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Duke TIP (Talent Identification Program) Study Looks at How High Ability Students Spend Time Outside the Classroom

DURHAM, NC–Gifted students are often considered to all be the same. But within that group, students with a higher academic ability spend more of their free time doing homework or participating in academic clubs, while students with a lower academic ability are more likely to watch television or work an after-school job, according to a study released today by the Duke University Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP).

The study, “High Ability Students’ Time Spent Outside the Classroom,” led by Duke TIP researcher Matthew Makel, was published in the November issue of the Journal of Advanced Academics.

Makel and fellow researchers Yan Li, Martha Putallaz and Jonathan Wai compared out-of-school activities for three different groups of academically talented high school students: those who attended Duke TIP’s academic Summer Studies program, those who qualified for the program but chose not to attend, and those who did not qualify for TIP but still scored in the top 5 percent of their grade-level. The study also compared male and female participants.

Comparisons of the groups showed the following:

  • Gifted students participate in a variety of activities outside the classroom. Both male and female athletic participation rates were high, providing further evidence against the stereotype that gifted youth are not athletically inclined.    
  • Not all groups of gifted students participate in the same types of activities. Students with a higher academic ability reported spending more time on activities like homework and more likely to participate in academic clubs, but students with lower ability were more likely to  participate in vocational activities, watching television, and working in an after school job.
  • The two groups that differed most apparently were males and females. Gifted females participated in more and different types of activities than males, including those positively associated with achievement such as spending more time on homework and being in academic clubs. Gifted males, on the other hand, reported watching more television.

Makel said it’s important not to generalize the research based on summer program participation alone. “The current findings show high-ability students of all levels to be highly engaged in a variety of activities outside the classroom,” he noted.

However, knowing how students spend their time overall can help parents, educators, and researchers understand and foster adolescent development, Makel said.

“Teens in the U.S. typically have six to eight hours of free time each day,” said Duke TIP Executive Director Martha Putallaz. “This is a significant amount of time that can be used for academic enrichment, social development, or service to others, and it should not be ignored by parents or educators.”