any thoughts on this dilemma?

    • Thanks for writing such a detailed comment, Alexis. My hope is that coaches can take a long term view (hence they are ‘coaches’ rather than ‘trainers’). If we are serious about lifelong learning then we do have to be able to take a selfless approach to flourishing. I think many of the athletes you have coached love volleyball even though you are not with them. I am now calling this long term visionary approach ‘the Finland Resolve’ (https://keithlyons.me/lessons-for-sport-from-oecd-education-insights/). Thank you for making the time to read and write.

  2. Hi Keith,
    It does seem that supporting innovation in learning and personal development lends itself to discussion across contexts, disciplines… and continents. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your time and wisdom at such an early hour!

    • Carmen
      Thank you for the opportunity to explore these ideas. The hour together was a great learning experience for me. Thank you for making the recording available.
      Best wishes


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