Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Teaching Young gifted students

One of my great passions has been to teach young gifted students. Students as young as 4 or 5 can begin to show promise. This can be demonstrated in many ways,but the most noticeable ones are early ability to read, early ability to understand and compute math problems, unusually high vocabulary, early artistic ability, such as drawing, singing, playing an instrument, etc, and an ability to remember information that is not usual for their age.
Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

There are lists available that help parents to spot giftedness early, although I believe that most parents of gifted students already suspect that their children are advanced . Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D.,(see her credentials here), has a very interesting list of traits for children from birth to 2, and from 2 to 4. Read the article here at Yahoo Voices. I have found it interesting that the checklists that I use with my Kindergarten students do not seem to work for pre-school students. I gave the check lists to several families who had other gifted children and asked them to mark them for their 4 year-olds. All of the checklists came back showing that the 4 year-old children were bright, but not necessarily gifted. Incidentally, all of the students did indeed have gifted qualities and were identified when they were a little bit older. I think that the checklist had too many items that a parent would not be able to observe, until their child was actually in school. Dr. Sandhu's lists, on the other hand, are designed to cover items observable in very young children.

The National Association for Gifted Children, (NAGC), has published an article entitled  Early Childhood Gifted Education. In their own words, "This position statement, initiated by the Early Childhood Division of NAGC, focuses on creating optimal environments for recognizing, developing, and nurturing the strengths and talents of young gifted children, age 3 through 8."
The paper contains a wealth of information from one of the most reputable sources in gifted education and is well worth the read.

There are educators that strongly oppose the identification of gifted students at an early age. They feel that this creates a "winner/loser" scenario where the losers are "Black,Hispanic, and low income students.
Julie Rasicot -Education Week March 12, 2012  
Julie Rasicot explains these concerns in an article for Education Week. Read the article here
I suppose I agree, to a point,  that it is unfair to minorities, IF identifying young gifted students means that they get an entirely different program , which no one else has access to. However, I don't see how allowing a young child to learn to read instead of sitting through lessons prescribed to teach him his ABC's, which he already knows, hurts anyone. Making a gifted child repeat and repeat,however, definitely hurts the gifted child.

An excellent article by Tokyo Children's Academy, (International school for the gifted), encourages the early identification of gifted students, and refutes some of the most common concerns about early identification. They state, "It is commonly held that giftedness cannot be ascertained until third grade; however, this belief is not supported by research. Evidence that it is possible to accurately identify the gifted in primary grades, preschool, and even younger has been available for over half a century."

According to the article, 
"There is also a widespread concern that early identification may find the wrong children. It is believed that IQ scores are unstable in the early years, and that children who look developmentally advanced when they enter school lose their advantage in subsequent years. The myth of the instability of IQ scores was refuted by both Hollingworth (Hollingworth & Kaunitz, 1934) and Terman (Terman & Oden, 1947; 1959) and, more recently, by Elizabeth Hagen, co-creator of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Revision IV, and the Cognitive Abilities Test.
The correlations between scores obtained at ages four or five and later IQ scores are slightly lower than those obtained at age nine, but not that much lower. (Hagen, as quoted in Silverman, 1986a)

The article addresses another common assumption: "An equally tenacious and equally bizarre belief is that somehow, magically, all the other children will "catch up" to the gifted child. If two children have different capacities for obtaining information from the environment--for storing, organizing, remembering, retrieving, associating, and applying that information--how on earth could one "catch up" to the other? This would be like saying that a 1972 computer could "catch up" to a 1992 computer, when the former has less memory capacity and speed and less sophisticated organization than the latter. The only way this can appear to happen is when we use only a fraction of the abilities of the child."

And finally: "Another frequently expressed concern is that if we identify gifted children early, we may overlook some children who later turn out to be very capable. This may be true, but it is insufficient reason for ignoring the information we have that can positively identify a large portion of gifted children. There is no method of identification that finds all gifted children; all methods will miss some who are exceptionally bright. Therefore, multiple means must be employed at different stages of development."

The Earlychildhood NEWS puts yet another spin on the controversy:
"Young children with special needs have been the focus of increased attention since the passage of federal legislation, PL 99-457, in 1986. This law is a downward age extension of earlier legislation which guaranteed the provision of special education services in the public schools." They go on to state that young gifted students fall under this law and should therefore have early intervention services available to them. The article also includes another checklist for young gifted students.

I firmly believe that all students deserve an education and that they should learn something new every day. We do not seem to struggle with the idea that students who learn more slowly should receive intervention services, but for some reason we want to hold gifted students back. Most teachers do not see anything wrong with having gifted students repeat and repeat skills that they already know. It is essential that every student is taught on their own level as much as is possible. It is difficult as a parent, to get schools to provide these services, but parents must advocate for their young children. Keep trying! Keep pushing! Don't give up! It is possible to have a great education for your gifted child.


Two more articles you might be interested in:

The Gifted Child Quarterly published an article by Steven Pfeiffer and Yaacov Petscher who give a wonderful overview of  The Gifted Rating Scales–Preschool/Kindergarten Form (GRS-P), which is a new test for identifying young gifted children. Click here for the article.

Identifying Gifted Children gives, "Examples of criteria often used to help identify gifted children and tips on how you can spot a gifted and talented kid."

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