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.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Like a duck on a pond

I came across this great analogy in the SENG newsletter today and thought it was worth sharing. I am sure some of you will agree this is what life can be like with gifted children. The only way I managed to capture it was via a screen shot and the quality isnt very good so in addition to the image below, here is what Therese Clifford of SENG wrote:
Parenting gifted children often reminds me of the image of a duck who, to the rest of the world, is seemingly 'floating' along on the pond, while the reality is that there is some mighty vigorous paddling going on underneath the water. Parents of gifted kids often navigate through each day like the duck who is paddling like crazy, trying to keep life on an even keel, trying to keep their little ones safe and sane and able to participate in the world. No-one sees the paddling and strife underneath. SENG not only provides an understanding of how the hyper-awareness and hyper-sensitivities of the gifted can lead to social and emotional upheaval in daily life, but also reaches out to the public to educate and raise awareness.
If you haven't come across the SENG website, it is definitely worth a look. And if you would like to see the complete newsletter this snippet came from you will find it here

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Achievement tests vs IQ tests

Different tests, test different things. Some are tests of achievement, while some are tests of potential. These are two completely different things.

Achievement tests measure current knowledge or skill development while tests of potential which include IQ tests of various sorts measure potential ability. Being a measure of skill development, achievement tests are directly influenced by what a child has learned to date. On the other hand the results of tests of potential don’t go in relation to how long you have been at school (as a result of school learning).

While ideally results of tests of potential will be reflected in the results of achievement testing, indicating a child is working at a level towards their potential, this is not always the case. A difference between the results of tests of potential and achievement is considered to indicate underachievement. The greater the difference between the results, the greater the underachievement and need for further investigation to identify the cause.

Is one test better than another?

It really depends on what you are measuring.

If you are testing what a child has learned, then tests of achievement are needed. Standardised tests provide information about how the child (and the class group) compares to other populations of the same year level or age.

Each school has their own schedule of collecting information on student achievement levels. Some test at the start of each year, some test at various year levels, some rely on NAPLAN and other testing programs, and some test only where achievement is of concern. There are many tests of achievement available, many being subject based. With a gifted child, testing above level is likely to be needed to show the limits of their learning.

If you are testing a child’s capacity for learning, then tests of potential are needed. There are a number of tests to measure potential, with different requirements with regard to training or expertise in order to administer them.

Schools sometimes use group administered IQ tests (such as the Nelson Verbal and Non Verbal tests, SPM, TOLA, MYAT or the like) at various points. These tests can be given to a class group or a number of children at the same time and generally take a multiple choice format. Most often students will indicate their answer by filling in a bubble on an answer sheet which is then marked by a machine and a report of scores sent to the school. These tests provide a ready method for screening students to identify the most able (or those in need of assistance) within a year level. Rarely are these results looked at in more detail than the final score.

Alternatively an IQ test can be administered individually, by a psychologist. The most common examples of individual IQ tests are the WISC IV (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children 4th Edition) and the SB 5 (Stanford Binet 5th Edition). Children have to generate their own answers to questions on this test (rather than choose from multiple choices). Testing and scoring an individual IQ test follows strict protocols for scoring answers and scoring is done by the person administering the testing. The results of individual IQ tests provide a lot more information about the student’s profile, areas of strength and relative weakness as well as insights into potential learning difficulties or things to follow up. They are also likely to provide a more accurate measure of potential than a group administered test.

Are the results of one test better than the other?

An individually administered IQ test will provide you with a more detailed and accurate measure of a child’s potential because the child has had to generate the answers themselves (not choose from a selection so the chance factor is reduced). The psychologist administering the test also has the chance to observe and comment on how the child approached the testing. Insights into a reflective nature, aversion to getting things wrong, and the part any motor difficulties (or other problems) may have played in their results etc can be noted.

Which test result is ‘right’?

Sometimes highly gifted children (based on results of an individual IQ test) do not score as highly on group administered tests. Sometimes, having picked up the importance of the test from the teacher’s comments, they take great care answering questions but do not finish the test. Sometimes highly gifted children are confused by the apparent simplicity of the questions or answer choices. This is not hard to understand when you consider that the test is designed so that the majority of students will be able to complete most questions in order for it to spread students across a standard distribution.

Sometimes gifted children, particularly the more creative or lateral thinking students have difficulty choosing between the multiple choice options. They may be able to see more than one ‘logical’ (to their thinking) answer amongst the choices. They are then left with the dilemma of choosing the ‘most interesting’, ‘most likely’, the one the teacher is most likely to want or the first one they thought of……….. the chance that it wont be the required answer are increased, their score possibly negatively affected as a result.

Where you have results of an individually administered IQ test, these are likely to provide you with a more accurate reflection of a child’s potential ability than a group administered test, even if the results seem anomalous with a child’s current achievement.

The more information which is gathered, the more complete the picture of a child’s potential and achievement will be. Where you have results from an individual test which are not reflected in group administered tests of potential, it is important to look further at the results. Did the child finish the test? Did they miss a question which meant their correct answers to following questions were on the wrong line? Talking to a child about why they chose certain answers can also provide useful insight into their thinking.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Why test above level?

I have been asked recently what value there is in testing above level when a child is already doing well. Think about it this way. If a child is capable of adding double digit numbers but an in class test (or standardised test) only asks them to add single digit numbers they may well get all the questions right (although they may not, but that is a matter for another post). In the results there is no clue that the child is capable of working on more advanced material or how advanced that material might be.

Testing ‘above level’ simply means giving a child a test designed or intended for children who are older than them, or for a point further through the education system. It may test material a child has not yet been taught but they may be able to do.

It is much more difficult to get all the answers right on an above level test, and if a child does, then a higher level test is needed in order to gain useful information. Otherwise all it tells us is that a child can answer all those questions, nothing more useful.

The really useful information that can be gained from an above level test is not in the final score. It is in analysing which questions a child got wrong. And the error analysis is really the most important part of the testing. This provides us with information about what the child needs to learn next. This is effectively a prescription for their learning needs.

The questions they got right serve to show what they already know (but may not have been taught yet) and provide a marker point for their current skill development. There is really nothing to be gained in teaching a child something they already know so indentifying what they already know is a way to effectively ‘test out’ of that content and move on to something new.

Few schools offer regular opportunities for above level testing but it doesn’t hurt to ask. This is testing that should be able to be done in the school (it should not require the psych to do it) as it is achievement testing (not a test of potential).

The next challenge comes in accessing testing far enough above level. In the early years of Primary school, one year above Year level may be enough. By middle primary above level testing probably needs to start 2 years above Year level, by the end of Primary school, testing would usually need to start at 3 years beyond Year level. If a child scores highly on an above level test, further testing at a higher level again is needed. What you are trying to do is establish the limits of the child’s current learning. What you see in the classroom is almost certainly not going to be a good indication of what that might be for gifted children, even those who are not achieving highly.

The EXPLORE test is an opportunity for gifted children in Years 4, 5 or 6 to take a test designed for older students (13 and 14 year olds in fact). By raising the ceiling, parents and teachers can gain valuable insights into a child’s capabilities which might remain hidden in the regular classroom. You may like to read more about EXPLORE and see if this test would be useful for your child.

What about self esteem?
Sometimes parents ask about whether it will dent a child’s self esteem taking a test where they probably don’t know all the answers. If we look at what research has shown us about self esteem we see that it builds from engaging with and working through a task that is challenging in a way that it does not when working on simple material.

I think it is important to consider the situation the child may find themselves in on a daily basis if they are not able to access curriculum at a sufficiently challenging level. We know that this can be stressful in the same way that material which is much too challenging. Research has also reinforced that intrinsic motivation has a strong place in our drive to achieve and to find satisfaction in our lives. It is difficult to be intrinsically motivated when challenge is lacking.

Some children feel validated when they score highly and prefer to continue to reaffirm their ability without being challenged (Carol Dweck calls this a fixed mindset). Others thrive on challenge and the chance to stretch (a flexible mindset). I talked about the difference in a recent post which included an excellent graphic showing the differences over time in achievement levels of the two groups.

You can't fail an above level test
As the test is meant for older children and is likely to test material that the child may not have been taught as yet, it is not possible to fail an above level test. This is an important point to share with a child who may be shy of challenge.

“That was cool! Hard but cool”
Over the years I have heard many comments from students as they met their parents after finishing the EXPLORE. Some comment that the test was tricky, occasionally one is a little crest fallen that they have not found it as easy as their usual experience. But by far the majority of comments are positive and their eyes shining and I hear them saying how much they enjoyed the chance to really have to work at something, that it was the only time they have taken a test they have had to really think about.

Most children I have tested using subject based above level tests also finish the session smiling, some ask if there is more testing they can do.

Is it any use as far as school goes??
A parent whose child has taken the EXPLORE test in each of the last 2 years emailed me recently to tell me about their experience.
"The Explore test has been invaluable to us and her school as one of the forms of assessment in making the decision to accelerate her by us and her school."

Monday, March 7, 2011

When we have to repeat a task

A few days ago I watched a TED talk by an enthusiastic, if somewhat eccentric chap by the name of Clifford Stoll.

He reminded me so much of some of the gifted kids I have met over the years – constantly in motion, his mind darting from one idea to another, his rapid fire speech peppered with, what is known in our house, as ‘random facts’ – snippets that wouldn’t normally be part of conversation.

Sadly the resemblance to most gifted adults was much weaker. Somewhere along the way, for many, the enthusiasm, passion and energy fades away.

He did make an interesting comment which might shed some light on that. In his opinion
The first time you do something, you are a scientist.
The second time you do something, you are an engineer.
The third time you do something, you are just a technician.
Or put another way, the more you have to do something, the more the wonder fades.

The initial need to think, question, hypothesise and test ideas and skills makes way for a focus on details and tidying things up. Eventually little real attention is needed to complete the task which we can execute with much less effort. The motivation for the task has faded along with the practice.

Research has shown that repeated practice for gifted students can reduce their performance over time, particularly in subjects like mathematics (** more on this  along with a reference below) Not only does having to repeatedly practice something you have already mastered take the initial shine off the achievement, a degree of boredom often follows, which can in turn lead to a lack of attention to the task at hand and so to careless errors. Students who have ‘tuned out’ and whose brain is partially occupying itself with other things may then miss important new material when it is introduced.

I am sure you can think of examples of musical performances which had been practiced until they were technically excellent but lacking in passion. School assembly or concert items sometimes also fall into this category when they have been practiced to the point of predictability and the excitement is extinguished. The buzz of the discovery, the excitement of that ‘ah ha’ moment when we discover we can do something has faded.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice things, but perhaps moving on to build on a skill as soon as we are able is a way to keep the enthusiasm flowing and avoid a ‘discovery’ becoming routine task. Remaining in the scientist mindset is a sure way to push boundaries and make new discoveries and well as new learning. 
  •  G&T students are significantly more likely to retain science, mathematics, foreign language content accurately when taught 2-3 times faster than ‘normal’ class pace
  • G&T students are significantly more likely to forget or mislearn science, mathematics, foreign language content when they must drill and review it more than 2-3 times after mastery
Reserach Based Best Practices in Gifted Education. Conference presentation by Prof Karent Rogers at the 2006 AAEGT National Conference in Fremantle. If you would like to have a look at the PowerPoint of this presentation, please email me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Kids get hungry and need to be fed. If they don’t eat they get cranky and uncomfortable. Life is difficult for them and for us.

However, it is not just their body which gets hungry. Gifted kids have an intellectual appetite that must also be fed. If their brain is ‘hungry’ they can be just as cranky and uncomfortable (but often not really know why – it doesn’t come with the physical sensation of hungry that is more easily recognised).

Not surprisingly perhaps, the emotional response (melt down or acting out perhaps) often calms down when their brains are appropriately fed (and watered)

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