Dr. Stephanie Ferguson (formerly Nugent) is the Director of the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia. She earned a B.S. in secondary English education from Millersville University of Pennsylvania in 1989, a M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction-secondary gifted education from Southeastern Louisiana University in 1998, and completed her Ph.D. in curriculum, instruction and special education with an emphasis in gifted studies at The University of Southern Mississippi in 2002. Her professional experience includes ten years of middle and secondary teaching in Louisiana in general and gifted education as well as academic counseling; education faculty positions at various universities and colleges; and numerous presentations and publications at the state, regional, national and international levels. Dr. Ferguson’s research interests include single-gender educational settings, moral development, integrating the affective domain in curricula, radical acceleration/early entrance, and developing teacher leaders.

 Should Gifted Students Be Grade-Advanced

A Case for Affective Education: Addressing the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Students in the Classroom

Professionals in the field of gifted education have documented the affective characteristics of gifted individuals as well as the social and emotional needs related to those characteristics (Clark 2002; Cohen & Frydenberg, 1996; Cross, 2003; Delisle, 1987; Roeper, 1995; Silverman, 1993).  Despite the evidence and support provided by the literature, often proactive attention to the affective domain is overlooked in many schools unless that attention is in reaction to some overt threat or maladaptive behavior identified by the school community (Peterson, 2003).

Defining the Term

There are many theories which attest to the connection between the affective domain and cognitive processing. Although many of these theories were not developed with gifted individuals specifically in mind, they nonetheless have influence on educational practice. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1971), Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (Dabrowski, 1964) and overexcitabilities (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977), Kohlberg’s stages of moral development (Kohlberg, 1974), and Krathwohl’s affective taxonomy (Krathwohl, Bloom & Masia, 1964) all address various aspects of the social-emotional milieu as they relate to cognition. The aforementioned theories provide a foundation upon which numerous definitions of affective education have been built. However, just as there is no “standard” definition of giftedness, there are a myriad of facets associated with affective education, but no clear operational definition. Some elements associated with affective education include:

  • individualized value systems (Krathwohl, Bloom & Masia, 1964);
  • attitudes, beliefs, and values (Sellin & Birch, 1980);
  • interests and appreciations (Carin & Sund, 1978);
  • persistence, independence, and self-concept (Levey & Dolan, 1988);
  • feelings, emotions, and awareness of self and others (Treffinger, Borgers, Render & Hoffman, 1976);
  • interpersonal relations (Treffinger, et al., 1976);
  • humanitarianism (Weinstein & Fantini, 1970);
  • curiosity, risk-taking, complexity, and imagination (Williams, 1970); and
  • character and leadership (Delisle, 2002).

Why Is It Important?

With factors such as these linked to gifted education, the affective domain should be given a priority in school curricula. With current emphasis placed upon standardized testing and content standard accountability, the need to seamlessly incorporate strategies aimed at balancing the cognitive and affective for a balanced educational product seems greater than ever.

Morelock (1992) defines asynchronous development in gifted individuals as an uneven rate of development in the cognitive, affective, and physical domains. When school curriculum focuses solely upon the cognitive realm, the uneven development of the other domains may be enhanced, thus emphasizing the gifted child’s feeling of being ‘out of sync’ with his or her peers (Silverman, 1993). Roeper (1995) contends that if asynchronous development is left unchecked, the adoption of unhealthy lifestyles (e.g., perfectionism, self-criticism, poor self-concept) or maladjustment (e.g., depression, eating disorders, antisocial behavior) may ensue. However, when affective issues are addressed and social emotional needs met, gifted students face their challenges with emotional balance and appropriate coping mechanisms that promote success in reaching personal potential rather than failure to do so (Roeper, 1995).

As further support for addressing the affective domain in the curriculum, Landrum, Callahan, and Shaklee (2001) incorporated affective components into the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) Pre-K – Grade 12 gifted program standards. Standard three, socio-emotional guidance and counseling, promotes the need to “establish a plan to recognize and nurture the unique socio-emotional development of gifted learners” (Nevitt, 2001, p. 27).  Within this standard, guiding principle #4 states, “Gifted learners must be provided with affective curriculum in addition to differentiated guidance and counseling services” (Nevitt, 2001, p. 34). The rationale being that the inclusion of affective components within the curriculum enhances the whole student rather than merely focusing upon cognitive development.

Reasons For Neglect

Numerous rationales are cited in relation to why schools choose not to include the affective domain within their curricula:

  • the traditional lack of concern in education for the affective domain (Tannenbaum, 1983);
  • attitudes on the part of adults that emotions are to be dealt with at home rather than in the school (Elgersma, 1981);
  • fear of indoctrination (Bloom, Hastings & Madaus, 1971);
  • the position that if the school meets the child’s cognitive needs, affective development will automatically follow (Mehrens & Lehman, 1987);
  • lack of reliable and valid tools for assessing affective functioning (Levey & Dolan, 1988);
  • lack of clarity as to the optimal level of affective functioning to be attained (Levey & Dolan, 1988); and
  • the belief that healthy emotional development among students is automatic (Blackburn & Erikson, 1986).

However, when affective issues are addressed and social emotional needs met, students face their challenges with emotional balance and appropriate coping mechanisms that promote success in reaching personal potential (Roeper, 1995).

All too often in school, gifted students are asked to put their emotions aside and focus on the cognitive task at hand. In the current atmosphere of accountability in education, many administrators and educators feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the school day to address the academic standards set forth by local, state, and federal authorities. However, research suggests that there is a connection between cognitive and affective functioning (Goleman, 1995). This relationship has the potential to impact school performance on a variety of levels. Katz (1994) purports perceived social status, perception of teachers, perception of peers, participation in class discussions, and self-direction in learning can be linked to either a positive or negative self-concept depending upon how those impressions are internalized and processed. Frey and Sylvester (1997) contend that successful exposure to affective education strategies can aid in the development of a positive self-concept. Specific strategies promoting a safe, accepting classroom climate; incorporating the arts; including bibliotherapy and/or cinematography as a means of self-discovery; inculcating character education and service learning; and promoting self-understanding are all ways that standards-based curriculum in any content area could be adapted to address the affective domain.

Closing Thoughts

Author and poet e. e. cummings once wrote: “To be nobody but myself—in a world that is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”  As professionals in the field of gifted education, it is our responsibility to educate the whole child in a balanced and appropriate manner so that our students are able not only to identify their unique gifts and talents but also to utilize them to reach their full potential without losing themselves in the process.

Previously published as:

Ferguson, S. A .K. (2006, Winter). A case for affective education: Addressing the social and emotional needs of gifted students in the classroom. Virginia Association for the Gifted Newsletter, 1-3.

Reprinted with permission


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