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"Giftedness" v "Normalcy"

We have to be very careful when trying to decide how clever or not a child may or may not be and if we should be worried, or spurred to action. There are also a lot of labels bandied around in this area that may or may not be helpful in working out how to interact with a particular child. Here's what we do know about intelligence and how the middle and extremes of the range are best tackled. There are important challenges to be met at either end but the principles, when applied to the middle, are also beneficial for early reading and learning.

How the brain stores new information
One definition of giftedness is "someone who shows, or has the potential for showing, an exceptional level of performance in one or more areas of expression." (The National Association for Gifted Children - America) It is generally the top 5% of a population that is considered gifted. i.e. those performing around the 95th percentile in various different standardized intelligence and psychological tests. In the United States 5% equates to three million children. 
If, as the research suggests, the environment plays a large part in the final outcome of the finished person, then exposing children to a wider range of learning in the early years will more than likely increase their intelligence quotient or I.Q. According to the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) 
"Giftedness arises from an interaction between innate capabilities and an environment that challenges and stimulates to bring forth high levels of ability and talent........According to research on the nature of intelligence and the brain, we either progress or we regress depending on our participation in stimulation appropriate to our level of development."
Therefore, by challenging and stimulating our children in the early years when their brains are the most receptive, we will be releasing more of our children's potential, and quite possibly create more gifted children. We will be helping our children to 'progress'.
Gifted - how?

A gifted child may excel in one or a number of different areas. As well as exhibiting strong general intellectual ability, a gifted child may also exhibit strong leadership skills or strong creative thinking skills. He or she may also have unusual ability in the visual or performing arts. Have a look at the National Association of Gifted Children (America) for their interpretation of what may characterize a gifted child. There are different tests available to assess degrees of giftedness. If you suspect your child is gifted it would be beneficial to find out, in order that the necessary support structures be put in place for yourself and your child. To assess intelligence in children aged between 6 and 16 years, school or independent psychologists often use the Wechsler 3 Intelligence Test. This test uses two scales - Verbal and Performance. It is best given in conjunction with other tests and viewed in context with profiles of your child and an in-depth case history.

The results of such testing can be useful for grading in schools as they provide evidence of a child's ability that may not otherwise be discovered. They also indicate strengths and weaknesses of the child and can therefore assist in the grouping of children of similar skills - considered particularly beneficial for gifted children. On this, Sir Christopher Ball, a prominent U.K. speaker on education, says "It is probably true that able people learn best if they are segregated from less able people….Human groups tend to conform to the perceived norm. Segregated groups do this even more strongly than diverse groups… Peer groups, tending to normalize and encourage conformity, often punish both fast and slow learners. The former are discouraged from exploiting their strengths, the latter are derided for their weakness." (extract of a public lecture given in Auckland, NZ on 2 March 2000. Sir Christopher Ball is Chancellor of Derby University, Patron of the National Campaign for Learning, Founder and Chairman of the Talent Foundation and a former Chairman of the Board of the National Advisory body for Public Sector Higher Education.)

How should we treat gifted children?
Presently, gifted children are not catered for around the world in schools. They are rarely grouped together nor are they given suitable extension programs. Programs adapted to meet the needs of gifted children are called differentiated. There is no "one program fits all" for gifted children but instead a variety of different educational services are required. As well as being grouped together in the classroom, gifted children can be helped with tailor made individual education plans, special classes and mentorships and involvement with extra clubs, groups and competitions. After school, holiday programs and private tuition would be beneficial. If your child has been assessed as gifted then it its wise to ask about a schools gifted education policy before enrolling. If the school has none, then look elsewhere.
Why look after gifted children?
This statement by the National Association for Gifted Children answers this nicely. "Each person has the right to learn and to be provided challenges for learning at the most appropriate level where growth proceeds most effectively.....Providing for our finest minds allows both individual and societal needs to be met." Let's foster our talented youth
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