Thursday, March 8, 2012

Enrichment for Gifted & Talented Children

What do I mean by Gifted & Talented?

There was a time when giftedness in children was narrowly defined in terms of intellectual skills and knowledge that could be tested by a narrow range of intelligence tests. However, in recent decades our understanding of giftedness has broadened based on our growing understanding that intelligence can have many manifestations (see for example my post on Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences). And so, while we know some gifted children can demonstrate exceptional abilities across a wide range of capabilities (e.g. memory, language, mathematics, problem solving etc), others are extremely gifted in narrower and more specific ways (e.g. visual arts, music, leadership, sport etc).

The Queensland Government's document 'Framework for Gifted Education' offers a helpful broad definition of giftedness:
Students who are gifted excel, or are capable of excelling, in one or more areas such as 
a) General intelligence,
b) Specific academic studies,
c) Visual and performing arts, Physical ability,
d) Creative thinking,
e) Interpersonal and intrapersonal skills.
Giftedness in a student is commonly characterised by an advanced pace of learning, quality of thinking or capability for remarkably high standards of performance compared to students of the same age. 

In relation to the narrower understanding of general academic giftedness, the following well-known definition by Joseph Renzulli is helpful.

Giftedness consists of an interaction among three basic clusters of human traits:
Above average general abilities
High levels of task commitment
High levels of creativity 

How do I recognise giftedness in my children?

6yr old drawing of Blue Tongue via eyes of a predator
If you live with a gifted child or have one in your class there is a good chance you will begin to recognise a number of characteristics that tend to differentiate them from most children, even most capable children.  While many parents feel their children are gifted purely due to their observations of the pace of their development in the early preschool years, extreme giftedness is much more rare. While some teachers tend to assume that gifted children can take care of themselves and so require less attention, this can be a dangerous assumption. Life for the highly gifted child can be an extremely frustrating, confusing and at times lonely experience if their giftedness isn't identified and supported. If your child demonstrates, to a significantly greater extent, a large number of the following characteristics, they may be gifted and will need support, encouragement and some adaptation by teachers and parents:
  • The ability to invent or create novel or original things, or look at their world in unusual ways. 
  • The desire and ability to investigate their immediate world, to see the unusual and observe things that others don't notice.
  • Extreme curiosity demonstrated by experimentation, investigation and in depth study.
  • Using extended vocabulary, complex sentence structure and varied language forms.
  • Understanding and using imagery and metaphorical language at a young age (often under 5 years).
  • Exploring varied interests often at depth, well beyond their years.
  • Being able to learn rapidly and easily compared to other children.
  • Gaining great pleasure and excitement when they are learning new and difficult things.
  • Outstanding memory demonstrated by encyclopaedic recall.
  • A desire to spend time with older children or adults and to learn with and from them.
  • Being able to cope with the introduction of many new ideas, sometimes simultaneously.
  • Wanting to spend large amounts of time learning about a favourite topic.
  • Capable of generating many solutions to verbal or mathematical problems.
  • Enjoying and seeking out frequent intellectual challenges.
  • Demonstrating unusual imagination that is stimulated easily and sometimes independently.
  • Ability to generate multiple ideas and solutions to problems.
  • Showing preparedness to question assumed knowledge or ways of doing things.
  • Often preferring individual work rather than group work and able to work well independently.
  • Demonstrating a highly mature and unusual sense of humour.
  • Sometimes having expectations of themselves that are too demanding and unrealistic.
  • Demonstrating single-mindedness and extreme determination when pursuing interests.
If you think about the above characteristics it should be easy to see how they might well be misinterpreted by teachers and parents who don't understand giftedness. For example, wanting to work independently could be seen as anti-social, single-mindedness can be seen as self-focussed, questioning the assumed knowledge of the teacher could be seen as rudeness and so on. This is why the gifted need to be understood and supported; they are different.

How do I support a gifted child?

There are two main approaches to meeting the needs of the gifted.

a) Acceleration - This involves allowing students to complete curriculum faster, or to advance through school more rapidly, based on their readiness, motivation and capability. It allows the pace of instruction to be adjusted to meet their needs and, it offers new more appropriate challenges.

b) Enrichment - This involves the modification of the curriculum to allow gifted learners to explore topics in greater depth or breadth, to permit the use of varied skills and generally to promote a higher level of thinking, investigation and exploration. It often involves integration of varied learning areas, creative outcomes and products, and the use of supplementary materials beyond the normal range.

Above drawing by Jacob aged just 4 years after a trip to aquarium. His drawing from the unusual vantage point of the fish shows his of Grandad looking into the pond

While there are classes set up for extremely gifted children and some schools that establish specific groups for gifted and talented children, for most gifted children, the mainstream classroom is where they spend most of their time. Both acceleration and enrichment usually occurs within mainstream schools and at times under the sponsorship of external organisations.

Joseph Renzulli's Triad Model has been influential for schools and parents that have tried to provide enrichment for children. His Enrichment Triad has three types of enrichment:

Type 1 - General Interest/Exploratory Activities. These offer a wide range of experiences, e.g. excursions, guest experts, clubs, special classes etc.

Type 2 - Group Training Activities. These aim to develop thinking skills and include activities that facilitate experimentation, analysis, classification skills, critical thinking and communication. 

Type 3 - Individual & Small Group Investigation and Problem Solving. This type allows children to apply the skills acquired in Type 1 & 2 to real life problems of interest to them. They then present their findings in some form to other, e.g. written reports, video presentation, website, debate, a journal etc.

The reality for many parents of gifted children is that they end up having to make a lot of effort themselves to provide for their gifted child. In future posts I will look at various aspects of how we might support the gifted. In the rest of this post I will suggest a number simple ways to enrich the education of the gifted. While all of these ideas could be seen as relevant for children of average ability, they offer additional opportunities for the gifted.

1. Ensure that the child experiences a rich and stimulating life outside school. 

This could include:

  • Opportunities to play and learn with other gifted children, older children and adults who have similar interests and can stimulate their imagination, offer new experiences, and challenge them with new areas of learning.
  • Lots of first-hand experiences, including visits to museums, zoos, galleries, musical performance and drama, film, outdoor exploration, keeping and studying pets, nature walks, and gardening.
  • Providing opportunities for hobbies that offer depth of new learning, for example, collecting rocks, stamps, chess, photograph, movie making, astronomy, and animation.
  • Introducing them to varied ways to respond to learning or present knowledge (e.g. creative arts, drama, video and audio presentations, public presentations etc).

2. Provide opportunities for children to extend their knowledge in areas of special interest.

This might include:

  • Project-based work.
  • Library research.
  • Digital Storytelling (see my previous post here).
  • Webquests.
  • Learning a musical instrument.
  • Learning a new language.

3. Introduce a variety of enrichment activities at regular intervals

While it isn't possible for any teacher or parent to offer individual activities for gifted children there are many wonderful activities that all children will enjoy which can also accommodate the needs of the gifted. The following are some examples of the types of enrichment activities I mean.

a) Story in a Box strategy

This involves placing 5-6 objects in a box that have some relationship to one another. Sometimes I might include a single object that is unrelated, to allow additional creativity. Children are then encouraged to talk about the objects and then create stories that relate to them.  The teacher or parent would usually need to model the process of story creation before asking children to do it.  You might also jointly construct a story or two with children before letting them do it independently. With that proviso, here are just some of the ways I'd suggest you might use the strategy:

1. A group of 5-7 year-olds might explore the objects in a box and try to tell a joint story or simply take turns creating individual stories. You could allow them to supplement the box with a dress-up box if there is a need for children to become specific characters or take on roles.

2. A group of 6-12 year old children might discuss the objects and then prepare a joint monologue to be presented to others (with the objects used as artefacts or aids). Alternatively, a group story or picture book could be produced based on the objects.

3. The box of objects might simply be used to create a digital story (individually or in groups). Have a look at Daniel Meadows' 'Scissors' video to see what might be produced, as wells as my previous post on digital storytelling (here). This approach could also be used with high school children.

You can read a longer post on this topic here.

b) Using a book as the focus for an excursion to its setting

I wrote a post back in January 2009 (here) about a family excursion to explore part of Sydney that was the setting for the wonderful book 'My Place' (Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins). 'My Place' was published in 1987 for distribution in Australia’s bicentennial year (1988) and makes a strong statement about the fact that Indigenous Australians were here for thousands of years before white settlement (there isn't space to unpack this). It is a very clever book that takes one suburban block (and the surrounding area) and tells the story of this place in reverse chronological sequence, decade by decade, from 1988 back to 1788 when the first British Fleet landed at Botany Bay. The overall meaning of the book is shaped by multiple narrative recounts of the families who have lived in this spot, 'my Place' and the changing nature of the physical landscape and built environment.

Our excursion as a family around the streets of Tempe and St Peters in Sydney enriched my appreciation of the book and my grandchildren's sense of the place. As well, it gave my grandchildren a great introduction to Australia's history since white settlement in 1788 and it deepened our understanding of the book. The book has been used as the basis of a television series that screened recently in Australia (here).

There are many other wonderful books that are situated in specific places that can be explored after, before or during the reading of a book. Here are three more.

c) Offering Stimulating Firsthand experiences

I have written previously about the 'The Language Experience Approach' to literacy on this blog (here). Typically, it occurs when a teacher or parent opportunistically seizes an experience as a basis for learning. Many are basic:
  • The squelch of mud between toes on a wet day in the back yard
  • Running on a sandy beach for the first time
  • Watching a worm wiggle in the palm of a small hand
  • Building a cubby house from boxes in the back yard
  • Watching a bird build its nest in a tree in the playground in spring
  • Doing hand painting
  • Observing chickens as they grow bigger day by day
The experience becomes a focus for discussion and exploration and eventually is recorded as a written text in some way. There is great power in new experiences to enrich learning - seeing new places, doing things for the first time, tasting new food, finding yourself immersed in a significant event - new experiences have a major impact on learning and our use of language to describe these events. Such experiences teach us new things and move us to use language to make sense of the experience and tell others about it.

The approach has four main elements:
  • Sharing an experience
  • Talking about the experience
  • Making some record of the experience (words, pictures, sound recording, photographs, video)
  • Finally, using the recorded experience for further reading, discussion and the stimulation of further writing
d) Using blogging to stimulate children's learning

As a keen blogger I know the various benefits of blogging as I'm sure do the readers of this blog. But how might we make better use of blogging with children? Many teachers have already experimented with blogging for children, as have some parents. Most children don't need to be convinced of the wonder and worth of the Internet, but could we make better use of the Blogosphere?

There seem some obvious reasons for using blogs in the classroom or at home:

1. The act of writing a blog post can lead to significant research and related learning. For example, it is an excellent way to develop web comprehension and research skills.

2. Blogs offer authentic readers and audiences for children. So much classroom writing is simply for the teacher 'as examiner', but blogs offer 'real' readers who will respond as learners and fellow writers. This is powerful.

3. Blogs can offer a means for children of many nationalities to communicate and share their ideas across the globe.

4. Blogging can offer a wonderful means for children to practice a second language.

5. Using blogs as creators as well as consumers highlights the need for children to consider issues such as truth and fiction, privacy, copyright and so on.

You can read a full post on 'Children as Bloggers' here.

e) Using film making and animation

Filmmaking and animation is another wonderful way to enrich the learning of gifted children. I have written a previous post on some varied resources for animation. One of them was 'The Klutz Book of Animation' by John Cassidy and Nicholas Berger. It is excellent aid for young filmmakers. The book provides step by step guidance to primary aged children to make simple animations using a video camera (as simple as a web cam), a computer and a variety of props, objects, plasticine and so on. The publishers provide a number of videos online that teach children the fundamentals of animation and filmmaking (here). At the Klutz site you can download free instructional videos (here), free sound effects (here) and sample videos made by children (here). Below is a sample using the Klutz methodology. This is a great resource for young filmmakers. Steven Spielberg would have loved to have this as a child.

You can read a full post on animation and film making tools for children here.

Summing Up

It is important that truly gifted and talented children be identified and supported. I will return to this topic in future posts.


Dr Gary Woolley said...

Hi Trevor,
I enjoyed this blog, "Enrichment for Gifted & Talented Children". It was a very good overview of their particular needs. These are so often overlooked. Some very good practical ideas.

Looking forward to seeing your next blog.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Gary, glad you liked it. Nice to hear from you.

My First Skool said...

Very very well written. Good Insight.

I'll be referring others to this to get some basics up.

Glad to have stumbled onto this blog.

Keep it up yea!

Anonymous said...

I am a Earlychildhood student from malaysia.Your information really helped me to get extra information about gifted children.thanks :)

language school singapore said...

I particularly feel blogging is a great idea at this era.

It will kill multiple birds in one stone and have many possibilities in improving.

Maggie Dinzler Shaw said...

I am an Early Childhood Literacy Specialist and I would add that all of the above experiences are excellent for developing cognitive growth and literacy, but they should all culminate in some sort of language experience activity that can be preserved and used in book form. I have done these types of activities with children who were not labeled "gifted" and they may follow a different time line but that serve the same purpose.