Raising Bright Sparks – how to recognize, support and extend our brightest kids.
Every child has relative strengths, but children whose abilities fall within the top ten percent of the population in any area are regarded as ‘gifted’, according to Françoys Gagné, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Montreal. Michael Pyryt, from the University of Calgary, described the difference between strengths and giftedness as similar to weaknesses and handicaps, saying “we all have weaknesses but we don’t all have handicaps”.
Miraca Gross, Director of the Gifted Education Research, Resource and Information Centre (GERRIC), at the University of New South Wales says “Every child is a gift; every child, irrespective of ability levels has relative strengths and weaknesses; but not every child is gifted.” The term ‘gifted’ is a psychological and educational term.
Gagné explains a developmental process is required to transform a child’s natural abilities or ‘gifts’, into skills or ‘talents’. A child can be gifted without being talented (because the talents have not yet developed); however an individual cannot be talented without first being gifted.
There are a range of factors that impact positively or negatively upon the developmental process. A child may have a natural ability, but if s/he does not enjoy the activity, lacks motivation and does not put in sufficient effort, this ability is unlikely to develop into a talent. Gagné highlights the role of people, resources and opportunities in a child’s life. The development of talent depends on what the family, school, culture and the child contribute.
Parents can consider gifted children as those who are advanced, reaching developmental milestones much earlier than most children of a similar chronological age. To determine if a child might be gifted, consider the following characteristics, listed by Carol Bainbridge, an American psychologist and advocate for gifted children. She contrasts the cognitive characteristics of children who are bright achievers with those of children who are intellectually gifted and therefore have specific educational needs:
A Bright achiever:
- Grasps meanings
- Absorbs information
- Remembers the answers
- Generates advanced ideas
- Learns with ease
- Needs 6 – 8 repetitions to master
- Enjoys the company of age peers
- Enjoys the company of age peers
- Is attentive
A gifted learner
- Infers and connects concepts
- Manipulates information
- Poses unforeseen questions
- Generates complex, abstract ideas
- Already knows
- Needs 1 – 3 repetitions to master
- Prefers company of intellectual peers
- Is intense
- Is selectively engaged
When parents or teachers are concerned about a child’s progress at school, a psychometric assessment will identify a child’s intellectual level and educational needs. An assessment can be conducted by a Psychologist or Guidance Officer who provides a report detailing abilities, achievements and any specific learning needs as a result of intellectual giftedness and/or learning disabilities, as these may occur together.
Parents should advocate for gifted children as they start school; a different class or a new school. Don’t assume teachers will know a child is gifted. From an early age, these children begin to mask abilities in order to fit in. It is important to provide the school and teacher with information about a child’s abilities, interests and achievements. This is especially important when a child is reading prior to starting school.
Try to establish a collaborative relationship with the teacher. Acknowledge support for your child’s learning needs and communicate concerns early. Join the parent group; make practical contributions; establish a positive presence in the school. This will hold you in good stead if you later need to advocate for provisions for gifted students. Your gifted child may need a range of adjustments in order to learn appropriately at school and at home.
There are times when a task is ideally matched to a child’s intellectual abilities, academic and practical skills, passions and needs. When a task is not too hard, not too easy but ‘just right’, a student will be engaged in learning. Teachers can address the learning needs of gifted students by differentiating the curriculum and implementing specific teaching strategies. Academic work should provide sufficient challenge for the child, requiring the student to stretch a little beyond the current level so new learning takes place and academic skills are developed.
The way in which a child’s strengths, abilities and gifts are identified, challenged and nurtured by parents and teachers will largely determine whether a child develops skills and talents.
About the author: Michele Juratowitch is Director of Clearing Skies, provides counselling and programs for gifted children, professional development for teachers and workshops for parents. Michele was awarded a Churchill Fellowship and is co-author of Make a Twist, a new curriculum differentiation resource for students. Would you like to know more? Guiding Gifted Children: Workshops for Parents are held regularly in Brisbane.
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