Education professor dispels myths about gifted children

Jan 13, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Though not often recognized as "special needs" students, gifted children require just as much attention and educational resources to thrive in school as do other students whose physical, behavioral, emotional or learning needs require special accommodations. So says a Florida State University professor who has studied gifted students for years.

Steven I. Pfeiffer is a professor in Florida State's Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems. He also is a licensed psychologist who works with gifted children and their families in counseling, and has long been recognized as one of the nation's leading authorities on issues related to gifted children.

"There is a view occasionally expressed by those outside of the gifted field that we don't need programs devoted specifically to gifted students," Pfeiffer said. "'Oh, they're smart, they'll do fine on their own' is what we often hear. And because of this anti-elitist attitude, it's often difficult to get funding for programs and services that help us to develop some of our brightest, most advanced kids -- America's most valuable resource.

"Giftedness is still not well understood, and children with advanced intellectual and academic abilities can perplex and challenge both educators and parents," Pfeiffer said.

A key problem in working with gifted children is one of definition. What exactly does it mean to be "gifted"?

"Even within the gifted field, there is considerable controversy regarding definitional, conceptual and diagnostic issues," Pfeiffer said. "However, as a generally agreed-upon definition, gifted children are those who are in the upper 3 percent to 5 percent compared to their peers in one or more of the following domains: general intellectual ability, specific academic competence, the visual or performing arts, leadership and creativity."

A key area of Pfeiffer's research has been finding ways to best identify children who are gifted. To that end, he led a group that developed a diagnostic test which complements the widely used intelligence test in identifying children who might be gifted. Pfeiffer's test is now being used in more than 600 school districts across the nation and has been translated for use in a number of other countries. (For more information on the Gifted Rating Scales, visit www.fsu.com/pages/2006/11/20/gifted_rating_scales.html.)

"For almost a hundred years, schools used one measure, the IQ test," Pfeiffer said. "Our own research indicates that the IQ test, although it works fairly well, is not without limitations in identifying giftedness. We launched a project to develop a test that would be a companion to the IQ test in helping educators better identify those children who have potential but perhaps are missed on IQ tests."

Pfeiffer discusses the issue of defining giftedness and many of the emotional and social challenges facing gifted children in a new paper, "The Gifted: Clinical Challenges and Practice Opportunities for Child Psychiatry," that will soon be published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

In other work involving gifted students, the state of Florida recently asked Pfeiffer and his team to lead an effort to help Florida's best and brightest high school students reach their potential so they can help the state reach its. The result was the establishment of the Florida Governor's School for Space Science and Technology, which was created by the Legislature in 2007. (Visit www.fsu.com/pages/2008/04/08/space_science_and_tech.html to read more.)

"The Florida State University -- in partnership with the Florida Institute of Technology and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University -- was fortunate to be asked to develop a plan to design a state-of-the-art residential academy for Florida's most capable high school students," Pfeiffer said. "Essentially, the Florida Legislature was interested in providing resources for Florida's brightest students in high schools, particularly in terms of a curriculum which would emphasize science, math, engineering and technology."

Pfeiffer also edited a recently published book, "Handbook of Giftedness in Children: Psycho-Educational Theory, Research, and Best Practices," that brings together experts from the fields of psychology and education to discuss a wide variety of topics pertaining to giftedness. He says the book is intended to be an essential resource for anyone working with gifted and talented children, including clinical child and school psychologists, educators, child psychiatrists, family therapists, social workers, pediatricians and other health care professionals.

And finally, Pfeiffer is working with the national organization SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) to develop a certification system so that professionals working with gifted children -- educators, mental health providers, pediatricians and others -- will be able to receive an official designation citing their expertise in this area.

Provided by Florida State University

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User comments : 11

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Arkaleus
5 / 5 (8) Jan 13, 2009
Growing up as a "gifted" student in the California public school system was an interesting experience. Public schools can't separate the wheat from the chaff, and they can't really acknowledge differences between intellectual capacities in children. They still function under the early 20th century industrial education model that produces factory workers and assemply line skills.

Any 3rd world farmer can tell you that you need to tend the most valuable crops and separate the weeds from the fruits, or you waste your labor and the field.

Little wonder why education fails - we drown nascent genius in mediocrity and they grow up jaded and abused by an anti-intellectual mass market society. Especially if those children are poor or do not come from elite families who are already connected.

Keep on tending the farm this way America, just pick and pick and plant nothing to grow again. Soon we'll discover what happened to the Ancient American civilizations when they did the same thing a thousand years ago.
MGraser
4 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2009
When I was in college, my studies overlapped with some of the education program coursework. We were taught that you need to tailor your program to both the slow learner and the gifted students. Granted, this was geared towards private school teaching. I'm not too familiar with the public school approach.

Everyone benefits from instruction commensurate with their level of "giftedness". It's a shame that any student should be limited by their instructors.
NtroP
5 / 5 (5) Jan 13, 2009
*Amen*

My wife is a retired SpEd/GT teacher. It always frustrated her that all the attention was give to the slow learners while the GT kids were an after-thought. The thinking seemed to be "They're smart. They'll take care of themselves."

Well, our son did just that - only not in the way everyone thought he would. He's always been very bright and *very* "active". He's "all-boy" as my mother would say. He did fine in Elementary school. In Jr High they'd cut all recesses, and P.E. seemed to be more about learning about teamwork (only there was only ever one team - can't have competition!) than getting a good, hard, workout (Can't shower after P.E. any more - someone might "compare wee-wee's" - and teachers don't want sweaty middle-schoolers in their classrooms).

By High School, he'd pretty much given up. In spite of having educators for parents, getting him to do his homework was difficult and then he'd not bother to turn it in. He wasn't getting F's - he was getting Zeroes. He started cutting class, which got him detention, which he much preferred to going to class. It was a downward spiral.

We tried intervention, 504-plans, "contracts", groundings, fines, everything we could think of. He wasn't "being bad" - he just hated school with a passion and became very passive-aggressive about it.

Finally, about a month after he had started 10th grade (he was 15) he came to us and told us that he'd heard of a program - the Alaska Military Youth Academy (AMYA) - that was basically a military-style boot camp that lasted 6-months and ran 24x7. At the end of the six months you would either have your HS diploma or your GED. You had to be sixteen to enter and you had to be a HS dropout and you'd have to go away to the school.

He said "Dad, I know you're disappointed in me but I cannot take 3 more years of High-school. I can take anything for six months though and I'll come out with a Diploma. I want to drop out of school and go to AMYA." LOL, WUT?!

So we checked out the program ourselves and it looked legit - everyone we talked to (including former students) raved about it. So we said "OK. We'll allow you to drop out if you promise to enter this program and see it through." He agreed.

To make a long story short, he dropped out, waited until his 16th birthday, interviewed for the program and enrolled in the next available session (which started a month later). We shipped him off and waited. In six months he would up at the top of his class - Distinguished Honor Grad of the Year (!) and came home with a high-scoring G.E.D. (he dropped out of HS with too few credits to get a diploma) and a renewed lease on life.

So at 16 he had his G.E.D., got a full-time job at McDonalds (the only place that will hire a 16-year-old around here) and bought a car with his own money. At 17 he decided to join the Air National Guard as a Crew Chief (Jet mechanic) and left for Boot-Camp and Tech School. He enlisted with an elevated rank due to his achievements at AMYA and after six months of training came home with a skill, a job waiting for him, a $15,000.00 signing-bonus, and a sense of accomplishment that can't be described. As he put it "Dad, I finally get to start my life. I can go to college (for free), learn what I want to learn at the pace I want to learn it and I don't have to waste my time anymore."

We helped him get an apartment (he wasn't 18 yet - and needed our help to sign the lease) and at 17, while his friends were just starting their senior year of HS, he is independent and loving it. He's started college (the military allowed him to take swing-shifts so he could attend class - which they pay for) and has a great prospect for life ahead of him.

I shudder to think of what would have become of him had this program not been available. How many other bright young minds are we losing because we don't provide the help these "special needs" kids need.

I'm currently helping our school district analyze their drop-out data in the hopes of curbing the rates. The data is not completely in yet, but from what I've seen so far, the drop-outs are not generally the kids that score low on standardized tests. In fact, they appear to be, as a group, higher-scoring on standardized tests than their peers. The lowest group of drop-outs? Special Ed kids.
Sirussinder
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2009
Education at my kid's school is on the back burner...its all about politically correct behavior first in a very informal setting.

I could not believe in grade 1 they had the desks grouped in circles and not in rows facing the front of the class.

I asked where is the front of the class and the teacher looked at me as if I was an idiot. She said they eliminated front of the class and the students are to sit in groups and work as a team.

I said so you eliminated formal authority and spend the day running around with 3 teacher's assists to keep the kids from playing/fighting with each other, no direction to look towards to make out any formal head of the class or teacher authority....nice...the kids are in control.

She said its not like when I went to school...and it never will be....I said your "experiment" with these poor kids will never work and I now see what is wrong with kids today...right from day one.

I wish I had the money to take my kid out of public school and put him into a formal private school.

I laughed when I see the teacher needs 3 or 4 teacher's assistants to teach a class of 25-30 eight year olds. The kids certainly run the class now lol! And I can see why with all the distractions from all this BS no one learns anything.

I dont know what they teach people at the faculty of education but teachers today are useless. And so is this education professor!
Keter
not rated yet Jan 13, 2009
My son followed a very similar course to NtroP's, only I couldn't afford to send him to any special programs. JROTC was the thing that saved his bacon. Suddenly homework was turned in, his attitude improved, and he was his company's commander his Senior year, and then top graduate from AF boot camp and the two tech schools they sent him to. He's had the pick of every assignment and duty station since, and will have a BS in engineering in another year. If it had not been for JROTC, I don't even want to think about what his outcome might have been. That approach doesn't work so well for some kids, however - it really depends on personality - so there need to be other options like apprenticeships, self-study, and flexible academic programs that allow a child to concentrate on developing their passions and best abilities and not be beaten up by something they can't do well no matter how hard they try.

I also want to see expanded scholarship options available for gifted adults who were neglected or discarded by their generation's educational system, so they can gain the credentials or contacts they need to get out of mediocre, frustrating jobs and into areas where they can make a big contribution. This needs to be something very nontraditional - adults know what they can and cannot do well, and there's no sense making them waste time, stress, and resources on the things that will only frustrate them.
Oderfla
not rated yet Jan 13, 2009
When i entered GT classes in the fifth grade, i thought that perhaps it would be more interesting work. I thought maybe we would be studying advanced ideas and philosophy, math, take neat field trips.

I was wrong. The teacher who taught this GT class thought that we just needed more work. She piled it on.

In the end, i was so not interested in school anymore. A friend from that class and i enrolled in a middle school that offered pass/fail grades, and no textbooks. This was a nice change from the IB like situation we were in before.

To conclude, i was very disappointed with my experience. I would not send a kid to a GT school without thoroughly vetting it out.
Edward3
not rated yet Jan 13, 2009
My personal experience is that there are more self-deluded, over-ambitious parents than there are gifted kids. So, some kid is an average student but because he is an anti-social little prat the parents decide he must be "gifted". I´m not saying there are no really gifted kids but I reckon most get on ok in your average local school.
NtroP
not rated yet Jan 13, 2009
@Keter AMYA is a free program. Here's a link to their site: http://www.ngycp.org/state/ak/

It's been so successful they're talking about opening another one as positions fill up so quickly there's a waiting list.

I'm glad to hear your son is excelling!

@ Oderfia - I hear what you're saying about GT classes just being extra work. My younger brother is extremely gifted. So gifted that he figured out right away that if you finish your work early you just get extra work to keep you busy and "out of trouble". He started in GT classes but quickly dropped out because all they gave him was more homework than the other kids.

Personally, I'd do away with homework altogether. When I leave work, the last thing I want to do is bring work home with me. If I need to research something, I might do some of that from home, but it's my decision to do that because I'm interested and know I will have the time - not because my boss makes me. Kids don't get enough time to be kids anymore. They never really feel that they're ever out of school except on summer break. Teachers spend so much time teaching fluff and playing social-worker they wind up sending all the actual learning home as homework and expect the parents to make sure their kids know it. Too often there just isn't a parent home, capable or willing to do the teaching for them andy more and the kids just get lost.

I'd rather see the teachers teach core subjects and work with the students directly during class and use homework simply for extra practice or extra credit on a voluntary, as-needed, basis. I know, it's radical, but at the pace most kids are capable of learning, homework turns into busywork for most and turns them off to the idea of learning on their own; simply for the pleasure of it. It seems that eliminating homework would also reduce the after-hours (or during class, *ahem*) grading required by the teachers. Homework grades, after all, tend to reflect the abilities of the parents more than the students.

Rather than training a kid to hate math by forcing them to do 1-58 odd on pages 99-102 after hours, make the lesson relevant to them and make them *want* to learn and remember the method(s) to solve it. Problem is, often the teachers themselves are barely literate it practical applications for their subjects. I say this as a life-long learner and a (no-longer-teaching) educator.

I *hated* math in school and equated "school" with "math homework" in my mind. It wasn't until college, when I found I needed math to solve problems in other classes (combined with an excellent teacher that loved math), that I discovered the true beauty and joy of math and wound up minoring in it.

I'm afraid that public education is too politically correct and too ingrained in it's indoctrination roll to ever change. I think private schools and "magnet schools" are the future, unfortunately.
Hoarsesenz
not rated yet Jan 13, 2009
An article that misses the point, doing more harm than help. I was in a gifted program, a unique and exceptionally expensive one. The problem was: the program sought to create great scientists and engineers. Music? Painting? Even writing? Make me laugh. Not even lip service. I had to wait until college, when I could control my own course selection to take my first theater and film class. (True, I'm an engineer professionally, but I eventually, briefly, ran a professional video studio.)

Now, I'm alarmed to find that the talent of the next generation is given even more rigid guidelines than was normal then. I would no longer be encouraged to take a wide range of courses, even at the university I attended.
superhuman
4 / 5 (1) Jan 14, 2009
Gifted children have a very strong aversion to things which don't make sense or which they consider a waste of time or hopeless.
Another thing is that being highly intelligent makes one immune to almost all authority and it makes taking orders from stupid people especially annoying.
As a result such kids run very high risk of developing aversion for school.

It all results from the fact that annoyance of all things in life scales with your intelligence.
wiyosaya
not rated yet Jan 14, 2009
It's about time. From personal experience, all I can say is DUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am now almost 50, and when I was in high-school (public), assignments that should have taken me an hour, according to the teacher, took five-minutes. In my 11th grade year, I basically stayed home for 70 school days (yes, 70) and still passed NYS regents geometry and regent trigonometry with a 93 and 92 on the finals, respectively.

School was little challenge to me and almost a pure joke. Yet there was no place for me, and I struggled deeply to find my way. I wonder what my life would have been like if there were some place for me.

Certainly, I've gained some wisdom in my trials, however, I wonder what contributions I might have made if there had been some place for me.

The old commercial that stated "a mind is a terrible thing to waste" might well be re-done with a new statement, "A gifted mind is a crime to waste."

You may have noted that this touches me closely. Looking at it another way, perhaps I am not the only one to suffer, perhaps society suffered as well because there was no venue in which my ultimate potential could have been achieved.

I consider myself extremely successful given a colorful past. I enjoy a well-paid position as a software engineer. I also consider position as something that is not really up to my true potential, however, it is how I cope and support myself. I continue to seek other outlets; I feel like I am on my own in finding them.

Some day....

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