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, June 20, 2012

Busy underachieving.

What has purpose got to do with busy work and underachievement? Quite a lot I believe.

As adults or as children, we find it difficult to maintain focus and attention when tasks are tedious or monotonous. It is difficult to keep feeling positive about a task which doesn’t give us a spark of satisfaction. The brain associates the restlessness and disengagement with tedium and monotony, and lack of value in the activity. We complain of feeling ‘bored’.

When you look closely, often it is not the task itself which is the problem, it is how we feel about it. Emotion is a powerful driver.

When we are faced with a different task which we discover to be tedious or monotonous suddenly, up pops the same emotion, even though the task might be unrelated to the previous one. If we feel ‘bored’ our mind convinces us that the task is ‘useless’, regardless of whether the feeling is legitimate or not.

Too many instances where this happens and eventually we stop bothering altogether.

It is true that we need to develop the ability to manage some boring bits; life is made of up them too. We would quickly burn out if everything we did was exciting and we were operating at our limits all the time. But we need a balance. When that balance tips in favour of the monotonous or boring we find it difficult to become motivated even about things which might usually give us a spark of enjoyment. We might say, tellingly, that ‘our heart is not in it’. Flatness, disengagement and depression can be the result. For children as well as adults.

Let's move from thinking about life to thinking about school. We refer to tasks at school as school ‘work’. Our choice of words implies there is an element of ‘work’ involved – that it will require crunched eyebrows and some effort. Yet when our gifted children are faced with work which is simplistic, or which requires them to practice skills they have already demonstrated that they have mastered, the emotions associated with tedium frequently slide in and, over time, the child can stop bothering with school work generally. 

Parents often mention the spark fading in their child’s eyes and we wonder where the resulting underachievement has come from.

‘What’s the point?’ is a question children often ask. It is a valid one. When we know the purpose of ‘busy work’, things that just have to be done, we can often tolerate it a little better. Sometimes the task that seems tedious has a purpose in the bigger picture. Knowing the long term worth of a task can put the tedium in context and make it more palatable. In this case ‘busy work’ might be justifiable, if the amount is tailored to a child’s readiness and pace of learning. Some may need more practice, others less, in order to lay the foundation for the long term. Even building persistence requires tasks to be meaningful in order to stick with them to develop the skill. 

It is the pointless ‘busy work’ that most often leads to complaints from children (and if we are honest, from adults in variety of settings as well).

When we are well aware that there are differences between students in any class, it does not make sense to presume or insist that everyone should complete the same tasks. A differentiated curriculum recognises the student differences between students and makes a commitment to plan for these differences with the goal of maximising student growth and individual success. Tedium then should be minimised.

Carol Ann Tomlinson whose name is well known in connection with the need for and design of differentiated learning opportunities advocates for respectful tasks which are appropriately rigorous and engaging for the learner (at what ever level they may be at). She suggests that it is when teachers disregard differences in readiness or pace of learning that complaints arise. When work is too simplistic, overly rote or offered too frequently, it will become monotonous.
And the chances are that our emotions will take charge of our engagement with learning.

Photo credit jscreationzs via www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wearing the Right Glasses

Before I get started I just want to let you know that I am very excited to be participating in this Blog Tour, not only because this is a first for me but because it has further opened up the wonderful world of giftedness and blog posts from far and wide, and reminded me that despite being a long way from anywhere, the world really is a small place.

Wearing the Right Glasses

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. ”
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

 A long time ago, when I was a trainee teacher, I took a Special Needs elective unit as part of my degree. I don't recall that any mention was made of giftedness (and didn't find it mentioned in the unit text book when it came to light in a recent clean up), so I no doubt, started my teaching career as blind to the concept of giftedness as many teachers continue to do even today. I do recall one particular class in that unit though which required us to put on different glasses and walk around the campus. These were designed to simulate the experience of various vision defects. It was difficult, and it changed our perception.

Over time my interest in giftedness grew and I now have many years of experience working with families with gifted children, teachers and schools. As I try to help others grasp the differences that are part of giftedness I often think of those glasses and wish there was something similar which could help teachers (and others) understand the gifted experience more clearly. It could save much heartache and frustration and even avoid mis-turns and unfortunate misdiagnoses.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you work in a setting with a group of people whose values or interests are wildly different to you own. While you might prefer to discuss current affairs or the environmental impact of a proposed mining project, your workmates are focussed on the latest reality TV show or celebrity faux par. You initially attempt to join in the conversation, perhaps trying to introduce something of more interest to you but are met with blank looks. Your work mates quickly turn away and go back to discussing what interests them. Pretty soon you stop trying to engage them in conversation.

A similar situation may exist for your gifted child who goes to school and finds that his or her classmates are equally disinterested in their latest passion. After trying to engage them in the topic of interest and maybe even trying other ways to belong to the group, perhaps even trying ‘just running around’ like everyone else, or hanging about on the edge of conversations or games, your child decides they would really rather read a book or chat with the teacher on duty.

Before long the teacher raises concerns about your child’s social skills, mentioning immaturity based on not engaging with their classmates. (They may have a similar opinion about the adult situation above as well, although they would probably word it slightly differently). This is not an uncommon situation, although the scenario might change at times to include a child who cries when mum leaves them at Kindy, or the child who gets 'more upset than normal' when a humanitarian issue is discussed at school.

Think for a moment about the glasses I mentioned earlier.

If the teacher is wearing glasses that give a 'normal' view of the situation with an average ability child, their interpretation of the situation might seem reasonable for a child of the same age.

If they change to wearing 'gifted glasses', ones that let them see the behaviour in the light of giftedness, the situation may appear very different.

The child who isn’t engaging with their classmates of the same age because they have moved beyond that stage of development is not immature. If we were to relocated a ‘normal’ child to the classroom of younger children for some reason we would not immediately deem them immature when they found it difficult to connect appropriately with their new classmates.  First we would look to see how they interacted in other settings. It is equally appropriate (and important) to do so with a gifted child who struggles to connect with classmates. Knowing they are comfortable interacting with older children or in other settings provides a vital insight regarding their social disconnectedness and ‘maturity’.

The clingy child may be using the only method they have available to them to let mum know they are not comfortable in a particular setting. The sensitive child who is upset at the plight of others may be exhibiting signs of a greater awareness and concern for others than their class mates. Without the right (gifted) glasses, their behaviour could be misinterpreted.

It is not just teachers who would benefit from these glasses. Parents too would find them invaluable, especially in the early stages of their journey into giftedness. A parent's frustration at their child's increasing forgetfulness, or perhaps their need to know exactly where they will be going and when, are just a couple of examples of times when parents too might benefit from the looking through the right glasses.

They would be handy for health professionals too. Imagine a GP or psychologts (or even an optician) who could consider what they saw in light of giftedness. A child or adult’s intensity or difficulties might not be viewed as symptoms of a mental or emotional disorder and therapy or medication may not follow in an attempt to ‘cure’ the symptoms of giftedness.

In my recently published book The Beginner’s Guide to Life on the Bright Side I mention a woman who came to see me regarding her daughter. During the consultation she described how she herself had been taking antipsychotic drugs for 8 years following a Bipolar diagnosis. In the process of understanding her highly gifted young daughter’s needs and the challenges the family were facing as a result, this mother gained insight into her own situation. Her neurologist subsequently took her off medication and agreed that she had been misdiagnosed. It was, however, the only way to explain her ‘symptoms’ when they were compared to the general population. With the benefit of ‘gifted glasses’ he may have been able to refer this young mother to a different sort of help.

Similarly, a child’s intensity, impatience, sensitivity and high energy, all characteristics common amongst gifted children, can be mistaken for AD/HD. A sensitive, intense and strong-willed child’s behaviour might be mistaken for Oppositional Defiant Disorder, particularly if they do not like to be criticized for thinking differently and tend to question rules or engage in power struggles with those in authority. The impact of inconsistencies or injustices they observe in the world, or their lack of opportunity to interact with like minds might be considered to be signs of a mood disorder in another. Gifted individuals often experience intense feelings or changes of mood and depression can have its roots in unrecognized giftedness.

Interpreting the behaviour in light of 'normal' or 'most people' can result in pathologizing what is, in reality, a cry for help. Many misdiagnoses of gifted children (and adults) based on behaviours which appear abnormal when they are viewed through 'the lens of normal' can be attributed to asynchrony, misfit and feeling alienated. Many gifted individuals spend years trying to understand their differentness, grappling with being 'too much' or out of step with others. With the right glasses they may be able to appreciate their intensity, complexity and drive as positive traits relating to giftedness.

Quite apart from the problem of general lack of awareness about giftedness, the brain science of attention has demonstrated clearly that we can see what we expect to see while other aspects of a scenario go unnoticed. To see what we missed, we need to stop looking one way and start looking another. In effect we need to check whether we need to swap our ‘normal’ glasses for the ones that let us interpret what we see in the light of giftedness.

Which glasses are you wearing? It could make a huge difference to the lives of gifted individuals and their families.

Photo credit Michelle Meiklejohn via www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Use this link to find out more about The Beginner’s Guide to Life on the Bright Side

Be sure to go and read other blog posts from this Blog Tour. You will find them listed at http://ultranet.giftededucation.org.nz/WebSpace/696/

Friday, June 1, 2012

IQ tests are just one piece of the puzzle

It is tempting to think that an IQ test settles the matter of whether a child is gifted or not. Sometimes it does, but often it does not. It is simply one piece of the puzzle.

While an individually administered IQ test will not over estimate intellectual potential, there are many reasons why it might under estimate intelligence, and I believe that is why we should avoid relying solely on IQ tests as an identification tool.

In addition, there is the problem of exactly what level of intelligence qualifies as ‘gifted’. The cut off point varies depending on the circumstances, who is doing the selecting and for which program. As intelligence is a continual scale not and either-or attribute like blue eyes or brown, setting a strict cut off point is highly problematic. A child, who scores just above the nominated gifted cut off point one day, may not do so if tested on another day (or at a less optimal time of day). Conversely a child who just misses out may score within the nominated range on another day. Scores can vary a few points up or down from day to day.

** That is not to say anyone could test within the gifted range. The tests are stardardised rigorously and luck does not play a part in an individually administered IQ test (in a group test where questions are multi choice, chance can play a slightly greater role). So an average ability child could not suddenly score within the gifted range – the variation in scores is simply not that great.

The expected repeatability of a score achieved on an IQ test is indicated by the confidence interval which shows a range within which a person is likely to score, were they to take the test again immediately. It is usually a few points above and a few points below the score calculated from an assessment. A 90% confidence interval (90% chance the scores will be within the indicated range)will encompass a wider range of scores above and below the achieved score than a 95% confidence interval (tighter range). If your score was very close to a nominated cut off point, it could actually be slightly above, or below, the magical 'cut off point' if you were able to take the test again.

If we set a particular, fixed, score as the cut off to the land of giftedness, we would need to be 100% sure that a score on an IQ test is exactly repeatable. This also implies that we are 100% certain that this score is a complete indication of a persons intellectual potential.

I have worked with a lot of children who have IQ test results and this simply is not reasonable.

Giftedness is not an exclusive club – it is meant to be a descriptive tool which helps determine the sort of opportunities which are needed for the child to thrive. Giftedness does not make a person ‘better than’ anyone else, simply ‘better at’ some things (or even many things). (James Delisle elaborates in Barefoot Irreverance, p 31). Wisely used they tell us a lot about the child  but we still need to be sure that the results fit with other information about the child. If not, we need to ask more questions, search for more pieces of the puzzle.

Imagine you had received the results of some regular blood tests and they were quite different to what was expected especially as you don't have the typical risk factors that would accompany such  results. Would you accept them without question? Or would you expect that your doctor would consider them in light of what else he or she knows about your history, ask more questions and if concerned, order more tests? (I know this would be my expectation). Imagine the outcome if interventions were prescribed based on results which turned out to be incorrect because of poor sample taking, contamination or some other as-yet-unidentified issue.

This same thing can happen when IQ tests are taken at face value and not considered in the light of what else we know about a child. IQ tests can tell us a lot about a child, their strengths and relative weaknesses. It can also highlight possible learning problems which are likely to have depressed the scores. If the child is retested once these are identified and addressed, their scores will be likely to be a more complete measure of their intellectual potential. If the original score was accepted without further consideration, opportunities to develop their potential may be barred from them.

Perhaps that sounds a little theoretical without some background on IQ testing and intelligence.

General intelligence or cognitive ability is often thought of as synonymous with abstract reasoning and problem-solving ability. Defining intelligence is complex but it is generally accepted that intelligence is more encompassing that simply intellectual ability.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg is one of many who have grappled with the conundrum of what intelligence actually ‘is’ and he defines it as “the ability to adapt to, select, and shape environments.” This includes not only intellectual ability, but creative and physical aptitude, as well as interpersonal skills including persuasive ability and strong leadership qualities. Francoys Gagne also identifies a number of domains where giftedness may be present as can be seen in his Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT), also including the physical, creative and social domains in addition to intellectual potential.
The most common way to measure cognitive potential is via the use of an IQ (intelligence) test. These are a measure of a person’s ability to learn rather than what they have learned in school. An IQ test is a ‘snap shot’, a sample of behaviour on tasks that measure what we value in a society at that point in time. Current IQ tests have been developed based on the belief that abstract reasoning is synonymous with general ability, and as a result they currently measure reasoning ability, understanding and use of language, processing skills, attention and learning style preferences, providing us with an objective insight into a child’s unique profile of abilities.

A crucial thing to remember is that an IQ test is a sample. It doesn’t measure everything, and it may not give a complete picture of a child’s potential.

As the child needs to come up with their own answers to the questions and tasks on the assessment, an inflated score is not possible. However, many factors can reduce the accuracy of the results. If a child is tired or unwell when assessed, the test may not capture the full extent of their ability. Stress and anxiety and the degree of experience the psychologist has with testing gifted children can also affect the results. Depending on the experience of the assessor and their knowledge of gifted children, other traits in a child such as perfectionism can also have an influence on results. The scores of very young children can also be lowered by their lack of experience in formal, directed test type situations. By about seven or eight years of age, results tend to be stable in this regard but conversely scores can begin to be affected by the child’s level of engagement at school. Consequently IQ test scores should be considered a minimum, showing that your child is at least as capable as the results show.

An IQ test does not tell you how successful a person will be at school or in life in general. It does not tell you about their musical, artistic or physical potential. IQ tests are not designed to measure creative ability, empathy or physical skills, nor do they measure everything a person knows.

So can we use an IQ test to identify giftedness?
Intellectual giftedness, yes. But not giftedness in other domains. A high score on an IQ test is a high score and as I have said earlier, it isn't a fluke. If a child scores in the gifted range (what ever that is determined to be in particular instance) they are gifted.

But there is a good chance that it doesn’t tell the whole story.

It is crucial to consider the results alongside other background information about a child’s development and behaviour. It may be that the child is more gifted than the scores suggest. It could be that despite a high level of potential a child still has some learning difficulties (or differences) that have impacted on the results. Or perhaps the person who assessed them was not experienced testing gifted children, or the child had a bad day, was unwell or overly anxious at the time of testing. If the IQ test results are taken at face value and as complete indication of a child’s potential then many gifted children will be overlooked.

Using an IQ test alone to identify the gifted potentially excludes others who equally deserve opportunities to meet their needs. Several of the most gifted children I have had the privilege to meet would have continued to languish, their needs unmet, if the Full Scale score, had been taken on face value, rather than subtest and other information in the IQ test results .

On the other hand, discounting IQ testing as an identification tool makes it extremely difficult to identify a child’s learning strengths (or weaknesses) and potentially the degree of giftedness, all of which will be extremely important in determining the sort of opportunities which will be needed to assist them to develop their potential to the fullest.

Just as any child should have the opportunity to do.

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