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Gifted and Talented Children

Gifted And Talented Children

Gifted children comprise a minority of the population, although not such a small minority as is sometimes thought. Internationally, the most widely used definition of giftedness and talent is that of Françoys Gagné of Quebec. Gagné (1985, 2000) defines gifted children as those who have high levels of innate ability, in any domain of human ability, that places them within the top 10 percent of their age-peers—even if their high potential is not yet being demonstrated as high performance. Talented children, by contrast, are those whose abilities have already been translated into achievements, and who are currently performing at a level that places them within the top 10 percent of their age-peers. Gifts are natural abilities whereas talents are systematically developed skills.

Giftedness is not an automatic guarantee of success. A range of environmental variables affect talent development, such as parental encouragement, family relationships, the provisions the child's school makes, or fails to make, to develop his or her gifts into talents, and even the social ethos of the community that can dictate that talents are valued and, therefore, which programs of talent development will be established or funded.

Encouragement and assistance from home and school are essential if gifted children are to develop as talented, but the children themselves must maintain their motivation to succeed. Children, no matter how gifted, will not achieve high levels of talent unless they are prepared to work and study to develop their abilities. A child may be gifted in any domain of ability, intellectual, creative, physical, or social. However, although talent in music, sports, or athletics is valued and actively sought and fostered in many cultures, high intellectual ability is often undervalued (Gross 1999). This can affect how gifted children come to view, or value, their gifts.

Identification of Gifted Children

Contrary to the myth that "every parent thinks her child is gifted," (whether he or she is gifted, or not) parents are highly effective identifiers of high ability in their children (Robinson and Robinson 1992); indeed, they are significantly more accurate than teachers, who are rarely trained in how to identify and respond to gifted students and who may not notice high academic ability if they present the gifted child only with work set at the level and pace of the average child in the class (Jacobs 1971). The majority of parents of intellectually gifted children become aware, in the early years, that their child is very bright (Louis and Lewis 1992).

Intellectual and physical characteristics of young gifted children that parents are likely to notice include unusually early and fluent speech; early mobility (the child crawls, walks or runs earlier than age-peers); early reading (the child spontaneously "picks up" reading from television, street signs, or advertisements); unusually retentive memory; intense curiosity; unusually long attention span; eager desire to learn; unusually mature sense of humor; and less need for sleep than agepeers of average ability (Gross 1993). Of course, not all gifted children display all these characteristics, but the possession of a cluster of the characteristics described above could suggest that the child may indeed be unusually bright.

Furthermore, intellectually gifted children differ from their age-peers in many aspects of their social and emotional development (Silverman 1993). They are often more socially and emotionally mature than other children of their age, their play interests are more like those of children some years older, and they tend to seek out, for companionship, children who are older but of average ability, or age-peers who are also intellectually able. They may be unusually perceptive and sensitive to the feelings of other children or adults and because of this capacity to empathize they may become concerned, much earlier than their age-peers, with ethical or moral issues (Webb, Meckstroth, and Tolan 1983). However, this sensitivity may also make them aware, even in the early years of school, of other students' wariness towards, or even resentment of, their high abilities, and many gifted students deliberately underachieve for peer acceptance (Gross 1989; Colangelo and Assouline 2000).

Standardized testing of ability and achievement can assist in identifying high academic ability in children and adolescents. Used appropriately by qualified professionals (for example, it is important that culturally appropriate tests are used) IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests can provide a wealth of information about a student's intellectual profile, and can assist educators to develop an appropriate educational response to his or her learning needs.

However, a problem that frequently arises in testing academically gifted students is the ceiling effect. This occurs when a gifted student is assessed using a teacher-developed or standardized test designed for average ability students of his or her age. Gifted students may score at the uppermost limits of the test and, although in one sense this affirms their high ability, it also means that there is no way of knowing how much higher these children would have scored if they had been assessed on a test with a higher "ceiling." It is rather like measuring the height of the Harlem Globetrotters on a pole that only goes up to six feet. The Globetrotters all come out at the same height—"six foot plus"—and, unless a longer pole is used, there is no way of measuring their relative heights beyond that point!

To combat the problem of ceiling effect, psychologists working with gifted children recommend above-level testing—assessing their achievements using tests designed for students some years older (Assouline and Lupkowski-Shoplik 1997). For example, a third grade students who has "ceilinged out" (made a score at or near the maximum) on a third grade math test may then be assessed on a fifth grade test. Finding that this student scores at the 70th percentile on a test designed for students two years older is much more meaningful, in terms of curriculum planning, than affirming that she tests at the 99th percentile of her age-peers.

Family Relationships

Because intellectual ability is in part genetically determined (Plomin 1997), children in a family where one child has been identified as intellectually gifted are likely, also, to be highly able (Gross 1993). This does not mean, however, that either the parents or the school will view all children in the family as academically gifted. Teachers, for example, tend to assume that their gifted students are the academically successful teacher pleasers (Betts and Neihart 1988). Additionally, if the "unidentified" sibling has a learning disability or is not motivated to achieve, his or her high abilities may go undetected.

When a child is identified as intellectually gifted, parents sometimes worry about how this will effect the self-esteem of his or her siblings. In making such a comparison, a range of factors needs to be taken into consideration, including birth order, the ages of the children and the gaps between them and the children's gender and levels of intellectual ability, as well as parental values, education, and relationships. Oldest or only children are more frequently identified as gifted, as are children of parents who encourage in their children a love of learning (Pfouts 1980; VanTassel-Baska 1983). However, research suggests that the self-esteem of siblings in a family where at least one child has been identified as gifted, is more dependent on existing family relationships and attitudes towards one another, than on the singling out of a child for special treatment at school or for admission to a gifted program (Cornell and Grossberg 1986). Families where members interact cooperatively, with a respect for each other's differences of personality, opinions, and values, are strongly facilitative of children's healthy self-esteem and acceptance of differences in ability.

Healthy family relationships occur when members are assured that their individual roles are accepted and valued by the others in the family. Sibling rivalry may arise when children compare themselves with siblings, and feel less valued or accepted. If a child who has been identified as gifted receives special attention at the expense of the non-identified sibling, then the self-esteem of that sibling is likely to fall. Constant negative comparison with a sibling of perceived superior ability, together with a relative lack of recognition, may damage self-esteem. It is important to remember, however, that it is a result of the family's attitude towards the child who has not been identified as gifted, rather than the school's recognition of the one who has, which results in the sibling's decline in self-esteem (Grenier 1985).

How Families Foster Talent Development

Beginning in the 1960s, research studies have examined the influence of parents and families on young people or adults who have achieved eminence in their fields, for example, Victor Goertzel and Mildred Goertzel's international study (1962), Benjamin Bloom's (1985) study of 120 young Americans, and Miraca Gross's (2000) study of exceptionally gifted young Australians. These studies found parents to be an enormous influence on the degree to which the young people accepted their high abilities and worked to translate them into high achievement. Some of the major findings were:

  1. Even where the parents were not themselves highly educated, they placed a high value on education and learning.
  2. They tended to choose hobbies and interests that required practice and learning, and studied the performance of others to increase their own skill and enjoyment. They modeled, for their children, a delight in learning and a desire to improve their performance.
  3. At least one parent or close relative had a personal interest in the child's area of talent.
  4. The parents encouraged and rewarded the development of the child's talent at home, while seeking outside assistance from teachers or mentors.

The parents did not "push" their children; however, through their pursuit of their own talent areas and, through their encouragement of the children, they provided a model that taught that talent is fostered through accepting one's abilities and striving to fulfill them.

Educational Responses

Educational responses to children with special needs are based not on the "label" that has been given (for example, a child having been diagnosed as hearing impaired, intellectually disabled, or academically gifted) but on the fact that the child differs, in some way that will affect their learning, and that this difference will require a different educational response from the school.

There are different levels of hearing impairment, and the response that a teacher might make to a child with a moderate hearing loss would be of limited effectiveness if it were offered to a child with a severe hearing impairment. Similarly, there are different levels of intellectual or academic giftedness, which require different levels and types of response.

Children of IQ 120 appear in the population at a ratio of one in ten. Gagné's model (2000) would recognize them as gifted, and they are likely to find school rather slow and unchallenging if the teacher does not modify the curriculum, which is designed at the level and pace of their average ability age-peers. They need a curriculum that is faster paced, more academically rigorous and of greater depth (VanTassel-Baska 1998). However, they are likely to find other students in the inclusion classroom who are of approximately the same ability level, and, as long as the curriculum is differentiated to offer them sufficient academic challenge, the inclusion classroom will serve as an appropriate placement.

However, children of IQ 135 appear at a ratio of only 1 in 100 and children of IQ 140 at 1 in 200. If these students are retained in the inclusion classroom, they may pass through several years of elementary school without meeting or working with another child of similar ability. Apart from the intellectual boredom and frustration they may experience if the teacher does not give them material that will interest and challenge them, these children may experience loneliness and even social rejection because their abilities, interests, and ways of thinking are so different from those of their agepeers (Silverman 1993).

A substantial body of research recommends that many gifted students benefit, both academically and socially, from being grouped with children of similar abilities (Rogers 1991; Kulik and Kulik 1997; Gross 1997). This grouping may be full time in a special class for gifted students, or for part of each day when students are grouped by ability in a specific subject, or even for a few hours each week when gifted students are pulled out of their regular classes for enrichment workshops. Contrary to what teachers sometimes fear, ability grouping rarely makes gifted children conceited; actually, conceit is discouraged, rather than fostered, by the experience of working with other students as able, or more able, then oneself.

Acceleration—advancing gifted students to work with students older than themselves—also has substantial research support, showing that, where the acceleration program is well-designed and monitored, accelerated students experience both academic success and social acceptance by their new classmates (Gross 1993; Passow 1996). In the considerable majority of cases the advancement is by a single year, either through allowing students to enter primary, elementary, middle, or high school one year early, or by allowing them to advance a grade within a school building. Students may also be allowed to go to an upper grade for a single subject in which they excel, while remaining with age-peers for the majority of the school day.

Intellectually gifted students are usually advanced for their age in their emotional development as well as their intellectual development (Gross 1993). However, it is essential to ensure that a child who is being considered for acceleration is intellectually, academically, socially, and emotionally ready to work with older students on a more demanding curriculum. Above-level assessment should be used to establish that the student has mastered all, or the majority of, the curriculum of the grade he or she will "skip." It is important that the students themselves should be eager to accelerate and that the teachers with whom they will work have a positive attitude towards the process, allowing them to be accepted as full members of the class they are entering (Feldhusen, Proctor, and Black 1986).

The primary principle of educating gifted and talented children is that schools must acknowledge that these children differ from their age-peers in their learning needs and therefore the provisions the school makes in response should also be different to the provisions made for children of average ability.

See also:Academic Achievement; Development: Cognitive; Development: Emotional; Development: Moral; School; Self-Esteem; Sibling Relationships


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miraca u. m. gross

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