An Interview with Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster: Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change

Jun 3, 2021 by

An Interview with Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster: Being Smart about Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change

Michael F. Shaughnessy

  1. First, I simply want to ask, how are you doing, how are you feeling, and how are you coping with this long difficult year?

Thanks so much for asking! We’re well, and we’re grateful that our families are fine, too. It’s definitely been a challenging year. However, we’ve been busy these past several months, working on the newest edition of the award-winning Being Smart. We enjoyed the writing process, and having a sense of purpose helped us to cope with the pandemic.

  1. The new edition of Being Smart is entitled Being Smart about Gifted Learning. Why do we need a third edition, and who have you written it for?

We wrote this third version primarily for parents, but also for grandparents, teachers, mentors, coaches, counselors, and anyone else who wants to support and encourage children’s and teen’s high-level development, productive engagement, and well-being.

We’ve totally updated our previous work. We did a lot of research; connected with professionals, parents, and teachers; and incorporated important information, relevant resources, and fresh perspectives from across different disciplines. It’s been 12 years since the previous edition of Being Smart was published, and much has changed in the world—and in gifted education. In this fully revised 2021 version we focus on what parents want to know now, and we delve into gifted labeling, creativity, school choice, differentiation, technology, dual exceptionality, anxiety, homeschooling, music, leadership, and more.

  1. Your subtitle refers to ” Empowering Parents and Kids.” In your minds, what are the schools not doing?

We don’t criticize—quite the reverse! Instead, we provide information for anyone who wants to nurture children’s learning. Educators, students, and parents have been adapting on the fly, trying to anticipate and navigate all the pandemic-related implications. Schools are doing their best to maintain programming stability, often reinventing ways to offer educational options; but it’s difficult for teachers to juggle all the demands, uncertainties, safety protocols, and disruptions. Teachers would benefit from additional professional development opportunities in areas of their own choosing, aligned with their specific needs. It would also make good sense to have more mental health professionals available in schools, available to assist children struggling with social-emotional issues relating to safety, grief, disappointment, apprehension, or other matters. And, more funding–instead of funding cutbacks!—would be welcome.

We applaud all the teachers and parents who are working hard to provide learning environments that are caring, creative, flexible, and engaging, and all the students who are striving to make the most of challenging and changing situations.

  1. Challenge and Change” are two words that seem to epitomize what we’ve been going through this last while. How have these two words had an impact on you, and on the material in your new book?

The challenges we refer to within the book take many forms. Some have occurred in the wake of COVID but others are reflective of problems that have plagued the field of gifted education over time. For example, we pay attention to equity; underserved student populations; poorly targeted identification and assessment methods; motivation and underachievement concerns; and questions about homeschooling.

Change is inevitable, and it’s important to consider its impact on students, parents, and teachers. The book is reflective of how understandings in the neurosciences, psychology, and education have evolved—and what this means in relation to providing gifted learners with the right supports and learning opportunities, and encouraging high-level development more broadly and inclusively. We also look at how to enhance gifted education through technology, leadership initiatives, brain-building activities, mentorships, community outreach, Indigenous ways of learning, and other means.

  1. What themes do you address in this book?

The book is divided into five sections: I) Being Smart about Giftedness has information about understandings related to gifted learning, paradigm shifts, and creativity; II) Being Smart about Diagnosing Mismatches is a deep dive into testing considerations, assessments, identification processes, and how to determine a child’s educational requirements; III) Being Smart about Meeting Gifted Learning Needs is where we describe a wide range of learning options for meeting those requirements; IV) Being Smart about Gifted Development consists of three chapters focusing on motivation and achievement, social, emotional and behavioral issues, and how giftedness develops; and V) Being Smart about Changing Realities in Gifted Education is where readers will discover how parents, educators, and administrators can work together, while at the same time strengthening resource access, teacher development, advocacy, networking, and learning environments. Throughout the book, we answer pressing questions about gifted-related parenting and teaching. We look at possibilities and pitfalls. And we share the experiences of students, parents, and professionals whose words will motivate, inform, and inspire readers.

6) Has the Covid-19 crisis caused you to think more deeply about gifted education? And the role of parents in it?

Yes. COVID has upended the way schooling is delivered in classrooms, at home, online, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, even at the best of times, gifted education can be maligned, misunderstood, or perceived as a perk. Highly capable students are often left to fend for themselves. Moreover, not all teachers are adept at differentiating programs, and so children who have already mastered material may not be appropriately challenged. In our new book, we discuss what we call the Optimal Match approach whereby children’s learning is suitably matched with their individual needs in different subject areas at any given point in time.

Realistically, this is easier to aspire toward and accomplish when teachers are not dealing with the added complications of a pandemic, but it’s nevertheless doable, and necessary. When learning opportunities don’t match a child’s developmental level then frustration, disengagement, boredom, unhappiness, or misbehavior can result.

Parents are well-positioned to provide safe harbors for their children; to complement and support what goes in their classrooms; to be available to listen, encourage, and reassure; to watch for “red flags” and respond to any alarming indicators regarding their wellness; to offer comfort; and to ensure that family life is as balanced as possible. We thought carefully about all of this while writing the book, and we incorporated lots of practical strategies to facilitate positive outcomes and help children and teens flourish.

7) Where can interested parents and teachers get your new book? And is it in e-format?

Being Smart about Gifted Learning is available for pre-order here – on the publisher’s website at The book will be out in paperback and also in e-format in bookstores and online outlets, in time for the fall 2021 school year. People can also find information about our other book, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, as well as abundant resources on Joanne’s website at

8) What have I neglected to ask?

Nothing! We enjoyed answering your questions. They reflect the currency of the moment, the importance of gifted education, and the fact that we must continue to support parents and children as they endeavor to cultivate strengths, family well-being, and learning experiences at home, school, and wherever opportunities arise.

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