BY: GIRLIE VILLANUEVA
Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.
All gifted children are more advanced mentally than others of the same chronological age, and most have disparities between their intellectual abilities (as indicated by mental age) and their physical abilities (closely aligned to chronological age). The definition focuses on the vulnerability of the gifted child. To have the mental maturity of a 14 year old and the physical maturity of an 8 year old poses a unique set of challenges analogous to those which face the child with a 14-year-old body and an 8-year-old mind
What is giftedness all about?
It certainly is a term that makes people uncomfortable. I remember going to a back-to-school night in 1976 and offering to find a mentor for any child who wanted to learn something he or she wasn't learning in school. There was no cost for the mentor. All the parents had to do was join the Boulder Association for the Gifted for $5 per year. I had no takers. One father stopped me afterwards and said something to the effect that his daughter was reading several years above grade level, and had a chemistry lab in the basement, etc., but he was “sure” his daughter wasn't gifted!
Since those days, I have endeavored to discover what gifted means to different people. Most of my work has been with parents, and I began to notice that mothers usually called the Gifted Development Center to inquire about testing, while fathers often viewed the assessment with skepticism. When I spoke to parent groups, mothers would nod and smile and fathers would sit with crossed arms and question marks on their faces. One father came up to me after a presentation and told me about his son who had won all kinds of awards as a scholar at Stanford University, but he, too, was certain his son wasn't gifted. I asked him, “What would he have to do to be gifted in your eyes?” The father retorted, “Well, he's no Einstein.”
Characteristic of mental giftedness
Parents are excellent identifiers of giftedness in their children: 84% of the children whose parents say that they fit ¾ of the following characteristics score at least 120 IQ (the superior range). Over 95% show giftedness in at least one area, but are asynchronous in their development, and their weaknesses depress their IQ scores.
Theory of mental giftedness
Classrooms increasingly contain groups of children with a wide range of individual differences. These differences include various physical, perceptual and mental disabilities, as well as giftedness in children who need academic challenges of various kinds. There are also classes of children who are different in age, children with different ethnic origins and those who speak English as a second language. All these children require provision which is responsive to their special individual needs within the regular classroom. Many schools are now seeking alternatives to the practice of grade retention. These alternatives are challenging some of the instructional methods which were particularly effective when children in the regular classroom were expected to learn and achieve in similar ways.
It is also being increasingly recognized that children have a much wider range of capabilities than they have usually been permitted to show in the regular classroom. In order to show these capabilities, however, they need learning environments which are responsive to the many individual differences which influence learning. Some children, for example, have a special interest in, and early mastery of, symbol systems. Others understand best through much and varied hands-on manipulative experience. Children learn in different ways, have different styles, and build on very different backgrounds of experience. Children also achieve at a higher level in school if they are interested in what they are doing and interests can vary considerably within an average class group.
Both research and developments in education have recently led to instructional innovations designed to make the classroom into a learning environment which is more responsive to the varying learning needs and interests of individual children. For example, there is increasing curriculum integration: continuity between the children's learning in the different subjects. There is more opportunity to relate home and school learning. There is concern for memorable learning as well as memorized learning. Children are expected to work cooperatively on complex and open-ended tasks as well as follow instructions in step by step learning. The project approach provides one way to introduce a wider range of learning opportunities into the classroom.
Systematic Instruction and Project Work
There are some parts of the curriculum in which children are necessarily dependent on the teacher and others in which children can work more independently. Particularly it can be seen that there are three aspects of the early childhood and elementary curriculum which provide for children's learning needs:
1. spontaneous play to explore materials, ideas and social relationships (younger children)
2. systematic instruction for the acquisition of skills (older children)
project work for the application of skills acquired earlier
For the younger children project work can be thought of as the more formal part of the program involving more teacher guidance than might be found when the children are at play. However, for the older children project work is more likely to constitute the more informal part of the program, the part where they have greater autonomy in the development of their work than when involved in teacher directed instruction.
Project work and systematic instruction can be seen as providing complementary learning opportunities. Children not only need to know how to use a skill but also when to use it. They need to learn to recognize for themselves the contexts in which the skill might be useful and the purposes which it can most appropriately serve. In systematic instruction the children acquire the skills and in project work they apply those skills in meaningful contexts. The project work can be seen as the part of the curriculum which is planned in negotiation with the children and which supports and extends the more formal and teacher directed instructional elements.
When a teacher is instructing a child in a new level of skill the learning tasks have to be carefully matched to the child's current abilities. When a child is applying skills in which she already has some fluency she can work independently, with more confidence, make decisions, formulate and solve problems as they arise, and be creative in applying the skills appropriately.
The types of activity or task the teacher plans will be different according to which kind of learning is intended. The teacher's role is different in relation to the child at work. Where the child is acquiring skills the teacher is more of a director whereas when children are applying skills they already have, the teacher is more of a guide. The child can also feel quite different about the activity according to which kind of learning is involved.
THE CLASSROOM -- A COMMUNITY OF LEARNERS
The teacher is very influential in setting the climate of the classroom community. The climate has various aspects. The social aspect reflects the kinds of social interaction experienced among community members. The teacher can teach social values conducive to learning in the classroom. She can set clear expectations for children's behaviors towards one another. Individual rights can be protected, including those of minority groups. In this way, the children also develop expectations of their teacher.
Appreciation and respect for others can be shown in various ways. The classroom is a place where people can live a fulfilling life together as a community of learners if needs and concerns are appropriately expressed. Problems can be discussed. Support, encouragement, and models can be provided by both teacher and peers. Where expectations for children's learning are high it is important that the social interaction itself is designed to facilitate learning.
A mental Gifted Child
“Promil gifted child”
A Parent's Guide to Gifted Children contains useful information for those parenting or grand-parenting a typical child, a smart child, or a gifted child. In fact, the book is useful even to those without any parenting responsibilities if they are interested in replaying their own childhood through an adult lens.
The book is divided into a Preface, Introduction, 15 Chapters, Endnotes, two Appendices (Resources and Suggested Readings), References, and a complete Index. The Table of Contents is particularly useful for identifying key issues. Coverage is coherent, comprehensive, clear, seamless, practical, and succinct. Most chapters have a section devoted to practical advice. I found the embedded table and list summaries of important concepts a good way to keep track of main threads of the discussion. It was refreshing to read sections where the authors explained points of view that didn't agree with their own.
We've all heard the stories. Tiger Woods took up an interest in golf at only six months. Wayne Gretzky started skating by age two. Mozart had begun composing by age five. Gifted children? You betcha. Talent and greatness you should expect and push your child to have? Not necessarily. While these stars certainly showed a natural gift early in life, they are the exception to the rule.