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 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."
A diagnostic test developed by Pfeifer, the Gifted Rating Scales, measures students' aptitude in six areas:
- Intellectual Ability: measures the child's verbal and nonverbal mental skills and intellectual competence. Items on this scale rate the child's memory, reasoning ability, problem solving and mental speed.
- Academic Ability: measures the child's skill in dealing with factual and/or school-related material. Items rate readiness and advanced development/proficiency in reading, math and other aspects of the early childhood curriculum.
- Creativity: measures the child's ability to think, act and/or produce unique, novel or innovative thoughts or products. Items rate the child's imaginative play, original thinking and inventive approach to situations or problems.
- Artistic Talent: measures the child's potential for, or evidence of ability in, drama, music, dance, drawing, painting, sculpture, singing, playing a musical instrument and/or acting.
- Leadership: measures the child's ability to motivate people toward a common goal.
- Motivation: refers to the child's drive, tendency to enjoy challenging tasks, and ability to work well without encouragement or reinforcement. The motivation scale is not viewed as a type of giftedness, but rather as the energy that impels a young child to achieve.
- The Gifted: Clinical Challenges and Practice Opportunities for Child Psychiatry. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, (in press)
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