In a few hours’ time, the #gtchat community on Twitter will be discussing gifted assessment. I’ve worked with a number of gifted children, assessed in a number of ways, and here are a few observations and thoughts I’d like to contribute on assessment for identification and programme entry.
While formal assessment of IQ is often seen as ideal, results are occasionally misleading. IQ scores are usually very useful, but now and again I have taught a child who did massively better than their IQ score suggested. I also know a child who has been IQ tested twice, several years apart, with one test in the average range and one test in the gifted range. Gifted underachievers, who do worse than their test results suggest, are a well-documented group. Children whose IQ test results show a broad scatter between subscales may or may not be identified as gifted depending on the approach of the organisation using the results. If you have IQ test results, that’s wonderful. Most of the time, they will give you an excellent indication of the child’s ability. But please use other information as well to determine whether a child is gifted and how their educational needs are best served.
“Fitting in” must not be judged quickly for long term programmes. There are programmes out there for capable or gifted kids that are popular and generate lots of applications. These often have several stages in their application for entry, one of which is a group interview in a workshop style. Kids making it through to the final stage will have to “fit in” with one another socially. The idea is to generate a group with members who draw on one another’s ideas well to become the best they can be together. At first blush, there is plenty to love about this approach. Listening skills, co-operation and community-mindedness can be expressly valued. Tension and strife can be avoided for participants and organisers.
However, if you have taught a gifted group who were not selected to fit in with one another, you’ll see that fitting in takes many forms. There is the child who appears to interfere in everyone’s work, but who is also getting to know everyone sufficiently to become the social glue that holds them together out of school. There is the child who works quietly to one side, but whose work interests and influences every other child. There is the kid who lobs random ideas into group discussions and is irritatingly wide of the mark a lot of the time, but who occasionally shares a creative marvel of an idea that takes the whole group in a new direction.
Combinations like this don’t avoid tension and strife. They grow through them. And they work. Brief observers looking for co-operation wouldn’t spot that, though. I think the “fitting in” assessment is genuinely necessary for some short term programmes where participants won’t have time to gradually discover one another’s strengths. I do not think it should be emulated by those offering long term programmes, because as much is lost as is gained.
Portfolios require discussion. Portfolio samples of a child’s work can show what the child does alone, what the child does in a group, or what the child does as a response to a specific learning opportunity. All of these work samples are useful, but it pays to know which you are looking at. The child or the parent can also be asked what was new to the child in creating each piece of work, what the challenges were, what was learnt, and what was surprising about the outcome. In this way, you can get a feeling for the child’s dispositions towards learning, and go beyond matching work samples to expected developmental progressions.
Nominations have biases and benefits. Teacher, parent, peer, and self nominations are all considered by some organisations seeking to provide for gifted children’s learning needs. Nominations from each of these groups will have different biases that can be counteracted in different ways:
- Teachers carrying a heavy burden of evidence-based professional decision making may need an invitation to drop that burden and nominate on a “gut feeling” more often.
- Parents who didn’t do spectacularly in school may need reassurance that gifts not valued in their own schooling do count in good gifted programmes today.
- Peers may need encouragement to nominate smart kids who aren’t popular as well as those who are.
- Self nomination needs to value desire for challenge. There is a tendency for gifted perfectionists to underrate their aptitude, and for kids who struggle to be uncertain about their abilities. If you seek children looking for more challenging work rather than children who believe they are good at what they do, self-nomination seems more accurate, in my experience.
There are many other ways of detecting giftedness. Most throw up more false negatives than false positives. If at all possible, use a mixture of approaches. This way you will exclude fewer children, and you will have a more comprehensive picture of the unique educational needs of the children you do accept into your programmes.