Welcome to a collection of thoughts, questions and interesting links relating to giftedness ..............
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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Do you need to test again?

Giftedness is a permanent "developmental lead," not a temporary one. Your IQ doesn’t change significantly over time, although if a child is very young when they were tested, re-testing a few years later may give you a more complete picture, particularly if the child was not fully engaged by the earlier testing or their scores were spread across a wide range. Only rarely do children who were tested at a young age score lower when retested. Ad if they do, then it is important to look at the other factors. Were they tested by the same person? Were they well on the day there were tested? Are they less engaged with learning than when tested earlier? Has anything happened in the meantime which might affect the child’s results?

Retesting with the same test is not advisable within about 18 months to 2 years due to the ‘practice effect’ which can potentially inflate scores. It is possible however to use a different test. If your child was assessed using the WISC IV for instance, you can test using the SB5 at any time.

If the first test highlighted other issues or difficulties which may have negatively impacted on your child’s scores you might decide to retest in the future after these issues have been addressed or treated. The results of the second test might then give you a more accurate picture of your child’s potential and pattern of strengths.

Although it varies a little from school to school, if you are seeking to accelerate your child, the school may request you have IQ test results that are less than two years old and that might be the catalyst for considering retesting.

What if the results of the first test are higher than the later one?Where a child has been retested with different results parents often ask ‘Which one is right?” and worry that lower scores on later testing means their child may have ‘lost’ his or her intelligence, or the results of the first test were a ‘mistake’. This is especially concerning where they feel the child’s school are likely to rely on the later results without regard for the reasons for the potential difference.

As the child has to provide their own answers to the questions on an individually administered IQ test, rather than choosing from a selection of answers as they would on a multi-choice test, it is virtually impossible to fluke an artificially high score on an individual IQ test.

Any score should be considered a minimum measure of potential. This means that the highest scores achieved provide you with the best picture of a person’s potential, regardless of whether it is an earlier or later test.

The variation between results may be due to any one of a number of factors. As different tests measure slightly different abilities, the child may have strengths which show on one test more clearly than another. If the child was assessed by a different person on each occasion, the degree of experience of the person or the rapport they developed with the child when administering the test may be reflected in the results. Scores will also differ if your child was previously assessed using a now-superseded test which was scored using a different method or scores calculated using a different method.

While an IQ test does not measure how much a person has learned in school, the school environment can have an influence on results. Psychologist Fiona Smith reported that preliminary findings from the analysis of 800 Stanford Binet 5th assessment with mildly to exceptionally gifted individuals in Australia showed the Full Scale scores steadily declined as age and time in school increased. She hypothesised that the longer a child is in school, particularly where the learning opportunities do not meet their learning needs, the greater the likelihood that it will impact on their results and depress their scores, especially for highly gifted children. **

What if the school asks that you test again?
If your child’s school suggests you need to retest, ask more questions. Find out why they feel that it is necessary - this will tell you what sort of information you need to gather in preparation for when you next discuss it. Finding out what they intend to do once they have the results will help you gauge whether it is an exercise effectively to buy time before putting anything in place, or whether they are genuinely looking for patterns in the subtest results to help them plan more appropriately for your child. Asking more questions may also help you get a sense of whether the reason is that they disbelieve the earlier results because they were from an independent psych rather than a school based psychologist or because they don’t match what they believe about the child. Sometimes parents are told that ‘everyone who sees that psychologist is told their child is gifted’. If you think this one through logically, the parents of children who saw ‘that psychologist’ whose child was not identified as gifted are unlikely to be coming to tell the school so or to ask for interventions.

You can then make your own assessment of whether retesting is going to provide useful new information, and whether it warrants the expense which is not inconsiderable.

** Fiona Smith presented these findings at the Australian Association for the Education of the Gifted and Talented National Conference in Hobart in 2008. Her slides from this presentation titled Assessing Gifted Children: 10 Years experience using the Stanford Binet 5 can be downloaded from www.aaegt.net.au/Conference2008/PowerPoints/Smith.pdf

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lessons about identifying gifted students learned from making grape jam

Recently my grape vine was laden with fruit, far more than we could possibly eat. The family jam pot, the one used by my mother and grandmother, was dusted off and the fruit washed and weighed and jars cleaned and prepared. Making grape jam takes several hours and much stirring. There is plenty of time for thinking as you stir. Our grapes, although sweet and delicious, have seeds which need to be skimmed off the surface as the jam cooks.

As I watched over the bubbling mixture and the seeds rolling on the currents, it reminded me of the need for an ongoing process of identifying gifted children. Just like gifted children, some seeds are easy to see, they are evident right away and easy to skim off. Others don’t come to light until later. When the seeds do come to the surface they tend to cluster together, mostly at the edge. If you observe carefully you can work out the places they are most likely to gather. Some you see briefly and then wonder where they went as they become go back below the surface, invisible once again. Some you have to look more closely for as they are ‘hiding’ in with the froth on the surface. For some a spoon is the best way to catch then, for others it requires some extra tools as well.

Even after several hours of cooking, stirring and skimming and a collection of hundreds of seeds, there are still some that remain in the jam that have not been skimmed off. Perhaps they just haven’t come to the surface, or perhaps they did but went unnoticed.

Not all our gifted children are easy to spot. Not all of them want to be identified. Sometimes though, we just don’t look in the right places. Sometimes we stop looking too soon. Like the seeds in my jam, gifted children tend to gather together and if you know where to look you might find them, even if they aren’t making themselves obvious elsewhere or in other ways.

If we rely on a one off identification process we are likely to miss the ones who need more time to mature or develop their confidence before they are seen. If we use a single method or only look in one place, we will also miss some, perhaps many, of the gifted children who come by us.

There is no perfect method for identifying gifted students. We need to be continually vigilant, to use as many methods as we have available and remember that gifted children are perhaps the best identifiers of other gifted children that we have.

And if we use all the resources at our disposal and keep continually looking for gifted students, some may still slip through the net. Like the jam, the fewer seeds remaining hidden at the end of the process, the better the result.

(just in case you were worried that being skimmed off was not a good outcome, the seeds recovered from my jam are cleaned, washed and crushed for use in a body scrub. Their ‘talents’ are not wasted)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Effective teachers

I have just finished watching 4 Corners on the ABC. Unfortunately I missed the beginning of the program but it was interesting to see schools with such different circumstances focussing on the importance of one key thing - teacher effectiveness.

Of particular interest was the comment about the impact an effective teacher can make on achievement that indicated that the difference between the most effective teacher and the least effective teacher can be as much as a whole year of achievement for students.

In an earlier post I mentioned James Stronge who presented some research at a gifted conference in Singapore in 2008 looking at teacher quaity and effectiveness. He reported that the positive influence of an effective teacher can still be seen 3 - 5years down the track. Similarly the negative effects of an ineffective teacher are also still evident after 3 - 5 years.

What makes an effective teacher for gifted students may well be different to what is effective for students of average ability.  There have been a number of studies, both in Australia and overseas about what characterises an effective teacher for gifted students. Some studies have shown that gifted students value the personal and social characteristics of a teacher over the teacher's cognitive and classroom management abilities, other studies have produced lists of characteristics of effective teachers for the gifted. It is interesting to note however that many of these lists include a recognition of the importance of intellectual development, or having insight into the cognitive, social and emotional needs of gifted students. **

Given the scarcity of teachers with training in giftedness, the likelihood of a child coming across an effective teacher who has insight into characteristics of gifted children, a genuine interest in or liking of gifted students, or one who values intellectual development to the degree needed by a gifted child is perhaps rarer that we would hope.

And that is why it is critical for parents to be involved in their child's education. Establishing a positive relationship with your child's teacher will help you discover the degree that they may have the characterisitics outlined above. And it will also give you the chance to perhaps guide the teacher to new understandings. It is never too early to start building the relationship, the outcome of the year might depend upon it.

** You can read more about some of the studies looking at the characteristics of effective teachers for the gifted here.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

At your age.... or the whole is more than the sum of the parts

I recently caught up with a school friend for the first time in many, many years. Seven months ago as she was training to compete in a national level event she was knocked from her bicycle by a car. She is fortunate to be recovering from her injuries but the process of rehabilitation will continue for quite some time yet. One thing which she has found particularly frustrating is the attitude that she should be satisfied with gains she has made. Apparently the phrase 'at your age' has passed the lips of a number of her specialists. 

It struck me that it is much the same in education. Expectations are often based on age, regardless of potential or possible capabilities. My friend was an athlete in peak condition, highly attuned to her body and she is well aware of what her body was capable of and her limits. Many gifted children are not in such a fortunate position, never discovering their limits as a result of being constrained by what would be expected 'at their age'.
Another frustration my friend faces is the fact that she was is considered as a 'whole' but rather as separate parts particularly when she was first injured. Each body part was treated in isolation, the knee person only looking at her knee without anyone appearing to consider how that might impact on her also injured hip and so on. While these specialists undoubtedly have specialist knowledge the fact that there is no overview or plan that considers her in an integrated way restricts her progress.

Many students are frustrated by the compartmentalized nature of curriculum subject areas, and gifted students in particular often need the big picture in order to make sense of things learned in isolation. In much the same way as there is a need to treat the body as a whole, planning for the academic needs of gifted students without also planning for their social or emotional needs is likely to limit the effectiveness of the intervention.

photo Stuart Miles

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