About Gifted Children

Posted in: Talented and Gifted
Apr 19, 2010 - 9:35:36 PM

About Gifted Children

Carol Fertig holds an M.A. in Educational Psychology/Gifted Education. She has been active in the education community for 40 years and involved in gifted education for the past 25 years. Currently, she is editor of Understanding Our Gifted; author of Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog; and author of Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook, which won a 2009 Legacy Book® Award, for outstanding books published in the U.S. with long-term potential for positively influencing the lives of gifted children. Carol lives in Colorado and is the parent of two grown boys.

1. Who exactly is a gifted child?

The term “gifted” is very controversial because there is no one definition for it. If you were to talk to ten different experts in the field, there is a strong chance that you would get ten different definitions of the term. The meaning varies widely between states, school districts and even individual schools. It has positive connotations for some and negative connotations for others.

Rather than get hung up on the label of gifted, I prefer to move beyond the definition and provide practical ideas for teachers and parents of very bright kids. These youngsters might be deemed smart, intelligent or brainy.

When people use the word “gifted,” they often use it in a global sense, assuming the child is good at everything. In reality, a student may be very capable in only one academic area, or their expertise may be in a non-academic area such as music, dance, art, people skills, or model building. We tend to only value expertise in certain domains, but in reality, all are important.

Please do not confuse my statements with the philosophy that “all children are gifted.” I do not agree with that and I think that way of thinking is part of the “feel good” movement that is now being debunked by research.

2. What sort of information do you provide about gifted children on your blog?

On Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog, I alternate between basic theory, current developments, and practical information for both parents and teachers. I want those who live and work with highly able students to realize that there are far more opportunities available than they may initially see. This is especially true with the explosion of technology that we are currently experiencing. I focus on what can be done to aid bright youngsters, rather than spending a lot of time talking about obstacles one might encounter. I provide very practical suggestions for working with kids who have focused strengths and also encourage creativity and critical thinking skills. So far, there are more than 550 entries on the blog, most of which contain information that is current. There is a search function at the web site, so if the reader has a particular topic of interest or concern, she can search on key words to find relevant past blog entries.

3. Can you give some advice to our mom readers on identifying gifted children?

If we cannot agree on the definition of giftedness, we cannot possibly come up with a sure method for identifying these students. There are, however, instruments that can be used as pieces of the puzzle in understanding one’s child. We can look at achievement tests, IQ tests and emotional/behavioral assessments. Parents should also consider the child’s strong interests as indicators.

Achievement tests are usually administered in school in an attempt to evaluate what a child has already learned. There are many different tests available and each one assesses different skills. For instance, if a student is administered two different math achievement tests, scores might be quite different, depending on which specific skills were being evaluated. Perhaps one test has an emphasis on computational skills and another is emphasizes problem solving skills.

IQ tests are designed to determine a child’s ability or potential. These assessments need to be administered individually, usually by a psychologist. For a variety of reasons, experts do not agree on which IQ test is the most accurate. These tests often need to be given outside the school system as schools do not have the money or personnel resources for administration.

Behavioral assessments are administered by psychologists and may offer clues why a child is not performing to his expected ability.

Before having your child individually evaluated, ask yourself some questions. Will a certain score on a test make different educational options available? Will it cause you to look at your child differently? Will your expectations for your child change? Would that change be beneficial or detrimental to the child?

4. What sort of activities does your book, Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook include?

Much like my blog, the book works to show the many paths that might be taken to educate one’s child. Because parents should not to get hung up on thinking that there is only one correct way, I offer an extensive menu of options from which to choose. Parents might move a child to a different school, choose to work with the current school (I give many suggestions of ways to do this), or provide opportunities outside of school (including homeschooling, mentorships, enrichment and distance learning). I discuss which possible educational solutions would best fit different situations, explaining the pros and cons of each one.

Since students often have very specific areas of strengths/interests, I include resources in the areas of language arts, math, science, social studies, foreign language, fine arts, and technology. These ideas can also be used to expose students to new areas. After all, how can one’s potential ever be developed if one is never exposed to the subject?

5. Can you give some parenting tips to parents of gifted children?

Be careful about the expectations you hold for your child. Your son or daughter may have entirely different interests than you do. While those interests may not be the same as yours, they still may turn out to bring great happiness as your child grows to adulthood. So, support those different interests, trying to see the value that might be gained from them. Encourage basic traits such as tenacity, people skills, critical thinking, coping with difficult situations, hard work, and positive risk taking. Above all, let your child know that she is loved and valued.

6. As a gifted education teacher, how is your task different from other teachers?

The function of a gifted education teacher varies greatly from place to place. I have assumed a variety of roles over the years.

I taught in a magnet school for the gifted. This was one of the most difficult jobs I ever had. People often think that all very bright children all learn the same way and just need to be with intellectual peers with an advanced curriculum and a knowledgeable teacher. I found that there was more intellectual, emotional, and learning style diversity in the gifted magnet class than any other class I ever taught.

I spent a number of years as a gifted pull-out teacher where I was responsible for working with individuals or small groups of students in specific subjects. Sometimes we worked on enrichment, covering many of the same topics that were taught in the classroom, but with a different twist—usually involving more creative and critical thinking skills. Sometimes the classes were accelerated, teaching a subject a year or two in advance of grade level. And sometimes I helped students do in-depth independent studies on topics of special interest to them.

I have also assumed the role of gifted education specialist, coaching teachers to differentiate the learning in their classrooms (i.e., present material on a variety of levels to meet the needs of kids with different abilities). In the role of gifted education specialist, I also helped arrange mentorships for students who had long-time special interests, and helped to coordinate parent volunteers to work both in the classroom and in setting up before- and after-school enrichment classes.

7. What sort of books would you recommend to parents of gifted children?

There are many good books available for parents of gifted children.

Of course, I would like to recommend my book, Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook. The book weaves together lots of practical information with real stories of very bright children. It is written in an easy-to-read manner.

Anything by James R. Delisle is good. Jim has a way of taking complicated subjects and making them easy and enjoyable to read. He is an excellent speaker and writer and has written much on the social/emotional side of giftedness.

David Shenk just came out with a new book that is quite promising. The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told about Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong, brings together a lot of recent research about the development of the brain and presents it in a down-home way. Much of the research conducted over the past couple of decades counters traditional thought about intelligence and puts the onus on exposure and hard work rather than just genetics.