Dr. Steven Pfeiffer is a popular speaker, author, consultant, and board certified and licensed psychologist. He is an Emeritus Professor at Florida State University and an internationally recognized authority in the areas of parenting and the social and emotional needs of the gifted.
An interview with the lead author of the GRS-2, Steven Pfeiffer, recently appeared in the 2020 issue of the North American Journal of Psychology. Professor Pfeiffer was asked a number of questions about his views on giftedness, talent development, the new GRS-2, and ways to identify and nurture high ability kids. He has provided a short summary of his answer to one of the interview questions that appears in the journal to whet the interest of our readers. A full interview is available here.
Interviewer Question: A burning question about giftedness and talent development, Dr. Pfeiffer- is it quantitative or qualitative- and what do you see as the differences?
Steven Pfeiffer: This is a terrific question! It brings me back to my graduate student days, when I had the good fortune of studying with James Gallagher at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Professor Gallagher had a lovely answer to the quantitative versus qualitative issue. He liked to say, and I am paraphrasing him here – “Try to view giftedness like water. At a certain temperature, it freezes into a solid, ice. But when warmed, the ice melts and turns into something very different, a liquid. And under further heating, the liquid actually transforms from a liquid into a gaseous state.” Professor Gallagher would then ask: “are these different states of water: solid, liquid, and gas – qualitative distinctions? Or are they quantitative differences?”
Professor Gallagher’s challenge to us students – at least how I have come to interpret and understand his view, is that giftedness can be considered both as marked by quantitative and qualitative distinctions. I agree with this nuanced position when thinking about giftedness and talent development. It helped guide our thinking about the development of the GRS and GRS-2. Let me use a soccer analogy, which readers of my work know I often rely upon by analogy when trying to explain intellectual or academic giftedness. The differences between most good High School varsity soccer players and weekend recreational soccer players, like myself, are, pretty much, quantitative. However, the differences between Division I College soccer players and world class soccer stars, such as Messi or Ronaldo, are, in many regards, astounding qualitative distinctions.
Messi and Ronaldo, and the other world class soccer players, perform, “on the turf,” in both quantitatively and in qualitatively different ways, compared to the rest of us who play soccer. Many things that they do on the field are more than just better or faster or more precise than what the rest of us can only hope to do. They play at an amazingly creative and elite level that captures our imagination because it reflects more than simply quantitative differences! The same is true among our most elite, eminent, and highly accomplished authors, poets, performing artists, scientists, politicians, engineers, mathematicians, physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists.
A second take-away from watching Messi, Ronaldo, and other world class soccer players on the field, training as well as competing, is this: They have an abundance of raw talent, considerable God-given gifts that are critical to develop to the highest levels on the soccer field. No question about this. But in addition to natural ability, to reach the highest levels in their chosen field, in this case soccer, they also need to develop to a very high level a number of specific physical and socio-emotional skills that complement their God-given gifts. Researchers have called these contextual, moderating and mediating factors. Whatever we label them, it is apparent to anyone who has spent considerable time on the sidelines watching elite youth develop, over time, into world-class soccer players, that many factors go into the equation that ultimately leads to elite performance on the playing field.
My point in thinking about soccer, which I love with an unbridled passion, is that the same is true in understanding the development of talent at its highest levels in almost any other field or profession, such as law, politics, the sciences, the performing arts, medicine, research, architecture, engineering… the list goes on and on. Of course, the factors that are uniquely important to the algorithm that creates a Messi or Ronaldo in soccer are not necessarily identical to the factors that create a world-class physician and immunologist such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, or world-renowned writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, or Joyce Carol Oates. The point is this: A great many factors, in addition to high-level ability, go into the equation that ultimately leads to the development of talent at its highest level of expression-whatever the field.
Dr. David, counselor of gifted children and their families, has shared with us a timely post about considerations when conducting therapy online with students and families.
On-line treatment has been widely spread in the second decade of the 22nd century. Googling: ONLINE PSYCHOLOGICAL TREATMENT CORONAVIRUS has shown (until March 25) 67,600,000 results! However, written materials about the treatment of children, especially younger than 10, via video has been very limited in general, mainly because of the possibility of play treatment is almost non-existent through Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp, etc. No wonder that up to now I have not found any protocol for video-treatment of gifted children. I hereby offer some tips for such treatment based on my 2-week experience of treating 8-18-year old gifted children and instructing their parents through Skype and WhatsApp. As the coronavirus does not seem to disappear in the near future I hope that my following post – about video play-therapy of the gifted – will also be of some help for gifted children, their parents and their therapist.
This post will concentrate on five main issues:
The concern of patients about their [older] therapists;
The various difficulties young patients face when switching to video treatment;
Technical failures: when the connection is interrupted, the voice is blurred, etc.;
When younger siblings invade into the conversation;
When “I am the video-treatment person”.
Some of these issues have been mentioned before; most of them are common to video treatment of non-gifted as well.
What happens when the patient is concerned about their therapist?
Almost all child therapists have experienced the necessity of cancelling an appointment because of an illness, an injury or a misfortune, disaster or a sever condition of someone close to her. Children can understand, sometimes even at age 2, what is being unwell, and many of them already take part in a play role of: “a visit at the doctor’s clinic”, using kits that include a thermometer, a blood pressure gauge; a stethoscope, a plastic bottle with a colored medicine-like liquid given to them when their body temperature increases, or even without any accessories. There are children who put their teddy-bear to sleep, cover him with blankets, sing him a lullaby, and even ask everybody who enters the room to do it quietly because “teddy-bear has got a temperature”. Other children swing their doll’s cradle while “calming” her with unclear mumblings, try to “feed” her with the white liquid in “her” little plastic bottle while “persuading” her to sip some more drops because she “must become stronger”.
When “Corona Time” started, many kindergarten children were curious about the new situation, and many caretakers and teachers had to respond to the demand of children who asked for more knowledge. More intelligent children asked more questions at a younger age, but all educators have noticed that giving as accurate answers as possible – depending on the child’s developmental stage and emotional maturity – was needed. While this has been the case in many other critical situations, for example an illness or even a death in the family, there has always been an option of giving a general answer rather than profound answers that the child could not possibly understand or perceive. This has not been the case with the coronavirus.
The fight against the coronavirus has required as full cooperation as possible from everybody. Thus, parents, educators and caretakers have taught children how to properly wash their hands; how to keep “social distance” from others; and later telling even very young children that they could not meet their older relatives, not even their grandparents. Gifted children as young as 4-5 already knew the difference between a virus and a microbe and what must be done in order to minimize their nature.
This reality has created an enormous challenge for all therapists, especially for the older among us. Older therapists do not have to take care of their own children whose schools have been closed, and are not even allowed to meet their own grandchildren, so they are the most “natural’ group ready and available for video-treatment of children. But some highly gifted children know already at the age of 6 that older persons are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, and most death cases it causes are of 65+-year olds. The children’s concern about the health – even the life – of their therapists is accompanied, man a time, with the parents’ concern, which is well grounded.
The first rule in facing this challenge is telling the truth. When a child asks me if I am not afraid because of being old I tell her that indeed, I am old, and thus I do whatever I can in order to stay healthy. All “my” children know that this is true, as about 3 weeks ago, before people belonging to my age-group were advised not to meet others at all, I already told each child who entered my clinic to measure the distance between us, using my PowerLock 5-meter measuring tape [see the picture]. When the next week the children started the video treatment they already knew that I was telling them the truth about keeping as isolated from the virus as possible.
Many children, especially young, ask, at this point: “How old are you”? My answer is “67 and a half” or “next August I’ll be 68”. Accuracy rather than vagueness is a key for establishing trust. However, if you happen to have additional risk factor, it is not recommended to share this info with any of your patients, no matter how old or gifted they are.
2. What happens when a young child feels he need his parents to be present at the video-meeting?
Trust building is a main ingredient – if not the most important factor – of the treatment success. It is quite frequent to hear from the child’s parents, before the first meeting with the therapist, that they “can’t believe he will be able to stay in the clinic without us” or even “why can’t I, his mother, be present”? In most cases when the child is aware of his parents’ concerns they turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy; the child insists on his parents’ presence in the clinic. But when the parents are determined not to allow it the child eventually gives up, which helps building the necessary connection with the therapist and accelerates its strength. Thus, even if the child is a gifted 5-year old, it is almost always possible to agree upon “two breaks during the meeting when she meets her mother at the waiting room” or “leaving the clinic door open for the first two weeks”.
It is not possible to go through this process when the first meeting is not at the clinic, so just to make sure – we are talking about a child that has already established a satisfactory level of trust with the therapist. But even then, the transition to a video meeting is not simple. First of all: there is a technical problem. It is highly recommended not to use a tablet when the child is under 10, and operating the computer for such a meeting might be new for many young children even if highly gifted. Thus, a parent must “be there” both at the beginning and the end of the meeting. A parent is also required to “be close” in case of a technical or other problem.
But the transition from a two-people meeting to the situation when the parent is present or at least within a hearing distance is not necessarily negative. Here is an example that shows that this situation can have a positive effect.
A child who has not dared to express his deep negative feelings towards school, other family members, his siblings or even his parents is finally speaking about it with his therapist knowing that his parents are listening but cannot stop him or even intervene. He uses the opportunity to “speak up”, after he had already practiced it with his therapist, in order to “show” his parents that his feelings were acceptable, “telling” them that there is a possibility that he is “to blame”, that he feels being accused for no reason, and that he is ready to speak about his “bad behavior” with them.
3. What happens when technical failures occur?
During a video conversation it is quite frequent that the connection is interrupted, the voice is blurred, the therapist or the patient moves and her picture disappear from the screen, etc. We, older people, are used to hearing time and again that “children are better than us with computers” or “the young generation was born with a screen”. However, generalizations tend to be statistically true, but they cannot be applied to all cases. In addition, a child can be a champion in computer-games, or even an excellent programmer, but this does not necessarily make him more knowledgeable in fixing hardware problems… Sometimes a child who got his first smartphone at age 5 has had no experience in using video programs that are much better functional with a large screen. We need a larger screen for a better opportunity to follow the nuances of the patient’s expressions, her home-environment, the design of her room and many other important things that we have not had the opportunity to see because we always met the patient in our clinic.
In order to minimize the problems while using Skype or Zoom, the therapist must make sure it is installed on her computer. Both programs can be downloaded for free; even a technophobe can download them if she is determined to succeed. The next step will be to try using it in order to make sure it works. After that, you, the therapist, need to send the email address you used for it to your patients. When you do that, you demonstrate confidence, as if to say: most probably both you, my patient and your parents need me now more than ever, and together we shall overcome any technical problem!
But we cannot deny that using a video tool for a counseling meeting might cause an unexpected problem, including the potential of disconnection of the conversation and even the patient’s decision to terminate the whole process. In order to prevent such a situation, or at least minimize its prospects, I recommend preparing a back-up video tool, another program that should be installed in a different computer or smartphone, as well as an available telephone, if possible, a hardwired phone.
All these details seem very technical, but unlike in a face-to-face therapy session, when the therapist depends mainly on her own capabilities and experience, in a video session she must make sure these “technicalities” would not be on the way. This is true especially for highly-talented children and adolescents who sometimes have less patience than others, and in many cases hate to waste time until the line is fixed and the conversation resumed.
4. What happens when younger siblings invade into the conversation?
When our patient, child or adolescent, is sitting at the table during our conversation, whether in her own room or not, the basic rule or privacy in treatment, namely, that only the two of us are present and nobody gets in during it, changes. When everybody is at home younger siblings, who usually want to interfere with their older brother’s and sister’s life, find it harder to control themselves. It would not be fair to blame them or their parents for “not disciplining” them. “Corona Time” is not a good time to educate younger siblings, so both parents and counselors should be understanding when a sibling enters the room where our patient is conversing with us. A younger sibling usually believes that her older sister has a more interesting life – she goes to more places, meets more people… These beliefs are reinforced when the younger child feels she has nothing to do while her older sister is “on Skype”…
Here is a least of the most frequent scenarios that might happen when the younger sibling enters the room in the middle of the video meeting:
The older brother drives him out. It can be done by shouting, yelling and even pushing, kicking or hitting him. It is not our task to intervene. We must remember that while we are speaking with our patient, the sibling is under a parent’s care, the sole commander of what goes on in the house. The fact that we saw what happened does not mean we are part of it and certainly not that we have a role in it.
Our patient tries to involve us into the situation, saying things such as: “You see, I always tell you how unbearable my brother is”. In such a case we should ask our patient to call the parent. When our conversation is resumed, we might be asked to explain our reaction. One single sentence should be enough: “Your parent is the chief commander at home!”
The younger child enters the room, waves at us, “makes a face” in front of the screen, or says something that she knows would make her brother angry. If our patient did not react physically when the sibling leaves the room, we must praise her for her self-control and for not being impulsive.
If and only if our patient wishes to speak about what had just happened, we are to explain to her that her younger sibling was jealous because she was probably bored, and because she also wanted to have “someone special” to speak with. This explanation can develop, if the child shows an interest, to deeper ideas and thoughts about envy and jealousy. Quite often with gifted children being aware of a more abstract idea, sometimes at a very young age, leads to a deeper interest in the subject and curiosity that results in self-studying it.
5. What if “this kind of treatment does not feel like me” or just “I cannot do it”?
In spite of my warm recommendation to offer each patient the possibility to continue their treatment by video conversations, it is, first of all, up to the patient. If the patient or her parents decide they do not want to try it there is no problem.
But there are also many therapists who feel they cannot do it. The reason does not really matter. Some therapists find it hard to adopt a new method, preferring to stick to things they are familiar with; to protocols they had been using or rules such as “I am not to be in my patient’s house”. Some others have the self-perception: “I am a technophobe”. Younger therapists may not be able to treat other children when their own need care. In all these cases, and in many others, it is recommended to stop the treatment in order to get back to face-to-face meetings in better days.
The worst possible scenario, in my opinion, is that a therapist who is overwhelmed by her own anxieties continues meeting patients. Such a scenario might be harmful to all patients: adults, adolescents and children. But gifted children and adolescents are even more vulnerable to such a situation. As one of the most typical characteristic of the gifted is sensitivity, many are extremely sensitive to their therapist’s feelings. Indeed, transference in treatment is important, and counter-transference is unavoidable, but when the therapist’s anxieties are projected upon her patient, and even worst – the patient is concerns about her therapist’s life – such a situation is not just unethical; I would define is as immoral.
I just returned from a trip to Calgary, Canada, where I was invited by the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education and their Integrated Services in Education to lead a group of professional workshops for teachers, educational administrators, and psychologists. I also was asked to provide an evening talk with parents of gifted students. This blog is about the evening parent talk, which proved to be an extraordinarily fascinating and moving experience.
I was rather tired from the six-hour professional workshop that same day, so I decided to structure the 2-hour parent evening event as a more informal and more interactional experience. As a speaker, you never know how the event will be received or turn out for the attendees! I’ve given perhaps 200 parent talks over the course of my career, both across the USA and internationally; some prove to be awe-inspiring and amazing, whereas others, sadly and sometimes inexplicably, can be rather uninspiring and lackluster grinds! Well, this meeting of parents of gifted kids in Calgary was, thankfully, breathtaking and awesome!
One aspect of the evening parent workshop that proved to be particularly interesting was my reading to the group of over 120 parents in the audience from a stack of 3×5 inch index cards the comments that the parents provided to me- anonymously! The information on the index cards was in response to my very specific instructions to write down, privately, with no identifying information on the card other than the gender and age of their gifted child, on their card: “What is the one thing that you find most worrisome or challenging as a parent of a gifted child?” Much of the rest of the evening was sharing and discussing some of the parent-reported challenges.
What makes this technique particularly powerful, in my experience, is that many parents who are struggling with how to best raise their gifted child, are reluctant for any number of reasons to share in a group setting their very private and personal struggles. In groups like these, you always have a sub-set of more outspoken parents who are quite willing and comfortable to share their thoughts and feelings about their gifted child. But there are many, many parents who keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, hoping that some other parent will “speak for them” in sharing a challenge or concern that they also are struggling with in their life as a parent. The anonymity of each and every parent being able to privately write down their own personal challenge on an index card without having to voice the challenge out loud in a social group setting or even write down their name is powerful.
I’d like to share a handful of the challenges and struggles that these courageous and concerned and loving parents shared with me, and permitted me to share anonymously with the group for discussion. I hope that in sharing these parental concerns, the reader is provided some additional insights and new perspectives into the world of parenting a gifted child. These are in no particular order:
“My daughter, age 6, is a very smart kid, but she is way-to-cautious and hates risk. How can I get her to try new things?”
“Denise’s [name changed; age 16] room is incredibly messy. Horrible. She refuses to clean it up. She still manages to do well in school, be successful in extra- curricular activities, and be social. What is the root of her problem and what can I do about it?”
“You write about family meetings as very helpful to promote character strengths, social skills and emotional intelligence [this parent has obviously read my books!]. How can we as a family organize family meetings?”
“What are the risks of not having gifted programming for a gifted child? Meaning, what are the risks of my child staying in the mainstream school system?”
“My daughter, age 9, who is gifted, has significant anxiety at bedtime over things out of her control, such as the house burning down, the dog dying, etc. She overthinks every scenario. What can we do to help her?”
“Our daughter, age 17, is very passionate about her interests but lags far behind her age-peers in socio-emotional development. For example, she does not want to drive, does not want to get a job, doesn’t want to do “adulting.” Any thoughts on how to support her development as an independent adult?”
My ten-year old daughter is gifted. She rarely performs to her full ability. How do we encourage her to show how talented she is?”
“Has your research supported sports as a method to increase the gifted child’s ‘heart strengths’ “(another parent familiar with my work!).
“In reference to misdiagnosis of ADHD, what differentiating factors would you look for to assess whether my child is just bored or has ADHD?”
“Is social intelligence deficiency more pronounced in the gifted children population, and if yes, why is this?”
“Our 16-year old son questions everything, analyzes, scrutinizes all. How do you get your child through the educational system when they question, debunk, and poke holes in the way the system operates!”
“What would be the positives and negatives of not telling your child about giftedness? Our 6-year old was recently tested as gifted.”
“Our gifted daughter (age 10) is demonstrating isolation and periodic emotional breakdowns.”
“Our 7-year old son is super-sensitive and gets easily upset. How can we deal with this issue as his parents?”
“How can you set high expectations without overwhelming your child?”
“Our son, in grade 1 (age 6) wants to be perfect at everything he does. When he can’t meet these expectations, he internalizes it, thinks poorly of himself as a result. How can I help him build his self-esteem and self-confidence when he has these unreasonable expectations for himself? Nothing I say o encouragement helps.”
“At what age, generally, do gifted kids become aware that they are different”?
“How can we help our daughter (age 7) maximize her potential without pushing past her boundaries and being a ‘tiger mom’?”
“How do you make your child interested in your opinions as a parent?”
As you can see from the above sample of almost 100 questions on index cards that were posed by the group of parents, there are quite a huge variety and range of concerns, unanswered questions, and fears that parents of the gifted worry about. The take-home for me, as the leader of the evening session, and as a practicing clinical child/school psychologist, is that those of us who work in the gifted field need a ‘heavy measure’ of humility, patience, understanding, compassion, and answers based on facts and not opinion, if we hope to be responsive and helpful in our work with parents and families of gifted kids.
Note: It is with great indebtedness that I express my gratitude and appreciation to the many parents that I met with at the Westmount Charter School in Calgary, Canada. Their honesty, sincerity, candor, and authenticity made for a very powerful evening. This blog post is dedicated to these parents, who permitted me to share their thoughts and feelings.
Steven Pfeiffer is first author of the Gifted Rating Scales (GRS). He is a popular speaker on best practices in gifted assessment and how to raise successful and psychologically well-adjusted gifted kids. He is Emeritus Professor at Florida State University. Prior to his tenure at FSU, Dr. Pfeiffer was a Professor at Duke University, where he served as Executive Director of Duke’s gifted program, TIP. He also served as Director of Devereux’s Institute of Clinical Training & Research, headquartered in Villanova, PA. Author of over 200 articles and book chapters, he is lead author of the Gifted Rating Scales, published by MHS (http://info.mhs.com/grsinfo).
The Tripartite Model of Giftedness
There are many different ways to conceptualize giftedness. Sternberg and Davidson suggested at least twenty different ways to view giftedness in their 2005 book. The alternative models imply different ways to define, conceptualize, identify, and nurture what we mean by kids with gifts. The different models reflect, in part, to what extent we view giftedness as a disposition within the child vs. a more contextual view of developmental conditions necessary to allow some individuals to demonstrate superior performance in real-world, culturally valued domains.
My model, the tripartite model of giftedness, is not contradictory to any of the major models that most readers are familiar with. In fact, the tripartite model incorporates elements from a number of the more popular models. The tripartite model is a practical model, developed based on my experience working closely with highly gifted youth during my tenure as Executive Director of the Duke TIP summer programs. The tripartite model provides three different ways of viewing students with high ability or extraordinary potential. The tripartite model offers three different, complementary ways to conceptualize, identify, and provide evidence-based psycho-educational interventions for gifted learners. The three distinct lenses through which high ability students are viewed within the tripartite model are as follows:
Viewing giftedness through the lens of high intellectual ability;
Viewing giftedness through the lens of outstanding performance and accomplishments; and
Viewing giftedness through the lens of potential to excel
The first perspective of the tripartite model, the high intelligence view, is familiar to most readers. This first view dates back to Charles Spearman and Lewis Terman. Applying this first lens, an IQ test score or cognitive ability test score, or its proxy, can be used to identify students functioning at a certain level considerably above average intellectually. The criterion for high intellectual giftedness should be based on compelling, and scientifically reliable, evidence that the youngster is advanced intellectually, when compared to her or his same-age peers. The first perspective of the tripartite model can follow a general (g) or multidimensional view of intelligence. For example, the popular C-H-C model of cognitive abilities fits nicely within this first lens for viewing giftedness. However, applying the first lens to operationalize giftedness could also be guided by any other of the other models of human intelligence, such as the structure of intellect model, multiple intelligences, or even recent neuroanatomical models of intelligences. The point of the first lens of the tripartite model is that high intellectual ability defines giftedness.
The rationale for gifted programs based on viewing giftedness through the first lens of the tripartite model is that students with superior intelligence need, and benefit from, advanced, intellectually challenging and often more fast-paced academic material not typically found in the regular classroom. Based on this first lens or perspective, gifted education would be arrayed to reflect highly accelerated and/or academically advanced and challenging pedagogical approaches. The Johns Hopkins and Duke TIP summer programs are two examples.
The second perspective of the tripartite model views giftedness through the lens of outstanding accomplishments. This second perspective does not scoff at or minimize the value or importance of cognitive ability. However, the second perspective does emphasize viewing giftedness through the lens of a student’s actual performance in the classroom and performance on real-world projects as a core defining characteristic for giftedness in the schools. As we conceptualize giftedness applying the second lens of the tripartitemodel, evidence of real-world excellence compared to other same-age peers is the sine qua non to qualify a student for gifted programming. Not a high IQ test score. Standardized and rigorously developed portfolio and rubric assessment of actual student products are the templates that should be used to identify high-performing students as gifted through this second lens of the tripartite model.
Viewing giftedness through the outstanding accomplishments lens, educators, school administrators, school psychologists, and parents would be looking for direct and incontrovertible evidence of authentic academic excellence. Creativity could be emphasized when viewing giftedness through this second lens, since we often expect ingenuity and creativity in judging outstanding real-world thinking and accomplishments. When we developed the Gifted Rating Scales (GRS), now revised and newly standardized with a teacher and parent form (GRS-2), we intentionally considered items such as displays an active imagination and generates many ideas to what if questions for the scale, reflecting our appreciation for the value of reliable assessment of classroom evidence of high levels of creativity.
The rationale for gifted programs based on an outstanding accomplishments perspective is that students who excel academically have earned and deserve special academic programs and services because of their consistently outstanding effort and superior accomplishments. Gifted education, based on this second lens of outstanding accomplishments, looks somewhat different from gifted education guided by a high intelligence perspective. For example, gifted programs would consist of highly enriched and academically challenging curricula, although not necessarily fast-paced or highly advanced.
The third lens or perspective of the tripartite model is called potential to excel. What do I mean by this third way to view giftedness? In my clinical experience, and in consulting with many educators over 40 years, I have come to appreciate that some children and youth -for any number of reasons, have not been provided nearly enough opportunity or intellectual stimulation. I have also come to recognize that all-too-often, many children are not provided exposure and development of facilitative socio-emotional skills and attitudes that make a real difference in the expression of academic success and intellectual competence. This third perspective of the tripartite model is supported by a growing body of research (for example, Nisbett’s work ). I am sure that most readers can identify with this third perspective and can think of one or more students that they taught or worked with who possessed latent, not-actualized high potential.
Most of us agree that not all children start out on equal footing -on a “level playing field.” Some children from poverty, immigrant families, from homes in which intellectual and academic activities are neither encouraged nor promoted, or children growing up in overcrowded or dangerous communities with limited community or neighborhood resources or educational opportunities, are at a distinct disadvantage to develop their gifts. This was the rationale for the third perspective within the tripartite model.
The third perspective implies a prediction that students of high potential will likely flourish and excel when provided with “just the right” special resources and psycho-educational interventions. The assumption underlying this third perspective of the tripartite model is that with time, an encouraging and highly stimulating environment, and the proper social-emotional interventions, these students will actualize their yet unrealized high potential and distinguish themselves from among their same-age peers as gifted and talented.
Gifted programs guided by a potential-to-excel perspective should consist of highly motivating and enriched curricula and instructional approaches that may actually require compensatory interventions. This third category of gifted carries with it a prediction. The prediction is that if the identified student is provided a well-conceived, comprehensive and “high-dosage,” evidence-based set of psycho-educational interventions -often requiring an integrated home component -then she or he will thrive and ultimately appear almost indistinguishable, or at least very similar to, students who are already identified as falling within one of the other two gifted categories, high intelligence or academically gifted learner.
There isn’t a good deal of empirical research supporting -or refuting, for that matter -the hypothesis that there exists this third type of gifted, the diamonds in the rough. Children and youth who will flourish in astounding ways with well-designed and intensive psycho-educational interventions. It is apparent that the psycho-educational interventions need to be comprehensive and high dosage to compensate for the early, missed educational and psycho-social experiences and opportunities. It is also apparent that the earlier educators and school psychologists can identify these young, high potential students, the more likely a number of them will respond favorably to the planned, evidence-based psycho-educational interventions. This is a very exciting and promising area of research opportunity, both in the USA and globally. When we developed the Gifted Rating Scales (GRS), including the new parent scale (GRS-2), we intentionally included non-intellectual rating scale items (http://info.mhs.com/grsinfo ). We wanted to have behaviors that could be reliably rated that measure motivation, drive, persistence, academic passion and socio-emotional maturity – things that we believe help identify this third group of gifted children and youth -the diamonds in the rough. These items on the new GRS-2 teacher and parent scales reflect important, non-intellectual factors that differentiate successful from less successful gifted students.
In summary, these three categories of the tripartite model constitute three different types of bright children, which reflect different levels and profiles of cognitive and social-emotional abilities. However, the three groups are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, there are many students with exceptionally high IQ score who are also academically gifted learners with a burning passion to learn. The tripartite model, was developed, in part, to reduce much of the acrimony often found in the gifted literature and in the schools when one group of educators, administrators or parents advocate for adopting only one, typically narrowly defined view of giftedness that reflects only high IQ. The tripartite model intentionally goes beyond viewing giftedness as a unitary quality inherent within the child. It embraces multiple ways to view gifted learners, including recognition of non-intellectual factors, the role of the family and environment, and dynamic, developmental considerations. Interested readers may find my 2015 book, Essentials of Gifted Assessment,published by Wiley, informative (https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Essentials+of+Gifted+Assessment-p-9781118589205 ). The book details how to operationalize the tripartite model.
Dr. Hanna David is an Israel-born expert of high ability, giftedness and creativity. She received her PhD “magna cum laude” in educational psychology from Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München and worked at the Tel Aviv University between 1976 and 2004. Dr. David has published six books and over 70 articles in psychology of giftedness, didactics in special education with an emphasis on mathematics for gifted students, gender-related issues of giftedness, educational policy and administration, and sociology of high ability. Currently she is a counselor of gifted children and their families.
During the last 50 years I have met many hundreds – maybe thousands – of parents of gifted children. During my childhood they were mostly parents of friends, family members or neighbors; people who had no idea the word “gifted” existed, and certainly did not consider themselves special or admirable because they “produced” an intelligent, curious, talented daughter or son. These parents were mostly concerned because their child asked for music, gym, or science lessons they could not afford; because the daughter had already read all books in the local library “suitable for her age” and asked for more, or because their son’s teacher complained that the “good, sweet boy” they had raised asked “too many questions”, “spoke up”, or even – god forbid – “argued that the teacher had been mistaken”. Having nobody to consult with, these parents discussed these issues with each other; my parents, who had two such “troublesome” children were included. These talks took usually place in German, Hungarian and Yiddish: most of these parents did not know Hebrew well enough, but they also believed that “children must not know that we worry because of them”. This was my first lesson about gifted children: their parents always want the best for them; they are concerned about them, but too often they do not know how to fulfill their needs.
I started tutoring gifted children when still in high school; it was always their parents who approached me; the parents arranged for the lessons; the parents brought their children to my parents’ apartment and paid for the lessons. This has not changed since then. It is the parents who support their gifted children emotionally, socially, academically – practically in all life aspects. Parents are the soldiers who stand right there, in the battlefront against boredom, solitude and estrangement their children so often feel, as well as against lack of understanding, jealousy, a variety of prejudices and unwanted remarks or advices.
Dear Parents of gifted children:
You have been blessed with a precious treasure. But this treasure needs maintenance which is your sole responsibility. Sometimes it seems that there is nobody there for help, sometimes it looks like you are not even allowed to complain because your problems seem minor, or because “everybody would love to switch their child’s problems with yours”. Experts in psychology and education of the gifted are there to help you. But of no less importance is expanding your own knowledge about giftedness especially in subjects you need for your child or adolescent gifted girl or boy, such as double-exceptionality or the gifted-disabled, the gifted girl, the creative gifted child, the mathematically or scientifically gifted, the socially gifted, the artist, the stage star, the chess champion – or any other exceptional child.
Hanna David has recently published the first two books in the series Giftedness: Identification, Assessment, Nurturing, and Treatment:
This blog is a preview of an interview with Steven Pfeiffer, GRS author, conducted by Dayana Sanchez, bilingual school psychologist and CEO/Founder of 2e Minds. The full interview appears in an upcoming blog post at www.2eminds.com. 2e Minds was created to provide guidance and resources for twice-exceptional (2e) students and their families. Check out the website to learn more about “how to assist 2e children in identifying their strengths, embracing their learning differences, and building essential skills to thrive and tap into their highest potential.”
INTERVIEWER: There are a few conceptualizations of giftedness that I appreciate and use to guide my work with high ability children. I’m an advocate of Joseph Renzulli’s Three-Ring Conception of Giftedness, which proposes that gifted behaviors are the result of an interaction of three clusters of traits: creativity, above-average ability, and task commitment. I also appreciate your Tripartite Model of Giftedness and find it very valuable in my work with twice-exceptional (2e) children. Can you share the key elements of your Tripartite model and the implications of viewing giftedness through each of the three lenses?
There are many different ways to conceptualize giftedness. There are educational conceptualizations, like Professor Joseph Renzulli’s brilliant three-ring conception. There are also political conceptualizations, philosophic conceptualizations, and psychometrically-driven conceptualizations. The psychometrically-driven models, in fact, are the ones most often taught in school psychology and clinical psychology training programs. No one conceptualization is correct. They are all simply different ways to view kids (and adults) who are, in some way, special or unique.
In addition to Renzulli’s Three-Ring Conceptualization, other often-cited models include Julian Stanley’s mathematically and verbally precocious model (SMPY), Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences model, Francoys Gagne’s developmental, differentialted model of giftedness and talent (DMGT), and Nancy Robinson’s psychometric model- which I was trained on during my graduate school days at UNC-Chapel Hill. There is also Robert Sternberg’s wisdom, intelligence, creativity, synthesiezed (WISCS) model. And dozens others! Each of these models presents unique ideas and perspectives that tries to explain what is meant by students of “uncommon” or exceptional ability and promise.
The models are similar, but in a few ways, they have unique wrinkles. For example, some of the models view giftedness as unique qualities and characteristics inherent within the child. In other words, gifted kids are born gifted and are different from kids who aren’t born gifted. Other models view giftedness from a more dynamic, eco-systemic and developmental perspective; the unfolding of abilities that require thoughtful planning and nurturance over time. The most recent consensus among most authorities is that giftedness is best viewed as specific, not generic, and that the expression of giftedness occurs within particular domains. I tend to agree with this position- at least by ages 8, 9, and 10.
Over the course of my work with high ability students, I developed what I consider a practical model for academic giftedness based on my experience “on the sidelines” as a parent of a young, gifted athlete. Watching my young daughter’s athleticism and skills in soccer nurtured and developed over the years as a member of the U.S. Olympic Development Program helped me formulate my tripartite model of giftedness. The tripartite model offers three different apertures to focus on kids who might be gifted. identify. The tripartite model incorporates these three distinct but complementary lenses or apertures through which one can view giftedness.
The first lens I call the High Intelligence perspective. This first lens is familiar to most readers. An IQ test or its proxy (for example, the SAT test for college admissions) is used to identify students who are functioning at a certain cognitive ability level, considerably above average. This first lens can employ a general [“g”] or multi-dimensional view of intelligence (for example, Cattell-Horn-Carroll model (CHC), structure of intellect, or multiple intelligences view). It can even be based on the newer, neuroanatomical models of giftedness that are appearing in the scientific literature. This first lens views giftedness and high IQ as strongly genetic, and well-established at birth. The rationale for gifted programs based on viewing giftedness through this first aperture of High IQ is that students with superior intelligence need and/or are entitled to advanced, intellectually challenging, and/or more fast-paced academic material, not typically found in most regular classrooms. Another assumption of this first lens of the tripartite model is that students are entitled to special gifted education services throughout their public education.
The second perspective or lens of the tripartite model is called Outstanding Accomplishments. This second viewpoint does not minimize the importance of the IQ or intellectual ability. However, through this second lens, there is a heightened emphasis on a student’s performance in the classroom and on the success of performance on academic tasks. According to this second lens, evidence of academic excellence is the sin qua non to qualify as a gifted student and to qualify for admittance into a gifted program, nor high IQ. Gifted identification, embracing this second aperture, includes assessment of academic performance – evidence of “authentic” academic excellence. Evidence of creativity is often emphasized when viewing giftedness through this second lens. Obviously, the importance of motivation, drive, persistence and passion- clearly non-intellectual factors- are all considered highly relevant when viewing giftedness from an Outstanding Accomplishments lens. These non-intellectual factors are recognized as impacting the talent development of all students, and critical for high-level academic performance in the classroom (and in life!).
The rationale for gifted programs based on an Outstanding Accomplishments perspective is that students who excel academically have earned and deserve special academic programs because of their outstanding effort and superior classroom accomplishments. Gifted curricula typically would consiste of highly enriched and academically challenging material. Within this second perspective, students are not viewed as “gifted for life.” One practical and exciting implication of the Outstanding Accomplishments perspective is that re-assessments should be conducted every 2-3 years, with opportunities for new students to qualify to enter gifted programs.
The third and final lens of the tripartite model is what I call Potential to Excel. What I mean by this third type of gifted student, within the tripartite model, is that some children – for any number of reasons – have not been provided enough opportunity or stimulation to develop what remains latent and as yet undeveloped or under-developed intellectual or academic gifts. This third group is based on my experience working with many students of unactualized, but obvious high potential, the experience of countless others, and an abundant body of compelling research that I cite in my book, Serving the Gifted.
I think that we all agree that not all students start out on an equal footing. Some children from poverty, families in which intellectual and educational activities are neither encouraged nor nurtured in the home or community, or in which English is not the primary language spoken in the home, children growing up in rural or overcrowded or dangerous communities where intellectual stimulation and educational opportunities are rare, are all at a distinct disadvantage to develop their gifts. I frequently label kids in this third group as the “almost or potentially gifted student.” From this third perspective or aperture, the student with high potential to excel is viewed as very likely to increase her tested IQ and/or her academic performance when provided with special resources and special attention. The assumption is that with time, an encouraging and stimulating environment, and the proper array and dosage of psycho-educational interventions, these students will eventually actualize their yet unrealized high potential and distinguish themselves from among their peers. There is, in fact, some compelling research to support this very notion. Gifted programs for this third group, the Potential to Excel, should consist of highly motivating and enriched curricula that may include compensatory activities.
I hope that this provides a succinct overview of the Tripartite Model and some of the implications for identification and gifted education programming.
This blog is
a preview of an interview with Steven Pfeiffer, GRS author, conducted by Dayana
Sanchez, bilingual school psychologist and CEO/Founder of 2e Minds. The full
interview appears in an upcoming blog post at www.2eminds.com.
2e Minds was created to provide guidance and resources for twice-exceptional
(2e) students and their families. Check out the website to learn more about
“how to assist 2e children in identifying their strengths, embracing their
learning differences, and building essential skills to thrive and tap into
their highest potential.”
INTERVIEWER: There is
a lot to explore with regards to the conceptualization of giftedness, so I’d
like to start by narrowing our focus down. Imagine aliens arrive on Earth, and
you have the task of communicating with them about the future of education on
our planet. How would you describe giftedness to these aliens? What would be
some key elements or pieces of information that they would need to understand
to grasp the construct of giftedness fully? And by the way, these aliens have
very short attention spans!
What a creative and fun question to start off this interview! I would probably begin by taking the aliens on a tour. I would show the aliens – hopefully they are friendly creatures! – a few ‘typical’ classrooms, both in the USA, and classrooms across the planet. So that the aliens could observe and make their own initial inferences about what actually occurs in typical classrooms, both in the elementary grades and in the middle and high school grades.
I’d also invite them to join me in observing gifted classes in action, both in the public schools and in private and boarding schools, and in summer programs. I would encourage them to make their own initial inferences and hypotheses about what they observed. Then I’d invite them to ask me questions about what they saw and their impressions of regular and gifted education (and special education!) on Earth.
My hope would be that they would accurately describe the state of affairs of regular and gifted education in 2019-2020 on Earth! This would save me the chore of having to explain for them typical curriculum and instructional pedagogy on our planet!
Of course, I would explain the history of how we have defined “gifted” and the challenges that we still face – almost 150 years later – in agreeing upon our definitions and how to properly go about identifying gifted students! MHS, my test publisher, would insist that I show them our new Gifted Rating Scales products, as an example of how we’ve gone beyond the IQ test in identifying gifted students in the schools! What would be particularly enjoyable would be to dialogue with them, over a nice bottle or two of wine, about the exciting innovations that are occurring here in the USA and internationally in terms of educational initiatives – for regular learners, special-needs students, and gifted learners. I think that it would be valuable to include discussions on what’s happening here in America and globally in serving special needs learners with disabilities. To provide the aliens with a full and complete picture of the state-of-education here on Earth!
I guess I would invite a few colleagues in the gifted field to join me, people who, in my opinion, are some of the leading thinkers on gifted education – folks like Joyce VanTasel-Baska, David Yun Dai, Elizabeth Shaunessy-Dedrick, Sally Reis and Joe Renzulli, Carol Tomlinson, and Javier Touron, from Spain. We’d certainly need more than two bottles of wine with this group!
INTERVIEWER: Steven, many
people still view high IQ as the defining element in gifted identification. As
a school psychologist, I’m familiar with the research supporting the validity
of the IQ construct, and I understand that IQ predicts school performance. I
see how this can lead to the, in my opinion, outdated conclusion that high IQ
equals gifted. I’m also aware of all the limitations of IQ tests and the many
factors that can influence test-taking performance. Can you share your thoughts
on the “high IQ equals gifted” line of reasoning?
I’m happy to offer an opinion on this issue. As you may know, I actually
wrote a book on this very topic, published by Wiley in 2015! It’s title is, Essentials
of Gifted Assessment. Readers interested in a more detailed discussion
will find the book informative! And it’s easily available on Amazon.com.
There are many different ways to conceptualize giftedness. Not one way. The IQ equals gifted and gifted equals high IQ is but one, albeit a very popular way, that many educators and psychologists view giftedness. There are at least four popular and very different ways to conceptualize. The most well-known of the four is the traditional psychometric view- which puts great value on a youngster’s performance on an IQ test. Talent development models, on the other hand, don’t discount the IQ score, but emphasize the dynamic unfolding of a youngster’s abilities in concert with the important role that their environment plays in nurturing the unfolding of their abilities into domain-specific skills and talents.
The expert performance perspective certainly places the least importance
on genetics, individual differences, or an IQ test score in explaining how an
individual progresses from neophyte to competent and on to expert in any number
of fields. Finally, the multiple intelligences model views high IQ intelligence
as but one of many types of gifts that a person can have.
And a fifth model is my own, the tripartite model of giftedness. The tripartite model views high IQ as one of three types of academic giftedness. In my tripartite model, outstanding performance is a second type of giftedness. A child need not have a high tested IQ to be gifted, based on this alternative lens through which to view giftedness. And the third lens within the tripartite model is uncanny potential to excel.
What I’ve tried to explain is that not all of the models place
the same importance on the IQ score in defining gifted. However, the IQ score
still remains the pre-eminent metric, both here in the USA and globally, for defining
One final point bears mentioning. Today’s IQ tests are far superior to the first-generation IQ tests that I was trained on! The newer Wechsler Scales, Standford Binet-5, and Woodcock Johnson IV, and the Differential Abilities Scales-2nd Edition, for example, are all well-designed, carefully normed, and reflect our most recent thinking on the universally-recognized hierarchical Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory of cognitive abilities. They are reliable and valid-albeit not perfect, measures of intelligence!
The author, a psychologist with over 40 years’ experience in the lab, classroom, and clinic, shares an important lesson that he has learned in his work with gifted and creative kids. The lesson is that talent development among bright and creative kids requires more than high intelligence.
I love reading success stories about young prodigies who grow up and become highly accomplished, creative, and successful adults. We are all familiar with the compelling stories about the Mark Zuckerberg’s, Bill Gates’s, and Lady Gaga’s of the world. These amazing and heart-warming stories keep those of us in the gifted and talented field enthusiastic and pumped-up about our own work in identifying and supporting intellectually precocious children and youth.
I have worked with high-ability and highly creative kids for 40 years. In a variety of settings and capacities. I have counseling many very bright and creative kids and their parents. I have consulted with many teachers and administrators of highly precocious students. In my academic world, I taught a course on the psychology of giftedness, and directed an active research lab that conducted research on the social and emotional needs of, and the unique challenges facing, gifted and creative kids. I also served as Executive Director of the Duke University gifted program, TIP. TIP provides fast-paced and highly intellectually challenging and rigorous academic programs for some of our brightest-of-the-bright adolescents.
In my career as a psychologist working with gifted and creative students, one lesson stands out as particularly memorable, even poignant. The lesson is this: the development of talent among highly gifted and creative kids requires more than simply a whole-lot-of-smarts. More than what I call in my writings on “strengths of the heart,” “head strengths.” Let me explain what I mean.
With young gifted students, even child prodigies, we can at best only predict the likelihood of later outstanding accomplishment, such as this year’s three winners of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Medicine, William Kaelin, Jr., Peter Ratcliffe, and Gregg Semenza. Who could have predicted, early in their academic lives, that these three scientists, from Harvard, Oxford University, and Johns Hopkins, respectively, would have made the ground-breaking discovery that oxygen sensing is central to a large number of diseases! The same question can be asked about Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the most prestigious award in mathematics. The Fields Medal. The truth is that a great many students identified as gifted when very young group up, and as adults, demonstrate no special, unique or extraordinary talent. Not everyone with super intelligence grows up to be a Stephen Hawkins or a Steven Spielberg.
I find equally intriguing the fact that many kids who were not recognized as having any special gifts when young- based on our best identification tests or measures, or teacher report, are late bloomers, and astound us with extraordinary accomplishments, inventions, and performances as adults! Think of Giuseppi Verdi, who sketched his ideas for composing Othello at age 73. And what about the famous detective fiction writer, Raymond Chandler, who didn’t write his first short story until he lost his job during the Great Depression at the age of 44. The lessons here are that it is not always easy to predict who will reach their full potential in life – including the very gifted child prodigies. And that many non-intellectual factors go into the algorithm in determining who, exactly, will end up traveling the greatest distance and reach the highest heights of their hypothetical successful trajectory!
What I am getting at is this. The full development and actualization of talent at its highest levels requires, in almost all professions and fields, more than high intellectual ability. It requires time and hard work, what the Chinese aptly term “chi ku,” meaning “eating bitterness.” Truth be told, the development of our very best and most accomplished and creative writers, scientists, surgeons, psychotherapists, detectives, teachers, artists, performers, political leaders, and others requires a tremendous amount of practice, considerable patience and persistence, and a healthy dose of frustration tolerance. To reach the highest levels in any field also requires a passion to excel in that chosen field, and adults available to support, and serve as inspiration and role models. And luck! This is one very important lesson that I learned in my 40-year career working with gifted and creative kids!
Note: This is an updated and revised version of an earlier paper that appeared in The Creativity Post.
Not all gifted kids grow up to be
successful and well-adjusted young adults. This short article talks about the
concept of “strengths of the heart,” in understanding how to support the
success of bright kids.
my research, clinical practice and writings while at Florida State University,
and before that, at Duke University, my students and I have focused on
understanding why not all very bright kids grow up to be successful young
adults, and what educators and parents might be able to do to nudge high
ability kids onto a success path. This led me to look closely at strength-based
interventions and the exciting work in positive psychology in support of gifted
kids at risk for psychological problems.
as much on clinical experience as on our own and others’ published research, we
came to understand that gifted kids who are successful in life possess three
important, and related but not identical, qualities or attributes. I came to
name these three attributes, “strengths of the heart.” These three attributes-
considered by others skills, traits, personality characteristics, and even
abilities, make a real difference in the lives of successful bright kids. Well,
really all successful kids! What are these three qualities, you ask! The three
attributes that make up “strengths of the heart” are: emotional intelligence,
social skills, and character strengths. Together, when they are all present,
these three attributes help make a huge difference in the youngster’s life!
me briefly explain each of the three components of my “strengths of the heart”
model. First, let’s briefly look at Emotional Intelligence. Most investigators
view Emotional Intelligence or EI as the ability to understand, read, and
control one’s own and others’ emotions. Obviously, this is an important set of
skills to be successful in life! In my early work while at Duke University, I
thought that EI might be the panacea to potentially help protect all gifted
kids from psychological and emotional conflicts and distress. But I was wrong.
EI is important, but we found that it isn’t the only thing that ensures success
and well-being amongst gifted kids.
led me to look for the other pieces of the successful life jigsaw puzzle. We
found two other important pieces to the puzzle: social skills and character
strengths! Social skills consist of literally hundreds of discrete, age and
developmentally appropriate – and culturally-nuanced, skills and behaviors that
are learned in the home, school and community. We all are familiar with social
skills. Some examples of social skills are making good eye contact, thanking
someone when they do something helpful or nice for you, sharing, complimenting
others, waiting your turn on a line, helping a fellow student, respecting
personal space, displaying good manners in the lunchroom, and accepting
feedback. There are actually published scales to measure a youngster’s level of
social skills, and curricula to teach them in the classroom.
the third element of ‘strengths of the heart’ are character strengths. Readers
are all familiar with character strengths! They include things such as empathy,
gratitude, compassion, tolerance for, and open-mindedness to different points
of view, kindness, generosity, humility, love of learning, bravery, integrity
and honesty. Character strengths, often called virtues, are important for
gifted kids to learn and embrace if they are going to successfully navigate the
world as they grow up.
In my clinical work, and in my roles as Executive Director of the Duke TIP gifted summer programs and as co-Director of the Florida Governor’s School for Science and Space Technology, I observed that high IQ does not alone protect a gifted child who lacks character strengths. I also found that high IQ does not necessarily protect a gifted student who lacks important social skills. And finally, I have too often seen that high IQ does not protect a gifted youth who has low Emotional Intelligence. These observations, over the course of 40 years, led me to view Emotional Intelligence, social skills, and character strengths – what I have come to call, “strengths of the heart,” as critically important in the success and psychological well-being of high-ability students. In fact, they are every bit as important, in my opinion, as “head strengths” – which we all-too-often over-emphasize to the relative neglect of “heart strengths” in our work with the gifted.
Note: This blog is a greatly abridged version of a 2016 article that appeared in the Austin Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (Vol. 1, Issue 1). A more detailed discussion on “strengths of the heart” can be found in the article: Pfeiffer, S. I. (2016). Success in the classroom and in life: Focusing on strengths of the head and strengths of the heart. Gifted Education International.