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Friday, November 30, 2012

Giftedness: Is it based on who you are or what you do?

by Ben Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

JimDeLisle, author of books such as When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers: How to Meet Their Social and Emotional Needs, believes that a sole focus in defining giftedness through the lens of talent development is “shortsighted” and “rude.” Specifically, Jim DeLisle has pushed hard against a new definition of giftedness being put forward by the National Association of Gifted Children. The new definition is rooted in the idea of “gifted individuals demonstrating outstanding levels of aptitude or competence.”  

In a monograph entitled “Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education” by NAGC President PaulaOlszewski-Kubilius, Rena Subotnik, and Frank Worrell, the authors suggest that “we consider making talent development, rather than giftedness, the major unifying concept of our field and, most importantly, the basis of our practice.” Jim DeLisle states -- based on the new definition -- “that giftedness is not a set of personal, innate traits but rather, the expression of particular talents in music, math or any other “structured area of activity.” He concludes that the new definition of giftedness emphasizes doing, producing, or creating at the expense of just being. The new definition, Jim De Lisle writes, leads us to believe that “giftedness lies in something you do as opposed to being someone you are.”


It is a fascinating debate – but also a debate that could go on and on and on…. I suppose in a results-oriented and outcome-focused culture, we do expect that giftedness leads to (measurable) results. Indeed, in advocating for gifted children and funding their educations, a common refrain is how wasted or undeveloped potential may weaken our nation and its economy. To some degree, we expect that gifts bestowed upon individuals will eventually result in gifts being contributed to and shared with the greater community. 

Although I cannot speak for either Jim DeLisle or Paula Olszewski-Kubilius and her colleagues, I am pretty sure that both sides absolutely understand that you cannot separate the two ideas. It is impossible to view giftedness through an exclusive lens of either what someone does or who someone is. It is in Jim DeLisle’s book that child psychologist and gifted education authority Maureen Neihart perfectly sums up the debate: “Giftedness is a way of responding to what goes on around you and within you. There are affective as well as cognitive components. Some people say that giftedness is what you do. I say okay, but isn’t who you are a big part of what you’re capable of doing? I am not sure you can separate the two. There seem to be common personality characteristics among people who achieve at very high levels, but you can have those personality characteristics and not achieve at very high levels, too.” 

In the broader education world, we speak of educating the “whole child.” Educating the whole gifted child is indeed, in my opinion, the proper focus. Frankly, I believe that the recent publication entitled “Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education” also supports the development of the whole child. This is evident in the authors’ statement that “psychosocial variables play an essential role in the manifestation of giftedness at every developmental stage. Both cognitive and psychosocial variables are malleable and need to be deliberately cultivated.” As a matter of fact, the authors are quite clear that talent development is indeed a “stage” in a gifted child’s life that is preceded by a “stage,” during which the nurture of a child’s potential is the basis to eventual talent development and subsequent eminence development. “Giftedness can be viewed as developmental in that in the beginning stages, potential is the key variable; in later stages, achievement is the measure of giftedness; and in fully developed talents, eminence is the basis on which this label is granted.” 

In my opinion, there is a need for the gifted education community to reach consensus on putting forth a developmental path that indeed stages the development of a gifted child into periods of nurturing potential, developing talent, and specializing in a domain of eminence. There are numerous developmental models such as Francoys Gagne’s Differentiated Model of Giftedand Talented 

With an abundance and a century of literature and research on motivation and perseverance including the recent work of Carol Dweck’s Mindset or PaulTough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, it is evident that schools can and should pay close attention to “nurturing,” while there appears to be less clarity as to when schools should focus on the development of talent. It may very well be that due to the enormity of research, opinions, and actual practices that reaching consensus is impossible and potentially unnecessary. It may indeed be best for practitioners and gifted education programs to adopt their own philosophy – indeed, the thought of standardizing gifted education is counter-intuitive. But in the interest of advocating for gifted children and their educations, it may be prudent for organizations such as NAGC to lead the way in illuminating the path of transforming gifts into talents and eventually areas of eminence – and I believe the recent publication of “Rethinking Giftedness” is an excellent start – the monograph actually alludes to the possibility of different trajectories depending on the domain being studied and pursued.  

While developmental stages typically are meant as guidelines with full respect given to individual differences, I propose that the gifted education field indeed agree on an acceptable path by which nurture, talent development, and attainment of eminence are delineated. The degree to how psychosocial variables at each stage are balanced in relationship to purposeful instruction of skills and knowledge will yet again differ from individual to individual, but I can’t help but think that general guidelines would be most helpful in this area as well. Frankly, at times I wonder whether the terms of “giftedness” and “gifted education” would serve as distinctive paths to separate the psychosocial and academic learning domains. As such, there may indeed be validity in focusing on “talent development,” while remaining grounded in “giftedness.” 


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Necessity and Beauty of Unleashing Creativity

By Benjamin Hebebrand
Head of School, Quest Academy

Creativity, innovation, and imagination have become buzzwords in the 21st century. Sir KenRobinson, author of Out of Minds: Learning to be Creative, says that “creativity is not some exotic, optional extra. It’s a strategic issue.” In my opinion, creativity has indeed risen to a national – if not global -- priority status as a result of a confluence of both proactive and reactive forces.  

The reactive forces can be found in both our economy and education. Still mired in a recession, today’s economy not only requires innovation to launch new products and services but also to foster new systems of management and leadership, allowing industry to capitalize on the power of collaboration and ideas at all organizational layers. In education, we are reacting to a hard-core standards movement that has put so much emphasis on academic skills that we dropped and discounted the student’s curiosity in learning for the sake of merely “covering” learning content to check off a standard and prepare for the next standardized test. And, yes, we also dropped and discounted the fine and performing arts. I, for one, am sensing that our educational system is moving in a new direction of “uncovering” and “discovering” the learning content. 

The proactive force can be found in technology – the kind of technology that allows us to interact without limits and the kind of technology that allows for the transformation of both our systems of education and economy. Technology has to be used properly and not misused by engaging with technology in a passive, consumer-oriented, numbing manner. Instead, technology should spur collaboration, strategic thinking, and productive outcomes, all of which can nowadays be encountered in well-designed gaming environments or well-guided virtual classrooms. 

The field of gifted education has always included the idea of creativity as an essential component. Dona J. Matthews and Joanne F. Foster, authors of Being Smart about GiftedEducation make the point that giftedness and creativity are not two separate or disconnected notions but rather they are symbiotically intertwined. “Creativity is an important component of actualizing giftedness in every domain, and domain-specific mastery is a prerequisite for high-level creative work.” In a way, creativity advances knowledge and knowledge advances creativity. We would be wise to remember this in educating students, particularly those students who are just entering the formalized educational system. 

Consider how Sir Ken Robinson explains creativity within the context of education: “I remember when I was running the national commission on creativity, education and the economy in the U.K., the Secretary of State there said, ‘We're very committed to creativity in education but we've got to get literacy and numeracy right first.’ And I said, this is just a basic misunderstanding. It's like saying we're going to bake a cake and if it works out, then we'll put the eggs in. That's not how it works. If you want people to be literate, you have to get them passionate about reading and that's a creative job. To think of it as an afterthought or in conflict of the core purposes, is a misconception of what creativity is.” 

Schools should indeed be among the primary incubators of creativity. Classrooms must be supportive and encouraging to allow creativity to emerge and flourish. Thus, schools and the teachers within the schools have a choice to make – to be creative and thus liberate students to be the same.
Indeed Robert Sternberg, a noted gifted education theorist and creator of the Triarchic Model of Intelligence (comprised of analytical intelligence, creative or synthetic intelligence, and practical intelligence), believes that being creative is a decision we make (or not). He proposes a list of ten mindsets by which we decide for creativity – a list that teachers would be well served to employ in their classrooms: 

·         Redefine problems: This approach may prevent us from getting stuck.

·         Analyze one’s own ideas: I would refer to this mode of thinking as fine-tuning and re-tuning one’s own thoughts.

·         Sell one’s own ideas: Demonstrating the value of one’s thinking is bound to result in greater creativity.

·         Knowledge is a double-edged sword: So-called expertise may limit flexibility.

·         Surmount obstacles: I would define this as one’s willingness to entertain contrary points of view in an effort of redefining one’s own ideas.

·         Take sensible risks: Creativity or divergent thinking mandates one move beyond one’s comfort zone.

·         Willingness to grow: One’s viewpoint of being correct can hinder the examination of different solutions.

·         Believe in oneself:  I would think that anyone who believes they can be creatively productive will indeed be creatively productive.

·         Tolerate ambiguity: Embrace the uncertainties of the creative process – accept that the end point can be redefined during the process.

·         Find what you love to do and do it: Follow your passions and interests. 

In conclusion, we would be wise to think of creativity as a means to stretch our ideas. Stretching one’s body increases flexibility; stretching one’s mind (and not limiting it to a multiple choice answer) increases creativity.





Monday, September 24, 2012

Dr. Renzulli's 21st Century Giftedness Model

In advance of gifted education theorist and innovator Dr.Joseph Renzulli’s community presentation at Quest Academy (co-sponsored by Avery Coonley School and Da Vinci Academy) on Sept. 27 (for details and ticket information, please link here), I thought it wise to review Dr. Renzulli’s most recent article on approaches to gifted education within the context of our contemporary 21st Century world.

Published by the National Association for Gifted Children in its flagship journal Gifted Child Quarterly (Volume 56, Number 3, Summer 2012), Dr. Renzulli sets out to answer the question “why and how should a society devote special resources to the development of giftedness in young people for the 21st century.”  This summary of Dr. Renzulli’s concerns itself with the “how” with the “why” question simply answered as “increasing society’s reservoir of creative problem solvers and producers of knowledge.”

Fundamental to Dr. Renzulli’s conception of giftedness is a fine difference between what he terms “lesson learners” or “schoolhouse giftedness” (those who consume existing information) versus “creative producers” (those who go on to make important contributions to knowledge). Given the technology-enhanced abundance of existing information in this second decade of the 21st Century, Renzulli argues that “in this day and age of exponential knowledge expansion, it would seem wise to consider a model that focuses on how our most able students access and make use of information rather than merely how they accumulate, store, and retrieve it.”

And maybe most important to Renzulli’s theories is the idea that the label “gifted” not necessarily be assigned to any one student but rather to the type of educational experiences  offered, those being the “services  necessary to develop high potential.” Another way to understand this is to ask oneself the question what type of educational services “cause some people to use their intellectual, motivational, and creative assets that lead to outstanding manifestations of achievement and creative productivity.” In his summary, Dr. Renzulli emphatically points out that “the most salient point to make when discussing and generalizing about theories for the study of giftedness in the 21st century is that there is an overlap and an interaction among cognitive, affective, and motivational characteristics.”

In determining the best possible gifted education programming in our 21st Century, Dr. Renzulli has over the years developed a four-part theory that in sum has its goal to help students become “fully-functioning and self-actualized individuals.”

The four sub-theories include “The Three Ring Conception of Giftedness,” “The Enrichment Triad Model,” “Operation Houndstooth – Gifted Education and Social Capital,” and “Executive Functions – Leadership for a Changing World.” Below, please find a brief description of each theory:

The Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness:

The three rings are comprised of a) above average ability; b) task commitment; and c) creativity. Dr. Renzulli believes that it is the “interaction among these clusters of traits brought to bear on a particular problem situation that creates the conditions for the creative productive process to commence.” Furthermore, Dr. Renzulli’s above average ability is viewed in broader terms than other ability/giftedness criteria (e.g. the top 5%), because he cites research that “highlights minimal criterion validity between academic aptitude and professional accomplishments.”

The Enrichment Triad Model:

Within this model, Renzulli outlines three Enrichment types of instruction that move beyond the traditional “deductive, didactic, and prescriptive approaches” to the other end of “inductive, investigative, and constructivist-based approaches.” Type I Enrichment exposes students to possibilities of learning, “catalyzing curiosity and internal motivation.” Type II Enrichment is designed to teach students how to move from inspiration found in Type I enrichment to action. Type III “experiences are the the culmination of natural learning, representing synthesis and an application of content, process, , and personal involvement through self-motivated work.”

Operation Houndstooth – Gifted Education and Social Capital:

This model promoters the idea that “highly able young people have a responsibility to society at large.” The idea of having been gifted with an extraordinary education requires one to give back – “using one’s talents to improve human conditions, whether that improvement is targeted toward one person or larger audiences or conditions.” Dr. Renzulli identifies the traits that need to be fostered as “optimism, courage, romance with a topic or discipline, physical and mental energy, vision, and a sense of power to change things.”

Executive Functions – Leadership for a Changing World

Dr. Renzulli refers to this model as the “yeast” that helps the three other models to rise. Put bluntly, Dr. Renzulli also refers to this model as “getting your act together.” Dr. Renzulli believes that the most advanced thoughts and creations may not come to fruition unless “leadership skills such as organization, sequencing, and sound judgment are brought to bear on problem situations. Dr. Renzulli identifies five general categories of executive functions: a) Action Orientation; b) Social Interactions; c) Altruistic Leadership (empathy and dependability); d) Realistic Self-Assessment; and e) Awareness of Needs of Others.

Dr. Renzulli essentially has challenged the gifted education community to “extend our traditional investment in the production of intellectual and creative capital to include an equal investment in social capital and the development of executive function skills.” Critical to this challenge is the incorporation of experiential learning as opposed to what he terms the “teaching-and-preaching” experiences.

For those interested in transforming Dr. Renzulli’s contributions into actual teaching practices, I would recommend RenzulliLearning’s website.


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

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An evolutionary perspective on giftedness

By Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

A historical study on the subject of giftedness clearly underscores the notion that our understanding of giftedness is continuously evolving. This evolution is congruent with the very idea that we teach our students in school – continued study and research lead to better and more comprehensive understandings.

In examining this evolution of our understanding of giftedness, it is evident that a broad analysis of the past 100 years of the study of giftedness has offered several periods or movements of understandings of giftedness. It is only logical that these movements also have shaped our ideas about best practices in identifying and teaching gifted students.

It is my view that the evolution of these movements has resulted in a broader, more multi-faceted view of giftedness – appropriate, in my opinion, given the fact that I believe that a) giftedness to some degree can be nurtured; and b) that gifted learners deserve to be assessed and taught in multiple dimensions. In my opinion, this historical evolution of the conception of giftedness has made the field of gifted education enriched by a diversity of opinions. There may also be those who believe that the ideas of giftedness have become diluted and thus have lost focus as a result of ever-broadening conceptions of giftedness.

In the Handbook of Gifted Education, edited by Steven I. Pfeiffer, cognitive scientists Scott Barry Kaufman and Robert J. Sternberg have identified four “waves” of conceptions of giftedness. The following is a brief summary of these four waves:

·         1) Domain-General Models

This wave essentially conforms to the idea that it is one’s general intelligence that is indicative of giftedness. Giftedness is viewed as “a single entity.” Most often, this view espouses the idea that giftedness can be measured in a single test such as an IQ test. This particular wave of thought may best be represented by English psychologist Charles Spearman, who in 1904 termed pervasive ability as general intelligence (the “g” factor), while he termed a specific ability as “s.” He recognized and determined that a “wide variety of cognitive tests tend to positively correlate with each other.”

·         2) Domain-Specific Models

This wave – as its name implies – holds to the notion that abilities may be domain-specific. In 1938, Louis Thurstone identified “seven different mental abilities that he claimed were statistically independent of each other.” These seven abilities related to both verbal comprehension and fluency, number computation, perception speed, inductive reasoning, spatial visualization, and also memory – some of these components are now included in the most recent editions of intelligence tests. This wave also includes Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory that divides into linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. Another major contributor to this wave of thought is the work of J.B. Carroll, who in 1993 outlined three strata of intelligence of a) “highly specialized skills;” b) “somewhat specialized abilities” such as fluid intelligence (depends on the functioning of the central nervous system); crystallized intelligence (based on prior experiences and cultural context); general memory and learning; broad visual and auditory perceptions; broad retrieval ability; broad cognitive speediness; and processing speed; and c) one ability such as the “g” factor which “underlies all aspects of intellectual activity.”

·         3) System Models

As the name implies, this wave espouses the view that giftedness is an interrelated system “which is dependent on a confluence of psychological processes operating together." A widely- -applied model that fits this idea of an interconnected system is Joseph Renzulli’s “three-ring definition,” first introduced in 1978. His three characteristics are a) well-above-average ability; b) creativity; and c) task commitment. Renzulli’s system brings to light the idea that giftedness is defined in more "active" terms – as he states, giftedness should be thought of in terms of “the creative and productive people of the world, the producers rather than consumers of knowledge.” Broadly stated, it's not just what you know, but what you produce and create. Renzulli’s model opens the door to the idea that intelligence alone is not sufficient in defining giftedness;  non-intellective factors need to be considered as well.

·         4) Developmental Models

External or environmental factors such as family, school, or peers are introduced to the idea of intelligence in the sense that these “external factors might interact with the internal factors of the individual to produce gifted behavior.” Francoys Gagne introduced in 2005 the Differentiated Model of Gifted and Talented, which proposes that gifts are transformed into talents. This transformation includes a) environmental impacts such as the home, school, parents, mentors, coaches, activities, encounters, and specific life experiences such as academic competitions; and b) non-intellective factors such as a child’s motivation, temperament, resilience, persistence, and endurance (training).  In my opinion, this wave most closely aligns itself with the idea of teaching to the “whole child.” Kurt Heller’s recent Munich Model of Giftedness views talent factors as predictors that are to be transformed into performance areas (i.e. achievement criteria). During this transformation, moderators come into play in the form of a) non-cognitive personality characteristics (i.e. coping with stress, test anxiety, or achievement motivation); or b) environmental conditions (quality instruction, classroom climate, or critical life events).

In providing this overview of these four waves, it is my aim that gifted education practitioners understand that a child’s giftedness is far more than general test scores – in fact giftedness may be domain-specific or may include one’s creativity and productivity, and may also be greatly influenced by a child’s personality and environment. Please post your thoughts, informing us of your conception of giftedness.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Motivating the Gifted Learner

I admire the work of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck on the subject of motivation. It has been about a year since Dr. Dweck spoke at Quest Academy. There has not been a day since that talk that I have not thought about how best to motivate gifted students.

Fixed Mindset versus Growth Mindset

At the very core of Dr. Dweck’s work is the idea that intelligence is not a fixed trait. She quotes Alfred Binet, the inventor of IQ testing: “A few modern philosophers…assert that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism…With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally become more intelligent than we were before.” Indeed, with years of her research, Dr. Dweck has expanded on Dr. Binet’s assertion by referring to two different mindsets.
The fixed mindset -- rooted in the belief that one’s qualities are carved in stone – leads to behavior and actions that are risk-averse in that kids experience the first sign of failure as an indicator of their abilities or rather lack of abilities. The growth mindset, on the other hand, is attributable to an approach that one’s qualities and abilities can always improve or grow as a result of one’s efforts. In essence, Dr. Dweck advocates that the development of a growth mindset is key in fostering a child’s motivation. One such way to instill a growth mindset is to focus less on the results but rather the processes of learning, primarily among them the effort a child invests on any given task. Praising a child’s final grade or cumulative score on a standardized test may reinforce the fixed mindset, while praising a child’s effort, innovative and creative thinking, or passion invested in the task is more likely to signal to the child that the process of working (well) is highly valued.  I have always maintained that as a function of good and hard work, the results will be just fine.

“Do I want to do this?” and “Can I do this?”

At the very core of a student’s sense of motivation, we are most likely to encounter two fundamental questions: “Do I want to do it?” and “Can I do it?” The first question points to the need to assign students tasks that are meaningful, valuable, and relevant, while the second question points to creating tasks that correspond to a child’s ability. At our school, we root each learning-specific topic in a conceptual context (see previous blog on this topic). Similarly, at our school we invest time to determine what students already know or what they do not yet know in advance of a new learning unit. This way, teachers can differentiate for student ability, preferably at a level that is just above their demonstrated level.  

Practical Strategies to Motivate Gifted Students:

Deliberate attempts to engage students, including elementary school-aged children in the higher cognitive thinking levels of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are sure ways to motivate gifted students. I offer a few practical strategies to motivate gifted students:

·         Inquiry leads to curiosity: Taking time out during the day and simply meeting with students to contemplate intriguing questions is a good practice. Using natural or authentic moments is an added bonus. On the season’s first snowfall, have students generate questions about snow. Investigate together.

·         Compare, Contrast, Contradict, and Create Controversy: Imagine the teacher walking into a third grade classroom, asserting that “learning other languages leads to a poorer command of one’s own native language.” Soon, students will be working in teams investigating this controversial statement.

·         Encouraging students to make hypotheses: This should not only happen in the science classroom, but in every classroom. Encouraging student guesses is good practice as long as timely feedback is provided.

Other Ways to Encourage Students:

·         The sense of accomplishment: Students benefit by the experience of authentic accomplishment. One initial accomplishment sets the stage for further accomplishment. Students need to be able to recognize their own competence by experiencing the feeling of accomplishing a task or solving a problem. An ideal outcome is a sense of meta-cognition, whereby students can think about their own thinking.

·         The teacher’s confidence in students: Students perform better when they know that their teacher wishes them conspicuous daily success.

·         The teacher’s passion: Enthusiasm is infectious.

·         Variety of Instructional Strategies: A classroom that always features rows of student desks is a recipe for…boredom. The classroom must be fluid.

·         The teacher’s genuine care for students: This is self-explanatory. When we feel that someone cares to get to know us, we do better.

·         Student Autonomy in the Classroom: Differentiating to student ability is great -- as is differentiating to student interest. Giving students choices is a sure recipe to increase their ownership in the learning.
Please take some time and share with me and others who read this blog your thoughts and strategies to motivate gifted students.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

IQ Testing and Admission to a Gifted Education Program

Admission to a gifted education program at a school such as Quest Academy most frequently requires an assessment of the applicant. As such, one may be tempted to conclude that educational institutions are being selective and primarily concerned about screening students out. I would much prefer to look at the assessment as an opportunity to screen students “into the program,” or in other words determining if there is a good fit between the program and applicant designed to set the applicant up for success. The word “admission” really conveys the idea of “working toward the mission,” implying that the work of admitting students into a program is all about alignment with the mission or cause of the program.
Therefore, applicant testing to gifted education programs is appropriate and mutually beneficial to the applicant and the mission of the gifted education program. Missions of such programs vary – an orientation toward “academic achievement” or “intellectual development” or a “challenging curriculum” or an “emphasis on creativity” may point to different objectives within various gifted education programs. Thus, gifted education programs turn to an admission process that fits their mission – testing may be designed to assess an applicant’s cognitive ability as opposed to an applicant’s achievement level.
The work of assessing a student’s fit with a particular gifted education mission is important. It should, therefore, be transparent. “IQ testing and selection for programs is thought by some to be a mysterious and secretive domain understood only by the chosen few. It shouldn’t be,” according David Palmer, Ph.D., author of Parents’ Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education. Selection into any program such as a high school varsity sport or a regional or state Science Fair frankly involves some subjectivity on the part of the assessors – selection to a gifted education program should include objective testing. “The administration of an individually administered comprehensive IQ test offers a more valid and reliable picture of a child's learning needs,” according to Palmer. Many but not all gifted education programs require submission of an individually administered IQ test as a final criterion, possibly in conjunction with teacher recommendations or previous academic records.
While typically the majority of applicant parents understand the normative bell curve scoring between 90 and 110 to indicate the median range of scores, we find that not as many understand what is actually being tested on an IQ test. There are numerous publishers and therefore numerous versions, all of which are updated both in terms of content and re-calibration of raw scores into scaled scores (so that the median scores always fall into the 90-110 score range). In his book Palmer outlines a few general areas that most IQ testing instruments share in common:
·         Verbal skills: Palmer defines this as “the ability to understand and use words, to understand verbally presented information and answer comprehension questions, and the capacity to analyze and solve puzzles or problems in which verbal skills are involved.” This area of testing includes more open-ended questions.
·         Visual (or Nonverbal or Perceptual) Problem Solving: This component, according to Palmer, will test for “the ability to solve visually presented problems and puzzles, recognize visual patterns, and identify visual details.” This testing component includes more performance-oriented tasks that usually have one correct answer.
·         Memory Index: This testing component measures “the ability to hold words, numbers, patterns, and symbols in the mind long enough to solve a problem or produce a response,” according to Palmer.
·         Problem-Solving Speed: IQ testing determines one’s “ability to think and act quickly and to use available information to swiftly solve a problem,” according to Palmer.
As you read between the lines of these testing descriptions, you may be able to recognize that while various testing components do not measure specific academic skills (i.e. skills that are taught in school), it is generally agreed that all IQ tests serve as a good indicator for student success in school. In a previous blog, I wrote about a new definition of giftedness that speaks of a trajectory of potential in elementary school years to one of achievement in teenage years to a stage of eminence in adult life. I view IQ testing as a measure of one’s potential. There is evidence of students being “prepped” for these tests, as Dr. Kirk Erickson, a northwest Chicago suburban psychologist and IQ testing practitioner, points out. “You can practice online performance area tests such as certain designs and puzzles – and that may add a few points, but it won’t help the student. Attempts to prepare the student are a disservice to the student because the few extra points earned would not really be points that reflect her true score, potentially placing a student in the wrong program.”
It is important that testing results be reviewed and explained by a psychologist. Typically, IQ testing results are accompanied by narrative reports, but a face-to-face meeting with the psychologist to interpret the scores is important. Dr. Erickson believes that the spread in scores among the various testing components is worthy of deeper analysis. Should scores be vastly different from each other (a score differential of about 15 points or more would qualify as such), Dr. Erickson would point toward asynchronicity. While a Verbal Skills score may indicate a score of 145, a Problem-Solving Speed score may be at 125, which in isolation is a score well above average. Such a range in scores, according to Dr. Erickson, may be explained by “brain development in that one area of the brain is not as developed as others or it may point toward a learning disability.” Dr. Erickson would be the first to recommend “additional testing to determine a learning disability.”
Anytime assessments are performed to qualify students for entry into any given program, we should take great care in making that selection process live up to a high standard of consistency. In my opinion, IQ testing adds a consistent measure in determining the suitability of applicants to a gifted education program. As such, we should remove any mystery from such testing.