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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Early Identification of Giftedness

There are different opinions as to when giftedness is best identified. Should one identify giftedness prior to Kindergarten or should one wait to see how a student is performing the first few years in school and then identify gifted students? “Not gifted at age 6, but gifted at age 8,” is the short and somewhat cynical version. It is indeed common to start gifted education programs and offerings in 2nd or 3rd grade -- possibly due to the fact that at that age the first standardized, school-administered test results become available, which are often factored into an identification matrix.

Methods to identify qualified students for gifted education programs also vary greatly, resulting in different criteria depending on the school district in which one resides. Occasionally, one hears parents proclaiming that a child is not identified as gifted in one’s home district, but is identified as gifted in a neighboring district. “Not gifted here, but gifted 5 miles away from here,” is the short and somewhat cynical version in this instance. This may be partially due to the fact that there are only a limited number of gifted program openings in any given school.

The truth of the matter is that the issues of when and how to test for identification for gifted education programs are closely related to each other. I believe giftedness can (and should) be identified in early childhood but possibly with different methods as compared to identifying giftedness in children at the 2nd or 3rd grade level.

“Parents should become familiar with the signs of giftedness even before their child starts school,” writes David Palmer, author of Parents’Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education. “Early testing and identification can be a controversial subject, but many advocates of gifted children believe that they should be identified as soon as possible so that their unique needs and talents can be acknowledged and nurtured right from the start.”

At our school, Quest Academy, we rely both on parent identification and a formal scheduled observation (following the EarlyScreening Profiles method) of the pre-school child. For entry into Kindergarten, we rely on parent identification, observation during actual “shadow” or “visit” days at our school in addition to an assessment tool known as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence. For students older than Kindergarten age, we transition to the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). This approach is consistent with the Quest Academy Belief Statement that “giftedness is best identified and cultivated by means of thorough and multifaceted assessment.”

To help parents of two- to four-year olds determine if their child is gifted, my biggest piece of advice would be not to short-sell parental judgment and observations of one’s own child. Parents, particularly first-time parents, are reluctant to trust their instincts. Having said that, it is common practice to identify young children by means of parent rating scales, among which the “Gifted Rating Scales” is well researched and proven to have high reliability (up to a 0.97 test-retest reliability coefficient). The Gifted Rating Scales includes a special Preschool/Kindergarten form (GRS-P), which includes five scales with 12 items each. According to Steven I. Pfeiffer, one of the developers of the GRS-P, the scale is based on a multidimensional model of giftedness (see my previous blog entry entitled "An Evolutionary Perspective on Giftedness"), looking at intellectual, academic, creative, artistic, and motivational domains. The Gifted Rating Scale for children above the age of 6 also has shown great predictive accuracy when compared with results achieved on the latest edition of the WISC IQ test.

There is surprisingly little research that sheds any light on the early childhoods of eminent or highly gifted adults, thus providing little – if any – conclusions as to what might be similarities or commonalities of childhood experiences of those who became eminent in adult life. In Critical Issues and Practices in Gifted Education (ed. By Jonathan A. Plucker & Carolyn M. Callahan), Nancy Robinson cites research that concludes that “the eminent persons studied had exhibited precocity during their early years, some of them to astonishing degrees, and many had received strong encouragement from their families.”

Many of us have heard that Albert Einstein hardly spoke at age three, thus possibly not identified by parents as gifted. Indeed, Einstein’s parents were concerned about his lack of speech, but yet there was evidence of giftedness such as Einstein’s early childhood fascination to build tall houses or his keen interest as to why a compass needle always pointed north.

To help parents determine if they want to pursue identification of giftedness in their pre-school-age child, David Palmer recommends taking a closer look at “language skills, learning abilities, and emotional and behavioral traits.” Fully quoting from his book, Parents’ Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education, please take note of more specific information.

Language Skills:

·         Highly developed vocabulary/ability to learn new words easily

·         Tendency to speak quickly

·         Long and complex sentences with appropriate grammar

·         Early reading, but only if given some instruction and opportunity

·         Frequent questioning, particularly as relates to what the child hears and sees

·         Understanding and carrying out multi-step directions

·         Understanding and participating in adult conversation

·         Using different language for different audiences i.e. speaking with adults and speaking with peers

Learning Abilities:

·         Picking up ideas quickly/picking up skills effortlessly

·         Occasionally becoming focused on a special interest such as bugs, space, or animals and independently seeking out more information on those topics

·         Asking insightful questions

·         Excellent memory/easy recall

·         Reading often

·         Requiring little direction or instruction when learning a new game

·         Early development of motor skills

·         Creative thinking – coming up with their own solutions

·         Concentrating on a topic for a prolonged period of time (if the activity is unchallenging, the opposite will occur)

·         Taking joy in discovering new interests

Emotional and Behavioral Traits

·         Endless source of energy/high activity level

·         Talking and thinking fast (child is asked to “slow down”)

·         Taking charge

·         Enjoying time alone

·         Relating to older kids and adults

·         Appreciating natural beauty and art