Welcome to a collection of thoughts, questions and interesting links relating to giftedness ..............
You may also like to check out my website where you will find more information for children, parents and teachers.

Monday, August 31, 2009

How do our gifted students stack up in a bigger pool?

Many gifted children don't have the chance to really stretch their wings in primary school. Taking an above level test can help identify strengths that might not be seen in the regular classroom ore with year level achievement testing. By raising the ceiling, students, parents and teachers can all gain valuable insight into a child's capabilities.

On my travels last year I visited the Centre for Talent Development at Northwestern University just north of Chicago in Illinois and later in the year began talking to them about the possibility of offering the EXPLORE test as a Talent Search to gifted students in Perth. There was currently no other similar opportunity available and I knew from the experience of my daughter when we sat a similar test nearly 10 years ago that it can not only be an affirming experience but also provide valuable information about what the child can actually do with the right opportunities in front of them.

The EXPLORE test is used across the USA at high school entry (at 13 – 14 yrs of age). The same test is also used as a Talent Search opportunity and thousands of gifted students in Yr 3 – 6 sit the test in the USA each year. The EXPLORE test consists of 4 parts – English, Maths, Reading and Science and students take these 4 tests one after the other during a 3 hour test session.

After many emails back and forth testing was set for early June 2009 and 51 students from Year 4, 5 and 6 in WA took part. Another 12 had wanted to but couldn’t be accommodated in the pilot program this year.

To qualify to take the EXPLORE test as a Talent Search, the WA students needed to fall within the top 5% of students their age either in terms of potential (as measured by some form of IQ test) or performance (in dicated by school achievement) and currently be in Year 4, 5 or 6.

Despite giftedness being evenly distributed between the genders, the ratio amongst the WA students registering for the test was slightly more than 4 boys to every girl. They came from across all three education sectors and across the year levels, with 20 Year 6’s, 23 students from Yr 5 and 8 students from Yr 4. The vast majority of the students lived in the metro area, 6 travelled from regional centres and 5 from rural areas to take the test.

So how did our students go? Very well as it happens!
The students receive 2 sets of results; the first compares their performance to the 13-14 year olds who take the test at the usual age. These results will show just how far beyond their year level they may be capable of working. The youngest WA boy who sat the test was just over 8 ½ - about 5 years younger than those the test was designed for! The oldest, at few months short of 12, still took the test more than a year earlier than usual.

Our top students scored at a level equal to the strongest 8th Grade students in Science, within the top 1% of 8th Graders in Reading and English and within the top 5% of the 8th Graders in Maths. These are outstanding scores! While younger students scored a little lower compared to the 8th Grade students (although not much in some cases) not one of these students ‘failed’ this test as it tested content they had not been ‘taught’ in school (but clearly knew already!) – even the weakest scores were achieved on content above year level.

The second set of results the students receive compares their performance to all the other gifted students in the same school year level who also took the test as a Talent Search. Our students also compared very favourably with their USA counterparts, scoring at similar levels to the other gifted youngsters in the same year level who also took the test

The top students in Yr 6 scored within the top 1 - 2 % of the group in English and Reading, within the top 4% in maths and at the 100th percentile (highest possible score) in Science. The Yr 4 group proved particularly strong, scoring more highly compared to their USA counterparts than the Yr 5 group did in all areas with the exception science.

As part of the preparation for testing, the students had provided some background information about their interests, aspirations and current educational setting.

Around half of the participants in each Year level had been accelerated. Around three quarters of each Year level were participating in some sort of gifted program at school. Only 5 of the students had not been accelerated and did not have access to programs for gifted students either because they were not available or they had not been selected for them.

Would these opportunities make a difference? Research suggests that a match between the level of the curriculum and the student’s needs is one of the important factors for optimal performance for gifted kids.

Six of the 8 of the highest scoring students in the Yr 6 group and 5 of the top 8 Yr 5’s had been accelerated and were part of extension or enrichment programs for gifted students. A similar picture emerged with the Yr 4 students with 2 of the top 4 having been accelerated and all participating in extension programs of various sorts at school.

So a closer match between curriculum and readiness may indeed have been beneficial. But as the results for these highly capable young people show, they are capable of much, much more than is being asked of them even with these opportunities.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Others are also musing about our education system and traditional career paths

It is starting to sound repetitive. Today in my inbox was a link to an article about Gen Y and Entrepreneurship and another comment about how successfully our schools prepare our young people for their future. In part it said

The traditional career path doesn’t work for a lot of Gen Ys because our current education system is not geared to adequately prepare us for a career in the 21st century.
The full article (dated Aug 24th 2009) can be seen here. It urges young people to be proactive, to think outside the walls. It also emphasises making connections, finding mentors, getting real world experience of what interests you.

Making change in any system is a slow process. Chagens in education possibly come even more slowly - everyone has an opinion because it is something that virtually all of us have experience of.

Making change at the individual level is much easier. I think that it can only be helpful if we encourage our young people and especially our gifted to foster a mindset of being proactive about their learning, seeking out opportunities even if they aren't available in the school setting.

It is attitude that makes all the difference.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Life is like a bowl of spaghetti..........

A friend of mine commented in an email the other day that he was fascinated by the study backgrounds of people and where their winding career paths took them.

My oldest daughter is currently wondering whether the path she chose is the one for her. My youngest is wondering which path to choose.

I am sure that one thing will lead to another, that new fields and interests will unfold in front of them and that in their lifetime, like most people their age, they will embark on a number of different paths. Sometimes the connection between them might be obvious, at other times less so.

Making the initial choice is often more complex for gifted young people especially those with talents in more than one area. Some are left feeling that choosing one means they will have to ‘give up’ another passion. I recall the young man who spoke at the Curriculum Council Awards presentation in early 2008 telling us he decided to study engineering and music for this very reason. Sometimes one interest or talent is more easily maintained outside of ‘work’ than another, sometimes not.

We know that many of our gifted youngsters start grappling with career choices much earlier than their age peers. Whether career guidance is available at the time it is needed or not, does school help kids find their way to the first of their steps in the wider world?

Perhaps for those who are shining academically some choices may seem obvious starting points. But what about those creative individuals whose talent areas aren’t part of daily life at school? And what about the ones whose interests remain hidden or undiscovered because the curriculum doesn’t touch on them? I am fairly sure that my daughter’s interest in philosophy remained hidden from all but one of her teachers during her school years.

The world is changing rapidly, the skills that are currently or previously useful are likely to become less important over time. The careers that have been considered prestigious may not remain that way.

When my oldest daughter started school we were told that 80% of the careers that kids her age would enter did not currently exist. How then, we wondered, would school prepare her for life? In the last 15 years or so, things have escalated further. While we accept that working in the same field (or with the same employer) for 25 years is unlikely these days, many of us still struggle with the idea that our young people will change not only jobs but career areas a number of times in their working lives.

So how can we help prepare our young people for a life we can’t imagine?
No-one knows for sure, but a few ideas that might be beneficial include exposing them to a wide rang of experiences, nurturing not only the skills to master content but also those to make connections, encouraging creativity, looking for more than one answer, making critical (evaluative) thinking part of every day, learning about the lives of others (in the past as well as in other places), teaching and modelling flexibility……….

And perhaps the hardest thing of all as parents (who grew up when the world was a different place) – encourage them to pursue their passions without knowing what the outcome will be………….

I am sure the parents of the young lady mentioned in my friend’s blog last week (Putting an Arts Degree to good use) would have had the same concerns.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What is it that parents want for their gifted child?

Over the last few years I have worked with several hundred families with gifted children. Every child is different and the unique mix of family values, personality and level of giftedness means that no two stories are ever the same. However there is a common element to every story. The thing that every parent with a gifted child wants is that they are happy.......

Not one parent has come to see me with the aim of their child being the highest scoring student in the exams that will signify the end of their schoool career. While many want their child to be able to develop the potential and talents they have and to thrive in a learning environment, stellar achievement is not their prime goal.

Happiness is an elusive thing. Exactly what that means varies from family to family but what parents are looking for is usually wanting to see their child in as close to their 'natural' state as they can, bubbling and excited about the world, with the sparkle in their eyes. Often what they describe is a child more like the one they saw in the years before they entered the school system- relaxed in the world they are part of, believing in themselves, connecting with others.

Is this really any different to what any parent wants for their child? I doubt it. Why then do so many of these parents tell of feeling embarrased that this is their wish for their child?

When gifted children or gifted families get together and can enjoy the chance to relax, to share the highs and lows, the rewards and the daily challenges, the benefits are obvious. Seeing a child run to greet someone they met and instantly 'clicked' with during a previous workshop is a wonderful thing. Hearing parents sharing their stories and visibly relaxing is just as great.

Hopefully in those moments they can take a few steps down their individual paths towards 'happiness'.

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner