"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.
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.)