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MOHAN DHALL on finding the right schooling and stimulus for children with above average intelligence
There is an increasing understanding in education about the need to cater for all children in their schooling. There is an emerging idea that children are all unique, they learn in different ways and they cognise things at different speeds and levels. Intuitively, all good educators have always known this. From the perspective of parents, mainstream schooling should cater to their child and accommodate all of their strengths, regardless of in which domain they occur. It is common for parents to be told by a pre-school teacher that their child may be ‘gifted’. Typically, an academically gifted child will exhibit the following characteristics:
• Early talker
• Early walker
• Very good memory for detail – either verbal or visual
• Unusual ability to understand jokes – an ability to think laterally and make ‘non-obvious’ connections
• Sleeps very little
• Gravitates towards older children or even adults (particularly if firstborn or only child)
• May have very few friends
6-year-old Sathya said to his parents, “I don’t want to go to school today”. His parents inquired as to why. He said, “I woke up a number of times last night”. His father replied, “No you didn’t, you woke up once”. Sathya replied, “One is a number”. The list provided above is not exhaustive, but is a useful earlier identifier of giftedness in children. So what is ‘gifted’? There are over eighty different definitions in educational writing; however a commonly agreed understanding of the term is: on a standardised intelligence test (IQ test or test of Intelligence Quotient) a child who lies two standard deviations above the norm or average is classified as gifted.
The average score on an IQ test is a score of 100. On such tests the standard deviation equates to 15. Thus a child who scores 115 (or one standard deviation above the norm) is considered mildly gifted, a child who scores 130 (or two standard deviations above the norm) is classified as gifted and a child who scores 145 (three standard deviations above the norm) is classified as highly gifted.
Implications for schooling
It should be clear from this list that cognition is highly complex and that the sub-tests give insight in different ways of thinking and processing. Reading this list, most parents would recognise the different sorts of cognition. However, they would also understand that accommodating each of these in a mainstream classroom may be actually quite difficult. Assuming a child tests in the gifted range (IQ >130) then several implications arise. The first is the issue of possible early entry, the second is which type of school and the third is what role parents should take.
Early entry is sometimes recommended for highly gifted children and occurs when a child enters mainstream schooling a year earlier than their age peers. Usually when a psychologist suggests this, the school can resist on the ground that the child is ‘socially immature’ or ‘cannot write’. It should be noted that these excuses of themselves, cannot justify holding a child back from school. The early entry decision must however, be very carefully considered for other reasons including:
• Whether the child’s teacher is trained in gifted education and understands different types of cognition.
• Whether the school has a plan for the transition from Year 6 to Year 7
• Whether there is a strong sense of communication between teachers in different stages who can track the development and performance of the child and assist to accommodate their academic needs
• Whether there are any other children who have successfully been through the school having had early entry
Which type of school?
The short answer to this is the one that takes a psychometric report seriously. In deciding which school a parent should give a copy of the IQ test, complete with its recommendations to the school. The one that responds with suggestions for how the child’s needs could be accommodated is probably the best place. Finding that school however can be difficult.
Role of the parents
Sometimes schools cannot accommodate the needs of the gifted child however well-meaning, but the school is the only practical option and thus the child must go to it. In this regard the parents have a special role in ensuring that there is stimulus and interest in learning that occurs outside of the school to complement what the school does. Weekend trips to museums, a visit to Canberra, visits to the zoo and botanical gardens – all of these can engender stimulus and interest in learning. Moreover, joining a club or society with a special interest focus – such as astronomy or science, writing and so forth can also keep a child interested and focused in their learning. Parents need to be careful of two things however. Not every experience has to be a learning opportunity and further, if a school does not seem to be accommodating the child’s needs then it is probably wise not to discuss this with the child. In the latter case this is because it may lead the child to believe that no institution can teach them and thus they may feel unsettled in their schooling.
In summary, gifted children are children with special needs who need to be in schools that foster growth and learning. Such schools can be ‘discovered’ by seeing their response to psychometric tests. A school with teachers formally trained in gifted education and where the cognitive needs of gifted children are understood would be best.