The end of the first semester provides a good opportunity to reflect on the successes that you experienced and the work that you hope to accomplish before the end of the school year. It is a good time to start thinking about professional development, consider changes in your practice, and reaffirm, or perhaps create for the first time goals for the 2019-2020 school year.
Today’s post provides a downloadable worksheet to help you reflect on your classroom instruction, gifted assessment practices, support you are providing gifted learners, policies or procedures that you would like to address, or a problem that has been nagging you.
You will have the chance to reflect on questions questions such as, “What plans did you make for your classroom, district, or department when the school year started? Have you made progress on those goals? Are there professional development opportunities that you have been thinking about? Have you heard about a book or article that could help with your work? Are there opportunities to share your work with colleagues in your district, state, or professional organization?
By the end of the exercise, you will have an action plan, ideas for what you will accomplish each month and how you’ll hold yourself accountable for your goal.
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.
One of the domains measured by the Gifted Rating Scale is creativity. When we think about creativity, we often think about its role in artistic endeavors. In today’s blog, I wanted to highlight the importance of creativity in research, engineering design, and design-based practices and offer several resources about these practices in gifted education.
At Censeo Group, the external evaluation firm that I lead, our portfolio includes a number of science technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) evaluation projects. Our evaluation team often supports faculty who are developing and researching the effects of STEM curriculum materials and instructional practices on student learning. We recently completed a project supported by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program. The University of Akron Zip to STEM team developed a curriculum unit that integrated engineering and technology into force and motion science instruction. Middle school students in the Akron Public Schools (APS) used technology, including CAD software and a virtual wind tunnel, to design, test, and race a soap box derby mini car. Through this project, 8th grade APS students had the opportunity to experience hands-on, engaging learning, use technology, and apply science concepts to a practical task.
Activities that incorporate the engineering design process or design based learning allow students to engage in hands-on, applied projects in which they search for problems, investigate the viewpoints of those who use a product or engage with a system, work with diverse teammates who bring different perspectives to problem solving, analyze their proposed solution, and iterate to improve solutions. Design based learning processes guide students to deep learning around a practical problem for which students propose solutions.
Below is a list of articles and books that discuss engineering design and design based thinking in gifted education that provide a good start to learn more about this topic.
Dailey, D. (2017). Using Engineering Design Challenges to Engage Elementary Students With Gifts and Talents Across Multiple Content Areas. Gifted Child Today, 40(3), 137–143. https://doi.org/10.1177/1076217517707236
Lawrence, B. D., Hinterlong D., & Sutherland, L. S. (2015). Engineering Education for High-Ability Students. In F. A. Dixon & S. M. Moon (Eds.), The Handbook of Secondary Gifted Education (393-417). Waco, Texas: Prufrock Press, Inc. https://digitalcommons.imsa.edu/prin_pr/4/
Mann, Eric L. and Mann, Rebecca L. (2016), “Engineering Design and Gifted Pedagogy”. Faculty Publications. Paper 1427. http://digitalcommons.hope.edu/faculty_publications/1427. Published in: Engineering Instruction for High-Ability Students, 1st ed. January 1, 2016, pages 33-44, Prufrock Press, Waco, TX.
We are grateful that Dr. Kaufman agreed to write a guest post on the Gifted Assessment Insights blog. We hope that you enjoy Dr. Kaufman’s post about super-gifted students.
Alan S. Kaufman, Yale University Child Study Center
a professional, I have scoffed at headlines about a backwoods teenage genius
with an IQ of 190 or an insightful and funny columnist who advertises herself
as the smartest person in the world with an IQ of 228. As I argued in IQ Testing 101 and elsewhere: The norms
just don’t go that high, stratospheric IQs are imaginary numbers, and they have
no scientific justification.
had to struggle to get David Wechsler to extend the WISC-R norms to 160, even
though he insisted that going 4 standard deviations above the mean was nothing
more than guesswork. Although professionals I respect—such as Linda Silverman (Giftedness 101) or the late great Julian
Stanley at Johns Hopkins—have made the study of super gifted people both an art
and science, I have resisted. Certainly the age-old IQ formula of MA divided by
CA X 100 permits the mathematical computation of absurdly high IQs, but that
formula should have become extinct eons ago along with the woolly mammoth.
a professional, with a PhD in psychology mentored by super psychometrician
Robert L. Thorndike, don’t get me started about superstars with IQs of 200. But
as a parent and grandparent… well, that is a bit different. In that domain,
there is Jennie who spoke in full sentences before her first birthday, David
the musical theater star, Nicole the Emmy-winning producer and film-maker, and
Kate the poet. And there is James, who I still call Jamie, who edits the
Psychology 101 series that features my book on IQ and Silverman’s on
giftedness, and who is among the leading creativity scholars in the world.
Nadeen used 5-year-old Jamie as her “test subject” for her assessment course at
DePaul University, she administered the McCarthy Scales, or at least tried to.
As my teaching assistant at University of Georgia, Bruce Bracken, discovered
two years earlier when he used Jamie as a demonstration subject for the course
on preschool assessment, it was nearly impossible to stay a step ahead of Jamie
(Bruce had to use an abundance of creativity—Paul Torrance was chair of the
department—and rely on more self-control than he possessed to make it through
faced the same crisis when Jamie decided that he could do a better job of
administering the McCarthy Scales than she could. He took the manual and
followed the standardized procedures and exact wording as he proceeded to
administer two subtests to two different graduate students before Nadeen
regained control of the demonstration with as much parental restraint as she
could muster. So naturally I used Jamie as my demonstration subject at age 6
for my Wechsler-Binet course.
TA Leslie was doing a wonderful job administering the 1972 Stanford-Binet to
him, even able to keep Jamie under hypnotic control for 45 minutes while
managing to pause occasionally to instruct the class on administration
subtleties, scoring ambiguities, and techniques for maintaining rapport. She drew
on the board Jamie’s abstract design, which he had to draw from memory, and
explained that it should be scored 1.5 out of a possible 2. Jamie turned to the
board and said, “What??!! That is perfect. Why did I lose half a point? Not
fair.” But he was redirected, and the session continued. . . and continued . .
. and continued.
the old Binet, the examiner had to keep testing until the child or adult
reached a ceiling. Which meant that the person had to fail all tasks at that
level, typically six different tasks. But Jamie got all tasks right at the
10-year level, and kept getting one or two or three correct through Level XIII.
My TA was eying me for permission to end the session, which was pushing two
hours, even though a legitimate ceiling hadn’t been reached. I avoided eye
contact with her and she continued. At Level XIV, he failed the first five
tasks, and a visibly relieved Leslie exhaled; one task to go! Then Jamie sailed
through “Reconciliation of Opposites” with ease. That meant administering the
Average Adult (AA) level to him, the only level that had 8 tasks, in order to
get a ceiling. Sensing a rebellion by Leslie and about half the class (the
others were caught up in “How high can he go? Just how high is his IQ?”), I
relented. We violated the standardization procedures and quit testing without
reaching a ceiling. I let everyone leave. And I never even bothered to compute
the IQ he would have earned if he had failed all 8 AA tasks, though I knew it
was through the roof.
never tired of using my kids as demonstration subjects, because it allowed me
and my various TAs—for a couple of years it was Cecil Reynolds—to instruct the
class while Jennie, David, or Jamie would (usually) wait patiently for the
feedback to be given to the eager and often brilliant graduate students.
Yet one of my favorite stories happened in the real world, not in my classroom.
My granddaughter was referred for gifted placement as a second grader in San Diego.
When the examiner started to test Nicole, the acronym “K-BIT” stared back at
her. “That’s my grandparents’ test,“ she exclaimed, though she had never seen
it before. “Now, Nikki Hendrix, let’s save the tall stories for later,” the
examiner chastised her. But with a bit of persistence, my granddaughter managed
to get the reluctant woman to retrieve the manual from the kit and find the
Dedication, which Nicole knew by heart (“To Nikki, with love, from Nana and
Papa”); then the evaluation began. Gifted indeed!
what exactly do I believe about kids or adults with super high IQs? I guess,
deep down inside despite my scientist’s skepticism, I think that maybe Marilyn
vos Savant did earn an IQ of 228, with a mental age of 22 years 10 months, when
she was a girl of 10.
This year I was unable to attend the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) conference, however, I followed the hashtags #NAGC19 and #NAGC2019 on social media. My thanks to the 200 conference attendees who shared their learning and impressions of the conference. The summary of hashtag activity (created with the free version of Keyhole) shows the wide reach of the social media posts – more than a half-million impressions from tweets and posts. And, this summary does not include posts made on private Instagram accounts!
The overall tone of the posts was positive – with tweets
focusing on session content and excitement about being at the conference. The
post that received the highest sentiment – retweets and posts – was by swanwick_w of the
hot air balloon that was part of the Family Day activities. Several people
posted photos of this gorgeous balloon and about the success of Family Day.
post with the highest engagement was from Anne Rinn, congratulating student winners
at the NAGC Research Gala.
Although the majority of posts were positive, I was curious about those tagged as having negative sentiments. These posts were related to two issues: 1) improving services, and 2) better understanding student needs. The first was a thread about perfection and anxiety in gifted students:
The second set of tweets tagged as negative were discussions about the “Confronting Pseudoscience in Gifted Education” session presented by Kate Snyder (@DressageProf), Bess Wilson, Matt McBee (@TunnelOfFire) Scott J Peters (@realScottPeters) and Frank Worrell.
The result that most surprised me was the infrequency of posts focused on assessment. Only 21 tweets included the words “assessment”, “test” or “testing”. These tweets, focused on improving equity and psychometric strength of assessment, clearly aligned with our interests of a valid, reliable, and fair revision to the GRS. We hope that the posts on the Gifted Assessment Insights blog and our Twitter account (@Gifted_Assess) can help support important discussions about assessment in gifted education.
The other top influential tweets celebrated the successful conference:
Thank you to the attendees who posted on social media so that those of us who could not attend could still experience a bit of the conference.
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!
Today we celebrate Halloween in the United States. Halloween provides a good opportunity for children to express themselves and highlight their creativity – costumes, carved pumpkins, scary stories, decorations. Halloween also provides us a great topic for today’s blog post, the topic of creativity.
Ronald Beghetto, a creativity researcher, has described creativity as occupying a “conflicted position” in education. Although teachers and parents say that they value creativity, creativity is not often included in educational practice. Creative expression is often limited to art or music classes, writing seminars, class celebrations, or special events.
The status of creativity in gifted education is similarly conflicted. Although included in federal and research conceptions of giftedness, creativity is not included the guidelines of all state departments of education for identifying gifted students. GRS co-author, Steven Pfeiffer, reported in 2012 that the number of states that included creativity in their definition of giftedness decreased from 30 states in 2000 to 27 states in 2010. At that time, 45 states included intelligence in their definition. According to the 2014-2015 NAGC State of Gifted Education Report, the number of states that included creativity in their state definition at that time declined to 21 states.
In some cases, even though creativity is included in a state’s definition for gifted identification, this category does not stand on its own. For, example, Ohio Department of Education’s definition of Creative Thinking Ability requires students to score one standard deviation above the mean on an intelligence test and also attain a qualifying score on a creativity test or checklist.
Ohio’s definition of creative giftedness aligns with Renzulli’s category of “schoolhouse giftedness”, which refers to students who score well on traditional intellectual assessments and perform well in school. This is in contrast to what Renzulli refers to as “creative/productive giftedness”, which refers to students who develop original knowledge or products and employ integrated and problem oriented thought processes. The Gifted Rating Scale, in its 12-item creativity scale, addresses both types of creativity, highlighting creative thinking, innovative approaches to problem solving and academic activities, and also the production of creative products and activities.
What do restrictive definitions of creativity, or the lack of focus on creativity mean for gifted students and educators? How do we ensure that students who display high creativity as well as those who have the potential for creative thinking are engaged in creative activities?
A research study released just this week can support our work. The Creativity in Learning Gallup study found that creative thinking in classroom assignments supports higher-order cognitive skills and more engaged and confident learners. The study described creative activities as those in which students were able to:
choose what to learn in class;
try different ways of doing things;
come up with their own ways to solve a problem;
discuss topics with no right or wrong answer;
create a project to express what they’ve learned;
work on a multidisciplinary project;
work on a project with real-world applications; and
publish or share projects with people outside the classroom.
Teachers who used these strategies in assignments saw in their students higher levels of critical thinking, stronger connections between subjects, deeper knowledge of subject matter, and more effective retention of knowledge than teachers who did not use these strategies to engage the power of students’ creativity. Teachers who used technology to support creative assignments saw the highest levels of cognitive engagement and learning.
The Gallup study provides a compelling argument to ensure that assignments and lessons allow students, particularly highly creative and productive students, to engage their creativity. This is a particularly important, considering another key finding of the study, which supports Ron’s notion of the conflicted position of creativity: despite the fact that teachers and parents agree on the importance of creativity in learning, students spend little time on activities that foster creativity and that connect with real-world applications.
Download a copy of the Creativity in Learning report here to read more about how creativity in learning supports positive outcomes, how technology can support creativity, and the importance of a collaborative and supportive school culture to support creativity in learning. The Gallup study findings can provide evidence to support your work with all students, but particularly with gifted students who might not be experiencing activities that harness and engage their creativity.
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.
The Gifted Rating Scales (GRS) are under revision. Our publisher, MHS, is looking at a 2020 release date for the new GRS-2. This version of the instrument will include a new parent rating scale and new standardization.
As the authors of the original GRS and now, the GRS-2, Steven Pfeiffer and I are focused on creating a fair, equitable, and scientifically valid, method to identify gifted students. One of the elements included in the GRS-2 is the use of local norms to support equity and to provide a fair and valid assessment.
Studies show that Black and Hispanic students, English language learners (ELL), and students from families with low socioeconomic status (SES) are less often identified to receive gifted education services than majority peers with similar skills. We have been reading recent academic research, policy discussions, and essays related to the question of equity in assessment and service delivery for gifted students, and have considered these issues in the recommendations for use that we offer in the GRS-2.
The idea of using local norms to mitigate bias and support equitable identification for students in the field of gifted education is not new. A 2005 report published by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented recommended that eligibility for special services should depend on a student’s standing relative to classmates, not to a national sample of peers. The recommendation to use local norms was suggested as particularly important to increase equity in schools with racial, ethnic, academic, or socioeconomic compositions different from distributions in the standardization samples of the assessments that were used.
Research shows that using local group-specific achievement test norms can result in a more proportional distribution of students identified as gifted, particularly when a teacher rating scale is used in addition to standardized achievement tests. Teacher rating scales can identify students who many not perform well on achievement tests or who have not reached certain levels of achievement, but exhibit behaviors and attitudes that suggest a deep interest or engagement in academic or artistic areas.
Potential Challenges with Using Local Norms
While we support the use of local norms, we also feel that potential challenges must be acknowledged and need attention in order for this process to work successfully.
Managing teacher expectations. Training that helps teachers be attuned to and identify giftedness among non-dominant groups is an important component of any gifted identification process. This training should also help teachers be aware of and understand how local norms can help identify students who are achieving at levels higher than same-grade peers even though these same students may not have met teachers’ expectations or may not perform well on assessments that use national norms. Teacher training should also address the potential for negative stereotypes of students based on assessment and achievement data in order to not undermine student self-efficacy and achievement potential.
Communicating with parents. When a gifted assessment process changes, parents and community stakeholders will wonder how these new process will affect students. Communicating the benefits of local norms will help district stakeholders understand that all students in the district will receive appropriate support and rigorous educational experiences. Gifted coordinators may need to revise communications to emphasize the district’s commitment to effective differentiation and the power of local norms to support effective service delivery and talent development for all students.
Developing appropriate programming for all students.More careful, thoughtful, and inclusive assessment practices will provide information that can help educators create more careful and thoughtful educational opportunities for students. When we rely on local norms, we may gather a group of students with a wider range of academic skills than if we had used a narrow band of scores from a standardized assessment. Using local norms for identification will require more thought and possibly additional support to provide appropriate subject acceleration, advanced content, effective instruction and pedagogy, targeted differentiation, and other strategies to meet student needs.
How to Calculate Local Norms
Calculating local norms requires an extra, although not difficult, step. Once the process is established, a more equitable and targeted gifted screening system will be quickly available. A few considerations when starting to develop local norms:
use the largest group possible, at least 100 students
compare students at the same grade level
create local norms annually
hand-score or request a scoring company to send locally normed scores by grade level
Here is how this process could look with the Gifted Rating Scales. The gifted coordinator will enter all scores on the GRS-2 for all students at a given grade level into an Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet, ranked from highest score to lowest. The top 25% of scores in each grade will create the pool for consideration for the gifted program. This process is that simple.
Or, to target the issue of equity more directly, sort the list by the categories of interest – top scores sorted by race or by SES level or by ethnicity – so that the top 25% of students in each category can be considered for further review. Using a combination of approaches, such as identifying the top students overall, as well as the top students by other parameters, will help your district cast a wide net to ensure that needs of all potentially gifted students is being met.