«Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from The Forgotten Children ...»
Professional development such as workshops would be advantageous but I appreciate that not all early childhood education services are able to finance this. As the gifted interest was primarily mine, I was the teacher in the team who carried out the research and initiated changes that impacted on the progress of gifted education in the kindergarten. A suggestion would be to delegate the research task to the teacher who is the most passionate about gifted education. Staff meetings are practical opportunities for the delegated teacher to share information that may serve as professional development for the other teachers.
Along my journey, as mentioned before, I discovered Renzulli’s theory of the Three-Ring Conception of giftedness (2003). While I may have responded to this theory more than other theories, I strongly advise that other perceptions are studied and considered. For example, Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences lists many possibilities of intelligences including linguistic, spatial and intrapersonal intelligences (Gardner, Ramos-Ford, & von Károlyi, 2003). On the other hand, Gagné’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness describes giftedness as being visible in early childhood but later developing into talent with maturity and training (Gagné, 2003). The fact that I responded more to Renzulli than to these theorists does not mean that I have disregarded the information that I gained from other theories. I encourage teachers to investigate many theories so that teacher knowledge can be based on a wide range of perspectives. Informed decisions can then be made as to which teaching approaches in gifted education are appropriate for particular early childhood education settings.
Books have been published and websites developed to assist teachers and parents with their knowledge in gifted education. All early childhood education services should have a copy of Nurturing Gifted and Talented Children distributed by the Ministry of Education (2008). I encourage teachers to explore this resource as it includes gifted education information, available resources for teachers and parents, and useful websites such as www.tki.org.nz which provide links to valuable and useful information.
Once professional development has been achieved to the level that has increased teacher confidence, it is time to take the next step. Teacher knowledge can then be used in the identification process, which is obviously essential before gifted programmes can be implemented.
Addressing the Issue of Identification My studies revealed many different definitions of a gifted child which may be confusing to teachers. The key is to find a definition that is relevant to the early learning environment.
Harrison (2002) makes the following definition in her book Giftedness in Early Childhood:
A gifted child is one who performs, or has the ability to perform, at the level significantly beyond his or her chronological aged peers, and whose unique abilities and characteristics require special provisions and social and emotional support from the family, community and educational context.
Reflecting on this definition led to the next step which was to find a method or methods that would identify gifted children who fitted this definition. The method had to be appropriate for young children and practical for teachers to use in daily practice. Kearney (2000) discourages formal testing of children under the age of four years because of impacting conditions that could influence results, such as tiredness and insecure feelings in a strange environment. Formal testing was not one of the methods I considered at this point.
I considered an alternative which is more practical for early childhood teachers. Story (1991) states that behaviours in young gifted children reveal characteristics that indicate giftedness.
Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/.
These behaviours include curiosity, learning rapidly, excellent memory skills and passionate interests (Story, 1991). Margaret Carr (2001) is well known for her work on developing learning dispositions including interest, involvement and perseverance, all of which she believes contribute to the start for life-long learning. These learning dispositions are included in the goals described in the strands of Te Wh riki which are used in teacher observations (Ministry of Education, 1996).
While early childhood teachers have been observing behaviours and dispositions in learning stories as part of their assessment practice for some time, this information has not been used in the process of identifying giftedness. The dilemma I faced at the start of this assessment practice was differentiating between those behaviours and dispositions that are considered gifted indicators and those that are not. In my experience the differences observed in gifted children are that these children appear to be more intense, more complex and more consistent than that of their peers. These factors have been indicators that have alerted me to children being exceptional in their group of peers. Analysis of the behaviours and dispositions has clearly set these children apart from their peers.
Learning stories and photographs form the greater part of portfolio documentation in our kindergarten which is used for assessments. I have to admit that until recently these assessments were not used in the identification process at the kindergarten. Porter (1999) states that the use of portfolios is becoming increasingly more popular as a “curriculum based” method of assessment for gifted children. It was reassuring for me to know that the evidence for giftedness already existed in the children’s portfolios. All I had to do was assess the evidence with a different perspective.
As I revisited the portfolios of potentially gifted children, I was able to assess long term behaviours that revealed far more than I had noticed before. Te Wh riki states that assessment should be carried out over a period of time (Ministry of Education, 1996). The advantage of identifying gifted children in an early childhood setting, is that often teachers are able to assess documentation over long periods of time. On average I reflected on the portfolios of these children spanning a period of one to two and a half years. Varying combinations of indicators such as intense interests, critical thinking, long attention spans, and innovation were present in the learning stories assessed. Included in the learning stories were many “child’s voices” which revealed consistent interests as well as details of children’s advanced thinking processes as their thoughts and actions were verbalised.
Using the portfolios as narrative assessment for learning is not new at our kindergarten but this practice is new for identification purposes for the gifted. I challenge teachers to use assessment of behaviours and dispositions in their practice for gifted identification. Teachers need to acknowledge that by writing and assessing learning stories, they are actually identifying giftedness. With adequate professional development in gifted education and with experience, teachers will begin to recognise the gifted indicators in learning stories they have written.
After establishing a familiar method of identification based on narrative assessments, I noticed a positive change in the kindergarten teachers’ attitudes as they realised that they were not required to make drastic changes in their observations of gifted children. This confidence has resulted in the improvement of our provision of gifted extension programmes. Allen’s (2006) research revealed that teachers are able to respond to children’s strengths once identification had taken place. This was certainly true at the kindergarten. I strongly urge teachers to take the necessary steps of becoming informed of the many tools available to identify gifted children.
Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/.
What Tools are available for teachers to use in the Identification Process?
I have already established the success I experienced with narrative assessment when identifying young gifted children. However, teachers should be aware of other tools or methods that can be used in the identification process. Porter’s recommendation to use several methods in the identification process makes sense as this provides a more complete assessment of the child (1999).
Teacher nominations have been the second most successful method at our kindergarten. I consult the other teachers for their opinions. By valuing their opinions in a collaborative approach, I believe that the teachers are more at ease when sharing their observations and opinions relating to gifted children. I have had one or two surprise suggestions of potential giftedness that have emerged through teacher discussions. This is wonderful as it is proving that teacher confidence has increased in identifying potential giftedness which is exactly what I was hoping to achieve.
A less obvious method in the early years is peer nominations. As I thought about this possibility in early childhood, I realised that it is possible to observe peer nominations. Some of Tommy’s learning stories described his abilities to assist children with construction difficulties. It was clear that his peers viewed him as the expert by observing him while he was working and by asking for his help. I had to smile when on many occasions his peers would ask Tommy for advice. Even though I was working at the same table, I was overlooked as the expert. I believe that this is peer nomination in the early years.
Formal testing, as stated earlier, is not always the most successful with young children but this method should not be ruled out as impossible in certain children. Rating scales and checklists are useful as they are based on teacher and parent knowledge of the child. These are available on websites and in books such as Louise Porter’s Gifted Young Children (1999). Another source for this is the book Nurturing Gifted and Talented Children (Ministry of Education, 2008).
A very important tool to use is parent nomination. Parents know their children better than anyone so one would assume that many parents of gifted children suspect that their children are gifted. The curriculum values the parent/teacher partnership for a good reason (Ministry of Education, 1996). With open parent/teacher communication, parents are more likely to come forward with their suspicions, as well as valuable information from home that will likely impact on the child’s education. However, I would like to use the example of Tommy to demonstrate that not all parents are aware of their children’s abilities, and are therefore less forthcoming with information that could assist with gifted identification.
Tommy’s domain was only available in his last year at kindergarten after the construction area was revamped. This happened by “accident” after a decision to allocate this area of learning specifically for junk construction. Tommy immediately showed intense interest in the area and he consistently produced above average constructions. Shortly after revamping the area, a teacher discovered in a parent survey that Tommy had had access to a creative table at home for more than two years. He had already developed his skills at home but his passion was so strong that he chose to continue his “work” at kindergarten, despite having vast experience with similar equipment and resources at home. Tommy’s domain was discovered by changing the learning environment but it was obvious that this discovery could have been made sooner if the “right” questions had been asked earlier. His intense passion and commitment to construction at home would have been highlighted and his individual plan at kindergarten would have been implemented earlier.
This example emphasises the value of parent consultation in all children’s education. Since my experience with Tommy, I have implemented one strategy that has improved parent Radue, L. (2009). The forgotten children. APEX, 15 (4), 45-55. Retrieved online from http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex/.
consultation. I include a question under the heading “parent/wh nau voice” which is included at the end of every learning story. This gives me the opportunity to ask questions relating to interests at home. I have been amazed at the information gained from these answers. It has become obvious to me that more often parents of very active learners are likely to write the most about their children’s home life. These written answers are permanent reminders which I have found to be very effective for planning. Teachers should also remember to ask parents for evidence such as early development milestones recorded in Plunket Books, early drawings, and early interests. This will contribute to the complete assessment of the child’s giftedness.
Allen (2006) states the importance of the identification tool being used in conjunction with professional development. I believe that this has occurred at our kindergarten. Professional development and the use of identification tools together with team work have certainly contributed to the positive changes achieved in the kindergarten.
My research of Renzulli’s theory revealed that the “talent pool” in his opinion, consists of the top 15-20% of children (1998). As I calculated the numbers of how many children on average should be identified as being part of the “talent pool” at our kindergarten, I realised that our percentage was far less. If this figure is to be used as an estimate of gifted children in a learning environment, it is then obvious that the journey towards increasing the numbers of identified children in our kindergarten has only just begun. At least I have made a start with the teaching team. However my goal was and continues to be, to increase my success rate of finding these children. My search for these children led to my awareness that not all gifted children are obvious.
Examples of the Less Obvious Gifted Child The most important transition in my journey was discovering the fact that gifted children are not confined to academic domains such as mathematics and music. While I am not suggesting that Renzulli’s Three-Ring Concept of Giftedness is the complete answer for identification, his theory set me on a new path of searching for giftedness and talent that could be potentially developed in many different domains (Renzulli, 2003). I began looking beyond the “usual” gifted domains. I was excited as I set myself the challenge of discovering gifted children who were not so obvious.
The following is an example of one of the children.
Maggie showed her teachers her love for flowers from her first day at kindergarten. Every day she has welcomed us with a flower clutched in her hand. Of course she proudly shows us her treasure and casually tells us the name of the flower. Discussions with her mother revealed that Maggie has always been drawn to flowers. She crawled to them as soon as she could. For her safety, her parents planted edible flowers in a special garden for their baby daughter. As Maggie has grown, she has developed a passion for gardening. She has vast knowledge of plants that is clearly more advanced than any of her peers.
Before developing my knowledge of gifted and talented children, I did not perceive Maggie as being gifted. As my knowledge increased, my suspicions of her giftedness increased. I began to understand that Maggie was not only showing us the flowers. She was sharing her knowledge too. I began to question her to establish the extent of her knowledge. At two years old she was able to tell me about nectar and honey bees as well as other snippets of knowledge. She was the only child in my experience with this depth of knowledge in this domain at such a young age.
The next challenge I had was to convince the adults in her world that she had gifted potential.
Much thought led me to the decision to use Renzulli’s theory of task commitment, above average ability, and creativity as a tool to explain my suspicions of Maggie’s gifted potential (Renzulli, 2003). My explanation included her focus on plants that I believe demonstrates task commitment.