Essay, Research Paper
WHO IS A GIFTED CHILD?
A gifted child is one who has an exceptional ability to learn. According to some widely adopted definitions, at least 15% to 20% of children may be identified as gifted or exceptionally able learners. Gifted children are those who by virtue of their outstanding abilities are capable of high performance. These are children who require different educational programs in order to realize their contribution to self and society.
Gifted children display atypical behaviours in the cognitive and social areas from an early stage of development. If identification and appropriate nurturing occurs the traits will continue to expand. However, if there is no intervention many of these characteristics become hidden and at times the frustrations experienced by bright children result in negative behaviors and possible non fulfillment of promise.
“Children capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement and/or potential ability in any of the following areas, singly or in combination: general intellectual ability, specific academic aptitude, creative or productive thinking, leadership ability, ability in the visual and performing arts, psychomotor ability” (Marland, 1971).
Similarly the Canadian National Department of Education defines the gifted learner as one who “demonstrates or has the potential to demonstrate an exceptional ability to learn, to be creative, to lead, to perform (psychomotor or artistic) and/or to think critically. Giftedness is dynamic; thus it may or may not be readily observable. It may only become evident when the student is exposed to a curriculum or experience that evokes his/her potential” (Department of Education Position Statement Meeting the Needs of Gifted Learners, 1992).
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO FOR A GIFTED CHILD?
All children have special talents that need to be noticed and nurtured so they will do well in school and in their later lives. In the past, poor students, students with limited English language skills, and students from diverse cultures, have been overlooked by schools when they selected children for programs for the gifted. Schools used a very narrow definition of intelligence that did not account for the different ways that children show their abilities, or for the fact that some children have difficulty in showing their talents at all. Now, though, schools are using broader- and fairer–methods to identify children with special talents, and the students in gifted programs represent much more varied backgrounds.
Parents can be very important in helping their children develop their talents by working with them at home. Parents can also make schools aware of their children’s talents, and work with them to make sure that their children are in a program that challenges them intellectually and responds to their educational and emotional needs.
WHAT CAN FAMILIES CAN DO AT HOME?
Children’s talents should be developed as early as possible so they can achieve their full potential. Parents don’t need to be very educated themselves–or have a great deal of money, or even time–to help their children learn and improve their ability to think and communicate. Here are some things to do at home:
+ Set high academic goals for your children. Tell them that success is possible, that they will benefit later in life from doing well in school, and that families and their teachers expect them to do well. Help them develop a sense of pride in their identity, both personal and cultural.
+ Talk to and play with your children. Have conversations about current events, what’s happening in the neighborhood, and what you all did during the day. As you go through your daily routine, explain what you are doing and why. Encourage your children to ask questions that you can answer or help them answer. Make up stories together. Read to them, play games, and do puzzles together.
+ Ask your children to pay attention to the way people speak on the radio and TV. Talk about why learning to use good English speech patterns will help them in school and later in life.
+ Pay attention to what your children like to do, such as a hobby, drawing, or working with numbers. Help them develop those skills or find out where in the community they can participate in learning enrichment activities. Start early; Head Start and other preschool programs can give your children many advantages.
+ Take your children to places where they can learn. Find out about story times at the library and bookstores, and about children’s events at museums and community centers. Check out free books and games at the library.
+ Take a parenting course in the community or at school that teaches how to develop children’s talents.
+ Find a mentor in your family or community who can help your children develop their talents and serve as a role model for academic achievement.
+ Find out about early talent identification programs so that when your children begin preschool or school they will receive an education that challenges them. Also find out about local community or religious preschools and after-school enrichment programs.
+ Set up a quiet study space for your children and help them with their homework, or find them an after-school program that provides a place for studying without distractions.
WHAT CAN PARENTS DO FOR A GIFTED CHILD IN SCHOOL?
All parents are partners in their children’s education, and all parents have a place in their children’s school, regardless of their own education or economic status. Parents should also know that their children can get a good education in public schools, but they may need to help school people understand how their children’s talents can best be developed. Here are some ways for parents to work with schools:
+ Ask the school to provide training in recognizing signs of talent and intelligence in children. Some schools give out a “parent nomination form” so parents can check off ways that their children are gifted.
+ Find out about enrichment programs for gifted students and tell the school about all your children’s talents and why you think your children should be placed in such a program.
+ Lobby the school for early and bias-free assessment of children’s talent and intelligence. All the abilities of all children should be considered.
+ Pay attention to the curriculum and instruction in your children’s gifted program to be sure it is successful with their learning style. Some schools distribute a newsletter about their special programs to keep parents informed; ask your school to do this, or even volunteer to help produce it.
+ Be sure that your children are given the support they need to be retained in the program. Ask for enrichment or tutoring if you children aren’t doing well in a gifted program.
+ Ask for–or help create–a support system for parents. It can include workshops and dissemination of information about ways to help develop children’s talent at home, and about enrichment materials for use at home and ways to get them at minimum cost.
Children with many different learning styles, educational backgrounds, and academic and social skills participate in programs for specially talented students. The following curriculum and teaching strategies are especially effective in multicultural gifted programs. Parents can work with schools to make sure that their children’s education includes them:
+ An orientation toward achievement and success, and high expectations.
+ One-to-one teaching and small learning groups of students.
+ Mentoring by adults or older gifted students.
+ Special attention to development of communication skills, particularly for bilingual students and those who speak non-standard English.
+ A multicultural focus and instruction based on the children’s experience.
+ Use of community resources.
LEVELS OF GIFTEDNESS
Schoolhouse giftedness might also be called test-taking or lesson-learning giftedness. It is the kind most easily measured by IQ or other cognitive ability tests, and for this reason it is also the type most often used for selecting students for entrance into special programs. The abilities people display on IQ and aptitude tests are exactly the kinds of abilities most valued in traditional school learning situations. In other words, the games people play on ability tests are similar in nature to games that teachers require in most lesson-learning situations. Research tells us that students who score high on IQ tests are also likely to get high grades in school. Research also has shown that these test-taking and lesson-learning abilities generally remain stable over time. The results of this research should lead to some very obvious conclusions about schoolhouse giftedness. It exists in varying degrees; it can be identified through standardized assessment techniques; and we should therefore do everything in our power to make appropriate modifications for students who have the ability to cover regular curricular material at advanced rates and levels of understanding. Acceleration techniques should represent an essential part of any school program that strives to respect the individual differences that are clearly evident from scores yielded by cognitive ability tests. Although there is a generally positive correlation between IQ scores and school grades, we should not conclude that test scores are the only factors that contribute to success in school Indeed, most of the students in the nation’s major universities and 4-year colleges come from the top 20% of the general population (rather than just the top 3-5%) and reports indicate that a majority of college graduates in every scientific field of study had IQs between 110 and 120. Are we “making sense” when we exclude such students from access to special services? To deny them this opportunity would be analogous to forbidding a youngster from trying out for a basketball team because he or she missed a predetermined “cutoff height” by a few inches! Basketball coaches are not foolish enough to establish inflexible cutoff heights because they know that such an arbitrary practice would cause them to overlook the talents of youngsters who may overcome slight limitations in inches with other abilities. Drive, speed, teamwork, ball-handling skills, and perhaps even the ability and motivation to out-jump taller persons who are trying out for the team are factors any intelligent basketball oach would take into consideration. Educators of gifted and talented youth should undoubtedly take a few lessons about flexibility from coaches!
If scores on IQ tests and other measures of cognitive ability only account for a limited proportion of the common variance with school grades, we can be equally certian that these measures do not tell the whole story when it comes to making predictions about creative-productive giftedness. Before defending this assertion with some research findings, let us briefly review what is meant by this second type of giftedness, the important role that it should play in programming, and, therefore, the reasons we should attempt to assess it in our identification procedures–even if such assessment causes us to look below the top 3-5% on the normal curve of IQ scores.
Creative-productive giftedness describes those aspects of human activity and involvement where a premium is placed on the development of original material and products that are purposefully designed to have an impact on one or more target audiences. Learning situations that are designed to promote creative-productive giftedness emphasize the use and application of information (content) and thinking processes in an integrated, inductive, and real-problem-oriented manner. The role of the student is transformed from that of a learner of prescribed lessons to one in which she or he uses the modus operandi of a firsthand inquirer. This approach is quite different from the development of lesson-learning giftedness that tends to emphasize deductive learning; structured training in the development of thinking processes; and the acquisition, storage, and retrieval of information. In other words, creative-productive giftedness is simply putting one’s abilities to work on problems and areas of study that have personal relevance to the student and that can be escalated to appropriately challenging levels of investigative activity. The roles that both students and teachers should play in the pursuit of these problems have been described elsewhere (Renzulli, 1982, 1983).
Why is creative-productive giftedness important enough for us to question the “tidy” and relatively easy approach that traditionally has been used to select students on the basis of test scores? Why do some people want to rock the boat by challenging a conception of giftedness that can be numerically defined by simply giving a test? The answers to these questions are simple and yet very compelling. The research reviewed in the second section of this chapter tells us that there is much more to the making of a gifted person than the abilities revealed on traditional tests of intelligence, aptitude, and achievement. Furthermore, history tells us it has been the creative and productive people of the world, the producers rather than consumers of knowledge, the reconstructionists of thought in all areas of human endeavor, who have become recognized as “truly gifted” individuals. History does not remember persons who merely scored well on IQ tests or those who learned their lessons well.
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL NEEDS A GIFTED CHILD
Gifted children are different. There’s no getting around that. They learn more quickly, and in more depth than other children. They feel emotions more keenly, and are often upset more easily by world events that other children their age may be blissfully unaware of. But many people focus solely on their academic differences and needs, often to the exclusion of their social and emotional differences and needs. And just as often, other people working with these same children focus solely on their social and emotional needs in lieu of their academic needs, at least their perceived social and emotional needs, and the possible solutions to them.
But it isn’t that easy.
Gifted children are children, and have similar social and emotional needs to those of other children. They need friends, peers with whom they can talk, play, and interact at their own level. That’s the first problem: that level is asynchronous. The gifted child may be 9 academically, 6 physically, 5 emotionally, and 7 and a half socially. Where is this child going to find a friend, a peer, who can understand his 5-year-old outbursts while playing 9-year-old strategy games and discussing 7-and-a-half-year-old social relationships? Certainly not in the first grade class full of 6-year-old children, playing 6-year-old games in 6-year-old relationships!
There are many resources for social and emotional support and guidance for parents and educators of gifted children. SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) is an organization dedicated solely to this aspect of giftedness. SENG offers a newsletter full of information and suggestions, and a BI-annual conference for educators, psychologists, physicians, other professionals, and families, with their gifted children, to discuss the social and emotional needs of the gifted child.
There are also print resources for social and emotional support and guidance for gifted children. For teachers and educators there is Guiding the Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Youth: A Practical Guide for Educators and Counselors by James R. Dells. Another good resource though a quick read, is Managing the Social and Emotional Needs of the Gifted: A Teacher’s Survival Guide by Connie Schmitz and Judy Galbraith, with over 30 concrete, easy-to-use strategies for teachers to help gifted students develop socially and emotionally as well as intellectually. And Once Upon a Mind: Stories and Scholars of Gifted Child Education by James Delisle, introduces the research and practice of gifted child education, as well as the individuals who represent current and historical thinking in the discipline, with a strong emphasis on the social and emotional aspects of giftedness.
Print resources for parents include Guiding the Gifted Child: A Practical Source for Parents and Teachers by James T. Webb, Elizabeth A. Meckstroth, Stephanie S. Tolan, considered the classic book of this field, for parents, but also for educators and professionals. The Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Kids: How to Understand, Live With, and Stick Up for Your Gifted Child by Sally Yahnke Walker is an excellent quick guide for parents, covering social and emotional issues along with the rest. And Helping Gifted Children Soar: A Practical Guide for Parents and Teachers by Carol Ann Strip is a new, user friendly guidebook that educates parents and teachers about important gifted issues, an ideal resource for the beginner to seasoned veteran in educating gifted children.