Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gifted

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There's a lot of debate and confusion over the definition of giftedness. What does it mean to be gifted? That question must be answered before we can define who is gifted.

When Smartypants, as a first grader, was spelling words like "hieroglyph," and zooming through chapter books I knew something special was going on in his brain. It helped that the school had, through a fluke, provided IQ and achievement testing when he was in kindergarten. My boy clearly possessed academic talents beyond those of a typical child his age. And though his teacher cringed every time I said it, I had no problem tossing around or labeling my son with the G-word.

I've been giving the term a bit of thought and so has Jeanne, a mom of gifted children who also cringes at the G-word. (Click to read her thoughts.) Oh, and Switched on Mom has a few ideas about gifted labelling as well.

I'd like to invite more guest bloggers into this space. When it comes to folks like Switched on Mom, Jeanne or IRL Julia, I have a sense of the moms and their kids, the impact of giftedness of their families, but what about people I don't know as well?

Does it matter if a guest blogger has a child who is eager and bright (a good student) instead of quirky, socially awkward and/or scary smart gifted? (Not rhetorical. I'd love your opinions.)

Just to give us some common vocabulary, I'll share a few definitions of giftedness:

According to a 2008 definition from the National Association of Gifted Children:
A gifted person is someone who shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance in one or more areas of expression.

Michele Kane, Ed.D. shared this definition during a recent lecture on temperament and gifted children (via the Columbus Group, 1991):
Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.

According to the Illinois School Code (pasted from the site) "For purposes of this Article, "gifted and talented children" means children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with other children and youth of their age, experience, and environment. A child shall be considered gifted and talented in any area of aptitude, and, specifically, in language arts and mathematics, by scoring in the top 5% locally in that area of aptitude.(Source: P.A. 94‑151, eff. 7‑8‑05; 94‑410, eff. 8‑2‑05.)

The middle one (Columbus Group) speaks to me and my experiences as a parent-intensity, asychrony-welcome to my world.

The Illinois State definition and its reliance on local scores confuses me. A child can be gifted in one school district but not another. More likely, a child from an affluent school will likely be considered gifted where ever he attends, but a child from, say, an inner city school, not so much.

What do you think? Even if you don't want to guest blog here, I'd love your thoughts on these definitions.

More musing on raising and education gifted children.

18 comments:

SwitchedOnMom said...

I look forward to sitting back and seeing what comes in!

Jennifer said...

My post on NYC Moms Blog just went up on the subject of G&T, Albeit from a different perspective but I think it's still part of the discussion.

Testing is not my daughters strong suit BUT she has amazing creative capabilities which cannot be nurtured in a normal public school setting. Where does she fit into the equation? Short of coming up with $20K for a private school, my husband and I feel at a loss.

Here's the link http://svmomblog.typepad.com/nyc_moms/2009/05/consumer-vs-producer-an-insight-into-gifted-talented-draft.html

Heather said...

We're just headed for kindy now and found out we didn't get a spot at the charter so back to square one. I think I define gifted differently for different audiences. With the school, I'm likely to say that we know her recently tested IQ was XXX and she's clearly reading/comprehending at 3rd-4th level and go from there. So in that sense I define gifted in a way that will also define adjustments or accommodations I want for her education (PA does gifted IEPs). Yet I think that will still fail to address the asynchronous issues that the Michael Kane quote hit upon. Ask me again in mid-September...

Kim Moldofsky said...

Ask you again in September? Heck, do a guest blog here about it. I'd love to hear more about you state's gifted IEPs.

Heather said...

I'll take you up on that once I know more about the process! I'm anticipating an issue of them requiring her to have classroom observation/teacher input beforehand.

ChaosRu said...

The asynchrony description speaks to me as well and I am also more likely to cringe at the word "gifted."

I think my reticence to use the term started when our local district responded by angrily rejecting the tests we had done for her with a dismissive "all of our children are bright," and "we will have her tested here if we think it is necessary." It was as if I was making a value assessment of the other children. I tried to explain that I did not consider her more or less important than any other child within the district, just that I was concerned that she would have some special education requirements. This was a child that was otherwise seemingly just like her friends, but had begun to speak at 4 months in two languages, in two-three-word phrases and could read 3rd grade story books well before kindergarten.

After frantically reading and consulting everyone I could on the subject, I did not enroll her there. I still am very careful in describing to her friends why she does not attend their school. As I tiptoed around it, one of her friends said "I know why, she is too smart!" I found myself instantly saying, "you are all smart, she just has different schooling needs."

lea said...

As a mother of older gifted off-spring, I feel that Michele Kane's (and Linda Silverman's) definition which includes a focus on the vulnerability of G/T individuals is very important. Giftedness not only impacts one's test scores and intellectual potential but the way the person views the world in general, including their social and emotional selves. If a G/T child is in an environment with few true peers, he/she sense very early on that (s)he's "different"....and the other children do so as well. Consequently, I believe it's important to address this "elephant in the room" by talking with your child in a positive way about his/her "difference" (emphasizing this as potential that with hard work can allow your child to excel) but that also may present him/her with some challenges along the way that you will help your child address. Obviously this will be an on-going discussion and your approach will depend on the age of your child at the time. One obstacle to this "openness", however, is our culture's reaction to "giftedness" in terms of our preference for "everyone's equal" (even though all children's needs are not equally met within our school systems, typically!)....and on some level our denial/dismissal as parents of our own giftedness and talents. And, in terms of whether or not your child's "gifted", I feel that, as mothers/parents, you know your child better than anyone and have a better understanging and appreciation of your child's development vis a vis peers/siblings than most "experts". Consequently, I think it's critical to trust your inner wisdom on this and advocate for your child's special needs very early on. I've learned that special requests obviously make the work of the school administrators/teachers more difficult (and they'll initially respond by attempting to deny your request)but, in the long run, it's what's best for everyone involved--and most especially your precious child!

Matthew said...

With regards to the Illinois definition and children being gifted at one school and not another, I'm not convinced that's a bad thing. It really depends on the school district's purpose of defining children as gifted. A student who's at the 80th percentile at a feeder elementary school for Hinsdale Central or Stevenson or New Trier is likely going to be well-served by those school districts, and there's probably no need for her to be part of a pull-out gifted program, subject acceleration, etc.

But take that same student and put her into a rural school where her percentile starts creeping into the high 90s, there becomes more of a reason for identifying her as gifted, because the general, everyday schoolwork that the student is likely to encounter is going to be less challenging, and there's more of a reason to look at subject acceleration et al.

Put another way, the only reason for a school district to identify a student as gifted is so they can help her achieve through means not used with the student body at large. I would guess the percentage of students at any given school who fit into that category is relatively similar from school to school, but the cutoff levels are decidedly not.

Douglas Eby said...

It may be helpful to remember that "Giftedness was not commonly identified in children until recently, so many adults are unaware that they were gifted as children. But even those who were identified tend to believe their giftedness disappeared before adulthood." [Adapted from the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development] From my page Giftedness characteristics.

Jeanne said...

Great post! I am enjoying reading everyone's comments!
My son's K teacher told a story about my son suggesting that an anaconda might be a good creature to send up to a tree house. She asked him what an anaconda was. He told her (origin, genus, habitat). She asked him to spell it. He did so. When she told me the story I remember thinking, "why is she telling me this, what's so special about that?" No one ever mentioned gifted or testing or IQ. The gifted universe did not begin to unfold until much later - and after damage had been done. I wonder how we can help parents with gifted kids realize their needs when there is still time to plan for it and do something about it. Perhaps creating a workable definition that does not send out shockwaves is the way to start!

Kimberly/Mom in the City said...

It'll be interesting to read upcoming posts on this topic. Both my husband and I were raised in G&T classes, but we refuse to let our son get tested at the pre-k level. I'm not a huge fan of labels and honestly (to a great degree) I think that the "burden" is still on each parent to meet their kids' unique needs. (i.e. I was in G&T classes but still so bored that I talked through every class distracting the other kids. However, I never got in trouble because I was getting "A"s. Great character building - not! There's just so many mixed messages sent to kids once they get a (positive or negative) label...

Meagan Francis said...

The issue I have with the word is just that (as the dictionary definition suggests) there are many kinds of gifts: musical, artistic, social, etc. What's wrong with simply "very intelligent" or "highly intelligent"? Because clearly what we're talking about here are kids whose "gifts" lie in the academic realm: reading, language, mathematics, etc; and not necessarily, say, athletic gifts.

IRL Julia said...

Maybe it would be easier to figure this all out if we looked at what sort of accommodation needs to be made for the child/student to get the most out of what the school has to offer - because what seems to get gifted kids (and perhaps gifted programs) in trouble is the idea that extra resources that any child might benefit from are given only to the gifted child. In the end of it all, I am not sure if that is the case. A regular Kindergartener is not going to need an adult dictionary but a gifted Kindergartener might because that is part of the accommodation that child needs to deal with school and get what the school has to offer him/her. No one should have a problem with that - or with differentiated instruction. I think what gets people's backs up is when they hear about gifted classes getting to go on field trips or getting extra computers or computer time or etc....

PJ said...

After reading this post and all the replies, I have so many thoughts on this issue swimming in my head I'm not sure I can put them down in a logical fashion. My kids are still little and on one hand I rail against the term "gifted" primarily because of the reactions from other parents. I'm not even comfortable enough to really address this issue on my own blog! On the other hand, I have absorbed a mountain of information since I finally started to face the situation and research the concept of "giftedness" properly. It helps me so much on a day-to-day basis in parenting and educating my kids.

I guess my bottom line thought at the moment is that we need to have a label only inasmuch as its necessary to make sure that our kids get the differentiated education (and parenting!) they deserve. The main reason that i don't like the term "gifted" is because it is such an enormous catchall. A gifted child isn't gifted in everything just as a child who is a bad athlete isn't bad at everything.

One approach to better help to differentiate education and to avoid some of the negative stereotypes and reactions from other parents is to break "gifted" down into its component parts so as to be more specific - e.g., advanced reader, advanced at math, highly creative, extremely sensitive, asynchronous development, etc. These are more specific descriptions that are productive and will have less of a negative stereotype. You end up with a more specific description of the child (or person) that is more functional than "gifted".

Mrs. Flinger said...

OMGOMGOMG. I NEED THIS. Both my kids will be reading before four (my two year old, who is JUST two, knows letters, sounds, shapes, numbers, colors, and is sounding out words. I can't keep up!) And I often wonder what on earth to do. ANd the socially awkward thing? ZOMG.

Bookmarking all these sites. RIGHT NAO. Thank you.

csdblogger said...

I love this blog - glad I found it!

My thoughts on the "gifted" label are such:
One group of people who are uncomfortable with it are usually public school parents whose kids are undeniably smart, but not really and truly gifted. They do not like to hear that maybe there’s a difference between kids who are smart and hardworking and diligent and kids who just get it – everything in fact, without any effort at all.
Another group that is uncomfortable are teachers who have no idea how to challenge and/or engage highly intellectual kids. My son was put into public school as a second grader. Beforehand, at the suggestion of our superintendent (long story…) we had talked to the principal and the “highly capable” program teacher. They recognized that my son was exceptional and said they wanted to make his transition smooth. The actual result was my being confronted by his assigned 2nd grade teacher at the beginning of the school year and informed that all children have gifts…
Don’t get me wrong - there is nothing wrong with the kids who are smart and have to work hard. In fact, that seems to me to be a more enviable position then the truly “gifted” one. Gifted kids do not have a true peer group, even if they are put into the highly capable programs or given harder work or even moved up a grade in school. Luckily, we now have choices like homeschooling. And thankfully more programs are popping up like the Davidson Institute. I just wish it were closer to our house!

2KoP said...

I agree with PJ's assessment that "gifted" is too broad a term to be meaningful. It has always been my understanding that "gifted" refers to the top 1 to 2 percent. There is also a difference between an early achiever and a gifted learner. College educated parents, early exposure to learning and enrichment, and being read to from infancy can produce an early achiever who is not necessarily "gifted".

I have a "special needs" child, a "gifted" stepson, and another son "gifted" in math. At 12, my stepson was doing college level physics on his own, for fun. My math guy lives, eats and breathes numbers. He sees them every where. I have never needed to provided outside stimulation for either of these "gifted" students because they naturally challenge themselves. On occasion, they have asked me for help in the form of going to the library or getting a new computer program, but neither has ever gotten in trouble for being "bored" in math class. They just keep working the problem from different points of view.

My "special needs" boy is in high school now and has had an IEP since preschool. Some of his classes are being co-taught by regular ed and special ed teachers. I think this holds great promise, but to truly work, it would mean every class would have two teachers, and I don't see that happening in a world of ever-tightening budgets.

I'm intrigued at the idea of an IEP for gifted students. One of the things that has always confused me in our school district is that you can only be "gifted" in math — no accommodations are made if you show true gifts and talents in other academic areas.

I look forward to your continued discussions.

Candace April said...

Without getting into the whole everyone has some gift(s) and is "gifted" the right term (because that is another ball of wax), the research I did in graduate school suggested that when we talk about children who are so academically advanced/different that the regular program is not going to fulfill their needs, we're talking about the "top 2%". Now, how you determine that top 2% is yet another debate. I do believe that there is a difference between the above average and the very smart and the kids who are just so far out there that they are off the charts.